IN THE HOUSE ~ Motion for concurrence ~ on NDP's Motion calling for independence body to review MPs' expenses

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Procedure and House Affairs ~ Motion for concurrence

The House resumed from December 2, 2013, consideration of the motion.

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who will be speaking the second half of the debate that starts today on the committee report from the procedure and house committee.

I would like to start off by underscoring what is nothing less than a betrayal of the Canadian public by Conservative and Liberal members of that committee.

Members will recall that back in June, the NDP brought forward a motion that was actually adopted unanimously. Members from all sides of the supported the following motion:

That, in order to bring about full transparency and accountability of the House of Commons' spending, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to:

(1) conduct open and public hearings, with a view to replace the Board of Internal Economy with an independent oversight body;

(2) invite the Auditor General, the Clerk and the Chief Financial Officer of the House of Commons to participate fully in these hearings, also study the practices of provincial and territorial legislatures, as well as other jurisdictions and Westminster-style Parliaments in order to compare and contrast their administrative oversight and propose modifications to the Parliament of Canada Act, the Financial Administration Act, the Auditor General Act, and any other acts, as deemed necessary, and propose any necessary modifications to the administrative policies and practices of the House of Commons.

The committee was to report its findings to the House no later than December 2, 2013, in order to have any proposed changes to expensed disclosure and reporting in place for the beginning of the next fiscal year.

The intent was very clear. The idea of Parliament, at that time, back in June--members will recall it is because of the work of the NDP for generations, pushing for more transparency and more disclosure--we finally got members of the government and members of the other parties to agree to that motion.

What happened?

I will say the Conservatives kept their word of bringing the Auditor General forward. Let me just cite what the Auditor General said at the procedure and House affairs committee when asked the question around doing away with this secretive Board of Internal Economy.

Now, of course, what Canadians want to see is more transparency around expenses. The NDP offered that, with the motion.

What did the Auditor General say? The Auditor General, who I think has the respect of all Canadians, said, in testimony to the procedure and House affairs committee:

In my opinion, governance can be strengthened by having an independent body that would either advise the Board of Internal Economy or be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements. It is important that Canadians are confident its membership is independent and that the members have been chosen in a non-partisan manner.

The Auditor General could not have been more clear. The Auditor General said the NDP motion regarding doing away with the secretive Board of Internal Economy and putting in place independent monitoring of MPs' expenses was a good idea.

If we ask Canadians, they would say the Auditor General actually makes sense. The Auditor General defends the public interest, often with some difficulty. As we well know, under the current government, Conservatives have hacked and slashed his budget, while they have increased ministerial funding, with their limousines, the Prime Minister flying around the world and spending spend a lot of money on their own pet projects--I would mention the $40 million they want to spend for the F-35s.

At the same time as they have been spending a lot of money on their pet projects, because Conservatives love being big spenders on themselves, they have been hacking and slashing the Auditor General's department. The Auditor General is still doing tremendous work.

I would just like to say, on this side of the House, the NDP's report is the work of the Auditor General and that an NDP government would fully fund the Auditor General's operations so that Canadians would be confident that money that is being spent is being spent on the public interest. That is something that we have been saying all along.

We have a unanimous adoption of an NDP motion in this House. Following that, we have the Auditor General saying, “Gosh, the NDP is right. The NDP has been right along. We need an independent body. We need to do away with that secretive bureau of Internal economy.�.

Context : MotionsQuestions and Comments

M. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NPD): Monsieur le Président, j'aimerais grandement remercier le député de Sherbrooke. Il est jeune, mais il est un député extraordinaire. Il contribue énormément aux débats tenus à la Chambre grâce à persistance et à son intelligence. Il pose la bonne question.

En juin 2013, à la Chambre, on a mentionné vouloir mettre fin à l'autorégulation des députés. Le public a été saisi par cette idée. Qu'ont dit les conservateurs? Ils ont dit être d'accord pour éliminer l'autorégulation. Même les libéraux, qui sont scandalisés par l'affaire des sénateurs, ont dit être d'accord. Ils ont été d'accord publiquement. Toutefois, lors de la réunion du Comité permanent de la procédure et des affaires de la Chambre, les conservateurs et les libéraux ont dit non à l'accès à l'information et à l'élimination de l'autorégulation des députés.

À mon avis, si le public est en faveur de la transparence, il doit voter pour le NPD en 2015. Ça, c'est clair.

Context : MotionsDebate

What would one think, then, that the report from procedure and House affairs would say as its first recommendation? What would it say? It would say to do away with this secretive, non-transparent Board of Internal Economy. Tragically, that is not what this report says.

In fact, we also had other witnesses, like the Information Commissioner who said very clearly that MPs' expenses should be subject to the Access to Information Act to enhance that public trust. So witnesses coming before the committee said very clearly that the NDP's approach was the right one. Very clearly, Parliament, initially in June at least, Conservative and Liberal members then agreed that doing away with the Board of Internal Economy was the right approach.

Now we arrive at the actual report itself, and it basically says to have the status quo, that the status quo is all right, that not having access to information on parliamentary expenses is okay, that having a secretive Board of Internal Economy with no transparency at all is somehow just all right. In fact, if we sum up the report of the procedure and House affairs committee, its title should be the following: “Business as Usual Say Conservatives and Liberals--we want to keep doing things the old way�.

Canadians disagree profoundly with that. They see the old way as leading to these myriad Senate scandals of Conservative and Liberal senators tied up with illegal spending and the implication and the involvement of the RCMP in trying to sort out where these illegal expenses occurred and following up with charges as we are now starting to see. The old way is the way Canadians are rejecting. In fact, I recall back in 2011, Conservatives saying they reject the old way, that they would make things transparent in Ottawa and would move to do away with the secrecy.

Ms. Peggy Nash: Accountability.

Mr. Peter Julian: Yes, to be accountable. We remember that word. The member for Parkdale—High Park is absolutely right. We remember the Conservatives used to talk about accountability. Conservatives do not talk about accountability anymore. I would say the only party that is talking about accountability in a consistent and forthright way is the NDP because that is part of what we are all about.

I know Conservatives roll their eyes and say we should not believe in accountability and should not believe in independent monitoring. However, we actually believe that democracy is enhanced when we have in place independent bodies that monitor what elected officials do. We believe that a system of checks and balances is the only way that it works effectively, so that public trust is enhanced and maintained and as well that no government can go overboard, with these big-spending Conservatives who just love to spend on themselves like no tomorrow. They get their luxury hotel rooms like they did in London. They get the limousine and these cabinet offices across the country. Big-spending Conservatives just love to spend money on themselves. What we have been saying all along is that we need that protection, we need the Auditor General's department, we need the parliamentary budget officer, we need that system of checks and balances. What we have seen from these Conservatives is gutting that system of checks and balances.

So we brought forward, for procedure and House affairs, the proposal that parliamentary expenses be subject to the Access to Information Act, that we do away with the self-policing and the secretive Board of Internal Economy, and actually establish independent monitoring, as has been done in Manitoba with an NDP government of course and in places like the United Kingdom, to ensure that public trust and ensure that we have disclosure of expenses that are uniform, consistent and approved; not stunts, but rather a fundamental putting in place of a reporting mechanism that would be overseen by an independent, non-partial body, and at the same would be subject to the transparency that Canadians expect.

That is what we have put forward. That is what we believe is fundamental to enhancing Canadian democracy. I can tell members right now that New Democrats are going to continue to fight for transparency, we are going to continue to fight to do away with the secretive Board of Internal Economy, and we are going to continue to fight for Canadians' right to know what Parliament is doing and what MPs are doing.

Context : MotionsQuestions and Comments

Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, we certainly do not need a sound system to enhance the member's voice. He comes across loud and clear. He is defending the Conservative government yet again, which Liberals seem to do.

He should be asking the question of his own leader. His own leader, as a member of Parliament, was going to speaking engagements and demanding money in return for them from private organizations and, at the same time, as we found out later on, filing his expense claims for the House of Commons. That is something that New Democrats do not do. When we speak as members of Parliament, we are not trying to hit up organizations for money. We believe that as members of Parliament, the Canadian public is entitled to have us speak for free. That is something that every single New Democrat member of Parliament believes in.

The real question is why Conservatives and Liberals are defending each other here and in the Senate. Why do they want the status quo? Why do they want to hide from Canadians the secretive Board of Internal Economy? That is a question he has to answer.