Hon. John Baird (President of the Treasury Board, CPC)
moved that Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, for seconding this landmark piece of legislation.
On January 23, Canadians elected a new government because they wanted change. Canadians said loudly and clearly that they wanted an open, honest and accountable government. They want their taxpayer dollars spent wisely and well.
I am proud of the efforts of my Treasury Board colleagues; my cabinet and caucus colleagues; the government House leader; my hard-working parliamentary secretary, the member for Nepean—Carleton; the many public servants across government led by Susan Cartwright; and the policy specialists and legal drafters who worked so hard to get the bill prepared for Parliament. I am also very proud of the leadership that the Prime Minister took in making big commitments and delivering to Canadians.
I am equally proud to see the bill go forward for second reading as the first item of business after the throne speech. The federal accountability act is about moving from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability. It is about making everyone in government more accountable to Canadians.
It has been said before by my leader, the Prime Minister, and I will say it again. As Conservatives we believe in public service, both in the ideal and in the institution. As Conservatives we believe in entrepreneurship and free spirit and we celebrate the critical role that the private sector and the profit oriented business play in the generation of wealth in the country.
However we also understand that our success as a nation depends on the critical role that must be played by government, especially by our national government. We need an effective federal government that is capable of getting things done for ordinary working Canadians and their families.
The goal of the federal accountability act is to improve the level of trust that Canadians have in their government and in their elected officials. We know that we have a long way to go to rebuild the public trust that was so egregiously violated by a slew of scandals that culminated in the Gomery commission.
A recent poll measured the level of trust that Canadians have in different professions. I am not surprised that at the top of the list were firefighters, nurses and farmers but politicians placed dead last right behind used car salesmen. We need to make real and concrete actions to address this problem head on and I believe that relationships are based on trust, and the federal accountability act is about rebuilding that trust.
Our government, the Prime Minister and me personally, believe and recognize that a strong and effective government requires strong and effective public servants. Already our government has brought a new approach to its relationships with the public service and it all starts with respect. Let me be clear that neither the Prime Minister nor any member of this caucus have blamed public servants for the political scandals that engulfed the previous administration.
The plan we are putting in place today for the Federal Accountability Act is comprised of several important components. We want to reform the financing of political parties, strengthen the role of the Ethics Commissioner, toughen the Lobbyists Registration Act and provide real protection for whistleblowers.
My colleague, the hon. parliamentary secretary, has worked hard on this. As members of Parliament from the national capital region, we are well aware of our public servants' need to be protected when they report certain situations.
We want to strengthen the access to information legislation and the power of the Auditor General. This is all very important.
These supports for whistleblowers are particularly important, and this is not to blame public servants. As we have seen far too often, members on the other side do. Because no public servant--
Mr. Derek Lee: Get out of here. Stick to the issue.
Hon. John Baird: It happened three times. Three times when I spoke on the federal accountability act, three Liberal members got up and blamed the public service. The blame game is over when it comes to our public service. I say for members opposite that no public servants woke up one day and dreamed of and decided how they would funnel money to the Liberal Party in Quebec. Those were political actors, not bureaucratic actors. No public servant had an interest in that. Those were political scandals. They were not bureaucratic scandals.
Mr. Derek Lee: You don't know what you're talking about. Go back to Queen's Park.
Hon. John Baird: It is very clear that the Liberals still do not get it. One of the members from Kitchener, one of the members from Scarborough and the member from Markham got up in this place and were bashing public servants, and I can tell members that workers in the capital are noticing that.
An hon. member: Why do they not like public servants?
Hon. John Baird: What have they got against public servants?
I am looking forward to members opposite having a chance to speak on this legislation because Canadians know where we stand on accountability and they want to know where the Liberals stand too.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. John Baird: Mr. Speaker, I hope those members will get a chance to speak. It is very interesting.
In drafting this important piece of legislation, we were very mindful of two important factors. First, we did not want to establish more red tape, more bureaucracy and add to the increasingly significant web of rules. Many of the new offices created in our bill simply replaced or strengthened the independence of existing ones, while many of the new rules are more simple, straightforward and, we hope, more effective.
Second, the government does not want a bill that stifles innovation, nor do we want to create a culture in the public service that is overly risk-averse. In running an enterprise with a budget approaching one-quarter of a trillion dollars, we must always recognize that human beings are not infallible. It is true in business, it is true in the voluntary sector, and it is equally true in government.
I want to say how fortunate we are in this country to have an Auditor General like Sheila Fraser. The Auditor General is a national hero.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
Hon. John Baird: I should say for the record that I believe it was the member for Winnipeg Centre who started the clapping.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. John Baird: The Auditor General is a national--
Hon. John Baird:
The Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, has uncovered some of the most egregious violations of financial mismanagement this country has ever seen. Canadians are very lucky to have her on the job, working hard for them.
We want to strengthen the new powers vested in the Auditor General to enable her to inquire into the use of funds that individuals and organizations receive from the federal government.
We will be legally required to subject contribution programs to ongoing corporate review. We will also establish an independent blue-ribbon panel to identify barriers to accessing grants and contributions programs. That is very important.
There are a lot of methods about election financing. We believe that money should not have the ear of government, and the federal accountability act will help take government out of the hands of the big corporations and the big unions and give it back to ordinary Canadians. Our act will limit donations to $1,000 a year. It will ban contributions by corporations, unions and organizations.
I believe the primary concern of our debate on this subject should be what we can do to increase the transparency of the political process so that Canadians can feel more confident in the integrity of our democratic system.
The changes I discussed about whistleblower protection are real. The men and women of the public service deliver important programs and services each and every day, services that touch the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. A key component in our legislation provides real protection for whistleblowers. Public servants who expose criminal wrongdoing and wasteful spending should have the full confidence that they will not face reprisals for standing up and doing what is right.
Allan Cutler spoke up and helped expose the Liberal sponsorship scandal and he lost his job. This type of action is wrong. This type of action will no longer be tolerated by the Government of Canada. The government will provide real protection for whistleblowers by giving an independent officer of Parliament the power to stand up and protect those who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
Bill C-11, which was passed by the previous Parliament, was inadequate, insufficient and light. Federal public servants told the parliamentary secretary and they told me that they wanted real protection, not someone within the executive branch but someone who was more independent to stand up to fight for them. Bill C-11 was going downhill fast in the previous Parliament and it was only at the last minute that the previous government caved in to some modest demands. We are giving a real voice to those who wanted stronger whistleblower protection. All public servants should congratulate and thank the parliamentary secretary, the member for Nepean—Carleton, for those efforts.
The level of trust Canadians have in their government is directly related to the degree to which they feel there is equitable access to decision makers in government. To help maintain the trust of Canadians in government, it is important to know that lobbying is done in an ethical way.
We believe that two principles are important in this regard. First, people should not get rich bouncing between government and lobbying jobs and, second, lobbyists should not be allowed to charge success fees, whereby they get paid only if they deliver the policy change or the grant their clients want. That is why our government will extend the ban on lobbying activities to five years for former ministers, their aides and senior public servants. We will also ban success fees.
Plus, we will create a new commissioner of lobbying with the power to investigate violations and enforce the rules. Our proposal is to take this out of the executive branch, out of the Treasury Board, and make this commissioner an officer of the House so that all Canadians will know that this commissioner has genuine independence from government.
We also want to deal with some changes to the access to information laws. Canadians deserve better access to government information. The Government of Canada belongs to the people and the government should not unnecessarily obstruct access to information. We are absolutely committed to making government more open while balancing legitimate concerns for personal privacy, commercial confidentiality and national security.
We will change access to information legislation to promote a culture of increased openness and accessibility. Our reforms will extend this law to include seven crown corporations, seven agents of Parliament, and three foundations with $1 billion budgets created under federal statute, organizations like the CBC, Canada Post and the Privacy Commissioner's office. We remember our friend Radwanski and the Radwanski affair in the previous government. These reforms will go further than any government has gone in Canadian history.
We also want to take additional steps to further reform the access law, in collaboration with parliamentarians, Canadians and stakeholders. I have had the privilege of meeting on a number of occasions with John Reid, the Information Commissioner. I look forward to receiving his advice and his input and seeing if he can help strengthen our bill and if he can contribute to the draft bill and discussion paper. We look forward to working with him. He is a champion for access to information and Canadians should consider themselves lucky to have him on the job. We will ask Parliament to consider even more reforms and will report back with additional measures.
There is another important issue I would like to raise before concluding. Our goal, our commitment, simply put, is to make government more accountable. As I said at the outset, government also needs to be effective and efficient, not bogged down in a web of rules that prevents individuals, organizations and even small businesses from doing business with the federal government and prevents public servants from doing their jobs effectively.
The message of the web of rules created in haste by the previous government has been heard. For example, I heard a story from the Auditor General who told me of a charity, a non-profit group, that received a $5,000 grant and now has to complete a 75 page contribution agreement. That is 75 pages for a $5,000 grant; we would probably have to spend $10,000 to administer a $5,000 grant. No charity should have to go through 75 pages of rules, regulations and red tape.
We want strong and effective measures of accountability, but this should be based on what is good value for the taxpayers and what is fair and reasonable for all involved. We hope to come back in short order to deal with that.
I also talked to a small businessman who has 13 employees and who bid on government work. The good news is that he won. He sharpened his pencil and put in a low bid with the one confidence that he at least could expect to get paid in short order by the federal government for the work his firm did.
Six months of invoice passing, contacting the government eight times looking for payment, and he still does not have his payment. Because of the web of rules put in by the previous government, this small business person simply cannot afford to do business with the Government of Canada any longer. We want to strengthen this and fix that problem for small business people and for the hard-working public service. We will be making an announcement in short order to address this challenge.
The changes I have highlighted today focus on fixing problems, on rewarding merit, on achieving value for money, and on building more honest and more effective government. To instill confidence, the government must be open and it must be more accountable. It must ensure that Canadians and parliamentarians have the right controls in place and it must provide them with the information they need to judge its performance.
Confidence is all about trust and the trust we place in our elected officials and public service employees to act in the best interests of Canadians. That trust must be earned every day and it starts with making government more accountable.
The measures I have highlighted today signal a dramatic change in how federal politics and the federal government will work in this country. When the Prime Minister made this announcement, he said that this will change how business is done in Ottawa forever. I agree. We would all like to see speedy passage of this important piece of legislation.
Hon. Stephen Owen (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise today to speak to the accountability bill before the House.
First, on behalf of the official opposition, we support the bill. In saying that, I would like to reflect on a number of points.
One is that many aspects of the bill are simply incremental to and build on the many accountability mechanisms that were put in place over the last 10 years by the former Liberal government. While we all believe that these important areas of public policy and trust constantly evolve to deal with new contexts and challenges, we see much of this act in that realm and we will work hard in the House and in committee to support the legislation. Where there are gaps, we will suggest amendments to fill them. Where there are technical deficiencies or ways that we can suggest it can be done better, we will propose those amendments. I hope all members of the House will come together in an appreciation of the public's insistence on high levels of trust and accountability in government, both in the public service and in the political realm.
With respect to that, I would like to quote from Mr. Justice Gomery in his fact finding report of November 2005. As we all take forward this important task of ensuring that issues of public governance are done in an accountable and forthright way, we should remember one his key conclusions:
|| Canadians should not forget that the vast majority of our public officials and politicians do their work honestly, diligently and effectively, and emerge from this inquiry free of any blame.
This was following perhaps the most comprehensive and lengthy inquiry in Canadian history. It certainly was comprehensive in terms of the amount of material covered, the number of witnesses called and the access to otherwise and previously inaccessible documentation such as cabinet minutes. We have the overwhelming vote of confidence by Justice Gomery in our public system, politicians and public service.
As we go ahead, I think we should keep that very closely in mind, particularly when we think about comments made in the House about the accountability act, such as those of the President of the Treasury Board, on April 11, when he said it was “the toughest piece of anti-corruption legislation ever tabled in Canadian history”. I am sure that is so, but what it suggests is the rising of the temperature in the House to have Canadians somehow believe that government in Canada, governance in Canada, is corrupt and that it is an Al Capone-type klepto state and we have to rush in and save the day, like those brave firefighters who are in town today talking to many of us. It is simply hyperbole
We definitely have to deal seriously with all these issues, as we have been, and constantly improve them, and we will work hard to ensure that is done. However, we should not go over the top. It is a disservice to our public service and it is a disservice to our democratic process to suggest that large numbers of politicians or public servants are corrupt. Justice Gomery did not find that.
Canadians, and all of us in the House, have a treasured governance in our country. Canada is highly democratic, it is efficient and it is respected around the world for its principles and its practices. While we can all make them better, we must remember the base that we are building on is a very high one.
This is a very large bill. It is omnibus legislation. It has been described by the President of the Treasury Board as highly comprehensive, and it is in terms of the broad scope that it covers. It could be probably in three or ten bills, but it is in one. As we go through our careful work in the House and in committee to consider improvements, gaps, amendments that might be necessary, we should remember that one of the features of omnibus legislation is that when we are trying to look at too much at once, things can slip through that may be unintended or may be unbalanced in the way they present themselves to a certain problem.
Particular care is needed in committee with expert assistance and with civil debate to make sure this legislation is the best it can be and that things are not overlooked.
The bill is a continuation in an incremental way of many of the things that were established by the last government. Mr. Justice Gomery's inquiry was one of the most important things done in modern history in terms of an inquiry into the activities of government.
I quote again from his November 2005 report as follows:
|| Let me also suggest that a system of government that would impose upon itself a searching inquiry by an independent commissioner, armed with the authority to compel the production of incriminating documentation from the public administration and able to subpoena witnesses from every level of society, with a far-reaching mandate to investigate and report on matters that could prove to be embarrassing to the Government itself, is proof that our democratic institutions are functioning well and objectively. There are very few countries in the world where an inquiry commissioner has the power to summon the sitting Prime Minister and his predecessor, to be examined under oath concerning their administration of public affairs and their involvement in what is publicly referred to as a scandalous affair. The fact that the Inquiry has been held demonstrates that in this country persons at even the highest levels of government are accountable for their actions, not only to Parliament but also to the citizenry.
That is an important thing for all of us to keep in mind. That is from the Gomery inquiry, one of the most searching in history, and it was implemented by the previous Liberal government.
Two years ago the previous Liberal government introduced the most sweeping, breathtaking in its scope, political finance reform legislation in the history of Canada, and I would suggest even in the experience of democratic parliamentary systems around the world. The legislation passed through the House. It reduced the ability of corporations, unions and other associations to donate to political action only $1,000 a year. It was absolutely breathtaking legislation. To go further as this bill would do and ban them altogether would be another significant incremental step, but going from an unlimited amount to $1,000 per corporation or per union was where the huge step was taken. We will debate and discuss the value of going the extra step of $1,000 and people will have different views on that. It is certainly not on the same scale as the breathtaking changes that were made in the Liberal political financing legislation.
I noticed in this large bill that while political finance has been addressed with respect to unions, corporations and other associations, it does not address third party advertising. We recall that the current Prime Minister was the head of a small but quite vocal organization called the National Citizens Coalition. Of course that was very litigious in its way to ensure that those types of groups which bear an eerie and dangerous similarity to the political action committees, the PACs, in the United States, and we know the election financing chicanery that goes on there. That absence bears a troubling resemblance to what goes on in the United States. I hope that during our discussions in the House and in committee we might address that absence.
The bill deals with lobbyists. It is a further step over the last 10 years of constant evolution of the Lobbyists Registration Act, the role of the Registrar of Lobbyists, the appearance before committees to discuss issues around lobbying. In many ways the suggestions regarding lobbyists in this bill are very helpful. They are certainly in step with everything the government has been working toward.
As was mentioned by my colleague previously, there is again an imbalance. Lobbyists have to be considered carefully. I take the President of the Treasury Board at his word when he says he wants to stop people from using positions of influence in the governance system--and we are not just talking about members of government, but in the governance system--to make money as lobbyists to get, I suppose, improper influence. We have to look at the balance of what is being suggested and see whether there may need to be some additions.
There are two glaring omissions in the lobbyist provisions of the bill. For example, one is that a former lobbyist of, say, the defence industry comes into government to a position of great influence over the major area of procurement that the government has, and is now the Minister of National Defence. We have to think that through carefully to see if there is something missing there. It is hard to imagine that person not having more potential at least for the appearance of improper influence than a previous minister of national defence now out of office, out of government and out of influence, I would suggest. We have to be careful.
The second gap is with respect to people in the former official opposition, now the government, who were senior people with influence. The chief of policy to the leader of the official opposition, now the Prime Minister, is a registered lobbyist and represents companies in the telecommunications industry, the transportation industry and the financial industry, all of which are very concerned and are pressing for legislative changes. We have to be careful that we meet the objective that is so eloquently espoused by members in government but perhaps not quite evident yet in the bill.
We are very pleased to see that whistleblowing legislation has been continued. Our previous government introduced this legislation. It was in committee. It was constantly being amended and improved. I think that is a very good thing, but we have to be careful as we create new and more officers of Parliament that we not simply take everything out of the public bureaucracy and put it into an independent commissioner. We cannot have a third force operating here. As we look at the whistleblowing legislation carefully with members of government we will have to make sure that we are not taking roles away from the public administration which must in the first instance work well, such as internal channels of communication and complaint.
The public administration has to be able to work using a broad range of information, all of which will not be evident to every single public servant who may well see wrongdoing where it does not exist because he or she is not aware of all of the facts. We have to have effective internal channels so as to build the protection for people who in good faith--and I appreciate that good faith is mentioned in the bill about 10 times and it is critical to whistleblowing legislation--go outside the system, outside the internal controls and do so in good faith. They should also do it with full information and we need internal channels to make sure that is done.
The reach of both the Financial Administration Act and the Auditor General's jurisdiction has been extended in this bill and I think that is a very good thing. It is something this party started after the Auditor General's report before the Gomery reports. I think that has been done to some extraordinary length, but we are seeing in this bill further expansion. We must be careful to ensure that the freedom of information or access to information requirements are properly circumscribed. so that journalistic freedom in the CBC for instance is not affected by the CBC being brought within this perimeter or trade secrets and other issues of confidentiality perhaps because they are under investigation not being brought directly into the public sphere.
We should understand that the previous Liberal government brought in wide-ranging automatic release of information around all contracts over $10,000 which must be posted online. All ministerial expenses must be posted online. This is a continuation of something that we started and which we think is important.
It is being suggested that the Ethics Commissioner and the Senate ethics officer be merged in the bill. There may well be issues of great efficiency, administrative flexibility and cost savings in that, but we have to hear from our colleagues in the other place. They had some very significant debate. I recall a debate where a particular concern was expressed by many Conservative members of the other place. We have to look to our colleagues there for advice on how that might offend their sense of the independence of the other place from the executive branch of government. We will have to look very carefully at that. We must not show disrespect in this House for the other place.
The code of conduct is being legislated. This is the code of conduct that was introduced by the Liberal government and then further enhanced by the Liberal government. It is now being put into legislation through Bill C-2. That is probably a good thing.
It was made even clearer that it was a good thing after the recent defection of a Liberal member of Parliament, the member for Vancouver Kingsway who moved into the cabinet of the Conservative government. While we have had debate previously in the House about floor crossing, it has not been in the context of such an immediate and dramatic change.
We need to have a careful look as we legislate the code of conduct and listen carefully to the independent Ethics Commissioner's review and commentary on that situation where he felt that the spirit, if not the letter, of the code of conduct was broken. He invited Parliament to consider how we might deal with that sort of situation in the future. Therefore, we should be seized of that in the House and in committee.
I want to talk a bit about the director of public prosecutions. There was some confusion in the then opposition ranks between the leader, now the Prime Minister, and the deputy leader, now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, during the election campaign over what this office was to do, what role it could play in such things as the sponsorship issue. There seemed to be some confusion between them and now we see it in the bill. It sounds to be something a little different than what was suggested by the Prime Minister when he was electioneering.
Let us look at this carefully for a moment. We know the federal government has only a limited prosecutorial role in terms of the administration of criminal justice and the taking forward of prosecutions in this country. We will have to look very carefully at whether we need a whole further layer of bureaucracy called the department of the director of public prosecutions.
The bill is quite accurate and effective in the rules put around prosecution in the federal government and by the prosecution service as part of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General, or the Minister of Justice as Attorney General. It is quite useful to put in there two important things. In fact, they come almost word for word from the Crown Counsel Act in British Columbia with which I and some other members of this side are quite familiar.
It gets to the real nub of the issue, and that is to ensure that there is not even the appearance of political interference between the Attorney General who has a dual political role of being Minister of Justice into the prosecution decisions. The Attorney General is of course the chief law officer of the country and must have overall responsibility for prosecutions. To ensure that there is not even the appearance of improper influence it exists in the bill, and I think the wording is good. It comes from the B.C. act that the Attorney General can intervene on prosecution policy generally and on any individual prosecution, even to take it over but he must do it in writing, giving such instructions, and those must be gazetted, perhaps delayed until the end of a trial. I think that is a good provision.
Where I think we go too far, and which we must discuss, is whether that is unnecessary further bureaucracy. I have heard no concern expressed about the prosecution service within the Department of Justice, or frankly, the actions of the RCMP and working with them.
However, it is important to understand as well that in the sponsorship affair, and prosecutions continue, the federal prosecution service is not involved. It is the prosecution service of Quebec and it is the Sûreté, not the RCMP, which is doing the investigations and support.
In conclusion, the official opposition is very pleased to work hard with the government and with other opposition parties to make this act the best it can be. Let us get it to committee to hear experts. Let us fix it if there are things that can be done better. Let us add things if there are some gaps. Let us not add unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and review to a public service that is already, in the Auditor General's words, very well regulated with a lot of rules. In the sponsorship case of course some rules were broken by some people, but as Justice Gomery said, very few.
Mr. Benoît Sauvageau (Repentigny, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, to speak on Bill C-2, the first legislation introduced in this 39th Parliament.
Before becoming a member of Parliament, I was a teacher—perhaps this is why I explain bills like a teacher. I would like to back up a little and see how Bill C-2 came to be, where it comes from and whether the Conservatives contemplated and produced it during the fifty or so days of the election campaign or whether the bill comes from a deeper source in our recent political history.
Ten years ago, in December 1996, in the report entitled “A Strong Foundation”—also known as the Tait report—the Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics recommended that:
||—the Government and Parliament of Canada should adopt a statement of principles for public service, or a public service code...There must be means, consistent with public service values, for public servants to express concern about actions that are potentially illegal, unethical or inconsistent with public service values, and to have those concerns acted upon in a fair and impartial manner.
This report, submitted 10 years ago, led to a Treasury Board policy on the internal disclosure of information concerning wrongdoing in the workplace. Commonly called the policy on the internal disclosure of information, it was created five years ago on November 30, 2001. Things change very slowly.
Two years later in 2003, the government, acting through Treasury Board, developed the values and ethics code for the public service. It came into effect and is now part of the public service terms and conditions of employment. On September 15, 2003, in his first annual report for 2002-2003, the public service integrity officer recommended legislation applying to the entire federal public service, including Crown corporations, on the disclosure of wrongdoing.
Still in 2003, in its thirteen report called Study of the Disclosure of Wrongdoing (Whistleblowing), the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates recommended that the federal government pass legislation to facilitate disclosure.
In 2004, we were presented with Bill C-25, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. It died on the order paper when the House was dissolved in 2004. On October 8 of the same year, Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, was introduced. It was introduced in October 2004 and consideration in committee was finished by June 2005. The bill was considered in committee for nine months. This explains my request to the Treasury Board president that he take the time to study the bill.
There was a code of conduct under the previous government. There were rules, there was a bill, there was enough legislation to guarantee transparency, accountability and responsibility.
Before the Bloc Québécois lends its support to this bill, it is important to emphasize that in November 2003, the Auditor General said during her press conference and during her appearance before Mr. Justice Gomery, that the previous government had broken all the rules. It simply disregarded them. The new Conservative government must really understand this message: there is no point establishing cleaner, whiter, more visible guidelines when first and foremost it is a matter of observing the existing guidelines.
It is not just a matter of making new rules. That is the important message we got from the Auditor General.
In my opinion, this bill does not say enough about that. The existing rules have already been broken by the previous government.
The most important question for the public is: how can we ensure that the government will obey these new rules? The formula has been reviewed and improved. Many existing parameters were reviewed and improved. Nonetheless, what guarantee is there for our opposition party and the public that this government will obey these rules?
In her November 2003 report, and when she appeared before Justice Gomery, the Auditor General did not indicate that new rules were needed. She told us that the existing rules needed to be obeyed, as do any new rules. Before indicating that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle and the philosophy behind the bill, it is more important for us to indicate that the Bloc Québécois wants to go further to ensure that these rules, contrary to the existing ones, will be obeyed by the current government.
There is another equally important aspect. I endorse the comments, questions and concerns of my colleague from Papineau on the poor translation of the title of the accountability bill.
Allow me to read a few newspaper articles to say that the first amendment the Bloc will move in committee will be on the translation of the title of the accountability bill.
In an article by Michel Vastel it says:
|| No French or Quebec dictionary gives the word “imputabilité”, which is nothing more than a bad translation of the English word “accountability”. The Office de la langue française rejects this translation as well.
|| When we talk about politicians or public servants we say they must “account for their actions”, that they must “be accountable for their actions”, that they have a responsibility and that is “the obligation to be accountable for their actions given their role and responsibilities and to accept the consequences of their actions”.
This French definition was taken from the Trésor de la langue française. I will continue to read from the newspaper article:
|| That is what the Prime Minister is talking about when he says he wants to restore public confidence in the institutions.
|| He wants the politicians, public servants and agencies of the federal government to be accountable for their actions to the public. He wants to pass legislation on accountability (of officers, agencies and so forth of the federal government). He wants the latter to have to account for their actions to the public. He wants to establish accountability as a common practice of good government. He wants the politicians, public servants and so forth to be accountable for their actions to the public. We hope that federal writers and translators will replace the French term “ìmputabilité”, which is incorrect, with a correct French term in the bill introduced in the House of Commons.
I have here another, slightly more unsettling article, by Laurent Soumis if I am not mistaken, entitled:
|| [The name of the Prime Minister] deliberately chooses the wrong translation, “imputabilité”.
|| [The first and last name of the Prime Minister] is bound and determined to speak franglais. Le Journal learned yesterday that the Prime Minister's Office deliberately disregarded the federal Translation Bureau's recommendation, and used the term “imputabilité”, which is an incorrect translation of the original English “accountability” in the title of the legislation.
|| Since 1934, the Bureau has been providing translation and revision services for federal departments and agencies, the House of Commons and the Senate and helping the government select just the right word.
|| The verdict is final. Use of the term “imputabilité” is to be avoided, the government site confirms.
Two ministers—the Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages, and the Minister Responsible for the Translation Bureau— are also quoted and should support this amendment. I believe that my Conservative colleagues should also support it.
Still, there are mainly two ministers involved, one of whom does not sit with us but in the other place, but he still has responsibilities. And so all of these people should immediately rally to this amendment, so that the French language is used coherently and accurately.
That being said, we will therefore be moving an amendment to change the title of the bill. I am certain that language professionals and people who like things to be called by their proper names will be pleased. I also venture to hope that the President of the Treasury Board will very quickly agree, so that newspaper articles, people who make speeches in the House and our very professional interpreters will be able to translate accountability as responsabilité.
I repeat, the Bloc supports the principle of the bill, but we want some time, not for delaying tactics, but to study this important legislation seriously and carefully.
I recall that it took over nine months and a number of committee meetings. The Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board was on the committee then; he knows that it did constructive work and that this took time.
The Bloc wants to hear the witnesses affected by this bill; we should at least hear the Auditor General in the committee. We should also hear the Chief Electoral Officer, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner—such is the new title—and other witnesses who may benefit from the bill. I am thinking of the public service unions, for example.
As I said, the Bloc wants time, not to stall, but to study this bill seriously and carefully.
Moving on, we can also say that we are pleased to see a number of proposals that the Bloc has been making for many years included in this bill. I will mention a few, but I will leave it to my colleagues who are going to speak after me to address some of them in greater depth.
I would cite the example of the appointment of returning officers by Elections Canada based on merit. This is something that the Bloc Québécois has long been calling for. My friend and colleague, the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, even introduced a bill to that effect. The Liberals were in power and appointed the returning officers. We said then, as a joke, that there would surely be some Liberals left who had the skills to do the job of returning officer when merit appointments were brought in. There is no need to worry that they will disappear altogether. I am convinced that 10% to 12% of them will be appointed, as competent people. It is only the others that we want to remove so that we can have competent returning officers.
The independence of the registry of lobbyists is something the Bloc Québécois has long called for. We are pleased to see that request incorporated in the bill, imperfect as it is. The Political Parties Financing Act will be closer to Quebec’s act, with the prohibition on donations by businesses. The powers of the Auditor General will also be strengthened.
You will permit me a little self-congratulation here. In a bill in the previous Parliament, the Auditor General was given what she wanted. For four years she had been asking for the right to audit foundations, something she was systematically denied by the government in place. With Bill C-277, a private members’ bill which was included in the last Liberal budget, we allowed the Auditor General a greater role and enhanced powers. We cannot but support a further strengthening of the powers of the Auditor General.
However, there are a few deficiencies in the bill which we want to consider in committee. In our view, the bill encourages a culture of unhealthy informing by proposing rewards for whistleblowers.
When I was a child, I would read Lucky Luke, and written on the pictures I would see, “bounty hunters”. Do we want a culture in the federal government where workers, as well as being public servants, would have the job of bounty hunter? Where they look around to see if anyone is doing something wrong in the hope of supplementing their income? Crazy, you say? Well, there is worse still. At the moment a reward of $1,000 is being proposed. During the week off, we heard that this could be increased up to 30% of the amount recovered, as is done in the United States.
We do not want a culture of whistleblowing. We want a bill that will permit responsible public servants who witness wrongdoing to file a complaint and feel that they are protected. That does not mean creating a team of three or four persons who will go out of their way to search out inappropriate behaviour in order to make themselves a little money. I do not think that is the purpose of the bill, and I hope that is not the desire of the President of Treasury Board or his parliamentary secretary.
We shall again study the testimony we received concerning this aspect in the course of consideration of Bill C-11. At the time, the Conservatives were a little besotted with the idea of offering rewards to whistleblowers. But I believe I recall that all of the witnesses heard at that time told us that this was not a good message to be sending to the public service. We shall have witnesses to hear on this subject, and certainly some amendments to propose.
The bill proposes a public appointments commission within the Prime Minister’s portfolio, responsible notably for overseeing the appointment selection process. We recently saw who was appointed to this position. When we know that most appointments come from the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office, when we know that it is the Prime Minister who appoints the person who is going to oversee these appointments, we think it is a bit like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.
The bill proposes that the new parliamentary budget officer report to the Library of Parliament; it also proposes some exceptions preventing the officer from having access to certain information. This is a request made many times by my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, who will have an opportunity to speak on the issue. We can only be partly happy with this appointment of the parliamentary budget officer. Too often, the Minister of Finance hid the overall figures from the population. He told us that we were probably going to have a balanced budget and he stored away billions of dollars about which the members could say nothing. We dare to hope that the appointment of this parliamentary budget officer will remove the veil of secrecy from this part where the surpluses awaited by the government were hidden from us.
The bill proposes that only three out of nine major foundations be covered by the Access to Information Act and by the new powers of the Auditor General. In committee, we are going to ask why they are talking about three major foundations, rather than nine. Is it for organizational, serious reasons? In our opinion, all the major foundations, which together have close to $10 billion in budget money, should be subject to the Access to Information Act.
In the proposed bill, lobbyists still benefit from numerous loopholes, notably e-mail communications. This will have to be checked and tightened. These are the questions we are going to put to the appropriate legislative committee.
We are going to study Part 1 of the bill respecting conflict of interest. The penalties it provides, so far, are not stiff enough to deter people from placing themselves in situations of conflict of interest. I will give other examples a little later, but suppose a lobbyist working for the government breached this part of the law; he would have the heavy fine of $500 to pay. A $500 penalty, for having broken the law to obtain a contract worth $200,000 does not look like enough of a deterrent to us. We will look at this in committee.
As for appointments of returning officers, the bill does not provide for open competitions. There should be better guidelines for the office of the director of public prosecutions. In principle, complaints to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner should go through the members' offices. I feel this poses a serious problem. The Conservatives refuse to budge on access to information. They are asking for a little more time to reform the Access to Information Act. We should understand each other. We want to look further at what is happening.
I mentioned lobbyists. I could close by talking about the Minister of Transport's communications director, who seemed to violate the spirit of this bill at least. But we will have the chance to talk about that again later.
In conclusion, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois—and I think I have been clear—I will say first that the bill should be referred to as the Loi sur la responsabilité in French during the discussions. We plan to make a number of amendments to the bill, but we support it in principle. After all, we cannot be against improved ethics and greater transparency. But we want the government to proceed with seriousness and rigour, two qualities the Bloc Québécois identifies with. I can assure my colleagues that I will cooperate fully with them in order to improve this bill at the legislative committee stage.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud, on behalf of the NDP caucus, to join the debate on Bill C-2.
Let me say at the outset that Bill C-2, if we do this right, could be the most significant piece of legislation that we undertake in this 39th Parliament and it could be of great benefit to all Canadians.
Let me also say that the NDP firmly believes in open government. We do not use the terms “transparency” and “accountability” as buzz words. We view these as basic tenets of the NDP doctrine, which is why we are bound and determined to make Bill C-2 work.
Let me begin by recognizing and paying tribute to a former leader of the NDP and a former member of parliament for the riding of Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent, and the contribution he has made in this debate. I will not say that he crafted Bill C-2, that would be wrong, but I do believe it is fair to say that all the parties in the House have taken inspiration and guidance from the work that Ed Broadbent did in taking note of the state of affairs in Ottawa when he came back to Ottawa and realized that something was fundamentally wrong and that substantive change needed to be made. Ed Broadbent took it upon himself, as a project, to monitor, to analyze and to make recommendations that would lead to genuine accountability and transparency. For that, we owe him a great debt.
The idea of cleaning up of Ottawa, of changing the culture in Ottawa, is a massive undertaking. The public has to appreciate what a project this is. I have heard people say that it is like steering a supertanker to change the culture just one degree to the right or one degree to the left. I do not use those terms politically. I am saying one degree of change in the way we do things is a massive undertaking. Perhaps that is why we see that Bill C-2 is a massive tome. It contains over 270 pages. Some call it K2 because it is as big as a mountain.
It is also no coincidence that it makes a handy weapon with which to beat the Liberals. It is no coincidence that this is as much a weapon as it is anything else because on any page open the bill, it insults the Liberal Party of Canada because it reminds the Liberals of their shame as they sit isolated now on the sidelines watching others cleaning up the mess they created. I say that with no malice, and I will not use my 20 minutes to beat up the Liberals. I merely point that out to illustrate that the reason we have to dedicate the 39th Parliament to issues of corruption rather than moving forward with other issues that might advance the nation is because of the legacy we have been left, the mess we have been left to clean up after 13 years of abuse by the Liberal Party.
The President of the Treasury Board said that his main purpose was to improve the level of trust. That was the one thing I copied down from his remarks in introducing the bill. We stand committed to that same noble goal in improving the level of trust of Canadians. We want them to believe that we are doing honourable things with their money and with their trust, not abusing their trust, not breaking faith with the Canadian people. I will not stand for it. For that reason, we will not obstruct Bill C-2. We will do our best to make it the best bill it can possibly be.
I will now return to my original point that it is a massive undertaking. It is like steering a supertanker. However we cannot legislate some of these things. We cannot legislate morality or ethics or morals. Those are things we either have or we do not. We can create an environment that lends itself to better ethical behaviour. I would argue that one of the best ways to do that is by shining a light on those things. The access to information law, which I will talk about later, perhaps is the best way to encourage ethical behaviour the way that we want to see it.
Before I get into the substance of the bill, I would also caution that we will not tolerate anything in the bill that may be viewed as bashing or blaming civil servants or trying to say that the reason we are in such a quagmire of maladministration over the last 13 years is because of corruption in the civil service. We will not tolerate that.
We start from the basic premise that no well-meaning civil servant goes ahead and, as the Auditor General said, breaks all the rule, unless told to break all the rules by political masters. The corrective measures in Bill C-2 should not be viewed by any public civil servants as threatening or as a condemnation of the way that they have administered public funds. If anything, our objections are political, not toward civil service.
As I have mentioned, Bill C-2 makes a dandy weapon to beat up the Liberals with; it is heavy enough to do some real damage. It also acts as a perfect shield that the newly elected Conservative Party may use when, as we predict, in time, similar accusations will be made toward that party. The Conservatives can hold that up against the onslaught of criticisms about their track record as the years go on and say that they in fact have tried to correct these measures. It is really quite a gift to put together one document that serves as a weapon and as a shield.
We are suspect of it in certain ways. As much as we support and endorse the idea of introducing a bill that truly will address accountability and transparency, members cannot blame us for being a little suspect of it and a little jaded that there may be aspects of the bill that are more self-serving than altruistic in terms of their purpose. After 13 years of recent experience, no one can blame us for looking for ulterior motives, for perhaps secondary objectives that may be in the bill.
While we would support a bill that is designed to create an environment where the Liberals cannot operate, and that aspect, we feel, is a natural idea, we are also critical that it may in fact be that the bill has been crafted in such a way, massive as it is, that it is designed to fail, that in fact it is impossible to attack this level, these complex administrative issues all in one package, within the timeframe contemplated by the federal government. It may be an impossible task, in which case the document would be more valuable to the Conservative Party as an election platform than as a document that actually passes Parliament and gets implemented.
We will not allow that to happen. We will not play political games with this. Our goodwill is finite, it is limited and it has qualifiers on it. We are willing to cooperate on the condition that it is a sincere initiative and is not being used for some political objective above and beyond its stated purpose.
I will give members an example. We are not paranoid. We do not just invent these things. There are clauses in the bill that give us cause for concern, such as what could be viewed as a poison pill about the Senate ethics commissioner. We know that senators are going to dig their heels in on this. They are not going to accept this readily. Why would the government plant such an obvious obstacle in the way?
There are two possible reasons. One is that it will grind down to a halt there and be sent back here for the six month delay, which the Senate can don and which would coincide perfectly with an election call in the spring of 2007. Away we would go with no new bill and no new accountability measures, but the Conservative government could say that it tried sincerely and the opposition would not let the Conservatives do it. That is one possibility.
The other possibility is that if the government can cause enough upset and unruliness in the Senate, it is a natural segue, then, for the Conservatives to point to that unelected body, the other place, criticize it for its very nature and then argue for Senate reform, which we also do not necessarily disagree with.
The Liberals are in an untenable situation. They are truly boxed in as we go into the debate on Bill C-2, because their best argument when they stand up is to say that the government members are just as bad as they are, that members are just as corrupt as they have been for the last 13 years. That seems to be the only accusation they seem able to make. It would be funny if it were not so sad. The only real criticisms of any substance that they make is to find an isolated incident and try to compare it saying the government is just as bad as they are.
An hon. member: A pox on both their houses.
Mr. Pat Martin: As my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley says, a pox on both their houses.
If that is true, we are critical of both of them. That is no argument. The Liberal argument is no argument. The Liberals think we should leave the status quo because they were corrupt, so therefore the Conservatives should not change the rules because they are acting in a corrupt way too. The public wants better than that. That is no comfort whatsoever.
We will be raising several points as we go through this bill. We welcome the reformation of the Elections Act, but at the same time, as I said when I opened my remarks with a nod to the Hon. Ed Broadbent, the changes contemplated by the Conservative government fall well short of what we have been advocating over recent years.
First of all, as for lowering the contribution rate to $1,000, I cannot speak against that. That is like giving me a raise in pay because as MPs most of us donate a lot more than that per year to our political party. I will not complain about the $1,000. It is like a tax cut for me.
I will say, though, I am critical that the government failed to acknowledge the legitimate points that Mr. Broadbent was putting forward, such as fixed election dates and electoral reform, with a review of proportional representation.
This bill also does not do anything about spending limits for leadership contests, for instance.
Also, it does not do anything to ban floor crossing, which we are adamant needs to be addressed in this 39th Parliament.
On lobbyists, I think most of us are now prepared to accept that lobbyists bastardize democracy. We have seen what happens in the United States, where the lobbyists are running Capitol Hill.
Canadians demand sweeping reform of the regulations governing lobbyists. This particular bill, even though it does speak to the issue of the revolving door for lobbyists and sets stricter guidelines, will do nothing to end the practice of awarding government contracts to the very firms that also lobby government.
Lobbyists' firms enjoy an unnatural relationship with government. On the one hand they are being paid to beat down the doors of government and lobby it on various issues, as guns for hire as it were, but at the same time that same government is awarding government contracts to the lobbying firms, not their customers. This is an unnatural practice that is loaded with potential conflicts and problems.
Our experience to date cries out for reform in this area. I serve notice to the President of the Treasury Board that he can expect amendments to be put forward by the NDP in the area of lobbying.
On the appointments process, some would say the government has failed its first test in cleaning up the appointments process by appointing a well-known Conservative activist to chair the new appointments commission. Granted, it is a heck of a lot better than the status quo, where there was a desk in the PMO where the Liberals arbitrarily made appointments year after year based on a person's Liberal membership card being up to date.
We all want substantive change to the current practice. We are disappointed that we are off to a bad start. Maybe the government has made a mistake, but it has left itself open to criticism over its sincerity about cleaning up the appointments process. That does us all a disservice. If this were just clumsiness, then perhaps it could be fixed, but if it is an indication of something more sinister, if it is an indication that the government is not sincere about changing the appointments process at all, then we have a serious problem with it.
Thus, as much as we are enthusiastic about the opportunity and the potential of Bill C-2, our goodwill only extends so far. We will be the first to criticize its shortcomings on a point by point basis.
I should also point out on this whole appointments process that even though there will be a commission to review these appointments along the lines of what Ed Broadbent recommended, the whole process is still within the PMO. Along those lines, there will be a set of criteria and hopefully the appointments will be made and approved on the basis of merit as they apply to that set of criteria, but the whole process is still within the PMO, not truly independent but subject to veto or oversight.
The PMO is still running the appointments process and we all know that unbridled patronage reminds people of rum bottle politics. It just invokes bad memories of the 13 years of Liberal government that showed us how not to do it, that lost government the faith and the confidence of the Canadian people.
Let me speak briefly to the changes for the Auditor General. This act does in fact strengthen the powers of the Auditor General. The President of the Treasury Board was right to single out the confidence and the admiration we have for the Auditor General's office. Sometimes I think the Auditor General is really the only friend Canadians have watching out for their well-being.
I am very critical, though, on one matter. I will echo the comments of my Liberal colleague who criticized this, and I believe the Bloc did as well. First nations enjoy a unique status. There is no relationship like that between first nations and the federal government. The money that is transferred to first nations for their use is not federal government money being spent by others. It enjoys a different status altogether. It should not be viewed as another organization or agency that is spending the government's money. Therefore, the Auditor General should not have this additional auditing authority over first nations. Let me make that clear. I will speak in greater detail at committee. The NDP is vehemently opposed to this idea.
Let me now deal a little bit with what is not in the bill instead of what is in the bill. As I said, there is much in the bill that we can support. We will be supporting the bill to get it to committee.
The access to information provisions are so key and fundamental to accountability and transparency that it cannot be overstated. Access to information laws within Canada have been called “quasi-constitutional” by the Supreme Court of Canada. That is how fundamental the right to know is in this country.
Sunshine is such a powerful disinfectant, and freedom of information is the sunlight of Canadian politics. It was the culture of secrecy that allowed corruption to flourish under the Liberals all these years. Only access to information laws will in fact throw open the curtains and shine the light of day on the activities of government, so I cannot overstate how disappointed I am that access to information law, in its whole package, did not find its way into Bill C-2.
Actually, I should qualify that: I think there were strong access to information provisions in Bill C-2, but I think they were struck. I think the Conservatives lost their nerve and got cold feet. We all know what needs to be done. There are people on the Conservative benches with whom I have worked for five, six or seven years in developing what needs to be done in access to information. We had their full and enthusiastic support at every step of the way--at every step of the way except for implementing these changes now that they have the authority to do so.
This is why I am very critical that we do not have comprehensive access to information reform within Bill C-2, although I will acknowledge and recognize that more crown corporations will in fact be under access to information laws by virtue of this bill. Some foundations will, not all, and we all know the Liberals were squirreling away money for years in these foundations, billions and billions of dollars that we have had no access to or oversight of whatsoever. At least these will be subject to access to information.
We still have this bizarre anomaly that there are 246 crown agencies, institutions and corporations. With the addition of these seven generously offered by the President of the Treasury Board, we now are allowed to see the inner workings of about 50 of them. I am able to get access to information on the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, but I cannot get access to information on some massive crown corporations that have billions of dollars of Canadians' money to spend.
We want to spend a lot of time on this. I understand that the bill is going to committee. Sometimes this can be viewed as death by committee. I am running out of time, so I will curb my comments on that.
Let me summarize by saying that the NDP is deeply committed to the concept of open government. We welcome and celebrate this opportunity to be able to make some meaningful changes in the way government operates.
We need to restore the trust of the Canadian people. I share that point of view with the President of the Treasury Board. Nothing will restore the trust of the Canadian people more than the substantive changes, as we view them, in terms of how government operates. If we do nothing else in this 39th Parliament, I encourage my colleagues to make sure that we pass meaningful reform in this regard.
Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the accountability act, if passed, will be the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history. It will end the revolving door between ministers' offices and lobby firms. It will give the Auditor General the power to shine the light of day into every dark corner in her hunt for waste, theft and corruption. It will ban big money and corporate cash from political campaigns so that no longer will powerful interests buy favours during political campaigns. It will protect honest whistleblowers from bullying.
The latter point is a particular passion of mine because I represent an Ottawa area riding full of honest public servants who need protection should they ever step forward with information of corruption or wrongdoing. They need to know that their livelihood will be secured.
Our whistleblower protection, that which is provided for specifically in the accountability act, would do a number of things that the previous Liberal government failed to do in Bill C-11. For one, we intend to give full enforcement power to the office of the integrity commissioner. The integrity commissioner would be responsible for protecting public servants against bullying and reprisals. Bill C-2 would give the office of the integrity commissioner the authority to carry out that protection rather than simply the ability to make a recommendation.
For example, under the previous Liberal bill if a whistleblower were to experience bullying he or she would have to go to the employer originally to seek restoration and, if not, to the Labour Relations Board, a body that most public servants with whom I have spoken do not consider effectively independent.
How likely is it that a public servant will be comfortable taking that risk under those circumstances? Without the enforcement power, the integrity commissioner would be unable to impose consequences on those who bully whistleblowers. Instead, the bully, often the employer, could be required to impose discipline on himself or herself. We do not believe that is a likely prospect. We do not believe that if a department, a deputy head or an employer has bullied a whistleblower that they will turn around and discipline themselves for having carried out that infraction. As a result, there is no way we can fully trust the integrity of the process unless it is made independent through enforcement power in the integrity commissioner's office. In other words, the only way to truly protect the whistleblower is to guarantee independent legal protection from someone who works for Parliament, not from someone who works for the executive branch of government.
History has shown that these independent protections are essential. Let us look at the case of Allan Cutler, a great whistleblower who exposed the Liberal theft and corruption in the sponsorship scandal. He was declared surplus and lost his job. To this day his job has not been restored. Why? It is because he would have to go back to his old employer, the very employer who terminated him or declared him surplus. The process is too political and until it is severed out and made completely independent, people like Allan Cutler will never get full restoration.
The whistleblower laws contained in the accountability act would remove the political interference and give the power to an independent tribunal of judges comprised only when needed, giving them the power to restore the Allan Cutlers of the world. Anyone who believes in the independence of the judiciary must also believe in the independence of this process. It is comprised of an officer of Parliament at the top and a tribunal of acting federal court judges throughout the process.
The accountability act would give these protections not only to public servants but to all Canadians. All employees of crown corporations and all contractors will receive protection. Every private citizen whistleblower will have protection under federal statutory law against bullying.
It is rare throughout the world to see protections that go this far, but we have been willing to institute them in the accountability act because it is the right thing to do. The thousands of public servants who live and work in my riding tell me consistently that should they find themselves in the unfortunate situation of an Allan Cutler, they would be desperate to have these sorts of protections because it is their livelihoods that are on the line.
Too often we have seen these courageous whistleblowers destroyed, their lives and reputations and yes, their own financial security. They do not have the ability to hire an army of lawyers to defend them in courts, and that is why we are giving them the ability to do so through an independent tribunal under the auspices of an officer of Parliament. Throughout that process, whistleblowers will have legal advice furnished to them and they will have the ability to operate in a setting that is open and transparent.
We are removing the cover-up clauses that the Liberals had installed in the previous whistleblower protection law. Those cover-up clauses allowed cabinet to rip whistleblower protection out of the hands of employees at crown corporations, to cover up information related to scandal for five years, and prevent access to information requests from going there. We are removing those kinds of cover-up clauses because we believe that whistleblower protection is designed to expose corruption and restore accountability, not the reverse.
These protections for whistleblowers are long overdue. The government operations committee discussed whistleblower protection for two years. The Liberal government commenced the discussions on Bill C-11 almost two years ago, but still on election day the bill had not been given royal proclamation. In other words, Canada still does not have whistleblower protection.
I say whistleblowers have waited long enough. The time is now. We need not discuss the same old debates that we have gone over for years and years. The time has come for these measures, indeed all measures contained in the accountability act, to be promptly moved through committee, passed through this House, and sent to the Senate for quick ratification.
I believe any attempt to frustrate the passage of the accountability act will be met with ferocious opposition from everyday Canadian voters who demand these changes. I can assure members of the House that I, as a member of Parliament, will be both honest and vigilant in watching for any form of procedural subterfuge that Liberal senators and other Liberals might attempt to employ to block the passage of this important anti-corruption law.
More broadly, we are discussing the country that we wish to create. We wish to create a country that rewards people who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules, and punish those who cheat, steal and break the law. That is the very definition of accountability: rewarding good and punishing bad. That is what we as Conservatives believe; that is what our agenda is all about.
It goes beyond one single act. Consider the Conservative fixation with lower taxes, and I use that word fixation proudly. Taxes are a penalty on success. Conservatives will cut taxes to reward success by letting people keep more of what they work so hard to earn. We will bring in tax credits for the cost of a student's textbooks to reward learning, tax credits for kids' sports to reward exercise and healthy living, tax credits for public transit to reward clean transportation, and so on.
Conversely, the government will enact tough penalties for criminal wrongdoing. Mandatory minimum prison sentences and an end to house arrest represent new forms of accountability for lawbreakers.
Let us take Canada's foreign policy. A nation predicated on the principles of accountability must reward great strides toward democracy by committing aid and troops in places like Afghanistan, but punish tyrants and terrorists such as Hamas with international denunciation and cuts to foreign aid. That is what accountability means beyond this piece of legislation.
By itself, the accountability act is the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history, but it is a theme by which the government, under the Prime Minister with his Conservative philosophy, will judge actions on policy issues ranging from fighting crime to foreign affairs, from fiscal policy to ethics.
I will now broaden my discussion of the accountability act. The act will open the windows to let in all that beautiful sunshine the NDP member has been talking about. He spoke of that sunshine as the greatest detergent to clean away the corruption, to hold to account the wrongdoer, to expose waste, and to rid ourselves of the wrongs that were done by the previous government. That is exactly what we have done.
We are extending access to information into a whole series of bodies of the government that were formerly excluded. Crown corporations, for example, will have new requirements of openness to the Canadian taxpayers. The Auditor General will have the ability to follow the money, to go into organizations that receive large sums of public money, and find out where those dollars are being spent.
Imagine if the Auditor General had been able to follow the money to the advertising firms and even the Liberal Party during the latest sponsorship scandal. Imagine if we had greater access to the books of the great foundations where Liberals have been stashing away billions of dollars for so many years. Imagine all the contractors that have benefited from the Liberal gun registry, which is now $1 billion over budget. Those types of government expenditures deserve to be subjected to the greatest public scrutiny, and that is exactly what the accountability act seeks to accomplish.
I want to take this moment to thank those who have worked so hard in putting the bill together. In particular, I would like to single out the public servants from the Justice Department and Treasury Board, the drafters who have worked so long and so hard to put together this sweeping legislation in such a short period of time. Their efforts are recognized not only by myself and the President of the Treasury Board but by the Prime Minister who understands the way they have toiled to make their country a better place.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for having given me this opportunity and the President of the Treasury Board for having carried out his duties with such vigour and integrity.
With that, I throw open a challenge to all members of Parliament. The time for talk is done. We have arrived at a moment of action. We must move swiftly through the legislative process to secure the passage of this law by the House of Commons and refer it to the Senate by early June so that senators will have the ability to pass the law into statute by the beginning of July. This is an enormous task.
For example, the whistleblower protection law of the previous government took two years and never got completely enacted. Whistleblower protection is one of 13 parts of the accountability act and we expect to have it completely passed by summer in approximately three months. It is an extremely tight timeline. That is why there is no time for gamesmanship. We have no room for partisanship.
Those parties that have an institutional opposition to any form of accountability must be served notice here and now that we will make them pay a grave public price if they try to hold back the public will, and if they try to stop the passage of this accountability act. The time is now. The place is here. We have been vested with this responsibility and very little time in which to execute it. I call on all members of the House of Commons to rise not only in support of this accountability act but in favour of more accountable society, one predicated on the principles earlier enunciated here.
Mr. Alan Tonks (York South—Weston, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Davenport.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on achieving your exalted position and the manner in which you have been adjudicating our proceedings thus far.
I have a comment with respect to the parliamentary secretary's characterization of taxes. I guess he would fundamentally disagree with Edmund Burke who has said that taxes are the price we pay for our passage toward a better world.
However, the subject at hand is accountability. I noted that the parliamentary secretary did not get into the role that members of Parliament could play in terms of heightening accountability, and I will attempt to address those concepts in my comments.
I am pleased to rise today, as the associate critic for democratic reform, to speak on behalf of all Canadians on the issue of accountability in government. I say I speak on behalf of all Canadians because I am certain that there is not one member, regardless of party, opposition side or government side, who does not believe that we all share a moral and ethical responsibility to extract from every dollar of expenditure a dollar's worth of service and value for the Canadian taxpayer. That should go without saying.
My colleague, the critic for our party, has very capably outlined the challenges facing us as parliamentarians to complete the accountability loop that was begun by the previous government. In order to develop some context for our own discussions and those of other speakers, it might be helpful to reiterate what in fact was done as a result of the sordid litany of transgressions, both professional and political, that were investigated by Justice Gomery.
First, as has been mentioned by my colleague and as a result of testimony provided to both the public accounts committee and Judge Gomery, which exposed the weakness in both internal and external audits back as far as 1995, the Liberal government restored the comptroller general's functions for each department and instituted internal audit policies. The role of the comptroller general had in fact been taken out by a previous Liberal government. The order of checks and balances did not recognize any partisanship. If there were weaknesses and mistakes made, they were made equally by both those governments.
That was changed as a result of the experience in 1995 and 1996 of internal and external audits not being followed up. This is important because what occurred was the systemic breakdown in the architecture of checks and balances. This was followed up by the political exploitation of the contract and award system, which is well documented by Judge Gomery.
To be clear, this was perpetuated by a small number of individuals. As Judge Gomery stated, and I quote once again, as my colleague did:
|| Canadians should not forget that the vast majority of our public officials and politicians do their work honestly, diligently and effectively, and emerge from this Inquiry free of any blame.
The government's accountability legislation picks up in several other areas where the foundation for accountability was laid, such as the continuation of the reform of financing for political parties, strengthening the role of the Ethics Commissioner, making qualified government appointments and cleaning up government polling and advertising. All of these were works in progress and are worthy of support.
Other parts of the bill have implications that warrant further review and should be sent to committee for further deliberation. I speak of two recommendations that both appear to be unduly bureaucratic. In fact, they cloud the historic and well-tried traditions of our parliamentary and justice system in a manner that is contradictory to the objectives of the government.
I am referring to the government's recommendation to create a “director of public prosecutions”. That unnecessarily and even seriously collides with the responsibilities of the Attorney General and even by its definition and characterization implicates on the time-tested principle of natural justice. Those believing in natural justice and human rights and equality before the law should be concerned with respect to the creation of a director of public prosecutions.
The other recommendation that deserves the even-handed treatment of committee is the establishment of a parliamentary budget authority. While the reasons given are laudable, and I quote from the bill, to “ensure truth in budgeting” and “to provide objective analysis to members of Parliament and parliamentary committees concerning the state of the nation's finances, trends in the national economy, and the financial cost of proposals under consideration by either house”, the advantages in creating yet another level of fiscal bureaucracy must be measured against whether the oversight capacity of committees as recommended by Judge Gomery and the Auditor General are in fact being vigorously enhanced by this recommendation to create a parliamentary budget authority.
It is my opinion that members of Parliament cannot and should not delegate away their accountability to what is becoming an ever more complex and intricate array of bureaucratic watchdogs. I believe it was Winston Churchill who said, “Watchdogs? Why yes, but who will watch the dogs?”
I would like to close by reminding Parliament most humbly that there was another work in progress that at least to some extent implicated on those abuses that were uncovered by the Auditor General and Judge Gomery. I am referring to the existence of what was described as a democratic deficit, where it was suggested that parliamentarians were either deliberately shut out or naively shutting themselves out of the process of policy development, evaluation and accountability.
In my short time in the House I have witnessed the efforts of all parties to take back responsibilities from unelected mandarins, lobbyists and the like that had been delegated away. Just one example of this trend was the establishment of the estimates approval process through the standing committee structure. As chairman of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, I also found myself along with members querying whether the committee was being provided with the necessary investigative tools to carry out this responsibility with the capacity to follow through.
Under the mantra of parliamentary accountability much has been, and through this bill will be, accomplished. Let me make this one observation for the consideration of all hon. members. Let us not in combating the aberration of deceit, corruption and maladministration, pervasively create a culture where we forget that our parliamentary system is the foundation upon which the political, social and economic landscape of our country has been built. By all means let us do all within our power to assure Canadians that those parliamentary institutions and values are dynamic, democratic and flexible enough to reflect and protect the public trust.
This piece of legislation, if addressed in both manner of process and substance as I have tried to outline today, will be yet another step in that direction of accountability that Canadians want to see us take. Most important, it will empower their elected representatives to deliver on their great expectation to protect the public trust.
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, as I rise to speak in the House today on the federal accountability act, I would like to begin by once again thanking the voters of my riding of Davenport. It is indeed a privilege and honour to continue to ensure that the people of Davenport have their voices heard in Ottawa.
Throughout the campaign, the people I met made it clear that their vision of the kind of Canada they wanted to live in was not the one being presented by the Conservative Party. What they did want was a country that is compassionate, inclusive, and one that affords equal opportunity to all Canadians. They want a vision for the young and the old that is both inspirational and motivating. It is a vision my constituents and I share and one that I am proud to promote in this House.
Canada is a great country rich in history. Canada's past is full of visionaries including Laurier, who in his day welcomed to Canada millions of southern and eastern Europeans. They did not speak our language nor comprehend our vast geography, but their contributions to our prosperity are still felt today. Their descendants continue to lead and build this great country. The same thing will happen with those who are new to Canada in our time.
Our first nations people also continue to contribute to the vibrancy of this great land. There are over 50 different languages spoken by native people, most of which are only spoken here in Canada.
Just a few weeks ago the government presented its Speech from the Throne. It is impossible to separate the blueprint of the government's agenda and its flip-flop appointments of recent days from the bill we are discussing here today.
The government's vision of the country is not one that is shared by the large urban centres across Canada. Voters in these cities chose not to elect Conservative members to this House. When we look at the government's agenda, we see a vision of the future that is quite frankly out of sync with the aspirations of most Canadians.
In the area of child care, for example, I believe public policy should support those who are most in need. There are families in this country that are struggling. The previous Liberal government was putting in place a national child care program. This program was about helping those most in need so that they could access affordable child care. The Conservative government's apparent decision to discontinue this initiative will not create more day care spaces where they are needed. It will not serve those who can least afford child care services.
It is remarkable that the Prime Minister and his colleagues across the floor would speak of their dedication to accountability and ethics when their record to date is so inconsistent with their actions since taking office, a staggering comment in view of the record of what is still a relatively young administration.
The Prime Minister and his colleagues in the Conservative caucus have made much about their proposed legislation in the federal accountability act. Indeed the Prime Minister while opposition leader stated last November that cleaning up the government begins at the top. It is really quite astounding how much has changed since those words were delivered last November.
First, who did not watch in disbelief at the absurdity of the Prime Minister's decision to court and then appoint to the federal cabinet a member who had only hours before been elected by the people of his riding to sit as a member of the Liberal caucus? The people of Vancouver Kingsway made a clear and decisive choice as to which vision of Canada they wished to have represented in the House of Commons. My colleagues across the floor can speak all they wish about accountability, but the truth is that a fundamental principle of our parliamentary democracy is that members are accountable to those who choose them, the voters of their riding. In this instance, the people issued their verdict only to have it completely ignored in less than 14 days. How is this accountability?
Then with hardly a moment to catch his breath, the Prime Minister proceeded to elevate to the Senate of Canada a long-standing personal supporter, simply so that he might also enter his cabinet, in the public works portfolio no less. This action was by the Prime Minister who never misses an opportunity to deride that institution or the process by which its members are appointed.
We were then all witness to a veritable barrage of criticism regarding the Ethics Commissioner, who would dare to even consider a review of the Prime Minister's decision.
The list goes on. Before my esteemed colleagues across the floor begin to attack the ethics of the previous administration, I would suggest a reflective view in the mirror would be more in order.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister has consistently spoken of his concern about the role of lobbyists in the political process. To demonstrate this concern, he proceeded to appoint to the cabinet a Minister of National Defence who is by every definition imaginable a lobbyist for the defence industry.
When it comes to accountability and ethics, we can hardly hear what the government is saying because its behaviour speaks so loudly.
We should also be concerned about what is lacking in this legislation. Where are the references to third party advertising? Clearly the role of third party advertising, which can be virtually unlimited, is a serious issue worthy of our attention. Third party advertising has the potential in any debate to skew the playing field. In avoiding any attempt to address this issue, the government is demonstrating a lack of good judgment.
As we speak about what is missing from this bill, we should also ask where there is any reference to access to information. The business we do here is the people's business. The voters have a right to know what goes on here in Ottawa. They should not have to endure a wall of secrecy. There should be a mechanism in the bill to allow for a full and open account of how the government operates. Instead, we are exposed to a government that micromanages information and is perhaps one of the most secretive administrations in Canadian history.
The truth is that the federal accountability legislation is like much of what the government has undertaken to date. It is narrow in focus and serves a very limited ideological view. It may look good at first sight, but behind its veil there is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
The Prime Minister ran a campaign that was centred on his commitment to transparency and accountability within government. The bill falls far short of the reasonable expectations of Canadians. It addresses some areas of concern but totally ignores others.
To reiterate, the government's behaviour to date in terms of accountability and responsibility in government certainly leaves something to be desired. This all started before the signature was dry on the oaths of office at Rideau Hall.
Furthermore, on the subject of accountability, what about some of the other areas of public policy where the government has demonstrated a lack of accountability to Canadians?
Recently I have been approached by hard-working families who have worked in this country as undocumented workers. They have built families here, paid taxes, sent their children to school and helped make our country prosperous, yet they are now facing deportation at a time when industries such as the construction sector in Toronto are desperately in need of their labour. We need an immigration system that is more responsive, more compassionate and more understanding of the needs of this country. This needs to be addressed in very short order.
What about our cities? In the last Parliament, for the first time in history, a federal government treated our cities with dignity and respect. Indeed, the current mayor of Toronto often spoke of his gratitude to the previous prime minister and his government for finally inviting cities to the table. Where is the accountability from this government in that area?
We are a young country, but we are also a country with an increasingly large senior population. Where is the commitment to these Canadians who have spent their lives defending and building this country and sharing their vision with generations yet to come? We need to ensure that they are taken care of and treated with respect and dignity. I ask my colleagues now on the government benches, where is the accountability to Canadian seniors?
The arts improve the lives of our citizens, sustain many jobs in this country and draw considerable attention to Canada through a variety of means. The government speaks of its commitment to the arts, but it does not commit the money needed to match its talk. The government has abandoned the previous Liberal government's financial commitment to the arts.
In this esteemed chamber, we make the law of the land. I would encourage all members to remember the words of Cicero, who stated, “The people's good is the highest law”. Canada is a country with a rich history and a rich and beautiful natural environment, including the boreal forests, which are a national treasure. We are truly blessed and each day we must be grateful for this great country.
The government speaks of accountability, but we surely must see that there is a great deal of space between its concept of accountability and its actions. It is for this that the government must be held accountable.
Mr. James Moore (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have spoken in the House with my colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle as the Acting Speaker of the House. On my own behalf and certainly that of our colleagues, I want to congratulate you on the honour bestowed upon you. It is well deserved and well earned. You have done a great job so far, and I am sure you will continue to serve the House as well as you always have.
I did want to start my speech by mentioning, just before he leaves the House, that frankly I was very disappointed by the speech of the member for Davenport, who spoke previously. I have always been a fan of my Liberal colleague from Thunder Bay who just spoke in the House, and I appreciated his thoughtful intervention with regard to third party advertising and whether or not that should be in the bill. That is the kind of constructive input we are looking for.
Frankly, I was quite disappointed with the speech by my colleague from Davenport, whom I consider a good friend and who I know has made great interventions in the House in the past. He did not mention the legislation at all. He attacked the integrity of the defence minister. He did not mention any constructive criticism or thoughts he has on how to address accountability in the House, except to, without any evidence whatsoever, frankly, attack the integrity of the defence minister, who has given his life to this country, serving this country in the armed forces for many, many years, rising to the rank of Brigadier General serving this country and now sitting as the defence minister. For the hon. member to get up in the House and challenge his integrity without any evidence whatsoever, is, I think, frankly beneath the expectation I had of my colleague from Davenport.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. James Moore: I will get back to the debate on Bill C-2. I look forward to the intervention by the member from York. If she has any questions about challenging integrity, I am more than prepared to have that conversation.
I rise in this House to speak to Bill C-2, the bill to enact the federal accountability act.
I am delighted to speak in support of this bill, in part because this is the first bill introduced by a Conservative government in 13 years and also because this bill will make profound changes in the way the government does business.
Accountability is the fundamental tenet of our democratic system of government, but one that has been sadly lacking in recent times. As we have heard today, Bill C-2 would break down the barriers to an open and accountable government that have been allowed to take root in the federal system. I am proud and doubly pleased to support Bill C-2 because it sends a signal that the government is wasting precious little time in implementing the commitments identified in the Speech from the Throne.
Like all of our communications to Canadians, the Speech from the Throne was clear and it was direct. It confirmed the priorities of the Prime Minister that he set out during and after the election campaign, including our pledge to clean up government. The federal accountability act is the cornerstone for building a new culture in government, a culture of respect for taxpayers' dollars, respect for independent officers of Parliament and respect for institutions of government.
I want to congratulate the President of the Treasury Board for carrying out the Prime Minister’s vision by introducing a bill that contains at least 13 major reforms and 60 distinct initiatives.
These include measures to change the way in which political parties and candidates can be financed and by whom.
Bill C-2 would also tighten controls on lobbying and make the registrar of lobbyists an independent officer of Parliament with a stronger mandate and more resources to do the job.
It would give the elected members of the House a voice in the appointment of officers of Parliament and ensure that future appointments to government boards, commissions and agencies are based on merit, not politics or friendship.
People inside and outside government who expose wrongdoing would be afforded protection, including access to the courts and legal counsel. Information provided by whistleblowers would be made public, except where national or personal security may be affected.
As a result of this bill, the members of this House will get to have their say about the appointment of officers of Parliament and will also be able to ensure that the people appointed to government boards, commissions and agencies are appointed on merit, irrespective of their political ideologies or of whatever relationships they may have.
The powers and authority of the Auditor General and the Ethics Commissioner would be strengthened under the proposed legislation, as would the audit and accountability function within the departments.
I could do justice to each of these areas but in the time allotted today I am afraid I cannot speak beyond merely mentioning them. Rather than trying to address all aspects of the proposed legislation, Bill C-2, I will focus my remarks on those measures that relate directly to the mandate of the Department of Public Works and Government Services for which I am the parliamentary secretary to the minister.
As hon. members know, Public Works and Government Services Canada is a large department with many roles. One of its biggest and most important jobs is to act as the Government of Canada's main procurement arm. Public Works and Government Services manages more than $10 billion in procurement transactions every year, transactions that our government believes must be managed through processes that are fair, open and transparent. To that end, the federal accountability act would legislate these principles so that they are permanently embedded into federal procurement practices. This is just a step in cleaning up government.
I want to mention as well, in the spirit of good faith and, frankly, bipartisanship, that when the sponsorship program erupted the Department of Public Works was shaken to its core. All members of the House were scandalized, upset, frustrated and angry in expressing that anger that we experienced and we heard from our constituents through this House. It would be wrong of me, frankly, if I did not respect the hard work that was done by the member of Parliament for Kings—Hants when he was the minister of public works and the good work that he did in that department, and a former member of this House, Walt Lastewka, when he was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of public works, who did incredible work on behalf of the then Liberal government and on behalf of all Canadians in putting forward a comprehensive package of ideas of how to reform our procurement process.
As all members who have been on the government operations committee or who have come in contact with the Department of Public Works know, the procurement processes of the government have long been challenged and long been criticized. I do not think that reality will ever change because there are always people who are complaining about how government does its business. The fact is that this issue has been studied for a long time. The member for King--Hants did good work on this front, as did Walt Lastewka when he was a member of this House. We look forward to having Liberal members, when they come to the committee, work with us in a good faith effort to try to clean up the procurement process so we do not have the kind of scandals we have seen in the past.
Bill C-2 would also provide for the creation of the office of the procurement auditor to review the procurement practices across government on an ongoing basis to ensure fairness and transparency. When concerns or problems are identified, the procurement auditor would make recommendations on how the relevant department could improve its procurement practices. The office of procurement auditor would also provide a new avenue for addressing complaints from vendors. Exclusively, the office would be empowered to review complaints after contracts have been awarded for goods and services covered by the agreement on internal trade but which were below the monetary thresholds of the agreement, which are $25,000 for goods and $100,000 for services. The procurement auditor would also review complaints about the administration of contracts.
Finally, the office would establish and manage an alternative dispute resolution process for contract disputes.
I want to assure all hon. members of the House that the procurement auditor's mandate would not overlap or duplicate the mandates of other positions, such as the Canadian International Trade Tribunal or the Offices of the Auditor General or the Comptroller General. As well, to ensure the independence of this position, the procurement auditor would not report to the Deputy Minister of Public Works and Government Services but directly to the minister. As part of this reporting arrangement, the procurement auditor would submit an annual report to be tabled in Parliament.
Another important element of the federal accountability act related to procurement is our commitment to develop a code of conduct that will clearly outline for employees and suppliers what is acceptable conduct when contracting with the Government of Canada. This code will consolidate a number of existing measures related to procurement fairness, openness and transparency into a comprehensive statement of expectations. Consultations will begin in the near future with a range of affected stakeholders with the goal of having the code of conduct in place by this coming fall.
The code will provide a clear statement of obligations of contractors when doing business with the Government of Canada. For example, it will reinforce existing prohibitions against paying, offering or accepting bribes and will require contractors to disclose all commissions and similar expenses paid in connection with the contract. Integrity provisions will be included in bid solicitation and contract documents to provide a clear statement of the existing obligations of contractors.
The federal accountability act also broadens the reach of the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises. As the Minister recently announced, six new satellite offices for small and medium enterprises will be established in the four corners of Canada, so that businesses in all of the regions will be able to obtain support.
The staff in those new offices will ensure that small and medium enterprises have access to government contracts, as changes are made to federal procurement practices.
The government's commitment to reform the procurement process extends to all types of purchasing, including the procurement of advertising and public opinion research. Accordingly, the federal communications policy will be amended to ensure that the principles of openness, fairness and transparency are applied to all procurement of federal advertising and public opinion research. As well, our government will review the definition of advertising to ensure that it is properly distinguished from other related services, such as public relations or events management.
Bill C-2 would also make it mandatory that the results of all public opinion research commissioned by the Government of Canada be submitted in writing, that a copy be filed with the Librarian and Archivist of Canada and that contract information and executive summaries of completed projects be posted on the Internet.
Last but certainly not least, our government will appoint an independent adviser to review, assess and report on Government of Canada procurement practices and public opinion research. This review will include, but not be limited to, procurement issues raised in the Auditor General's report of November 2003.
That position will not be permanent. The independent adviser will be appointed only for a period of six months. However, he or she will provide Canadians with the assurance that the government is making the best use of the public funds spent on public opinion research contracts and that those contracts are not awarded or used for partisan or political purposes. The independent adviser will report to the Minister of PWGSC.
Of course, as is consistent with the spirit of accountability that has newly emerged in Ottawa, his or her findings will be made public.
Even on their own these reforms of procurement and public opinion research and advertising will make Bill C-2 worthy of our support. However I remind hon. members that they are part of a much larger package designed to restore trust in government. Every other element of the proposed federal accountability act is equally deserving of support.
All parties in the House have acknowledged the need to improve accountability in government. Now hon. members have the opportunity to put their words into action by voting in favour of Bill C-2, the federal accountability act.
Mr. Michel Guimond (Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill C-2, which is very lengthy. It contains more than 317 sections, amends 43 existing acts and creates, if memory serves, two new ones.
First of all, I would like to say again that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill. Ethics were at the very heart of the last election campaign, which chased a corrupt government from power. Liberal Party government was replaced by Conservative Party government. Now it is up to the Conservatives to prove themselves.
We think, as well, that this bill picks up to some extent on certain aspects of the work of the Gomery commission. The Bloc Québécois was an active participant, of course, in the work of this commission. The Bloc made some recommendations, which should now be implemented.
I should also add a commentary. My colleague from Repentigny just did so. We want the government to review the title of this bill. We have to get beyond semantics. “Projet de loi sur l'imputabilité“ seems to us to be virtually a literal translation of Federal Accountability Act. If the Conservative government has any respect for the French name of this bill, it should take a serious look at the title and replace it with a much more accurate translation: loi sur la responsabilité. Pushing things to the extreme, one could maybe say “loi sur la responsabilisation“, because that is what this bill is really about. Insofar as we are concerned, I would like to announce right away that the Bloc Québécois will probably introduce an amendment so that we can speak henceforth of the “loi sur la responsabilité“.
In addition, the Bloc Québécois is pleased, of course, about certain things that have been part of its platform since 1993. I could pay tribute to the Bloc pioneers who sat here before the massive arrival of a strong contingent of Bloc members between 1990 and 1993. One of the Bloc’s traditional demands had to do with the process for appointing returning officers. There are some references to this in the bill.
I should repeat in the course of my comments that the Bloc Québécois feels that this bill needs improvement.
Certain things need to be corrected and improved. Even though particular sections pay lip service to some of the Bloc’s traditional demands, we think that much clearer commitments are needed from the government. I would like to speak now, in this regard, about the appointment of returning officers.
In the last Parliament, I tabled Bill C-312 on behalf of my party, which required that a competition be held, as provided for in section 2.1 of the Public Service Employment Act. This competition for the appointment of returning officers would replace the traditional process, which has been in place since about the beginning of this institution, whereby such appointment is a prerogative of the Governor in Council. Let us not mince words. Governor in Council means the prime minister’s office and the minister responsible. They are the ones who make the political appointments.
The Bloc Québécois is asking that returning officers be appointed following an open and transparent process. And the Bloc will see that this is reflected in this bill. So the positions will be advertised in the newspapers and anyone who thinks he or she has the necessary skills will be able to apply. Furthermore, a selection board would be formed to choose the ideal persons to occupy the positions of returning officer in the 308 electoral districts of Canada.
I sit on the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Elections Act provides that the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada shall be accountable for management of the last election. As for the returning officers—this has been a traditional demand of Mr. Kingsley, who is also critical of the current process for appointing them—at present, the returning officers are friends of the government and persons who have worked in electoral organizations and are appointed through patronage.
Far be it from me to allege that the 308 returning officers are incompetent. However, one returning officer who is not competent to manage the democratic electoral process is one officer too many. We have seen some horror stories—and if there were consensus, I could recount them until midnight. So it is important to have competent people who are free of all political affiliation.
Bill C-2 does not provide for open competitions to select returning officers. I was just saying that the Bloc feels that this bill can be refined and that we will have to improve on it. The Bloc also believes it imperative to add provisions whereby returning officers can be chosen through an open and transparent process.
I would like to draw attention to something else. The bill speaks of the financing of political parties. Let us talk specifically about leadership races. There is at present a political party on this side of the House, namely the Liberal Party of Canada, which is in the midst of a leadership race and which will have to choose its leader by the end of the year. Unfortunately, this bill mentions no restriction as regards a cap to financing during a leadership race. The Bloc Québécois is of the opinion that, in not preventing candidates for the leadership of political parties from contracting large personal loans, the bill will make it possible to circumvent the restrictions on individual contributions. If this is not given a framework and guidelines, it will encourage ill-advised persons to do indirectly what the bill does not permit them to do directly. I therefore announce to the government that the Bloc Québécois will want to ensure that this point is clarified.
We are prepared to study the problem. We do not wish to prevent candidates from taking personal loans, but we say that this should be overseen and should be part of a process, once again, that complies with the rules for financing political parties.
Another element is the whole question of following up on the Gomery Commission. The Bloc Québécois took an active part in the proceedings of the Gomery Commission, through our lawyer. Actually, we took an even more active part; we submitted recommendations at the request of Justice Gomery. So we, the Bloc Québécois, did not just have a passive role; we proposed recommendations.
I remind you that the Bloc Québécois was the only party to propose a report to Commissioner Gomery with recommendations for improving responsibility. You will understand, when I talk about improving responsibility, that I am referring to the faulty French title of the federal accountability act. But that was the goal of these recommendations. We, the Bloc, submitted 72 recommendations to Justice Gomery. Without repeating them all, I am going to give more or less the chapter headings or highlights.
One of the suggestions was about recovering the sponsorship money, which the member from Outremont qualified as “dirty”.
I put the question to the government: where do we stand in the process of recovering the dirty money? Has there been anything new since the Conservative government came to power on January 23?
Also, in our recommendations, we suggested giving more powers and resources to the officers of Parliament. For instance, we insisted a lot on intensifying the powers of the Auditor General. We also suggested some amendments to the Access to Information Act, the Lobbyists Registration Act and the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act .
By the way, the point of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is not solely, not all in fact, to provide $1,000 rewards for whistleblowers. Indeed the act does provide $1,000 rewards for whistleblowers. I believe my colleague from Repentigny made these comments in his speech; the Bloc Québécois is opposed to compensating whistleblowers.
It is one thing to protect whistleblowers; it is quite another to develop a whistleblower culture with monetary incentives. Whistleblowers, if they wish to do their job properly, will not find any motivation in the $1,000 cheque associated with it. They expect protection from the government and from the management of their department or agency, so that they are not silenced, dismissed or harassed.
Let us assume that the very large majority of public servants in Quebec and Canada, who work in the federal public service, are primarily competent and honest individuals who want to do their job honestly, but who do not accept abuses of the system.
Unfortunately they are often muzzled, implicitly or explicitly, because they do not have this protection.
We must avoid generalizations. There has been some wrongdoing by some public servants, but it is not the case that all public service employees are dishonest. We must avoid generalizations, and that applies to public servants as it does in any other area.
It will be recalled that Justice Gomery made a lengthy case for the accountability of every individual to be recognized throughout the hierarchy. The idea is if each person’s role is recognized, there will be no abuses of authority, no dirty tricks, no shenanigans, and that this, rather than whistleblowing, is how fraud will be controlled.
When a superior supervises the work done by a subordinate—excuse the expression—or a co-worker, and the superior’s superior supervises, and the superior’s superior’s superior supervises, we call this line of authority control. This will be much more effective than handing out $1,000 cheques to encourage whistleblowing.
There is another thing: the Bloc Québécois made formal recommendations, out of its 72 recommendations, dealing with making individuals appointed by the government more accountable. In addition, the Bloc Québécois platform made various recommendations to the same effect, which it identified as priorities.
Certainly I am running out of time and we could address various things, but I will simply remind you that we are pleased to see that some of the proposals made by the Bloc Québécois have been incorporated in Bill C-2. I spoke earlier about the merit-based appointment of returning officers by Elections Canada. I could talk about the independence of the lobbyists registry.
Lobbyists are a powerful force here in Ottawa. We need only look at how they lie in wait for a change in government to see how true this is: some lobbyists painted themselves one colour while members of the same lobbying firm painted themselves another colour. They want to be certain that they make everyone happy, they buy drinks all round, and they know that the key to success as a lobbyist is to be connected. We even have a Minister of Defence who is a former lobbyist, whose clients were very well known. That is an illustration of the important role lobbyists play.
The Bloc Québécois has been making another recommendation for several years: we see that the new Political Parties Financing Act is going to be very similar to Quebec’s legislation, by introducing corporate donations. And there is one more thing that the Bloc has traditionally called for: strengthening the powers of the Auditor General.
In conclusion, because I have less than a minute left, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of the bill, which should be called, in French, Loi sur la responsabilité. As well, the Bloc Québécois will study the bill in depth and refuses to go along with any bulldozing.
It refuses to pass this bill, which has 317 clauses, with any undue haste. The Bloc Québécois will be making constructive proposals to improve this bill.
Mr. Steven Blaney (Lévis—Bellechasse, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am going to share my time with the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.
Since January 23, we have had a new Conservative government, a government that has been turning a new leaf, a leaf that we wish to turn together with the Canadian people, in trust and respect. This is why I wish to say today that I support the federal accountability act, a bill designed precisely to restore the trust of Canadians in their government and their federal institutions.
During the election campaign, I put the question to the people of Lévis, Bellechasse and Les Etchemins to find out what they expected of the government. It is very simple. They told me they expected the government to manage public funds appropriately. This is not asking too much. This is not, however, what the previous Liberal government accustomed us to, with a long list of scandals and gross wastes of public funds. We need only think of the gun registry, the sponsorship scandal and so on.
I am proud to support this bill since it is in keeping with the Quebec tradition of cleaning up political behaviour, a legacy from a former Quebec premier, René Lévesque, a great democrat. It is tangible evidence of the contribution by Quebec society to the advancement of the Canadian community as a whole in a context of lasting partnership.
The federal accountability act presented in the House by my colleague in the Privy Council follows up on the Conservative commitment to clean up government practices, something which neither the Liberals nor the Bloquistes could move forward.
This act aims to go from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability. It intends to make everyone accountable, from the Prime Minister to public servants, including ministers and members, to the Canadian people, those whom we represent here.
This accountability act takes up the commitments made by our party during the election campaign. This is why our government is proposing leadership to "Stand up for Canada" when it comes to honesty and integrity in the government. This is therefore a first legislative measure aimed at doing a thorough cleaning. These are actions following on promises.
We need actions to regain the confidence of the people of Canada and Quebec in their government.
Confidence between Canadians and their federal government is crucial. Our government intends to stand and deliver on that critical matter by reforming the financing of political parties; banning secret donations to political candidates; strengthening the role of the Ethics Commissioner and toughening the lobbyists registration law; ensuring truth in budgeting; making qualified government appointments; cleaning up the procurement of government contracts, polling and advertising; providing real protection for whistleblowers; strengthening access to information legislation, the power of the Auditor General, auditing and accountability within departments and agencies; and creating a director of public prosecutions.
We have a great piece of legislation and the ground upon which to turn a new leaf.
The principle underlying this act is very simple: the taxpayers are entitled to know how their money is being managed.
No more donations from big corporations and pressure groups, no more donations to secret trusts for candidates.
The Auditor General is the one who ensures that taxpayers’ money is carefully managed. Our Conservative government will provide her with the tools and means to fulfill her role: ongoing review of departmental grant programs, more power for auditing not only the government, but also the organizations and individuals who receive grants.
Where the Liberals hid money from public scrutiny, the Conservative government will broaden access to the Information Act so that crown corporations and foundations can also report to taxpayers. Is knowing how their money is being managed not the least taxpayers should expect?
We must not wait for scandals before acting. This is why the new accountability act will strengthen internal audit functions within departments and governance structures.
I have been a public servant myself; I have worked alongside these competent and dedicated people, who deserve our confidence and our respect. We are going to give them the tools to ensure that they are protected if they provide information about wrongdoing, to clarify roles and responsibilities, notably those of deputy ministers, and to establish a “uniform and transparent” process for the appointment of senior officials.
As an engineer, I also understand the importance of promoting principles which commit the government to making tendering processes fair, open and transparent, free of all undue political interference. We depend on this to maintain the competitiveness of our businesses and the integrity of our institutions.
We will also be developing a code of conduct for procurement, which will apply to suppliers and public servants. And we will be appointing a procurement auditor, who will examine the practices of the entire government and help it to resolve disputes.
Over the past year, many Quebeckers were shocked and outraged by the crooked dealings that the Gomery commission brought to light. Today, the Conservative government can say to all Canadians that it is at their service, not at the service of friends of the party in power.
The echoes of the sponsorship scandal are still fresh in our memory, and they are compelling us to action. If the Liberals have sullied the integrity of the government, the Conservatives will restore its integrity. It is spring, and time to do some major housecleaning: let us do a big spring clean-up in Ottawa!
Our hands are free and we want to change things.
It is a matter of trust. We put our trust in our elected officials, our public servants, and the employees who act in the best interests of Canadians. It is a bold vision that we want to give shape to, in collaboration with the other parties in the House. So our government intends to work with parliamentarians to bring about these changes.
As the Right Hon. Governor General said in the Speech from the Throne, “Effective checks and balances are important, but they are not enough. The trust of citizens must be earned every day”.
Therefore we must remember that nothing is forever; integrity is earned, and earned every day. The federal accountability act is a step in that direction. That is why I am proud to support it as a Conservative member.