All the signs point to the introduction of a new accountability act in the fall. John Williamson, the Tory MP from New Brunswick, introduced a private members’ bill into the House Monday that would ensure any MP or senator convicted of an indictable offence would lose their parliamentary pension.
The Prime Minister may yet decide to adopt the bill and wrap it with other measures, such as posting expenses online and expanding coverage of Access to Information legislation to include Parliament. “It’s clear which way the wind is blowing on disclosure,” said one Conservative official.
Justin Trudeau has now unveiled four proposals for the expenses of parliamentarians: expenses posted online, open meetings of the Board of Internal Economy, detailed expense reports and regular audits.
That might bring accountability to the relatively minor matter of how MPs and senators handle their individual budgets, but any new Accountability Act should have to deal with more fundamental issues: improving how much and how quickly information is released through the access to information system, establishing the parliamentary budget officer as a fully independent and well-funded institution with the power to compel disclosure from the government, investing in full reform of the estimates process and giving the auditor general oversight of government advertising. Want to go even further? Amend the section of the Elections Act that gives party leaders the authority to determine who runs under a party’s banner. Implement limitations on the prime minister’s ability to prorogue the legislature. Eliminate entirely the use of lists to determine who speaks during statements by members and Question Period. Reform Question Period. Improve the power and resources of parliamentary committees. Give the House of Commons the power to elect committee chairs. Expand television coverage of the House of Commons. Bring television coverage to the Senate (at least if we insist on maintaining a second chamber). Ensure that Elections Canada is capable of enforcing substantive laws.
If this current transparency-measuring contest is to amount to something, it should surely be about more than dinner receipts and per diems, as much as it would be useful to know that we are not paying for meals or travel that we shouldn’t be. The larger matters are whether or not we have a parliamentary system that is useful and relevant and a system of governance that we can believe in. Let forthrightness be the goal on all counts.