Mr. Speaker, this legislation could be understood in three steps. Step number one, the Liberals come up with a fundraising system that is profoundly profitable. Step number two, the public finds out about it and it becomes profoundly unpopular. Step number three, the Liberals attempt to develop a piece of legislation that would provide ethical cover for continuing this unpopular practice because it is so darned profitable.
This legislation is the Liberal Party's attempt to legitimize and normalize the practice that is sometimes referred to as pay to play, and sometimes referred to as cash for access. Either of those two descriptions makes a point. If one wants to play in this game, if one wants to have access to ministers, then pay up, and one can have access to the cabinet minister of choice, in particular, the Prime Minister himself or the finance minister, although every minister is a part of this game.
The goal of Bill C-50 is to legitimize this process. The Liberals are getting attacked. They can say it was the expressed will of Parliament that this practice be continued, because they will publicize some information about these enormously profitable events in which only the Liberal government can participate.
This is an issue here. It was a huge scandal for the Liberal government in Ontario, which has quotas for ministers to seek out great events at which access would be provided only to those who paid up to the Liberal Party of Ontario. This has been a huge issue in British Columbia. It may very well have been the issue that will cause the Liberal government out there to ultimately lose power, but that remains to be seen. There is a hung parliament in British Columbia, but this is a big scandal out there.
I want to give some examples of what the federal Liberals are doing, not the provincial Liberals in B.C., or the Liberals in Ontario. I want to give some examples of how this works and what it is about. I am going to give some examples of actual pay to play or cash for access events over the course of the past year or so.
Chinese billionaires have been attending Liberal fundraisers even though they are not allowed to donate because they are not Canadian citizens. One of these individuals Zhang Bin, who is also a Communist Party apparatchik, attended a May 19, 2016 fundraiser at the Toronto home of Chinese Business Chamber of Canada chairperson Benson Wong according to this report in The Globe and Mail. A few weeks later Mr. Zhang and a business partner donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and $50,000 to build a statute of the current Prime Minister's father.
Here is a second example. On November 7, B.C. multimillionaire Miaofei Pan hosted a fundraiser at his West Vancouver mansion, and made the case to the Prime Minister, at this event that he had to pay to get into and that he also hosted, to allow Chinese investment in seniors care and real estate developments, and ease rules for rich immigrants from China. What better way to get preferential access than to have it in your own home? This took place as the federal government had been reviewing a $1 billion bid by China's Anbang Insurance Group to buy one of British Columbia's largest retirement home nursing care chains.
Here is another example. An event scheduled for September 29 was actually cancelled, but was organized by senior business executive Geoff Smith, CEO of the giant construction firm EllisDon, which was involved in a scandal in Ontario over very similar events, and Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar, Canada's second largest automotive parts company. Both companies could benefit from government decisions concerning infrastructure and automobile policy.
Here is another example of pay to play as exercised by the Liberal government. The finance minister was scheduled to attend a fundraiser that cost $1,500 to get in the door in Calgary on November 2 at the home of Shaw Communications Inc. President Jay Mehr. The telecom firm has directly lobbied the finance department eight times. Is there a conflict there?
Here is an example of an exclusive event. On November 7, the finance minister attended an event in Calgary, and the Prime Minister attended an event in Toronto. This was an exclusive event held at the Toronto condominium of philanthropist Nancy Pencer and funeral home executive, Michael Benjamin. Helping to sell tickets were Barry Sherman, the chairman of generic drug manufacturer Apotex and Joel Reitman, who runs global venture firm Jillcy Capital. Apotex is the company whose executives had civic-minded children, I believe under the age of 10, who decided to make contributions to the leadership campaign of Joe Volpe, when he was running for the Liberal leadership. That is the kind of company the cabinet over there runs with.
Another event is a corporate law firm in Toronto with interests in Ottawa lobbying the federal government, hosting an event where the justice minister was the guest of honour, for goodness' sake. The finance minister was the star attraction at a $1,500 per person Liberal Party fundraiser in the home of a wealthy Halifax developer. Another event was $500 per person. That is a bargain price for the finance minister.
Members get the idea. This is a sample of the kinds of activities the cash for access activities in which the federal cabinet members have all been involved. The Prime Minister, the finance minister, the justice minister, and the whole crew met with people who do business with the federal government, and who now get to speak face-to-face with these ministers, when no one else gets that kind of access.
Pay to play is the backbone of Liberal fundraising. To make this point, I want to say how much the Liberals raise when they have these kinds of events. In this report, they would not actually say, but attendance figures had suggested that the party brings in between $50,000 and $120,000 per event, when either the Prime Minister or the finance minister is the star attraction, and the ticket price is $1,500. That is how much they bring in at an event in an evening. There are paying very special attention, and it has had a big impact on their bottom line. This is the backbone of their financing.
The pay to play process for raising funds started early last year, but it really took off in the final quarter of last year. Liberal Party finances went from $4 million, substantially behind the Conservative Party in the first quarter of 2016, to $5.8 million, well over $1 million ahead of the Conservative Party in the final quarter of 2016.
This was going to be the ace in the hole for the Liberals. This was how they were going to finance the next election. Let us be clear about this. When our party was in government, we did not do this stuff, but even if there were no ethical considerations holding back other parties in this place, only one party can deliver cabinet ministers, people who can, with the stroke of a pen, make someone's company tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars richer, at the expense of the Canadian people. Only the government can do that. There is an inbuilt incumbency advantage. This is an inbuilt way of ensuring that the governing party can raise funds in a way that is simply impossible for other parties.
That in itself is an outrage. Any system that is designed to give the incumbent party an ongoing, perpetual systemic advantage is inherently morally wrong. That is leaving aside the fact that giving preferential access to cabinet ministers, when the average Canadian does not get this chance, is absolutely contemptible.
This is not actually illegal right now. It is not unlawful, but it is a violation of the Prime Minister's ethics code, his open and accountable government code, put in place in 2015. Let me read the fine words the Prime Minister put at the front of this code. I do not know if he writes his own stuff, but there is a unique sanctimonious tone to whatever he puts on paper.
Mr. John Brassard: He had his hand over his heart.
Mr. Scott Reid: As my colleague suggested, Mr. Speaker, he probably had his hand over his heart when he put this down. It reads:
To be worthy of Canadians’ trust, we must always act with integrity.
He gets breathless, too.
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.
Those Liberals have the highest standards. They stand above anybody else. They are demigods of integrity. Now, specifically, this is the injunction they place on themselves with regard to lobbyists and those who seek out special access to them.
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.
Those are the Prime Minister's words.
Of course, the Liberals have completely violated this, but they have not broken the law. The thing is, though, that they have broken their word, absolutely, completely, and flagrantly broken their word. Their words mean nothing, as we can see. On top of that, they have also violated the norms of acceptable behaviour. Even if the Prime Minister had not put that sanctimonious bumph down on paper, the fact is that they violated what everybody thinks are the norms of acceptable behaviour. There is a crime called influence peddling and while this does not meet the technical description, it is clear that is exactly what is going on. The influence of the Prime Minister, the finance minister, and the justice minister are being peddled like so much soap.
This is why so many people have had the incorrect impression that the law was being violated. John Ivison wrote a piece for the National Post last November condemning the Ethics Commissioner for not having cracked down on the Prime Minister and the other members of cabinet for their outrageous behaviour and the commissioner was forced to write back to explain. I have her response from her website on November 30 of last year, entitled, “Response to a column in the National Post: the Commissioner sets the record straight”.
What she sets straight is that she cannot do anything because, outrageous as this behaviour is, it does not violate the actual rules. She goes through the various sections of the law and says, “It is a strange section. It fails to prohibit all preferential treatment, which should be the rule.” This is section 7 of the conflict of interest legislation. She says it should be the rule, but “Section 7 only prohibits preferential treatment that results from the intervention from a third party.” Liberals found a way around the rules, which is another signature of the government. If there is a way of violating the spirit of a rule but not violating its letter, they are all over that.
To be clear, everybody thinks this is either illegal or is astonished to discover that it is not unlawful, and yet it is not. As The Hill Times summarized it:
So [the] Justice Minister...wasn’t breaking any rule by being the guest of honour at the pricey fundraiser organized by a Bay Street law firm. It just smells really bad and violates the spirit of the government’s own code of conduct.
This also explains why, when Nanos, the polling organization, asked Canadians what they thought—