Accountability Act, Bill C-2

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): – Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-2, a very important bill.

We are very aware that this is a massive bill. It is a very weighty document, and it is a lot of material to go through. I think from the point of view of the public interest and public concern, it is very important that we focus on some of the key issues and ensure that this is actually followed through.

The Liberal corruption and sponsorship scandal was an issue that was raised and very hotly debated in the House every day. However, it was also an issue that went so broad and deep that we all ended up suffering from, this growing cynicism about electoral politics and the political process. That is a very difficult thing to get at.

On the one hand, the bill sets out very strenuous rules about ethics, conduct, conflict and public interest. On the other hand, it is very hard to legislate ethics. Ethics comes from an environment. Unfortunately, we have become very used to an environment where, as Mr. Gomery himself said, the culture of entitlement was very prevalent in this place. That is what we are up against.

The bill is significant and it is an important document. The NDP will be examining it in great detail and we will be offering suggestions about how to make the bill a better instrument. However, it is also incumbent upon us, as members of Parliament, to think about our own personal conduct.

I am reminded of the speech that Mr. Broadbent made when he announced to the House that he was leaving Parliament after many decades of public service. He spoke about the dignity of members and the respect that we needed to have for each other and for this place, and the service we provide to our constituents. We cannot legislate that kind of thing. It comes from us in terms of how we conduct ourselves, and that is something for which we all bear responsibility.

A lot has been said about this bill and a lot more will come. There are some aspects that are quite disturbing that are not covered. My riding is Vancouver East. The riding next door to me is Vancouver Kingsway. The day that the member for Vancouver Kingsway crossed the floor and became a member of the government my phone was ringing off the hook. There were e-mails instantly from people in my own riding, but also from Vancouver generally. These people felt so betrayed by what was done by that member.

I think that member has a difficult time showing his face in the city of Vancouver and attending any event. There is a fundamental feeling that the most basic form of accountability is to your voters. Bill C-2 does not deal with that. We have to ask the question as to why this bill, if it is about ethics and dealing with ethical practices, does not deal with this most fundamental question of honouring the vote of the people who elect us as members in this place?

I know that the member for Vancouver Kingsway has heard a lot from his constituents. I also want to lay it at the door of the Prime Minister. It was the Prime Minister who set up this arrangement just a few days after he spoke about the new government being the most transparent, the most accountable, and that he wanted to bring back the public trust. To me and to many people, it is quite incredible that within a few days of saying those words we would have this action take place, where the voters of Vancouver Kingsway had their trust betrayed by a member who crossed the floor and a Prime Minister who basically participated in that act.

There are other issues that we wish were included in the bill, including the issue of democratic electoral reform. Again, this gets at the question of accountability and ethics as it relates to election practices themselves, the way we conduct our elections and the way we are voted into office. I am very proud of the fact that we in the NDP have championed the issue of democratic electoral reform. We are not going to give up on that issue.

We are very concerned that there is nothing in this bill that deals with electoral reform. It is an issue that we will keep pressing with this government and with all parties because we believe there is a real public appetite to democratize our electoral system. When people vote, their vote should actually count. We want the House of Commons to reflect the way people are actually voting. This is something we will definitely keep pressing.

We are also concerned that Bill C-2 does not go far enough in terms of the limits that need to be placed on practices around lobbying. As the member for Winnipeg Centre outlined in his comments, we still see this going on. We see practices where the relationship with the government and lobbyists and people being appointed and favours being done is still there. It is still happening.

Although the bill does go some distance, we believe that it does not go far enough in limiting the way that lobbyists act. Canadians can expect to see amendments from the NDP when the bill goes to committee.

Finally, as many members have remarked, it is questionable as to why the government chose to leave out its access to information reform package that was promised. The promised package of reform on access to information, opening up information and providing access to people, is a fundamental part of the spirit of this bill. The fact that it is not here is really a contradiction to what the government has put forward. We are very concerned that it is not here and again we will be pressing that in committee to ensure that those questions are raised and that there is indeed a commitment to bring forward the reform for access to information.

We will be giving this close scrutiny in committee. It is a substantial bill. We need to ensure that it is actually followed through and that it does not fall or stall under its own weight, whether it is in the House or in the Senate. We believe that elements of this bill must go through and that we must work in the public interest to bring back public trust and confidence in what we do in this place.