The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, I have eagerly awaited my turn to speak on Bill on behalf of the Bloc Québécois.
This bill claims it will make political party financing more transparent. The problem is that it completely misses the root of the problem, and sadly, I suspect that was the intention. I wish to remind the members that we are all here to represent the people who chose us, not to represent the political party that we chose. We are here to speak on behalf of the people and defend their interests. We are here to make sure that the people in our ridings are protected against powerful interests.
Interest groups and elites have lobbies to push their causes, but for the Canadian people, we are their lobbies, in a way. However, the public is losing faith in us. Nowadays, it has become commonplace to say that politicians are corrupt, that they are in the pockets of big money, that they are up for sale. Like the weather and the usual gripes, distrust of Canada's political class is now a topic for small talk. The relationship between us and the people who elected us is the backbone of democracy. If we let that relationship crumble, we will have no purpose anymore.
The government claims to want to make the funding of political parties more transparent with Bill . From now on, when governing parties want to organize $1,500 per person cocktail parties, they will have to advertise them in advance and report the names of those who attend.
However, the fact that these events were not advertised has never been the problem. Even if these $1,500 per person evenings were to make the front page of the newspaper, my constituents in Joliette would not attend. They cannot afford to spend that kind of money to meet politicians. In fact, most of them would simply like to have that kind of money.
The fact that we did not know who attended these parties has never been the problem. The Chief Electoral Officer releases a yearly report on political contributions. One need only check his website to get all the information.
The problem has nothing to do with the publicity surrounding the great Canadian tango between the two main federal parties, or with the guest list. The problem lies with the events themselves. The problem is that by selling privileged access to the prime minister, cabinet, and aspiring opposition ministers, when polls are good, that sends Canadians the message that access to our decision-makers can be bought. In this case, the fee is $1,500.
This makes people feel as though there is one democracy for them and another democracy for special interests. There is a democracy for ordinary folks and a democracy for folks who can pay. Everyone knows that this type of fundraising is wrong except for the politicians who benefit from it. Commentators often talk about a cynical public, but that is not at all true. The public has a moral compass. The public can tell between what is good and what is bad. In the people's eyes, we are the cynical ones, driven by our own interests.
The most precious thing a politician has is his or her reputation. This problem had been fixed. The Liberals themselves, under Jean Chrétien, brought forward a solution with the per-vote subsidy. With public financing, the parties' election funds are directly tied to the public's democratic choice. For each vote, the political parties receive a small amount of money, or the equivalent of a medium coffee at a roadside cafe.
Public funding goes hand in hand with lower caps on donations to parties and public office holders. There has to be a reasonable, decent limit. Together, these two measures will send people two messages. First, they will know their vote counts because, even if their party loses the election, they will help fund the political party that best reflects their ideals. This is one way to encourage people to vote for the party that best represents them rather than force them to put an X next to the name of the least bad candidate for the job of prime minister or the person who is most likely to beat the worst candidate. This would also promote diversity in politics by ensuring stable, predictable, recurring funding for all political parties including the small ones, as well as a healthy exchange of ideas in the House of Commons, something there can certainly never be too much of in a democracy.
Second, public funding combined with lower donation caps will send voters the message that all votes are equal because parties will not raise funds by courting the elite during pricey exclusive dinners.
Bill does nothing to address that problem. It is just hot air.
That is why we are going to vote against this bill, not because it is detrimental, but because it is completely useless. I would also add that it is dishonest to claim that this bill is going to clean up democracy. Real solutions do exist, and we could be taking strong action, but this bill offers nothing but half measures.
This bill is a snake oil cure. Its primary purpose is to distract us from the current government's ethical problems, which bear a remarkable resemblance to those of the previous government, I must say. Bill C-50 will do nothing to stop the scandals that caused so much embarrassment for the , the , the , and so on from happening again.
In closing, I would ask my colleagues to think about their constituents. We all know our constituents. We live beside them. They are our neighbours, our friends, our relatives, members of our community, people who get involved, our volunteers. We know their values, their needs and their wishes. We also know what they expect of us. I therefore ask my colleagues to take action and do something meaningful to strengthen and perhaps to restore the relationship of trust between us and the public.
There is an easy solution. I just spelled it out. I did not make it up. It is currently on the table. My colleague from proposed it in another bill we are debating in the House these days. His bill restores public financing for political parties and lowers donation limits.
I can assure my colleagues across the way that my colleague from Terrebonne is not petty or selfish. He would not hold it against the government if it were to adopt the solution proposed in his bill and include it in the budget. He would be totally open to that, as would I.
He would even commend the government on having the courage to do the right thing. The current system is simply costing us too much. How much? It is costing the federal Parliament its democratic legitimacy, no more no less.
Mr. Speaker, I want to take members of the House on a journey through the logic of this bill.
An hon. member: It might start a revolution.
Mr. Tom Kmiec: Yes, it might start a revolution, Mr. Speaker.
Let us start with a short title proposition for the bill. I think it is a Liberal Party slogan, but I also think it should become a short title for Bill : in God we trust; all others pay cash. It is also a Yiddish proverb, which is why I want it to be introduced as a short title for this bill. It comes down to the logic of what is in this bill, which is that the Liberal Party of Canada has a deep-seated problem with accepting illegal donations from stakeholder groups.
I am not saying that it is individual backbench members of the government caucus. I am saying that government ministers have struggled with this very mightily, and now they are introducing a piece of legislation that will apply only to them. Seemingly, they could have already done this. They could have already applied moral and ethical standards to not do this. Instead, they chose to pass a piece of legislation to tell them not to do something. On this side of the House, we are being told, “Trust us this time”, and perhaps give them some cash, if they accept the short title. “Trust us this time. We will obey this law because we are able to do that.”
The leader of the government, the , has proven that he is completely incapable of living up to the standards contained within the ethical requirements, both in the code and in the law itself. The Ethics Commissioner has sanctioned him and has mentioned that there are ethical violations of four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act. She enumerated them and provided the reasoning on both sides of the issue. Actually, she completely eviscerated every single argument put forward by the and his lawyers excusing the behaviour.
On one side, we have this fiasco the House is now trying to deal with and are demanding that taxpayers be returned the $200,000 he wasted, that he unfairly and unjustly procured for himself. Now we are being told that there will be a new law passed. Cabinet ministers in the government will be expected to live up to the ethical moral standard that will be contained in a law; that is, the disclosure of who attends Liberal Party fundraisers. If that is the goal of this piece of legislation, the logic of it almost demands that the short title become “In God we trust; all others pay cash”, because that is the logic. It is a bill about nothing.
Other members have mentioned this. The member for did so in prior debate. He referenced a Seinfeld episode called “The Pitch”, in season 4, episode 3, in which George comes up with an idea for a show about nothing, absolutely nothing.
There is nothing contained in this bill the government cannot already do. I mentioned to a few members that what I thought could be easily done is to tell a 10-year-old to google “Liberal Party fundraisers”, and that would fulfill the same things contained in this law.
We could google to see where ministers travel. I have my staff do that anyway, because I want to know if Liberal cabinet ministers are travelling to Calgary or other provinces in areas of interest to me so that I know where they are doing fundraisers. There are pictures posted online all the time on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Snapchat.
There is nothing in this law that would bring a modicum of improvement of any sort to the ethical and moral obligations of the government. It cannot live up to them anyway, so why would it force it into a piece of legislation if we know it is incapable of following the Conflict of Interest Act already? Why should the House pass a piece of legislation that will tell the Liberals to do something when we have proof that they are incapable of living up to those established requirements already? It is the himself who cannot live up to the Conflict of Interest Act requirements, and he has been sanctioned for it by the Ethics Commissioner. We know that already, so why do we need laws?
I obviously will not be supporting the bill. I will think about moving an amendment to change the short title. I see the table officer thinking about it. I will think about it and let him know at the end of my speech if that is something I want to do or if I am just kidding.
I notice that the punishment for the strict liability offences is a penalty of $1,000 for violations of this act. Holding a major fundraiser with cabinet ministers would perhaps raise $50,000, $100,000, or $200,000. We do not know.
There are a lot of private sector companies that could be available for purchase by state-owned enterprises owned by the People's Republic of China they could organize fundraisers around. Who knows how much money they could raise? They would then be liable for a $1,000 summary conviction fine.
It does not seem to impact the Liberals. The has been fined $500. This would be double that. A double increase is almost ridiculous. It is a pittance, considering the amount of funds a cabinet minister could potentially raise by travelling to a certain city and holding these with stakeholders. It is not something one is supposed to do.
I speak partially from experience, having been a former exempt staffer here in Ottawa. I was also a staff member in the Edmonton legislature. I knew what the rules were. We were all told what the rules were. It was something that both staff and ministers were responsible for. We had to protect our minister as best we could. It was incumbent on the minister also to know where the line was for an ethical and moral obligation. It did not need to be in legislation for us to know what was right and what was wrong. In this case, the Liberals are saying that they need it in legislation. They need to be told by the House of Commons and the Senate what is wrong and what is right.
In this case, they would continue to take money, potentially money they should not be raising from certain stakeholders, but they would disclose it. They would provide a report, in a nice format, somewhere online. Perhaps they would tweet it out or put it on Snapchat or Instagram. It would be so much easier for us to find. They should not do it in the first place. It is just that easy.
If they are offered a private helicopter ride to a beautiful island somewhere in the Caribbean, they should just not take it. It is just that simple. There is nothing more complicated about it. They do not need to run everything by the Ethics Commissioner. They do not need to check in with the Ethics Commissioner. Can they take a vacation. It is simple. If someone is offering them something that is too good to be true, such as a free paid vacation to an island somewhere, they should not take it.
If cabinet ministers have an opportunity to fundraise large sums of money, and it is coming from stakeholders in their departments, they could be lobbying them by buying these tickets. They should just not do it. They should not take the funds. If they did, they should return the funds. The House in the past has been pretty generous to ministers who have admitted to fault and have paid it back. Ministers have done it. Members of Parliament have done it. The House has been judicious in how it deals with such situations.
We rely on things like the Ethics Commissioner to outline the facts of a case, and then we deal with those facts in the House, which is also why we are asking the to return the money he illegally, unfairly, and unjustly charged to the taxpayer.
This legislation is just window dressing. It is a bill about nothing. There is no content to it. It really should be amended. We could amend almost the whole thing by saying, “In God we trust; others pay cash”, because that is what it seems to be about. They have fundraising targets they need to reach, and they are desperate to do so. In their bid to make it look as if they are ethical and moral and that every single member of the cabinet has splendid integrity, they are saying that they will have a piece of legislation and disclose everything so everyone will know exactly who is fundraising with them and who is attending their meetings.
It does not matter. If they are lobbyists, is it at a lobbyist's home? If these are stakeholders and there is a perception of a conflict of interest in the future, they should just not do it. They should not take their cash.
Mr. Speaker, you have given me an indication that my time is coming to a close, but that is the contribution I wanted to make to this debate. They should just not do it. They should return the money if they have taken it unfairly. Also, they should not pass a piece of legislation that should be just common sense. If it is common sense, it does not need to be in legislation. That is exactly why we call it common sense. That is not the purpose of legislation. Legislation is to provide rules and guidance formally and to make something have actual consequences. Bill C does not do that. It is a Liberal Party of Canada problem. It is not a Government of Canada problem.
Mr. Speaker, I have known the member for a while now, and I know he is new. I saw him in action at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, and I have a great deal of respect for him, both as a member and as part of the exempt staff he pointed out.
This is probably more about me speaking about Bill itself as opposed to going through the list of his arguments or assertions. In this case, transparency is key. In my 14 years' experience here, everyone asks for transparency in light of the fact that we are not trying to eliminate something that exists, as in the case of fundraising. We all know there are certainties in life. There is death, taxes, and of course fundraising, because we all have to do it, which was acknowledged by the other side. I appreciate that.
What Bill does, just the bill alone, is that it provides an amount of transparency for those who want to attend for the sake of their party or their own electoral district. The rules are in place to allow transparency so that everybody can see this, and it allows them to participate in what is a function of democracy.
With some people, like in the United States, it goes very far in what fundraising is meant to do. I am glad we have the laws that we do. The member pointed out what Jean Chrétien did many years ago, banning the donations from either corporations or unions, and I agree with that as well. That is truly a great step in the right direction. This is part of that step as well in terms of transparency.
If the member does not support Bill , what is the answer?
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , and to lament what I think is a significant lost opportunity to improve fundraising practices in Canada in a meaningful way. It is very disappointing. Of course we will support the bill. However, it does so little it is hardly worth it.
What the Liberals are trying to do, and I heard this when listening to the this morning, is what I would call “bait and switch”. They would like us to think that by somehow being aware that they are having these cash for access fundraisers, we should all be content: “There is nothing going on here, nothing to watch here, so just move on.”
However, that misses the whole point. They pretend this great transparency that they talk about is going to make a critical difference in the understanding of that, forgetting all the while that people can still come and give their money to the party at these private homes in West Vancouver or on Bay Street, and the like, and somehow Canadians should be tickled pink that we now have the ability to know a couple of days in advance, to find out who is there, and so on, missing the point that cash for access is alive and well and just fine. I know a particular individual has paid a lot of money to be there and talk to the or the . They are on the back porch at that House in West Vancouver.
At one point, the Liberal Party said it was doing that to have fun and help the party. Then the acknowledged that sometimes they do talk about things at these fundraisers, like who gets the contract, which law firm is going to get the fisheries prosecution contract this year, who is going to get the bridge construction contract, and so on. It exacerbates the cynicism that Canadians have about the current government and our democracy in general. It demonstrates the continuing inequality, because not everybody from rural Canada or impoverished communities are able to go there, spend the money, and buttonhole the about their favourite project. However, if one has lots of money, apparently one can, and we should forget that is a problem. We should just assume that because we know it is happening somehow that makes it all fine.
It is not fine. It undermines our democracy.
This bill is a travesty. It could have been so much more. The Liberals ignored all the recommendations of the conflict of interest commissioner in producing this. They think if they change the channel and pivot away, if they bait and switch, somehow Canadians will forget.
Speaking of bait and switch, I heard the hon. use another bait and switch technique. It goes like this, “Mr. Jagmeet Singh, who is the leader of the NDP, has to be transparent too so we will know what the opposition fundraisers are about as well.” There is a tiny problem with that. Members will agree with me I hope that Mr. Jagmeet Singh is not giving out bridge contracts, contracts to law firms, contracts to do whatever people are lobbying the government to do. That is the shame of this bill.
The Liberals think they can persuade Canadians that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, that we are all the same here, forgetting that the government controls billions of dollars in expenditures every year, has patronage positions by the thousands, and somehow we have to make sure that the opposition parties are treated just like the and the cabinet. What a joke. I hope Canadians are not hoodwinked by this rhetoric.
I pointed out earlier in my remarks to the that yesterday marked a very sad anniversary. The current government got elected in large measure, certainly among young people in my riding I can confirm without a hesitation at all, on the basis that the election laws would be changed. The Liberal Party got 39.5% of the vote, ends up with 100% of the power, and that is supposed to be just fine. People said, “No, no, the came to my riding, and I think dozens of other ridings, and said that those days are over.” Yesterday marks an exact year since the decided that he was just kidding. I can say that the level of cynicism that has engendered saddens me as a Canadian. It saddens me as a person who believes in our parliamentary democracy.
I do not usually quote the Canadian Press, but to give them credit, on December 1 of last year they had something that members may be familiar with. They call it the “baloney meter”. It talked about the first response by the Liberals about why they were not proceeding with electoral reform. The Liberals said they would only do it with “broad support”. Did they ever say that during the campaign?
However, the Canadian Press, which is hardly a radical NDP organ, said that this merits the full of baloney award. I think it is good that the press, at least, is watching and understands that.
Then just this last Saturday morning, the went on “The House”, the CBC program. He said that proportional representation, which is the choice of most Canadians, every poll would say, would divide Canadians and “exacerbate the small differences in the electorate”. I guess that is why we are not proceeding. Then there was another one where it was his preferred ranked ballot system that was the reason why we could not proceed. People did not like his little options, so he was taking his marbles and going home.
I have to say that I know I am making light of this. I know it is easy to do, and I know it is a standing joke among Canadians what this government has done, breaking promises on fundamental reform, which were repeated like a mantra at every election stop across the land to get young people engaged.
My colleague from the Okanagan talked about constituents of his who said, as I recall, that they were going to do what their children wanted them to do in voting. They got them all engaged in the electoral promise. Essentially, because of the promise the made about electoral reform, we do not know who they voted for but one can guess, now they are not going to vote anymore. Now they are like many people in my riding who say, “What is the point?”, and will be indifferent when the actual election comes.
This also could be the despair for lobbyists act. I know I called it the bait and switch act, but I do not know if I should give it that title. Now I am going to call it the lobbyists despair act, because why get expensive lobbyists in Ottawa when one can pay 1,000 bucks or so, go meet the , and talk on the back lawn of a West Vancouver billionaire's house or at a Bay Street party somewhere in Rosedale about what one wants?
Who needs a lobbyist anymore? I kind of feel sorry for the lobbyist industry because cash for access is just so much more effective. I know who I am talking to. I am not dealing with some parliamentary secretary. Oh, by the way, they are not covered by this act. I am not dealing with the chief of staff or anything. I am going to go straight to the and talk about pension reform like Morneau Shepell.
I am going to say as well that the level of cynicism and the level of the inequality that this bill represents is really quite shocking. I would like to read what a journalist, Paul Willcocks, has said about this:
Cash-for-access fundraisers undermine democracy and put Canada’s political inequality on display. The rich and powerful pay to advance their interests behind closed doors, while the rest of us stand outside. They let the party in power sell access—to the prime minister, cabinet ministers, senior officials—in a way that entrenches its political dominance.
This is wrong. Its cosmetic changes are nice and we will support them. However, I end where I began. This is a missed opportunity. This is a bait and switch bill. This does not address the problem, except to put a happy face on a practice that has gone on far too long and undermines our democracy.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise on Friday in a lively debate here on Bill , which would make changes to Canada's Election Act and is premised on political fundraising.
As my good friend and colleague from phrased it, this really is a Seinfeldian bill about nothing. It came as a result of inappropriate conduct by the government with respect to cash for access fundraisers, literally within minutes of forming government. I will speak for a few minutes on why that may seem astonishing to many people, since the Liberals had been out of a power for a decade. However, if we look at the people involved, we will see this is their modus operandi, cash for access. No wonder the and many minister hit the ground running after their election on #realchange.
Essentially, a read of the bill would result in the question of what the changes are. I guess it means that before hosting an event, somewhere in a prominent place on the Internet, the event must be published. Is that truly earth shattering? There are few other elements about what needs to be reported and what is disclosed. However, the main thrust is that now, buried on page 8 of the #realchange website, there is information on the event.
Clearly, the way the structured his affairs was that these fundraisers were happening almost right away. We have seen pictures of them, where the Prime Minister of Canada was helping to host or even preparing a meal for Chinese billionaires. It really caused some questions to be asked very early in this Parliament. Some of the same interests that helped organize or attend those fundraisers were also part of the Trudeau Foundation, named after the late prime minister.
There was some suggestion, because the Liberal government at first cancelled the monument to the Afghanistan war, that because of that Chinese support for the Trudeau Foundation, a statue Pierre Trudeau would be built before a monument to our Afghanistan veterans. It is shameful. I am glad the government then, after outrage, came forward with some sort of proposal, but it cancelled something I had announced as veterans minister, the location, as well as another monument to our Victoria Cross winners.
That was a series of events the and other ministers had replicating this cash for access for insiders, including some that had links with groups like Canada 2020. I am sure there are wonderful people in that organization. I like to describe it as, “What do the students from Queen's who are on the Queen's Liberal campus club do when they graduate? They join Canada 2020.” Now they run events in conjunction with the 's office and have exclusive access. There is an inappropriate connection between the Prime Minister and that front group. We also see influence being extended through a number of these intimate cash for access dinners in which the engages.
Why are we not surprised by this conduct, despite language about being open and accountable in the Liberal election platform and in the Prime Minister's note to his ministers on accountability and being clear from even the perception of conflict of interest? The people running the 's office, during their years at Queen's Park, in and around Ontario politics, set up the most elaborate cash for access scheme that Canadian politics had ever seen. Throughout the governments of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, there was a machine providing access for cash.
I will quote a few details contained in a great Globe and Mail article that I would suggest some members of the Liberal caucus peruse. I know they already are having concerns about the direction some of the minds in the PMO are forging.
The Globe and Mail reports that there were 159 intimate cash for access fundraisers with Premier Wynne just in a few years, with no disclosure or confirmation of who attended. Three of them were for $10,000 a ticket. In that period, the Liberals raised $20 million from the cash for access machine.
As we know from the first few weeks of debate in the House, Canadian taxpayers paid to move that machine from Toronto to Ottawa to run the 's Office, and within weeks, he was attending these same-styled intimate cash for access dinners. It really took outrage from the House of Commons and Canadians for him to stop that, put a note on the website or advertise it, and those elements of their public relations campaign led to Bill .
We have to look at what is expected when we talk about transparency and accountability. The government tosses those words around so cavalierly, but let us look at the record.
There is a report from the former ethics commissioner in the name of the . Her report reveals that the accepted a luxury gift from someone he casually knew 30 years prior. He describes him now as a friend. I am 45 and if I had not talked to a friend in 30 years, I might say I went to school with that person, but we were not BFFs. I am not sure if the Prime Minister is Facebook friends with the Aga Khan, but I do not see that a 30-year casual interaction at a funeral justifies a family friendship.
What was more scary in that report was the fact that the did not feel it was important because he was almost a ceremonial figure for the country. That is ludicrous. At the same time, the good organization run by the owner of that private island was lobbying the government for continued support for its programs. They are good programs, but that is in direct violation of the act, which the Ethics Commissioner said, four times. That is the first report in the Prime Minister's name. Another one is coming on lobbying from the cash for access dinners that I referenced at the beginning of my speech.
With respect to conflict of interest, for Canadians following this debate, there can be a real conflict of interest or the perception of one, which is why the , in his mandate letters, which he made great fanfare about releasing but now ignores routinely, says that ministers are supposed to be beyond even the appearance of conflict.
The , prior to running, was making advocacy speeches publicly to change pension legislation in Canada, while he had a large interest in a company that advises on making those changes. Then he introduced a bill in Parliament to do that, knowing full well that, at the very least, there would be a perception of a conflict of interest maybe. Am I being unreasonable? No, I am not.
I know the is an honourable man. He made a big mistake. He should express that and likely stay back. He should probably, as an hon. member of the House, step aside until the report on that bill is complete. That would live up to the lofty goals contained in the mandate letters of the . However, why should he do that when the Prime Minister has more investigations about him and refuses to account for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on an illegal trip. He is sending quite a signal to his caucus. He is saying that he wrote this in the ministers' mandate letters, but if they are following leadership by example, his example is to not be accountable.
We can have Bill , we can have a ton of bills in the House, but if Liberals are not making decisions in the nation's interest that are showing they are clear from even the perception of conflict of interest, if they are not showing they are willing to take leadership and own up to mistakes, repay money, and step away from important portfolios while investigations are pending, the language in mandate letters is useless. It is just words.
I want to hear some accountability from these members. We do not want Canadians to see the cash for access scheme that led to 15 years of corruption and incompetence in Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, I have thought a great deal about the use of that term. I have tried to use it within the context of a question, because I am not sure here. When a promise is made, and I am not suggesting the lied in this House or anything like that, but we certainly saw in an election campaign that a promise was made. The determination is either that the promise was made without full knowledge of the cost implications, and that is likely what it is, or it was made for political calculation, which would be a lie. I think it is the former, and I would like the , or perhaps the , to clarify that for me.
I do not use that word lightly. However, when I was the veterans affairs minister and I was trying to deal with families struggling with losing faith in the Government of Canada, both Liberal and Conservative, I said that the biggest thing we owe veterans is the truth and to work with them on making progress. I am being very judicious with the decision, and perhaps a ruling on this might be in order.
If I offer this as a question with two alternatives, it really is up to the to determine or confirm which alternative is correct. At that time, if there would be an acknowledgement that they did not cost the full lifetime pension promise, did not look at its implementation or its impact on people, I would certainly withdraw the language I suggested as the alternative. However, this is such a passionate subject for me personally and for veterans, and I know my friend from Barrie feels the same way. I would like a determination on whether posing it in this way, giving the and the a choice, allows me to remain within the parliamentary rules. I certainly have respect for this House. I certainly have respect for the deputy House leader. However, this is part of responsibility in public life.
We can get passionate about pipelines and a whole range of issues, but unlike some issues, benefits and payments to injured veterans affects families. This is bigger than a lot of debates we have in this place, and perhaps why, if we do take the sacred obligation we have to our veterans, we should be very precise with our language.
Mr. Speaker, if I am found to be playing too close to the line here by offering it as a choice, if that is your determination, I will apologize to this House. I did give very careful thought about how I have used these terms and how I have presented it for them to respond. Holding a press conference a couple of days before Christmas, after the House rose, and suggesting they did not break their promise is not fair to this House, and it is not fair to veterans or their families across the country.
Mr. Speaker, I will look to your honourable guidance with respect to this question.
Mr. Speaker, I would refer to Section 491 of Beauchesne's, which says, “No language is, by virtue of any list, acceptable or unacceptable.” It is the context.
What I might suggest is a compromise. The member for is probably one of my favourite members on that side. He is a good friend. Perhaps this might change it. I would like clarity here. If this was not an issue that I lived and breathed and bleed about, I would not be phrasing it with a choice for the to make. That is how I am phrasing it, and maybe those members do not like it.
Perhaps the framework would be that the promise was made when there were no members of the House, because the House of Commons was dissolved. A collection of Liberal candidates in the last general election made a promise with respect to lifetime veteran pensions. That was either one of two things. It was either in the context of a campaign, when the House of Commons was dissolved and there were no hon. members at that time. In the context of that campaign, it was either an un-costed, not properly researched promise, or a political calculation, which now appears to be a lie. I do not like using that word. I hoped I would never have to use it. I am using it, because that is what has happened as a result of that promise.
I look for direction. If I am wrong, I will withdraw and apologize. However, it is not absolutely clear to me if it is presented in that way, or perhaps the compromise would be that the House was not in session, and it was a collection of candidates,
It is important enough that I would like your clarity on it, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, since my speaking time has been cut short, I will try to stay on point.
Our democracy is important and we cherish it. However, it is a living thing, and we must not let it wither. We must support and nurture it. The Liberals had an opportunity to do so. They even promised to advance our democracy by introducing proportional representation. However, they broke their promise and by doing so they discouraged many young people who had decided to vote. They prevented us from having a House of Commons that truly represents the interests of the entire population. Furthermore, they have fuelled cynicism about politicians and our institutions. This is a step backwards for democracy.
In the meantime, they chose to organize cash for access meetings, where people pay for access to the Prime Minister and his cabinet. These are very intimate meetings, where a good meal and a glass of wine are served to people who can afford to pay $1,500 to speak one-on-one with the Prime Minister and members of cabinet.
In Laurier—Sainte-Marie, most people cannot afford to pay $1,500 to speak to the Prime Minister or his ministers about their housing problems or how they are outraged about tax evasion and cuts in services. They do not have that kind of money.
Why do the wealthy have this kind of access, while the people I represent, the citizens of Laurier—Sainte-Marie, do not? That is unacceptable. With Bill—