That, in the opinion of the House, the Conservative Party of Canada's “in and out” electoral financing scheme was an act of electoral fraud and represents an assault on the democratic principles upon which Parliament and our electoral system are based, and that, further, the House calls upon the Prime Minister to: (a) order the immediate repayment of any and all illegally obtained electoral rebates that were paid out to candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada as a result of the “in and out” fraud; and (b) remove all individuals facing charges for this fraud from any position of responsibility within Government or the Conservative Party of Canada.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from , who will be giving a very important speech on the character of the government and what the election spending scandal reveals about the character of the and other Conservative Party leaders.
The motion today does something very important. It allows the House to express itself on a matter which has been known as the in and out election scandal, but it goes further than that.
The motion invites the House to form an opinion that the totality of the evidence around this scheme and this scandal constitute electoral fraud. It calls on the , as head of the government, to order that any taxpayers' moneys obtained illegally as a result of this in and out election scandal be immediately reimbursed to the Receiver General. It calls for any taxpayers' money that was obtained illegally as a result of this scheme be reimbursed to the Canadian people. The motion calls on the Prime Minister to remove the individuals who are facing quasi-criminal charges as a result of a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to remove these individuals from positions of authority within the Conservative Party and within the campaign apparatus of the Prime Minister's party.
Many observers and many commentators have noted that the whole nature of the in and out election scheme is difficult for many Canadians to understand. It is largely a dispute around election spending legislation and the desire of the Conservative Party in the 2006 election to get around those spending limits. I am hoping in the few minutes I have that I might simplify for members of the House the basic essence of this scheme.
In 2006 the Conservative Party decided that it was going to hit the limit for national advertising and campaign spending, the limit set by legislation passed by the House, so it needed to develop a scheme to circumvent that spending limit and therefore attempt to get an unfair advantage over other parties that were following the election spending limits at the time. In essence, the Conservative Party decided at that point to break the law.
The Conservative Party transferred money from the national Conservative Party to 67 Conservative riding associations, the 67 that we know about and that Elections Canada has identified. The party transferred money. That in and out of itself is not the problem. Part of the government's great effort to confuse the public is to say the issue is about the transfers. The issue is not about the transfers. The Conservative Party can legitimately transfer money to those 67 ridings. What was illegal and illegitimate is what then followed.
Those ridings had to immediately transfer the money back to the national party. They had to sign a transfer order before they received the money. The party probably did not have enough confidence in its local riding associations not to try to keep the money. The party wanted it transferred back to the national campaign committee, and that group in Ottawa then had all of the decision-making authority over how that money would be spent. It was spent on advertising in different regional or national markets.
The party tried to pretend that somehow this was a decision of a particular Conservative candidate. For example, the riding of in Quebec was one that had received some of this money, transferred it back to the national party, and then effectively lost any decision-making authority over how the money was spent.
After the 2006 election the Chief Electoral Officer refused to approve the use of taxpayers' money for the reimbursement of these expenses. He made this determination after a careful audit and after careful interviews with candidates and official agents of the Conservative Party who admitted they had no idea where the advertising money was going to be spent. They had no say on how that money should be allocated. Based on those interviews and an extensive investigation, the Chief Electoral Officer determined that the Conservative Party should not be allowed to milk $800,000 of taxpayers' money as part of the electoral refund process for expenses which he determined were not legitimate.
The matter was then brought to the court by the Conservatives. In a desperate attempt to delay a finding of guilt, in an attempt to confuse the issue and probably in an attempt to desperately milk that $800,000 that they had promised to their local riding associations, the Conservatives said, “Do not panic. We will go to court”. That was a desperate act to try to cover up a very thorough and extensive investigation and decision by an independent authority of the House with the responsibility to administer the election system.
This is an important point, because the court has ruled that the Conservatives did not have the right to claim—since the election commissioner conducted an investigation—that what they did was legal.
However, last week, a panel of three Federal Court of Appeal judges unequivocally ruled that the Conservatives acted illegally. The only people who believe that the Conservatives did nothing wrong are the Conservatives themselves.
In the meantime, we have seen the Conservatives' true colours. They have repeatedly insulted Elections Canada and that agency's employees whose mandate, which comes from this House under the legislation, is to ensure fair election practices in Canada. Often when people are wrong regarding arguments of substance, they tend to insult others. That is what the Conservatives are doing.
The Conservatives had refused to hand over documents to Elections Canada. That is why the RCMP needed a search warrant, issued by a judge, to go into the Conservative Party headquarters to get the documents.
The rises in this House and says that the Conservatives have disclosed everything to Elections Canada and that the reason Elections Canada is aware of this practice is because the Conservatives came forward. It is odd that Elections Canada needed to ask a judge for a signed search warrant after evidence submitted under oath to that same judge established that the Conservatives had not disclosed certain things. What was found in that search? They found a series of falsified documents that the Conservatives had tried to hide. That is what convinced the Director of Public Prosecutions to lay these quasi-criminal charges against the Conservatives.
The result of this scheme is that the Conservatives tried to cheat in a national election by spending over the legal limit. They attempted to milk almost $1 million from taxpayers by refunds to which they were not entitled. This is not a decision only of Elections Canada, it is a decision of a unanimous three judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeal.
Four top Conservatives are now facing quasi-criminal charges, including the possibility of landing in jail or facing massive fines and the Conservative Party itself is also facing these charges.
The Conservatives pretended to campaign on accountability. It was a joke. In that very election they were engaging in an elaborate scheme to get around the limits.
In closing, the Conservatives inexcusably claim that this is an administrative dispute, an accounting misunderstanding. We could use that same argument to say that the likes of Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones were caught up in an accounting disagreement. The whole Enron affair in the United States was nothing more than an accounting dispute, a financial glitch.
There is no administrative prison. When someone faces quasi-criminal charges, it is because the Director of Public Prosecutions has determined that there is a great deal of evidence. That is the case for the Conservatives. There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that there was a strategy to get around the Canada Elections Act and steal an election.
One day, the government's lame excuses will be heard in court and these people will be judged.
Madam Speaker, my colleague provided a good explanation of the in and out financing scandal. I will show that this is a perfect example of the abuse of power by the , who believes he is above the law.
Government expects citizens to obey the law. Citizens should be able to expect government to obey the law as well. They should also expect political parties who want to form the government to obey the law, particularly in an election based on the need to increase transparency and accountability. I believe this goes right to the character and integrity of the and the Conservative Party of Canada.
Integrity means that one acts with principles. Accountability means that somebody is watching and that one will try to do one's best. However, this comes to an almost sociopathic or psychopathic end in that what is right is regarded as what one gets away with and what is wrong is what one is caught doing, and that when one gets caught doing something wrong, one says that everyone else is doing it.
Spending limits matter in the democracy in our country. The restrictions on party spending were put in place to limit the influence of money on the outcome of elections and to level the playing field. It was viewed as undemocratic that a party with the most money would win because of the money it was able to spend.
We are also concerned that throughout the Conservative's defence, the truth has been a serious victim. Even the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister had said that the Conservatives alerted Elections Canada to the in and out scheme. That is not true. An Elections Canada auditor noticed the unusual pattern of wire transfers and then a Conservative candidate and several campaign workers explained how the national party had instructed them in the in and out scheme. One of them called the transactions, “in and out”, and that is where this scandal got its name.
It is also extraordinary that when they were caught doing this, the Conservatives had the audacity to go to court to get their ill-gotten dollars back in spite of what we now understand. For example, in the books of the riding of Hull—Aylmer, it had $12,000 in its account at the beginning of the election, but after a transfer from the national party of $50,000 or so, it ended up with $36,000 at the end of the campaign. Clearly it was $24,000 better off with taxpayer dollars from a falsely obtained rebate.
It is also not true that other parties did the same thing. As my colleague said, there is only one party being charged with this. There was only one headquarters raided. There is a very big difference between this and the legitimate transfers to or from a riding association to central headquarters. That is fundamentally different from what happened here, where a party ended up being able to exceed a spending limit and ended up with taxpayer dollars in Conservative riding associations.
This is a party and for whom the end always justifies the means. If you or I were asked by the Canada Revenue Agency to show our books, then we would show our books. This party had to have its headquarters raided, from which sloppily forged invoices were found. The company in question, Retail Media, was able to say that those were not their invoices and that they were indeed forged.
I would like to set the context. This is a who never liked election spending limits and actually went as far as the Supreme Court as the president of the National Citizens Coalition to try to fight against limits on third party advertising in an election. I think this Prime Minister never really liked Elections Canada and saw them as a certain irritant in the way. Of course, he comes from a province where there are no spending limits.
Let us go back in time to November 28, 2005 when there was a vote of non-confidence in the House. From November 25 to January 23, there was a writ of 55 days long. That is 20 days longer than most writs. It seems that at that time the Liberals had a five to ten point lead in the polls and were in strong minority territory.
In mid-December, someone in Conservative Party noticed that they were actually close to the spending limit and thought, “Oh my word, what are we going to do?” Here, I want to take members to some dimly lit office here on the Hill with a Blofeld-like character, the evil genius and arch enemy of goodness, fairness and democratic principles, who came up with a big idea.
The idea was that the campaign would use and in and out scheme. Moreover, what if there were a big bonus of an extraordinary media buy and another big bonus of money actually ending up in poor riding associations? That was is in a campaign whose platform talked about standing up for accountability and banning secret donations to political candidates.
As the Ottawa Citizen said in its editorial on March 4:
Campaign spending rules are in place for a reason: to ensure a reasonably level "playing field" during a campaign. Because one candidate may not reach his or her limit doesn't mean the party should be able to overspend on the national campaign as a result.
....the Appeal Court ruled that “the Respondents' interpretation could weaken compliance with the limits set by Parliament on the amount of money that candidates can spend on their election and can recover by way of reimbursement of public funds. Abuses could well proliferate, and the statutory objective of promoting a healthy democracy through levelling the electoral playing field undermined.”
We know that the party and the must have known that not everyone thought this was in the rules. In fact, its previous candidate, David Marler, a lawyer who ran for the party in 2006, turned party officials down when asked to deposit money in his campaign account and almost immediately remove it for national advertising. About 66 other candidates agreed to the request, but not David Marler. As he stated:
It always seemed to me that the in-and-out was irregular and illegal.... It is gratifying to note that the Federal Court (of Appeal) has come to the same opinion, which always seemed to me to be obvious. I think they’re doing the right thing by prosecuting the alleged offenders.
Tom Flanagan has talked about the alleged ad laundering scheme, and many have indeed called this money laundering. In the Brandon Sun, Mia Rabson reported that:
Former Manitoba Conservative MP Inky Mark said his party was wrong to claim $1.3 million in national advertising expenses paid for by its local candidates in the 2006 election.
Mark spoke out immediately afterwards and said that “It smelled”. He recalled:
I asked what was the point.... It just didn't make any sense.
Mark said that he believes they asked him to accept about $8,000 but that:
From my point of view, if I took the money and pretended I spent it and then made a claim for it with Elections Canada, that's wrong.
I guess Conservatives thought it was a brilliant scheme and that Elections Canada was stupid, but they had the audacity to ask for the rebates back, which is evident when we see the books of the Conservative riding association in Hull—Aylmer.
The Conservatives would like Canadians to believe that it is just an accounting dispute. That is not true. Accountants are not usually accused of forging invoices or fleecing taxpayers of $800,000 by having Conservative ridings apply for rebates of inflated election expenses.
The Conservatives would like us to believe that this is a standard practice. That is not true. The Conservative Party is the only party facing such charges, the only party whose headquarters was searched by the RCMP, and the only party that left a trail of forged invoices that it must now explain.
What is also very telling in terms of character is to see the intimidation that took place, with the leadership calling people who had refused “idiots” and “turds”. There were emails between these riding associations, particularly the one in Oxford, where the campaign manager, a former police officer, felt uncomfortable doing this.
Liberals think that is an extraordinary testimony to the lack of character and it seems a little suspicious that one of the accused was tweeting last week that:
Anyone who thinks PMSH was that deeply involved in campaign is an idiot. Campaigns make millions of decisions in 35 days.
I think there are at least two “not”s missing in that. To go around calling people idiots just seems part of the game.
Madam Speaker, the reality is Conservative candidates spent Conservative funds on Conservative advertising. It is true that the national party transferred funds to those local candidates and that those local candidates purchased services from the national party. This is not only legal and ethical, it is common practice.
In the 2006 election, the Liberal Party of Canada transferred $1.7 million to its local candidates and in that same election those local candidates transferred $1.3 million back to the Liberal Party. This means Liberal riding associations moved $6.6 million in monetary and non-monetary transfers to Liberal candidates and invoiced $1.4 million in goods and services for those candidates to pay back. Not only does these transfer in happen from national parties, but it is in fact the case that the Liberal Party engaged in transfers out.
I do not say that to throw mud or besmirch reputations. The Liberal Party officials who made these transfers to local riding associations and the local riding associations that transferred the money right back, oftentimes the exact same amount on the exact same day, engaged in a legal and ethical practice for which I would not condemn them. They were fully within the law and clearly within the balance of ethics to which we all ought to adhere. That was the 2006 election.
In 2004 the Liberal Party made monetary transfers of $1.6 million to local candidates and its local candidates transferred $1.3 million back to the national party. In that election, the national party gave money to riding associations that probably did not have means of their own and those riding associations then purchased services from the central party, which is entirely a legal practice. As we can see from the enormity of the transfer, $1.6 million in and then $1.3 million out was not an exception, but it would be more accurately called the rule. It was widely practised over at least two elections by the Liberal Party. Those elections I refer to are 2004 and 2006.
The Liberal Party was not unique in engaging in the in and out transfers. The NDP transferred $884,000 to local candidates and those local candidates transferred back $545,000 to the central party. Roughly three-quarters of a million dollars went in and $500,000 went out with respect to the NDP in the 2006 election campaign.
In the 2004 campaign, just to show this was not a one-time practice for the NDP, the party transferred roughly half a million dollars to local candidates and those local candidates transferred back $385,000, about half a million dollars in and about $400,000 out. Again, this was not an isolated case, not an unusual practise, not an anomaly, but a systematic in and out effort exercised by the New Democratic Party.
May I emphasize for my colleagues in the NDP, for many of whom I have a great deal of respect, that when they made these in and out transfers on such a large scale, they did absolutely nothing wrong. There was nothing illegal, nothing unethical, just like the Conservative Party did absolutely nothing wrong when it made similar transactions.
The NDP and the Liberal Party did not engage in criminal activity when they made those in and out transfers. Their only crime is hypocrisy, and they are committing it today, not then.
That leaves the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc Québécois national party transferred $732,000 to its local candidates and local candidates transferred back $820,000 in that election. This is not only a practice that the party engaged in but one that it engaged in systematically, as we can tell by the enormity of the size of the transfers. It is impossible that this would have been just a on-off practice for the Bloc Québécois because those kinds of numbers would not be exercised through a single riding association. It would need to have involved at least dozens.
I have example after example of where members of literally every central party represented in this House of Commons transferred exact amounts to riding associations and those riding associations transferred those same exact amounts back to the central party, often on the very same day. This was widely practised, systematically undertaken by every political party in the House of Commons. I have a whole binder full of examples that I can share of where those in and out transfers occurred in other political parties.
Let us break down this debate into its component parts. Is it legal and ethical for a party to transfer funds to local candidates? Yes. That has never been a matter of dispute. Are local candidates allowed to purchase services from a central campaign? Yes. It happens literally every day. I imagine it probably has happened during the time that has transpired since I began my speech only moments ago, although I suspect it seems like a longer time to my friends on the other side.
Is it legal for local candidates to include national messages, national leaders, national party logos and names in their advertisements? Yes. That is not only common practice, it would be considered extremely unusual if a local candidate did not mention the party leader name and national message in his or her advertisements.
Therefore, if we take those three component parts of this controversy, and we all agree that they are completely legal, ethical and common practice, then we must conclude by those three steps that the ensemble of those three steps is also legal, ethical and commonplace. That is why we have taken Elections Canada to court. In one case, one court sided with the Conservative Party. In another case it was otherwise. However, we will continue to defend our position because it is legal, ethical and common practice among all political parties.
Given that the party followed all of the rules and conducted itself with the highest standard of ethics, I think what we are witnessing here, unfortunately, is the politics of personal destruction undertaken by the Liberal Party in this case. I think the Liberal Party can do better than that. All of us should be focused on the issues that matter to Canadians.
When I travel through the constituency of and I ask my constituents what issues are on their mind, they tell me that it is jobs, saving for the future, a plan to get rid of the deficit and efforts to keep prices reasonable for Canadian consumers. I say to my friends on the opposition benches that never did one of their slurs create a job, reduce unemployment, give a middle-class family the chance to save for its future, help reduce the deficit or keep prices reasonable for Canadian families.
What will do those things is our economic action plan, which has created 460,000 jobs. What will help families save is our tax free savings account, which has allowed five million Canadians to put aside money for their futures. What will help us lead the world out of deficit is the plan that we have that will balance our budget by 2015 and has so far kept our deficit to roughly a quarter or a third of the size of our American neighbours on a per capita basis. What will help with the global concern of rising prices is this government's and Prime Minister's decision to lower the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%.
On those issues, we are getting the job done for everyday Canadians, which is why the Canadian people support this government.
I would encourage my distinguished colleagues on all sides of this House to work with us in order to advance the cause of our economic action plan. We need to put aside small differences and focus on the big picture, the big picture being the jobs that Canadians need so that the 460,000 people who got the jobs can be met by hundreds of thousands more, which is our goal. These people will be able to come home at the end of the day, open the door proudly and tell their spouse or their children that they got the job and that they will be able to pay the bills. Their hopes and dreams will be possible. They will be able to afford to send their daughter or son to post-secondary education because they are working again. They will be able to have the retirement they dreamed about and worked for their entire lives because they will be able to put aside money and take advantage of the new tax free savings accounts. The mother of three children will be able to shop and provide food for the family because the prices are reasonable.
Those should be the goals of this House. We should be working with all parties, as we have through five successful budgets that we have managed to pass in a minority Parliament, to advance the kind of economic agenda that brings prosperity to the families that form the backbone of this country. That is the centre of this government's undertaking. We are committed to provide the stable and prosperous future that the Canadian people sent us here to deliver. We are leading in the world. We have unemployment lower than our competitors, hundreds of thousands of jobs being created and money being saved by families for their future. That is what we are elected to do and hat is what we will continue to do.
Madam Speaker, you have no idea how pleased I am to be speaking during today's opposition day. It will allow me to put the spotlight on some of the lines that the has been feeding us during question period for the past two weeks. I believe, as does my party, that the , through the parliamentary secretary, is completely misleading the House, and that is serious.
The Conservatives are trying to make the public and members here believe that the case involving the CEOC and the Conservative Party is simply an administrative dispute. They seem to be saying that they are disliked by the CEOC, that all of the other parties did the same thing and that, really, it is unfair that the CEOC is picking on the Conservative Party. They would even have us believe that the CEOC's actions are politically motivated.
Today's issue is very important. The topic that we are discussing today, the topic that the Liberal Party chose to raise on its opposition day, is the final outcome of the case that is currently before the courts. The Conservative Party will launch an appeal. It is a question of guaranteeing independence and following the established rules when running for election.
This is what the Conservatives did. It is clearly laid out in the ruling, which I took the time to read. The Conservatives deliberately transferred funds—in order to pay for a national ad—to ridings and candidates that had not reached their spending limits, as set out in the Canada Elections Act, or to candidates who were not likely to reach their limit. The member for , who had nearly reached his spending limit, received an invoice that differed from the others, to ensure that he would not exceed his limit.
Listening to the , we are left with the impression that he is completely shocked and that all these insinuations are futile. However, before proceeding with the investigation, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections already had their suspicions about the documents they had received to justify those expenses.
For the benefit of people watching, I would like to give a little background and explain what happened, so everyone understands. They took some money. They identified which ridings still had some spending room, namely, ridings in which the Conservative Party was unlikely to win, where less money was being spent. The campaign was almost over, they wanted to win and they did not have enough money to complete the national advertising campaign, so they took $1.5 million from 67 ridings. So those 67 Conservative candidates signed an agreement with their party, whereby the money would be given to the candidates, who would then turn around and give it back in order to pay the company that had been hired to create media placements and national advertising.
This is called cheating. The Conservative Party knowingly cheated in order to win. They knew what they were doing. That is serious. We do not encourage the Conservative Party to appeal this case, because it should respect the Federal Court of Appeal decision, acknowledge its offence and pay back what needs to be paid back.
When one is a candidate in a riding with little chance of winning, one might sign a letter because we tend to listen to our parties. It appears that these candidates signed a letter of agreement, but one person refused to sign it: the candidate in Brome—Missisquoi. He sensed that something was not right.
It must be said that this candidate was a knowledgeable lawyer capable of analyzing what he was asked to sign. He refused to sign. He even gave an account that was published in the papers last week, in which he stated that he knew it was a way to circumvent the Elections Act for improper purposes, and to win by cheating.
What is even more alarming is that there are ministers in the House who signed this letter and who went along with the in and out scheme. Today, they are caught up in the scandal. Conservative senators and organizers have also been charged by Elections Canada for breaking the law.
If we find ourselves debating the issue here, it is because, in question period, we are repeatedly given answers that make no sense and, above all, that mislead the House. It is often said the Conservative Party gets bad press abroad. I was really surprised to read what was published in France in Le Figaro about the matter we are examining today. It is worthwhile reading an excerpt to make our audience at home aware of the fact that this article is solely about the Conservative Party and the illegal acts carried out during the 2006 election campaign.
On March 2, 2011, Le Figaro, a major French newspaper, published an article that truly shows the negative image of Canada abroad.
Today the Canadian electoral authority formally charged the Prime Minister's Conservative Party and two senators from the governing party with fraud for allegedly concealing cost overruns during the 2006 election. The charges, laid at a time when many observers expect a spring election to be held, revolve around “a false or misleading statement” about the budget for the campaign that brought [the Conservatives] to power, writes Elections Canada in a press release.
According to this independent agency, the Conservative Party deliberately exceeded election spending limits—set at $18 million—by $1 million through an accounting scheme involving the right-wing party's local committees. The 2006 election is the one that put an end to the Liberal Party's reign and propelled [the Conservatives] into power.
That is what is being written in a newspaper in France. I will stop here because that is enough to see that the opposition parties understand that a scheme was used involving illegal activities. Analysts in France understand that as well. The Chief Electoral Officer understood that, as did the judge of the Federal Court of Appeal. There is only one party that does not understand the seriousness of its actions: the party being accused, in other words, the Conservative Party.
There were a number of indications. The Chief Electoral Officer heads an independent agency. He was selected by the current . The CEOC is serious and recognized for his expertise. This gives Quebeckers and Canadians the assurance that federal elections obey the rules, and it gives people the assurance that our democratic rules are valid and are being followed.
When the Chief Electoral Officer received documents from the Conservative candidates, he began to have his doubts. In the ruling we can see that the local media buys by the candidates were actually made by the national party and the costs transferred to the ridings.
However, he had a nagging suspicion that the interests of the party and those of the candidates engaging in the in and out transfers largely overlapped. Everything was calculated so that no candidate and no riding would exceed their spending limit. Adjustments were even made to ensure that the limits would not be exceeded, and they were such that the Chief Electoral Officer could prove it when he read all of the documents that were handed over.
I say that because the documents were handed over. However, I must point out that, in order for the Chief Electoral Officer to be able to investigate, the RCMP had to search Conservative Party offices and seize documents that the Chief Electoral Officer deemed necessary to carry out his investigation. He had reasonable grounds to suspect that he did not have everything he needed to continue with his investigation. Therefore, he used legal means since the Conservative Party refused to co-operate and answer his questions.
It seems that it was easy to prove from the documents that some very precise adjustments had been made to ensure that candidates were under their spending limit and transferred $1.5 million to pay an invoice for national advertisements.
It was also clear that there was a small problem with the transmission of the invoice. The Chief Electoral Officer asked a number of questions about the invoices, particularly those from the advertising company, because these invoices did not look like standard advertising invoices. So he asked questions and analyzed the invoices. During his investigation he questioned someone whose name escapes me, who was managing media placement for the company. This person said—I read it—that the invoices had been altered and that his company had not decided what to put in or how to present the invoices. Throughout the process, a number of witnesses indicated that the Conservatives knew that what they were doing was not entirely above board and that they had even made an effort to hide their illegal activities. Various witnesses corroborated that point.
When the appointed the Chief Electoral Officer, he surely had good reason to do so and he recognized his abilities. Today, they seem to be saying that the Chief Electoral Officer is not doing such a good job. Furthermore, they are even questioning the amount of taxpayers' money being spent on prosecuting the Conservative Party. That is what bothers me the most. They are challenging the fact that the head of an independent organization—which has the important mandate of guaranteeing that the process is democratic—is conducting an investigation and going to court to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Act. That is being questioned and it is very dangerous. They are beginning to criticize the person who has a very important position. They are insinuating that he has a political bias and that he targeted the Conservative Party outright while leaving the other parties alone. It is a very serious matter to plant such seeds of doubt in the minds of Canadians, and especially to call into question the money spent to prosecute the Conservative Party. The fact remains that a ruling has been handed down and it cannot be refuted. Illegal activities took place. The Conservatives should face the facts and agree to repay the amounts received by candidates.
They should admit that they made a mistake rather than continuing to fight the Chief Electoral Officer.
In our opinion, the Liberal Party of Canada set up some government programs to buy votes. There was the sponsorship program and the HRSDC transitional jobs fund, which allowed the Liberals to spend money in ridings held by political opponents and to sway voter sympathies. As we saw in Justice Gomery's report, which brought to light a complex system of kickbacks, the sponsorship program allowed the Liberals to add hundreds of thousands of dollars to its election spending.
The Conservatives have been caught at a different game. They decided to use what is known as the in and out scheme in order to circumvent the Election Act and spend more than the limit, in other words, to buy votes by cheating.
It is not difficult to see why Canadians do not understand why the Conservative Party is challenging the latest ruling and even trying to make us believe that the Chief Electoral Officer and the judge were off the mark and do not understand what transpired.
I would like to add that they went over their legal national campaign limit by $1.5 million. After two rulings, especially the last one, the Conservatives need to realize that the message could not be clearer. They should not take their appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. It is their right to do so, but the evidence is so clear that I truly hope they do not take that route.
To conclude, I would like to read an excerpt from an article by Ms. Cornellier of Le Devoir:
Phew, that was close! A Conservative victory would have meant a free-for-all in election campaigns. And perhaps as soon as this spring. All the parties could have assigned some of their national expenses to ridings where they already know they will not win and that spend far less than the legal limit. That would allow a party to offload some of its expenses and would give it the flexibility, on a national scale, to basically spend more than the legal limit. The only limit would be the party's bank account. National spending limits would become a joke, which would only hurt parties with less funding. And we all know which is the rich party these days.
We are clearly very happy with the Federal Court of Appeal's ruling. If a different ruling had been handed down, we would have had to question both the strength of our Elections Act and the idea that elections follow the rules and respect the institution.
The Bloc Québécois will support the motion that has been moved in the House today.
Madam Speaker, it is our intent to support the motion before us today. I say that because some may think it is rather obvious, but I also would be more comfortable with different wording. There were points of order made at the beginning about continuing to ensure that Canadians are innocent until found guilty, the presumption of innocence and so on.
Some of the wording says it was an act of electoral fraud. I am not a lawyer but that is a serious word to use and has implications for legal processes in courts. The motion would order the government to repay, although this is not a binding motion. Because I have spent many years in parliament and have the greatest respect for the place and all members, I want to put on the record that I am not 100% comfortable with the way the motion reads. However, at the end of the day it is an opposition motion. We need to ensure there is as much latitude as possible for opposition. It is the only opportunity for us to put matters before the House and command the time of the House, so we want to keep it very broad. It is a matter of accountability. The primary function of opposition members is to hold the government to account.
The motion is not legally binding. It is our opinion. If the government votes against it and all opposition members vote for it, we will have expressed our opinion on the matter. Since it goes no further than that, I can live with the language and certainly live with the intent. I love the intent, but I can live with the language given the reasons I have mentioned.
Having been in politics for so long, my heart goes out to and I have some sympathy for the . I served on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts with him for a number of years when I first came here and know him well. He is a very intelligent member of Parliament, very feisty and ready to do battle at the drop of a hat, yet he is still a backbench member, although clearly someone who is “18 with a bullet” as was said in the radio business.
He reminds me very much of the current who in the Ontario legislature was the parliamentary assistant to the minister of labour under the Mike Harris government. Provincially we call them parliamentary assistants and here they are parliamentary secretaries. The first thing the government did and continued to do for the eight years it was in power was go after the labour movement. There was the poor parliamentary assistant, a rookie MPP, having to stand and defend the draconian attack on the labour movement. I remember similar feelings watching the current government House leader perform. I thought he was a sharp, smart fellow who clearly was going somewhere in politics, but was given the impossible job of trying to defend the Harris agenda of attacking the labour movement.
He was the poor MPP who had to go to the labour conventions. I remember one in Windsor where he had to have a police escort to get him into the convention, to get him to the podium so he could speak. As a courtesy at conventions the labour movement traditionally gives the guest speakers one of the convention bags. The carried that bag around for years because as far as he was concerned he earned it with blood and rightly so. That was a tough moment and a tough gig.
I say that for the member for . Having to defend what is alleged to be illegal criminal activity on the part of a government, whose raison d'être is to go after the bad guys, is not an easy road to walk down no matter who one is. I offer up that sympathy.
On a personal level, if things continue to go that way, this is earning one's spurs, putting in one's time. If the example of the current government House leader is any example, then the member for hopefully will get many more opportunities to reflect on matters that have a lot more positiveness to them than this.
Along the way, the government has been scrambling to grapple with the message box and massaging it as things have changed along the way. I find it interesting that the parliamentary secretary said that all of, what he termed, the in and out transactions on the part of the three opposition parties were entirely legal, that there was no problem. The parliamentary secretary said that the only thing the opposition parties were guilty of was hypocrisy.
If I have been following the bouncing ball correctly, the government has maintained it did nothing different than the rest of us. In other words, the Conservatives have done nothing different than what the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP did. Yet the parliamentary secretary now says that what they did, and he is trying to say they did not do anything, is leave this one little gap, which is incredible thinking.
The gap is this. Elections Canada has an absolutely stellar reputation, not only with Canadians but all of us involved in politics and, quite frankly, internationally. The way we hold our elections, the rules we have, the non-partisan, professional arm's-length nature of Elections Canada is something we should be very proud of because we are lucky to have that. Ironically, if I understand correctly, the federal prosecutor was a creation of the current government.
What we are left with is Elections Canada, an internationally respected arm's-length parliamentary agency, and the federal prosecutor, who is too new to have that reputation. One would think the government at least believes it is a good idea to have one since it created the position. One would assume it supports the person and the work being done. The gap requires that, at best, Elections Canada and the federal prosecutor are wrong and, at worst, there is a conspiracy going on. There are a bunch of government bureaucrats running around trying to attack the government and bring it down.
The way they will do that is by manipulating the interpretation of the election laws and make it look like the sitting government defrauded the Canadian people. What a stupid plan that would be in this era of “H's” Canada. It goes after bureaucrats who are only doing their jobs. However, if a senior bureaucrat, who has been appointed by the government through and order-in-council, happens to damage the government, or its reputation or suggests it has done wrong, the government will chop off his or her head. That is what it does to bureaucrats who, in its mind, cross it.
Therefore, with all that, does any reasonable Canadian believe Elections Canada and the federal prosecutor have conspired together to create a false charge in the hope that, after all the court proceedings years down the road, would somehow be the undoing of the sitting government because the people at Elections Canada and at the federal prosecutor's office did not like the government? It makes no sense.
What does make sense is that all the transactions of the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP were legal, appropriate, accounted for and signed off by Elections Canada. When Elections Canada looked at the Conservative transactions, they were different.
One of my Liberal colleagues, the member for , spoke about the allegations of forged invoices. Some of this money was in bank accounts in less than an hour.
The truth, it would seem, is the Conservatives are in a lot of serious trouble. That is why I opened my remarks by commenting on the member for , who has this impossible task in question period and here today to try to defend this. If members will notice, there really was not much defence. There were a lot of points of order to try to get the member to speak to the motion, because he wanted to talk about everything but. Why? They do not have an excuse. They do not have a good defence. They got caught.
The other part of the motion speaks to senators, two of whom have been charged, stepping down while the charges are in place.
It is interesting. I think most of us would accept that if there were cabinet ministers, or even parliamentary secretaries, with this kind of cloud hanging over them, there would be pressure and I suspect they would step down. Every instance I have ever experienced, whether here or in the Ontario legislature, when a minister was charged with anything that was at all deemed serious, not a parking ticking but a very serious charge, he or she immediately stepped down to preserve his or her dignity. I have seen where the minister has never came back and I have seen where the minister has been exonerated and brought back to exactly the same position.
Senators, and it hurts me to say this, are members of the upper house. They are all honourable. They all get that title, which only cabinet ministers get. They have incredible power over there. It is highly appropriate that the majority of the House would call on senators, appointed or otherwise, to do the right thing, to do the honourable parliamentary thing, and at least step aside. We are not saying to give up the pay or anything else at this stage, but show the respect that not only the House and that place deserve but the respect that Canadian people deserve.
It speaks to how frustrating it is when we cannot hold senators to account. When we take a look at who is there, let us remember that the two senators who have been charged are both full-time senators, getting all the benefits, the pay and everything else. They have all but full-time jobs as Conservative Party operatives, which are nicely paid for by the Canadian people.
I want to take a moment to also remind members in this debate, and any Canadians who might be watching, just how partisan the and the government are in everything they do, especially when it comes to the supposed independent senators in that other place. I will not name names because that is not my issue. However, I will give the dates and give a little description of some of the people who the Prime Minister has put into what is supposed to be a non-partisan, independent sober second thought chamber.
On February 27, 2006, a Tory organizer was appointed to sit in cabinet as a Quebec representative. We all remember that. Do members remember when nobody would be appointed to the Senate who had not been elected? That was the first.
On January 2, 2009, a red letter day for a lot of lucky Canadians, a former director of the Progressive Conservative Fund, who chaired Tory leadership and policy conventions, was appointed.
On January 2, 2009, and this is one of the people charged, the Conservative national campaign director for the 2006 and 2008 elections was appointed to the Senate.
On January 2, 2009, a fundraiser and former chair of the Conservative Party fund, another person who has been charged, was appointed.
I want to mention a quote that senator said on the floor of the Senate on November 27, 2010. He said, “I want to tell you that I do not admit to being a bagman; I proclaim it”. He also said, “I love politics but never had the time to become a candidate”.
How many people watching this also love politics, but life gets in the way, the job, the kids, taking care of parents, earning money, all those little things that we little people in Canada have to think about? I am sure they would love a chance to be in that other place if all they had to do was show their love of politics but did not have the time to be a candidate. What arrogance.
I will give more on that big red letter day of January 2, 2009. These folks had a great 2009.
A former Conservative MP, who was defeated in the 2008 election, was appointed to the Senate. That MP was elected to this place, the people did not like the job the member did, was fired, but is now back in a law-making seat, having been put in through an appointment. That is independent, sober second thought all right.
On January 2, 2009, another unsuccessful Conservative in the 2008 election was appointed. It appears that an individual gets two shots when a Conservative candidate, one through the legitimate way, through that door, and then the other way, through the back door down the hall.
More were appointed on January 2, 2009. That was a record-setting day. Never have so many senators been appointed on one day. I stand to be corrected, but I do think that was the date. The current has the title. Another individual appointed on that date was a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister from New Brunswick.
On January 2, 2009, another unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the 2006 election became a senator and won the greatest lottery in the world, where it is not only cash for life but the individual can make the laws of the country. What a deal. All people have to do is know the really well.
I will mention just a couple more because I like to do it.
On January 8, an unsuccessful Canadian Alliance candidate in 2000 made it to the gilded cage.
On January 14, 2009, another former Progressive Conservative MP was appointed.
August 27, 2009, another unsuccessful Conservative in the 2008 election was appointed to the other place. The former president of the Conservative Party was appointed on that day as were the Quebec co-chair of the leadership campaign and the Prime Minister's former press secretary. The list goes on. It is so depressing.
Let me turn now to this whole issue of—
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
A worrying trend has emerged in Ottawa. There is a gradual and unprecedented undermining of our electoral and parliamentary processes. The current Conservative government's slow, insidious assault on our democracy is lowering the bar on the time-honoured way that politics is done in Canada. This is being accomplished by overriding and circumventing the rules of fair play and accountability, and slowly, bit by bit, changing the standards and expectations of our democracy.
This process is not unlike the cautionary tale of the frog placed in a pot of water sitting on the stove top. The hapless frog does not notice the slow incremental rise in temperature of the water until it is much too late. The result is inevitable. The frog gets cooked.
Canada's very identity is tied to our democratic form of electing representatives, our form of government and the role of Parliament in representing citizens. This has been the result of a centuries long and determined struggle by many people.
Our democratic principles of openness and accountability, of civility and fair play have made us who and what we are as a country. Over time these have made Canada the envy of the world, an inclusive, prosperous and peaceful nation where we recognize the fairness of basic rights and equality of all Canadians regardless of their worldwide origins.
The Conservative government's pattern of deceit gnaws at democracy's edges. A minister wrongly blamed bureaucrats for her decision to cut funding to the church-backed charity KAIROS, doctoring documents and misleading the House of Commons. The prorogued Parliament to hide information on Afghan detainee torture. Cabinet ministers have refused to reveal how many billions of taxpayer dollars will be needed to pay for their crime bills and their prison expansion plans. Civil servants are muzzled. Independent officers of Parliament are fired when they disagree with government ideology. NGOs are punished. Now, top Conservative officials are facing criminal charges for election fraud in the 2006 campaign.
Each of those examples is important, but the pattern as a whole of the undermining of democracy is what I am most concerned about.
The members of this institution over time have a long history of fighting for what is right. That is what I was elected by the citizens of Vancouver Quadra to do. I hope that is what the members opposite were elected to do, to fight for what is right, to protect others, to protect the environment. I think of: David Anderson and the Species at Risk Act; Judy LaMarsh, the first Liberal woman cabinet minister, who fought for women's equality; MPs who fought for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, health care, pensions, seniors, children, poverty.
What we have here, and what is so egregious, is Conservative members and ministers are fighting to defend what is wrong. They are fighting to defend their abuse of power day after day after day. This in and out election fraud is wrong. It may be proven to be illegal. If the Director of Public Prosecutions is filing charges, that means there is a substantial chance of conviction.
What is being alleged? I would say it is $2 million in pure electoral fraud: $1.2 million in spending over the legal limit, that is $1.2 million in illegal advertising by the Conservative Party in the 2006 election; forging fake invoices to cover the tracks; and then another fraudulent acquisition of $800,000 in ill-gotten gains by bilking taxpayers.
For me the term “money laundering”, another dirty, illegal activity, comes to mind. What is money laundering? One, it is placement, cash introduced into a financial system, illicit cash. That would be the $1.2 million. Two, it is layering, such as, complex transactions to camouflage the illegal source. That would be the doctored invoices and the ridings being asked to be complicit in this. Three, it is integration, acquiring wealth generated by the transaction of the illicit funds. That would be the $800,000 to be paid by taxpayers back to those ridings. This sure smells a lot like money laundering.
In British Columbia there are a number of MPs and executive council who are implicit in this, including the and the former government whip. Seventy ridings were implicated, a dozen in British Columbia alone. This is a critical issue at the heart of our democracy.
I want to talk about what may seem like a sidetrack and that is Darwin's theory of evolution. It is no longer a theory. There is no scientific refuting of this understanding of species evolution. One of the understandings is that individuals in a species co-operate and they also compete. They compete within their group, but if they do not co-operate enough, then their group will lose in the competition to another group. Whether it is dictyostelium amoebae, ants, wolves or humans, we all compete and co-operate.
What stops us from competing or undermining those in our own group to the detriment of the group and our evolutionary survival? It could be called a “cheater detection system”, which is exactly what we are talking about with all of these abuses of power of the Conservative government. It is cheating and undermining the cheater detection systems of our parliamentary and electoral processes. The direction in which Canada is going under the government is bad for Canadians. I will give a few examples.
Not only are the Conservatives systematically cheating and breaking the law, we have a who is alleged to have bribed a dying MP or had been implicit in bribing a dying MP for his vote. The immigration minister was recently caught having developed a strategy on fundraising for targeting ethnic Canadians through his ministry, through public funds. We have ministers who have signed-off on multi-million dollar--
Mr. Speaker, with regard to that point of order, I clearly used the word “alleged”. There were allegations and they are in print.
Not only is the government systematically cheating, or alleged to be cheating, it is also undermining the cheater detector systems that have been built into our democracy that are part of the fabric and character of Canada.
There is a list of examples and I will give just a few.
Peter Tinsley, the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, had his tenure ended over the Afghan detainee controversy. His office is a cheater detector system and he was calling out the government.
Robert Marleau, Information Commissioner, eventually resigned because of government blockage of relevant documents regarding the public interest. The government's systematic secrecy around documents is also undermining an important cheater detection system, which is the transparency of information.
Dr. Arthur Carty, National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, was dismissed after advocating for an evidentiary science policy. A scientific basis for decision-making is a good cheater detection and the government does not like it.
As the official opposition, we use every parliamentary tool available to stop these abuses of power, these offences, and to raise the alarm. The Conservatives' secrecy, deceit and excessive control will only breed cynicism and apathy in the public, corroding Canada's national sense of civility and civil engagement.
An eight-year-old constituent came to Parliament to meet me and he was in awe of Parliament and our institutions. We need to protect and maintain them for his generation.
Like the hapless frog sitting in the pot of ever-hotter water, the results of inattention or passivity toward the health of Canada's democracy and the government's abuses will be very hard to undo. Fortunately, Canadians are beginning to notice: prorogation, cut to the census, information secrecy, KAIROS and now the in-and-out scam, alleged election fraud.
Thankfully, Canadians are feeling the heat and that is important because the very character of Canada is at stake.
Mr. Speaker, nothing is more fundamental to democracy than the independence of parliamentary institutions, having oversight and ensuring that our system has rules that are followed and adhered to.
In the time I have allotted I will talk about the in and out scandal and why it is such a concern, but moreover, why we as parliamentarians have to be deeply concerned about the trajectory, not just of this issue but of others, and its implications on democracy.
The in and out scandal is, at its base, an attempt to break election laws, laws that were put in place to ensure during a campaign every party was on equal footing, every party had limits and every party was allowed to spend a certain amount.
For one party to be able to break those rules to the tune of $1.2 million and to be able to go out and buy all kinds of additional ads and have resources that other parties are not afforded is not just wrong but, frankly, it amounts to electoral fraud, which means that the electoral process we had was uneven because one party was conferred an unfair advantage.
If we were to allow that to stand, if we accept the Conservative argument that this is just an administrative issue and we should not worry about it, what precedent would that establish? What message does that send?
If the people who make the laws flaunt the laws and if the people who make the laws say that no one really needs to follow the laws if they can find clever ways around them, how can we possibly have a strong democracy?
The Conservatives say that this is an issue faced by everybody. Only one party had its national campaign headquarters raided by the RCMP. Only one party had charges brought against senior organizers and senators in its party. Only one party has a paper trail of doctored documents to try break election laws. That party is the Conservative Party of Canada. Therefore, to suggest that everybody does it does not pass as anything more than empty rhetoric.
More than that, even after being caught, charged, taken to court by Elections Canada and the court tossing out the Conservatives' arguments saying that they were bogus and ridiculous, the Conservatives still stand in defiance. They still refuse to own up to what they have done or to acknowledge that what they did in the past was wrong. They refuse to own up to their error and to say that they never should have done it. Instead, they try to brush it off as unimportant.
I think it sends a terrible message and establishes an awful precedent. However, it is part of a bigger trend.
Recently a minister was charged with allegedly doctoring documents to make it look as though department officials were the ones who made the decision to cut funding to KAIROS when, in fact, those bureaucrats had done exactly the opposite. That minister was in committee and in the House and made comments that she did not know who altered the documents. She clearly misled Parliament because later she came back and said that she did know. For that, we are told that the minister is courageous and that the minister is a strong minister who we should all applaud for the work she is doing, even though the will not even allow her to respond to the questions that we pose.
Much bigger than that, though, is the trend that the government has of going after independent voices, voices that speak out and demand change. It started with Linda Keen. Linda Keen was the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission who stood and said that the government was wrong in how it was handling radioactive isotopes that are critical in diagnosing cancer. However, because she spoke out and took an opinion, she was fired.
It continued with Paul Kennedy, the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner who said that what was happening in the RCMP was wrong, that it needed to change, that there were important recommendations, from Iacobucci to O'Connor to the public safety committee, that were left unimplemented and that, without those changes, we would have other problems, either with tasers or with people who suffered like Maher Arar and Mr. El Maati, Mr. Nureddin or Mr. Almalki.
Mr. Speaker, I would argue that what I am talking about is fundamental to the motion we are dealing with today. Let us consider the fact that this is not an isolated, one-off instance. If it were to be held out as a mistake, a one-off occasion that could easily be explained as one error, that would be one thing. However, it is part of a broader trend.
At stake in the House are the very institutions that ensure that our democracy is kept viable and strong, that we have strong independent oversight, that agencies like Elections Canada are able to set and enforce rules to make sure that fairness is maintained and that our system of democracy is kept healthy. There could be nothing more germane than going over examples of the government attacking those institutions as part of a broader pattern.
Mr. Kennedy, for talking about the changes needed at the RCMP, was let go. He did not want to go but was let go. We have not heard a word from his replacement in over a year, someone who has disappeared into the ether, a former Conservative fundraiser with no experience with the national police force and who is doing his job by not saying a thing or demanding changes.
Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada, who refused to have words put into his mouth to the effect that he supported the idea of ending the long form census when he had thought no such thing, was effectively forced out of his job because he would not buy the government's talking lines.
And the following were fired as well: Colonel Pat Stogran, the Veterans Ombudsman; Peter Tinsley, the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission; Richard Colvin; and Steve Sullivan, who said that the government's plan for victims was unbalanced and would not work. Marty Cheliak, head of the Canadian firearms program, was also fired. And there is Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Consider the pattern. When looking at Elections Canada and the way the rules are being flaunted, not followed and essentially waived off as insignificant, we see that it is part of a trend and pattern that must be arrested and expunged.
Here are the fundamental questions. What if we let this stand? What if we allowed these attacks on the independent institutions that oversee Parliament to stand? What if we put a stamp of approval on them? What if Canadians do not stand up and challenge them? What is to stop a future prime minister from going the next steps and eliminating all of the lights that shine in dark corners and give us insight into what is happening, that ensure that when Canadians are making decisions in elections they are doing so with facts, and that when Parliament is making a decision in the House, it is doing so with accurate and viable information?
If we do not fight to protect the laws that are put in place by agencies like Elections Canada, then we will watch everything fall like a row of dominos. When we stand in the House and are forced to vote on bills that have no costing and no information provided, we are already seeing those dominos falling. When we see the independent officers of Parliament, one after the other, being knocked out and replaced with people who refuse to speak out, who refuse to do anything but carry the government talking points, we are walking into a situation that we cannot get back from.
This motion is about the in and out scandal, but it is about much more. It is about protecting the institutions that maintain strong and healthy democracies, and we have to take a stand.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
Hon. colleagues of mine on this side of the House have spoken previously about the fact this motion is regrettable in several important ways. It is clearly a partisan attempt to play politics and games and to mislead with mistruths. It prejudices the outcome of a long-standing dispute and honest difference of opinion between the Conservative Party and Elections Canada officials. I would like to speak to the actions of those officials and to the strong laws that govern election financing in this country.
The Canada Elections Act outlines the clear rules of the game, so to speak. These are the envy of other countries, as they help protect the integrity of our system.
When our government took office in 2006, we introduced the Federal Accountability Act, which further strengthened the rules surrounding the financing of political entities. These changes took big money out of federal politics. They are what Canadians expect and deserve.
What is at issue in the matter currently before us, and soon, we hope, back in court, is whether certain expenses should be counted as local or national. On this point there is an honest difference of opinion. The Canada Elections Act restricts the sources of money that political parties and candidates can use. The main source of revenue of registered parties and candidates is usually the contributions they receive from their supporters. Other sources of revenue include the partial reimbursement of electoral expenses that political parties and candidates receive following an election; the quarterly allowances that are given to political parties, which are calculated on the basis of the number of votes the parties received in the last election; and strictly regulated transfers received from entities of the same political family.
Since the coming into force of the Federal Accountability Act, unions and corporations have not been allowed to contribute to political parties and candidates any more. And certainly, someone cannot make contributions in any calendar year in excess of $1,100 to a registered political party. The same amount can be given in any calendar year to a registered association or to a candidate supported by a registered party.
Elections Canada publishes on its website all of the returns it receives from registered parties and candidates. This is a bid to make the system transparent and fair. We support that. We have said so repeatedly, and our actions in that regard speak volumes, which make the actions of certain Elections Canada officials in their treatment of this matter all the more curious.
It would appear that Elections Canada told the media details of the investigation into this matter, something that is highly unusual for any federal agency. Emails obtained under access to information showed that Elections Canada officials were totally preoccupied with the leak.
However, at committee, Mr. Marc Mayrand of Elections Canada was less than forthcoming about who conducted the internal review into this alleged leak. He later admitted that he had been mainly responsible for conducting the review, and he had to correct the record when he was asked how many people knew in advance that the police investigation was entering a new phase. At first he said three. Later he said five. The fact is that Elections Canada conducted an investigation of itself in connection with this alleged leak.
Elections Canada has been very vigorous in investigating our party. Elections Canada certainly should not let the Conservative Party investigate itself, but why would Elections Canada and Mr. Mayrand think that it is appropriate that they personally investigate themselves? In the interests of time, I will leave that question before the House, except to say there are questions in parliamentarians' purview that have never been answered clearly to this day.
To quote the Ottawa Citizen columnist, John Robson:
The more I watch this stuff...the more convinced I am that if there's a scandal here, it doesn't involve the Tories.
Canada is a country where the rule of law prevails and where the presumption of innocence is guaranteed. People have the right to fair and equitable processes and will make the appropriate representations before the court, not before the House. It would not be appropriate to discuss the facts of this case further. The House cannot substitute itself for the judicial system in making the determination the motion seeks to make.
I therefore urge all hon. members of the House to oppose the motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate.
First and foremost, when discussing and debating this motion, we have to address the overarching issue which is that the motion is in direct contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Earlier today I asked to have a ruling made before the vote on the motion takes place because it is serious. The Liberal opposition day motion calls upon Parliament to rule on a finding of innocence or guilt on an issue that is currently before the courts. That is not only inappropriate and unprecedented but it is extremely troubling.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms details in its doctrines the presumption of innocence for all Canadian citizens and that presumption of innocence is being violated today by the very motion that we are debating.
The opposition motion, if approved, would in effect be casting judgment on four individuals and a political party currently before the courts of this land in a dispute with Elections Canada. What right does this chamber have to act as judge and jury in a case that is before the courts of our land? What has become of democracy?
What has become of the respect for the rule of law if Parliament can now usurp the rights of individuals who wish to argue their case, to prove their innocence in a court of law? Why does the House now, apparently, have the right to discuss whether or not these individuals should be found innocent or guilty?
If the House votes in favour of the motion, and if the Speaker rules that the motion is in order, I have grave concerns that the decision today will have major ramifications on Canadians for generations to come. I am not overstating when I say that because how can we allow parliamentarians, who are law-makers, to act as judge and jury in any dispute? It is absolutely critical that the motion be defeated based on that reason.
If the opposition had chosen to rephrase its motion and either chastise the government, or condemn the government, or even bring forward a motion of non-confidence in the government for actions which it felt were inappropriate or perhaps even against the law, that would be acceptable. I would certainly argue against the motion, but I would not take issue with the fact that the opposition had a perfect right to bring forward that material and the motion before this place. But, that is not what the opposition has chosen to do. It is implicit in the motion that four individuals will be found guilty of an offence and that the Conservative Party of Canada will be found guilty of the offence based on the opposition's interpretation.
Regardless of what the courts of this land have to say in the matter, the Liberal opposition suggests that it and Parliament have the right to determine guilt or innocence instead of the courts. We simply cannot allow that to happen under any circumstances.
I mentioned earlier today that we have many lawyers in this place and if they were being honest with themselves and honest to all parliamentarians, they would be the first ones to admit that today's motion may be the start of a very slippery slope when it comes to the interference of parliamentarians with the courts. That is why we have courts of law. That is why we have judges whose job it is to examine evidence, rule on evidence and to ultimately be the arbiters of guilt or innocence in any dispute. It is not the role nor the right of Parliament to make those decisions. We create laws. That is what we are charged with doing. We are not there to interpret or administer the law. That is the role of the courts.
For years the Liberals consistently purported themselves to be the champions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One of the current members of this place, the hon. member for , has a long family history with the charter because it was his father who introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Parliament many years ago. Since that time, I can recall in debate after debate the members of the Liberal Party standing in their places and saying they are the defenders of the charter, that it is the only party in Canada that defends the charter vigorously.
Earlier today we heard comments from the member for referring to Conservative members as former Reform and Alliance members who have a complete disregard for the charter. Who has disregard for the charter now? Who has disregard for it when we see a motion from the Liberal opposition that, in effect, suggests we should ignore the charter and the presumption of innocence and simply make a decision based on partisan interests to determine the innocence or guilt of individuals and entities? It is completely unacceptable.
In debate today we have heard members opposite suggest that the Conservative Party was acting independently of Elections Canada and was the only party that has been in contravention of election laws. That is absolutely not true. In fact, there is documented evidence that every party in this place, every member whose party represents constituents and taxpayers, engaged in similar actions for two consecutive elections until Elections Canada came up with a new interpretation of the law. To suggest that the Conservative Party was the only party engaged in this activity is absolutely wrong and misleading.
However, that is not the primary issue. The primary issue is that the motion today is an affront to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of this land. It should be dismissed and should be defeated. Anything less would be a total affront to democracy.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
We all remember those ubiquitous Conservative commercials when the then leader of the opposition, now the , was shown in a mock interview. It is remarkable because it is one of the last times he would ever speak openly to the media, but also because of what was said. In the commercial, a scripted actress questioned the . She said, “It's like you get to Ottawa and no one can touch you. How will you change that?” The reply, “You change the people in charge, but you also change the system. The first thing I will do is pass the Federal Accountability Act. It is a real plan to clean up government”. We know how that turned out.
Those commercials seemed to run day in and day out. There they were, they played over and over again, blasting away at the government of the day, much like we see the commercials blasting today, a misuse of public money, may I add. The Conservatives told Canadians, “We're the good guys. We're whistle clean. We ooze honesty. Vote us in and not a single penny of public money will go offside”. We know how that turned out too.
There is a reason why those commercials ran day in and day out. It is because the Conservatives cheated. They spent $1 million more than they were legally permitted to do. There is no other way of looking at it than calling it what it is; it is cheating.
The Conservatives do not see it that way. They call it an administrative disagreement. That may have held water if the Federal Court of Appeal had not unanimously ruled against their argument. Their excuses may be believable if the Office of the Federal Director of Public Prosecution had not charged the architects of the plot and called their actions illegal activity.
While the Conservatives were cheating the system, they ran on a message and on a platform of accountability, transparency, all those great words they use. From the Conservative election platform book called “Stand up for Canada”, the stated, “Only one party can deliver the change of government that is needed to bring political accountability to Ottawa”.
At the very same time that document was being printed, Conservative officials in Ottawa were shaking down candidates and their official agents all across the country.
Liberato Martelli, a 2006 Conservative candidate for Bourassa, stated, “I was told it would be deposited and quickly withdrawn”. It sounds like in and out to me. He said:
I was told there would be invoices but I never saw them...When I joined that party, I believed its vision at the time...I came to the realization they don’t have as much integrity as they claim”.
Joe Goudie, a 2006 Conservative candidate for Labrador was one of those called. He stated:
It most certainly did smell to me… for a national party, or any kind of a political party to benefit in what I perceived to be an underhanded manner, using not just my campaign but many others across the country, left me with a feeling of being used.
Now let us not lose sight of the timeline. This scheme to overspend and effectively cheat is going on at the precise time that the Conservatives are running a campaign on the theme of accountability, transparency and integrity. How incredulous is that?
This is important, not just for its perfect irony, but for the fact that their entire argument for power was a sham. It was a scam and a scandal, and it is a scandal today.
Remember the 's own words, “The first thing I will do is pass the Federal Accountability Act. It is a real plan to clean up government”. Here we are, five years later, scandal after scandal with the Conservatives.
Ministers have refused to provide Parliament and its officers with documents and information needed to perform our jobs properly, to function within our jobs. An admitted to altering documents, but refused to stand and be accountable to Parliament and to answer questions in Parliament.
An integrity commissioner sat on her hands. She colluded with the Prime Minister's Office and then was given a half-million dollar golden parachute, a golden handshake. She was then called out after reviewing only seven cases. Now there is a gag order on her as well.
Also, the Prime Minister's Office has exercised unprecedented control over the non-partisan and professional bureaucracy.
The believes he is the modern-day Sun King, declaring that the Government of Canada must be referenced in his name, “the Harper government”.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on government advertising—
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on government advertising used for partisan promotion. Appointments of Conservative cronies have been made to boards, agencies, commissions and especially the Senate.
We have had the smearing and the sacking of agency heads, ombudsmen, whistleblowers, or anyone who would shed some light on Conservative wrongdoing. The Conservatives silence dissent.
It has been one scandal after another and it has to be as exhausting for the Conservatives as it is for us. It is no wonder the government's legislative agenda is so light. It is constantly fighting new scandals and cannot concentrate on the demands of governing.
We are over here begging for accountability, begging for the truth and all we get are silenced ministers, staffers being thrown under the bus, or excuses being made for their behaviour.
We have heard Conservatives say today, and they would want us to believe this, that, “everybody does this”. That is false. Conservatives are the only party facing charges. It is the only party that had its headquarters raided by the RCMP. It is the only party with a paper trail of fake invoices to be explained. The Conservatives could not even spell the word “invoice” correctly for goodness sake.
We did not cheat and overspend in an election campaign. We did not forge documents to claim unqualified expenses. The Conservatives did. They are the ones who need to answer for these actions.
Conservatives are desperately trying to downplay this as an administrative issue, which would be laughable if it were not so absurd, or that Elections Canada is targeting them for some sort of vendetta. We all know that no one holds a grudge like Elections Canada for goodness sakes. Earlier today, the Conservatives tried an arcane procedural argument to argue that Parliament did not have the right to debate this issue at all.
As today is International Women's Day, I am reminded of a famous message that mothers around the world use day in and day out to their children, “It's easier to tell the truth and take responsibility than continue to hide. The truth will always come out in the end”.
The motion we are debating today provides the opportunity for the House to declare, after five years since this scheme was committed, with all the evidence and testimony that has been delivered, that the scheme was electoral fraud. It calls for the Conservatives to order all tax money obtained illegally to be returned immediately to the people of Canada. It calls on the individuals charged in this crime to be fired.
These demands are simple and reasonable and they are what Canadians expect. They should not be forced by the House to be executed.
Mr. Speaker, I hasten to support the hon. member for because, indeed, the electoral financing transfer scheme used by the Conservative Party of Canada constitutes electoral fraud and represents an assault on the democratic principles upon which Parliament and our electoral system are based. At the end of February, the Commissioner of Canada Elections filed four electoral fraud charges against the Conservative Party and four of the senior directors of its electoral fund, Conservative Fund Canada, including two senators. All were charged with knowingly violating the Canada Elections Act during the 2006 election.
The first charge is against Conservative Fund Canada, Senator Finley, Senator Gerstein, Michael Donison and Susan J. Kehoe and reads:
Between November 1st, 2005 and January 23rd, 2006, in the City of Ottawa, in the Province of Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, did wilfully incur election expenses in relation to the 39th federal general election that exceeded the maximum of $18, 278, 278.64 for the Conservative Party of Canada, contrary to Section 423 (1) of the Canada Elections Act and did thereby commit an offence punishable on summary conviction contrary to Sections 497 (3) (g) and 500 (5) (a) of the said Act.
The second charge is against the Conservative Party of Canada and reads:
Between November 1st, 2005 and January 23rd, 2006, in the City of Ottawa, in the Province of Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, being a registered party whose chief agent, the Conservative Fund Canada, did wilfully incur election expenses in relation to the 39th federal general election that exceeded the maximum of $18,278,278.64 for the Conservative Party of Canada, contrary to Sections 423(1) and 497(3)(g) of the Canada Elections Act is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction contrary to Section 507 of the said Act.
The third charge is against Conservative Fund Canada and Irving Gerstein and reads:
Between January 23rd, 2006 and December 18th, 2006, in the City of Ottawa, in the Province of Ontario, did provide the Chief Electoral Officer with a return on the general election expenses of the Conservative Party of Canada, in relation to the 39th federal general election, that they knew or ought reasonably to have known contained a materially false or misleading statement, namely that all election expenses in respect of the 39th federal general election had been properly recorded, contrary to Section 431(a) of the Canada Elections Act and did thereby commit an offence punishable on summary conviction contrary to Sections 497(3)(m)(ii) and 500(5)(a) of the said Act.
I want to point out that the party being named in these charges is the same party that claimed, in 2006, that it wanted to amend the Canada Elections Act in order to improve the integrity of the electoral process and instill complete confidence in the Canadian public. That is not what I call leading by example.
The fourth charge is against the Conservative Party of Canada:
Between January 23rd, 2006 and December 18th, 2006, in the City of Ottawa, in the Province of Ontario, being a registered party whose chief agent, the Conservative Fund Canada, did provide the Chief Electoral Officer with a return on its general election expenses, in relation to the 39th federal general election, that the Conservative Fund Canada knew or ought reasonably to have known contained a materially false or misleading statement, namely that all election expenses in respect of the 39th federal general election had been properly recorded, contrary to sections 431(a) and 497(3)(m)(ii) of the Canada Elections Act is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction contrary to section 507 of the said Act.
How can the Prime Minister claim that this is a difference of opinion? These charges clearly indicate that it is a question of bogus invoices, misleading statements made to Elections Canada and deliberate overspending. These offences could result in a $5,000 fine, five years in prison, or both.
This in and out scheme shows the Conservatives for what they truly are. They can talk all they like about an administrative dispute between their party and Elections Canada, but the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously sided with Elections Canada, which alleges that the Conservative Party deliberately spent more than the national campaign limit by having 67 candidates pay some of the party's advertising costs, to the tune of $1.3 million.
This is how the Conservative scheme worked. After the Conservative Party reached its $18.3 million spending limit, it decided to transfer $1.3 million to 67 ridings that had not reached their $80,000 limit. The ridings returned the same amount, claiming that the money had been used for local ads. The ads, however, were exactly the same as the national ones. The riding associations had no control over these transfers.
The can try to dismiss the facts and maintain that the matter is an administrative dispute, but it will be hard to fight the charges when so many candidates are now coming forward to tell their stories.
Inky Mark, who resigned his Manitoba seat last year, said that his staff was contacted by party officials during the 2006 election campaign. He said that Conservative Party officials asked if they could deposit several thousand dollars into his campaign account and withdraw it later to buy advertising. It did not make sense to him, so he refused.
Mark's former campaign manager said she recalls being asked to receive money and then have the funds withdrawn quickly afterward. She remembers the issue because it sounded similar to a case involving a Conservative cabinet minister from Manitoba who had to plead guilty and was convicted of electoral overspending.
Also, the independent Conservative MP for , who was turfed from the Conservative caucus last year, said her campaign was approached and she rejected the plan.
There is also David Marler, a candidate in the Brome—Missisquoi riding in the Eastern Townships. In an interview with La Presse, he explained why he refused to sign a form in December 2006: the document would have authorized Conservative Party officials to transfer money to his account and then take it right back out again. David Marler declined the offer when an organizer was unable to explain to him the reason and purpose of this transaction. As a lawyer, he understood right away that this scheme was illegal.
The Conservative Party's behaviour during the 2005-06 election campaign, when it claimed to be the champion of public ethics, does not fall into the category of an administrative dispute but, rather, that of hypocrisy and abuse of power. The Conservative Party used a shell game to give the impression that it had complied with the national spending limit. The national organization distributed some $1.3 million to 67 candidates who were below their campaign spending limits.
The Conservatives can try to downplay what they did, but Canadians are well aware of their fraudulent tactics. The Canada Elections Act applies to all political parties. Creating a level playing field for everyone serves to promote a healthy democracy. There is no point in imposing a spending limit on political parties if they can circumvent that limit by moving money around to their local organizations.
The Prime Minister must order the immediate repayment of any and all illegally obtained electoral rebates that were paid out to candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada as a result of the in and out fraud and must remove all individuals facing charges for this fraud from any position of responsibility within government or the Conservative Party of Canada. The issue here is the integrity of the electoral process and thus of Canadian democracy.