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View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-21 17:16 [p.2756]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak for what I believe is the last time about Bill C-2. We have discussed Bill C-2 frequently, at length and in detail, and we have analyzed it from every angle. Today, we have before us the final version with the amendments made at third reading.
With the permission of this House, before I speak directly about Bill C-2, I will talk about its origins and what brought us to this point today, when we are discussing Bill C-2 at third reading. What prompted this bill?
We could talk at length—and we have—about the sponsorship scandal. A few years ago, thanks to the invaluable work of the Auditor General, people became aware that, unfortunately, some people had misappropriated taxpayers' money to try to buy the hearts and minds of Quebeckers. I am not talking about the majority of public servants, but certain people. Today, justice is taking its course.
At the time, the Liberal government made a token effort to correct these deficiencies, for which it was itself responsible, having created the culture of entitlement. At that point, three interesting and important tools were put in place. First, there was the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons and Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing). There was also Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
Earlier the hon. member for Mississauga South indicated how important Bill C-2 is. It is a step in the right direction. It reaffirms existing rules, but does not reinvent the wheel.
In its legislative framework, this bill includes previous important legislation such as Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. For roughly a year this bill was put on ice. It had gone through all the legislative steps and in short order could have protected public servants who witness wrongdoings. This was delayed strictly for political reasons and that is sad. We could have enacted Bill C-11 as soon as the Conservative government took office. This would have provided a safety net, perhaps imperfect, but a safety net nonetheless that public servants did not have until now. This was delayed and that is sad.
What were the Conservatives trying to achieve when they introduced Bill C-2? One of their objectives was to restore public trust in politicians and in Parliament. We believe this objective will be met.
However, when the Liberals introduced the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons—they may not have been the right ones to do so—their objective was to restore public trust in politicians and Parliament. When the Liberals introduced Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing), it was to restore public trust in politicians and Parliament. When the Liberals introduced Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, it was to restore public trust in politicians and Parliament.
When other provincial legislatures introduced similar measures, it was to restore trust. When other countries introduced similar legislation, it was also to restore trust. When we look at whether this objective has been met where similar legislation has been introduced, we come to the unfortunate conclusion that no, it has not. In countries where legislative measures on ethics and transparency like this exist, there is still a large gap between the will of the politicians and public trust in them.
It is my hope that this bill will somewhat correct this perception. However, much more will have to be done to that end. In fact, the government also will have to do a great deal more to correct this perception.
When the sponsorship scandal broke out, the Auditor General stated that all the rules had been broken. That means that there were rules, that they were in place but that the Liberal government decided to circumvent them.
The Conservative government is proposing new rules. Will it respect them? Therein lies the problem. A plethora of rules can be put in place but without the tools or the political will to ensure compliance, the message that we wish to give to the public—the desire to address the problem and restore trust—will be lost. At the first infringement by the Conservative government of its own law, trust will be further undermined and it will become even more difficult to regain it.
Earlier I referred to a private members' bill tabled by the member for Simcoe North, if my memory serves me well. This bill called for government investment in an Ontario waterway in order to revitalize tourism and so forth.
The member who tabled this bill owns the main hotel located in this tourist area and he is asking for the government to invest in his tourist industry. It seems that he is not covered by Bill C-2. That is what we were told. In fact, it seems that he is complying with the bill because it refers to ministers and parliamentary secretaries.
We have often seen people bending the rules. The government must ask its members to respect the letter and the spirit of the law, which states that they must have no real or perceived conflicts of interest. It is important for ministers and parliamentary secretaries to respect this law. Moreover government members of Parliament must also abide by it and ensure that their conduct does not give rise to a real or perceived conflict of interest.
I opened the door for my colleague—I believe he is the new member for Simcoe North—by suggesting he check with the President of the Treasury Board to see if he was respecting the spirit of the law. If he did check with the ethics counsellor, and if his bill does not place him in a conflict of interest, then the Bloc Québécois is prepared to re-evaluate its position. We are not accusing the member of a conflict of interest. We are just saying that it bothers us to see this kind of bill introduced just as the Conservative government introduced its bill on transparency and accountability.
I think I have shown pretty clearly why the Conservative government introduced the first bill of the 39th Parliament, Bill C-2: for political reasons, among other things, and for honourable reasons too, I hope.
Bill C-2 was discussed in special committee, in legislative committee, actually. Thanks are in order with respect to the legislative committee. I would like to thank all of my colleagues from all parties who contributed to improving Bill C-2 in committee. At times, there was some political posturing from the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP. Not all members were necessarily on the same wavelength. Some sharp remarks were made.
We all knew there was some jockeying for political position during committee meetings. Once the work was done though, I am sure that we all recognized our collaborators' efforts and qualities. I really wanted to emphasize that. Finally, I must highlight my colleague for Rivière-du-Nord's contribution. She was there during the committee's long working hours.
I would also like to mention the work done by two people in particular. It is sad, because I am going to forget other people, but I want to mention Annie Desnoyers and Dominic Labrie. They are thorough, hard-working Bloc Québécois staff, and they supported us—and put up with us—throughout the review of Bill C-2.
Now I would like to talk more specifically about Bill C-2. The Bloc is in favour of the bill, as you know from our presentations and our support for the amendments. It is important to remember that ethics were central to the most recent election campaign, when the Liberals were thrown out of power, especially in Quebec. We took part in the Gomery commission, which produced a number of recommendations that must now be implemented and are included in part in Bill C-2. Not all of the recommendations are reflected in the bill. Notably missing are the ones concerning the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
An hon. member: It had to be improved.
Mr. Benoît Sauvageau: We improved it during the 40 hours a week we sat in committee.
I would like to talk about what the Bloc Québécois gained. The Bloc is happy to see that some of its proposals were incorporated into Bill C-2. The bill was flawed. We worked to make it better, and we made some progress. All the parties can congratulate themselves on that. The Bloc's gains include the requirement that Elections Canada appoint returning officers on merit. My colleague from Québec, our whip, had already introduced a bill on merit appointments of returning officers, something we managed to obtain in this bill.
Initially, the bill said that the Chief Electoral Officer could appoint the returning officers in our ridings. We amended this proposal, stating that the Chief Electoral Officer could choose or appoint them, but only after a competition based on merit. We think that the worst situation was where the governor in council appointed his buddies as returning officers. This is rather strange in a modern democracy. But requiring the Chief Electoral Officer to appoint returning officers on merit, after a competition—something he had been requesting for a long time—will make for greater impartiality during elections, and this is one notable gain for the Bloc Québécois in Bill C-2.
Independence of the lobbyists registry is another gain. We will have a lobbyists registry with an independent commissioner. That way, they cannot divert the focus by appointing people who are in complicity with the government. Political party financing legislation is another major gain. The Conservatives told us, kindly and candidly, that they wanted to use as a model the Quebec political party financing legislation, which was introduced by the Parti Québécois in 1977, if my memory serves me correctly. Some 30 years later, the federal government says it wants to use it as a model. This is a fine victory for the Bloc and a fine victory for Quebec.
An hon. member: And for democracy.
Mr. Benoît Sauvageau: And for democracy, indeed.
The powers of the Auditor General have been strengthened. Since the sponsorship scandal, everyone is aware of the reputation and respect that the Auditor General enjoys. Bill C-2 strengthens her powers by giving her oversight over a greater number of crown corporations and agencies where the federal government invests money.
The Bloc Québécois is pleased to see that some of its proposals have been retained. I am referring to the secret ballot in particular. In Bill C-2, everyone would have been appointed by secret ballot. It is normal for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the House to be elected by secret ballot. It is a parliamentary tradition. However, appointing everyone by secret ballot would diminish the independence of every independent officer of the House, and the current process for appointing independent officers—
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-21 18:45 [p.2769]
Mr. Speaker, before that brief interruption, I was talking about the Bloc Québécois' victories with respect to Bill C-2. For the edification and pleasure of all members of the House, I will continue to list the Bloc's victories following the referral of Bill C-2 to committee.
Earlier, I highlighted the work of my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord, but I left out my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. Her presence reminded me. I would like to thank my colleague for her great contribution to making this bill even better. I would like to thank her for her ideas and her support during discussions on Bill C-2.
I mentioned some of the Bloc's victories before being interrupted to make way for private members' bills. I would like to list some more. We did not want to create a tattletale culture, so we succeeded in eliminating rewards for whistle-blowers.
An hon. member: That is good.
Mr. Benoit Sauvageau: The Conservatives wanted to give every whistleblower a little $1,000 treat. It reminded me of when I was young, when I used to read Lucky Luke. There were head shots, and on them it said “Wanted”. There were professional bounty hunters who were really trying to find the bad guys, to get themselves a nice chunk of change.
That is like telling whistleblowers that they can cash in on their conscience and their honesty. Very fortunately, all parties in this House recognized that this idea of the Conservative government’s, this campaign promise, was a poor signal to be sending public servants and everyone who is protected by the whistleblowing act. So that part was eliminated.
We got a provision that the ethics commissioner, rather than a minister, would have the power to exempt political staff from the law.
Originally, the bill allowed a minister to decide whether such-and-such a person could be exempted from the ethics act. Now it is the commissioner, as an independent person, who will have that role.
There is one victory that may seem futile to some, but that is very important. That is the original title of the bill. That title was: “Loi fédérale sur l'imputabilité”. With the assistance of some colleagues in this House, the goodwill of others and the irrefutable proof presented in committee, we succeeded in changing the title of the bill so that it would mean what it was supposed to mean in French: “Loi fédérale sur la responsabilité”. This is another victory by the Bloc.
We also succeeded in having a provision incorporated in Bill C-2 that the conflict of interest act will be reviewed every five years. To us, this is important. It has been said before. Everyone in this House recognizes that there are no perfect laws, particularly an act like this one, which will be the first one to be brought into force. We want to be able to rectify this act after five years and ensure that any possible mistakes and errors that remained despite the serious consideration we tried to give it can be rectified.
These are a number of victories in which the Bloc Québécois can take pride after considering and passing Bill C-2.
However, one important part of a promise made by the Conservatives was not kept in Bill C-2, and that is the one that involves reforming the Access to Information Act.
Everything that was said in the same chapter of the “Stand up for Canada” platform, about lobbyists and the commissioner, can be found in Bill C-2, and we recognize that. But what we do not find is the part about reforming the Access to Information Act. The passage that I quote is found at page 13 of “Stand up for Canada”.
A Conservative government:
will implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act.
That seems clear to me. When it came time to talk about the Access to Information Act during consideration of Bill C-2, oddly, there was less urgency, less enthusiasm.
When my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert proposed the idea of reforming the Access to Information Act in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, the urgency described in the Conservative platform had strangely and suddenly evaporated into thin air.
When it came to supporting a motion by my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert to review the Access to Information Act with the same speed, there was less urgency.
We were given arguments for passing Bill C-2 quickly, that enough had been said about it, that there had been enough studies on the matter and that Canadians wanted something concrete. It is odd, because these arguments all apply to the Access to Information Act. There have been enough studies.
In committee, there was even a unanimous vote to tell the Liberals—who were in power at the time—that we did not want any more studies. The Conservatives shared that opinion: they truly wanted to amend the Access to Information Act immediately. Now that they are in power, they are budging a little on C-2—it is an honourable gesture, but on the Access to Information Act they are not willing to make any concessions.
This seems underhanded to us. During the sponsorship scandal, some documents could not be obtained under the Access to Information Act. If a similar situation comes up, and the Access to Information Act is not improved, we will probably end up with the same problem.
In closing, passing Bill C-2 is a step in the right direction. However, it falls short when it comes to the Access to Information Act. We hope that in the fall, the relevant committee will have the same good will to consider reforming the Access to Information Act.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-21 18:55 [p.2770]
The answer, Mr. Speaker, is yes.
More seriously, I thank my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.
Actually, I did not talk much about the returning officers in my speech because I talked about the Bloc’s victories and we had many. Still I should have mentioned that we in the Bloc submitted to the appropriate committee an amendment to the Elections Act on the appointment of returning officers. It was to have returning officers appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer.
At the time, we told the Liberals we were sure that some Liberals would be competent enough to stay if returning officers were appointed according to their competence rather than their allegiance. So we did not understand why they so stubbornly refused. For us, competence should take precedence over political allegiance. I think this is the message that the Conservatives understood.
As for the prompt enforcement of this amendment in an upcoming election, I will reassure my colleague. The Chief Electoral Officer has been awaiting this possibility for so long that he has put in place all the structures with a view to proceeding very quickly—he has confirmed this to us—with the appointment of returning officers by means of competitions. Probably many returning officers in place today will be able to continue their work. I cannot guess the percentages, but there will surely be a good number.
There are some competent people among them who did a good job in the last election or in earlier ones. They will be able to apply for the position and take part in the competition, and they will be able to keep their positions by showing their competence. As for the incompetents appointed only because they had been members of a party, not ours, for a long time, they will keep themselves busy with a pastime other than working in the service of our democracy.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-21 19:00 [p.2771]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question, which will perhaps give me an opportunity to correct some perceptions that are very soon going to be expressed in this House. When it came time to work on Bill C-2, every political party exhibited the best will in the world and wanted to make a positive contribution.
Strangely, and this is the first time in 13 years that I have seen a committee like that one, all parties agreed with Bill C-2 in principle, and it was the most litigious committee I have ever had to work on. Why? Because from the outset, the sword of Damocles was hung over our heads, when we were told that we had to pass this bill post haste. We could have passed Bill C-11 to create a safety net for whistleblowers and taken the time we needed. Taking the time we need does not mean using stalling tactics.
When we began consideration of the bill, the government got into bed with another political party to ensure that rather than sitting for normal committee times, or even double time, which we wanted to do at the outset, the committee would have to increase its time significantly. The situation was such that we could not get any research documents, or documents prepared by the library, to enable us to do our job conscientiously. Then we were told that if we did not finish by June 21, we were going to sit after that; if we did not finish after that, we were going to sit through the night. It was threat after threat, because, it seems, they had heard enough about it. I am eager to see how speedily they will be wanting to consider the access to information bill.
Nonetheless, working under extremely difficult circumstances, we tried to do it carefully and seriously. Today, as a result, we have a bill that is acceptable, if imperfect. Very fortunately, we were able to pass an amendment about reviewing the act after five years. If there are parts that have been forgotten or that might not be consistent with the objectives of the act, because of the speed with which we had to consider this bill, we will be able to rectify them then.
The working conditions and the circumstances of that consideration, however, were not normal. We should have had the time to consider this bill conscientiously.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 10:31 [p.2629]
Mr. Speaker, we are discussing Bill C-2, specifically the first group of amendments, which includes amendments 1, 2 to 4, 6, 7 and 9, if my memory serves me correctly. I will speak to these amendments.
As I begin, I will talk about the review of Bill C-2 and the problems we encountered. If I go off topic I am sure you will rein me back in.
Many amendments are being presented today at this stage because of how very quickly Bill C-2 was considered. We had very little time. I ordered a study from the library on similar bills, that is, bills with 300 or more clauses. I learned that the average duration of consideration of these bills since 1988 was roughly 200 days. We had more or less 40 days to review Bill C-2, which shows how hastily it was done. It is clear that a number of aspects of this bill should be improved; a number of witnesses pointed this out when they came before the committee.
Today, reading the proposed amendments, we recognize that this bill can and must be improved. It is also very important to remember what the Auditor General said about the sponsorship scandal, as our leader very eloquently pointed out during a scrum yesterday. The Auditor General's remarks have a direct bearing on this bill.
Before Mr. Justice Gomery and at a press conference, Ms. Fraser said that all the rules had been circumvented. The rules were in place, but they were circumvented. The fact that the government, through the Treasury Board president, is introducing an accountability bill is a good thing in itself. Reaffirming certain existing rules is a good thing in itself, but what is most important is whether the government will have the will to abide by these codes of conduct and these accountability rules that are before us today. Time will tell.
It is very important to remember that the rules were in place and were circumvented. Whether or not the rules set out in Bill C-2 are circumvented will depend solely on the government's will.
The government's will will very quickly become apparent as Bill C-2 is implemented.
The first motion, made by the President of the Treasury Board, reads as follows:
That Bill C-2, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 12 on page 6 with the following:
“No minister of the Crown, minister of state or parliamentary secretary shall, in his or her capacity as a member of the Senate or the House of Commons, debate or vote on a question that would place him or her in a conflict of interest”.
This was originally in the bill. The committee members defeated this clause and deleted it from the bill, but the Conservatives want to reintroduce this part. This is interesting, but I have this question: does the spirit of the act apply solely to ministers, ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries or does this part of the act also apply to government members, Conservative members?
I see that the President of the Treasury Board is present. What follows may be of interest to him and to the whip. It is useful to remember that last week, the member for Simcoe North introduced a Conservative bill asking the federal government to release funds for a feasibility study on a waterway in order to promote tourism. Strangely, when we visited his website, we noticed that this Conservative member owns the main hotel in this tourist area.
In fact, it was noted that his family has owned that facility for five generations, since 1884.
Will this standard be applied haphazardly or scrupulously? What will be permitted? If anyone is wondering to which member I am referring, it is the member for Simcoe North. He tabled a bill that would seem to involve a conflict of interest, at the very least.
If the Conservative party confirms that this respects the spirit of Bill C-2, that the ethics counsellor supports it and that everything is in order, we from the Bloc Québécois will reconsider our position and perhaps support the member. However, when a party purports to be cleaner than clean, purer than pure, and then, at the first opportunity, a member tables a bill that goes against the principle and spirit of Bill C-2, one might wonder how that bill will be applied in the future.
Speaking of the future, we have a problem with another amendment in the first block of amendments. Surely the President of the Treasury Board will be able to alleviate our concerns, which seem legitimate to me at this point. I am referring to Motion No. 4 regarding subsection 67(1) on page 33 of the bill—since we must compare like with like. The section now reads as follows:
Within five years after this Act receives royal assent, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act shall be undertaken by such committee—
The following amendment to subsection 67(1) has been proposed:
Within five years after the day on which this section comes into force—
Why change something that does not appear very important? Instead of saying that the act should be reviewed five years after receiving royal assent, this indicates five years after subsection 67(1) receives assent. Fortunately, we have meticulous, effective, attentive experts to point out minute details that may seem trivial, but that are very important in practice.
We always said that we supported the principle and philosophy of Bill C-2. We wanted to be in favour of more accountability and all those aspects of the legislation. However, no legislation is perfect. I defy the members of this House to show us perfect legislation. It was very important, therefore, to be able after five years to review not all of Bill C-2 but just the part on wrongdoing. That is why we wanted the committee to be able after five years to review what had worked well so that it could be established and continued, as was done with the Environmental Protection Act and several other pieces of legislation. If some aspects did not work so well, however, they could be re-assessed.
If amendment No. 4 passes, the government could say that Bill C-2 comes into force tomorrow morning, apart from subsection 67(1). It could decide to have this subsection come into force in four or five years. This would mean that the legislation would be reviewed only when the government wanted.
In committee—the Conservatives voted in favour of this amendment to review the act after five years—we were told that there might be some shortcomings and some things might have to be corrected. What is implied by this change? Maybe there is an explanation that can convince us. Why take correct wording, which appears in other legislation and says that the act will be reviewed in five years, and change it to say that the act will be reviewed five years after subsection 67(1) comes into force? What were they trying to say?
Usually, amendments are not introduced just for the fun of it. We have better things to do.
We ensure that amendments are introduced to correct or improve the bill. Sometimes, maybe, they are introduced to distract attention from certain gains that some think they made in committee. By a little word, a little sleight of hand, the gains are erased.
We cannot support amendments that would restrict the ability to review this legislation. We will ask questions until we get answers, in particular: what was the underlying intent of these changes?
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 10:44 [p.2631]
Mr. Speaker, I thought I had made myself clear. I expressed my concerns five times in my speech so that he would understand. Nevertheless, I will repeat them. I was formerly a teacher and sometimes it took quite some time to explain things.
First, an amendment was adopted: the French title of the act has been changed from “Loi sur l'imputabilité” to “Loi sur la responsabilité”. That is one of the Bloc Québécois' victories.
Next, by stating that this bill only deals with the executive, he is openly saying that a Conservative member may have a real or perceived conflict of interest. A member may own a hotel and ask for a feasibility study. To my knowledge, the member for Simcoe North is the second to do so. The first was the member for Shawinigan, who owned a hotel in Shawinigan and asked the federal government to finance part of it.
I asked the member for Simcoe North if he also owned a golf course, just to see if there were other similarities. He did not respond.
As for the question from the President of the Treasury Board, subsection 67(1) of the current act—the large document with many pages— states: “Within five years after this Act receives royal assent—”. The amendment proposed by the President of Treasury Board states: “Within five years after the day on which this section comes into force—”
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 10:47 [p.2631]
Mr. Speaker, this is like the sequel to a movie, but a sort of watered-down and less interesting version.
We have been—how shall I put this—
An hon. member: Rushed along.
Mr. Benoît Sauvageau: We have been rushed along—thank you—throughout our consideration of Bill C-2. All I could think of was the expression fast track, but I did not want to say it. So we have been rushed along, both the witnesses and the personnel who were directly or indirectly involved in the legislative committee on Bill C-2. We, the members, have been rushed along from beginning to end, including in the clause-by-clause study of Bill C-2. Furthermore, we have tried to show, insofar as possible, our good faith in moving the bill along constructively, but this was not always well perceived by the government party.
As far as the amendments are concerned, it is still more or less the same old thing. What is different, however, is that it is just like Canada, just like the House of Commons. So what we saw a little more of in camera in committee—even if it was televised, it was not so obvious to people—what the Conservative government has done, from the beginning, in the legislative committee on Bill C-2, it is pursuing this route again today, in the House of Commons, by tabling 30 last-minute amendments in a big rush.
I think it is only natural to ask questions. When we asked questions in committee, we were accused of bad faith. We are asking questions today, and we are accused of wanting to delay the procedure, or no one answers us.
A five-year review was planned further to enactment of the bill. We are told that, no, it is no longer after enactment of the bill, but after the section comes into force. Why? I would think this is a legitimate question. We cannot get an answer to this question, and this makes us people of bad faith.
For the member who just asked me the question, I would say that what is happening in the House of Commons is the same as what happened in the legislative committee on Bill C-2, but on a larger scale, and I think that the day that is beginning will continue like that, unfortunately.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 12:03 [p.2641]
Mr. Speaker, I apologize to the hon. Minister of Justice.
A colleague in the back pointed out, quite rightly, that the television screen currently reads “C-2—Projet de loi sur l'imputabilité” in French. Since the amendment was agreed to, I would like us to be able, by unanimous consent or some other procedure—I am not sure how—to have this changed so that the correct title of the bill appears on the television screen.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 13:56 [p.2655]
Mr. Speaker, I just want to be sure that I understood correctly what the parliamentary secretary just said.
Did he say that Motions Nos. 17 and 19 could be withdrawn to give Motion No. 18 precedence over the other two? If such is the case, I humbly suggest to him that he ask the unanimous consent of the House to withdraw Motions Nos. 17 and 19 because we agree with him.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 13:59 [p.2655]
Mr. Speaker, I have a question to ask of the parliamentary secretary. Since this second group of amendments deals mainly with the reform of the Access to Information Act, why did the Conservatives refuse to undertake a quick and efficient review of that act when they had promised to do so on page 12 of their document entitled “Stand up for Canada”?
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 15:50 [p.2675]
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the second group of amendments moved by our colleagues in this House. This main thrust of this second group is to amend pages 85 to 135 of Bill C-2. They refer primarily to the Access to Information Act.
There are a number of peculiarities in the amendments in the second group of amendments, moved variously by the NDP, the Conservatives and the Liberals. Those amendments cause some problems for the Bloc Québécois.
My colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert has very eloquently said that the Conservatives were going to make amendments to the Access to Information Act. After all, they had promised this during the election campaign. It appears on page 13 of their document entitled “Stand up for Canada”.
We are still a bit naïve, or maybe even simple; we believe promises and we think that sometimes they may be kept. We were carried away on a gust of goodwill, and we believed them and told ourselves that it would happen.
When they introduced Bill C-2, there was not the slightest interest or indication that they were intending to amend the Access to Information Act.
Then we told ourselves that it would very likely be up to the appropriate committee, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, to ensure that the statutory amendments promised by the Conservatives—and it is important to remember that—were brought forward.
To our great surprise, and especially to the great surprise of my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, the Conservatives did everything they could not to discuss a bill to improve the Access to Information Act, claiming that they did not have the time then and that they would work on Bill C-2, as if only one committee of the House could do any work.
That was when the NDP decided to get into bed with the Conservatives and agree to leave out the points that would have ensured that the Access to Information Act provided for genuine transparency.
I can imagine the annoyance I may cause my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, but I do not think it was because he wanted a plane ticket to go and see the Oilers’ sixth game in the Stanley Cup finals.
Let us look at the arguments the Conservatives are handing us for pushing Bill C-2 through with such excessive speed. They have told us that we have been talking about this bill for so long that we have no further need to hear witnesses, or experts, or anyone else.
We know that a perfect bill has fallen from the heavens into our laps. So we have heard about it for long enough that they can bulldoze their way through the process and the bill can be brought into force immediately.
These arguments could also apply to the Access to Information Act. It has been in effect for 23 years, since 1983. A number of committees have studied it. Recently, the Conservative members as well as all the other members on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics even rejected the suggestion of the previous Liberal justice minister to study it again.
On November 3, 2005, the committee unanimously approved the legislation proposed by the commissioner. They told the Liberals then that they had talked long enough and often enough about the Access to Information Act—as is the case with Bill C-2—and did not need any more studies. They said they were ready to pass it right away.
The Conservatives were so ready to act that they said on page 13 of their platform, and I quote:
A Conservative government will:
Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations on reform of the Access to Information Act.
One of the reasons why the public has little confidence in politicians is that they thumb their noses at the promises they make in their election platforms and programs.
The Conservatives can argue that it was not specific. They said that they would implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations on reform of the Access to Information Act, but they did not say when.
People thought that they would do so quickly because they voted against a motion postponing the deadline. But now we are back at square one.
The NDP was in bed with the Conservatives, especially on that, but realized that things were going a bit too far. So they made a few amendments at the Legislative Committee on Bill C-2 to correct a few small parts of the Access to Information Act. We voted against.
In the eyes of the public, we, the bad guys from the Bloc Québécois, were against greater transparency. We were against reform of the Access to Information Act, almost against social progress itself, as the Minister of the Environment would say. So the evil sovereignists voted against the NDP’s amendments to the Access to Information Act.
Our rule was relatively simple. We adopted a point of view at the beginning of the consideration of Bill C-2 during the hearings and we still have the same point of view. If it is important, as the Conservatives wrote on page 13 of their platform, and as the NDP already voted in committee, we want the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to study quickly, appropriately and correctly a reform of the Access to Information Act.
When the vehicle is not running properly, we are not in favour of changing a few small parts. We are not in favour of correcting a few small imperfections when what is involved is correcting the bill, as the Conservatives promised they would do in the last election campaign.
Tinkering is not for us. We leave that up to the others. What we want is an amendment like the one passed by the committee in November 2005, as promised by the Conservatives in the last election, as proposed by my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert and as rejected by the members of his committee, where we wanted to amend and correct this part of the act.
People will hear someone crying wolf and will be told the Bloc was opposed to that part. I think I have shown as clearly as possible the reasons why we were opposed to the little patches made here and there. What we want is to amend the Access to Information Act.
Still, since nothing is all good or all bad, I have to point out the contribution of Motion No. 14 by my friend and colleague from Acadie—Bathurst. He would have liked me to say Motion No. 15. So Motion No. 14 reads as follows:
That Bill C-2, in Clause 146, be amended by replacing lines 3 to 31 on page 118 with the following:
In this clause, it is acknowledged that the Auditor General of Canada must keep secret any records required for an investigation. That was provided for ahead of time. However, something was forgotten. I do not know how this occurred. It was very fast, but no one remembered to also include the Commissioner of Official Languages among these exceptions. Thanks to good cooperation with my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, we agreed together that the NDP would table this amendment, which includes the Commissioner of Official Languages among the officers of the House exempted from making public any documentation linked to an investigation.
In conclusion, I will say that I have filed two complaints with the Commissioner of Official Languages, which were deemed admissible. When the Commissioner does her investigation and hears public servants or other people, these people confide under cover of anonymity. If these people knew that everything they say was then going to become accessible to the public under the Access to Information Act, all the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages would be undermined.
We acknowledge that this is really a good idea, a good thing, that this legislative amendment should be included in the second group of amendments. We are going to support this motion.
We are very concerned about the reform of the Access to Information Act. We hope that the Conservatives will change their position on this.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 16:01 [p.2677]
Mr. Speaker, in the bill as it is currently worded, on page 118, we read as follows:
16.1 (1) The Auditor General of Canada shall refuse to disclose any record requested under this Act that contains information that was obtained or created by or on behalf of the Auditor General of Canada in the course of an investigation, examination or audit conducted by...the Auditor General of Canada.
This clause enabled the Auditor General to keep evidence confidential in order to conclude an investigation. The Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner both said they agreed that the evidence could be disclosed after the investigation had been concluded and the report released. This was not a problem for them.
After a few communications, officials with the office of the Official Languages Commissioner told us that they were afraid—I am sure, legitimately so—of what would happen after the report was released.
For example, I filed a complaint against the Treasury Board and a complaint against National Defence. These complaints were allowed. During the three-year investigation, the Official Languages Commissioner and her professional staff must have asked questions of officials, soldiers or public servants.
Today, three years later, after the report became official, a reporter or an ordinary citizen could use the Access to Information Act to gain access to the information that went into the report. A number of officials would likely be uncomfortable in that case, and if they had known, they would not have said everything they told the Official Languages Commissioner in confidence.
I therefore applaud and commend the NDP amendment, which would give the Official Languages Commissioner the same powers as the Auditor General.
I hope I have answered the question from my friend from Mississauga South.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 16:04 [p.2677]
Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I think that they ignored the people who would be governed by Bill C-2. Furthermore, they focused on partisan rationale in order to punish the Liberals as quickly as possible.
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 16:18 [p.2679]
Mr. Speaker, first of all, of the $500,000 that the riding of Acadie—Bathurst was happy to get, it did not know that Chuck Guité was keeping $50,000, Lafleur Communications was keeping $50,000, and an advertising firm was keeping some too.
If it was so important to protect and clean up, why did the New Democratic Party oppose the immediate implementation of Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act?
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
View Benoît Sauvageau Profile
2006-06-20 17:12 [p.2685]
Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the speech that the member for Mississauga South made. He seems quite interested in this bill since he spoke on several occasions today. I commend him for doing so, even though—and this is not an accusation—he was not present regularly at the committee. He followed, studied and analyzed BIll C-2, and he has a very good understanding of it.
We heard throughout the day that it was urgent to work on and to pass Bill C-2, because we wanted to eliminate corruption. It is important to remind the House that the vast majority of public servants are very honest men and women and that we are ensuring, through this bill, that they are provided with a safety net.
Why does the member for Mississauga South think that the government refused to immediately implement Bill C-11 that had received royal assent and that provided this safety net for public servants, which would have allowed us to have a more serious study of Bill C-2?
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