Hon. Lucien Bouchard (Secretary of State of Canada):
Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to take part in this debate concerning the adoption of Bill C-l 14 which deals with conflict of interest. The purpose of this Bill is, basically, to establish a system under which the obligation to observe certain imperative directives on conflict of interest becomes binding by law and which provides for an administrative framework that did not exist under the old system which was a set of basic directives.
I believe that this debate and this legislation are of crucial importance, since the subject matter raises the debate above party considerations. 1 think we all have a duty to approach this fundamental issue with a sense of co-operation and solidarity, whatever our political stripe. We are dealing here with an essential attribute of democracy. If there is any place at all in Canada where we can talk about democracy seriously, without fear of ridicule, it is within these precincts where we have been sent as the elective representatives of the Canadian people.
When we talk about democracy, we are talking about something that is part of the very essence of our civilization. With democracy a new concept was born, the concept that political leaders had to have and deserve the trust of those elected by the people. The concept is not brand new. Democracy was born in Athens, and it was Pericles who was first faced with a demand for openness and accountability. There is a
rather amusing story that says a great deal about the perennial obligations and problems governments must face.
In the 5th century B.C., Pericles decided to build the Parthenon, and since Athens was very wealthy at the time and had considerable resources and especially a lot of gold, he had instructed Phidias, the famous sculptor and architect, to make a huge statue of Pallas Athena and to cover Athena with a mantle of gold. Since Athens had a lot of gold, this was not a problem. Phidias followed his instructions and covered this huge statue which was 30 feet high with a fairly thick mantle of gold. Subsequently, the opposition parties, since Athens was a democracy, accused Pericles of keeping back part of the gold. They ordered him to show he had not kept any of the gold for himself and had not given any to his mistress, his courtesans, his wife, his friends or his immediate entourage or, I imagine, to those who helped elect him.
But Pericles, who invented democracy, also knew its difficulties and tribulations, and he had the intelligence and cunning to see to it that Athena's gold mantle could be taken apart in pieces. And once the accusation was made, he took apart the gold mantle and had the pieces of gold weighed that corresonded exactly to the weight of the gold given to Phidias.
This is a lesson that we should all have learned from the history of Athens, Madam Speaker. But we know that this question of conflict of interest and public trust is perennial; it goes back to the beginning of democracy. When there is a tyrant or tyranny, no one cares about the trust that should be placed in tyrants. Tyrants rule by terror.
Remember the maxim of Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily: oderint dum metuant, let them hate me, as long as they fear me. He governed by means of terror, as do all the world's tyrants.
But we are in a democracy, and even in Rome, at the beginning of the Republic, Madam Speaker, you will remember that one of the ways for an ambitious young man to go into politics was to accuse a proconsul returning from a distant province in order to force him to account for his management. That is how Cicero, for example, distinguished himself in his fight against Verres, a proconsul of a Roman province who had lined his own pockets and had to make restitution after Cicero, an eager young lawyer and ambitious politician, had convicted him.
We are dealing here with a basic responsibility and we know that the obligation of integrity for elected officials concerns not only the traditional rules of morality and the traditional virtues. Of course, these are constraining, but politicians are
September 1, 1988
Conflict of Interest
more obliged to be honest, to use a general term, than an individual in private life is required to be honest with his employer. This is because politics also affects the stability of institutions and the very essence of democracy. Every time a politician does something wrong, not only are ethical standards violated, but the strength and credibility of the State are also affected. This is very serious and it imposes an additional obligation.
One must also realize that things have evolved, of course. Like it or not, we all sometimes say, "when I was young," or "In my father's or grandfather's day, people were more honest." I do not believe that is true. 1 believe that we are really witnessing a positive development in institutions and public attitudes. For instance, it is very obvious that morals have evolved and have become more refined as democratic standards have grown more sophisticated, to the extent that what was acceptable 50 years ago no longer is so these days. The extremely clear and evident outcome is that politicians- men and women alike-simply have to be better, if you will, more rigorous than their predecessors.
From day to day, from one year to the next, and from one Government to another, an extremely difficult adaptation has to be made in keeping with the rising expectations of the people, and these expectations can readily be perceived with respect to controls, for example. One of the essential controls these days-not the only one, yet patently basic-is the one exercised by the media.
The media are ever more vigilant. I, for one, do not believe they ought to be taken to task, for they are the realistic image of a parallel phenomenon between public expectations, higher democratic standards, and additional media responsibilities. As guardians of public life and of a minimum of integrity and decency in public endeavours, the media as well must shoulder heavier responsibilities in response to the expectations of the people.
Of course this highlights the fact that public life is becoming ever more trying, that sometimes one wonders why anybody would want to go into politics, that sometimes when a decision has to be made one would even ask the question: should I jump into this lion's den? Should 1 agree to give up most of my own private activities to meet the new requirements of political life? And so we now find ourselves in a position such that we have to make an assessment in the context of the rules governing public life.
Madam Speaker, you are looking at a Bill introduced by a Government which did experience some difficulties and did make the odd mistake with respect to problems of this kind. If we forget all about the acrimonious political and biased debates, if we forget all about the passions which prevail in our obviously partisan proceedings in a venue such as this one, and when we take a closer look at ourselves, we come to realize that such problems have always been part and parcel of political activities and that, generally speaking, they have been much more complex than others we may have experienced during the first years of this Government.
I suggest it would be frivolous and vain to put on trial all Governments which preceded us in Ottawa. We could list names and identify people. We are all aware of the facts of public life. We have all been affected by the news which were published in the newspapers. We could mention a series of episodes throughout the Canadian history, but we will not, Madam Speaker, for fear of losing sight of the main purpose of this legislative initiative.
Madam Speaker, the main purpose is to look to the future, to meet the expectations of Canadian citizens, in order to prevent a repetition of what happened under a Government in 1910, under another Government in 1920 and again in the years after that. And the perfect place to start is right here.
It is not the newspapermen and reporters who can devise an enforceable system. It is not our fellow citizens watching television in their own homes who can change things. This is our responsibility. If we cannot achieve this here, nobody will. The buck stops here! If we should allow the system to continue as it has until now, Madam Speaker, we are well aware that all the Governments which will follow us, because they are made up of fallible human beings, will be exposed to temptations. All Governments are made up of human beings.
Subtopic: MEMBERS OF THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF COMMONS CONFLICT OF INTEREST ACT MEASURE TO AMEND