Harper promises 'new era of accountability'
Incoming prime minister Stephen Harper says his government's first act upon assuming power will be to table a federal accountability bill and promises that it will be in line with recommendations of the Gomery report.
Speaking in Ottawa on Wednesday just hours after Justice John Gomery released his second and last report into the federal sponsorship scandal, Harper praised the work. He also promised that his government would do its best to implement the recommendations.
- FROM FEB. 2, 2006: Shift powers to restore trust in government: Gomery
- INDEPTH: The Gomery Report, Phase Two
Harper said the Conservatives' proposed federal accountability act, which they first unveiled in early November, already includes changes similar to those proposed by Gomery.
- INDEPTH: The Gomery Report, Phase One
Other parts of the accountability act also go further than the recommendations made by the Gomery commission, Harper said.
"There are others which we may be able to adopt perhaps before the bill is brought before Parliament," he told a news conference in Ottawa. "Other recommendations need further study."
The act's three main planks include:
- Eliminating all remaining corporate and union donations to federal political parties, and restricting individual donations to $1,000 per person.
- Banning all ministers and their political aides from becoming government lobbyists for at least five years from the date they leave their political positions.
- Giving the auditor general the power to "follow the money to the end recipients" as she or he undertakes a review of the $30 billion handed out each year in the form of federal grants, contributions and contracts.
No immediate changes to civil service, Harper says
However, Harper said his government would not move immediately to make major changes to the public service that were recommended in Gomery's second report.
Harper said they had "merit" but said his government would have enough to do elsewhere in the first few months of its transition into power.
"I don't need the complication of making major structural changes [immediately]," Harper said.
He said his government would consult very closely with the public service before making changes that would affect them.
Harper also promised to work hard to find what he called the "missing money" in the sponsorship scandal.
"Justice Gomery did an admirable job, but I don't think we're going to drop the matter when 40 to 50 million are still missing."
Prime Minister Paul Martin released a statement on Wednesday thanking Justice Gomery for his months of work.
"His insights and recommendations will be of benefit to all Canadians in the ongoing debate as to how best to ensure government activities are conducted openly, transparently and effectively," said Martin.
Allan Cutler, the man who blew the whistle on the whole affair, said he was impressed with Gomery's final report.
"I am rather pleased with it: it seems to me that he has addressed accountability very well," added the former Public Works employee.
But others said they really couldn't see how Gomery's recommendations will make a difference.
"I fail to see how any change of law, or how any additional norms or rules and regulations could make sure that political actors that deliberately choose not to follow the law, will from now on," said Christian Rouillard, an expert in governance and public management at the University of Ottawa.