That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, to participate in the discussion about this very important motion.
This motion is grounded first and foremost in democracy. Although this may seem quite ironic, the purpose of this motion is for the House of Commons to spend today reiterating its confidence in an independent, impartial organization whose neutrality is above reproach. That may indeed seem ironic.
Why will we be talking about a motion that asks the House to express its full confidence in Elections Canada and the elections commissioner? Because the party currently leading a minority government, the Conservative Party, has given us reason to believe that it does not have faith in Elections Canada.
We know that free and fair elections are the basis for any democracy. In some countries, the people do not have opportunities to choose their elected officials democratically. Here in Quebec and Canada, we do have that opportunity. Regardless of the party elected or the member or candidate in whom the people place their trust, that person is elected democratically. Nobody in this House was elected by citizens who went to the polls at gunpoint. We are legitimate.
All the same, the democratic process that takes place during our elections has to be overseen by an organization. We cannot let the government or the party in power, regardless of who they are, decide how things are going to happen. We are responsible for keeping a close eye on the electoral process.
We know that the right to vote is not enough on its own. We need rules in order to hold free, democratic elections. For example—and this is with reference to the case currently before the courts—we need rules that govern contributions to political parties and that make it possible to prevent the electoral process from becoming hijacked by the money game. That means that parties have to play by rules enforced by an independent organization.
Here is another example that is more directly linked to the motion today. The rules that set limits on election spending are intended to make sure that the candidate with the best chances of being elected is the one who is most in tune with the wishes of the public, not the one who spends the most money to flood the country with partisan advertisements. In the Bloc Québécois, we feel that, in a democratic society, elections must not be bought.
I went onto the Elections Canada website, which lists the organization's values: a knowledgeable and professional workforce, transparency, responsiveness to the needs of Canadians involved in the electoral process, cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act, earning the public's trust, and finally, stewardship and accountability in how the democratic process is managed.
The position of Chief Electoral Officer was created in 1920. Marc Mayrand, the current Chief Electoral Officer, is the sixth person to hold the position. I sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am vice-chair, and, when Mr. Mayrand was appointed, even the Conservatives recognized his skills and professionalism. Now that Elections Canada, as an impartial referee, makes a decision that does not suit the Conservatives, all of a sudden, they start to discredit the individual and the institution.
Elections Canada has shown us time and time again that the concern for transparency is clear in everything they do. If the Conservatives had acted in a transparent way and had cooperated with Elections Canada in what is now called the "in and out affair", when the Conservatives shuffled money back and forth during the January 2006 election campaign, the police raid that we witnessed some ten days ago would not have been necessary.
Is it customary, is it normal that Elections Canada had to get a warrant from a neutral judge and use the services of a neutral police force like the RCMP? Is it normal for a police force to have to search the headquarters of a political party, the Conservative Party in this case? Does this happen all the time, or is this an exceptional case? This shows that Elections Canada was completely fed up with the Conservatives' unwillingness to cooperate regarding this scheme, which supposedly allowed the Conservatives to exceed the $18 million national spending limit by transferring $1.2 million in advertising expenses to local ridings.
The tells us that everything was legitimate, that everything was done according to the rules. If everything was done properly, why did the Conservatives refuse to cooperate with Elections Canada? Why did they not sit down with them and explain what they did and how they applied the rules? No, they preferred to use a strategy that was against the law, with the result that it is being challenged by Elections Canada, thus explaining the police raid.
The Conservatives made some grand promises of transparency. I am sure we all remember the 2006 election. People really doubted Liberal management and attacked their credibility. People took a hard look at the sponsorship scandal and said the Liberals ran their campaign with dirty money. The Conservatives, however, were going to be squeaky clean, irreproachable and transparent. I am sure everyone remembers the Conservative ads during the election campaign in 2006, not all that long ago. They said these ads were paid for with clean money. But would Elections Canada be challenging this if everything had been done legitimately?
A lot of Conservatives, including, yesterday, the and the , have defended themselves by saying that all the parties do it. So I would like you to explain for me, Mr. Speaker, why there are only 67 election reports by candidates, some of whom were elected as members and some of whom have apparently been appointed as ministers. Why are 67 Conservative election reports being challenged by Elections Canada?
I would point out that the election expense reports filed by the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP after the 2006 elections have resulted in refunds. We got our refunds. That is too handy a defence. Saying that everybody does it so we do it too is just blowing smoke. I am sorry, but there is a dispute with Elections Canada, an independent, neutral and transparent body that oversees the democratic process and deserves to have our confidence. I am persuaded that in the vote tonight all parties will reiterate their confidence in Elections Canada.
Quebeckers and Canadians do not want to have an electoral system here like we can see in other countries. By their attitude, the Conservatives flaunt the election laws that are not to their liking. When Elections Canada’s decision does not suit the government, they attack Elections Canada. They complain about inappropriate treatment. I am sorry, but it is nothing of the kind.
Another thing we find on the Elections Canada site relates to cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act. If we want elections to be conducted as a democratic process, it is important that all candidates and all parties, without exception, have equal opportunities. There can be no elasticity: the fact that someone does not like the sovereignists in the Bloc wanting to break up Canada and establish their own country does not mean they can be treated differently. No! Behaving like the Conservatives are asking would mean having an asymmetrical democracy. The rules of the game have to be clear and they have to be the same for everyone.
The Conservatives can feign indignance about this all they like, but the public’s confidence has been seriously undermined. Speaking ill of an impartial body like Elections Canada is not how to do things in a democracy and makes the public skeptical about politicians, but particularly about the attitude of this Conservative Party. It is too handy to claim unfair treatment. The sole purpose of that attitude, intentionally criticizing and attacking credibility, is to conceal fraudulent activities.
I could tell you about the seven months of repeated filibusters we had at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Conservative candidates went on and on about genuinely examining this issue. Well before the Elections Canada prosecution and the police raid, the Liberal whip had introduced a motion at the Committee on Procedure to bring this whole in-and-out scheme by the Conservative Party in the last campaign into the open. The Committee on Procedure has been paralyzed since September 10 and has really been unable to do its work.
Obviously, the Conservatives are trying to sweep the dust under the rug. Understandably, they are uncomfortable with what they did. Not only did the Conservatives knowingly set up a fraudulent scheme to claim rebates to which they were not entitled, but now, instead of apologizing, they attack the credibility of Elections Canada for blatantly partisan purposes.
Yesterday, during question period, the told us: “Conservative candidates spent Conservative money on Conservative advertising”. He forgot to say that inflating the election spending limit for local candidates shortchanged citizens because the Conservatives received a 60% rebate when their expenses return was approved.
As a defence they say that Conservative advertising was paid for with Conservative money. We say that it was used to inflate the spending limit, hence the notion of dirty money in this case, because taxpayers, who are fed up with paying taxes, were shortchanged by 60% with these artificially inflated expenses.
In conclusion, I want the Conservatives to know that we have seen where they are going with this scheme. Instead of cooperating with Elections Canada, they have opted for confrontation. This stance forced Elections Canada to use an extraordinary remedy to have access to incriminating documents, which explains the police raid at the headquarters of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The Bloc Québécois reiterates it full and complete confidence in Elections Canada as an impartial, independent and transparent referee necessary to ensure democratic elections.
Mr. Speaker, today's dispute arose from the fact that Conservative candidates spent Conservative funds on Conservative advertising. This process was helped along by a series of transfers to and from the national party and its local candidates.
All parties do precisely the same thing to help finance local campaigns but Elections Canada decided that it would single out just one party. Therefore, our party took Elections Canada to court. We put all the documents on the table and planned to have a fair hearing before the courts.
However, one day, before it was set to face questioning over its conduct, Elections Canada decided to interrupt that court proceeding by barging into Conservative headquarters with Liberal Party cameras in tow.
Let us then break down the accusation that Elections Canada is making. We will break it down into four questions.
First, is it legal for the national Conservative Party to transfer funds to local ridings? Yes, it is perfectly legal. We will see examples later of millions of dollars that the other parties transferred from the national party to local candidates.
Second, is it legal for local candidates to run advertising with national content? It is not only legal but a right guaranteed by the Charter, which allows local candidates to say what they want in their advertising. In my entire political life, I have never seen a local campaign that did not mention national issues.
Third, is it legal for local candidates to purchase advertising from the national party? Yes, it happens all the time, especially in the Bloc. I will quote examples of millions of dollars being spent by local candidates to purchase products from the national party.
Fourth, is it legal for local candidates to pay for advertising that ran outside their own constituencies? Yes, it is not only legal, it is unavoidable.
I would like to elaborate on these four points of the debate. Is it legal for a national party to transfer funds to local ridings?
I want to start by giving an example. The Bloc Québécois transferred some $732,000 to its local candidates in the 2006 elections and about $1.5 million in the 2004 elections. If they think that is illegal, they should apologize now to the voters of Quebec and Canada for having broken the law.
The Liberal Party itself, according to Andrew Coyne, a very prominent Canadian author, has reported that the Liberal Party transfers in the neighbourhood of $1.5 million from its national campaign to its local campaign. These millions of dollars in transfers, which happen regularly in campaigns, are designed to help local candidates finance their operations. Oftentimes those local candidates do not have the money to do so and parties are therefore permitted to step in and help.
That brings me to the second question: Is it legal for local candidates to run advertising with national content? It is not just legal; it is standard practice. Let us review the candidate handbook of Elections Canada. It reads:
Election advertising means the transmission to the public by any means during an election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a candidate, including one that takes a position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated.
These are the rules that candidates must follow in buying advertising. They indicate that a candidate can support or oppose a national party in those ads.
Members do not have to accept my interpretation. I will now quote the then chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley. In his report on the 1997 election he stated that, “It is perfectly permissible for local campaigns to expense advertising with national content”.
He was writing in the section of the report dealing with rules related to the blackout. There used to be at a time in Canadian elections a blackout on national advertising in the last 48 hours before the polls closed. That meant that on the Sunday before and the Monday of an election national parties were not allowed to run advertising.
However, there were no such constraints on local campaigns. In other words, local ads were allowed in the last 48 hours of an election; national ads were not.
Naturally, this raised the question of what constituted a national ad and what constituted a local ad. Would it be the content of the ad that determined which level claimed the expense or reported the ad? If there was national content, would it necessarily be considered a national advertisement? If the content was discussing local issues, would it then necessarily be considered a local advertisement? According to Mr. Kingsley, no. It was the tag line on the ad that determined whether it would be counted nationally or locally. Let me quote from the 1997 report:
The content of the advertisements accepted was subject only to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the charter. As a result, a number of individual candidates purchased time on the day before and on the actual day of the election. Since the time purchased was often used to run national advertisements with local tag lines, this rendered the prohibition somewhat ineffectual. In other words, because these national advertisements had local tag lines [wrote Kingsley] they became local and were no longer subject to the national limits on advertising.
Mr. Kingsley did not like the fact that national ads could be rendered local with the addition of a mere local tag line. He did not like the way the rules were written. However, it does not matter what he wanted the rules to be. What matters is what the rules were.
I understand that Mr. Kingsley and Elections Canada might recently, in the last several months, have changed their mind, changed their interpretation. I tell them, and all Canadians, that it is not their role to change the rules after the game has been played. I understand they have now amended, retroactively, the candidate handbook in order to forbid the practice that our party engaged in. However, they did that after the election was over and they, therefore, cannot apply those new rules retroactively.
The third question is: Is it legal for local candidates to purchase advertising from the national party? Yes.
According to Andrew Coyne, the local Liberal campaigns purchased $1.3 million in goods and services from the party in the last election without provoking Election Canada's wrath. Second, local candidates purchase advertising and other products from national campaigns all the time.
There is another example from the Bloc. It billed its local candidates $820,000 for the 2006 elections and $936,000 in goods and services for the 2004 elections.
The Bloc is very familiar with this practice as well. In fact, the Bloc transfers large numbers of dollars from the central campaign to local candidates and then those local candidates transfer back large numbers of dollars to purchase products and services from the national campaign. This benefits the Bloc because it allows those local candidates to claim refunds on moneys that were originally in the hands of the central party. But, it is allowed.
The local campaign of the NDP member for in the 2006 election also participated in an in and out operation. In this case, the third party media invoices were made out to the national party rather than the official agents of the local candidates. A group of Vancouver area candidates for the NDP came together, bought advertising, but it was all organized by the central party. None of these local campaigns had any contact with the advertiser. They did not even get a direct invoice from the advertiser. They simply purchased the ads from the national party, but claimed it as a local expense entitling them to the refunds that Elections Canada provides to local candidates.
There is an invoice from the national office of the NDP to the official agent for the member for for her campaign that reads “Election period radio advertising paid by the federal party” in the amount of $2,612. This invoice was paid to the national office by the local campaign by a cheque dated March 31, 2006. That same day the local campaign received a transfer of funds from the NDP national office for $2,600, virtually the same amount as the invoice. What happened was that the national party bought a national advertisement for 11 candidates in the Vancouver area. The national party coordinated all of the ad buy. The national party paid for the advertisement, received the invoice in its name from the advertising companies, and then billed the local campaigns.
In the case of the member for , not only did the national party bill her campaign but it actually sent her a cheque so that she could pay for that bill. The money came from the national party, went to her local riding association, followed by an invoice from the national party for almost exactly the same amount of dollars. The money went into her account, out of her account, and paid for an advertisement that she did not organize, that she was not involved in securing. But interestingly enough, this in and out operation did not raise any curiosity at Elections Canada.
All of this information is well documented and the in and out nature of this specific transaction is set out in an email to the campaign from the NDP national office which states in part, “The good news is that the federal party will transfer $2,600 to the federal riding association as we agreed to pay for the ads”. So the national party, in writing, says it will pay for the ads, it will transfer the money into the local account to pay for these ads, and the local campaign gets to claim them as an expense and achieve a refund. Local campaigns purchase products including advertising from national campaigns all the time. It is a regular occurrence.
The fourth question: Is it legal for local candidates to pay for advertising that also ran outside of their constituencies? Yes, it is not only legal. It is unavoidable. I represent southwest Ottawa in the House of Commons and I have purchased radio advertisements in the lead-up to elections here in this city. It is impossible for me to purchase broadcast advertising exclusively in my constituency. Ottawa stations run deep into western Quebec and in the opposite direction almost to Kingston.
In other words, when I buy a radio advertisement in my constituency, it probably gets broadcast into about 15 constituencies around the area. It is not possible to block the radio signal and ensure that it only runs in my own personal constituency. However, I am still allowed as a candidate to claim it as a local expense even though it had a broad reach to listeners in other ridings.
Let me summarize the situation. Elections Canada implies that the Conservative Party transferred party funds to the local ridings, the local ridings purchased advertising from the national party, this advertising had a national content, and in some cases, advertising ran outside the ridings in which it was bought. My question is: where is the offence?
I am going to repeat the questions. First, is it legal for the national Conservative Party to transfer funds to the local ridings? Yes. It is not only legal, it is standard practice.
Second, is it legal for local candidates to run advertising with national content? It is not only legal, it is a right guaranteed by the Charter, which allows local candidates to say what they want in their advertising, as Mr. Kingsley said.
Third, is it legal for local candidates to buy advertising from the national party? Yes. It happens all the time. I just provided numerous examples of local candidates for the Bloc Québécois purchasing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods, services and other things from their national party.
Fourth, is it legal for local candidates to pay for advertising that ran outside their own constituencies? It is not only legal, it is unavoidable, as I just described using my own riding as an example. My advertising has to run outside the boundaries of the riding I represent.
We could go on and discuss examples of where other parties have engaged in exactly the same practices. I will refer to the member for who, in addition to being a fine, hard-working member of Parliament, followed the same practices that we did in the last federal election when he bought common advertisements with other members of the New Brunswick Liberal team. Let me cite an example.
The member of Parliament for and the other New Brunswick Liberals joined in a regional media buy in the 2006 election organized by the national party. The copy of the cheque provided by Elections Canada from local official agents, the local financial officers in the campaigns, for the member for , who also participated in the buy, is made out not to the newspaper in which the ad ran, but it is made out instead to the Liberal Party of Canada. In other words, the Liberal Party did the purchasing of this advertisement. The Liberal Party of Canada purchased the ad.
The contents of the ad, which I have seen by the way, are entirely national in scope, with the exception of a small, local tag line. Here is where it gets very interesting. While the member for is mentioned in the tag line as having paid for the ad, the advertisement says that he and his campaign paid for it, despite that fact, there is no apparent listing of any payments for these ads from the election return that that member of Parliament and his campaign submitted to Elections Canada. I do not know if he went on to correct that mistake later on, but there is an ad that ran in the last election in New Brunswick which says that he paid for it. It was not paid by him, at least not originally, and it was not counted in his election return as having been covered by his campaign.
I do not know if that means there was a transfer from the national party to help pay for the advertisement. We know that transfers happen very regularly in the Liberal Party. There was over $1 million in transfers during that campaign. I am not sure if those expenses are hidden somewhere else, but what is very clear is that a national party organized a nationally focused advertisement in the New Brunswick area, that there were numerous members of Parliament who participated, that the invoice from the advertising company went to the Liberal Party and not to the local campaigns, and that the local campaigns then purchased the ad from the national party. These are all the same characteristics of the alleged breach for which Elections Canada carried out its visit to our office.
I have a whole book full of examples, and there are many more outside of this book, of where parties and members of this House have engaged in transfers, have bought products from their national parties, have run national content in locally expensed advertisements, have done all of the exact same things that Elections Canada accuses the Conservative Party of Canada of doing.
It is for that reason that our party is confident in its case. That is why we have taken Elections Canada to court. We want it to uphold the rules as it has in the past interpreted them so that we can get on with the job of continuing to provide good, solid, honest government for the Canadian people.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with a very distinguished member of the House, the member for .
First, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for , for putting forward the motion before us today in this House. I have worked closely with the Bloc’s chief whip, because he was a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with me. As he said in his speech, the Conservative Party has been filibustering that committee for several months now.
I know how important this issue is to the member for and the Liberal Party. We would therefore thank the Bloc for using its opposition day to bring a matter before this House today that is this important and fundamental to Canadian democracy. This will also be an opportunity for members to express their full confidence, tonight, not only in Elections Canada—the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand, who was appointed to that position by this government—but also in the conduct of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, Mr. Corbett. As you know, the position he holds is very different from the Chief Electoral Officer, but the work he does is absolutely essential to Canadian democracy, because he is responsible for enforcing the Elections Act and investigating to determine whether there are reasons to believe that an offence has been committed. In fact, that is exactly what he is currently doing in respect of the Conservative Party.
You will not be surprised to learn that the Liberals intend to support the Bloc motion tonight, because we want to reiterate our full confidence in this independent institution, one that truly enjoys an international reputation for honesty and effectiveness in applying the Elections Act transparently and fairly.
The Liberals are concerned about this situation, now known as the “in and out scandal”, the scheme to funnel money in and out of the Conservative Party to local associations. We have been concerned since August, when we first had public knowledge that an investigation was taking place. After that investigation started, the Conservative Party decided to apply for judicial review in the Federal Court. As I said earlier, we are concerned because the Conservative Party, the party in government, has refused to allow the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a very important committee of this House, to investigate this matter.
As the Bloc’s chief whip said, with the support of the NDP and the Bloc, we decided to put forward a motion at committee in September. That motion, which was moved by my colleague from , would have made it possible for the committee and Canadians to hear witnesses, including witnesses from Elections Canada. We could have understood why the people in charge at Elections Canada had decided to investigate, had decided to take a close look at a situation as problematic as this in and out scheme. We could also have heard the Conservative candidates who got in touch with us to tell us they were uneasy about what had happened, they did not support a decision made by Conservative Party headquarters. At that point, those candidates asked to be able to come and give a public account, under oath, of how they saw the facts and how they interpreted what had gone on.
Unfortunately, as my colleague said before me, the government decided to paralyze the committee, to prevent it from hearing those witnesses. They engaged in filibusters, which were frankly embarrassing at some points. The talked about all sorts of situations that had absolutely nothing to do with the motion before the committee. There was a bizarre situation: the chair of the committee would suddenly adjourn the committing meeting and leave.
He did not even allow the committee to get to the bottom of the systematic obstruction and thus demonstrated how panicked the government actually was at the idea of an attempt to bring a situation as problematic as this into the open.
In a progressive, modern democracy like Canada, Elections Canada, or the independent agency that supervises the electoral process, has an absolutely fundamental role to play. If we are going to have a democracy where the votes of Canadians are counted in an appropriate, fair and equal way, then surely a set of rules governing that process, including limits on spending during an electoral period, are fundamental to ensuring that the process is fair and that there is a level playing field in a period of time as important as a writ period during an election.
From our perspective, Elections Canada has done an appropriate job in every general election in Canada in ensuring that the process is fair and transparent and respects the rights of all candidates and all parties equally. This is something that the current has never believed in.
When the was head of the National Citizens Coalition he even brought to the Supreme Court of Canada a case challenging the rights of third parties to advertise in an unlimited way during an electoral period. In other words, certain voices during a campaign period could be heard because they had the funds to make their voices heard and they could, in fact, seek to override or silence other voices, like those of candidates who fill out the forms and follow the process to put themselves on a ballot to represent their citizens like all of us who have had the privilege of being elected to this House have the responsibility to do.
If we start from a premise that spending limits really have no place in an electoral process, then one should not be surprised when one ends up as the leader of a national party in a tightly fought election that one's party seeks to find every way to get around spending limit legislation and maximize whatever loopholes or spending patterns it can in order to ensure that at the end of the day if it takes $1,300,000 more than they would be allowed from national advertising limits to win in certain races around the country, then a scheme is designed that Elections Canada believes may not have complied with the law.
Let us look at what the precise allegations are.
Elections Canada has essentially identified two problems. One relates to a national spending limit of $18 million that every national party is subject to in an election. Elections Canada has reason to believe that the Conservative Party may have exceeded this national spending limit in terms of advertising nationally during an election period by over $1 million. The issue is whether the party respected the national spending cap. Obviously, Elections Canada, in its investigation, has serious concerns that it may have gone over the national limit and by a large amount of money.
The second issue is the one of refunds. Canadians should understand that in a local campaign, when an election return is filed, eligible local campaign expenses are subject to a 60% refund from Elections Canada if a certain percentage of the vote is obtained in that constituency. That is taxpayer money.
The Conservatives claimed almost $1 million of taxpayer money that Elections Canada says that they are not entitled to. They have offered a series of very weak defences. They say that all parties do this. As was pointed out earlier this morning, that simply is not true. Elections Canada is investigating one party, has found that one party has systematically evaded the spending limits and claimed refunds to which it was not entitled, and that is why the Conservative Party is currently under investigation.
The Conservatives also confuse their own judicial review application with the quasi criminal investigation conducted by the Commissioner of Elections. The Commissioner of Elections is not even a party to their civil action for judicial review and yet somehow they pretend that the investigation is related.
We think this is a serious matter. We think the government has a responsibility to answer questions in this House, which it has not done. We intend to support the motion tonight.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk to this motion. I congratulate the member from the Bloc who brought it forward.
What is occurring here is very troubling. It is particularly troubling that we have to take a day in Parliament to discuss this, but in fact I think it is worth the time that it is going to be accorded.
An institution such as Elections Canada has a reputation that is unimpeachable. The question I find myself asking is this: how did we get here? As parliamentarians, how did we get to the point where nothing is sacrosanct, where impugning the reputation of individuals and institutions is now a normal part of daily discourse, particularly for this government? I think a lot of MPs come here thinking they will do a good job and work hard for their constituents, and then they get caught up in stuff like this coming from the Conservative Party and, by extension, the government. It is very unfortunate.
My colleague, the member for , who has been on this issue for a long time, outlined what we are talking about. Very simply, this is a case of the Conservative Party trying to do two things, in my view.
The first is to get around the spending limit of I think $18.2 million in a national campaign and to do so by taking money, of which the Conservatives have a lot, and flowing it through constituency associations, in most cases constituency associations that are not going to spend the amount of money they are allowed to. They probably are not competitive in a lot of those constituency associations. They take the money, they pool it to pay for national ads and they send the money back, but the hook is that they are then told they qualify for a rebate. In other words, the taxpayers subsidize this form of creative election financing. It is wrong.
In my riding, the Conservative candidate in the last election was one of the 67 or so candidates who were implicated in this scandal. I do not think he is a bad guy. Robert Campbell had never run before. He is an ex-RCMP officer. I do not agree with him on a lot of things, but I do not doubt that he is an honest and decent person. I do not think it is his fault.
I do not think it is necessarily the fault of the people who were involved in this in neighbouring ridings: Halifax West, which the Conservatives will never take from the member for, and, where the Conservatives are not competitive. These are the ridings in Nova Scotia where they used this ploy.
I do not blame Mr. Campbell, who is a decent person, but I do blame the national Conservative Party of Canada, because it came up with this plan and foisted it upon a lot of unsuspecting candidates across Canada. We know that. We can go back to something that Tom Flanagan, the guru, suggested in his book:
Even though there is a cap on national campaign spending, it is easy and legal to exceed it by transferring expenditures to local campaigns that are not able to spend up to their own legal limits.
So we have a national Conservative Party with a lot of money and some local associations that do not have money. We tell them that if they are part of this they will get a rebate, so why would they not do it? Even some of the Conservative candidates came out and said after the fact that they did not really know exactly what was going on.
There was Mr. Hudson, a Newfoundland campaign official for the Conservatives, who said, “I have realized that this is a transfer in and back out, same day”. That is what he knew about it.
As for other Conservative candidates, there is Mr. McDonald, the official agent for a Conservative candidate in Winnipeg: “Mr. McDonald was not aware of and could not recall receiving any invoice or invoices, from either Retail Media or the Conservative Fund Canada”. He did remember “a wash in and out of our account”.
For another candidate in Toronto, in Trinity-Spadina, the agent suggested, “There was no discussion pertaining to the advertising or its benefit”. He “was simply instructed to post the funds as an advertising expense, and he did so”.
It is pretty clear that what we have is the national Conservative Party of Canada, this institution that now forms the backbone of the Government of Canada, putting this system in place across Canada. It got caught, frankly. I commend my colleague from , who raised this probably close to a year ago when it first came out.
The government laughed it off and asked him what he was talking about. Then we had the fact that Elections Canada said it was pretty serious, and it investigated. What does the government do? It goes after Elections Canada.
If there is a particularly disturbing trend about the Conservative government, it is that it has an enemies list. It does not like people who disagree with it, including members of its own party who do not fall completely into line, such as my colleague from and my colleague from , who were gone.
Also on that list are programs and organizations that do work the government does not like. The court challenges and status of women programs get penalized, as do non-partisan organizations that do not toe the government line and the Wheat Board, our ethics officer, the Nuclear Safety Commission, and now Elections Canada. As well, journalists who do not print what the government likes do not make the A-list for press conferences.
In short, anybody or anything in the way has to go. MPs who disagree are booted. Public servants who do their jobs are fired. Journalists disliked by the Conservatives are shunned. Rules they do not like, such as the in regard to tendering, are ignored. Parliamentary committees they do not like are shut down.
That is an appalling way to run a country. It is not the way that the people of Canada want to see this country run. When one maligns an organization like Elections Canada, which does the very important work that it does, it is very concerning. It does important work not just for candidates or at election time but throughout the year in making sure we have a system that works for all Canadians. This should be of concern to all of us.
The integrity of elections is the cornerstone of democracy. We can see it around the world right now and in the last year or so in Zimbabwe, and in Kenya, a country that I had a chance to visit a year ago and which was racked by violence, the immediate precipitator being electoral fraud, similar to Zimbabwe.
As Canadians, we look at that and say it is wrong. In fact, Canadians are well known as people who go all over the world to help fledgling democracies conduct elections, elections that have integrity and in which people can believe when they see the results. We do a strong job as Canadians in making sure that the systems we believe in and the systems others want to have for their own countries are allowed to flourish in free and fair elections.
We do not need that here in Canada because we have Elections Canada. There are things that Elections Canada put into law and has suggested as the rules for Canadians to follow in election campaigns. Any one of us may say that we disagree with this or that, but we know that the integrity of Elections Canada is unassailable.
It is our job as politicians, as members of Parliament, as incumbents, and as challengers in the next election, and we respect our challengers, to follow those laws, to make sure that the elections in which Canadians vote do not carry with them any question about integrity. It is assumed and understood that it is always in place.
The government has gone against that. The government has maligned Elections Canada. I believe it has gone around the rules that we have all accepted as the rules for running elections in Canada. The government should be ashamed of that. I support the motion from the Bloc Québécois. I encourage all members of the House to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the discussion on the Bloc motion, which expresses confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections. It is important that we have an opportunity to debate this, given the current political context in Canada and some of the allegations and concerns raised by the Conservative Party about Elections Canada. We have to state very clearly our support for this important institution.
I want to share my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for .
Elections Canada is our independent non-partisan agency that manages elections in Canada. As such, it has to be prepared at all times to conduct a federal general election, byelection or referendum and also to administer the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act to monitor compliance and enforce electoral legislation. It is also mandated to conduct voter education and information programs and to provide support to the independent boundaries commissions in charge of adjusting boundaries of federal elections following each 10 year census. It also has a mandate to look at voting methods and to test electronic voting processes for future use during elections.
It is a very important mandate and one that all of us appreciate as fundamental to our democracy in Canada. Elections Canada's mission is very basic and stated clearly, “Ensuring that Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and be a candidate”. It is simply and succinctly stated. Any of us who have anything to do with the democratic process in Canada realize how fundamental and important that is to Canada and all Canadians.
Elections Canada hopes it will do this by expressing a number of important values in its day to day activities and decision making. It lists those values to be: a knowledgeable and professional workforce; transparency in everything it does; responsiveness to the needs of Canadians involved in the electoral process; cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act; continuously earning and maintaining the public's trust; and stewardship and accountability in how it manages its resources. Many of those things are being questioned by the Conservatives. The consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act is being questioned by the Conservatives, as they try to shift responsibility for what they did in the past federal election. They are trying to chip away at Elections Canada's long-standing record of being consistent in how it administers the Canada Elections Act.
The Commissioner of Canada Elections has a particular responsibility. The commissioner is an independent officer whose duty is to ensure that the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act are complied with and enforced. The commissioner is actually appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. That is another very important officer related to the electoral process in Canada. I am glad the Bloc motion also asks us to express our confidence in the commissioner. I will be pleased to vote in support of the motion both to express confidence in Elections Canada and in the commissioner.
It is sad that we have reached this point where a political party in the House of Commons has felt the need to table this kind of motion. Hopefully all parliamentarians will stand in their places and vote confidence in Elections Canada.
It is sad that the Conservative Party has tried to chip away at the reputation of Elections Canada because of its problems in following Canada's election law. The reality is we have one political party under investigation for its practices during the past campaign, and only one. The Conservatives need to take responsibility for their actions in the last Parliament and do everything they can to see that the issue is solved.
Frankly, I do not have confidence that they have done this, given the fact it was necessary for Elections Canada and the RCMP to conduct a raid on the Conservative Party headquarters. To me this indicates there was not full cooperation in resolving the questions related to the election return of the Conservative Party.
It is sad that many Canadians see again another political scandal, this time involving the Conservative Party, a party that came to power promising to be clean and transparent and to operate a good government in contrast with the mess the Liberal Party had created with the sponsorship scandal. I think many Canadians are very disappointed and have had enough of this kind of political scandal. I think they hope to see another direction taken.
It is also sad when this kind of scandal detracts from the important issues of the day. It would be great if we could talk about the rising gas prices that affect so many people in so many different ways, or health care and the need for doctors and nurses, or the housing and homelessness crisis, which affects so many Canadians. It is so crucial in our country, yet we do not spend the kind of time or have the same kind of accountability as we do around this political scandal. This is all very unfortunate. I, too, have had enough, like many Canadians.
If one were to ask me if I have confidence in Elections Canada, I most certainly do. Part of that is due to my own experience over many years as both an election organizer and as a candidate. It is partly due to the folks locally who worked for Elections Canada in Burnaby—Douglas over the years, people like James Pavich and Ann Crittenden.
Neither of them currently work for Elections Canada so I feel I can easily sing their praises in this forum and in this debate. In fact, James passed away a few years ago. He was the returning officer in Burnaby—Douglas and Ann was a member of his team, I think his second-in-command. They ran the electoral process in Burnaby—Douglas and did so in an amazing fashion. They were well-organized. They knew the provisions of the Canada Elections Act. They had good relationship with all the political parties and the campaigns in Burnaby—Douglas over many years. There were never questions about the fairness of the elections there. Where there were problems, they were quickly sorted out. Where they had questions of us, we provided the information and found the solutions to those issues.
James Pavich and Ann Crittenden are excellent examples of the kind of people who work for Elections Canada at the local level, in fact who work for Elections Canada, period. They have a great sense of commitment to the democratic process. They want to see an independent and non-partisan approach to our electoral process and they know how to get down and get the details of running a fair election. They know how to get it done and done fairly. They are very important to this process.
Without people like that, our democracy would be sadly lacking. We owe it to all the people who, at the local level, participate with Elections Canada. We know that setting up a one-day operation, in a sense, of the size and scale of our election machine is a very difficult job. To organize the workers for that one day of work, to train them and to see that they are all in place on election day and for the advance polls is a very significant challenge in our ridings, as diverse as they are, covering diverse geographic areas and covering the very different kinds of neighbourhoods we have in the urban areas of Canada as well.
I thank the people who work locally for Elections Canada and who follow in the fine tradition of people like James Pavich and Ann Crittenden.
Elections Canada has an excellent reputation around the world, as well, whether it is organizing elections in democratic development in Afghanistan, or working on the bill of electoral rights for people with disabilities, or participating with other electoral organizations around the world in conferences, in capacity building, or the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network Program of which Elections Canada is part, or the work that it has done in Iraq to develop the democratic development and the electoral process there.
Elections Canada is recognized around the world for its important commitment, knowledge and expertise. Hopefully later today the House will have an opportunity to stand and vote strong confidence in Elections Canada for all the important work it does both here and around the world.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here this morning as the member representing the great region of Timmins—James Bay, and as the NDP critic for democratic reform.
We support the Bloc Québécois' motion. Indeed, the Parliament of Canada must express its confidence in Elections Canada, which is an institution that plays a critical role in Canada's democratic life.
It is a pretty disturbing situation that this motion even has to come forward. We have seen a disturbing trend over the last number of years where the institution of Parliament and the institution of voting has become more and more ridiculed across this country.
I certainly know, in my riding and anywhere I travel in Canada, of the lack of confidence that people have in politicians and the lack of trustworthiness of politicians. Politician jokes are everywhere. They used to be funny, but there is an element that is not funny anymore, because I think what they are expressing is the average citizen's disgust with the fact that Parliament is being turned into something of a circus and that the real decision making is happening in the backrooms, in the boardrooms and in the war rooms of the political parties.
When we talk about the role of Elections Canada in this country, it is to ensure, number one, that we have a fair and open democratic process and that everyone plays by the rules. There is probably not a single member of Parliament in this House who has not been questioned at least once, twice or three times by Elections Canada because they are very thorough.
When we are running elections in 308-odd ridings across this country, most often with volunteers, mistakes are made. There are many hard-working and honest politicians in this House who do their best with their elections committees to ensure that they play by the rules. Elections Canada will double-check, triple-check, and it will come back to us to make sure that we did follow the rules because following the rules is essential to ensure that we actually have a fair and democratic process, so that elections are not simply bought and people do not simply make up the rules on the fly.
When I first ran for office, my campaign manager gave me one piece of advice. He said, “If you are not sure, do not do it”. That is the ethical standard that we as politicians must apply to how we operate our offices, how we operate in dealing with our power as members of Parliament, and how we have to operate our election campaigns. If we are not sure, we should not do it. If it is a grey area, we should leave it alone.
Unfortunately, we have seen, both from the Liberals and from the Conservatives, a general tradition of looking at the rules as though they were corporate tax lawyers looking for loopholes, looking for how to get around the rules, and then coming back and trying to explain it to the Canadian people as though it were a perfectly normal and natural thing that happened.
What has happened in this case with the in and out scandal is not perfectly normal and it is not perfectly natural. The Conservative Party is trying to deflect attention by blaming Elections Canada and referring to the RCMP raid as a publicity stunt. Our nation's police force went and got an injunction because it believed something serious had occurred, a serious breach of public trust. We have heard the Conservatives trying to claim that this is somehow a fight for freedom of expression. They have twisted all the facts to get the attention away, to tell the people back home not to look at the essential issue of what is happening here.
What is happening here is that we had a party that had reached its spending limits and it was trying to find a way to get around those spending limits.
The reason we have election rules in this country is so that parties cannot buy elections. In particular when we have an election that is very close, we have to ensure that people or parties are not able to circumvent the rules to buy the election.
What happened was we had an elaborate scheme that was set up at the party headquarters to find ways to get around this national ceiling, to be able to buy $1.2 million more in national advertising at a time when a party felt that those ads might actually win it the election, so it had to find places to funnel that money.
If we look at the list of ridings where money was funnelled to, it really becomes clear that this begins to look very similar to a money laundering scheme, that the money is moved into ridings on the condition that it will be moved right back out and sent back to headquarters, yet it will appear as clean money because it is being charged technically to the riding, even though the riding has no benefit of it.
I am looking at ridings where money was funnelled into, and I notice a number of ridings in northern Ontario where the Conservatives' chances of getting elected are as dismal today as they were in 2006.
My own riding of is the size of Great Britain and only $25,000 was spent on the entire campaign there. Of that, 40% or $10,000 of a $25,000 ceiling was used by the party to buy ads on a national level.
I remember that campaign well. Our Conservative opponents worked very hard to try and get their message out, and yet I do not remember seeing pamphlets in any great number. We did not see any signs for Stephen Harper, and I am speaking of him strictly in the capacity as a candidate not in the capacity as --
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate. First, I want to congratulate the hon. member for on the motion that he tabled in this House and which I had the pleasure of supporting.
I repeat, for the benefit of all those who are watching this debate, that the motion reads as follows:
That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
I am convinced that people who are listening to us today wonder why the Bloc Québécois was compelled to table a motion that states the obvious. Normally, no one—and I am referring to all parliamentarians and the whole population—should question in any way our confidence in Elections Canada, which is the watchdog of our democracy in Quebec and in Canada, and in the Commissioner of Canada Elections, who is responsible for conducting the investigations that the Chief Electoral Officer deems necessary.
I must say, for the benefit of those who are watching us, that, regrettably, we reached a point where we had to table this motion in order to determine that, indeed, all parliamentarians in this House still consider Elections Canada to be a reliable, independent and credible organization.
Over the past few weeks—in fact since Elections Canada has been investigating certain practices of the Conservative Party relating to its use of election funds and its election spending claims—the defence used by the and the Conservative government has sought to undermine Elections Canada's credibility.
The Conservatives would have us believe that Elections Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections are ganging up on them for a motive that has never been explained to us, out of vengeance or for partisan considerations. Of course, that is absolutely false. The Conservatives' stubborn attitude toward Elections Canada, which alleges that they violated the Canada Elections Act, makes it necessary to set the record straight and to ask this House, today, to unanimously restate its confidence in this extremely important actor in the democratic process.
It is somewhat ridiculous that the Conservative Party, now accused of a number of practices that are in violation of the law, should play the victim and try to depict the agency responsible for enforcing the Canada Elections Act as the one who is trying to intimidate the Conservative Party and the government that it forms.
Again yesterday, the said in this House that the behaviour of Elections Canada was very strange, and suggested the agency was using a double standard. They implied not only that Elections Canada would apply special rules for the Conservative Party but also that the other parties in this House, the three opposition parties, used the same kind of tactics in the last election, which is false.
I remind the Conservative Party, the Conservative government and the that it is only Conservative candidates who are currently under investigation by Elections Canada. I also remind the Conservative Party, the Conservative government and the that only the offices of the Conservative Party were searched by the RCMP at the request of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
They should not try to take us for idiots by confusing the issue. It is very clear that this attempt by the Conservatives, the and the Conservative government to confuse the issue by throwing the burden of proof back on to Elections Canada does not fool anyone. Unfortunately, all of that has forced us to introduce this motion today.
What the very clearly insinuated—as did other government representatives, including even the —is that Elections Canada, which is an independent agency, had a political agenda and applied different criteria. They insinuated that this office had not only lost its independent character but also its status as an agency that must apply fair and equitable criteria for all the parties.
Yet it is precisely because Elections Canada wants to ensure that the criteria for enforcing the Act are fair and equitable that there is currently an investigation into the practices of the Conservative Party.
It is important to remember that Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports to Parliament and is responsible for organizing elections and administering the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act. It is also the agency that has the important mandate of monitoring political parties' compliance with electoral legislation and enforcing that legislation. The current investigation into the practices of the Conservative Party is entirely within the mandate of Elections Canada.
If there were searches in the offices of the Conservative Party, it is because the Commissioner of Canada Elections considered that the Conservative Party had not disclosed all the information required, or perhaps was preparing to destroy information or falsify documents. It is completely within the rules of the game to ensure that everyone respects the law and the established rules, especially when the democratic process is involved.
Also, under the Canada Elections Act, the Chief Electoral Officer is appointed by resolution of the House of Commons. That is what section 13 states. Once in office, the incumbent reports directly to Parliament, not to the government, let alone to the Conservative Party, thereby acting at arm's length from the government and the political parties. As I indicated, that provision of the Canada Elections Act ensure that kind of independence.
As hon. members know, the age limit for chief electoral officers is 65, and the officer holds office until retirement or resignation. may hold office years of age. He or she may only be removed for cause by the Governor General on address of both the House of Commons and the Senate. It is clear from the process that the intention is to preserve this independence.
Now, we have a governing party which, with a series of totally unfounded insinuations, is trying to undermine that independence. For partisan purposes, it is suggesting that the head of Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections are somehow determined to go after the Conservative Party.
To ensure independence, the Chief Electoral Officer has to perform the duties of the office on a full-time basis and may not hold any other office or engage in any other employment. What is more worrisome about what has been going on for the past several weeks is that the and the Conservative Party are trying to undermine the credibility of Elections Canada, casting aspersions on its independence and its non-partisan nature. I should remind those listening, however, that the current Chief Electoral Officer was appointed on February 9, 2007, and that the Prime Minister himself made the recommendation. His appointment was later confirmed by Parliament. It is pretty incredible therefore that, from the moment that he started to perform his duties and act in accordance with Elections Canada's mandate, Chief Electoral Officer Mayrand, in whom the had full confidence, suddenly no longer possessed all the qualifications that had led the Prime Minister to appoint him.
There is nothing new about this though. Over the last two years—because we have already endured two long years of this minority Conservative government—we have come to know the pretty well. We have learned that he considers the government his private domain. In a number of issues, we have seen his wish or his desire—because it is not just a wish in his case and more a firm resolve—to exercise total control over all possible aspects of the federal government and attempt in various ways to minimize the counterbalances that our democratic system provides, beginning with the media, the courts, all democratic institutions in Canada and Quebec, and the fact we live under the rule of law.
The Prime Minister’s desire to control everything and minimize the counterbalances could be seen in his relations with the press. We all remember how surprised the journalists were on Parliament Hill to see the Prime Minister trying not only to avoid them but also to ensure that his ministers and MPs were unable to express the views of the government, their department or their voters to the written and electronic press here in Ottawa.
The also wanted to control the process for selecting judges so that they would interpret the laws in the way in which he wanted. This was all very clear. In addition, his first appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada was criticized by many people in Quebec and Canada because the judge was a unilingual anglophone. This would probably be a problem, both for lawyers and the people who appeal to the Supreme Court.
The wanted to interfere, therefore, in the judge selection process. He also tries to control information, as I said, by refusing to meet the members of the parliamentary press gallery and doing everything in his power to ensure it is very difficult to get information under the Access to Information Act and, if it finally does reach the people who inquired, it is only in extremely censored form.
There was a good example this morning in the Globe and Mail, according to which the Department of National Defence has produced a little guide—or more thick than little, in all senses of the word—telling military personnel how to make sure that access to information requests are either refused, circumvented or censored. This is all very obvious, therefore, and it is despite the recommendations in the Manley report, which said that the government should be more transparent, in particular, about the Afghanistan mission.
What we have instead is a document telling military personnel—despite themselves, I am sure—how to ensure that information is as difficult as possible to get when it has to be produced at all despite the desires of the and his government.
We also see a who wants to control the parliamentary process by telling the chairs of the committees to sabotage their work. This can be seen currently at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
We are concerned about that, and the same attitude was displayed about other issues. Take for example the Chalk River reactor. The head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission gave her advice, but it was not in line with what the and the government wanted. I do not deny that, at the time, we agreed with the government’s proposal to resume production of isotopes for medical uses, but the head of the commission did her job. Parliamentarians could have made a different decision. But her firing by the was nothing but vengeance.
So, the Conservative government, the Conservative , and the Conservative Party of Canada are launching a systematic attack against Elections Canada. This is part of an overall strategy. It is extremely important for our democracy that opposition parties shed some light on this for the public.
Let us deal now directly with this matter of the contributions that were allegedly transferred between different levels of the party during the 2005-06 election. Since the election was held in 2006, let us call it the 2006 election. Right from the outset, the and all the Conservatives that were involved in this matter claimed that they had followed the law. But we have already seen that in a couple of instances, the Conservative Party “neglected” to report a number of contributions that were not legal under the electoral rules.
As I recall, in December 2006 they forgot to report the receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Chief Election Officer. What was involved were the registration fees of the Conservative delegates at the Conservative party convention in May 2005. That is when they started to claim—and the was the first to do so—that there was no problem. Six months later, the Conservative Party had to admit that it had not reported to the Chief Election Officer the receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars. All in all, the additional amount that had to be reported was $536,915 in unreported contributions, and other revenues of $913,710.
These revenues, which amounted to about $1.45 million, were not declared. As we have all seen, there was nothing novel about the 's initial reaction, which was to say that nothing illegal was done regardless of Elections Canada's allegations.
Other members have already pointed this out, but I too must say that the evidence is mounting. Even within the Conservative Party's electoral apparatus, there were serious doubts about the legality of transfers from the national party to certain ridings and back to national headquarters to pay for national advertising. As a result, 60% of the money was reimbursed, which is what happens when candidates in ridings claim reimbursements for elections expenses, as you know.
We have seen at least two emails about this. The first was from a Conservative Party advertising official who expressed serious doubts about the legality of the strategy, of the scheme. The second, which we saw recently, was another email sent to the , the 's political lieutenant for Quebec. In the email, certain details about implementing the strategy and related problems were discussed. For example, some riding associations wanted to participate in transferring money from national party headquarters to the ridings, money that would then be used to pay for the Conservative Party's national advertising, but there was no Conservative candidate. That made things a little tricky. A candidate had to be found quickly in order to carry out the strategy.
We found out today that right here in the Outaouais, two former candidates had received transfers even though there was little chance they would be elected, as they themselves said. For example, Gilles Poirier, who is the head of the accounting department at the Université du Québec en Outaouais and was the Conservative Party candidate in Hull—Aylmer, said that during the 2006 election:
The person in the Montreal office who was responsible for candidates in the Outaouais called me to announce the good news that the party would be investing money in my campaign—
Three days after the money was deposited in the Hull-Aylmer Conservative riding association account, he learned that the money had to be returned to the Conservative Party and he was told that the party would take care of the advertising. He always thought it was a matter of regional advertising. This is what he said, “I, as a candidate, was lead to believe the money was for regional advertising.”
We know that most of the money transferred by the Outaouais ridings to the national Conservative Party was used to pay for regional ads in the Quebec City area. I do not see how that could have helped Mr. Poirier—although I do not know him personally—who seems to be as surprised as Elections Canada that these transfers were used for national ads during the election campaign.
As I was saying earlier, I do not want to dwell on the investigation that is now in the hands of Elections Canada. Again, I hope that all parliamentarians, all the members of this House, will vote in favour of this motion in order to move on to something else, namely finding out exactly what happened in the Conservative Party during the 2006 election.
We see that the ethic position the was advocating during the election campaign was all for show. Until proven otherwise, the Conservative Party is doing everything in its power to keep the truth under wraps. The truth will come out one day, probably quite quickly, and every day more pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.
If I may, I want to close by saying that this is the same attitude that exists toward the nation of Quebec: the government says it recognizes the nation of Quebec, but in fact, it is not putting its money where its mouth is. This same attitude exists toward the mission in Afghanistan: the government is not being transparent. This same attitude exists toward the environment. This same attitude exists toward the death penalty. This same attitude exists toward abortion. It is the same attitude everywhere. This government is trying to hide its real agenda. Fortunately, the government's true colours are revealed in its way of doing things. Voters, in Quebec in any case, will remember this come election time.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to provide all hon. members with a clear, open and, most important, complete account of the facts surrounding the Elections Canada affair.
I say complete for a reason, for if we view the Elections Canada affair through the lens of that agency versus the Conservative Party alone, then we are taking a much too narrow view of the facts. What I want to lay out on the public record today is that the other parties in the House availed themselves of the exact same methods identified in this dispute and yet Elections Canada chose to scrutinize only Conservative Party candidates in this regard.
I am sure the irony cannot be lost on the members of the House, even as they piously call for truth in answers, that certain opposition members spent their week away from the House presenting Canadians with a storyline that was not in concert with the truth.
There are a lot of questions to be answered for sure but what the opposition parties, like Elections Canada, cannot get away from is that they will be the ones who will be expected to come clean with many of the answers, the most important of which is why they condemn practices that they themselves use.
Before I get into the meat of this issue, I would like to briefly talk about something known as national content as it relates to political advertising.
Here in the House of Commons we are in the business of governance. We are elected by the people of Canada and working for the people of Canada. That is what we do and, whether one is a part of the government or a member of the opposition, it should be the goal of all members in the House.
We all have slightly different approaches as to how this work for the people should be carried out. Some of us believe that Canadians want a government that puts faith in individual families and small businesses. Some in the House instead believe the only good answers can come from the government itself. Some parties in the House are old school centralists, some parties in the House were elected on a separatist platform and some in the House were elected on the sentiment that the centralist versus the separatist debate was accomplishing nothing for Quebec or anyone else. Therefore, we have offered Canadians a different say.
In short, we have a diversity of political opinion in the House, one that reflects the diversity of opinion that makes our country great.
All of us here were elected by our constituents. Some of us are more seasoned, while others have only been elected for less than a month. Regardless of length of service, though, surely all of us remember going door to door in our ridings, and for some us the doors were a little further apart than others, and speaking to our potential constituents about what we were going to do to help the people of our ridings and just as important, about what the party we represented was going to do for Canada.
In short, while local candidates campaign on local issues, they also, to a large degree, rely on national issues of the party they represent. Balancing local, regional and national issues is a healthy part of our democracy. We are all responsible to our constituents but we are also all part of a national team: one party, one leader, one national message. That is the way it works.
That is the way it is supposed to work. Local candidates are going to talk about national issues, which is why they are federal candidates, which is how Canadians know who we are, what we stand for and what we are going to do for them. That is what is known as national content. Whether it is buttons, T-shirts, banners, flyers, pamphlets, TV commercials or radio ads, local federal candidates will work closely with the national campaign on their local campaigns. Every party does this and every party is right to do this.
The fundamental inviolable rule, however, is that local campaigns take full responsibility for local expenses, while the national campaign takes full responsibility for national expenses. On this count, the Conservative Party and our local campaigns are in full compliance with the Canada Elections Act. To say otherwise is false and a gross distortion of the facts.
That is why in May 2007 the Conservative Party took Elections Canada to court. The court case specifically related to Elections Canada's refusal to recognize the expenses claimed by some Conservative candidates for the 2006 election because of some new and novel definition of what it called national content. Elections Canada apparently wanted to send a message that this kind of collaboration was wrong.
This is very thin ice for Elections Canada. It is moving away from serving as an impartial arbiter of the rules toward a highly interventionist approach that actually passes judgment on the content of different campaigns. That has never been the role of the agency and it should concern us all.
Let us look at another way that the national campaign helps local candidates. I am talking about the transfer of money to support local campaigns in order to carry out election related activities. Again, every party does this and every party is right to do this. However, curiously, in this case, it was only the Conservative Party that was singled out by Elections Canada. We were singled out for following, not only the long established rules of elections practice, but also the widely used practice of other major political parties.
I will share some examples with members of this House. Let us take, for example, part of the NDP campaign in British Columbia in 2006 election. According to documentation obtained through Elections Canada, NDP candidates for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Nanaimo—Cowichan, and Victoria all participated in a cooperative media buy with the national party organizers. These NDP cooperative media buys bore a striking resemblance to the matter that is behind the motion we debate today.
We should consider that they involve a number of local campaigns banding together to purchase advertising for their area. The NDP headquarters organized the buy. The invoices were processed by the NDP headquarters. No transactions occurred directly between the local campaigns and the media outlets. The cost of the media buys were allocated entirely to the local campaigns and the content of the advertising was based on the national content of the NDP campaign.
A similar occurrence transpired with NDP candidates, several of whom have gone on to become MPs sitting in this House in the greater Vancouver area. We should consider that there were no less than 12 NDP candidates in that region who participated in a local media buy where, again, Elections Canada did not question the validity of their transactions. I do not know whether our friends in the NDP have been visited by Elections Canada with the CBC and Liberal Party cameramen in tow, but given the events of the past week one would wonder why that is not the case.
When the Conservative Party took Elections Canada to court, examples of Liberal Party election practices were also provided. The Liberal Party also made liberal use of regional media buys. Who do we see named among the Liberals who partook in these regional media buys, surprise, surprise? We see none other than the name of the member for . Oddly, he chose not to focus on this during his press conference last week.
Again, according to Elections Canada documentation the member for Beauséjour participated in a local media buy that apparently was arranged by the national party and contained, with the exception of the local candidate's name, entirely national content.
As with the previous NDP examples, this media buy again involved combined local campaigns banding together to buy regional media advertising, arrangements that were made by national party organizers, invoicing processed at the national level and no prior contact between the local campaigns and the media outlets.
However, in the instance of the campaigns of the member for , Elections Canada documentation contained a Liberal Party memo that notes the local campaign was to pay for the advertising. However, as there is no listing of this purchase within the documentation of the member's Elections Canada return, we are left to guess how those ads were paid for and by whom.
I wonder if the hon. member might clarify to this House whether he has had Elections Canada officials, CBC crew members, RCMP officers and other parties' cameramen knock on the doors of his party's office over this practice. Although the member's finances appear to be non-compliant, again, these New Brunswick regional media buys did not appear to merit questions by Elections Canada.
There is a rather vicious irony to this. The member who is being most vocal about the purported abhorrence of this practice has engaged in it himself and with what appears to be less than compliant methods.
Questions have also been raised about the practice of transferring funds from the national party to local campaigns to assist them with electoral related activities.
First, let us put aside the fact that it is perfectly reasonable for local campaigns to be supported by their national headquarters. As I mentioned earlier, we are all working toward a common goal and despite a lot of noise from our friends opposite to suggest otherwise, they not only think but they also act the same way. According to Elections Canada documentation obtained by Conservative Party lawyers, it is very clear that the Liberal, NDP and Bloc all engage in the same practice as the Conservative Party.
For example, the 2006 election documentation shows many examples of Liberal Party headquarters transferring substantial funds but also invoicing similarly substantial funds as well. Documentation shows that the Liberal Party made $1.7 million in transfers to local candidates in the 2006 election, while invoicing them $1.3 million as well.
The NDP made $884,000 in transfers to NDP local candidates, while invoicing them a total of $545,000 for goods and services provided to them in the election.
The Bloc made $732,000 in monetary transfers to its local candidates in the 2006 election, while invoicing its local candidates $820,000 for goods and services rendered.
It is quite clear that all parties in this House engage, most vigorously I would add, in the practice of transferring money back and forth between headquarters and local ridings during elections.
Additionally, in Elections Canada documentation, it is clear that there are numerous examples where transfers from party headquarters to Liberal, NDP and Bloc candidates exactly or closely matched amounts that candidates were invoiced by the national party.
The member for was invoiced $5,000 by the Liberal Party on June 16, 2004. The Liberal Party also deposited a cheque for $5,000 to the candidate on July 9. On June 28 the candidate paid the Liberal Party invoice with a cheque of $5,000. Then the candidate cashed the Liberal Party cheque on July 15. That is the same amount. That is Liberal campaign spending in and out.
The member for was invoiced $7,003.64 by the NDP on January 13, 2006. On January 31, 2006, a cheque from the NDP to the candidate for $7,003.64 was deposited. On February 1, 2006 a cheque from the candidate to the NDP that pays the invoice for $7,003.64 was written and cashed on March 1. That is the very same amount. That is NDP campaign spending in and out.
Clearly this is a common practice. Should the courts ever rule that a different interpretation of the law is in order, then all parties will have to change their practices. The courts will make that decision, not the Conservative Party, not the Liberal Party, not the Bloc nor the NDP, and not Elections Canada.
All of these examples I have brought up today are clearly laid out in the affidavit submitted by the Conservative Party to the courts over our legal challenge to Elections Canada. We have been very clear. Not only do we feel that we have followed the rules which are laid out by Elections Canada, but it is also clear that we have adhered to a standard no different from any other party's in this House.
As my hon. colleague stated earlier, all of us here have the honour to be elected to this House by the people of Canada and although we have different ideas about the best way to run the country, one hopes that at the end of the day we all have the same goal, which is to run it well. Each of us sitting here worked hard to win this honour. There was a lot of pounding the pavement, long hours and dedication.
Conservative candidates played by the rules, the same rules followed predominantly by candidates from all parties. Our local candidates talked about local issues and they talked about national issues. We supported our local candidates in their efforts to win office, the same way that the other parties in this House supported their local candidates in an effort to win office.
Those are the facts. Everything else is political posturing.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Mr. Speaker, and the hon. members opposite for giving us the opportunity to set the record straight.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I have been a member of this House for 15 years and I really never thought that I would have to speak to a motion such as this. But today, it is absolutely necessary to do so.
The text of the motion reads:
That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
Why have we reached the point where it is necessary for the Bloc Québécois to table this motion? It is because of the Conservatives' behaviour during the election, which I will discuss later in my remarks. The behaviour of the Conservatives, in accusing Elections Canada of taking partisan positions, was completely unacceptable.
As for the Elections Canada appointment process, the chief executive officer and chief commissioner of Elections Canada is chosen with the support of the House of Commons. In our democratic system, it is very important that institutions like this are not exposed to comments such as we have heard from the Conservatives—and even from the in the past—comments that question an institution that is fundamental to our system of democracy, an institution that is in place to oversee the organization of elections and to apply the Elections Act. In the case at hand, this institution noticed that a number of Conservative candidates used an unacceptable procedure of claiming reimbursement for their expenses.
It also noticed—and this is why additional evidence was needed and why the police raided the Conservative offices—that it seems to have been an organized procedure. This is all going to be checked and confirmed. The raid produced a number of results. We will see how all these questions are answered. I am inclined to say that, if the Conservative Party is not satisfied with the Elections Canada decision, it can challenge it in court, as it has done. We will see for sure who is right.
But it is totally unacceptable for the Conservative Party, which forms the Government of Canada, to impugn the integrity of an institution like Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections. I think that the Conservative government has to take responsibility for what it has done and is continuing to do today. When we look at the facts, the Conservative position does not hold up for long.
Because the Conservative Party had reached the spending limit for the 2006 election, party officials allegedly transferred party funds and invoices to candidates in order to get around the spending limits. This initial move by the Conservatives is unacceptable. In return, the Conservative candidates who agreed to play a part in this scheme became eligible for a rebate from Elections Canada. The party funds were spent on national advertising and should have been included in national expenses. In the end, a rebate equivalent to 60% of this amount was requested for each of the ridings concerned. Elections Canada has refused to issue these rebates, because clearly this would have consequences for the most recent election, since the rules of the game were changed. It would also affect future elections, because if these rebates were granted, they would provide a significant amount of money to plan the next election campaign.
Elections Canada determined that this behaviour was unacceptable, and legal recourse was available to the Conservative Party, which took advantage of that recourse. However, the Conservative Party does not have to impugn the integrity of an organization like Elections Canada. In doing so, it has crossed a line that should not be crossed in a democracy such as ours. The Conservatives' behaviour is strangely reminiscent of stories we read in the papers about countries or states that do not have the democratic foundation or history we have. It is very surprising that the Conservatives are taking this tack. Moreover, the has confirmed this in statements he has made. This is the sort of situation in which we find ourselves.
Despite what happened with regard to registration fees and despite the documents that have been made public to date, the Conservatives are still saying everything was done legally. They are even claiming that Elections Canada is taking revenge on the Conservative Party for its lawsuit against Elections Canada for refusing to refund dozens of candidates' election expenses. This defence does not hold up when we look at the facts.
For example, during the 2005-06 election campaign, high ranking Conservative Party officials, including the Conservative Fund Canada president, developed a national advertising campaign scheme paid for by local candidates when they realized that the party was about to exceed its authorized spending limit. That is what is revealed in the emails that are currently being analyzed. A total of 67 Conservative candidates, some of whom are now ministers, were involved in this circular scheme, the in and out scheme, which Elections Canada has deemed illegal.
I also got the surprise of my life when I read in an article in Le Devoir that the Conservative Party wanted to carry out this plan in my riding and that it desperately sought a candidate to do so. That is what the email says: anywhere there was a candidate, it might be difficult to get people to accept it, but at least there would be someone to attribute the expense to.
The emails state that in ridings such as Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, there was still no candidate and that one absolutely had to be found in order to carry out the plan. This is what explains the selection of an individual no one had ever seen in my riding, who did not campaign for a single day and whom everyone described as a phantom candidate. That person did not necessarily participate in the plan, especially since it was in the final days of the campaign. In any case, my riding had been targeted as one place to carry out this plan.
Thus, money was spent in my riding to pay for national advertising, while the Conservative Party knew very well that the candidate there had practically no chance of winning. However, by moving some money around in that way, they were trying to influence the results elsewhere.
This kind of behaviour is truly unacceptable. The result at the end of the day should be quite clear. I think the legal process that is now underway will show us.
Again, it is very unfortunate that the Conservative Party has questioned the integrity of Elections Canada. Thanks to the changes to the appointment process for returning officers, the mechanisms that have been developed and the strength of democracy in Quebec and Canada, we are often asked to monitor elections in other countries. Our history is an effective guarantee that things have run properly at home. Now there is a major blemish on our record. The party in power in Canada is questioning the integrity of the agency in charge of running elections, Elections Canada, and of the elections commissioner.
We on this side are slowing gleaning information from what the Conservative candidates have reported. Elections Canada noticed some anomalies in the Retail Media invoices that were sent to them. The CEO of that media placement company in Toronto, Marilyn Dixon, thinks the bills were changed or simply created by someone other than an employee of her company. This type of behaviour is quite serious. We absolutely must get to the bottom of this.
Let us not forget that we are just coming out of rather troubling times when it comes to backroom deals, the sponsorship scandal and the totally illegal use of money here to try to influence the perception of Quebeckers toward their national future. This was demonstrated and an inquiry was held to look into the matter.
Now we have a new government that claimed to be above that type of behaviour. Perhaps that is why the Conservatives have such an aggressive reaction toward Elections Canada. It is indeed unacceptable to be caught red handed after claiming they would never, ever, behave in such a way. Ultimately we will see how this all plays out.
I will close by saying that much more transparency is needed. The Conservatives have to promise not to resort to such practices during the next election, regardless the result of the current investigation. For now, this is sending a message to Canadians that the party in power is not prepared to respect the rules and decisions of the agency in charge of running elections. That is very unhealthy for democracy.
What is healthy is the power to debate it in this House. I hope that our motion will receive a great deal of support from all members of this House.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to address this motion brought forward by our party. It is worth reading it again:
That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
That is very important. Indeed, what has been going on over the past few weeks—namely the charge being made by the Conservative Party against Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections—is of great concern for our democracy, this for all sorts of reasons. There are, of course, historical reasons. Canada did not have to fight to protect its democracy. Over the past 50 or 100 years, those countries that had to take up arms to defend their democracy are well aware of the importance of having an organization that monitors elections and that enjoys the full and complete support of all citizens, and particularly of all the political parties participating in these elections.
In recent weeks, a political party in Canada has decided to challenge the only non-partisan agency responsible for ensuring that democracy is respected in this country. That is a choice that these people made. Personally, I believe this was a deliberate choice. It is always the about power at all costs. The Conservative Party, which saw the possibility of getting a majority looming on the horizon, decided to go all out to achieve its goal, and was even prepared to violate the Elections Act.
We are now well aware of the importance of advertising campaigns. One only has to look at what is going on in the United States. The result is often a reflection of the money invested in those advertising campaigns. The Conservative Party deliberately chose to spend more, because it had the money to do so. I realize that it may have been frustrated. It had a lot of money to spend, but there was an election spending limit. It tried to do everything it could to get a majority. Despite their efforts, the Conservatives form a minority government in this House, and it is a good thing that voters made that choice, and particularly that Quebeckers were very vigilant in choosing those who were going to represent them here. Once again, they put their confidence in the Bloc Québécois, which is the only party in this House that can rise day in and day out to protect their interests, without having to manipulate all the laws in an attempt to come to power. That is the reality.
Like you and I, the population must put up with the explanations given by the Conservative Party to try to justify itself and those explanations change everyday. When we look at the sequence of events, we realize that the seizure of documents by the Commissioner of Canada Elections is extremely important because it is bringing this scheme into public view. We saw the emails sent by the organizers. We saw how they operated. I do not want to go through everything that was done, email after email, but we now know that the Conservative organization knew that its spending would exceed the limit and that it was desperate to win a majority at all costs.
I insist on that expression, “a majority at all costs”. In the end, that pits them against the only organization that does not do politics and is there to ensure the proper conduct of elections and respect for all laws, as in a good democracy. We should be giving a good example, as Quebec always has done. Indeed, it was under René Lévesque's direction that the first act to really limit election expenses and regulate political party financing was adopted. It was later used as a model by the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. Quebec was a pioneer and that explains why you see here, in this Chamber, elected representatives from Quebec who have the utmost respect for institutions like Elections Canada, Élections Québec and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
The tragic part in this is that the Conservatives decided to undertake civil action against Elections Canada, knowing very well that the impact of this would be to postpone the matter. It is a well known fact that civil actions drag on. With a good law firm, it is possible to delay the proceedings. One can practically decide when the hearing will take place. Quite simply, the Conservatives wanted to gain time until the next election. The election is still weeks or months away, but we all know it has to be held by 2009 at the latest.
Again, it will be possible to delay the proceedings until after the next election. The Conservatives hope to have a majority government then, but it will not happen because they do not respect the institutions Canadians chose to put in place. No member in this House can claim to be the great defender of Elections Canada. We can defend Elections Canada today, but we should do it on behalf of Canadian citizens, because they are the ones who give us the opportunity to sit in this House. This privilege is loaned, and not given to us. Obviously, it is the electorate that decides when it will take it back. The Liberals learnt that the hard way in the last election, and it is likely the Conservatives will undergo the same experience the next time around.
If the Conservatives are thrown out of office, it will be precisely because they did not respect a key institution like Elections Canada. That is why I am so proud today to stand in this House to represent the Quebeckers who elected me in my riding of , and I feel the same pride for all my colleagues who were elected in other areas of Quebec. The Bloc Québécois is standing for and expresses its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections. This shows the great spirit of democracy of all Quebeckers.
Achieving sovereignty takes time, but we will achieve it while respecting democracy. We have witnessed, in various inquiries that have taken place into both the sponsorship scandal and Option Canada, the federal way of trying to control democracy and of not being afraid to spend any amount at all, irrespective of the rules. In Quebec, there was disrespect of the legislation on elections and referendums at the time of the last referendum in 1995.
Once again, this is the most difficult part when there are Quebec members in the political party in question. These are true federalists. They do not hesitate to use the funding they need, even if this means going so far as to violate the electoral process. This is a great threat to democracy, and will make our battle one of the most significant in the world, because when Quebec achieves sovereignty, it will have done so while fully respecting democracy, but the same will not be said of our federalist adversaries.
If the Conservatives had even one moment of clear thinking—I am speaking to the Quebec Conservatives, the members elected by the people of Quebec—they would waste no time in voting in favour of the motion by the Bloc Québécois, which reiterates full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections, because this is the only institution that is not politically involved and has the responsibility of ensuring that democracy is respected. The most important attribute of any self-respecting country seeking international recognition is to ensure that democracy is respected within its borders, and this the Conservatives are not doing at present.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I rise today in shock and disgust over the way the government is attacking Elections Canada, one of the most respected electoral organizations in the world. Elections Canada has become an international leader in conducting fair, open and accountable elections. Whether it is the creation of the national register of electors or its successful introduction of computers into the administration of an election, our elections serve as a model for countries around the world.
Our honoured international reputation began to take shape in the 1980s when our assistant chief electoral officer was invited to observe elections in several Central American countries. By the 1990s, the trend had exploded as Elections Canada was flooded with requests not only to serve as international monitors but also to conduct assessments for fairness and to advise foreign governments. Over the decade, Elections Canada hosted more than 125 foreign delegations and participated in an amazing 300 missions abroad.
If one reads the official mandate of Elections Canada, it states that the organization is an independent body set up by Parliament. This is a fundamental point to note in light of accusations that the and his officials have been making about Elections Canada since the RCMP raided their party headquarters.
The Conservatives have called the raid “a PR stunt and a tactic of intimidation”. The government House leader has said that Elections Canada had no justification or right to begin such an inquiry, which is a comment that questions its very legitimacy. Other government ministers have accused the Chief Electoral Officer of abusing his powers by launching the investigation as a bargaining chip over a civil lawsuit.
The member for has spoken about Elections Canada, inviting the Liberal Party to watch the raid. Internal documents revealed that the Conservative Party had even ordered its MPs and former candidates to deny knowledge of this issue.
The most ludicrous Conservative attack has been the claim that this raid was the result of a 10-year-old vendetta against the for his criticism of Elections Canada when he was with the National Citizens Coalition. This is absolutely ridiculous, as both the Chief Electoral Officer and the Elections Commissioner were appointed during the Conservatives' time in office. This government has stooped to these tactics to take the focus away from their own actions in the 2006 election.
Under the in and out scheme, the Conservative Party shifted money from its national office into 67 local ridings and immediately demanded the money back, allowing the party to disregard election spending limits and to unfairly spend an extra $1 million on national advertising.
What I find so surprising is how the party leadership completely ignored those local campaigns and candidates, which had a problem with the plot. For example, two ridings initially declined to participate, citing questions about the legality of the actions. How did the Conservatives respond? As always, they expected complete and utter control.
Mike Donison, the Conservative Party president, during the election campaign wrote in an email to Conservative officials, “Why should they be allowed to just outright refuse?” A better question would be: Why should they not be allowed to refuse? Other local officials knew it was wrong and did the right thing.
Barbro Soderberg, the official agent for Toronto candidate Steven Halicki, said she fought back against party officials, stating, “As a bookkeeper, I know that sometimes you have to use creative accounting between two small companies...but I found this move was being a little too creative”.
Andrew Kumpf, an executive with Retail Media, the company that designed the ads, emailed his concerns to the Conservative Party, writing, “While our thinking is that this option would be legal, we are not certain of this beyond all reasonable doubt”.
Douglas Lowry, the official agent for candidate Sam Goldstein in Trinity—Spadina in Toronto, told Elections Canada investigators that “There was no discussion pertaining to the advertising or its benefit to the Goldstein campaign”. There are many others.
As we can see from these statements, many people told the party that the in and out scheme would break rules and the laws of our country. The simple and sad fact of the matter is the Conservative Party chose not to listen.
The RCMP raids at Conservative headquarters would have never happened if the party fully cooperated with investigators. Instead, the Tories first refused to work with a parliamentary committee trying to investigate the scheme and then they declined to provide documents to Elections Canada.
This controversy is about a government that believes it is above the law and beyond reproach. It also demonstrates how arrogant the has become. He is no longer prepared to listen to his own candidates or local party supporters.
I want to conclude with the words of the during the last campaign. “I pledge to you”, he said, “to introduce the most sweeping reforms in Ottawa's history, to create a future environment where governments will have to be accountable”.
My question for the government is: What happened?
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak in support of the Bloc opposition motion:
That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
Noting that six of the British Columbia Conservative MPs participated in this in and out scheme, I wanted to share time with my colleague and speak in support of the motion.
The Conservative Party appears to have devised a systematic scheme to cheat the Elections Canada rules with respect to financing campaigns. Elections Canada caught the Conservative Party red-handed with this and is investigating.
The key that I want to bring to this debate is the lack of accountability by the Conservative Party and government, which I believe is at the heart of its response to the issue of having perhaps been caught cheating.
There appears to not only be a systematic scheme to get around Elections Canada laws, but this ties into what appears to be a systematic scheme to undermine democracy in Canada. One of my colleagues, the member for , spoke earlier about a number of officers of Parliament who were fired or forced to resign by the Conservative government when they criticized or did not support the or the Conservative Party in some way or another. That is a very long and now growing list.
I want to point out that the president of the Law Commission of Canada was fired in September 2006. A scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada, Andrew Okulitch, was fired in September 2006 for objecting to an order that he praise Canada's new government in supposedly non-partisan correspondence. Allan Amey, the president of the Canada Emission Reduction Incentives Agency was fired and his agency dismantled. Jack Anawak, the ambassador of Circumpolar Affairs, an important area and issue in Canada, was fired and his position eliminated in September 2006. The ambassador for the Environment was fired in 2006, and I wonder to what she was objecting.
We have a systematic pattern of the Conservative government not wanting people in positions of neutral responsibility and respect to comment on the its activities.
The ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, resigned after several run-ins with the over the appointment of the . Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the Chief Electoral Officer, “resigned” in December 2006 after forcing the Conservatives to admit they violated election financing laws. It looks like forced out to many people. John Reid, the Information Commissioner, was forced out in September 2006 after criticizing the Prime Minister. The chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Board “resigned” in March 2007 because of government's attempt to politicize the Immigration Review Board.
The list goes on. The ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces was forced out, only two years into a five year appointment, after months of not seeing eye to eye with the government.
We could then go to the muzzling of a respected Environment Canada scientist, Mark Tushingham, who was prohibited by the government in April 2006 from promoting his book on global warming, probably because the government had cut most of the Liberal programs to deal with the challenge of global warming and reduce greenhouse gases.
I am pointing to a systematic scheme to undermine democracy by treating commissioners and other officers of the House and other respected non-partisan members of the fabric and network of democracy in Canada of undermining them and their ability to scrutinize the government and to comment on the activities and actions of the government and the .
The decision to take the Chief Electoral Officer to court when that office discovered a possible systematic scheme of cheating the taxpayers of Canada through this in and out scandal is just one in that lineup of the undermining of our democracy here in Canada. It is certainly not something with which Canadians can be comfortable.
I am looking forward to having Elections Canada shed light on what actually happened and begin to stop this systematic scheme of suppressing, firing and forcing to resign, and specious lawsuits against anyone who has the courage to speak up about the activities of the and the Conservative government.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for .
I am pleased to join the debate today to reaffirm the full and complete confidence of the Bloc Québécois and, I hope, of this entire House, in the work of Elections Canada.
We know very well that our democratic system is recognized around the world for its transparency, its fairness and its integrity. This is why teams created by Elections Canada are often invited to supervise voting in other countries, the Ukraine and Haiti being two recent examples.
If Elections Canada’s expertise has become a touchstone internationally it is mainly because voting in Canada is conducted within a very strict legal framework that allows the different parties to compete on an equal basis during an election campaign. Generally speaking, everyone respects the legal framework, which allows us to hold elections that are fair and democratic.
Obviously, it happens that some candidates make mistakes, through error or ignorance of the law. That is why we have Elections Canada; to monitor the parties and candidates, to ensure that no one abuses or infringes the law.
To ensure democratic elections, the people at Elections Canada have to feel that they have the trust of Parliament, of the candidates and the voters. If that trust is broken, the quality of our democratic life is affected.
For several weeks now, the Conservatives, in particular the member for , have implied that Elections Canada is prejudiced against their party. As long as he was fantasizing, the member might also have said that Elections Canada is a nest of Liberals and horrible separatists. Why not go all the way?
Such remarks constitute an attack on the quality of democratic life. They create the impression that the agency has lost its independence. Allow me, Mr. Speaker, to record my disagreement in that respect.
What is happening right now is a beautiful example of the principle, “If you do not like the message, shoot the messenger.” In fact, since the election in the winter of 2005-06, the Conservatives have run out of ways to justify the things they did. The Conservative Party tried to get around the rules. They thought they were above the law and now they are clumsily trying to justify their actions. But there is no doubt in my mind about what happened.
The Commissioner of Canada Elections was doing his job when he refused to reimburse the expenses of 67 Conservative Party candidates, since the expenses were in violation of the Elections Act. Elections Canada maintains that the Conservative Party developed a system to surpass the authorized spending limits for a political party by having some candidates pay for national advertising.
Of the 67 candidates who allegedly helped their party surpass the authorized limit, several are from my region. In my riding of , one of my opponents was caught up in this shady affair.
An hon. member: Say it outside the House.
Ms. France Bonsant: I would be happy to.
My Conservative opponent, Gary Caldwell, said this week that he had trusted party leaders when he agreed to have money deposited in the local organization's account. Mr. Caldwell told the newspaper La Tribune that the money was supposed to be spent on local advertising, but that did not happen. He had the wisdom to return the money when he was informed by Elections Canada that this was illegal, and I can say that outside the House.
In , former candidate Jean Landry claimed that he spent $55,000 on his campaign and that Elections Canada refused to reimburse $26,000 for a local advertisement that went national.
Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Landry are not the only ones who have come out about what happened in their party, but some do not dare say anything. Some of the candidates who participated in this shady scheme are sitting here today in this House, including the member for and members from the Quebec City area. I was amused to learn on the weekend—