|| That the House urge the Minister of Justice to:
||(a) follow her government’s own guidelines for Ministers and Ministers of State as described in Annex B of Open and Accountable Government 2015, that “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government”; that “There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties”; and that “There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments”;
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is with disappointment that I rise today to speak to this matter. It is never a good day when a minister of the crown breaches ethical standards which the minister is bound by. It is particularly disappointing when that minister of the crown is the , someone who is bound by the highest ethical standards.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the minister must not only at all times act with the highest degree of integrity, the Minister of Justice must also be seen to at all times act with the highest degree of integrity.
Mr. Speaker, the role of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General is an important role. It is a unique role, and in that role a special trust is placed in the minister. We are here today to debate this matter because the Minister of Justice and Attorney General has broken that trust.
It was not long ago, in fact it was indeed only in November of 2015, that the , with great fanfare, unveiled “Open and Accountable Government”, the ethical guidelines for which ministers and parliamentary secretaries in the government are bound.
The Prime Minister, in his opening letter contained in “Open and Accountable Government”, said it is not just a matter of adopting the right rules and seeing that those rules are complied with on a technical basis. Rather, he said that ministers in his government would be held to a higher standard; indeed they would be held to the highest standard of honesty, integrity, openness, and accountability. Today we will learn whether the Prime Minister meant what he said and said what he meant, or whether those words, like so many words of the , are merely hollow words with no meaning at all.
The Prime Minister's ethics code states that ministers shall ensure that political and fundraising advertising clearly separates fundraising from department responsibilities. Consistent with that, the Prime Minister's ethics code provides that ministers shall not engage and converse on matters related to their ministerial responsibilities at fundraisers. Despite those rules, this particular fundraiser was billed as a fundraiser with the ; it was not the hon. member for Vancouver Granville, despite the very clear guidelines from the Prime Minister that provide that ministers must separate their ministerial duties from fundraising.
Admittedly, if that was all it was, a situation where the event had been advertised as a fundraiser with the Minister of Justice as opposed to the hon. member for Vancouver Granville, it would be fair to say that it was a breach of the Prime Minister's ethics code, but a minor breach, a technical breach, something that might be attributable to sloppiness, that certainly should not be repeated in the future, but something that would not require any further action.
However, that is not what happened. What happened was far more serious. It was not only advertised as a fundraiser with the , but as an opportunity for those who paid $500 to engage the minister on matters pertaining specifically to her responsibilities as the minister. If people wanted to talk about medical marijuana, physician-assisted dying legislation, or missing and murdered indigenous women, they could pay $500 for that opportunity. There is only one way to characterize this type of fundraising. It is called “pay-to-play” fundraising. What the minister did was attend and participate in a pay-to-play fundraiser.
It gets worse. It was not only a pay-to-play fundraiser that anyone could attend. Rather, it was targeted to a select group of elite Bay Street lawyers to pay in return for access to the to talk about issues that pertain specifically to her responsibilities.
Then there was the location of the fundraiser, which was Torys LLP, a law firm which has extensive legal dealings with the federal government. Not only does it deal extensively with the federal government, lobbying of the federal government is one of the core services that Torys LLP provides to its clients. Also, amongst its most senior partners and senior lobbyists, happened to be an individual who was registered to lobby the up until the eve of the fundraiser.
So much for the 's ethics code, which states that ministers shall not raise funds from department stakeholders and lobbyists. Certainly, the disregarded that part of the 's ethics code.
Let us take a step back and look at what we are dealing with. We have a Minister of Justice, who has broad authority and power over legal matters concerning the federal government, attending a fundraiser at which attendees were invited to pay in return for the opportunity to engage the minister on matters that pertain directly to the minister's responsibilities. It was targeted to a select group of Bay Street lawyers, hosted at a law firm with extensive legal dealings with the federal government, including the minister's own department, and which counted as one of its most senior lobbyists someone who up until the eve of the fundraiser was registered to lobby the minister herself. That is what we are dealing with. It stinks. That is what it does.
What is very clear is that the minister broke the 's ethics code by failing to ensure that fundraising advertising did not mix fundraising with her responsibilities as minister. The minister broke the Prime Minister's ethics code by raising funds from department stakeholders. The Minister of Justice broke the ethics code by failing to sufficiently separate her duties as Minister of Justice with Liberal Party fundraising activities; and the broke the Prime Minister's ethics code by giving at least the appearance of preferential access to government.
These are not technical breaches of the 's ethics code; these are substantial breaches of the Prime Minister's ethics code; these are multiple substantial breaches of the Prime Minister's ethics code.
Instead of taking responsibility for these multiple breaches, the minister refuses to stand up and answer even the most basic questions about this sordid fundraising affair. If the minister has nothing to hide and if everything is above board, then the minister, as a starting point, could release the list of attendees at the fundraiser, but the minister will not do that. I guess her reason is that there really is nothing that could be above board about a participating in a pay-to-play fundraiser.
Canadians deserve better than this from the . Canadians deserve better than a engaged in pay-to-play fundraisers. Canadians deserve a Minister of Justice who adheres to the highest ethical standards in government. Canadians deserve not only a who is at all times independent, but a who is at all times seen to be independent.
By attending this pay-to-play fundraiser, the has not only breached the 's ethics code; the minister has compromised her independence and impugned the integrity of her office.
I would be remiss if I did not note that it was not long ago that members on that side of the House, when they were in opposition, certainly had harsh words for the former minister of Canadian heritage in the previous Conservative government, the Hon. Shelly Glover.
Shelly Glover, as minister, attended a $50-a-head fundraiser, not a $500-a-head fundraiser, and upon arriving at this fundraiser she discovered that there were department stakeholders in attendance at the fundraiser. What did Shelly Glover do when that happened? She immediately reported the incident to the Ethics Commissioner, she took responsibility, she returned the cash that was raised from the fundraiser, and she instructed her electoral district association to be absolutely certain that, in the future, department stakeholders were not invited and in attendance at fundraising events. That is what Shelly Glover did under the previous Conservative government. What has the currents minister done?
The current minister has refused to take responsibility for her actions. She has refused to answer basic questions about who was there and what was said. The minister has refused to release the list of attendees. The minister has refused to return the pay-to-play cash.
Instead of saying, at the very least, that she made a mistake and that this would not happen again, the minster is lined up to attend yet another pay-to-play fundraiser, effectively thumbing her nose at the 's ethics code, and thumbing her nose at Canadians who expect their ministers to be open, accountable, transparent, and independent. If the took her responsibility seriously and took the office she holds seriously, the minister would do the right thing: stand up, apologize, and return the pay-to-play cash.
If the 's ethics code is worth the paper it is written on, if it is actually meaningful, if it is something more than just hollow words and hollow gestures, which sadly have become hallmarks of the current young government, then the will insist that the return the pay-to-play cash, if the Minister of Justice does not see fit to do so herself. Very simply, the 's ethics code demands that the minister return the pay-to-play cash; and Canadians deserve no less.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand before you today to speak on this baseless motion put forward by the member for . While this motion has no merit, I am excited that after 10 long years of being in the dark, of dealing with one of the most opaque and secretive governments in our history, Canadians finally have a government that they can trust and depend on.
I am proud to rise today to talk about a government that is committed to accountability and transparency, a government that espouses a simple but powerful idea: open government is good government.
Before I get into what our current government has been doing to advance accountability and transparency, I want to take a moment to remind my colleagues across the way of what the former Conservative government was responsible for, in case they have forgotten.
It was the former Conservative government that was behind the in-and-out scheme in 2006 that had them pleading guilty for exceeding election spending limits and submitting fraudulent election records.
The Conservatives transferred money between different levels of their party to obfuscate their election spending and circumvent Elections Canada rules in order to exceed spending limits.
In total, $1.3 million was transferred to 67 riding offices to pay for national advertising for the Conservative Party during the 2006 federal election. These offices included those of several cabinet ministers of the day, such as foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon, Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, natural resources minister Christian Paradis, and intergovernmental affairs minister Josée Verner, as well as the former foreign affairs minister, the current member for .
It is clear that unethical behaviour is deeply entrenched on that side of the House. Unfortunately, in the end it is Canadians who have to pay. Over a five-year period, investigations to uncover this Conservative scheme cost taxpayers $2.3 million.
The Conservative tactics that hinder our democratic system do not end there.
Let us recall the robocall scandal during the 2011 federal election, when individuals from the Conservative Party sought to suppress voter turnout through misleading calls in Guelph and elsewhere. In that case, a former Conservative staffer was found guilty of using misleading calls to send voters to the wrong polling station on the day of the election.
In ridings across the country, hundreds of voters had reported receiving calls purporting to be from Elections Canada that gave erroneous information on the location of polling stations.
It is also that party whose former minister of human resources was found to have violated the Conflict of Interest Act when in 2011 she awarded federal money to an infrastructure project that was backed by an individual with close ties to the former prime minister.
It was the former Conservative government that believed it could hide unethical behaviour with a $90,000 payout.
Also, how can we forget Dean Del Mastro, who was a Conservative parliamentary secretary to the former prime minister and who has been found guilty for violating the Canada Elections Act during the 2008 election? Now we have corruption in all three elections. Mr. Del Mastro has been convicted of three electoral offences, including failing to report a personal contribution of $21,000 that he made to his own campaign and filing a false report.
However, unethical behaviour is not limited to just the Conservatives. The NDP misappropriated millions of taxpayer dollars when it used its parliamentary office budgets to pay for satellite party offices across the country.
In that case, 68 NDP MPs improperly pooled their House of Commons office budgets to pay for the salaries of 28 staffers to work in satellite offices in Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto. In total, the NDP misappropriated $2.75 million of taxpayer money. The NDP has still not repaid this amount.
This is unacceptable behaviour. Canadians deserve better.
Unfortunately, the list goes on for both parties across the floor. This is just a small window into the type of behaviour from that side of the aisle that Canadians have grown tired of.
Our government knows that Canadians deserve and expect more from their members of Parliament. That is why our government is committed to full accountability to Canadians. We expect ministers and parliamentary secretaries to uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced.
We believe in integrity, honesty, and transparency—all values that are exemplified by our .
In fact, while the member for tries to make claims against the about her conduct, it was the minister who proactively sought the advice of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. She attended a fundraising event—something that all members here have done before and no doubt continue to do—as an MP and engaged with Canadians.
In my opening remarks, I said that this motion was baseless. Let me tell members why.
The member for wrote to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and received a response indicating that the was not in contravention of the act— yet here we are, debating a motion from the member for trying to suggest otherwise.
I would ask that the member from across the way again review the response he received from the commissioner. It might, on a second reading, provide him with the answer he is seeking.
To be clear, in case the member for and members across the way are not aware, with regard to the specific activity, pursuant to Elections Canada regulations, the Liberal Party will be entirely responsible for all costs associated with the event.
As I said, our government is committed to accountability and transparency. Even before forming government, the Liberal Party has always been raising the bar on transparency.
In 2013 the Liberal Party was the only party to require members to proactively disclose expenses. We believe Canadians deserve to know how their dollars are being spent.
The Liberal Party also introduced motions to advance transparency and accountability in the House. Unfortunately, the NDP did not support this effort to increase transparency and the motions did not pass.
Finally, in 2014, a Liberal motion that called upon the Board of Internal Economy to adopt a more comprehensive disclosure mechanism received all-party support. We are proud to have led the way on this front.
In November 2015, as part of this commitment, the published a ministerial code of conduct entitled “Open and Accountable Government”. This guide is available on the 's website for all Canadians to read. It is an important and fundamental document for the government.
I would like to draw the House's attention to some of the main ideas in this document.
Today our government continues to work toward increased transparency and accountability. As part of this commitment, in November the issued “Open and Accountable Government”, a guide for the conduct of his ministry. This is an important and foundational document for the government, and I would like to draw the attention of the House to some of its key themes and topics.
As the states in his message to ministers at the start of “Open and Accountable Government”:
|| For Canadians to trust our government we must trust Canadians, and we will only be successful in implementing our agenda to the extent that we earn and keep this trust.
I would like to take this moment to again highlight the conduct of the minister, who proactively sought advice from the commissioner. She is someone Canadians can depend on as an individual with utmost integrity. She is someone Canadians can trust to protect our rights and ensure that our legislation continues to meet the highest standards of equity, fairness, and respect for the rule of law.
I am proud to be working in this House alongside such an exemplary individual. I am also proud to be part of a government that understands the importance of integrity and honesty. This importance is highlighted in “Open and Accountable Government”. As the states:
|| To be worthy of Canadians’ trust, we must always act with integrity. This is not merely a matter of adopting the right rules, or of ensuring technical compliance with those rules. As Ministers, you and your staff must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.
To assist members in meeting these duties, “Open and Accountable Government” sets out the 's expectations for their personal conduct, which includes compliance with statutory obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act, with the ethical guidelines set out in annex A of the guide, and with the guidelines on fundraising set out in annex B.
While I am on the topic of the Lobbying Act, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some key features of this act.
The Lobbying Act requires anyone who lobbies federal public office holders to register as a lobbyist with the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. All lobbyists are obligated under the act to report on lobbying activities, including communication with designated public office holders, on a monthly basis. This information is published on the Internet on the public registry maintained by the Commissioner of Lobbying.
Who is a lobbyist? The Lobbying Act identifies two types of lobbyists.
A consultant lobbyist is an individual who, for payment, communicates with public office holders on behalf of any person or organization. This individual may be a professional lobbyist but can also be any individual who, in the course of his or her work for a client, communicates with or arranges meetings with a public office holder.
An in-house lobbyist is an individual who is an employee of an organization and whose duties are to communicate with public office holders on behalf of his or her employer.
If the employer is a corporation, there are two other ways in which a person can be identified as an in-house lobbyist. The first is if that individual's duties are to communicate with public office holders on behalf of any subsidiary of the employer. The second is if that individual's duties are to communicate with public office holders on behalf of any corporation of which the employer is a subsidiary.
As I said earlier, all lobbyists are obligated under the act to report on lobbying activities, including communications with designated public office holders, on a monthly basis.
What are these activities? The Lobbying Act defines activities that, when carried out for compensation, are considered to be lobbying. Generally speaking, they include communicating with public office holders about changing federal laws, regulations, policies, or programs, obtaining a financial benefit, such as a grant or a contribution, and in certain cases, obtaining a government contract. As well, in the case of the consultant lobbyist, it would include arranging a meeting between a public office holder and another person qualified as lobbying.
The commissioner has provided additional interpretation on what must be reported. In-house and consultant lobbyists must report all oral and arranged communications relating to financial benefits, even when initiated by a public office holder. Likewise, consultant lobbyists must report oral and arranged communications relating to a contract regardless of who initiated the communication.
What are these communications the act refers to? For the purposes of the Lobbying Act, communications include both verbal and written. Examples of verbal communications with a public office holder are arranged meetings, phone calls, informal communication, and grassroots communications. Examples of written communications with a public office holder include hard copy or electronic formats.
Some types of communication do not require registration. These include, for example, inquiries about publicly available information and general inquiries about the terms and conditions of programs and application processes.
Registration is also not required for participation in government initiated activities, such as consultations, hearings, round tables, or like activities where transparency is comparable to that of a parliamentary committee where participants, proceedings, and decisions are readily made public. The same goes for preparation and presentation of briefings to parliamentary committees.
As I mentioned, the Lobbying Act requires anyone who lobbies federal public office holders to register as a lobbyist to the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. Who are these public office holders? Public office holders as defined under the act are any employee or officer of Her Majesty in right of Canada. This includes virtually all persons occupying an elected or appointed position in the federal government, including members of the House of Commons and the other place and their staff.
Now, on a broader level, “Open and Accountable Government” also lays out the fundamental principles of our system of responsible government, including the core tenets of individual and collective ministerial responsibility.
All this to say that the minister did not break any rules. She is completely in compliance with the law. Her actions were consistent with the actions of other members of this place and I defend her actions very strongly. I challenge any member to not fundraise and see how the next election goes.
More important, there has been no violations of any ethics codes by members of the government since October 19, 2015. Prior to that is entirely another story. When will the member for , for example, release his donor list from his leadership run of the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party? Members will remember that party. Its first official name was C-CRAP. When will the member for release his donor list for his leadership run for the Conservative Party? What does he have to hide? How many members have been taken away in leg irons and from which parties were they?
The Conservatives talk about ethics as if they have some basis for doing so, as if they do not have the longest history of unethical practices.
There are a couple of books I would refer them to. One is called On The Take. Another one is called Blue Trust. These are fascinating books by author Stevie Cameron on the long and colourful history of Conservative ethical standards.
I am looking forward to having this conversation go a little further and hearing more about how the Conservatives believe they understand what ethics are and how they believe they have any moral basis to bring it up.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the Conservative Party's motion. The NDP will support this motion because it addresses a problem that clearly raises doubts in some people's minds about the role of partisan political fundraising when combined with the role of a minister in the performance of his or her duties.
We must look at this matter from a broader perspective with respect to the role of an institution such as the House of Commons in a system of representative democracy. Our system essentially operates on the trust that people place in the individuals they send to the House of Commons to discuss and pass legislation and budgets for the country. As a result of that trust, people expect that the work of the elected representatives will be impartial and as objective as possible, without being influenced by money.
The big problem with scandals, whether they involve Liberals or Conservatives, is that they keep fuelling the cynicism that people feel about our democratic system. This undermines our representative institutions and even has an impact on voter turnout. The general perception is Liberal, Tory, same old story.
We are always mired in some scandal or other involving either the Grits or the Tories. There is mudslinging, and the sin of one is less egregious than that of the other. There is reference to the previous scandal. I will talk about this, but I want to take a moment to say that finger pointing may not be the best use of parliamentarians' time.
That said, in order to maintain Canadians' trust in the system, the conduct of parliamentarians, the government, and its ministers has to be beyond reproach and there must be no perception of potential conflicts of interest. That is a more noble objective, in the medium and long term, and much more important than the scandal of the day.
I would like to quote the , who spoke about this very trust when he introduced his new government and referred to the guide governing his ministers' conduct:
|| In order for Canadians to trust their government, they need a government that trusts them. We will be open and honest with Canadians, and we will uphold the highest standards of integrity and impartiality both in our public and private affairs.
We would like that to be the case at all times.
|| The documents we are releasing today provide guidance on how we must go about our responsibilities as Ministers, and I encourage Canadians to read them and to hold us accountable for delivering these commitments.
I will get back to the fact that the 's actions quite obviously did not meet these highest standards of integrity and impartiality. We all agree that she made a mistake, that she should apologize, and that, like a previous Conservative minister, she should probably reimburse the money she collected at this fundraising event, organized by a Toronto law firm.
Before I get to the heart of the matter, I want to say that the leader of the Green Party's speech earlier was more or less in line with my introduction. There are many things we should be discussing today, but the Conservatives' motion is forcing us to once again talk about scandals and point fingers at each other. This is what we will spend our day doing. We know very well how it will look at the end of the day. It has already started. Someone did something worse before, the others are not nice, someone else was involved in such and such scandal, the police visited this person, and so on. This is true, but the Conservative Party is hijacking our parliamentary business.
This issue is already out there. Conservative members have already spoken. I also gave interviews. There is pressure on the minister. She is being asked to be accountable. However, the Conservatives are essentially wasting our day here, when we could have been talking about issues that affect people's day-to-day lives.
The people of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and, I believe, most people in every riding send us here to solve their problems and improve their living conditions, their working conditions, their retirement situation, and the quality of care they receive. Today, I would have liked to be able to take the time to talk with my colleagues, to discuss, debate, and exchange ideas with them about things that change people's lives in a real and tangible way.
Take, for example, public day care spaces. We saw in Quebec how making affordable and accessible day care spaces available to everyone changed families' lives. The Liberal government has not done anything on that file since it took office, even though something like that could quickly change people's lives. People in Ontario and western Canada pay between $60 and $80 a day for day care. As a result, one parent usually ends up staying at home because it costs too much to send the child to private day care. Unfortunately, it is usually women who assume that role.
A study conducted in Quebec by economist Pierre Fortin very clearly showed the effect that the provincial program had on women. Approximately 70,000 women went back to work and were able to begin contributing to the overall productivity of society again and enhancing their own financial self-sufficiency within the couple or family.
We could have talked about that, but the Conservatives did not want to. We also could have talked about health care, which is still the number one priority of Quebeckers and Canadians. For example, it is important for people to be able to get treatment when they are sick, to not have to wait in the emergency room for 14 hours, and to have access to specialists.
The Liberal has a mandate to enforce the Canada Health Act. I have called on her a number of times to explain what she is doing about the fact that the governments of Saskatchewan and Quebec are introducing and legalizing ancillary fees in private clinics and thereby restricting access to care. This has a direct impact on people. When they are being forced to pay $80 for eye drops that cost $4 at the pharmacy and $300 to $500 for procedures such as colonoscopies, that is restricting access to care and it is against Canadian law.
The federal government has a role to play here, and we are calling on it to take action. Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not want us to talk about that today. The clock is ticking: it is time to renew the agreement on provincial transfers that will be expiring soon. We know that the Conservative Party wanted to cut those transfers and take $36 billion away from the provinces over the next 10 years.
What is the Liberal plan regarding the new agreement for health transfers to the provinces? We have no idea. It is still vague. We are told that we will debate it, that negotiations are under way, and then it is put off to a later date. These are issues that matter to our constituents, and once again, the Conservatives are wasting an entire day to talk about something else.
Obviously, the behaviour of the must be singled out. Yes, it was less than impressive, but as I said a little earlier in the debate, in my questions to my Conservative colleague, the irony of the situation is lost on the Conservatives. They are in no position to bring up any issues of ethics. They are looking for trouble, to some extent.
Need I remind the House that the RCMP raided the Conservative Party office, seized documents, and had to investigate because the Conservatives violated the Canada Elections Act? Need I remind everyone that the Conservative Party was found guilty in the in-and-out scandal, whereby the Conservatives used local riding associations to hide federal, Canada-wide election spending? That scheme enabled them to exceed the legal election spending limits allowed by Elections Canada. The Conservatives were caught red-handed and found guilty.
I do not really understand the point of stirring all this up again six months after a new government was elected. Let us not forget that Dean Del Mastro personally committed fraud and broke the election law. It is rather mind-boggling. He wrote a $20,000 cheque to his own election campaign.
We know that the cap is $1,500. The hon. member was the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, in other words, the person who speaks in the House on behalf of the Prime Minister when he is absent. Today, that same member has to serve a prison sentence for breaching the Canada Elections Act. Furthermore, he keeps insisting he did nothing wrong. This motion and this debate might backfire on the Conservatives.
I could also say a few words about our friends in the red chamber at the other place in the Centre Block. The former prime minister promised, hand on his heart, that he would never appoint senators that were not duly elected. If memory serves me correctly, he appointed 58 senators in order to have a majority in the upper chamber.
Those appointments were not always successful. For example, there was Mike Duffy. It has been a while since we mentioned his name. Mr. Duffy had his potentially fraudulent expenses for his secondary residence reimbursed directly by Nigel Wright, who was the Conservative prime minister's chief of staff. Mr. Wright wrote a personal cheque for $90,000 to Mike Duffy. In my opinion, the Conservatives are in no position to lecture us on ethics today.
I could also talk about Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau, and many friends of the former . These people undermined Canadians' trust in our institutions. Taxpayers were outraged by the actions of the previous Conservative government, which did not respect them or obey the rules.
That said, the 's conduct recently was strange. She attended a private fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Canada, organized by the Toronto law firm Torys LLP. Tickets were $500 each. The invitation indicated that those attending would have the privilege of having the as the guest of honour. Unlike several other Liberal Party fundraisers, this one was not listed on the party's website. It was kept somewhat secret, but we learned about it from a media outlet that broke the news.
In the quote I read earlier, the refers to the new Liberal government's guide. I will now read excerpts from annex B of this much-touted guide that the Liberals are so proud of, entitled “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries”. It states:
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.
|| The following is a summary of best practices that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are expected to follow to maintain appropriate boundaries between their official duties and political fundraising activities. It is important that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries familiarize themselves with these practices and apply them in all appropriate circumstances. In addition, they must ensure that their staffs are well acquainted with the practices and that adequate processes are in place in their offices to ensure compliance.
|| The practices complement, and do not replace, other rules that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must observe, including the Conflict of Interest Act, the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons and the Lobbying Act. [That is too bad because the guide is not legally binding, which is a serious problem.] Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should communicate with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner if they have any questions...
That is what the minister did, but that poses another problem. We believe that, if the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner said that the minister's actions did not pose a problem, it is because the rules she is applying are not strict enough.
Let us move on to the general principles set out in the guide.
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
That is where the problem lies. It continues:
|| There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
The fundraising event was organized by a Toronto law firm and it was explicitly said that a $500 donation to the Liberal Party would give donors access to a minister. This seems to be a clear violation of the Liberals' guidelines, which they claim to be so proud of.
I would like to hear their thoughts on this, because there was preferential access. Everyone agrees that this appears to be preferential access. This has raised some eyebrows in the NDP. A former Conservative minister was caught up in the same kind of mess. She participated in a fundraising event attended by people directly connected to her portfolio and her position as minister. At the time, these included people from the arts and culture community. The minister reimbursed the money that had been collected at this event. I think that it would be appropriate for the to do the same. The Liberal Party's defence is that she was not there in her capacity as minister, but rather as an MP. First of all, that is not what the invitation said, and second of all, I would like to know how she was able to remove her minister's hat when she walked into the room, especially since she was at a law firm in Toronto and she is a member of Parliament from British Columbia.
The question I am asking my Liberal colleagues is therefore very clear. If she really was there as the member for , I would like to know what concerns and demands she conveyed to the lawyers of Torys LLP, a Toronto law firm, on behalf of the people of Vancouver Granville. It seems to me that that was a long way to go to talk about the concerns of her constituents. I think it is more likely that the event violated the best practices guide that has been so highly touted by the Liberal Party of Canada.
We were looking forward to a fresh approach and new beginnings, after 10 years under the Conservatives. More and more, we see that the Liberal Party is reverting to its bad habit of circumventing the law. That is the party responsible for the sponsorship scandal and partisan appointments. Not much has been said about it, but the first ambassadors appointed by the new government, specifically to the United States and the United Nations, were people with direct ties to the Liberal machine. That is exactly the kind of partisan appointment that the Liberals denounced in the past when they were in opposition, and yet they are doing the same thing today.
There was also a contest on the Liberal Party website. The prize? Join the on a trip to Washington. People had to provide their email address, which would be added to the Liberal Party database. There have also been contests for access to certain ministers on certain occasions.
Once again, there is some risk of blurring the line between official government and parliamentary business and partisan activities. Since coming to power, the new Liberal Party has been making mistakes and falling short of the very high standards of integrity it espoused during the election campaign.
I call on the new government to listen to the concerns of the people and the opposition members and to change course in order to honour its promises and commitments, which it has not yet done.
Although it is important to talk about respect for the law and the scandals that could affect the new Liberal government or the old Conservative government, because of the Conservative motion, we will spend all day speaking to those kinds of issues, rather than the issues that are of real concern to the people from my riding, and I think from most ridings. People want to hear about jobs, child care, health care, and good pensions. The NDP would like to talk about that.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join in the debate today on what I consider to be a very serious topic. We are talking about the inappropriateness of a fundraiser that was conducted by the .
Before I get into the specifics of that particular fundraiser and why we are having this discussion today, let me start by saying that I think we all agree in this place that fundraising is both legitimate and necessary for political parties and for politicians to engage in. However, it has to be done within the rules.
There are rules for everything. We all know that. We all know that we need to abide them. I would remind you, Madam Speaker, and other members of this place, that when our Conservative government first took office in 2006, we made some very necessary changes to the method in which all political parties, and, in fact, individual members could fundraise.
We reduced the level of fundraising significantly that one could for ask from an individual. We eliminated corporate and union donations entirely. We did that for a very legitimate and very necessary reason. We did not think it would be appropriate for our government, or in fact any government, to be beholden to an individual, a corporation, or a union simply because they donated money.
In years past, and I am talking many years ago, it was not uncommon to see some corporations donate tens of thousands of dollars to political parties. Why would they do that? I think it is very appropriate to say that many would donate vast sums of money to try to receive some form of benefit down the road.
That is basically what happened years ago, and it continued until a subsequent series of governments started to change the fundraising regime to lower the amount of money that individuals and corporations could actually donate. They did that to get away from the undue influence of big business or wealthy individuals, to the point where we have it now, where all corporate and union donations are outlawed; they are banned. The amount that an individual can donate to a party or to an individual member of Parliament is somewhat less than $1,500.
I should also say, and I should have said at the outset, that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
That brings us to where we are today. We brought forward a motion basically talking about what we consider to be inappropriate fundraising by the . Since I talked earlier about the reasons behind changing the fundraising regime to try to get away from any undue influence that individuals or corporations might be able to exact upon a government, what did the Minister of Justice do exactly that was so inappropriate?
She attended a fundraiser hosted by a number of well-heeled Bay Street lawyers at a law firm. These individuals, for the privilege and the right of attending this fundraiser with the , paid $500 a person to do so.
Why would any individual do that? I can assure this House that, at least in my opinion, it was not because these lawyers wanted to hear the minister spout profundities about the government. No, quite simply, these members spent $500 a piece, shelled out $500 per person, in order to get close to the minister so they perhaps could receive some benefit in the future. Perhaps they might be able to receive a government contract for their law firm, or perhaps they hope to personally receive a government appointment somewhere in the future.
This type of approach is in direct violation and contradiction of the 's own code of ethics in which he instructed all of his public office holders, all ministers and parliamentary secretaries, to not engage in fundraising that could be a conflict of interest or even a perceived conflict of interest.
If ministers attending a $500-a-person fundraiser is not considered to be a perceived conflict of interest, then nothing is. Even more damning is the fact that one of the attendees, until the night before the fundraiser occurred, had been registered to lobby the .
I suspect what happened was that when the individual in question knew that this might be viewed as a conflict of interest, he took steps to deregister himself. It was literally the night before the minister attended the fundraiser. That was to try to make it at least appear that there was no inappropriate lobbying that would occur. That simply does not pass the smell test. It simply does not.
Whether one could technically argue that this was in the rules, from a perception standpoint, it certainly does not pass the smell test. Clearly, if lawyers and stakeholders were paying $500 per person to sidle up to a minister to discuss who knows what, an average Canadian would have to think there was something fishy going on, that perhaps they wanted to curry favour with the minister to some extent. This is, as I said earlier, completely in contradiction and violation with the 's own code of conduct.
I also have to say one thing that I frankly find somewhat disturbing, and that is, in the House when we have raised questions to the , she has steadfastly refused to answer any direct questions about that specific fundraiser. Instead, the government House leader has stood in her defence to answer and deflect any questions.
One of the things that I find, perhaps not disturbing but almost humorous, is the government House leader's contention that every MP does this; this is no big thing. The Ethics Commissioner has cleared the and we all do it, so why are opposition members complaining?
I would simply say this: Earth to government House leader, backbench MPs do not charge $500 a pop for fundraisers. They might charge it, but no one would show up. Therefore, to contend that at one time the minister said she was only doing it in her role as a member of Parliament, people would not attend fundraisers at $500 a pop for any backbencher in this place, let alone $1,000 a pop, which the is going to do at a future fundraiser.
The reason that these lawyers spent $500 a person was to get next to a minister who has influence within her department obviously, and who might be able to benefit those individuals attending the fundraiser. That is clearly inappropriate. One does not have to be a political scientist or a political pundit to understand that. It is just common sense. There is a perception that it was a pay-to-play fundraising event in which individuals wanted to curry favour with a minister and were willing to pay large sums of money to do so.
Clearly, it was inappropriate. We are asking the minister to simply admit that she made a mistake, return the money, and do what is right and appropriate.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House. I would like to thank my hon. colleague for for splitting his time with me today.
The 's mandate letter or code of conduct to his ministers regarding ministerial conduct reads as follows:
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced. As public office holders, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are subject to the Part I requirements of the Ethical and Political Activity Guidelines for Public Office Holders.
The final line says:
|| Moreover, they have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law.
I bring that up because, as I said earlier in the debate, I agree with the comments made in the House that we definitely have more important things to debate, but the facts are the facts. The government campaigned on bringing real change to the House and bringing an open and transparent government. Now, all of a sudden, within the last six months of the short term it has been in power, we have seen some questionable activity. The perception is that some things are going on that may not right.
The issue for me is the fact that when this event was discovered, it was not a matter of the being proactive, as mentioned earlier by the . It was when a media outlet reported this event and made it public. Then and only then did the Minister of Justice report the event and asked if any rules of conduct had been broken. It was then and only then that it was brought to light.
Shortly after the event, it was brought forward in the House. The question was raised by my hon. colleague. At that time, the stood in the House and said that she attended the event merely as the MP for and that her head policymaker or adviser was there merely as a volunteer.
Mistakes happen. We are all human. We all make mistakes, as I tell my kids. I have been married for a long time so I know when to say am sorry and say that I made a mistake. Sometimes we have to do that. We can forgive, but sometimes we cannot forget.
The minister stood in the House and said that she was merely there as the member for , and that her head policymaker was there as a volunteer. Therefore, the question off the top of my head would be this. Was the policymaker there merely as a volunteer? Did she claim per diems? Did she take a day off? The actions and fact were not clear and consistent, as brought forth by members of the other side.
I have been married for a long time. I have four kids. I have coached for a very long time. I am very used to diversionary tactics. When the kids say “look over here”, or “they did it first”, it does not make it right.
We are talking about today's Parliament. We are not talking about what has been done in the past.
As my hon. colleague previously mentioned, perhaps Canadians were disillusioned as to how the government was moving forward. With successive governments, everybody sets out with best intentions. However, in the ways of the world, and as we go about our daily lives, sometimes we stumble. However, stumbling is one thing. Standing and saying that one made a mistake is another, which is commendable.
The minister not only attended the event, but was advertised as a $500 a plate event to gain access to the , held at a law firm that did a considerable amount of work with the federal government. As well, the lawyers who might attend it could be in line for government appointments. I am sure members can see where some of the confusion and concern lies with those of us on this side.
When we talk about an open and transparent government, the story has changed many times. She said that she was just there as a member of Parliament for my riding, or that her head policymaker was there as a volunteer. Oftentimes when we stand in the House, we forget who we really represent and who we should be speaking for, which is all Canadians, and we should speak in common language.
Would this pass the smell test in a family if a family member said one thing and the next day the story changed? The facts are the facts. There is a bit of a smell to this.
While we should be debating and talking about the crisis at Attawapiskat, or the deficiencies in budget 2016, or the reason why it took the a week after our emergency debate on the suicides in Attawapiskat to get to that community, we are talking about an issue that is relatively small in the grand scheme of things. However, it speaks volumes to what we have seen over the course of the last six months with the government. It campaigned that it would have a mere $10 billion deficit. On March 22, we saw a $29.4 billion deficit. It campaigned that it would lower the taxes on small business. Instead, it has put a freeze on it, and, from what we have seen, it will likely increase those taxes. It is again another string of confusing and perhaps misleading tactics.
On this side of the House, it is our job to hold the government's feet to the fire, and that is what we are doing, because Canadians have that same question. As our hon. colleague stated earlier on, maybe they were looking for some real change. Instead, they have the same Liberal government making the same promises, breaking them, and perhaps looking after its friends a little too much. Canadians deserve better. They deserve better from all of us.
I would agree that there might be things at which we need to look. Perhaps we need to do better collectively, as a whole, strive to do better, be more accountable, remember who we represent, and to speak the common language of our constituents so they understand what this is and what it really means. We should not be pointing fingers saying things such as, “They did it, so it's okay for us to do it too, so take that” or “You ain't seen nothing here”, the spoken diversionary tactics and shell games that we see.
Let us be honest. If a mistake was made, all the minister had to do was stand and say that she erred in her ways, that she made a mistake, and that it would never happen again. I think the members opposite can agree that if we made a mistake, we would do that. I have made a mistake in the House and I have stood and apologized publicly for that mistake. I think all Canadians are asking for is that the , and perhaps all of us, be held to a higher level. If we make a mistake, we should stand, apologize, say we are sorry, and ensure we move forward with truth and real change.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the motion.
When the government was elected, we committed to work tirelessly to honour the trust Canadians have given us. We committed to bring new leadership and a new tone to government, listening to the needs of Canadians and working collaboratively to tackle the real challenges we face as a country.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on these real challenges that Canadians across the country face, challenges such as seeking better job opportunities, finding affordable housing, advancing equal rights, or dealing with other pressing issues like climate change, the member for felt it was important to discuss this frivolous motion—a motion that I can confidently say is without merit.
However, I am happy to stand here today to speak about the amazing efforts our government has made to increase transparency and accountability, as well as our strong commitment to an open and honest government that Canadians deserve.
We also committed to tracking our progress and relying upon evidence. What does the evidence say about Canadians' trust in government? An EKOS poll this week showed that Canadians' trust in government has skyrocketed to levels not seen since the mid-1970s. Canadians trust us because they know we are serious about openness and accountability.
For the past 10 years, Canadians have witnessed the most secretive government in Canada's history, one that has shut out scientists and closed the door on evidence-based decision making. It was also a government that was riddled with election scandals and unethical misconduct. Under the former Conservative government, Conservative Senator Mike Duffy inappropriately billed taxpayers as he engaged in Conservative Party fundraisers across the country. This happened under the former government's watch.
This unethical behaviour is not just limited to the Conservatives, but the NDP has also misused Canadian taxpayer dollars. From the Conservatives' many instances of overspending on election expenses, to the NDP's misappropriation of millions of taxpayer dollars, which it funnelled to partisan satellite offices, Canadians have had enough of this behaviour. Canadians want a government they can trust, which is why voters chose to elect a Liberal majority to bring real change to Canada. I am very proud to be part of this change and to stand here with a government that is committed to measures for a more open and accountable government.
Our government is committed to taking a different approach from the previous Conservative government. That is why, in November, our issued “Open and Accountable Government”, which sets core principles regarding the roles and responsibilities of ministers in Canada's system of responsible parliamentary government.
At the core of this guide is the understanding that public office-holders must maintain integrity in order to be worthy of Canadians' trust. “Open and Accountable Government” recognizes this importance. It states in its guidelines on ethical standards:
|| Public office holders shall act with honesty and uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of the government are conserved and enhanced.
I have no doubt, while the member for would like to make claims that question the 's conduct, that she is an individual of utmost integrity whom Canadians can trust as the legal advisor to the cabinet and the chief law officer of the crown. It is a tremendous role but one I know the is well equipped to take on.
In fact, despite what the member for 's motion seems to imply, the acted according with the Conflict of Interest Act and proactively sought the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's advice on her fundraising activity.
All members in the House are familiar with, and have likely engaged in, fundraising activities for their party. These are normal, routine activities that members undertake, not only to support their party but also to engage with Canadians. At the fundraising activity that the member for is referring to in his motion, the minister appeared as a member of Parliament.
Further to this, her conduct was cleared by the commissioner, and the member for knows this very well. He received a response from the commissioner, addressing the baseless claims he had raised in relation to this fundraising activity.
I am not sure why the member has continued to pursue this, in light of the response from the commissioner, but I will take this moment to again reiterate that the took all the appropriate measures to ensure she was not in contravention of the Conflict of Interest Act and did not transgress section 16 of the act, which pertains to fundraising activities.
Further to this, pursuant to Elections Canada's regulations, the Liberal Party will be entirely responsible for all costs associated with the event. The Liberal Party fully complies with the Canada Elections Act in all of its fundraising activities.
Our government is committed to being open and accountable and ensuring that our ministers discharge their duties with integrity and meet the fundamental principles of our system of responsible government. In meeting these duties, “Open and Accountable Government” sets out the 's expectations for ministers' personal conduct, which includes compliance with the statutory obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act.
At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss Canada's conflict of interest regime. Our country has benefited from a robust regime, and Canada continues to rank among the most ethically governed countries in the world. This is due to the fact that the Conflict of Interest Act establishes strict rules for all full-time public office-holders. The act applies to the , ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, and ministers' exempt staff. It also applies to almost all Governor in Council appointees, including deputy and associate deputy ministers, heads of agencies, and the CEOs, chairs, and members of crown corporations, boards, commissions, and tribunals. All of these public office-holders are subject to a set of general conflict of interest rules set out in part 1 of the act. This includes the core rule that public office-holders are to avoid conflicts between private interests and their official duties.
Some public office-holders are also considered to be reporting public office-holders under the act, and this includes ministers, parliamentary secretaries, full-time exempt staff, and full-time Governor in Council appointees. Reporting public office-holders are subject to additional rules and obligations under the act, including a prohibition on engaging in outside employment or other activities; a requirement to make various confidential and public disclosures of assets, liabilities, and other private interests, and to divest through sale or a blind trust certain assets such as publicly trade stocks; and a one- to two-year cooling-off period in which they are prohibited from accepting employment or appointments with organizations with which they had direct or significant dealings during their last year in office.
As I mentioned, the conflict of interest regime in Canada is a robust regime that has evolved over time. Let me give a bit of its historical context. It used to be that the conflict of interest rules that applied to ministers, parliamentary secretaries, other public office-holders, and parliamentarians were found in federal statutes like the Criminal Code and the Parliament of Canada Act. However, starting with former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's guidelines for cabinet ministers in 1973, these statutory rules were replaced or supplemented by conflict of interest rules and guidelines. Today, the Conflict of Interest Act outlines the expectations and requirements for public office-holders. The Senate and the House of Commons have further adopted the parliamentary conflict of interest codes to govern the conduct of their members.
Changes were made to the conflict of interest regime by the Federal Accountability Act, which brought the Conflict of Interest Act into law. It is clear that the conflict of interest regime we have in this country has helped to guarantee the integrity of our public office-holders and our democratic system of government. I believe Canadians are well served by the framework we have in place today. Indeed, despite the claims made by the member for , the was not in contravention of the act.
Moving forward, I have every confidence that Canadians will continue to be well served with this framework.
We are committed to an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians and lives up to the highest ethical standards. As detailed in “Open and Accountable Government”, it is critical to the principle of responsible government that all organizations within the executive be the responsibility of a minister who is accountable to Parliament. I can confidently say that the is an individual of utmost integrity whom Canadians can depend on to be fully accountable to Parliament.
Again, as stated in “Open and Accountable Government”, the minister is accountable to Parliament for the proper functioning of his or her office and department and all other organizations within his or her portfolio. Ministers fulfill this accountability by demonstrating appropriate diligence and competence in the discharge of their responsibilities.
Of course, what constitutes appropriate ministerial oversight will depend on the nature of the organization and the minister's role. Where arm's-length bodies are concerned, the minister's engagement will be at a more systemic level. I am pleased to note that “Open and Accountable Government” includes new guidance to assist ministers in respecting the parameters of their responsibilities with respect to arm's-length organizations.
Ministerial accountability to Parliament does not mean that a minister is presumed to have knowledge of every matter that occurs within his or her department or portfolio, nor that a minister is necessarily required to accept personal responsibility for every matter. Given the size and complexity of government, this would be an impossible standard to meet.
However, the has made clear in “Open and Accountable Government” that his expectation is that ministers will take appropriate corrective action to address any problems that may arise in their portfolios in a manner that is consistent with their role with respect to the organization in question.
He has also indicated that he expects ministers to attend to all matters of Parliament that concern any organizations for which they are responsible, including responding to questions. As the has stated:
|| Open and transparent government is good government. It strengthens trust in our democracy and ensures the integrity of our public institutions.
Canadians have indicated their support for the progress the government has made so far in this area, and they expect us to continue. We must never cease to earn and to keep their trust.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that the member for 's motion is baseless in questioning the conduct of the . Again, as I said before, she attended the event as a member of Parliament and followed all fundraising rules outlined in the Canada Elections Act.
In her correspondence with the member for , the commissioner found that the minister was not in contravention of section 16 of the act, and I am proud to call the minister a friend and a colleague. I know that Canadians are being well served by a minister who is committed to upholding the rule of law and protecting the rights of Canadians.
I am also proud to be a part of a government that is committed to being open and transparent with all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, the government has certainly brought back Liberal ethics, as the has said, Liberal ethics that led to the sponsorship scandal, Liberal ethics that led to many issues over the years, Liberal ethics that have led to a justice minister providing access to lawyers who potentially could request positions on the bench in the future.
I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
Before I begin, I would like to comment on one other thing that the said, which was that this issue is not important to Canadians. Present today, aside from many parliamentarians, are members of the Barrie and area firefighters association, who believe it is so important that they joined us in the chamber today.
I stand to speak to the motion sponsored by the member for regarding the fundraising exploits of the . She is not the first minister of the crown to exercise poor judgment in attending a fundraiser staged by individuals who seek to gain from their responsibilities. This has happened on numerous occasions on both sides of the House. Sometimes it was because the individual did not know, sometimes it was because the minister did not yet understand his or her position, and sometimes it was because the party was trying to raise funds and cared not for the conventions of this honourable House.
Members on the government side will use past issues to clutter today's debate, to rationalize the legitimacy—or illegitimacy, as I see it—of the 's fundraising with lawyers. To put this to rest in advance, I want to outline the most applicable circumstances surrounding this issue.
A minister in the last government attended a fundraiser for $50 per person, at which there were stakeholders present from the minister's portfolio. The minister was unaware that the event was raising funds using stakeholders from the portfolio. Subsequently, the minister returned all of the funds and addressed the situation immediately.
In the end, the Ethics Commissioner decided that while this event was not technically against the law, the commissioner stated in the ethics report's conclusion that it was “clearly inappropriate”. This sets the standard for both what is expected of a minister in not attending such a fundraiser and also how to respond in an open and honest fashion if a mistake is made in the future.
Other standards that need to be met in matters regarding fundraising are outlined by the . In the letter to his ministers, parliamentary secretaries, and Canadians about open and transparent conduct, the Prime Minister said the following:
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced. As public office holders, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are subject to the Part I requirements of the Ethical and Political Activity Guidelines for Public Office Holders set out in Annex A, as well as the best practices for fundraising and dealing with lobbyists that are set out in Annex B. Moreover, they have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law.
I repeat, “This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law”, meaning the standard of care is not just to meet the regulation of the law of this land but to be without ethical question and to maintain the credibility of the position with the public.
There is no question that the minister has crossed ethical lines by attending a Liberal fundraiser for members of the law society, whom she oversees.
The is responsible for naming individuals to the bench and for overseeing the judicial system in Canada. Therefore, having lawyers who could be requesting appointments as judges paying money to meet the person who would appoint those judges is an obvious ethical lapse.
There can be no question regarding the minister's ethics. It would undercut the credibility of not just the , but the government appointments process, and indeed, the government itself. Since the is failing to hold his minister to account on this matter, it leaves Canadians again questioning the legitimacy of his words, spoken and written, which are in direct contradiction to his actions that are taken or not taken.
My colleagues have clearly outlined the ethical lapses regarding the minister's fundraising practices from a parliamentary standpoint, but what about the ideal that the Canadian government is as accessible to each and every Canadian in the same way?
I would like to tell a little story.
I had the opportunity to take a civics and careers class in high school. At the time, my family was living in government housing. I fell in love with politics, because everything I read about in those textbooks showed that if one believed enough, if one hoped long enough, if one worked hard enough, one would be able to attain all of the successes that are available in this country, not because of the amount of money one has, not because of one's age, not because of a plethora of reasons that we could come up with, but because we live in a country where each and every person is valued equally regardless of race, religion, or means, and all those other issues.
In my opinion, what this fundraiser has done is to create two classes of citizens in this country. One is the citizen who must pay to go and give feedback, input, and influence to a minister at $500 a head, and those who do not have that access, those who do not have the means to be at those meetings. What this is creating in our country is an unequal footing for those who have the financial means to show up and those who have the friends to get the invites. Quite frankly, it is wrong. It is not what our country stands for, and it is not what our government should be practising.
When the during the election promised open and transparent government, when the Prime Minister during the election promised that his government would be different, this is not the different that I thought I would see. I thought we would make gains on the transparency and accountability front, but we have found the opposite.
Not only has the minister already conducted herself in this way as a minister of the crown, but she is committed to holding another fundraiser in the future. I mentioned earlier a minister in the previous government who realized immediately that the fundraising efforts were done in an incorrect fashion and returned the money and dealt with it right away. The minister is literally doubling down, going from $500 a head to $1,000. That is not the example I want us to set for our youth, that if one has $1,000, one can meet the minister, but if one does not, then one cannot. It is wrong, and I do not believe any of these things about showing up and participating as a member of Parliament. I hope that Canadians see through this as well.
Finally, I think it is important that we know who is benefiting. Who is it that is attending these fundraisers and paying to be able to talk with a minister and perhaps influence policy or maybe even influence appointments down the road? We will find out eventually, but it is important on these matters, because of the ethical questions, that the minister be forthright, step up, and release all of the information available.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for for sharing his time with me today.
Before I get to the formal part of my remarks, I want to introduce Mr. George Taylor. For those in the House who do not know Mr. Taylor, he was a resident of Barrie and is the former solicitor general in the province of Ontario. I am sure you would know him, Mr. Speaker. He is a well-respected former member of the provincial legislature in Ontario.
Just last week on Facebook, Mr. Taylor weighed in on this debate. What he had to say on Facebook was quite interesting and quite telling. I corresponded with Mr. Taylor when I was a city councillor in Barrie. I never had the chance to meet him face to face. He is an honourable man, a man of great conviction, and a man who is well respected.
Mr. Taylor wrote on Facebook, “The Minister of Justice must have missed the conflict of interest course, as did the Ethics Commissioner, to conclude the attendance of a Tory law firm dinner, as she has said to CBC, that she was there as the MP for B.C. Law firms do not ask MPs to dinner. MPs do not appoint judges. They do not grant QCs. They give out great amounts of legal work and determine who to prosecute. The Minister of Justice is to be more independent than other ministers. She will have to learn more about her duties. You are never not a minister.”
Those are wise words from a well-respected man.
I was at the epicentre of this issue when it started taking root. It became a regional issue. I was called to CBC on Tuesday, April 5, to comment about this issue taking place. I was not sure what it was about on my way there, but I was certainly briefed on the issue. When I walked into the CBC building, I was told by a producer that I was going to be interviewed by Mr. Terry Milewski. We knew that this story was going to have legs. We knew that it was going to be one of the lead stories on CBC. As it turned out, it was.
I asked Mr. Milewski what angle he was taking on the story. Quite clearly he told me that he had received an email from someone stating that there was an event to take place with the at a law firm and that it was, in effect, a secret meeting. There were no formal invitations sent out. In fact, the email reminded people to pay for the event, $500 a ticket as we found out, by going to the Liberal Party of Canada website. However, in searching for the website, there was actually no page. There was a link that led to the website. That was the angle he was taking on the story.
What was interesting about that was the fact that there was a regional component to this. At that time, the controversy in Ontario was breaking out with the Wynne government. We were finding out then about the pay-to-play scenarios that were going on, where cabinet ministers in the Ontario Liberal government were asked to find donors, some of them up to $5,000 each, to attend functions where cabinet ministers would attend. This sounded eerily similar to what was going on in Ontario.
Should it have surprised anyone that this in fact was going on? The reason I say that is it is quite clear now that the same players who are running the Prime Minister's office were the ones who were running the premier's office, both Premier Wynne's and McGuinty's office. It should come as no surprise to any Canadian, and it should come as no surprise to anyone in the House, that this is now happening at the federal level.
I know it is not germane to what we are discussing here, but it should come as no surprise that we are starting to see the debt and deficit situations happen federally that we have seen in Ontario, because the Liberals now have access to a bigger piggy bank and they will surely go at it.
What is interesting and I think is the root of what this whole debate is about, which my hon. colleague from spoke about, is that on the 's own page it states:
|| For Canadians to trust our government we must trust Canadians, and we will only be successful in implementing our agenda to the extent that we earn and keep this trust.
|| To be worthy of Canadians’ trust, we must always act with integrity. [...] As Ministers, you and your staff must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.
The goes on to state:
|| I draw your attention in particular to areas of the guide that we have expanded or strengthened for our mandate, including the guidance on non-partisan use of departmental communications resources in Annex G;
When we look at the government's website and the document entitled “Open and Accountable Government”, which was one of the tenets that the Liberals sold Canadians on during the last election, that they would truly be open and accountable, it states:
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest. [...]
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government. [...]
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should not seek to have departmental stakeholders included on fundraising or campaign teams or on the boards of electoral district associations.
It goes on and on, and speaks to the issue of government ministers being held to a higher standard, as with all governments, in the areas of perceived or real conflicts of interest.
I know that the members opposite will say that it has been cleared by the Ethics Commissioner. We have seen the government House leader stand up time and again in the House and defend the justice minister. For whatever reason, the justice minister is not in a position to defend herself or does not feel that she should be defending herself. Rather, it is the government House leader who is doing that. However, it goes back to the root of the issue, which is the perception of it.
As my hon. colleague from said, it does not pass the smell test. It is that question that I was asked on CBC. It does not pass the smell test. I think most Canadians would feel that way. This is about open and accountable government.
It is clear that we have gone back in time to when the Chrétien Liberals were in government. The Liberals are simply paying lip service to Canadians and to this House about their commitment to a high standard of ethical conduct. I am holding out hope that the minister and the Liberal government will do the right thing for Canadians, which is to agree with our motion today, return the money, and apologize for attending the event.
In conclusion, because I believe it is worth repeating, I will repeat what Mr. Taylor, the former solicitor general of this province, said. He stated, “The Minister of Justice is more independent than other ministers. She will have to learn of her duties, you are never not a minister.”
That night, the attended that fundraising event with one of the largest law firms in the country, which has registered lobbyists who lobby on behalf of organizations right across this country, and who will deal with the justice department and the of this country. I suggest to this House that she was a minister that night and she should apologize for her actions and give the money back.
Mr. Speaker, I have a cold, so I might lose my voice, but that does not mean I am not tremendously interested in the debate we are having today.
I am obviously pleased to rise today to join with some of my colleagues in the Liberal caucus who have spoken previously to explain to the House and to Canadians why we are opposing what we think is a frivolous and gratuitous motion.
We are proud to oppose the motion. We recognize its cynical origins, and we recognize the attempt to distract Canadians and parliamentarians from issues that we think concern the vast majority of Canadians. It is an attempt to fabricate a circumstance around one of our colleagues, which we believe obviously has no merit.
During my speech, I intend to demonstrate to the House that not only has the acted honourably, ethically, and in a manner beyond reproach, but I will also, I hope, be able to point out that many current and former members of the other parties in this House could in fact learn enormously from her outstanding actions. I will show how in a few short months, Canadians have witnessed how different and improved things can be when they have a government that truly believes in openness and transparency.
Every action that this government has taken is based upon the idea that as an institution, whether it is a government or Parliament, we can and must do better.
Unfortunately, instead of moving ahead with us on this particular approach, the opposition has chosen to spend today debating a motion which, in our view, as I said, has extremely limited merit. It is designed to fabricate an issue where in fact no issue exists.
Conservatives could have decided to debate today one of the numerous issues that continue to worry Canadians, issues which they have ignored in a decade in government. A few examples might be the weak economic growth that the previous government saw, or Canadians' eroding ability to ensure a secure retirement, or a lack of diversification in our economy, or the increasing unfairness in various government programs such as employment insurance, or a failed relationship with indigenous peoples.
Instead, they want to spend today talking about our colleague, the , so let us do exactly that.
Today, we are talking about integrity, transparency, and honesty. These are character traits that perfectly describe the . These principles are at the heart of a good government. They form the foundation on which we will continue to rebuild the relationship of trust between elected members and voters. These are the principles that guide the actions of the government and the actions of our colleague, the Minister of Justice.
When we formed government, the made this clear to all members of cabinet as well as our colleagues in the Liberal caucus.
After a decade where Conservatives found themselves repeatedly before the courts, where insiders close to the former prime minister were hiding, for example, in Panama, fighting extradition, and where a $90,000-payoff to a sitting senator was simply seen as business as usual in the Prime Minister's Office, we believed that things needed to change.
Mr. Speaker, you will remember this, as you were in the previous Parliament. When caught, the former government would deny the charges, obfuscate the facts, and sometimes mislead Canadians.
I heard in my constituency, and colleagues on all sides of this House heard it in theirs, in community after community, that the previous government lacked transparency.
I am happy to say, thanks to the , these darks days are over and have given way, as we see outside Parliament today, to a very sunny way. We have an open and transparent government that believes in putting its trust in Canadians as a way to have Canadians better trust their government.
I know that everyone here agrees. We must never give Canadians a reason to distrust their government. They will not always like what we do, and that is understandable. Some will not support every one of the government's decisions. That is okay. Diverging ideas and opinions are what make our democracy great because they encourage people with different points of view to work together to reach a consensus.
However, disagreeing with some decisions is quite different from not trusting the government. Canadians should not think that the government is hiding things from them or not listening to them. Worse yet, they should not think that their elected representatives are playing by a different set of rules than the rest of society. This is a fundamental principle for our government.
As the said, Canadians do not expect us to be perfect. They expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest. That is where the Prime Minister set the bar, and we must accept nothing less.
This is exactly what the has done. Unlike in the previous government, she proactively sought the advice of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. That is what a responsible government does. The member for knows this because when he wrote to that commissioner, she responded to him in writing—it was a three-page letter—and indicated that the justice minister had followed every rule outlined in the applicable legislation.
That is an important difference between how the previous government acted then and how we have chosen to act now. The Conservatives would usually wait until the commissioner found a wrongdoing, then deny and obfuscate the circumstance and, in fact. in some cases try to mislead investigations.
We seek to proactively disclose these concerns to the commissioner. Then we are guided by her advice. That is exactly what the did, and exactly what the government will continue to do.
Publishing the ministerial mandate letters in November 2015 was a tangible reflection of our commitment. For the first time in Canadian history, a prime minister clearly and publicly articulated exactly what he expected of his ministers. These expectations addressed not only what the ministers should be doing, but also how they should do it. These letters were a blueprint for taking action on a broad scale. They included investing in infrastructure, restoring Canada's constructive leadership in the world, and renewing the nation-to-nation relationship with our indigenous peoples.
However, opposition members know that our economic policy of growing the middle class is extremely popular with Canadians, and exactly the suite of economic policies that Canadians expect. They know that asking the top 1% to do a little more in order to lower taxes on the middle class is more than fair. The Conservatives and the New Democrats, much to our surprise, in the election opposed programs like the Canada child benefit, an economic measure which would help nine out of every ten Canadian families by giving them a more generous tax-free monthly cheque.
They know the importance of investing in crucial infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure. Because the opposition of the Conservatives to these measures is not resonating with Canadians, they find the need to fabricate an issue involving the justice minister.
Unfortunately for the opposition, but thankfully for the and for Canadians, all of the rules in this circumstance were followed. The minister met the very high expectations of the , as well as her obligations under the code applying to members of Parliament and the Conflict of Interest Act, which applies to public office-holders, ministers being principal among them.
It is a very old method, sadly, that the Conservatives have spent a decade in protecting. When they cannot win an argument with respect to the substance, they turn to personal attacks and fabricate allegations. We do not have to go very far to find such examples. We can easily remember the numerous spokespeople in the former Conservative government, when they would answer a question in the House of Commons time and again by simply indicating a circumstance that had absolutely nothing to do with the question. Uninterested in the substance of the question, the previous government had one responsibility; that was to ignore the questions posed and respond with a series of baseless and fabricated allegations, something we see at the heart of today's motion.
In addition to the mandate letters published by the government, there is another worthwhile document recognized by the House. Some of my colleagues have already mentioned it, and it deserves close consideration.
I am referring to “Open and Accountable Government”, which the released in November 2015. The title says it all. It is an ambitious and comprehensive document.
I regard that document as a ministerial game plan, a game plan that the minister has always followed in a very responsible manner, I would say before the House.
“Open and Accountable Government” describes what is generally expected of ministers and their staff in terms of their conduct. It provides a framework for establishing an ethical government. Nothing is more important to Canadians.
On the subject of public office holders, the document states:
||...they have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny.
It also states:
|| Public office holders, in fulfilling their official duties and functions, shall [as the Minister of Justice did] make decisions in the public interest and with regard to the merits of each case.
This is exactly what the has done and what she will continue to do. I know my colleagues across the aisle like to fabricate a series of accusations and allegations. Canadians understand that these have no merit. They know that at all times the Minister of Justice followed these rules in a rigorous way and proactively sought the advice of the independent officers of Parliament, who are, in fact, given the responsibility of enforcing those rules and applying them. In the case of a disagreement between an opposition member of the House and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, we will always defer to the judgment of the commissioner in all cases.
Openness and transparency for our government is more than a slogan. One example, which we find rather disturbing, is the opposition's continued request to have a list of who attended a particular event in question. The opposition knows full well that the names will, indeed, be made public. As per the Canada Elections Act, donations of over $200 are disclosed and made public by political parties on the Elections Canada website and this information is shared with all Canadians.
These are rules of which we are very proud. The opposition knows full well that these rules apply to the particular event in question and will always apply to events where members of Parliament raise money for political parties or local riding associations. Canadians deserve to know that politicians keep their best interests in mind at all times and will not be swayed by particular funding from particular groups. That is why this transparency is so important.
Unfortunately, that is a principle that some members of the Conservative Party have had considerable trouble in following. We remember when the former prime minister, the current member for , ran for the leadership of the then Reform Party. He kept secret the source of $900,000 he raised in that leadership campaign. When that member ran for the leadership of the new Conservative Party, the biggest donors to his $2 million leadership campaign were quickly hidden by the Conservative Party. If it had nothing to hide, we would have assumed this information should properly have been made public. The fact that it has not done so, has led Canadians to question exactly why. The Conservatives refused to share this information with Canadians and we will never know what kind of funding may have motivated the former prime minister in some of the decisions his government made.
In closing, I am proud to be able to say that our colleague, the , is also a friend. She is doing a tremendous job as the Minister of Justice and the . Her conduct has always been exemplary.
The impressive record of our colleague, the , of public service, as a lawyer, as a prosecutor, as an elected indigenous leader is something we believe should inspire all Canadians.
The Conservatives who brought this motion forward, in an attempt to distract from other issues that we think are more important to Canadians, have themselves a very difficult laundry list of Elections Act violations and ethical breaches.
In question period in previous weeks, I referred to some of the more shocking examples, where Canadians saw the Conservative Party plead guilty in the in-and-out scheme, for example, and pay a $250,000 fine as a political party for not having respected basic Elections Act provisions, which determine spending limits for a national party and a local campaign. People will remember the Conservatives attacked Elections Canada and they attacked the commissioner. When Parliament adjourned one spring and when nobody was looking, on a Friday, they plead guilty and paid a $250,000 fine as a national party for not having followed the elections rules.
There are other spectacular examples, such as the former prime minister's parliamentary secretary being led out in leg irons and handcuffs to a van, and then taken to jail for problems with election financing. I think that might have acted as a break on the Conservative Party's enthusiasm to fabricate allegations against hon. members of the House and members of the cabinet, who follow the rules and serve Canadians.
This is why when this frivolous motion comes to a vote, we look forward to the House defeating it.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
We are here today to talk about the motion introduced by my colleague, the member for . I want to pay respect to my colleague, because, first, he is a brand new member, elected only six months ago. It was six months ago that the member for St. Albert—Edmonton and all of us were elected, but it was the first time for him and for me.
I want to pay my respect because in the debate on assisted suicide, he did a tremendous job that benefited the country. He was the leader of our group in the committee and the lead on the dissenting report we wrote with our colleagues. He did a tremendous job, and I want to pay respect to him today and thank him on behalf of Canada and the future of our country, especially for his thoughts on this delicate issue.
I would now like to speak to the motion moved today. This is all about ethics. I appreciated the remarks made by the , even though I do not at all agree with his point of view. He believes that there is nothing there, there is no problem, everything is fine, and this is all about nothing.
Let us look at the facts, and Canadians can then judge for themselves. On April 7, the attended a $500-a-ticket fundraiser for the Liberal Party at a law firm. The ticket gave direct, privileged access to the Minister of Justice. That is the reality.
When we asked questions in the House about this activity, the minister never really answered them. Of course, she has the right not to answer questions. When someone rises, the whole government answers. However, if I were personally attacked in that way, I would rise every time. Unfortunately, I cannot say that she really helped her cause every time she rose to speak.
Let us remember that we asked questions about ethics, about how she should repay the money, about how she was there in her capacity as the , and about how she was at a law firm, where there were many people who may want to become a minister or judge one day. What did she answer? She said that she was there in her capacity as an MP and that they spoke about Canada. What kind of argument is that? In her opinion, there was nothing wrong with what she did because she was talking about Canada. A justice minister should show some decorum. I understand that these sorts of comments may sometimes be made with tongue in cheek. However, when a person is accused of unethical behaviour and all she has to say for herself is that she attended the event as an MP and that she spoke only about Canada, it shows that that person does not have a clear conscience.
Everyone is entitled to their mistakes, and the minister made one. Something similar even happened to us a few years ago when we were in office. What did we do? We gave back the money. Everyone makes mistakes. We need to have the honour and dignity to recognize them and take the appropriate action. The incident we are discussing today goes against the 's mandate letter to the .
We would like to commend the government for making the mandate letters public. That was a good thing. The opposition members do not always say that the government is bad. On the contrary, when the government does good things, we are happy to point them out.
What did the mandate letter to the say? It is interesting. I would like to quote the . He said:
|| We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government.
Were it not for the CBC report, we would not have known about this incident.
|| It is important that we acknowledge mistakes when we make them. Canadians do not expect us to be perfect--they expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest.
That is what we are talking about, here. In this case, when a justice minister makes people pay $500 to be able to enter a law firm for a fundraising event, this does not serve the public interest. Ministers must act with dignity, honour, and courage. When someone makes this kind of mistake, they should acknowledge it, as set out in the mandate letter written by the . The did not adhere to what was in the letter.
What does the mandate letter say?
|| As noted in the Guidelines, you must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny.
I find that amusing, since this is the very situation we are discussing today. For two weeks, the government has been going on and on about how this situation was not serious, that there was nothing there, and that we were wasting our time talking about it. I am sorry, but these are issues connected to public administration, especially since donations to political parties are eligible for tax credits. When someone donates to a political party, which is a good thing, especially if it is the Conservative Party, and something I encourage everyone to do, they are entitled to a tax credit. This means that we are talking about public money, not private money. We have to realize that.
I encourage the government to reconsider. I also encourage the minister to acknowledge that she made a mistake and to act with the dignity her position demands. The Conservatives are not the only ones saying this. Our friends in the NDP feel the same way.
I want to share something written by the hon. Ujjal Dosanjh, a former health minister in Jean Chrétien's cabinet and former premier of British Columbia. He recently wrote the following in the Vancouver Sun:
|| ...I happily remain a Laurier Club member of the Liberal Party....
I just wanted to give some background on this individual, so there is absolutely no doubt that he is still a Liberal.
|| It is totally incomprehensible to me how a minister of our federal Crown, the minister of justice and the attorney general at that, participating in a private fundraising with lawyers can be said to be escape either the reality or the appearance of a conflict of interest. ...
|| An attorney general is not just any minister. She is the Attorney General of Canada, and in a significant number of her functions she must remain and be seen to remain independent of the office of the prime minister.
A former Liberal premier said that. This deserves some serious consideration. I have never had the pleasure or honour of meeting that man, but in my previous role in the provincial government, as the National Assembly member for Chauveau, and as a journalist, I had the opportunity to have discussions with many justice ministers. Two of them stand out in my memory: the Honourable Paul Bégin and the Honourable Bertrand St-Arnaud. Mr. St-Arnaud was actually just appointed as a judge, and I wish to congratulate him.
I had a number of very interesting conversations with Mr. Bégin and Mr. St-Arnaud about the ethics of the justice department. Every time I spoke with them, I would ask them if I could talk to them about something. They would say yes, but then as soon as I began asking them about this judge or that judge, they would stop me right away, because as the justice minister, they had to be careful.
These are men of honour and dignity. Those justice ministers did not attend fundraising events in the private offices of law firms at a cost of $500 per person. They are men of integrity who were careful in their duties. The minister responsible for justice in Canada should always act with intention.
Should we be surprised by these ethical breaches? Unfortunately, the higher-ups set the example. Just because something is legal does not mean that it is morally acceptable. The had been running a family business since the 1990s, a business that specialized in tax optimization services, among other things, and whose tentacles reached as far as the Caribbean and the Bahamas. It was quite legal, but is it befitting a minister of finance? I am not so sure.
Recently, we also found out that the of Canada had four numbered companies so that he could pay less tax. Is that legal? Sure. Is it befitting a sitting prime minister? Not at all. When that same Prime Minister was the leader of the second opposition party, he paid his taxes in Ontario to save $6,000, but he represented Quebeckers. Is that legal? Sure. Is it ethical? Not at all. That is exactly what we are talking about here.
When those at the top, such as the and the , set the example, it is not surprising that the should fail to act with the honour and dignity befitting her rank. It is very clear that the Minister of Justice did the wrong thing, so she should act with the honour and dignity befitting her rank by apologizing and giving the money back.
Mr. Speaker, it is going to be hard to follow that, but I will do my best to make sure I say “lawyer” when it is appropriate and the other word when it is appropriate, but I cannot say that word in here.
This debate today provides us with a great opportunity to reflect and take stock as Canadians watch the debate. When Canadians elect people and send them to Ottawa they want them to behave in a way that shows our country both domestically and around the world in the brightest light and in the highest standard possible.
That brings me to what the motion is all about. The government party and members on the other side who are taking us to task for presenting the motion today are using words like “frivolous”. They are making comments like “this is a waste of time”. We are debating a rather substantive document, a document called “Open and Accountable Government”. It is written on the letterhead of the of Canada and it bears his signature. This is the standard to which this debate should be held. Members of the Liberal caucus who are rising are hiding behind a technical ruling from the Ethic Commissioner's office. I want to be very clear for people watching this debate at home how this works.
Currently, we have the Conflict of Interest Act and the code of conduct for ministers, parliamentary secretaries, and members of Parliament. This is administered by Mary Dawson, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. She has come before the ethics committee many times. I chair that committee and I have been on that committee in previous Parliaments. We are reviewing the legislation, which has not been updated since the 1980s when it was first introduced. That is how archaic the legislation actually is. Every previous government owns the responsibility for not updating the legislation. I am not here to debate that with the member for . I would agree that the time has come.
I remain cautiously hopeful and optimistic that the new bar that will be set in law will actually meet the supposed tests that the expects his cabinet ministers to meet. Here is the reality.
The witnesses who come to committee recommended by the Liberal Party, the NDP, and the Library of Parliament, virtually all are unanimous in saying that the Conflict of Interest Code and the Conflict of Interest Act which creates the code do not stand up in today's society. That bar is here. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the access to information commissioner, and the Commissioner of Lobbying, have lobbied many times to raise the bar on all of these things. The bar to which they say that the legislation should be changed is here.
The document that the has penned, which has been quoted from several times today, and I will quote it again, says:
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced.
It goes on:
|| Moreover, they have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law.
The law has a standard that is down here according to almost anybody that comes before the committee. That is not a high bar to achieve, and it is not a bar that I would hide behind if I were on the other side of the House today trying to defend.
This document, “Open and Accountable Government”, holds a lot of hope and optimism, but we have to remember who penned this document. This document is supposedly penned by the . My guess is that it was penned by somebody else who might have worked at Queen's Park, where they currently have quotas for ministers to achieve, fundraising targets, and was simply signed by the Prime Minister. Nonetheless, even if the Prime Minister did not pen it, he signed the document, so he is responsible for it.
Let us take a look at that particular individual's conduct. After becoming an MP, we know that the current accepted numerous paid speaking engagements while he was a member of Parliament, and for that he was admonished, not necessarily technically by the Ethics Commissioner, but certainly anybody with any credibility in the media or in civil society would look at that and say, “You are a member of Parliament. You have been invited to a speaking engagement and you are charging a fee?”
In one particular case, the current , in his capacity as a member of Parliament, actually billed a school board $780 for a limousine service to take him from Ottawa to Kingston and return him to Montreal. That is when he appeared at the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, in Kingston, where he was paid $15,000 to be a speaker. That was in 2010. He was a member of this House. He probably had designs on being the prime minister at some point in time. My guess would be that one would have to do that at some particular point in time.
George Takach said, “MPs shouldn't get paid extra for public speaking, it's part of their job description”.
I certainly would not even dream of accepting payment in my capacity as a member of Parliament, which I have had the privilege of being for the last 10 years in this House.
Others go on to say, “I certainly wouldn't be, as a member of Parliament, receiving money for speaking out on matters of public interest”. This is something that we already get paid quite well to do.
We have to ask ourselves whether the actually believes the document he has penned or whether it is “do as I say, not as I do”. This raises a lot of questions.
He has charged $20,000 to the Certified Management Accountants of Ontario. Would the certified management accountants have anything to lobby the government about at some particular point in time?
He has also taken speaking fees from the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union. We all know about Bill . The ink was not even dry on the swearing in of the ministers, then there is pro-union legislation on the table in the House of Commons. We have to wonder just exactly where the is at on this.
Notwithstanding the credibility of the author of the document, I still have high hopes, as chair of the ethics committee, that we can actually elevate the legislation we have here.
Then we come to the and the conflict of interest that is abundantly clear to everybody in the world except the Liberal caucus.
The just stood in this House and tried to rationalize her appearance, because he is able to get $700-a-plate fundraisers in his own riding, 20 minutes from his house, where everybody knows him. He is happy with $750. That is enough to have access. Then he asks us to equate that with an MP from Vancouver, who is unknown to most people in the greater Toronto area, charging $500 a plate for an invitation-only, not even advertized, event. That just does not pass muster. It does not make any sense at all.
We can compare that with some of the decisions, and I was hopeful before Christmas. My birthday is at Christmas, so I was feeling good—
An hon. member: That is like the Prime Minister.
Mr. Blaine Calkins: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I share a birthday with the Prime Minister. That is about all I share with the Prime Minister.
Prior to Christmas, the current was actually going to attend a fundraising event. On the Liberal website, it encouraged people to make a $250 donation for a chance to have dinner with the finance minister. I did not sign up. However, at least when the story broke that the fundraiser was going to happen, the , who had no idea who was even going to be there, had the good sense to cancel the event. Ethical watchdogs around Canada should have jumped for joy and seized the opportunity. Little did they know that it was the last opportunity they were ever going to get to cheer for an ethical decision made by the folks across the way.
Compare and contrast that now with the who stepped out of her role as chair of the First Nations Finance Authority only to have her husband and business partner step in as a lobbyist for the same group—a group that, by the way, lobbies the Minister for funding—and then we find out, in the budget, that $20 million has been kicked back to that organization. Apparently, that passes that bar. She attended the $500-a-plate private fundraiser anyway at Torys LLP in Toronto. She has made no bones about it. She has no interest in paying the money back. The optics of it do not appeal to anyone I know of. It does not make any sense. That leads us to today.
The question that is before the House in the motion is this. Will the government actually live up to the document signed by the and raise the ethical bar, yes or no?
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
When I wrote my speech, I said that I was pleased to rise in the House to debate this motion; however, in reality, that is not the case. The Conservatives were in power for 10 years, a period known as the dark decade, a period of secrets, and today they are moving this motion.
The people in my riding want us to discuss real issues, like infrastructure, in the House. They want additional income so they can make ends meet, and they want the federal government to provide the services they need to do what they have to do.
Those are the kinds of issues we want to debate. Unfortunately, we have to discuss a motion that, in my opinion, is quite frivolous. However, that is part of the process in the House, and we will have to discuss it.
When we were elected, we committed to a new kind of leadership and tone in the federal government, to honour the trust that Canadians put in us. We are very serious about and committed to giving Canadians an open and accountable government.
We stand by the fundamental democratic principles, and we will strengthen our democratic institutions. As my hon. colleagues have explained, our government endorsed the notion that an open and transparent government is a good government. The code of conduct for exempt staff is just one of many measures taken by our government, an open and transparent government.
Our agenda strengthens the guidelines for the non-partisan use of departmental communications resources. We must carefully ensure that these resources are used for official Government of Canada communications and not for partisan purposes. This means that no partisan symbols or content should be used in departmental communications, events, or social media.
An open and accountable government innovates by giving ministers and parliamentary secretaries guidelines on the use of social media.
I believe that every member of the House realizes that social media can be an effective means of communicating with Canadians and that it is important to know how to use them. For ministers and parliamentary secretaries, this means knowing how to use social media and, in particular, drawing a line between the official Government of Canada accounts and their own personal accounts. This ensures that members of the public are able to differentiate between the two types of communication and can continue to expect non-partisan messages from the Government of Canada. That is what is required under Treasury Board policy.
An open and accountable government innovates, once again, by providing a guide on the role of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. In short, the justice minister develops bills, policies, programs, and services for Canadians in various areas of law, while the Attorney General of Canada is the chief crown prosecutor.
Pursuant to the Department of Justice Act, and as reiterated in our “Open and Accountable Government” plan, the Minister of Justice is responsible for ensuring that the administration of public affairs complies with the law. The minister is responsible for upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the rest of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the independence of the courts. The role of the minister is to help the federal departments develop, reform, and interpret legislation. The minister assesses the legal risks associated with the proposals, regulations, and laws brought before cabinet, in order to ensure that they are consistent with the Charter, and clear in both official languages, while taking into account Canada's bijural system, namely our common law and civil law.
Naturally, as all other ministers, the Minister of Justice must adhere to her mandate letter by continuously working with her parliamentary secretary and her advisors to ensure that the work done by her office is done professionally, and that decisions are always made in the public interest.
Her exempt staff give her advice on the political aspects of her duties, while always providing services in a non-partisan way.
The department uses these resources to carry out its duties efficiently and to make informed decisions based on real, verifiable data while adhering to strict ethical standards in all of its activities.
The government also innovated by creating a similar code of ethics for political staff members, who must conduct their activities with integrity and honesty, support the minister's duties, and remain loyal and diligent at all times. That is not something our predecessors had in place.
That is what Canadians have the right to expect from an open, honest, accountable government. However, it is unrealistic to suggest that ministers should be aware of every single thing going on in their department and should take personal responsibility for everything that happens. That would be an unreasonable standard.
Nevertheless, our “Open and Accountable Government” plan states that ministers should take all necessary measures to correct problems that might arise in their portfolios and to be accountable to the House by answering questions. That is how they promote the integrity of our public and democratic institutions.
In that sense, I firmly believe that the claims made by the member for Saint-Albert—Edmonton in this motion are frivolous and unfounded. The minister participated in an event as an MP, which was quite legitimate and in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Act, including section 16, and the Canada Elections Act.
However, by consulting the Ethics Commissioner from the outset, the demonstrated just how much we all care about conducting our affairs with integrity and diligence. It is to her credit that she took that step, and Canadians view her as being honest and a person of integrity.
She conducted herself in an exemplary manner in this situation. She is an exceptional minister who is dedicated to ensuring respect for the rule of law and defending Canadians' interests. She embodies the guiding principles of our government, and I firmly believe that she will be able to do so throughout her term.
I know that everyone here agrees that we must never give Canadians a reason to distrust their government. They will not always like what we do. Some will not always support our policies, and that is okay. Diverging ideas and opinions are what make our democracy great because they encourage people with different points of view to work together to reach a consensus.
Disagreeing with a policy is quite different from not trusting the government. Canadians should not think that their government and elected representatives play by a different set of rules than the rest of society. There is absolutely no doubt that our “Open and Accountable Government” plan shows that our government is fully invested in the rule of law and the Charter. Under the leadership of our , our government is determined to earn and maintain the trust of all Canadians.
As elected representatives, we should also make this our watchword. We have to carry out many duties as parliamentarians, including participating in committees to weigh the merits of a bill or defend the public.
The current government made a promise to Canadians. It is set out in black and white in the ministerial mandate letters, in our election platform, and in our various policy documents. We will keep that promise.
In my opinion, everyone in the House should accept our promise and commend us for it. Canadians should demand nothing less. They deserve an open and accountable government.
In closing, I would like to remind the House that the men and women who represent their communities in the Parliament of Canada are dedicated to their jobs, regardless of which party they belong to.
As the so aptly stated during the election campaign, Canadians need to believe that their government is on their side and that it is eager to work with them to solve real problems and to bring real change.