Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Canada Does It, Why Can't We?

Canada's government has it right here. They are making anti-corruption legislation a top priority for them, before they adjourn for recess.

The London Free Press reports, "The house of commons will be burning the midnight oil this week to pass the conservative government's centrepiece anti- corruption legislation before closing shop for the summer.

The government has scheduled midnight sittings in a bid to get its Federal Accountability Act through third and final reading.

"If this Parliament can do one single thing, it will be to end the culture of entitlement created by the Liberal party and bring in a culture of accountability," Treasury Board President John Baird said Friday. "Bill C-2 is the toughest anti-corruption bill in Canadian history."

But the bill they will be voting on will look significantly different from the one that passed second reading, after an opposition-dominated committee redrew significant parts of it.

All told, 300 amendments were made to the bill, ranging from custodial changes to the establishment of a new commission.

NDP ethics critic Pat Martin said the improved Bill C-2 is a significant step toward renewing public faith in democracy.

"I think this is an end of an era of unbridled patronage by what we've done and this is truly historic," said Martin.

The bill, as originally written, prevents ex-ministers and their staff from lobbying the government for five years, limits individual political donations to $1,000 a year, bans union and corporate donations, imposes tough new whistleblower protection rules and opens several additional Crown corporations, agencies and foundations to access to information laws.

The committee scrapped a $1,000 reward for whistleblowers originally included in the bill, reduced several exemptions to Crown companies such as the CBC and Canada Post from publicly disclosing information, and revived an independent public appointments commission that was killed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper after his choice to lead it was refused by the opposition parties.

Baird suggested Harper will refuse to nominate another person to run the commission, however.

Liberal ethics critic Stephen Owen said the bill still falls well short of the Conservatives' promise to enact an open government act as described by information commissioner John Reid, but it will make the federal government more accountable and transparent.

All parties expect it to breeze through the House by the time it's expected to break for the summer on Thursday. The larger question is how long the Liberal-dominated Senate will take to examine it this fall before moving it toward royal assent.

Once passed, the 11 candidates vying to be the next Liberal leader will immediately be limited to collecting $1,000 from donors, rather than the $5,400 now allowed."

So what does Canada have that we do not?

I can think of two things. Political will. And good Congressional leaders.

The United States Congress, which is controlled by the Republicans, should follow Canada's lead in making ethics a main concern of theirs and passing meaningful reform that will curtail the culture of corruption that is in Washington D.C.

However, once again, our leaders must have political will. That is something Bill Frist and John Boehner do not have.

I am confident the new Democratic Majority leaders will though.