NOTES FOR REMARKS BY SENATOR JIM MUNSON ON BILL C-4

Senators,

 

All of us have heard calls for change.  The words transparency and accountability are at the tip of everyone’s tongue in the context of governance. Today, I would like to speak in support of Bill C-4, an Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other Acts in consequence

 

This Bill is the result of a long-standing commitment made by the previous Liberal government, under the leadership of the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, to strengthen Canada’s democratic institutions and make them more accountable and transparent.

 

Long before today’s top media stories calling for greater transparency and ethics in government, the Liberal government was putting in place changes – legislation – to improve our democratic institutions.  As you know, the former Bill C-34 was part of an eight-point ethics package that included several measures to strengthen Canada’s democracy, including limits to political financing and changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act.

 

C-34 also called for the creation of an Ethics Commissioner for the House of Commons and a Senate Ethics Officer for this House.  The Standing Senate Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament studied this legislation and made several excellent recommendations to improve the Bill.  All except one were accepted.

 

When we consider the Bill that has become C-4 we must recognize its many merits.  In regards to the Senate Ethics Officer, we must acknowledge that C-4 respects the traditions of Parliament and the role of the Senate.

 

With C-4, it will be the Senate that determines the role and functions of the Ethics Officer.  With C-4, the Senate retains full control over the discipline of its members.  The creation of a Senate Ethics Officer would – in no way – limit the powers, privileges, rights and immunities of the Senate or its members.  In short, the creation of a Senate Ethics Officer in no way changes what we do or why we do it.

 

So what does C-4 do?  What does the creation of a Senate Ethics Officer do?  Senators, C-4 gives us an opportunity to show Canadians that the Senate is not a secret society.  It shows Canadians that we take our work seriously and that we are proud to be accountable to the citizens we serve.  This bill allows us to act on a moral obligation to be open and transparent to Canadians.

 

There have been concerns expressed that personal information provided to the Senate Ethics Officer would be made public.  We know that the Senate Ethics Officer will be tabling an annual report in the Senate, but it will be up to the Senate Rules Committee to decide what information is reported and what information is made public.  We will determine the extent of disclosure.  We also know that the Senate Ethics Officer, as an institution of Parliament, would not be subject to the Access to Information Act.

 

As many of you know, in politics, perception is everything.  Let us pass C-4 and show Canadians that we are a dynamic institution that embraces change.  Let us show Canadians that we recognize the evolving nature of democracy and the need for our institutions to step up and meet the challenge of change.

 

We must not fear change, Senators.  We must recognize the opportunity that it represents.  With the passage of C-4, we will contribute to greater openness in government.  With the passage of C-4, we may help change the public perception of the Senate.  With the passage of C-4, we re-affirm our role and our responsibilities as Senators.  With the passage of C-4, we show Canadians that the Senate is a modern, relevant institution and an essential part of an evolving democracy.  With the passage of C-4, Senators, we are taking steps to strengthen this institution and ensure its relevance into the future.