Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in this House today to speak on Bill , an act to amend the Canada Elections Act with respect to political financing.
I will just provide a little background on what the bill represents. It provides that fundraisers requiring a contribution of over $200, at which party leaders, ministers, or leadership contestants will be in attendance, must be advertised online by the party five days in advance, regardless of which party or non-party entity is hosting or is benefiting from the event.
It requires a report on each individual fundraiser. Fundraisers inside an election period are not subject to pre-reporting; conventions or leadership debates are not considered fundraising events for this bill's purpose; donor appreciation events are caught within the bill's provisions, except appreciation events that are held at conventions; fundraisers at conventions are caught within the bill's provisions; penalties for contravening these new rules include returning or paying to the Receiver General all contributions received in respect of a regulated fundraising event, and a fine of up to $1,000.
The definitions of leadership campaign expense and nomination campaign expense have been harmonized with those already in force respecting election campaign expenses of candidates.
On the surface, these may seem like honourable and noble changes to the Canada Elections Act. The reality is that this is an attempt by the and the Liberals to gain credit for solving a problem that they created. It is as simple as that. It is effectively smoke and mirrors, a red herring to try to provide some cover for something in a situation that they created. That situation is cash-for-access events and fundraisers.
Members will recall how we got here. The , throughout his campaign, spoke about the fact that the Liberals were going to do things differently. He said that they were going to be more open and more transparent. As I have said in this House many times, he held his hand over his heart, which makes it so, makes it sincere, and said he was going to do this.
The reality is that shortly after the election he gave mandate letters to his ministers, where he said unequivocally that there should be no undue influence, no perception, real or otherwise, of any political interference, and that ministers of the crown, and in fact he himself, should be held to a high standard when it comes to political interference, political influence, cash-for-access.
The words were very clear, when the wrote those mandate letters, that they were not going to do it. We found out, not long after the fact, that indeed cash-for-access fundraisers were occurring. Some of the highly publicized ones included the showing up to a law firm on Bay Street in Toronto, where presumably there was a bunch lawyers who paid a certain amount of money to be there, to have the justice minister there, which was a complete contradiction and complete contravention of what the Prime Minister had stated in his mandate letters, in that appendix talking about perception, real or otherwise, of undue influence. It became known publicly.
The media picked up on it. Certainly the opposition parties picked up on it. Again, the House dealt with this issue for several weeks. It became a bad issue for the Liberals. The public perception of what they were doing with respect to cash-for-access was not playing well for them in the media, publicly, or in the House.
There were others that were publicly highlighted, only because people who had attended these fundraisers were talking to the media. They were actually saying that they were talking about government business with the . There were several that were held in Toronto and Vancouver that we are aware of. It became a bit of a cash cow for the Liberals. They actually did very well at these cash-for-access fundraisers, these private events where people could bend the Prime Minister's ear or bend the ears of ministers of the crown.
Presumably if people had business in front of the government, they could, for the price of upwards of $1,500—and I suspect they probably took the max—talk to ministers, talk to the about the business that was in front of the government.
Why is this important? Oftentimes during debate, we will hear members say that the opposition side did this. From my understanding, the opposition did not do anything similar to this, but it is important because ministers of the crown in one fell swoop can allocate millions of dollars in a direction or to an area where a lot of this influence may be going on. That is why this is important.
I think the probably understood that when he wrote those words in his mandate letters to his ministers, but the words were hollow, meaning nothing. We saw by the action of the ministers and the Prime Minister that they continued to do something that they said they were not going to do.
I can go through a list of things that the Liberals promised to do that they have not done, such as electoral reform, but I certainly do not want to get my colleagues in the NDP worked up on that. However, there are many things that the said he was going to do differently, which in fact the Liberals are not doing differently.
It is no surprise to any of us from Ontario why this is going on here in Ottawa. For years, the Ontario Liberals have been doing cash-for-access fundraisers, and it has worked out really well for them. In fact, ministers were provided with quotas. There were certain amounts of money that they were expected to raise through these cash-for-access fundraisers. In some cases, it was a quarter of a million dollars throughout the year, in others it was $500,000, and for the premier I am sure it was more.
I remember one time there was a cash-for-access event in Barrie. There were 12 people there. Each one of them paid $5,000 to sit around and have dinner with former premier Dalton McGuinty, and that night the Liberals raised $60,000. That is $60,000 in one evening. That is what cash-for-access meant in Ontario. Why is it no surprise that this is going on here in Ottawa? We have heard those names many times in the House: Gerald Butts and Katie Telford. It was the same situation that went on in Ontario, just like the moving van that came here to Ottawa, that same playbook that the Ontario Liberals used for all those years until again there was public backlash and the opposition highlighted this situation. It ended up with Ontario changing the rules.
It is no surprise to any of us in Ontario that this is happening, because that same failed playbook—not just cash-for-access, but other failed policies like debt and deficit that have handcuffed the economy of Ontario—is the same thing that is going on here. There is a common denominator throughout this whole thing, and that is Gerald Butts and Katie Telford.
What would this legislation do? In effect, in spite of the Liberal assertion that it would bring it out of the shadows and somehow legitimize and formalize this process of cash-for-access, it actually would change nothing because cash-for-access events can still go on. It would do nothing in terms of addressing issues of private fundraisers in houses. It would do nothing in terms of what the government committed to as far as holding these in public spaces. It would not formalize that at all, so what we would see is more of the same, more of these cash-for-access events where the and the ministers would be the stars of the show, where for $1,500 people would get to bend the Prime Minister's ear presumably because they have business in front of the government.
A quick search of the Liberal Party website shows that there is a cash-for-access event that is happening next Thursday. I apologize to my colleagues that I was searching the Liberal Party website, but it is important that we stay on top of this stuff. When we look at what is happening next Thursday, an evening with the Right Honourable , we see the price of the event is $1,500. If one is a youth aged 25 or under, it is $250. Nothing has changed. The Liberals are still having these cash-for-access events.
The government purports to be all about the middle class and those working hard to join it, but how many middle-class Canadians would be able to afford $1,500 at this cash-for-access event? I suggest not many. I can say that my friends cannot afford $1,500. If they could afford it, they would be giving it to our local EDA so that we can be a lot more powerful heading into the next election against the Liberals. They give what they can afford: $250, $300, $200, or $50 sometimes. Here is the Right Honourable in Mississauga a week from tonight asking for $1,500 at this event, and a youth would have to pay $250 to be there. That is a lot of money, and nothing has changed.
My hon. colleague from York—Simcoe said it best last week. What this would do is provide the Liberals cover for something they are already doing. It would be legitimized and formalized by these changes in law. If we look at the mandate letter provided to the new , we see the said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant to concerns about our political process”. If that is the case, the Liberals better have SPF 100 available, because there is a lot of sunshine being put on the government.
This piece of legislation would not do anything to change the issue of fundraising in private residences. This would continue to go on. Adding publicly accessible spaces, which the Liberals said they would do, would not change anything. Also, media access is still in question. Little would change with this piece of legislation, because cash-for-access would still exist. Cash-for-access, what people pay to bend the ear of the or other ministers of the crown because they have business in front of them, or the himself, will still go into Liberal Party coffers.
Some people must be sitting at home wondering why we are arguing about $1,500 because it seems like a little amount, and questioning how anyone could be influenced by $1,500. I would suggest that it is not just the $1,500 but the potential for multiples of $1,500 being paid by stakeholders, perhaps with one organization, or with a Chinese investment firm looking to invest in retirement homes, looking for approval from the government for retirement homes in B.C. As we have heard recently, that is not working out very well. Perhaps it is for the sale of Canadian technology, which could impact our national security. Perhaps it is multiples of those $1,500 amounts that can make a difference with respect to the decision-making of our government and the ministers. With one swipe of the pen, they can allocate millions and billions of dollars into stakeholder interests, and also sell some of our assets by approval mechanisms, which they are doing.
The $1,500 is one thing, but I think the had a real opportunity here to deal with not just this issue but also the issue of third-party electoral financing. That is not addressed in this piece of legislation.
It is a shame it is not. The single biggest threat to democracies around the world and the principle of democratic institutions is that these third parties tend to influence, outside the scope of Elections Canada, rules on fundraising and financing. Many raise their eyebrows on this issue, raising the issue publicly.
Recently a new report alleged significant outside influence in Canada's 2015 federal election. Reading from a newspaper account, in the 2015 annual report of the California-based Online Progressive Engagement Network, OPEN, Ben Brandzel, one of Leadnow's founders, said, “We ended the year with...a Canadian campaign that moved the needle during the national election, contributing greatly to the ousting of the conservative Harper government.”
That is the elephant in the room. The fact that there is outside influence from other countries and organizations that can directly impact our democratic process needs to be addressed by the minister.
The Senate is dealing with this issue. Senator Frum introduced a private member's bill to look at the third party financing. I was also proud of my colleague, the member for , who recently wrote a letter to the chief of Elections Canada in which he talked about the issue subsequent to that report coming out.
I will give an example of the impact third party influence can have: the Council of Canadians donated $67,000, money that came from the Tides Foundation; the Dogwood Initiative, $238,000; Ecology Ottawa $36,000; Équiterre, $97,000; Greenpeace Canada, $174,000; Toronto 350, $9,800; West Coast Environmental Law Association, $53,000; and the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation, $15,000, for a total of $693,000. Under election rules and laws, that money did not need to be noted by these campaigns. That money could be targeted directly against individual candidates and in a broader degree, against parties as well. There is nothing in the legislation to address that problem.
The legislation would fix a problem and provide cover. It would legitimize and formalize what the Liberals have been doing. It would give them an opportunity to do it legally, but that still does not make it right.
One of the issues my colleague from put forth in his letter, and several facts taken together, with respect to third party influence on elections, was that together the third parties received a substantial amount of foreign money from the Tides Foundation in 2015, and none of those funds were reported to Elections Canada. This is a real threat to western democracies and to our democratic institution and processes.
The legislation will not change anything. It is quite mind-boggling that we are dealing with this. The Liberals created another problem for themselves, so they are trying to provide some cover by legitimizing the process through legislation.
What used to be brown envelopes that influenced in the past, and there is certainly a history on that side of this having happened, yesterday's brown envelopes are today's cash-for-access events, where significant influence can be borne on ministers and the to make decisions that are in the best interests of special interest groups, not in the best interests of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak to the bill to continue this government's important work to strengthen Canadian democracy. Bill , would foster a new era of openness in Canada's political parties. I would like to thank my hon. colleagues for sharing their thoughts on how we can strengthen our political financing laws here in Canada, and I look forward to moving ahead with this legislation so we can create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency for political fundraising events.
When I look across our country, I am deeply impressed by the millions of Canadians who are contributing to our democracy every day. Their creativity, collaboration, and commitment are a testament to the vibrant civic culture that thrives across our country. In Canada we are very proud of our diversity, and this is equally true when it comes to civic engagement. Canadians engage with their communities, the political system, and the country as a whole in diverse ways. They may be volunteering at their local community centres. They may be teaching a class about how a bill becomes a law. They may be running the local scouts group. They may be volunteering in their municipal, provincial, or federal elections. Whatever the form of civic engagement may be, they are furthering Canada's democracy, and I thank them all for that valuable contribution to our country.
During my own time in this House, I have had the privilege of speaking with and learning from many citizens who are behind these everyday acts of democracy. These many kinds of civic engagement help make our democracy the amazing, lively, and diverse place it is today.
One of the most common ways Canadians can get involved in our democracy is through political parties. Political parties are a key feature of Canada's political landscape. They encourage new people to enter the political arena, they bring important conversations into the political discourse, and they foster a healthy and rigorous dialogue. Whether joining a political party, making a donation, or attending a political fundraiser, people are participating in Canada's democracy. Canadians have the right to volunteer, to speak up, and to choose to financially support a political party. In fact, many Canadians see contributing to a political party or attending a fundraising event as a significant avenue for them to participate in our democracy. Our desire is to enhance openness and transparency in Canada's political fundraising. It is grounded in respect for all Canadians' right to democratic expression.
Political parties work with others in the public sphere to create an important forum for dialogue. One organization that is working to enhance political openness in Canada is openparliament.ca. As many will know, this website makes Canadian politics accessible by publishing votes, speeches, and other communications from the hon. members of this House. When looking at openparliament.ca, I was pleased, but not surprised, to find that my own favourite word to use in the House of Commons is “change”. This government has demonstrated its commitment to positive change in our democratic institutions. It has been an honour for me to work with the , who brings her incredible commitment to democracy to all her work. In my role as parliamentary secretary to the minister, I am proud to assist her in improving, strengthening, and protecting our democratic institutions.
The minister's mandate letter captures the scope and breadth of the positive change this government is bringing to our Parliament. We have transformed the process to appoint senators and judges. We are bringing back measures such as vouching to make our elections more accessible and inclusive. We are moving to better inform Canadians and to protect our democracy from the challenge of cyber-threats. Now it is time to update our political financing laws to create the level of openness and transparency Canadians expect from the political parties that represent them in the House of Commons.
Currently, the Canada Elections Act lays out the legal framework that governs fundraising and campaign financing. This is a framework that applies to all registered federal political parties, no matter what side of the House they may sit on. Under the current regime, donations can only be made by Canadian citizens and permanent residents. A strict upper limit exists for these individual contributions. Every year an individual can donate up to $1,550 to a national political party. In addition, that individual can also donate up to $1,550, in total, to riding associations, candidates, or nomination contestants in a party. In the case of an individual's preferred party having a leadership contest, he or she can donate up to $1,550, combined, to all the leadership contestants in the leadership race. In addition, we have robust rules that prevent corporations, industry associations, and trade unions from funding any political party or politician, period.
The current regime also outlines clear obligations for the recipients of these donations. Political parties, electoral district associations, candidates, leadership contestants, and others are required to report their fundraising activities. Through Elections Canada, all Canadians have the opportunity to view these financial reports. What is more, Elections Canada also publishes the identity and postal codes of those individuals who donate more than $200. All that information is available on the Elections Canada website, which is an important facet of the openness and transparency we seek to advance.
In Canada, it is clear that we prioritize the strict scrutiny of political fundraising. That is why, under the Canada Elections Act, there are penalties for any violation of these political financing rules. Penalties can include fines of up to $50,000, up to five years in prison, or both. This is one of the strongest political financing regimes in the world.
Part of the democratic process is looking critically at our own institutions and asking how we can make them even better. How can we make them even more open and transparent to Canadians? In answer to this question, our government has introduced Bill . This bill truly is an opportunity to continue making positive change in our political process.
In Bill , the government has proposed rules that would contribute to the culture of transparency here in Canada. Under these new rules, Canadians would have even more information about political fundraising events. Making this information accessible would enable Canadians to have trust in our system, a foundation of any healthy democracy.
The importance of openness and transparency in governance is widely recognized. Mr. Angel Gurría, long-time Secretary-General of the OECD, explains that “Openness and transparency are key ingredients to build accountability and trust, which are necessary for the functioning of democracies and market economies.”
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today.
I just checked the stock market ticker, and there is a run on red Kool-Aid going on right now. The amount being drunk by the other side, believing their own noise, is exceptional. When it comes to fundraising and clearly broken promises to the Canadian people, it is most remarkable that Liberals say this makes it transparent. It makes it more transparent that the is breaking his promise to Canadians and makes it more transparent that people can buy access to the Liberal Party of Canada, directly to the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers.
I have a long list of all the various special access programs and all the various ministers. I hope I have the opportunity to read it.
Of course, it is not only the that people can buy access to—no, no. People can pay to play with virtually any minister on the front bench about an issue that they are engaged in if they have the money to do it.
Here we are with Bill . This is an unusual moment for me, because this may be the most tepid and conditional support for a bill that I have ever given in my parliamentary career. That is because it does so little. In its vagueness and the cloud that it seeks to create, it borders on nothing, and sometimes it is hard to vote against nothing.
There is this bit of noise that says Liberals are going to follow the law. That is basically what the bill says. The law in Canada requires that the names of people who make donations to political parties eventually be made public, along with how much they have donated, so now they are going to follow the law. Wow. It is breathtaking. Oh, are they are going to do it a bit quicker? Congratulations.
It reminds me a bit of asking kids to clean up their rooms, which are total disasters. There are toys and clothes everywhere. They walk in, pick up one sock, put it in the laundry hamper, and say they are done. The Liberals have made an entire mess—of their own creation, by the way—of these cash-for-access events. They were invented, designed, and executed by the Liberal Party once it formed government. Liberals made the mess and then said they were going to fix it.
They even made the great mistake of over-promising and under-delivering, because they leaked this bill to The Globe and Mail before it came out. The Globe and Mail had a breathless headline saying that the Liberals were going to end cash-for-access fundraisers. I thought, “Great. That would be a good thing”, because being able to buy access to the government is not only unseemly but also breaks a bunch of laws if those people happen to have any business with the government, which again, as we will see when I get to the list of all of the cash-for-access fundraisers, is happening with the , the , the , and the .
The Liberals were going to end it, said The Globe and Mail, as per a report of a Liberal insider, and then, lo and behold, we get Bill . It is 16 pages that manage to do virtually nothing. Wow.
We are going to go through this exercise today and other days debating this most virtuous act that is all sizzle and no steak, as they say back home, and attempts to do something that I would suggest is quite cynical. As my colleague from Edmonton pointed out earlier, the timing of this bill was most suspicious.
In the wake of breaking yet another promise to Canadians—that 2015 was going to be the last election under first past the post—suddenly the Liberals said they were going to attempt to change the channel over to cash for access, because they did not want us to pay any more attention to the fact that when Liberals campaigned in the last election, they swore hand on heart that 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election and that they would bring in a more fair and equitable voting system.
They were going to move it over. I thought if they were going to change the channel, they would have to change it to a better station. They decided to change the channel over to cash for access, this practice and culture within the Liberal Party that enables people who have a lot of money to speak directly, personally, intimately to ministers of the crown.
Let us clear up one thing. My friend from attempted to get the Liberals to say something about this. Liberals say that all members of Parliament fundraise. They are trying to say apples are oranges and night is day and there is no distinction between someone paying to go to a fundraiser for a minister of the crown, who is, pen in hand, writing laws as we speak, or to the himself, who under the political system we have has extraordinary powers, and a backbench member of the House of Commons holding a fundraiser. The Liberals are trying to say that the expectation of influence is the same for those who participate in those fundraisers.
What planet do the Liberals occupy? They know full well that the access they are selling is influence. People do not pay $1,500 to sit down with the , the , or the with the expectation that their words will have no effect on the laws, bills, or programs that emanate from the government.
There is a great quote by the from December 13 of last year. He admits that lobbyists are showing up to his fundraisers, which probably breaks another law, but okay. Lobbyists are showing up to the 's fundraisers. It is a natural question to ask why a lobbyist would pay $1,500 to see the . I wonder what a lobbyist would want to do.
They would probably want to lobby on behalf of their clients, who pay their salaries. Industry, big banks, and pharmaceuticals hire lobbyists. The lobbyists attend the fundraisers, pay the money to the Liberal Party, and then get a little one-on-one time with the .
The explains it away this way:
Any time I meet anyone, you know, they will have questions for me or they will take the opportunity to talk to the prime minister about things that are important to them.
I love it when he uses the third person. It so impresses me when someone uses the third person to talk about himself.
He went on:
And I can say that in various Liberal party events, I listen to people as I will in any given situation, but the decisions I take in government are ones based on what is right for Canadians and not on what an individual in a fundraiser might say.
That is weird, because if we talk to these lobbyists about why they attended a certain event, they tell us they were lobbying the government on behalf of their clients, and that it was effective because they got some very good, close, personal time with the or various ministers, and it felt very effective.
Business is in the business of business, of advocating and encouraging the policies that work for it. This is not a charitable exercise for a lobbyist. My friend said earlier, it is “the grandness of democracy”. I got a little wispy there for a moment. When someone who works for an industry drops $1,500 on the table to lobby the , he or she is participating in the grandness of democracy. “Here is my $1,500, on behalf of the mining companies that I represent, to spend time with the natural resource minister.” The minister had promised the Winnipeg Free Press that he would never attend a cash-for-access event. Where was the two weeks later? He was at a cash-for-access event with people from the natural resources industry.
These dots are not hard to connect, yet for Liberals it seems that they are, because they just produced a bill that will enshrine the status quo. It will say that cash for access will continue. It even falls short of their promise that these events could not be held in private homes, because the bill allows for that to continue.
They said they were to be held in public spaces. That was in their speaking notes at the press conference, The Liberals said they would ensure that fundraisers would be held in public spaces that the public can attend. First of all, there is that slight little hitch: the public can attend if they happen to have $1,500. When I see a sign for public skating, I know what that means. A public swim at two o'clock would mean it was probably a couple of bucks or $4.00, and I can take my kids swimming or skating. If it says that there is public skating at four o'clock and it is $1,500 to get in, it does not feel so much like a public space anymore. Rather, it feels very much like a private space, a Boulevard Club or Granite Club sort of public space, which is a Liberal interpretation of what a public space is.
The bill also has a convenient loophole that has been deemed the Laurier Club loophole. if someone makes the $1,550 maximum donation at a Liberal convention, this law does not apply. Is that not convenient? Where do many people who attain status at the Laurier Club make their donation? It is at a Liberal convention. In fact, according to Liberal records, a quarter of the Liberal donations came from just 4% of their donors. Twenty-five per cent came from 4%. That is according to Liberal records.
If the Liberals scowl and tut-tut, then it must mean the Liberal Party of Canada is lying, which I would never suggest. That has never happened, even with all that sponsorship scandal. In any case, the Liberal Party has reported that this is where its money comes from.
The list of what the bill does not do is so much longer than what the bill does. It says we are going to report who attends cash for access quicker. We are going to notify the public a few days in advance that the event is happening, and the public is welcome to attend if they have $1,500. There is a special rate for youth, those under 25, because a lot of people I know under 25 have $250 burning a hole in their pockets. I speak with many people in high schools and universities, and I chat with the pages. I am always amazed how they are constantly leaving hundreds of dollars lying around at the coffee shop, the bar, of wherever we are having our chat. It is a funny thing.
Someone just triggered a name, which reminded me that I made an unfortunate comment about a former colleague during question period. Joe Volpe, a former Liberal, served many years in the House. I got a note from his family suggesting that was an unkind comment that caused them some pain. It is only fair for me, certainly because my former colleague is no longer here to defend himself in the way that we do, to apologize for making that comment about Mr. Volpe, and by extension, to his family.
There are two versions of how the Liberals operate. There are the ones who make the promises in the campaign. Sometimes they repeat the promises, even when they form government. Then there is the version of what the Liberals do when they are in government. We need to bring this into some sort of psychological disorder, because Liberals are able to countenance these two alternative realities at the same time.
In November 2015, the said:
There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
That was a promise. He said one does not get access to the Liberal government simply by making a donation, even the appearance of access. That is a very high bar. I thought that was great and I wondered if they could attain it. Then we found out the , in April 2016, attended a Liberal fundraiser at a Bay Street law firm, Torys LLP, which is registered to lobby the justice minister. There is no problem there, right? We have the justice minister attending a fundraiser by a registered lobbyist with lawyers.
Then the held a private Liberal Party fundraiser for business executives at the waterfront mansion of a Halifax mining tycoon, and he was pleased to suggest that it was really just a way of holding pre-budget consultations. I have attended pre-budget consultations as part of the finance committee. In my own riding, we held a town hall and welcomed people to come talk to us about what they thought should be in the budget. What did we charge? It was nothing. In fact, I bought the coffee, because I thought that was appropriate. If we want to invite the public to inform how the government should construct the federal budget, which is their money anyway, we should not charge them for the privilege of the conversation.
The finance minister thought that was appropriate. Here is what he said:
I am pleased to say that we have taken on a consultation process for our budget that allows us to listen to all Canadians. ...We have the most open process ever put in place, and we will continue to listen to Canadians as we craft the next budget on their behalf.
He just walked out of a millionaire's mansion, where people paid $1,500 to have that bit of time with him to inform him. That is the “their” he is talking about.
For the middle class, and those struggling to join it, unless people have the $1,500, they do not get to talk to the finance minister the same way.
On October 21, 2016, the finance minister assured us that these events are “open to the public”. Like every member of Parliament, I am actively involved in fundraising activities for my party. Invitations are sent out to hundreds of people, and they are in fact open. Trying to say that access to the finance minister, who is writing the federal budget, is the same as access to any other member of Parliament, muddies the water.
We looked at the email the Liberals sent out inviting people to this event. I do not know a lot about the Internet, but I did learn that when one uses robots.txt that makes the invitation non-searchable.
Why would they send out an invitation that was not searchable? Do they not want people to know about their event? Usually, I do. I would never use a sneaky backdoor way to make sure that nobody could actually find it. Now we find that the —this is interesting—had a fundraising event held by a pharmaceutical billionaire who has a lawsuit challenging the federal government's ban on importing two of his company's drugs into Canada. He held a fundraiser for the Liberal House leader. She argued that this event is an example of “lawful and ethical fundraising”. That is her quote.
A billionaire pharmaceutical-company owner who is fighting the federal government trying to get his drugs into Canada held an event for the government House leader and she said that it is an example of ethical and lawful fundraising.
A week later, the told his local paper in Winnipeg that he would never attend a cash-for-access event. He called it a pay for play. Later, he attended a fundraiser by a major law firm that actively lobbies on issues relating to permits regulating the mining and gas sector. Why would they want to talk to the natural resources minister? After attending the event, the minister's spokesperson claimed that these fundraisers were entirely correct because the term, “pay to play” implies a connection to government business and party fundraising. My God, how thick do they have to be? Why would a law firm that lobbies on behalf of mining and natural resources want to have a special fundraiser for the Minister of Natural Resources? This wilful blindness continues, and it goes on and on.
The held a secret Liberal fundraiser, which is what the Liberals are trying to improve, with Chinese Canadian billionaires. This fundraiser was in Canada's national interest, for engaging positively with the world to draw in investment. A headline in The Globe and Mail editorial just this week asked why the current government is doing Beijing's work. This is the radical left-wing newspaper, The Globe and Mail, wondering out loud why the Liberal government is doing Beijing's work. Then we find out that there are fundraisers connected to investors in Canada by Chinese Canadians and others.
The list is too long. I am going to run out of time. This is unfortunate. It is unfortunate that the list is so long. The himself set the bar initially, saying that there was going to be no preferential access. He said this loud and clear, in black and white on Liberal.ca, and repeated it a bunch of times and then set the example for his ministers, which they dutifully followed and held their own fundraisers and special access events with people directly connected to their ministries. It is unfortunate that they see no problem in this. What did they not do?
They did not give Elections Canada the investigative powers that Elections Canada has been asking for to go after illegal fundraising. That is weird, is it not? They were going to try to clean up fundraising in Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada said, “I need this tool over here to do my job properly.” Then when the government introduced its bill to clean up fundraising, they neglected to put it in.
Liberals sit on the ethics committee and recommended proposals to the government. Not a single recommendation from that made its way into Bill . Therefore, we must pull back and look at this smokescreen attempt by the government and ask what pattern the government has when it comes to how it treats Parliament. Chantal Hébert, of all people, wrote a column yesterday wondering out loud again, who this government is because it looks so much like Stephen Harper's approach to Parliament. We see that the Liberals cannot properly name watchdogs of Parliament. When we offer them a solution they say, “We don't like it, change this”, and when we change that one aspect of our proposal, they still vote against us. They have a nominations problem. They have performance anxiety.
When the , eight months ago, promised to clean up nominations and get rid of the backlog, the backlog went up 60% for nominating important positions around this country, including watchdogs of Parliament and judges on the bench. We now have Jordan's law, and cases, maybe thousands of them, are about to be thrown out because the government cannot be competent enough to do its job.
We say to the government with respect to Bill , this is an opportunity to make things better, to give Canadians more confidence not less. This is an opportunity to follow through on the own promise. Let us not miss this opportunity. We will amend the legislation at committee. We will see where Liberal ethics truly lie.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I rise to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, political financing.
I want to talk about integrity, openness, and transparency.
Several members this morning have talked about what that means and the ethical aspect of all of those elements that are intrinsic, or should be intrinsic, in each one of us, and that therefore we would not have to introduce legislation, if we merely had a moral compass.
This bill would not stop the cash-for-access fundraisers. The bill is about formalizing and instituting a system for cash-for-access fundraisers. When we look at the bill, it is silent on the very issues that the Liberals promised to address. As well, it is silent on third party financing. None of that is addressed.
When we talk about integrity and our moral compass as elected officials or as people in our society, it really behooves us to understand where that moral compass lies.
People attending these fundraisers have clearly stated on numerous occasions that they have discussed and lobbied the ministers and the , that they have had business before the government, and they were proud to speak openly about doing so.
As my colleague so eloquently laid out, it is the rationalization around why these fundraisers are taking place. It is the rationalization that the ministers and the believe this is the normal course of business. However, the $1,500 gets people in the door and then they have access to discuss business with the Prime Minister and the ministers. Clearly, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is wrong.
It is wrong on so many fronts. It is wrong because the was very clear in his comments, and I will it read them out, that this practice would not be undertaken, that this was sunny ways, that things would change, that the Liberals would have the most open and accountable government in history. They were going to ensure they would kept their word and promises, and Canadians would be proud of the work that was undertaken. That sounded really great.
During the election, the went around the country, and that was his message on behalf of the party. The government was going to be open, transparent, and ensure Canadians had access to the government. What he did not say was that lobbyists would have access to government and ministers for $1,500.
The stated general principles. I will read them so we can grasp the context here. He said:
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments.
As we have heard over and over again, there is a litany of events where that precisely took place, not only for the ministers and parliamentary secretaries but also for the . When a statement is issued publicly, is reported on, and is distributed among the Liberal members of Parliament, that should be the defining moment where people have their moral compass intact and do not go to these events. However, that did not happen. Those events took place. The Prime Minister and ministers went, and business was discussed. It was quite astonishing because they were very proud of undertaking that practice.
When we talk about openness and transparency, which the government had said it would be, at every turn the language continues to be about openness and transparency. If we look at any of our freedom of information requests, the majority of it is redacted. Public servants are not permitted to speak publicly for life. The Liberals refuse to answer questions in question period, which I find astonishing because it is question period. Reports are not forthcoming to the House. The Auditor General has raised concerns regarding the lack of financial information. There was an actual refusal to give the AG documents and it impeded officials from doing their job.
We can look at the appointments process. The Liberals say it is open, transparent, and merit-based, which is further from the truth.
The Liberals promise one thing during the election and another when they are in government. The general public deserves better than that. This is about integrity and ethical behaviour, and it starts at the top. If the sees nothing wrong with cash-for-access fundraising, how possibly can that translate to the Liberal members of Parliament? I would suggest it does not.
Producing this legislation, which really now covers the Liberals to continue this behaviour, speaks to the ethical void in the . If there were an actual willingness to address this issue, then the bill certainly would be more comprehensive. Furthermore, it is around following the rules. Not every situation can be legislated, but surely I would think the Prime Minister would know that when there is business before the House and when lobbyists pay $1,500 to go to a fundraiser, it is wrong. The Liberals cannot justify it. They cannot rationalize it. Plain and simply, it is wrong. Canadians deserve far better.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this place to speak to Bill . When I arrived this morning, I had no intention of speaking to this, but the topic we are discussing is relevant and of major concern to most Canadians. For those who are not certain whether it should be a major concern, I suggest that it should be. I will give a couple of examples as to why.
Before I get into the examples of why it should be, let me say that this has always been a question we have battled with in Canada. I recall, between 2000 and 2004, the Liberal Party got into problems much the same as today, with cash for access and monies rolling in. Out of part of that came the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery inquiry. Much of it was access to Liberal fundraisers, at which huge amounts of money would be raised. Indeed, even after the audits and the Gomery inquiry, there were $40 million left unaccounted for.
I remember LaVar Payne from Medicine Hat asking where the $40 million was. Out of that, Conservatives made some changes to political fundraising. The way the Liberal government responded was not, in the Conservatives' opinion, the right way either. It said there would no longer be an ability to give massive amounts of money to the federal government for lobbying and influence, but it would be done through the public purse. For every vote cast for the Conservative Party, it would receive a certain amount of funding, as well as the Liberal Party, the NDP, and the Green Party. We realize that just going to the public purse is not the way to raise funds for political parties, so Parliament said it is up to political parties to raise their own funds. It is up to political parties to call on their membership and people who want to support them and raise funds. That is exactly what we have seen: fundraising letters to membership, saying there is an election coming and asking the membership to help out. That is certainly what the Conservative Party has done.
The Liberal Party has fallen back into the trap of saying it now has something that it did not have for 10 years. It has influence. There is a who makes decisions of what is coming in legislation and what may come to Canada. There are cabinet ministers in all of the different portfolios who go out and speak to their stakeholders. They are money-making machines to the Liberal Party of Canada. We have seen some of it happen already, and it has been mentioned a number of times.
We have seen it with the from British Columbia. There are hundreds of openings for appointments to the bench, and she met with a group of lawyers whose goals would be to some day be a judge on the bench, and they were the ones invited to the fundraiser at a law firm in downtown Toronto. These were the ones who paid $1,500 to rub shoulders with, speak with, and get their pictures taken with the justice minister of Canada.
It was brought up about the , who in budget consultations made the rounds to all the different groups of stakeholders who want to invest in jobs, businesses, or such and such. We saw it with the , which was brought up, who attended a meeting in Vancouver with billionaire Chinese investors, who paid $1,500 to attend the meeting. One wanted to be involved in a financial institution and gave $1,500 to the Liberal Party of Canada. Then one of the attendees at the same meeting, who paid the $1,500 at that Liberal fundraiser, also wanted to give $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation. It is not the Prime Minister's foundation but the Prime Minister's father's foundation. How convenient. It is cash for access to cabinet ministers and prime ministers.
I had the privilege of serving in the government in the last Parliament as a minister. I worked closely with Jim Flaherty, Joe Oliver, and with our former prime minister, in budget consultations, as other cabinet members did. Before we went to events, if there was even any thought of speaking to the membership, we were not even allowed to advertise that we were ministers. I would go out as the member of Parliament for Crowfoot, as it was called at that time. If there was any publication, I would not be able to say that I was a minister, because we wanted to be above reproach.
I appreciated a question that came earlier. The meets with all these people. He meets in my small town. He meets with these individuals. That is exactly what we are expected to do. However, when lobbyists show up and say they are willing to give us $1,000 to be at a meeting, and wink-wink, nudge-nudge—that absolutely did not happen. The government is now trying to put cover on what is its common practice. That is not being accepted by the Canadian public.
I also want to say something that may not exactly illustrate the point of what we need here, but we have two problems. Another problem that we have in this country, and it has been dealt with in Parliaments past, and Elections Canada deals with it, is how we bring young people into this whole idea of becoming involved politically. How do we engage them?
This past week I had a board meeting. I had met young James from Three Hills at an event; he was a grade 11 student, going into grade 12. He asked how he could get involved in politics. He was not sure if he was a Conservative or what. We invited him out to our board meeting. He was involved in the discussion, and he really started to enjoy the discussion.
The way we engage Canadians, and especially our youth, is not by saying, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, “If you want access to the Prime Minister, $1,500 is the going rate.” It is unethical and, as my former colleague says, it is immoral. It is immoral to say, “We will listen and you will have our ear if you provide the $1,500 to the Liberal Party of Canada.”
One member on the other side says it is up to all parties to decide how they fundraise. This is giving the Liberal Party of Canada an avenue of fundraising that no other party in Parliament has. That is why the Liberals are attracted to it. They are attracted to the fact that they have one up on every other political party, because they have ministers making decisions.
When I leave this place, I want to be able to say that in my opinion there has been nothing that I have done that has in any way infringed on the rules of how conduct should be for an honourable member of Parliament. I believe with everything I have that the average Canadian says that this is not honourable behaviour, and that this is the way we expect things to be done in third world countries, or other countries, but not our Canada.
Our democracy is worth protecting. Our democracy tells us that even the smallest, the most uninfluential, whoever that may be, has the same right as the most wealthy. That is what this country stands for. The government is going out and setting a very serious, sad practice of how it is going to conduct and fight the next election.
We have a problem. This bill is to solve the problem. It is really an admission by the Liberal Party that it has a scandal called “cash for access”, or “your cash for access to our cabinet minister or our Prime Minister”. The Liberals promised they would deal with this problem, and Bill is coming along and that is their response to the problem. The Liberals have already said that there are rules set for themselves, and that is what the description of this bill is all about.
I could go on, but I will say this. The member for and the member for gave two speeches that were amazing, with great stories of the history of fundraising problems and scandals the Liberal Party has had. I would encourage people to read those and to call their members of Parliament about what they believe is—
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to participate in the debate on Bill . I will not be sharing my time, so I will be taking the full 20 minutes.
Let me start by making a comment about the debate as I have heard it this morning so far. The gist of the defence of the bill by the Liberal side appears to be, “Everyone's been doing it, so what's wrong with us doing it?”
That is actually not accurate. Everyone is not doing it. What the Liberals in government have done is create a whole system, a racket, of shaking down lobbyists and stakeholders to gain access. I want to be absolutely clear and on the record on this. The previous Harper government did not do that. Stephen Harper, as prime minister, did not attend these events. Full stop. Period.
When I was in cabinet, which I was for the duration of the Harper years, it was absolutely required and understood that if we were to attend a fundraising event, people who were lobbying our department were not allowed to attend. They were forbidden from attending. It was the practice in my office, and I dare say this was the common practice throughout Stephen Harper's ministry, to have a vetting process to go through the names of the attendees who were signed up to attend an event, who had bought a ticket. If there was any hint that a particular individual, or the individual's organization, was registered to lobby me, as a minister, the money was refunded before the event and the person was not allowed to attend the event. That was the practice under the previous Conservative government.
As we have learned through the past months, that is not the practice that has been exhibited by the current Liberal government. Indeed, when I use the word “racket”, I am not trying to convey a criminal enterprise. I want to make that clear. The racket I am trying to convey is a systematic approach to shake down these stakeholders and lobbyists to enrich the coffers of the Liberal Party of Canada and to thereby help fund their pre-election and election activities.
How did this come about? Where did this come from? As my colleagues have already mentioned and as my colleague from the NDP has already mentioned, this came about because this was the practice in Dalton McGuinty's and Kathleen Wynne's Liberal Ontario.
I was an Ontario PC cabinet minister. We were given a nominal target. For example, a cabinet minister could perhaps find a way to raise $10,000 for the PC Party of Ontario during the course of a year. What did Wynne, and Dalton McGuinty before her, do? They made it $500,000. The target for Dwight Duncan, the Liberal finance minister, was $1 million.
By the way, if I did not meet my $10,000 target as a PC minister, there was no sanction. Nobody said anything. It was, “If you're raising money for your own riding, you might want to make sure you give a little bit to the central party.” That was the suggestion.
In Dalton McGuinty's and Kathleen Wynne's Ontario, if a Liberal cabinet minister did not make the target, he or she would be drummed out of cabinet. It was made explicitly clear to these individuals. Dwight Duncan wrote in his memoir or in his commentaries that one of the reasons he left provincial politics was that he was sick and tired, as a finance minister, of the obligation to fundraise for the Liberal Party of Ontario. That is how pervasive it was in Liberal Ontario until finally, the public became fed up and the media trained its attention on this, and the laws were changed.
Eric Hoskins, a successor of mine as provincial minister of health, had a target of $500,000. From my contacts in the health sphere in Ontario, I know that hospital presidents, deliverers of other health care services, and retirement homes all felt pressure. The only way they could talk to the minister about a public policy issue was to pony up dough. That is how pervasive the system was in Ontario.
As my colleagues have already outlined, the people who helped set up that system in McGuinty-Wynne Ontario set it up for the federal Liberal government once it obtained power across this country.
If people watching today are wondering how this came to be, it came to be because that rot that was part of the McGuinty-Wynne era, which hopefully is drawing to a close, which will be up to the voters of Ontario to decide, was transferred holus-bolus to--
Mr. Speaker, I always like to have more of an audience, so thanks to the members of the House.
As I was saying, that is where this came from, and it was transferred holus-bolus in full form to the governing Liberal ethos once it obtained power here in Ottawa. When this came to light, the reaction of the Liberal government was to say that it was going to fix things. However, and the member for said the same thing, what the Liberals have done in their “fix” on this is to actually sanctify the situation where they were shaking down people for money, making sure that stakeholders and lobbyists were contacted, and telling them if they wanted to see the, the , or the they would have to pay to play.
I want this to be very clear for those who might be listening or watching. Cash-for-access is not going away. The bill somehow creates a hardened resin of legitimacy over what is essentially a rotten process. Now we have amber hardening on this illegitimate process through the bill. That is why we are objecting to the bill.
This is not about us wanting to have more cash-for-access fundraisers. We want the opposite. We want a bill that works. That is why we were so disappointed to see that the solution of the , his cabinet, and the Liberal backbench was to merely say that these cash for access fundraisers would go on, but there are hoops to jump through.
I have been up in the House over the last week talking about the Norsat deal, where, in a mystifying way, absolutely baffling, the Liberal government has refused to do a national security review before accepting and allowing an investment from a Chinese company, Hytera, to take over Norsat, a very specialized IT and tech company involved in our own national defence, with our friends to the south, and the Department of Defense in the U.S.A. and elsewhere. It would be normal practice to have a national security review.
I will tie this together to the bill, I assure you, Mr. Speaker.
We have been asking the government why it is doing this. Why not just have a review and let the security agencies do their jobs, and talk to our allies, not just perfunctorily to say it has made its decision but actually have a dialogue with our allies? When the same company, Hytera, was taking over a British company, the British government added five pages of conditions after a full national security review prior to that takeover taking place. Nothing of this order is happening here.
Forgive us on this side of the House for connecting the dots, because of course many of these cash-for-access fundraisers involve individuals who have been connected to the official mainland People's Republic of China government. We know part of the motive here is that the Liberal government is enamoured and has a fetish—if I dare use that term—for a free trade deal with China. Let me put on the record right now that it will not end well if the government pursues and concludes a free trade deal with China. I predict, we will be losing our shirts, and more.
That is why we wanted real reform in political fundraising so that no one is suspect, even if it is not true. I do not know facts. I do not know whether there is a connection between political fundraisers with Chinese nationals and their surrogates who have deep connections with the People's Republic of China's government. I do not know whether there is a connection, but we have to be Caesar's wife in this place, perhaps an old term, maybe not as appropriate now, but the point is that we have to be cleaner than clean. We have to make sure that the public has confidence that public policy decisions are being made for the right reasons, for the reasons built after a public policy debate has taken place by government. Maybe I would disagree with their decision, but the government would be making a decision with full legitimacy and full credibility. That is what we want. I know we are going to disagree, but it is so important to have the legitimacy of decision-making unquestioned.
I would say to members opposite that they are not doing themselves any favours by creating this regime and continuing this regime of cash-for-access because then every decision they make is susceptible to question, to delegitimization, to incredulity, and to cynicism. It is a government that professed to be the answer to cynicism. The hon. members rode in and were going to slay the dragon of skepticism and cynicism in our polity.
However, now they are doing this. They created this system of cash-for-access, imported it from the province of Ontario from the McGuinty-Wynne era, which I state for the record I hope to be drawing to a close but that is up to the voters of Ontario. They imported it, improved upon it, and created a cash-for-access machine and I dare say, while we on this side of the House have every right to question any decision that we think is contrary to the Canadian interests, it pains me that part of that dialogue is always going to be about the underlying motive of the Liberal government decision-making because of this cash-for-access racket, which will continue under the bill.
My friends who have stood up already talked about some of the details. I want to state for the record that this is different from the way the previous government raised money in degree as well as function. We just did not do things this way and we are proud as the Conservative Party that most of our donations are smaller donations, $10, $20, $30, $50, $100, that is what we rely on overwhelmingly and the statistics prove that out.
I would encourage hon. members on the other side to think before they vote on the bill. There is still time to amend and to have a better bill that will actually do what the Liberals promised it would do, but we are a far journey away from seeing that in the bill today.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this important debate. We are debating Bill , a government bill, which in my judgment aims to whitewash the government's record when it comes to what we have been calling cash-for-access fundraising, and to put in place a system that sort of regularizes and normalizes this process.
Obviously we in the opposition are very concerned about that. We are very opposed to the government's record on cash-for-access fundraising and the continuing inclination that it has to do this. I am proud of our team for repeatedly raising this in question period and for helping to drive the public discussion on it. The public has responded with significant concerns, which is why we now see this legislative effort on the part of the government to whitewash its record.
The idea of cash for access is quite simple to understand. It is the idea that people who do business with the government or who have specific interest in lobbying the government would pay to attend a party fundraiser in order to gain access to a minister or the prime minister, whom they are directly involved in lobbying.
It is important that we make clear distinctions here. Fundraising is a part of our political process, but in principle the expectation is that people donate to political parties or political candidates because they believe in what those parties or candidates stand for. They wish to support the activities of those parties or those candidates, and they are doing so out of conviction aligned with the objectives of the party, not out of a calculation of personal interest that involves their private lobbying activities and involves their getting access to a minister or a prime minister, so that they can lobby with the implication that they are going to have a greater influence than a member of the public would.
When Conservatives were in government, we did fundraise. We had ministers involved in fundraising, but we were very clear about the fact that ministers should not have fundraisers that include those who are directly involved in lobbying them. That was a distinction that we made, and we were consistent. There was one case, and I want to actually talk about this case because I think it is quite revealing. There was one case in which there was a problem with a Conservative fundraiser. I will read some of the article. This is from CBC, published on January 18, 2014. It involved Shelley Glover, the then-heritage minister. Here is what happened:
The federal Heritage Minister attended an event in her Saint Boniface riding on Thursday evening.
But when she got there, she learned that many of the attendees were members of Winnipeg's arts community, who have dealt with her department.
Everyone at the event made a $50 donation to attend, and one person made a $500 donation.
The problem is, under federal conflict of interest rules, cabinet ministers cannot solicit donations from anyone who has asked for money or who may ask for money from her department.
In a statement released late Friday, Mike Storeshaw, Glover's director of communications, said the minister wasn't personally involved in organizing the event.
Storeshaw said Glover has refunded the money and has written the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
He said she's instructed her electoral district association which organized the fundraiser not to hold similar events.
Here is what happened. Accidentally, somebody else organized a fundraiser for the then-heritage minister in which there ended up being members of the arts community who had lobbied her department. It was $50 to get in, and immediately the minister acknowledged the problem and refunded every single dollar. These were $50 donations. This is the one time that this happened, and immediately the error was recognized and the money was refunded.
Contrast that with the Liberal Party approach: consistent $1,500 events with people who are involved in lobbying the government, and no apologies, no refund. In fact there is consistent defence of those activities.
If we compare the record when it comes to the nature of the fundraising activities undertaken under the previous government and under the current government, there really is no comparison. In 10 years, there was one case where a mistake was made. The minister was not involved in organizing the event, and the money was refunded. It was a $50 price of admission. With the Liberal government, there are consistently $1,500 events, where people are buying access to the and to the ministers.
What is striking is that these are always defended. It is not a matter of something happening and people saying they recognize that this should not have happened, they will pay the money back, and they will not do it again. No, these things are being defended. That is what cash for access is, that is what the government is trying to do, and Conservatives take the position that it is not acceptable. The government should go back to something that existed under the Conservatives, which was a real clarity in the guidelines. Yes, parties can fundraise. Yes, ministers and prime ministers can attend fundraising events for which people pay to attend, but those people cannot be lobbyists or people who receive money from the government, who are paying for access to a minister whom they directly lobby. That is a very clear and easy distinction to make, and it is not one being made by this legislation.
Interestingly, this legislation completely excludes, even from reporting, events where the cost is less than $200. That would completely cut out the one event under the Conservative government, about which members of the then opposition were absolutely apoplectic and called it the end of the world as we know it.
Having explained the context, what cash for access is all about, I want to delve a little into what I think is an underlying philosophical problem with how we often approach these questions of ethics in politics. We are talking about the questions of corruption, ethics, and morality in politics. Very often we approach these discussions from the assumption of what I would call a sort of rule-based moral framework, the idea that we have to define rules that deal with every possible contingency and that is the solution, that it comes down to the rules. This bill, purportedly, was introduced because people were upset about what the Liberals did, so they have to twist and tighten the rules a bit.
This comes out of a rule-based assumption about the way morality works, and I want to posit that there is a better alternative. I think that generally a virtue-based framework for thinking about ethics is a better one and would give us the tool kit we need to effectively address some of these issues. I will provide some definition and context for this.
This idea of rule-based morality is most often associated with the enlightenment philosophical project, which is the idea that, although we recognize that we may have certain aspects of ethics and morality that are part of our culture that may come from different kinds of texts and authority, actually we need to come up with a way to codify and specifically rationalize in a narrow sense of pure reason, disconnected from authority or sentiment, come up with the basis for morality and the rules we have. This was the precursor of various moral philosophers who came out of that period, who were trying to define these very specific, narrowly reason-based concepts of moral. The big debate one will often encounter in philosophical discussions that come out of this tradition is a debate between a utilitarian school, which is all about adding up the impacts on people, and a more deontological approach to ethics or morality, which says that it is more about certain lines that we cannot cross and things we cannot do, explained in whatever way. It is not about just adding up to good or bad effects, but saying there are certain things one ought never do or ought to do in general.
In any event, these distinctions all exist within a larger framework, which is that basically it is all about the rules. Through that discussion, finer and finer distinctions are made, asking what one philosophical lens tells us about a situation. Very often, for those who have studied philosophy, we get into what are often called hard cases, the frequent discussion of a narrowing set of hard cases. It is the idea that if we do not have a clear rule to answer a hard case, then we have to invent new rules that help us explain it. One of the classic ways in which these are adjudicated are so-called trolley problems. If there is a trolley coming down a hill that could go on one of two tracks and we have to decide whether to flip the switch, knowing it would impact different people depending on where it goes, how do we make that decision, depending on the situation?
Through all of this, it is this idea that the sum total of ethical and moral conduct can and should be defined in rule form, and it can be done by anyone looking at the details in a purely rational sense without reference to sentiment or authority and then following the rules, as defined.
There are a number of problems that I think are evident with a purely rule-based approach to ethics or morality.
Fairly obvious is that if the rules are the sole basis of morals or ethics, then what is the basis for the rules? If following the rules is all that matters, then what justifies the rules as they exist? Also, a purely rule-based morality does not provide a sufficient basis for understanding the roots of moral motivation or for a discussion of moral competency—
It is really interesting, Mr. Speaker, that there is a member opposite who always shouts “Ayn Rand” at me when I talk about virtue ethics, which shows how philosophically illiterate he is that he does not understand the difference between Ayn Rand and virtue ethics. I look forward to getting into that further with the member during questions and comments.
A purely rule-based morality does not give us an adequate account of the basis for understanding moral competency. In other words, we might have the rules but we have people who are failing to live up to the rules. How do we explain the fact that some people have a greater ability to live up to those rules than others?
As I introduce some possible criticisms of a narrowly rules-based approach to morality, we need to understand that the Liberal government is not even able to follow the rules that are in front of it. This is an issue of not just a failure to align with deeper principles of ethics and morality, but a breaking of clear rules as they are laid out. That is often a product of the narrowing of questions of ethics to rules. Without a broader account of moral motivation and moral competency and where it comes from, we often see a loss of even that motivating force to follow the rules.
People have complained about cash for access, so with this legislation the government is going to change some of the rules. It does not really address the fundamental problem but it also is fundamentally missing the real problem, which is not a matter of the rules but a matter of the decisions that the government has made and a lack of ethical formation around what it ought and ought not to be doing when it comes to how it acts towards the public.
The alternative is an emphasis on virtue-based morality. Virtue-based morality or ethics highlight the importance of qualities of character. Rather than focus exclusively on narrowing sets of harder cases, one comes to a greater understanding of ethics and morality by seeking to develop particular virtues.
Acting out those virtues in different situations, intellectual as well as moral virtues, helps one to understand and know what to do in different challenging situations. This is an ancient tradition that reaches back to Aristotle and likely before, but it has had a great deal of resonance all the way up to and through modern moral philosophy. Mill's approach to this is very good as well.
Aristotle identified four cardinal virtues: prudence, courage, justice, and temperance. What is at issue here fundamentally with cash for access is not just a transgression of the rules but it is a violation of fundamental principles of justice. It is a principle of national justice that all people should have a fair and equal opportunity to influence decisions and to see decisions made that reflect notions of the common good, that reflect common interests, common values, and the common good.
When some people, because of privileged access, because of their political affiliation, because of their willingness to give money to a political party, have a preferential ability to access the government and influence government policy decision-making, then that is clearly an offence against justice. I am not defining that in a purely legal context but in a context of justice as a virtue, justice as what should be a universal value.
More than trying to find ways to change rules over and over again to tighten the screw, the Liberals need to reflect on what the objective should be, which is a society, government ministers, a government, that reflects these principles of justice. They should endeavour in their fundraising activities, as well as in all of their activities, to ensure that people have the equal ability to provide input on policies that marshal towards the common good.
Virtue is important. It is not just about a set of rules, but it is about the tone and how we shape our actions and how we make decisions. This is part of the problem with the bill. It does not address many of the fundamental issues. I would say this as well outside of the bill and outside of the specific context that we are discussing this in, because we are going to have these kinds of discussions about corruption, ethics, ethical fundraising, probably over and over again at least for the immediately foreseeable future. We need to take a step back from saying, “What are the rules?” and we need to ask what kind of a country we want to be in and what kind of conduct we expect from our ministers even when perhaps the rules are not there.
Again, the rules are clear in this case, but even when they are not clear, what kind of conduct would reasonable people, thinking from a framework that emphasizes justice, seek to see acted out?
One of the other issues I want to bring up because it has been discussed in this debate is the issue of access to the . Repeatedly we are hearing in questions and comments from members of the government that they have the most accessible Prime Minister in human history and that they know of people who have met him at events in their ridings. Let me say first of all, it is not at all true that any Canadian who wants to spend time with the Prime Minister can get that access. That is ridiculous to even suggest. I invite anyone watching this speech who thinks it is that easy to call the Prime Minister's Office and seek to set up a meeting.
The point is that there are different kinds of access. There can be a big public town hall in which many people come and some have an opportunity to ask questions, but that is very different from having a small, intimate cocktail reception where a small number of people have the privileged opportunity to have a detailed discussion with the or with a minister about the issues. Those are qualitatively, fundamentally different kinds of access. It is not the same being at a $1,500 private fundraiser with the Prime Minister as being able to ask one question in a public setting at a town hall. Those are fundamentally different kinds of access.
On the point of access, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to invite the , if he wants to be accessible, to come and spend more time in my constituency. I am sure the local Liberal Party association would appreciate it as well, but I would be happy to take him on a tour of our industrial heartland. Without anyone paying $1,500, he can actually meet the workers in the energy sector that he has talked about phasing out, not the workers but the energy sector itself. He could then understand the importance in my riding of the downstream part of the energy sector, the jobs it creates, and the spinoff opportunities that are there and available for work right across the country.
So many of the products we use come from the energy sector. When we think of energy and oil sands development, most people think of driving cars and flying in airplanes, things that we all do, but they do not think of the fact that plastics, election signs, for example, come from petroleum products. There are so many things that we use on a day-to-day basis that have their basis in energy-related manufacturing, much of which happens in my riding.
I said in questions and comments that Vegreville is fairly close to my riding, so if the wants to be accessible to people who are losing their jobs and to a community that is going to be fundamentally damaged as a result of a decision of the government's former and present immigration ministers, then he could come to Vegreville and actually meet the people who are impacted.
I suspect that will not happen. If the wants to come to my riding this summer, I would be happy to make the arrangements. However, the reality of access is that if people are wealthy and well-connected Liberal Party donors, they are going to have access to the Prime Minister that the workers in Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan and the people in my colleague's riding in nearby Vegreville who are losing work are not going to have. Even if there were some big round-table event, even if people are able to send a tweet and hope it is seen by the Prime Minister, they are not going to have qualitatively the same kind of access as someone who is paying for it.
Canadians are frustrated by this and the bill simply does not at all address the issues that are there.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today.
In my opinion, several details about fundraising are insufficiently clear or are still misunderstood. Of course, most members engage in fundraising. I could also add that most members do not enjoy doing it. Indeed, it is far from the favourite part of our jobs.
Regarding fundraising, these are usually events attended by party members and people who support the party and share its values. Often there are close friends and family members who help and encourage us by making a few contributions. Quite often, the amounts are far from the $1,500 donated for special access. That is what happens when it comes to most MPs. They organize local events for people who share their values.
The problem is that the Liberal Party holds events attended by the and ministers, which includes just about everyone seated in the front row of the Liberal benches. In order to attend these events, people pay up to $1,500 so they can speak with ministers and the . These are exclusive events attended by about 10 or 15 people.
Everyone can understand the difference between an event attended by only about 15 people who each pay $1,500 to get in, and an event attended by 600 people with a ticket price of only $20 or $30. Those are two completely different events. That is the first distinction that must be made.
It is important that candidates and donors alike remember that we are under no obligation to accept donations. If we believe that accepting a donation from a certain person could raise an ethical problem, we are entitled to refuse the donation.
Some individuals might want to meet with us because they really stand to gain something. If they are not motivated to meet us because we share the same values, because they are really satisfied with our performance, or because they want to encourage us to keep up the good work, then we are most likely talking about individuals who want preferential access. This is where the problem arises.
This can also become an ethical issue. Personally, if Maurice “Mom” Boucher wanted to give me $1,500, I would refuse, obviously. If someone wanted to give me money and that person was somehow directly involved in a bill I had introduced, I would refuse because that would raise an ethical problem. I think it is important to understand that limits are needed. However, limits often have more to do with personal ethics than the law. We need to be able to set limits. Since we cannot anticipate every possible scenario, common sense is needed. That is what is missing entirely from the Liberal Party's current practices. Some people clearly have a hidden agenda. Anyone who has any common sense knows that the fact that these individuals are attending fundraising events is completely inappropriate.
People are condemning the Liberals' fundraising methods. There have been a lot of allegations. The Liberals said they would put a stop to these activities, that they would be a thing of the past, but in fact, this bill is purely cosmetic. They can keep holding these events, they just have to advertise them ahead of time. If it is a ticketed event, the tickets might just happen to be sold out by the time it is announced. It has to be advertised ahead of time, and it has to happen in a public place. A private home can be considered a public place as long as anyone can go there, but what difference does it make if the event is sold out?
These are just cosmetic changes that will not put a stop to anything. This is a big problem because we are talking about people with vested interests. Anybody would jump at the chance to spend $1,500 of their own money to meet the Prime Minister and get the ball rolling on some project that is worth millions to their company and hence to themselves, through dividends. Plus, that $1,500 is not a total loss, especially for millionaires who get a $600 tax credit. Worst-case scenario, they are just out $600. That is not a huge loss.
Obviously, people are interested in meeting with members of the governing party. The Conservative government did not have the same dynamic as the Liberal Party, but these events have nothing to do with party values and everything to do with the ruling party. People will donate money to whichever party is in power to advance their interests. It is not about a party and its values; it is about business. That is why this is such a big problem.
My riding happens to be home to the dean of the Quebec National Assembly, the longest-serving member, who has been a member for 40 years. I was not even born yet when he was first elected. We are fortunate to be able to consult a walking encyclopedia on Quebec's political history, and he and I talk about it often. He witnessed all those fundraising activities first-hand and noted that some members were no longer even doing their job; all they did was raise money.
We have even seen instances where ministers were given fundraising quotas, although unofficially of course. Ultimately, all they want to do is raise money, because that is what matters most if they want to keep their position, rather than simply doing a good job in order to stay in the role. This is a serious problem.
With the Charbonneau commission in Quebec, we saw what a complete mess political financing had become, which is why we decided to take a serious look at the problem in Quebec. We decided to restore a system of public financing and limit individual donations to $100. We also cut the ties between federal and provincial parties. Now they are completely separate entities, and there is no sharing or exchanges between them. Sweeping changes were made.
When I spoke to Mr. Gendron again, he said it had really changed the dynamic. Now, MNAs no longer spend their time running around fundraising for their party and can focus more on their work as MNAs. There are still fundraising events, but they are much less important and do not become their primary task. They can do their jobs effectively without being stressed because they have to raise funds at all costs, even if it means compromising their ethical principles and values.
This has also greatly increased the level of transparency. All the details about the donors are now known. The system may not be perfect, but it has greatly changed the dynamic of political financing in Quebec. This leads me to believe that we would do well to follow Quebec's example instead of introducing a purely cosmetic bill that allows a little more openness but is useless in the end since it changes nothing to the fact that people can pay for privileged access.
We ought to have changed political financing from the ground up, which would have been much more significant, to have had the courage to rethink the way we do things and to find ways to neutralize money's influence over politics.
This could have been done, for instance, by studying what is being done in Quebec and not just the bill. Indeed, what led to the bill was the topic of much discussion. We have things to learn from these discussions, and we could have applied them in practice to introduce a much more meaningful bill. That way, once at committee, we would have been a lot further ahead.
What we are currently proposing will not change the dynamic. People will continue to try to buy ministers or even the . This will not mean that elected officials will devote more time to their work as MPs, especially the ministers, who are in great demand for this kind of event, as far as I can see from the dynamics of the Liberal Party. I believe they should focus much more on their work.
As members, we are paid by all taxpayers to help Canadians and talk to them. When we hold political fundraisers, we are compromising our work a little because our primary duty is to talk to these people, to be available for them, and to do that without asking for anything in return. It is part of our job, and it is what we get paid to do.
I would like to digress for a moment. This reminds me of something that the used to do, which may have been legal but was extremely questionable from an ethical standpoint. When he was an MP, organizations used to pay him thousands of dollars to be guest speaker, on top of which he was able to claim his travel expenses if the travel was related to his Parliamentary duties. He could easily have chosen not to charge the organizations, which were charities at that. From an ethical standpoint, he had no problem at all getting his travel and meals paid for, while also getting paid extra to speak, even though what he was doing was actually part of his job.
There are still a lot of questions about what is being done. I find the government's approach totally inadequate. It lacks vision. The government should have thought much bigger and tried to resolve, once and for all, the issue of money's influence over politics. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. There is a clear lack of political will, also. Not a single Liberal MP managed to convince me that they had actually thought things through and were really looking for a solution.
The Quebec system may not be perfect, but at least there is an attempt at finding solutions. Here, were are content with doing a bit of damage control in order to legitimize an activity that makes no sense to begin with.
The money always flows to the party in power. We saw it in Quebec. It just so happens that the Liberal Party was the one raking in the most money when it was in power. Then, it was the Parti Québécois's turn to get paid. The same thing happens over and over in federal politics, as well. The Liberal Party rakes in the most money when it is in power, and then the Conservative Party takes over.
We need to get our heads out of the sand. Some people choose a party because it reflects their values, but there are those who are interested in party politics and hope to meet MPs and ministers of the governing party in order to gain favour. We need to step up and pull our heads out of the sand.
I would like to remind you that we are not obligated to accept donations if we believe them to be ethically questionable. This is an important point, and yet, people will still gleefully take money from anyone just to line their pockets.
I would really like us to come up with solutions. I would like us to do better and consider, once and for all, introducing a system acceptable to all the parties and solve the influence problem for decades to come, rather than make cosmetic changes to political financing that basically will not change anything at all.
I look forward to my colleagues’ questions.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to stand and address the Commons today regarding the political financing rules and changes to those rules here in Canada.
Political financing has obviously become a hot topic in the government, a topic that has been marred with suggestions of cash for access, of preferential treatment for those who attend fundraisers. Obviously it is important to the Canadian people to know that every Canadian is seen as equal under the law, every Canadian is seen as equal by their government, but that does not seem to be the case as of today, because what we have seen is minister after minister, including the himself, engage in activities related to fundraising for the Liberal Party of Canada that have caused members of the public, members of the opposition, and members of the media to question whether that is in fact the case.
The government has been accused of selling access to ministers who are key decision-makers and creating a quid pro quo environment, an environment in which, if one wants to influence the outcomes of government decision-making, all one needs to do is donate to the Liberal Party of Canada.
That is the same Liberal Party that makes up the government and literally determines the future of our country and its policies.
It is seen as a trade. One person can have influence if they provide grease to the Liberal wheels through big donations or through many donations or through hosting fundraisers.
The irony here is that the and his government outlined their expectations for the conduct of the government, its ministers, and in fact the himself through several tabled documents. In the mandate letters the gave out to each of his ministers, he required all of the ministers to maintain relationships with stakeholders related to their portfolios that were not only above reproach but seen to be above reproach.
The also produced a document called “Open and Accountable Government”. Here he went one step further than just the outlines provided in the mandate letters. The general principles were these:
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
This further reiterates that it is not just a question of whether there is influence occurring but also of whether it is perceived that there is undue influence occurring because the individual has preferential access to said minister.
A second principle was this:
There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
Again, this just reinforces the principle that the Canadian people need to not only know or see that there is no undue influence but also need the government to provide the image that there is no undue influence occurring because of some sort of financial donation to the Liberal Party of Canada.
A third principle was this:
There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments.
If we are looking for examples—and I will not say this happened—perhaps seeing people who were looking for court appointments buying tickets to a fundraiser with the would appear to be just that. Perhaps seeing Chinese businessmen who were looking to do business in Canada meeting directly with the would appear to be just that.
The 's own documents iterate that there needs to be not only no undue influence but the appearance that there is no undue influence.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that I will share my time with the member for .
The also tabled the throne speech. This throne speech, entitled “Making Real Change Happen”, went even further, because it not only talked directly about fundraising but also about the narrative, about the ideals toward which the government would strive. I would like to compare some of the statements within the throne speech to what we are seeing happening with political financing in Canada with the Liberal Party today.
The throne speech states, “Let us not forget, however, that Canadians have been clear and unambiguous in their desire for real change. Canadians want their government to do different things, and to do things differently.”
I am not sure that the Canadian people would agree with the things that the current government is doing differently or with how it is doing things differently. The previous Conservative government had very high standards for its ministers and its parliamentary secretaries. The former prime minister demanded that his ministers strictly follow these guidelines for both ministers and parliamentary secretaries so that no conflict of interest would result from political donations. Those members could not attend fundraisers related to their own portfolios.
The current government is doing the exact opposite, confirming conflicts of interest by encouraging its ministers to take part in cash-for-access fundraisers. I could be wrong, but I do not believe this is what the Canadian public had in mind when “real change” was offered as the 's slogan.
The second sentence that I would like to outline from the throne speech is “They want to be able to trust their government.” How can mom and pops back home trust a government that is selling access to ministers, possible access to decision-making, and access to wealth through that decision-making? The actions of these ministers breed further distrust between politicians and the public and sow the seeds of doubt that politicians do not in fact have the best interests of Canadians in mind; they have the best interests of their own political fortunes.
The third is, “And they want leadership that is focused on the things that matter most to them.” I can guarantee that there is not a single Canadian in this country who thinks the most important matter to deal with today is the fundraising prowess of the Liberal Party of Canada. I know what Canadians are worried about. They are worried about jobs. They are worried about how they are going to put food on the table, how they are going to take care of their families, and what their future looks like.
Canadians are worried about a ballooning deficit: how are my children going to be able to afford to live in 10 years, in 15 years? How are they going to be able to repay the debt? How are they going to be able to afford university and college? How are they going to be able to take on the inflation that is likely coming down the line?
They are worried about rising real estate prices: how are we going to be able to afford to find a place to live?
The Liberals are worried about fundraising. Unfortunately, that is not what the Canadian public is interested in.
It is interesting, just 18 months after this throne speech, how far we have come, because the next paragraph, after saying “focused on the things that matter most”, says, “Things like growing the economy; creating jobs; strengthening the middle class, and helping those working hard to join it.”
After just 18 months, this throne speech is no longer worth the paper it is written on, because the most important things to the Liberal Party today are these: where are they going to find the money, how are they going to use it, and who can they exploit to encourage more money going to Liberal coffers?
This bill does not go to the place it needs to go. The government needs to stop what it is doing in terms of providing cash-for-access events for ministers with stakeholders within their portfolios. Today, we as Conservatives are calling on the government to stop this practice and move forward.
Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in this place to speak on behalf of my constituents in Calgary Rocky Ridge.
I have followed the debate on the bill throughout the morning. I have listened to various interventions by members of all parties. We have had some great discussions and some interesting points have been made.
I will take a minute to review how we got here.
In 2015, the Liberal Party ran an ambitious campaign. It ran an idealistic campaign in an attempt to capture the imagination of Canadians. It was the third party in the House. When being a third party in the House, perhaps it puts pressure on itself to promise a great many things to try to regain the support of Canadians, which it had not enjoyed for some time.
Many bold and idealistic promises were made. The Liberals conveyed to Canadians an impression of being different, different from their former selves in the scandal-ridden governments they had in the past, different from a current government that had been in office for 10 years, and it worked. They managed to get elected on the strength of those idealistic promises.
The Liberals promised many things during the campaign. They promised to be the most open and transparent government in history. They promised a deficit of only $10 billion, which would be spent explicitly on infrastructure to stimulate the economy and would immediately return to balance. We know what has happened with that promise. They promised electoral reform. They promised reform to the access to information system. Many promises were made that were thrown out the window fairly closely after the election.
On the business of being the most open and transparent government in history, the , shortly after his election, put out a 90-plus page document, the Prime Minister's statement on “Open and Accountable Government”. In this document, as has been recounted by others this morning, he promised, among other things, to hold his ministers to the highest possible ethical standards. In his document and in his mandate letters that he made public, he said that there could be no preferential access given to ministers by the wealthy or well-connected. He said that there would not even be the appearance of conflict of interest or preferential access. He said that his ministers were to be held to these standards and that their ethical responsibilities would not be fully discharged by mere compliance with the law.
What has happened since then? Almost immediately, the and his party, to raise funds, started to hold cash-for-access fundraisers. We know they have held fundraisers with Chinese billionaires. We know they have held cash-for-access fundraisers with pharmaceutical lobbyists and firms that are in litigation with the government. We have media reports of lobbyists hosting cash-for-access fundraisers in private homes, in contravention of the Lobbying Act.
We have heard these events not only are not open to the public, but they are by invitation only and secretly distributed, using Internet protocols to bury search results that attempt to look for these events. We have heard of the meeting with energy lobbyists. We have heard the characterizing a cash-for-access fundraiser as part of his pre-budget consultation process.
There has been, more or less, a year of this. We spent the better part of the first year of the Liberal government being in office uncovering these events. Here we are today, in the final days of our sitting, when members are getting ready to spend the summer in their constituencies and time with their families, rushing through a new bill.
Many Canadians may be wonder why we even have this bill.
The bill purports to increase openness and transparency. It was touted by the this morning as a new, much-needed reform. What created the need for this reform? There is only one party that has an ethical fundraising problem, and it is the Liberal Party.
Why do we even need a new bill at all when it is the conduct of one party that could simply choose not to sell access for cash? We would not need to be here debating a bill at all if Liberals would simply not do it, but this is the essence of how they raise money. The bill would not create increased ethics in fundraising. It would create a system where conflict of interest is, indeed, open and transparent, that the Liberals can openly and transparently engage in conflict of interest by shaking down supporters, stakeholders, and lobbyists who do business with the government at $1,500 a pop.
The new minister came to her job in the wake of the unmitigated disaster of her predecessor's failed electoral reform agenda, a broken promise, much like a series of other broken promises I mentioned already. With the reset button being hit on her department, we now have this bill before us, which, as I have said, merely gives cover to the Liberals' practice of raising cash by selling access.