Brian on C-2: Accountability Act

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise here this evening to speak to Bill C-2, this historic piece of legislation that is reaching its final moments in debate in this House of Commons in the 39th Parliament. It is a bill that I think is very important to Canadians, as confidence in government is so desperately needed with regard to a democracy. When that is undermined, we have a situation where Canadians lose faith in that democracy. They stop and they disengage from the political process.

It happens on two fronts. There are those individuals who no longer even belong to campaigns or parties, or who are independents, and who pull away in terms of being part of a process of electing individuals and parties. Second, there are Canadian voters who become disengaged with the process and no longer believe their ballot has worth. A significant element is necessary for people to feel engaged and, more important, to participate in meaningful way to make decisions about how civil society is run.

Many democracies have faced these questions through a variety of different mechanisms, whether through war, corruption or some type of process change from one form of government to another. If we lose the faith based principles of engaging in civil society, in the government of a society, people no longer contribute in a meaningful way. That restricts the availability and also the ingenuity of society, because people no longer get engaged themselves in being candidates and leaders in society.

That is why Bill C-2 is very important. It starts to set the framework for this change, this cultural shift.

My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster noted the good work of Mr. Ed Broadbent, the former member for Ottawa Centre, the former member for Oshawa and party leader of the New Democratic Party for many years, who came back to this chamber out of retirement to contribute to a change in electoral reform in Canada as well as ethical reform. He added a presence.

I think we have a legacy here today because of those efforts. I will always feel a debt of gratitude for that type of leadership. I know that people in my party and my colleagues here today will feel the same. It is important to note that Ed Broadbent did not have to do that. He was occupied with a whole bunch of different initiatives and matters that he was involved with internationally as well nationally. He had other personal matters that were very significant in his life. He came back to dedicate his time and his energy to help and to be part of a reformation process, which is so important.

I would like to read a quote from “Cleaning Up Politics. Demanding Changes in Ethics and Accountability”, Ed Broadbent's seven-point plan, which he published prior to his retirement. He stated:

When they find themselves in the midst of wrongdoing those with a vivid sense of right and wrong have feelings of remorse. On the other hand the defining characteristic of corruption is that feelings of remorse have been lost, replaced by the impulse to deny, perpetuate and cover-up. The Liberal party is losing its sense of remorse.

I will come back to this later and touch upon this statement from his seven-point plan.

Progressing to where we are today, there is a quote from another person who was very much a fixture in accountability and in the application of legislation that would change and clean up politics, long before Bill C-2, and that is the member for Winnipeg Centre, who has done yeoman's work for us and for this country on this matter.

His paper in terms of the accountability act states:

It was the culture of secrecy that allowed corruption to flourish in Ottawa, but in a few short months we have advanced the cause of transparency dramatically.

I want to highlight briefly some of the accomplishments that we feel are very important to note in this legislation. It does not give us everything we want in terms of a bill. It falls short in several departments, but overall it is an excellent first step in cleaning up politics in Canada.

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During the recent election many Canadians discussed the issue of corruption, scandal and a series of things, but at the end of the day, all those things aside, what they wanted to see was significant change in Ottawa. They wanted to see a real difference. They wanted to see all members come back to the House and restore the sense of pride that has been lost in the House of Commons. With that in mind, the former member for Ottawa Centre went about proposing legislation to change the bill.

The NDP members are very proud of our proposal for a new public appointments commission which would outlaw patronage, create a merit based process and audit appointments made by ministers. In the past it had always been assumed that “who you know in the PMO” will get a person a position or an appointment somewhere in the country, a job for which no other Canadian would have the opportunity to compete. This was the culture of entitlement that disengaged many Canadians and they felt very frustrated.

The appointments commission is a significant shift and having party leaders consulted is important because it adds a level of transparency and begins to pull back that veil on the concept of entitlement.

We are also proud of the proposal for stricter rules to stop the revolving door between lobbyists and senior levels of government. That is an important shift. The problem is that the Conservative Party has backtracked on this, with the war room being exempt from these measures. It is something that we were disappointed to see happen. The headline in the Globe and Mail today read, “Tories backtracking on accountability bill”, and it referred to that issue quite significantly.

It is disappointing because the issue of lobbyists and the revolving door is important for Canadians. They feel that others have access through money and resources and the ability to influence legislation at a higher level than they have. They worry that they do not have the same opportunities. This, unfortunately, does not go the full way but at least it is a start in the right direction.

There are some improvements to Canada's access to information laws, including broadening the act substantially to include all government institutions. We know a committee will be formed to get into greater detail with this. We were hoping to achieve more goals and more objectives. We did not get there at this particular point in time, but at least it is a change and a shift that is important to note.

As well, we are talking about strengthening parts of the Election Act, including outlawing the use of trust funds and lowering donation limits to $1,000. Another issue has been the trust funds and their relationship with candidates and members of Parliament who are able to sock away large sums of donations and moneys that they can use almost like a slush fund and carry on. Some members had them in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. These trust funds were used almost in an unfettered way to circumvent election laws and outperform and outmanoeuvre the legitimate democratic process, which is why we believe the elimination of trust funds is significant.

The second item is the $1,000 limit on donations. We did have some electoral reform in the form of Bill C-24 that restricted some donations and eliminated the major restrictions on corporations and unions. Now there will be outright elimination of that. The $1,000 limit is important because individuals will be able to participate on a more even level in terms of donations.

We hope we can plug up all the loopholes where there was in the past a practice of loans and a series of other circumventions of giving toward campaigns, whether they be for leadership or for individuals, because we believe the $1,000 limit is very important.

As well, we have a tightening of the conflict of interest rules that allow any Canadian to make complaints to a new conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. The protection of first nations rights is also within the act.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the former member for Ottawa Centre, Mr. Ed Broadbent, for all his hard work. Although not all of his ideas were included in the act, it is important to note that he actually developed the platform that has resulted in a significant change for all Canadians.