That the report of the Ethics Commissioner, entitled “The Trudeau Report”, tabled on Monday, January 29, 2018, be concurred in.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I am rising today to speak to the former ethics commissioner's report called “The Trudeau Report”, which found that the had breached the Conflict of Interest Act in four separate ways.
Regrettably, at this point, I have just 10 minutes to speak, even though there is so much to be said. Let me start by summarizing why we are here and what has happened to get us to this point.
Two Christmases ago, right after the election, Christmas holidays were here and the dropped off the radar. This was a Prime Minister who had just been elected on a campaign of openness and transparency, but he left for somewhere and would not tell anyone where he went. If he had just been away on a holiday, maybe on a beach somewhere, he probably would have told the media and Canadians that he was on a holiday with his family, but for some reason he was incredibly secretive and did not want anyone to know where he had gone on his Christmas holiday.
Some enterprising members of the parliamentary press gallery tracked down the and found out he was in the Bahamas. No doubt egged on by the Prime Minister's secrecy over the whole thing, these journalists kept digging. It turned out the Prime Minister was not just in the Bahamas at a resort somewhere that he had paid for, having a little holiday with his family. He was hanging out on a billionaire's beautiful island, a private Caribbean island owned by the Aga Khan.
The Aga Khan does some very good work. He presides over organizations such as the Global Centre for Pluralism, which has had associations and dealings, financial and otherwise, with the Government of Canada for decades. Again, the Aga Khan does very good work in Canada and around the world, but that is irrelevant to the point we are discussing today. The point is that the Aga Khan, a good individual who does very good work for Canadians, gets a whole lot of money from the Government of Canada to do this work, and the of Canada was on his island accepting a free vacation from him.
What the report told us is that this was not the first time the had taken a free vacation from the Aga Khan on the island. In fact, during Christmas 2014, prior to being Prime Minister, he was there for a holiday. In March 2016, family members were there for a holiday. Then during Christmas 2016, there was the private island holiday yet again. Wow, what an amazing so-called friendship to have. That is the other interesting thing about the report. For a year, the Prime Minister was saying that this was a holiday accepted from a very good friend, but the Ethics Commissioner's report told us that in fact they had not had contact for 30 years. He just seemed to be a wonderful, long-lost old friend whom the Prime Minister was somehow reacquainted with after he became Prime Minister, while the Aga Khan was doing a whole bunch of business with the Government of Canada.
The point is, and that is most likely why the and his staff took such a posture of great secrecy, that we have ethics rules in place that are meant to prevent prime ministers, ministers, or even parliamentarians without executive responsibilities from doing things that put them in a conflict of interest. These are things like accepting free vacations from those who do multi-million dollar transactions with the government, accepting free rides in their private helicopters, not recusing oneself from discussions where the opportunity exists to improperly further the other person's interests, and failing to arrange one's own affairs in a manner to avoid those conflicts of interest. Those were the exact four areas where the Prime Minister broke the ethics rules. These rules are in place to stop a prime minister from doing this, but in a very shameful, historic ruling, we have seen our own Prime Minister break these four specific rules.
That is why my hon. friend the wrote to Mary Dawson, the then Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, asking for an investigation of the 's conduct. That is why the Ethics Commissioner in turn conducted an investigation and produced a thorough 66-page report called “The Trudeau Report” on the 's vacation. That is why the Ethics Commissioner reported her findings that the Conflict of Interest Act had been violated in four separate ways.
Let us keep in mind that the Conflict of Interest Act is a law. For anybody who said that the did not break the law, he did in fact break the law. The Conflict of Interest Act is a piece of legislation that our government brought into effect. It was passed here in the House of Commons. It is in law, and the broke that law. There is no way to sugarcoat or whitewash it. Mary Dawson's investigation confirmed what any sensible and reasonable observer would have said, that the 's free luxury vacation on a private Caribbean island owned by someone with dealings with the federal government simply did not pass the sniff test.
Many have looked at the value of these three vacations. They are probably valued at close to $700,000. When we look at the value of not only the vacation itself but the RCMP time that was used for this vacation, which the has refused to pay back, it is close to $700,000. Can members imagine a minister of the crown receiving an envelope of cash with $700,000 in it from somebody who is dealing with that minister? It is like that individual saying, “Here is a free gift of $700,000 cash”, when that minister is making decisions regarding the work this individual was doing. The fact that this is basically what our did is reprehensible. The fact that he refuses to take responsibility for it is even more irresponsible. It goes to show how the has failed Canadians in his dealings. He has been unethical and has shown such horrendous judgment time and time again.
The Ethics Commissioner also unearthed that the and his family accepted similar vacations when he was the leader of the third party, and that his wife, children, and their whole host of friends accepted a third vacation in March 2016.
We thank the former Ethics Commissioner for her work and her analysis on this serious issue. The report and the public discussions about it have exposed a serious concern for us as Conservatives and I think for the entire House of Commons.
When we read the report that addressed the unethical and illegal vacation, we learned that during this Caribbean sojourn, the and the Aga Khan exchanged gifts. He received a present during a gifted vacation. Talk about piling it on. It is kind of like the nesting dolls that get piled on one after the other. We keep opening up the doll and there is another doll and then another. However, this is not very dollish at all; in fact, it is probably the opposite.
What kind of gifts are we talking about? My colleague, the hon. member for , himself a skilled journalist, sought to get to the bottom of the mystery and placed a question on the Order Paper to find out what kind of gifts the received from the Aga Khan. It would seem that the same PMO staff who first handled the communication of the Bahamas trip fielded this question. This is what we heard back from the government: basically, no disclosure. The said that he had disclosed all gifts to the Ethics Commissioner as part of the examination.
The bottom line is that the did not disclose the illegal gifts. He said he received a bag. We do not know if it was a duffle bag that one might get at Winners or a Louis Vuitton bag worth many thousands of dollars. We do not know because the will not tell us. The has to disclose gifts under a certain amount, but these illegal gifts that he received he has not had to disclose. When we have asked him time and time again, he has refused to.
The concern in this legal gap is not Mary Dawson's fault and it is something that needs to be addressed in the Conflict of Interest Code. With that, we need to get to the bottom of the gift exchange, and we need to close the loophole so that this does not continue.
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the opposition House leader for concurring in this report and basically presenting the case for why it is important to have debate today on the 's ethical breaches. It is not just us saying it. It is the Ethics Commissioner saying it.
Before I go on, Madam Speaker, if I could have your help on this, I will move an amendment to the motion at the end of my speech. If I am given the warning of one minute, I will be happy to move it then.
We are here today because of what's called “The Trudeau Report”. It was made under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for members of the House of Commons. It was tabled before the House in late January. Within it, we found that the , in fact, was guilty of breaking the ethical standards set in law.
It is not a spirit thing. It is not something the opposition would like to see. It is not something that members outside of the House believe is important. It is literally an act of Parliament that was passed, with guidance documents, which the signed, provided to all of his ministers. In the report, the Ethics Commissioner found that the broke four specific parts of the act.
Before I continue, I will also mention that I believe it is the first time a prime minister, in the history of Canada, has been found guilty of breaking not just any law but the ethics rules that all of us have to abide by, including members of the government. The front benchers and the members of the cabinet have to live by the rules. It is even worse that the person who is supposed to lead them, the person who is supposed to represent all of them, the , broke these rules. What kind of example does it set for the rest of the cabinet ministers when their own leader breaks the rules and shows no contrition whatsoever about having done so and makes no amends whatsoever to fix the matter?
There is a saying, “Every day brings forth its own sorrows.” That is a Yiddish proverb. I had my own sorrow on Sunday and Monday when all my flights kept being cancelled and I could not get here, but today I believe it is going to be the sorrow of the , because he is in a particular situation where he has done nothing to address his ethical lapses.
I am old enough to remember that this is indeed the same old Liberal Party of Canada, the same old people who are involved. I remember Adscam. I remember the Gomery inquiry. Justice Gomery did a fantastic report at the time. We are having a repetition of the same ethical lapses of 10 to15 years ago. It is absolutely ridiculous that we find ourselves here today. I also think this is the first time we have had concurrence in an Ethics Commissioner's report to the House that highlights the ethical lapses of the .
There are five things a Toronto Star article mentioned that I think draw attention to the importance of having this debate today, because ethics do matter. We cannot just wash it over. Ethics do matter.
The Aga Khan did not meet the definition of a friend under the law. The broke the rules on gifts. The flights that were taken were an issue. I am going to go into that just a little bit more, because the Ethics Commissioner went into the details of what the 's lawyers were saying in an interpretation of the law that I think most Canadians would find absolutely ridiculous. Finally, the failed to recuse himself from talks that gave him an opportunity to further the interests of the Aga Khan.
The investigation started because the former chair of the ethics committee wrote a letter. It was the member for , a Conservative member of Parliament, who pointed out to the Ethics Commissioner the potential ethical breaches in the behaviour of the . I remember that at the time, that side of the House, including very specific parliamentary secretaries, were saying that this was not an issue. They were asking why there was a focus on a vacation trip when we should be focusing on jobs, the economy, and all these other things.
However, ethics matter, especially in leadership. Role models Canadians look toward for ethical decision-making, who are leading the country, should be held to the highest possible standard. More so, they should set the bar even higher for themselves and do so in a very public manner. When they cannot even meet the bar they set, and they cannot even meet the bar set by the House of Commons itself, it becomes a matter the House should consider through concurrence in the report.
In that report, the Ethics Commissioner said,
There was nothing unusual, unforeseen, or unavoidable about this trip. [The Prime Minister] was well aware, given his previous stay on the island in 2014, that private transportation was needed to reach the Aga Khan's private island.
One of the points the lawyers tried to make was that actually, this ethical breach, which the Ethics Commissioner said was a violation of the law, was unavoidable. The lawyers claimed that there was no way to plan around this. The RCMP needed to do it.
The knew in 2014 that if he went to this island, it would be exactly the same situation. The Ethics Commissioner said it was unavoidable, that he should have known better. The Prime Minister contravened sections 5, 11, 12, and 21 of the act. The Ethics Commissioner found that he failed to meet the general duty found in section 5, because he vacationed on the Aga Khan's private island.
Section 11, which is the purpose of my amendment, deals with the gifts that were received during this trip. The accepted hospitality and gifts and the use of the private island that personally benefited him. He never cleared it with the Ethics Commissioner ahead of time. He just did it, and after the fact, he claimed that he had learned a lesson and that it probably will not happen again. How can we trust that? He showed no contrition. He made no attempt to modify the law to live up to the higher standard he set for cabinet ministers.
Section 12 prohibits ministers and members of their families from accepting travel on non-commercial charter or private aircraft. By the way, the lawyers quibbled over the definition in French and English, aircraft versus avion, in the report. That does not cover helicopters. I find it absolutely ridiculous that the would instruct his lawyers to make that type of defence, but it is in the report itself. Any Canadian can read it and see it in black and white.
The Ethics Commissioner said,
[The Prime Minister] contravened Section 12 when he and his family accepted travel provided by the Aga Khan on a private aircraft. The travel was not required as part of his official duties, the circumstances were not exceptional and he did not seek the prior approval of the Commissioner.
Last, “the contravened Section 21 when he failed to recuse himself from two discussions during which he had an opportunity to improperly further the private interests of” the Aga Khan.
As the has said, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan himself do a lot of good work, charitable work, all around the world. It is not incumbent upon the Aga Khan to recuse himself. It is incumbent upon the to recuse himself. He is the person responsible for ensuring that he does not find himself in a conflict of interest. All members of cabinet have to live up to this higher standard, a higher standard set not only by the Prime Minister but also by the House of Commons through the ethics legislation that was passed in 2006, with mass party support. We all agreed at the time that the ethical bar had to be raised, and indeed, it was raised.
It is interesting that now we find ourselves in this situation, 12 years after that truly historic and monumental piece of legislation came down. It was the first piece of legislation put forward by the Conservative government in 2006. It set forth new ethical rules that all members of Parliament, cabinet ministers, and the prime minister were expected to live up to.
The has failed to live up to those standards, and now we find ourselves today concurring in a report from the Ethics Commissioner to draw the attention of Canadians to the Prime Minister's lack of ethical standards and his complete inability to show any contrition or make amends or propose modifications to the rules to ensure that this will never happen again. It may quite easily happen again.
There is also the issue of the gifts. We do not know what the illegal gifts were. As the said, members of Parliament and Canadians have a right to know what they were.
I see that my time is up. I would like to move the amendment I spoke of at the beginning of my remarks. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “THAT” and substituting the following: the report of the Ethics Commissioner, entitled “The Trudeau Report”, tabled on Monday, January 29, 2018, be not now concurred in, but that, pursuant to section 28(13) of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, it be referred back to the Commissioner with instruction that he amend the same to include recommendations to close the loopholes in the Code, as well as the Conflict of Interest Act, that allowed the Prime Minister to withhold from the public the nature of the unacceptable gifts he received from the Aga Khan because the public registry includes only acceptable gifts within the meaning of section 14 of the Code and Section 11 of the Conflict of Interest Act.
Madam Speaker, members across the way say that it is about disclosure. They are right. In this aspect of my comments, it is all about disclosure. What did the government of the day, the Harper government, have to say? It said no. It did not believe in telling Canadians how it is members of Parliament were spending their money. The only ones that were worse than the Conservatives back then were the New Democrats.
What happened is that the leader of the Liberal Party, today's , said that even if the Conservatives and the NDP did not support it, the Liberal caucus would go it alone. We took the additional resources, which were scarce because we were the third party at the time, but it was important to the leader of the Liberal Party and we set up an internal system. The leader back then said that Liberal members of Parliament would participate in proactive disclosure.
It was the Conservatives and the NDP who said no, because of their unwillingness to participate if obligated. If the Liberal Party wanted to move forward on it, we had to create our own system. Now, a couple of months went by and we were into the summer. This was three or four years ago. The Conservatives had one of those road to Damascus moments, at least on the aspect of the importance of proactive disclosure. As the back then tried to explain to this chamber, yes, Canadians have a right to know. It is a fair expectation Canadians have in terms of knowing how members of Parliament are spending the hundreds of thousands of dollars we are individually given as members of Parliament, all of which are tax dollars, and that they have a right to know that. We applauded the Conservatives for changing their minds on it.
Of course, in order to get something done, we needed unanimous support. We still had the New Democrats refusing to give unanimous support to the issue. They fought it tooth and nail. It was not until we brought in an opposition motion, where they were literally embarrassed into supporting the idea and they had to stand up individually, that they changed their opinion. I believe that in the months and months that went by from when they initially said no, they realized, much like the Conservatives, that it was time to have proactive disclosure.
We were glad to have played a very important role in that, believing it provided more accountability and transparency to Canadians. The then said, once he became , that ministerial mandate letters would also become part of the public domain. That was something new. What would happen before was that the former prime minister, Stephen Harper, would say what he thought a department should do, that he would pass that on through a particular minister, and they were known as the mandate letters. Would they become public? It is hard to say, depending on the minister.
Let us think in terms of what the mandate letter is. It kind of captures the essence of what some of those important priorities are that a department should be moving toward. We have a , virtually from taking office, saying that these mandate letters are in fact going to be public. Whether it is from virtual day one of this Liberal cabinet to today, we have seen actions by this , by this cabinet, and by the Liberal caucus, because all my colleagues within the Liberal caucus understand the importance of accountability and transparency. We have strived to deliver that to Canadians.
Now, there is always room for improvement. We can always do better. Maybe that is a good segue into what it is we are debating today through this particular report.
Issues come up. All prime ministers travel. When prime ministers travel, they do not travel alone. There is a security issue. Let us wake up the Conservative Party and talk about Stephen Harper. When Stephen Harper travelled, there was a security detail that went with him. That is part of being a prime minister. There has to be security. Believe it or not, there are individuals around the world who would like to cause harm to the office of the Prime Minister, so there is that need. When the Conservatives talk about the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the costs of security are very real, just like the costs of security for the House of Commons. There is a cost to seeing the RCMP officers and security individuals we have within this chamber. That is just modern-day democracy, and the way our parliamentary system works. To throw around numbers or point out these huge costs in tax dollars because the took a vacation is disingenuous. It is meant to get Canadians upset. That is the real purpose of it. What is it that the opposition members are really trying to do? They do not have anything to talk about.
I will get to some of the things that are important to Canadians which this government will continue to be focused on, but before I do that, I want to pick up on the question I had posed to the . Why do the official opposition in particular, with the support of the unholy alliance the New Democratic Party, want to continue to hit at the personal level?
I was in opposition for over 20 years. Most of my political career has been in opposition. Based on the experience I had in opposition, I can say that yes, at times we need to hold government accountable for some of the things that a minister, a prime minister, a premier, or even non-ministers do. We have independent agencies, such as the Ethics Commissioner, the Lobbying Commissioner, and Elections Canada. We have individuals who are far more independent in their thinking than the opposition parties are.
The current Conservative Party goes out of its way, because it does not have anything to say about the economy. It does not have anything to say with respect to the social programming this government has been introducing since it has been mandated. These are very strong, tangible things that I will go into. However, before I do that, members should recognize that the reason we are debating this report today is that it fits the Conservative agenda of let us not talk about substance or government policy; let us talk about who we can attack in the cabinet of the Liberal government or even at times non-cabinet members. That is what the Conservatives look for all of the time. They are consistent when it comes to that. I will use the words “character assassination”, because that is what it feels like at times.
We have these independent offices so that if opposition members have concerns, they can raise those concerns in addition to raising them on the floor of the House. If we look at the report that was issued by Mary Dawson, the independent commissioner, I think it is a good report. The report is based on a lot of information. I know when the issue first came up, when the Conservatives first raised it, and good for them for raising the issue, right away there were discussions with Mary Dawson, the independent officer of Parliament, and there was an investigation.
From day one, the was very clear. He said that he would work co-operatively with the commissioner and respond to any of her inquiries.
Opposition members continued to push the issue, which they can do so. They called for the report. They demanded the report. However, we did not tell Mary Dawson that she should release the report on such and such date. This is an independent office. If we were to do that, we would then be criticized for telling the independent office to provide the report by such-a-such date.
However, when Mary Dawson came out with report, what took place? Immediately after the commissioner's report was tabled in the House, the took responsibility. He went over and above what was being requested. The Prime Minister said that when he went on a vacation, he would advance that information to the office.
It was not as if there something was intentionally done to try to hide this. No one was trying to hide something. However, when people listen to the Conservatives, they would think there was a mass conspiracy. That is what the Conservatives want Canadians to believe.
The took immediate responsibility and took specific actions to address the situation. However, it was not good enough. The Conservatives saw the report, which we are debating today. Why? Because it does not fit the Conservatives' narrative of who cares about what is happening in our communities with respect to economics or social policy. All they care about is how they can attack the individual. Far too often I see that demonstrated, whether in question period or otherwise.
What were we supposed to debate today? The budget implementation bill. However, instead of debating that bill, we are debating an issue that is not new, that we have spent hours and hours of debate on. Instead of talking about the bill, the Conservatives want to regurgitate the same issue on which there is a report. The has taken responsibility. Therefore, one must question the motivation of the members across the way.
Right now we are not debating the budget implementation bill because of the Conservatives. However, I will give them credit as they have been able to convince the New Democrats that their approach on this issue is the best approach for debate in the House. It is almost as if the enemy of my enemy is my friend is the attitude of the Conservatives and New Democrats.
I have had many years of experience being on the opposition benches. Who knows, it could be four years, 10 years, but I hope to have a balance with the same number of years in government as in opposition. That is a hope, but it will be Canadians who make that determination. For those who are wondering, it was just over 20 years in opposition.
The joint opposition can continue to focus on the personalities. It can continue to focus on personal character assassinations. We, on the government benches, the Liberal caucus, will continue to focus on what really matters: Canada's middle class, those aspiring to be a part of it, and those who need a lifting hand. Those are the individuals we are here to represent, and we will do that day in and day out.
We will ensure there is more openness in government, more transparency, and more accountability. For those who are following the debate, they should not buy into what the joint opposition is saying, because we are moving forward on all fronts.
Madam Speaker, I am always proud to rise in the House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay. It is particularly interesting to rise now after listening to what could be called a political screed by my friend from Winnipeg.
When we talk about closing ethical loopholes, it always upsets Liberals. There is something about ethical breaches and Liberals that go hand in hand. It is about their idea of friendship.
The Aga Khan was a close personal friend of the , apparently, when the Prime Minister took his trip to billionaire island, yet he had not really seen him in 30 years. We were told it was just a friend.
Liberals said it is not fair for me to question a billionaire who pays the Prime Minister and some key politicians to come and hang out with him, paying their way while he is lobbying, because they are just friends. They said, “Don't you have friends who invite you to places?”
Yes, certainly. I am from northern Ontario. I get invited to fish huts all the time during the winter. For the price of a six-pack of Labatt's, I might get paid back in a little pickerel. That is not the same as Liberals who hang with billionaires who are lobbying the same government for favours.
I want to talk about this idea of friendship and the Liberals, because it is a fundamental question about ethics that they do not understand. The reason we have the Lobbying Act and the Conflict of Interest Act is so that friends do not have insider access.
The problem goes back to the pork-barrel days of the Liberals when it was about who you knew in the PMO. Buddy from the Liberal Party, tied to the Prime Minister, would step out and go into private practice. Then the would call up his friend in the Prime Minister's Office, and changes would be made.
We have realized that this is not ethical. What is ethical is that there has to be a standard for lobbying so that we know who is lobbying and why they are lobbying. A little transparency goes a long way.
The issue of closing an ethical loophole matters, because what we do in Parliament is about reassuring Canadians that they can trust us. They do not have to pay attention to all the details of the vote. In fact, there is not a single voter who would agree with every single thing we do as parliamentarians, because we are called upon to make decisions on all manner of issues. However, our voters should be able to trust that we are acting in the best interests of the Canadian people and that when we meet with large financial interests that are trying to influence government policy, it is being done in a transparent manner and for the benefit of Canadians.
This is why I want to get back to this notion of friends and Liberal friends. We have the situation of the , who flew to billionaire island and contravened numerous sections of the Conflict of Interest Act. It is actually unprecedented that a Prime Minister has been found guilty of breaching the Conflict of Interest Act for accepting gifts, for accepting favours, yet the Prime Minister did not think anything was wrong because he said the guy he had not seen in 30 years was a personal family friend. It is though they were above the law and it is very embarrassing.
I would chalk that up. I do not think there was malice on the part of the . My Conservative friends always think there was some kind of skulduggery; I do not. I think the Prime Minister thought, “He knew my dad and he is a billionaire; I like hanging out with billionaires, and I get a free trip to an island.” However, the Prime Minister needs to understand that he has to set a better example, because he promised a better example. He promised it in the 2015 election when he said it would not just be the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. My God, how the Liberals have fallen since then.
The other guest who hung out on the beach on billionaire island, who is now the , did not even bother to report the trip. The did not report the gifts he received from the Aga Khan because he said that since they were inappropriate gifts, he did not need to say what they were.
Over the many years I have been here, I have heard all manner of hogswallop when it comes to defending abuse, but I have never heard someone use a loophole to say that since it was inappropriate, they were not obligated to say what it was, and therefore they were somehow protected. I want to know if the member who is now the used this same logic when he decided that just because he took a trip to billionaire island, he did not need to report it. In fact, we need to report everything we do to the Ethics Commissioner. It is up to the Ethics Commissioner to decide whether it is appropriate or not. It is not for the individual member to say, “Well, I accepted this free gift because, hey, it was a free gift, and it does not affect my political work.” Everything does. It is about accountability.
Speaking of friends of the Liberal Party, let us talk about Stephen Bronfman. This man is one of the most powerful men in Canada, and he is certainly a powerful Liberal fundraiser. In fact, he is so powerful that he raised $250,000 for the Liberal Party and his personal friend, the , in two hours. That is an amazing power.
The Prime Minister would say they are just friends, because the Prime Minister certainly loves hanging out with billionaires. The Prime Minister held a recent fundraiser with billionaires and the super-rich in Montreal, and he told us that the reason they were there was to get tough on the one per cent. Can members imagine that? Do they imagine that the reason that the billionaire class is paying money to the Liberal party is so that it can get tough on the one per cent? That is not how life works.
How it does work was shown when Stephen Bronfman was named in the paradise papers scandal, a scandal that identified powerful people around the world who were evading their tax responsibilities through tax havens. When Stephen Bronfman was one of the Canadians named, the immediately intervened and said that no investigation was necessary, and no investigation happened. That is the power of friends in the Prime Minister's Office.
It was also highly inappropriate, because it is not up to the Prime Minister of this country to decide in advance whether tax laws in this country are being broken or they are not just because someone is, first, his personal friend, and second, he raises money for the Liberal Party. That is not an ethical standard that we can trust, but it seems to work for the current government.
This issue needs to be called out.
In the recent debacle in India, the 's trip seemed to be much more about trying to shore up domestic ridings to win than about international diplomacy, international security, or international credibility. We had the bizarre and unprecedented situation of a convicted terrorist getting on the all-access pass list because he was very powerful in local B.C. Liberal politics. We also have the case of the member for who went on that trip. After he got elected, he went into business. For folks back home, it is very rare that someone decides to go into business after becoming an MP. For the few who do, there have to be clear laws in place so that they are not using their desk in Parliament to help their friends. However, the member for Brampton East, we are told, invited his business partner to have access to the Prime Minister and to key Liberal members and ministers on that India trip.
Does that pass the smell test? It certainly does not, and it raises a question about the lack of ethics and accountability in the Liberal caucus right now, since the Liberals seem to think that this is perfectly okay. In fact, we have heard from every senior voice in the Liberal government on these ethical breaches, and not once did they take these issues seriously. They seem to think it is okay because he is a good guy, the other guy is a good guy, and they are all friends. It is this culture of friends and using the position of power within politics to further the interests of friends that is wrong.
The issue before us today is about closing loopholes. I have spent many years on this file, and it always surprises me that even when we think we have done our best to make sure that people will follow the spirit of the law, there will be always those who try to find a way to slip around it.
As exhibit A, I present the . I have been told by the Liberals that I am completely out of line because this finance minister is virtuous, that people who are that rich who offer themselves to public service have to be somehow more virtuous by nature because they do not need to come to Ottawa. That is fair play, but the finance minister, when he was head of Morneau Shepell, his family business, announced to his investors that we needed legislation in Canada to be able to change the defined pension benefits and allow the targeted pension plans that were the whole focus of Morneau Shepell's business. He said that there was an enormous opportunity and that his company, Morneau Shepell, was in the driver's seat.
He offered himself as a candidate for public service. The very first order of business he brought forward was the Bill legislation that would directly benefit the company and the industry that he represented. That is extraordinary, and the supported it. There was no recusing at cabinet of a man who had a pecuniary financial interest.
Later we found out, of course, that he still had his financial interest. He was making about $150,000 a month from his Morneau Shepell shares while he was pursuing an interest that would benefit Morneau Shepell. He became famous because he was so rich that he forgot that he owned a château in the south of France. Again, the Liberals said that we were being mean and that was really unfair. A lot of people forget things. I mean, I forget things all the time. When I was leaving the House the other day, I forgot my car keys. I could not find where they were. However, I do not know anybody in the House who forgets that they own a château in the south of France. That is the level of disconnect of the 1% from the rest of us.
The reason this matters is that the fundamental economic issue of our time around the world is the growing disparity between the super-rich, whose interests have been advanced year after year after year, and the growing new working class, both white collar and blue collar, who are finding it harder and harder because they are dealing with large levels of student debt and precarious work. The Liberal government is deeply embedded within that 1%, using its position and political agendas to advance friends and help their friends. The Liberals say that this is all perfectly okay because they are all nice people. That is not an ethical standard of accountability.
Today we have an opportunity to close an ethical loophole that was clearly identified. I would think that when we identify these loopholes, it is incumbent upon all of us within the political realm to say that we should just do the right thing here to make sure that this kind of abuse does not happen in the future and close that loophole.
I return to what the promised in the 2015 election. I was so impressed when he stepped forward and talked about openness and transparency and transparent government, principles that Canadians across the political spectrum agree with.
There are issues that we have always had with the ethics code and the Lobbying Act. Certainly with the ethics code it has always been that if one did not find a person falling down dead with another person holding a smoking gun in their hand and the Ethics Commissioner walking in at the time, intent could never be proven. The lobbying commissioner has pointed out time and time again that it is about the spirit of the act. It is the power of people to influence politicians that has to be clearly defined, because super-powerful people do not have to register for lobbying. That is because they know the people in the PMO. They are the friends, the ones who hang out on the beach on the private islands with key politicians. They make a phone call, and the job gets done.
When the said that he would establish a higher standard, a standard that represented the spirit of the law and not just the narrow letter of the law, I was deeply encouraged, yet here we are with ethical scandal after ethical scandal, and every time, the or his front-bench people step up in defence, because technically no one was caught on anything. They are our friends. The people we hang with are nice people, and there is no need to address these loopholes.
I find that to be an appallingly low standard.
There is a new line that the Liberals use. They used it for my colleague from Brampton and then my colleague from Newfoundland, who took the trip to billionaire island. They say they always “work very closely with the Ethics Commissioner”. What they need to put as a prefix is “after we get caught”. After we get caught, we work closely with the Ethics Commissioner. That is what the and his minions have told us: that the worked very closely with the Ethics Commissioner.
The started to work with the Ethics Commissioner after the complaint was lodged and after he had been found guilty of numerous breaches, such as accepting inappropriate travel and inappropriate gifts from someone in a position to lobby. He did not recuse himself from decisions that could have benefited that powerful lobbyist.
If the and his caucus stood by the principle of working closely with the Ethics Commissioner, they would have phoned the Ethics Commissioner prior to these issues, prior to inviting a business partner to meet with the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers on the India trip. They would have asked if it was okay for them to open some doors for a business partner. The Ethics Commissioner would have responded. That is how we work closely with the Ethics Commissioner. We work with the commissioner in advance to make sure that we are not caught in illegalities or a breach of the rules. We do not wait until we get caught. We do not wait until it becomes a newspaper story and then say that we will make sure we do not do it again. That is a lower standard and a standard that, unfortunately, the and his government seem to have worked their way toward.
There are moments when we have to take a breath in Parliament and say that breaches have happened. When they do happen, we need to then come forward with a credible set of responses.
This brings us back to the defeat of the Liberals in 2006, when there were so many ethical breaches, so many legal breaches in the sponsorship scandal, that we needed to bring forward new legislation, which we did. That legislation was about lobbying. It was about limiting the influence of insiders on political decisions. It was about making sure that we had a higher standard of accountability.
The previous government had many failures and falls as well. There was the notorious Bev Oda, who spent thousands of dollars on limousine rides bombing around Toronto. Bev thought it was perfectly okay. Paul Calandra lobbied, while he was a parliamentary secretary, for FM licenses. If I remember correctly, that money was returned, because it was deemed inappropriate. Bruce Carson was invited into the PMO. He was convicted of fraud. He then left the office and came back trying to sell water plants to desperately poor indigenous communities. His case of inappropriate illegalities went all the way to the Supreme Court.
There will always be politicians who abuse the system. That is part and parcel of public life. When an egregious loophole appears, it is incumbent upon all political parties to close that loophole. It is fairly straightforward. We cannot assume that all politicians will be either moral enough to do that or bright enough to pay attention to the act and understand the implications of using their offices to help friends.
It is an interesting report on the and the Conflict of Interest Act. The Ethics Commissioner found that the Prime Minister “contravened section 11 of the Act when he or his family accepted the gifts of hospitality from the Aga Khan and the use of his private island in March and December 2016.”
The Ethics Commissioner found that the exception for gifts from relatives and friends, under paragraph 11(2)(b) of the act, did not apply, because the “relationship with the Aga Khan was based on a family connection rooted in a friendship” with the Prime Minister's father that existed 30 years earlier. The accepted inappropriate gifts and said that they were personal family gifts, when he had not met the guy in 30 years.
This is really important. The report said that section 21 of the act was deliberately contravened by the :
he did not recuse himself from discussions that provided an opportunity to improperly further the private interest associated with one of the institutions of the Aga Khan and that he contravened section 5 for failing to arrange his private affairs as to avoid such an opportunity.
That is a serious breach, because that is a question about gifts from powerful people to powerful politicians. It is the power to influence political decisions, and that is what the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner was concerned about.
There was, of course, the contravention of section 12 of the act.
I see I am running out of time. I could go on all day about the ethical breaches of the present government, but I will close on that note.
Madam Speaker, it is critically important to speak about the work of the , the ministers, our entire caucus, and government have done.
Over the last little while, opposition members asked for this report. For weeks and months, they asked for the report to be tabled. Now that it has been tabled, they refuse to accept the findings and conclusions. In fact, as I was saying, before my hon. colleague stepped in with that point of order, we should have been debating the budget implementation bill, but we are not.
On this side of the House, we thank the commissioner, we accept the findings, and we will follow the recommendations. The took responsibility. He accepted the findings and committed to working with that office.
I can certainly understand why the opposition does not want to talk about the budget. On March 22, we had a marathon vote related to the budget. A number of very important initiatives were in that legislation and the opposition voted against them. It is no wonder they are choosing to talk about a report from the Ethics Commissioner, a report that they asked for, that has been tabled, and to which we have responded.
I could give a couple of examples of some of the funding. There is research funding for Canada 150 research and centres of excellence. The opposition voted against that. In my riding of Whitby, in Durham region, there are a couple of different post-secondary institutions, the Durham College and the UOIT. They rely on research funding in order to be at the cutting edge, to ensure their students are at the cutting edge. The opposition voted against that.
Today, when we are supposed to be talking about the budget, we are talking about a report that has already been tabled by the Ethics Commissioner and for which the has accepted full responsibility.
During that marathon vote, the opposition voted against funding to help ensure the smooth functioning of courts to promote greater access to justice for Canadians. Opposition members have talked about court delays. They have talked about issues where access to justice has not happened in a timely manner. They voted against funding to ensure that did not happen.
Again, no wonder we are not talking about the budget implementation bill, which the Conservatives moved to cut off debate. While the point of order is to redirect my conversation back to the amendment, cutting off debate when it comes to critical funding for our communities to thrive, for our young people to thrive, for our country to thrive, it is equally as important.
I cannot understand voting against funding to preserve indigenous language and culture, and funding for investments in indigenous youth. As someone who advocates for mental health, as someone who wants to ensure our young people have what they need to thrive and survive, I cannot understand this. We have heard about the number of different suicides and instances of poor mental health in our indigenous communities, especially among young people. Quite frankly, this is appalling.
Again, we are here talking about the report the previous commissioner tabled and her testimony at committee. Many questions related to her report were answered. We accepted the findings.
I will go back to some of the things in that vote.
I want to talk specifically about my last two weeks in Whitby. I had a town hall on housing and one related to the budget. The also came to Whitby. During the time she was there, she announced the Government of Canada's student work placement program, which received $73 million over four years to support partnerships between industry and post-secondary institutions. As I mentioned, we have UOIT and Durham College. Trent University is in Durham region as well. She also announced $3.5 million at Darlington Energy Complex for the electricity human resources council to support new opportunities for employers to employ post-secondary students in their elected field.
We had a full house at that event. Everyone in our community was there, from the post-secondary institutions in the riding, to Ryerson, and Centennial College. They understood the importance of those investments in our students. Not one person brought up the report from the Ethics Commissioner. Not one person brought up the 's trip.
We held a town hall on housing. During the 22-hour vote marathon, I was supposed to be in Whitby making an announcement. We had invited individuals in the housing sector, individuals who run co-ops, individuals like those who run Denise House, a shelter for abused women. We had individuals from the Muslim Welfare Centre, who support women who are looking to transition out of abusive situations into their own homes. The announcement was for $24 million of funding toward housing in the Durham region, which is sorely needed. I was not there because we were voting on the budget for 22 hours. Again, during that housing town hall, in a packed room, not one individual talked about an Aga Khan vacation. Not one individual talked about the report of the previous commissioner, Mary Dawson.
Not because it is not important, but when we are looking at making a $40 billion investment in housing, with the government stepping back into this in a critical and important way, that is the priority for people. This debate is not a priority for people in Durham Region. It is not a priority for women who are trying to escape from very harmful situations and are trying to get access to housing.
The parliamentary secretary, the member for , joined us at the town hall on housing. There was not a single question about the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's report.
A couple of days later, we had another town hall. As a member of Parliament, it is important to give residents of my riding of Whitby access to information that allows them to understand the federal government's role, how we are spending and what we are doing. Again, it was a full house. It was a rainy, miserable day, so I thought only a couple of people would show up. We had a full house at the Centennial Building Regal Room in Whitby. I talked about the historic investment of $94 million in Durham Region Transit. The residents of Whitby did not know about that. Having that town hall allowed them to get this information.
I spoke to them about the $24-million investment in affordable housing, because some of them did not attend the town hall a couple of days before. I talked to them about the coming to the riding and announcing the Canada student work experience placement. I talked to them about the Canada summer jobs program, where we have doubled that investment.
Again there were no questions about the report on the 's ethics came up. In fact, one of the things that came up related to the in the setting of a town hall was that he did a number of town halls across the country and answered unscripted questions about a number of different issues. He did not hide or shy away from getting criticism from Canadians or from the very challenging questions asked. In fact, it was quite incumbent upon him to have those meetings, especially in light of the fact that he travels around the world. He travels just as much across Canada talking to people, ensuring our values and positions around feminism, multiculturalism, and equity and justice are promoted. He did that. He took the time to go across the country, town by town, answering questions, some related to this matter.
During that budget town hall, the was applauded for being open and transparent and for making himself available to Canadians, just as I was applauded on that Saturday morning. We talked about various initiatives in the budget. We talked about the growth, progress, reconciliation, and advancement that the budget was focused on.
We talked about equality, and the fact that if we give women tools such as entrepreneurship tools and parental leave, tools that give them the opportunity to reach their full potential not just here in Canada but globally, there would be a large injection into our GDP. A McKinsey report stated that there would be a $12-trillion to $28-trillion injection into the global GDP. It is the same with Canada—there would be a 33% increase in our GDP—so making that investment in women is the focus of this budget.
To have the Conservatives cut off debate on this particular budget is tragic. In fact, it shows Canadians where their priorities are. Their priorities are not around growth and progress, reconciliation, or advancement. We saw that again during that marathon vote, when they voted against every initiative in which we were making investments in things they argued for—for example, the resettlement of Yazidi women. They made a big spectacle on how we were not welcoming Yazidi women. Well, when it came time to vote for the funding to support that, what did they do? They voted against it. It is all smoke and mirrors over here.
This government continues to focus on what really matters to Canadians. What really matters to Canadians is the growth of the country, the fact that we have the highest growth in the G7, the fact that small business, the engine of our economy, has grown and produced 600,000 jobs. We have the lowest unemployment in 40 years. That is what we should be talking about, but we are talking about the Ethics Commissioner's report.
On this side of the House, we respect all officers of Parliament. The has committed to working with the office of the commissioner to clear all future personal family vacations. We take this seriously. We take the report seriously. The opposition called for it for weeks and weeks, and it has been tabled. The Prime Minister has agreed. The House leader has stood many times to say that we will comply with the recommendations, that we will ensure that we clear all future family vacations of the Prime Minister with the office of the commissioner. We have accepted the findings.
However, that is not good enough, and I see why. It is because the opposition members do not want to talk about the budget. Why would they want to talk about it after they took such diligent and particular effort to vote against many of the initiatives that we put forward to ensure that Canadians have what they need to thrive and be successful?
I am now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development. There was an investment to support our international assistance priority. What did the opposition do? It voted against that. We are talking about an additional two billion dollars in the budget to support the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. Again, they were making a scene around Daesh and the atrocities committed on the Yazidi women. We are trying to focus with our international partners, and at this point I would like to thank our NGOs in Canada and around the world who support these great initiatives and work to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable, often women and children, have the opportunities and tools they need to succeed and to contribute to our global economy.
However, the opposition members voted against that. Why would we cut off debate on this budget when it has so many important initiatives that require funding and require Canada to take a leadership role with our NGO partners around the world.
Canadians are volunteering. It is National Volunteer Week. We have volunteers around the world who are looking for that extra support to do the great work that they do, but today we have cut off debate to talk again about a report that has already been asked for and has been tabled.
Those members were voting against funding for first nations emergency response services, voting against youth employment strategies. Members wax poetic about how important Canada's national defence is, but they voted against that. It is no wonder that they want to cut off debate. They voted against our defence policy to have a strong, secure, and engaged military.
I am going to reiterate that we are going to continue to work with the commissioner as it pertains to the 's family and personal vacations. He will ensure that they are cleared by the commissioner's office. The opposition asked for the report to be tabled. It has been. We have accepted the findings, and the Prime Minister has taken responsibility.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from .
I am very pleased to rise in the House today to take part in a debate on a topic that has been discussed at great length in the House over the past few months and that our Conservative colleagues would like to revive. It has been the subject of much debate and has generated dozens of questions from the opposition, questions that the has answered very openly, transparently, and honestly.
The Prime Minister never dodges the issue. He is at the media's disposal and answers all of their questions. He also answers questions from Canadians by holding town halls, as he has been doing over the past few months all over Canada. This is important because he gets to find out what is going on and hear people's concerns. I think our colleagues across the aisle should take inspiration from the kind of meetings the Prime Minister holds. That way, they would come to understand the concerns of Canadians.
The questions primarily touch on families and youth. Canadians want our government to focus on economic development, help our families cope in challenging times, and help our business owners grow their business. That is certainly what we are doing with the latest budget measures. Canadians are especially proud because the Canadian economy is doing well, thanks to our most recent budget and the other two budgets that have been tabled in the past few years. This budget helped created 600,000 jobs across Canada, because business owners and Canadians have confidence in the economy and are investing in their businesses. Workers are taking the jobs they are being offered, which is sending the unemployment rate plummeting. The latest figures show that unemployment in Canada is around 5.9%, the lowest level since 1976. We are very proud of this amazing achievement.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives want to divert the debate and focus on other questions that the Prime Minister has already answered honestly. We respect government institutions and the commissioners who are appointed to do their job. Again, the co-operated with the Ethics Commissioner and answered her questions. Immediately after the report was tabled, since that is what is at issue in the House today, the Prime Minister stated clearly in the House and in front of the media that he would take responsibility. He accepted the findings of the report and committed to submitting his future plans for personal or family vacations to the commissioner.
For months, the opposition asked dozens of questions in the House and we are here again today debating this issue. Now that the report has been tabled, the opposition is refusing to accept the findings. We, on the other hand, want to thank the commissioner for her excellent work and, again, we accept her findings and, like the Prime Minister, we are following all her recommendations.
As I was saying earlier, our colleagues across the way want to divert the debate in order to talk about things that are of interest to them, but not necessarily to Canadians.
We spent the past two weeks in our respective ridings answering our constituents' questions. I can assure the House that in my magnificent riding of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, the economy and jobs are still top of mind. We are living in a time when the economy is doing so well that there is a labour shortage. That is what I am hearing from the entrepreneurs that I talk to. How can we support them even more? Of course, implementing the measures in the budget will benefit them especially.
Here are some examples. Our government has invested some $90 million in the riding in the past 28 months, that is since I was and we were elected in 2015. That level of investment had not been seen for many years. I am very proud of the investments made in various areas. Consider, for example, the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, an ocean research centre in my riding. It is a wonderful institute that falls under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Its dedicated staff of public servants is hard at work studying what is going on in the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We have invested $27 million to ensure that the institute has the infrastructure needed to carry out its research. Those investments will also help the institute hire several researchers.
Those are some of the important investments being made in my region. People were particularly proud when we announced them because research centres, including that one, did not receive any support from the previous government for 10 years. We have chosen to invest in research in order to have sound evidence.
We also invested several million dollars to upgrade the wharves in my riding. In fact, I recently announced funding for the Carleton-sur-Mer wharf, a wonderful piece of infrastructure that had unfortunately been deprived of investments for the 10 previous years.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate the matter before us this morning. This is a very awkward attempt by the opposition to avoid talking about the real and present concerns of the great citizens of this big, beautiful country.
First of all, people who were here before us and before this Parliament decided to put in place mechanisms to address the actions of MPs or cabinet ministers that put them in a conflict of interest, either because they did something or because they did not. That is why the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner was created. I am not an expert in the history of Parliament's officers, but they existed prior to my arrival and this Parliament.
Today, the Conservatives and the NDP are asking us to vote on a motion that would tell the Ethics Commissioner to go back to the drawing board and to spice up the report in order to draw Canadians' attention away from the things that really concern them. To my knowledge, that has never been done in this country.
The Ethics Commissioner's report was published on December 20. It was tabled here in the House in January 2018 and gained a lot of media attention. Every Canadian has access to this extremely well-written, comprehensive legal report. Every Canadian who is so inclined can read it and understand all the detailed findings of the commissioner.
Last summer, I covered roughly 3,500 km by bike in my very rural riding. As an MP, I knocked on every door that I could to ask people whether they had any concerns about the country and the government that I might bring back to Ottawa on their behalf. Not one person in any of these discussions mentioned this trip. However, every question, concern, and compliment had to do with last year's budget. The government's budget has a daily impact on the future of our children, our peers, our co-workers, and all Canadians. That is what our constituents want to talk about.
After the tabled his budget, I held two public meetings back home, and I did not get any questions about the trip to the Aga Khan's island, because the issue had been dealt with. The Prime Minister co-operated at every stage of the investigation. The report was tabled, period. Time to turn the page.
What is going to put food on my table tomorrow morning? How am I going to pay for my kids' education? What is going to give my family and friends equal opportunities to succeed in life? The budget is what matters and what Canadians want to talk about. They do not want to dwell on something from the past that has been resolved by a parliamentary body, specifically the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. They do not want to hear about a decision that is a done deal. It is all in the report; it is all there. Why, then, does the opposition still want to debate this today? Because it does not want to talk about the unemployment rate, the lowest rate in over a generation, incidentally. The Conservatives and NDP do not want to talk about that, particularly the NDP, who said during the election campaign that they wanted to balance the budget at all costs, without any hope of creating the level of economic development created by the current government.
Last year, contractors and truck drivers and backhoe operators were at work in every city and town in my riding. I am generalizing, of course, but that is thanks to the budget, which is having a positive impact on the country's economy and giving more Canadians a chance to earn a living. That is empowering. People know that a better future is attainable.
The Conservatives certainly do not want to talk about that. They love to toot their own horn and proclaim themselves the best budgeteers this country has ever known, so why would they talk about the Harper government's disastrous nine and a half years that ended with a $121-billion debt and a sky-high unemployment rate, leaving us trapped in dire economic straits? Why would they bring that up? Why would they compare their disastrous, decade-long failure to perform with a government that, in less than two and a half years, brought unemployment to its lowest level ever? Why? Because it would be embarrassing for them, really, really embarrassing.
I would like to talk about what this budget does for my region. That is what people want to talk about. There is money earmarked to combat spruce budworm, but the Conservatives do not care about that. The spruce budworm is attacking forests in my riding. The forestry industry in Atlantic Canada alone is worth $4 billion to the economy. The Conservatives might not think that is worth talking about, but we do. That is what people want us to talk about.
What does this massive investment in research to tackle the spruce budworm in Atlantic Canada mean? It means we are protecting the $4 billion generated annually by the forestry industry. That is the kind of thing we want to talk about.
What does the Canada workers benefit mean for low-income workers? The Conservatives do not want to talk about it because they do not give a damn. In my little home province of New Brunswick alone, this benefit will put about $66 million more into the pockets of low-income workers over the next five years. Think about what that means financially on a national scale. That is millions of dollars. The Conservatives and NDP do not want to talk about that either. They want to sidetrack the budget debate. We are wasting a day by not talking about what Canadians need to hear to guide or reorient their career and their future, to enable them to reach their full potential on the labour market and in education, and to ensure that our youth stay in our rural areas. No, they do not want to talk about that, because it would embarrass them.
By way of example, in the current budget, $250 million has been allocated to small craft harbours. The Conservatives do not want to talk about that. This affects every region on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Money is being injected into small fishing communities. We want to talk about that today because it affects our young people, but the Conservatives do not want to talk about it.
In short, I think it is unfortunate that the two opposition parties are resorting to such low tactics to try to avoid talking about an issue that affects the daily lives of Canadians, of our brothers and sisters, our cousins, our families, our residents. Instead of talking about real issues, the opposition moved a motion to try to dictate to an ethics commissioner, to an independent body of Parliament, how to rewrite her report and add things that will serve the interests of the Conservative and New Democratic parties. I think that is unfortunate.
Today, I would ask the opposition parties to truly speak on behalf of their constituents and focus on much more important things, because the issue of the 's trip to the Aga Khan's private island has already been thoroughly addressed.
Mr. Speaker, I know my hon. colleague does not want us to talk about the budget because he supports an opposition motion which is designed to prevent the debate around that motion.
However, if members recall, and I hope that my hon. colleague was listening, I framed all of my remarks in the context of juxtaposing the priorities of the opposition Conservatives, which is to delay, impede, and obstruct the real priorities of Canadians. This is an obvious effort at delay. It is not about elevating the standard of ethics in this House. We know that. At every opportunity, the Conservatives will stand up and try to stop us from creating jobs and from lowering unemployment. We cannot stand for that. It is too important.
When the government was elected, this country was at an all-time weak and low point of growth, the worst since the Great Depression. We have turned it around. That is exactly what our constituents are talking about in my riding, and I believe many of my colleagues are hearing the same thing. We want to keep the momentum going.
This opposition motion is not the first time that the Conservatives have tried to stray the government and take public attention away from the hard and good work that is being done by the government. We saw it a little over two weeks ago when the opposition Conservatives brought forward a needless and unnecessary filibuster. What was the opportunity that we were deprived of back then? We were deprived of the precious time to debate how we can rid our communities of gun violence. This is something that has touched the people of my riding on a very personal level. At a family establishment where I take my two girls like many other parents, less than a month ago, we saw two people's lives lost as a result of gun violence.
If we cannot address the scourge of gun violence through organized crime in this chamber, then we are not living up to the high standards that Canadians demand of this place. This goes back to my point about raising the level of debate in this chamber, doing away with the kind of filibustering and redundant motions we see here. Let us have a debate. Let us have a thoughtful debate on the substantive merits of our policy, of our legislative agenda.
I encourage my Conservative colleagues to come forward with ways we can improve our legislation, but they do not do that. They instead choose to find ways to prevent us from talking about the budget. There are a few things that I want to highlight from the 2018 budget which we ought to have been debating this morning and this week, but we are now being deprived of that opportunity as a result of the Conservative motion. To assure my colleagues, I will come back to address the words of the motion in their expressed form in due course.
What should we be talking about to advance the priorities I am hearing about from my constituency in Eglinton—Lawrence? How do we provide support for that economic growth that I referred to before? There are a number of things that the 2018 budget implementation bill will do to advance those goals which matter to my constituents, like introducing the Canada workers benefit. We all know that many Canadians, notwithstanding the significant progress we have made in the last few years, are continuing to struggle. We are responsive to those concerns.
We introduced a number of mechanisms prior to the 2018 budget, which I think all members should be celebrating, including the introduction of the Canada child benefit. That is helping millions of Canadians and families. It has lifted approximately 300,000 children out of poverty. It has contributed to our economic growth, the fastest-growing economy in the G7. Part of that ongoing conversation about how we can provide support to low-income earners has given rise to the creation of a new Canada workers benefit.
This budget will ensure that we increase both maximum benefits and the income level at which the benefit is phased out. As a result, a low-income worker earning $15,000 could receive up to almost $500 more in 2019. That is an important and meaningful increase. That means that the parents I speak to in my riding, in a community like Lawrence Heights or Lotherton, who I often engage with, will be able to provide student supplies, or perhaps send their child to child care or an extracurricular activity. These are important conversations. We would not be bogged down in going back over covered terrain with respect to the kinds of motions being brought forward this morning.
My other colleagues who have spoken against this motion this morning have raised the fact that we cannot be complacent when it comes to the Canada child benefit plan. We have proposed in the 2018 budget to index it, so we can keep pace with the increases to the standard of living and the costs, which are something we have to be very vigilant about.
Another topic I have heard a lot about over the course of the last two weeks, and for quite some time, is how we can create the conditions which are conducive for small and medium-sized businesses. This is something my Conservative colleagues often trumpet. They are the great champions of small business. This government, in keeping with its campaign pledge, is lowering taxes for small businesses. If we cannot debate the budget, which I know the Conservatives do not want us to do, then that is potentially one more day that a small business owner in my riding will not be able to avail themselves of a lower, more competitive corporate tax and business tax regime. Therefore, I call upon my opposition colleagues to think about their own rhetoric when it comes to being the great champions of industry, enterprise, and small business, and to live up to those commitments by debating the merits of the policy, not by filibustering, by wasting time, and by bringing motions like the one we have seen this morning.
I also mentioned that among the many priorities I have heard in the last two non-sitting weeks was the ongoing conversation we are having about how to protect our environment while at the same time getting our natural resources to export markets in a sustainable way. I have listened very carefully to my colleagues in the Conservative ranks. I respect their passion and I understand their frustration. We want to see every single Canadian and sector succeed and thrive.
For the life of me, I do not understand why we see members of the other side resorting to the hyperbolic exaggerated comments that are so completely divorced from reality. These are blanket statements, such as, “this government does not believe in” or “does not care”, or most recently and alarmingly from a former colleague of my friends on the opposite side of the aisle, “Canada is broken.” Canada is not broken. Canada is the greatest country in the world. We are very fortunate to live in this country. We should not be resorting to that kind of negative rhetoric, which undermines confidence in public institutions like this one right here. Do we have our disagreements from time to time? Absolutely. Do we have fundamental disagreements on policy? Without question. That is healthy in a democracy. However, to see the kind of stoking of division and fear—
Mr. Speaker, I know you have been listening throughout my presentation. I have been interposing my remarks to make the point that we are not going to allow this motion to hijack the government's agenda relative to the substantive premise of the opposition motion. What is relevant about that is that any Canadian listening to this debate would hear that notwithstanding the efforts to delay and filibuster, we have our priorities right on this side of the House. I am spending an appropriate and proportionate amount of time devoted in my presentation to the priorities that matter. That is relevant for the purposes of understanding why we reject this motion. Perhaps the Conservatives want us to allow ourselves to be hijacked and not talk about these things. However, we are not going to surrender to that kind of false logic. Nor should we.
Let me round out my highlights in my remaining moments. I will come back to the very express language of the opposition motion, then conclude my remarks.
The trouble with the rhetoric we have heard from some of the members of the Conservative family is that it stokes fear. It stokes anger and division among Canadians. We live in a very broad, diverse country, but those different experiences all get reconciled in the chamber. We find ways as members of Parliament to be the voice for our local communities. At the same time, we take into consideration how Canadians in different parts of the country, in different provinces and territories go about living their lives and pursue opportunities and prosperity to provide for their children and families. This is the place where we can accomplish that. This is the place where we can balance those competing interests and priorities. If we cannot do it here, we cannot do it anywhere.
Therefore, I call on my Conservative colleagues to debate as passionately when it comes to natural resources, but also to remember this is an institution that does deliver for Canadians.
The last highlight I want to mention is a priority that is not in the budget but is one that matters to me, and that is Bill , which was tabled before our two non-sitting weeks. The bill proposes to make significant reforms to the criminal justice system by reducing delay and by ensuring we are reducing systemic barriers to victims so they can come forward, have their stories heard, and get the justice they deserve. We cannot get to that business if we see these kinds of dilatory motions brought forward today by the Conservatives.
My Conservative colleagues are cheering me. We should have the record reflect that some colleagues are putting up their hands in adoration and praise. They are enjoying some of my remarks. They may not enjoy what follows, but one takes credit where one can get it.
There is a fundamental flaw with the opposition motion. We just heard the House leader for the Conservative Party say that it has been vigorously debated, then some jockeying back and forth about why not just let debate collapse. The motion proposes to tell the Ethics Commissioner what his job is. Unlike other parties in the House, this government respects the independence of the officers of the chamber to do their jobs and fulfill their responsibilities in a way that ensures Canadians can have confidence in the high ethical standards they demand of their parliamentarians.
The motion purports to say what the fixes for the loopholes should be, and so on. We cannot prescribe expressly how the debate around ethical standards will evolve. We will listen to the Ethics Commissioner and obviously pay very close attention to whatever recommendations he or his office may put forward. In the meantime, as my Conservative colleagues will know very well, the and the government have accepted the findings of the report on numerous occasions. We have had well over 130 or 140 questions in question period regarding the report, the same question repeated over and over again.
To what end? Simply to waste time. Simply to obstruct and impede all of the significant priorities and the things that matter, which I have already discussed in my remarks. Canadians are going to judge us, but they are also going to judge the opposition Conservatives on how they have used their time in the chamber. What they will see is not constructive dialogue, not thoughtful debate on jobs and the economy, on public safety, on trade. They are going to see obstruction.
Accountability is a two-way street. Canadians are watching the Conservatives very closely. I encourage them to withdraw this motion and let us get back to the business that matters.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to participate in this debate, as all debates afford us an opportunity to make our positions and perspectives known, not only to members opposite but also to the constituents and residents we represent back in our home ridings.
I will provide context for those who might be listening in different parts of the country right now about what happened today. The Conservative Party, as an opposition party, is afforded the opportunity through the parliamentary process to set the agenda for a day's debate so that it is not just government members who bring forward the agenda in this place. We all have the opportunity to raise issues that are fundamental to the quality of life and the good standing of our citizens, and to make sure that the priorities of the country are not set solely by the government but are set by all parliamentarians.
There are an allotted number of days, which are very important days in the parliamentary calendar. The opposition quite often studies several issues, puts two or three of those issues, and focuses attention and builds momentum toward those debates. Those priorities not only define their perspective on what constitutes an important issue for this country, but, in presenting them to the Canadian public through Parliament, the members believe these are actually the most fundamental issues that their party wishes to discuss on any given day.
We have seen these motions have great effect on government and on the history of this country. I remember that, in the previous term, the NDP brought forth a motion to eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene products, and it changed government policy. It was a profoundly mature and wise use of parliamentary motions, and the government of the day, having had this motion presented to it several times, one day decided to finally listen and act on it. Lo and behold, a motion from the opposition became government policy, and we changed the quality of life and affordability for many Canadians as a collective group. In fact, we voted unanimously on that motion.
On another issue, I commend the member for , who, since becoming an opposition member, has been a very strong advocate for refugees from the Middle East, and in particular the plight of Yazidi women. That member brought forward a motion that brought attention to the issue and said that there should be special measures taken to address a very particular part of the population of 25,000 refugees that we brought into the country, which was a number opposed by the opposition parties but supported by the government. As a government, we responded in a way that we hope satisfied the opposition. Apparently, it did. However, when we actually moved forward to provide support for the refugees once they arrived, the party opposite voted against it, which is a very strange approach to settling refugees. Nonetheless, I will let the party opposite explain its hypocrisy on that issue.
The fundamental fact is that when the opposition has this opportunity to focus debate in the House, and focus it for Canadians, it is not just a question of how we assess the proposition brought forward by the opposition members. Canadians can also assess the party opposite as to what it prioritized as the most pressing issue of the day and of the moment. Members of the party opposite are more interested in playing parliamentary games and rehashing previous issues, which have already been reported on in Parliament, than actually advancing any issue of a particular riding or a particular group of people in this country, or a particular domestic or international issue.
The priority set by the party opposite is in fact so pointless that the opposition House leader, within minutes of introducing it, stood up and asked us not to talk about it. What a strange course of events for this day. The party opposite stands up and says that this is the most important issue facing Canada, and then says that we do not really need to talk about it, and to please go on to what was originally scheduled. What is the point? I am lost in figuring out what exactly the point is. What I do know is that if we had moved closure on the debate, those members would have gone berserk, saying they have a right to be heard.
As Liberals stand up here and address the issue that has been raised, we are being told to please sit down and stop talking about it. We would rather talk about what the government sees as a set of priorities, which is the budget. Quite frankly, that is the priority for this country.
What the budget has done is transformational in so many sectors of this country. It is a wonder that opposition members do not seize on one of those and try to make it a better idea, but they are not interested. They are not interested in figuring out how the Canada child benefit, which lifts close to 300,000 families out of poverty, might be extended to reach even more. In fact, the NDP opposition raised a very good point in committee, which is that the benefit was not indexed. When we brought in a proposal to index it in a few years, they said that it was not good enough. This government listens, because if one listens, one leads better. We listened to the opposition, and we improved the Canada child benefit in this budget.
Is the Conservative Party interested in extending the reach of anti-poverty measures? No. Is it interested in making sure kids get the help they need to succeed in this country? No.
What those members see as a priority is effectively something they do not even talk about, and that is why the just tried to quash the debate. They care so little about their issue that they cannot even hold together as a caucus and support the debate. They are not even participating in the debate, except to interrupt and ask us to talk about something they do not want us to talk about, or stop talking about something they do not want us to talk about, or stay on point by sitting down and just letting the whole debate collapse. That is what they are doing. Is this not confusing?
Those of us who have sat in Parliament a little longer than one term know that it is simply a frustration and delay point to slow down the progress of the government. That is fine. That is the job of the opposition. Some do it on principle, and some do it with a great deal of democratic flair and debating prowess.
All they have done is introduce a motion and ask us not to talk about it. That is the extent of their imagination. That is the extent of their national vision. That is the extent of their capacity to care for vulnerable Canadians. The Conservatives would rather talk about a report that has already been tabled in Parliament and that has already been acted on and accorded with. They would rather rehash an issue that took place a year ago than talk about what is happening today or tomorrow in this country. Shame on them.
As I said, when opposition parties are afforded this parliamentary privilege to talk about the issues of the day that matter, to talk about precisely the most critical issue in their perspective, they will be judged not just by this Parliament but by Canadians. If Canadians are that focused on this issue, quite frankly, I have not come across it when I go door to door, hold town hall meetings, do radio and television panels, or communicate in any number of ways with my constituents or Canadians across the country. What I hear about is the challenges facing those Canadians yet to receive the help that this Parliament needs to deliver to them.
For example, we have a report in the city of Toronto showing that after 10 years of failed housing policy in this country—
Mr. Speaker, I will continue.
These motions set priorities, and they clearly identify the priorities of the party opposite. The member opposite just rose, and it shows the ridiculous position being asserted by the opposition. The party opposite says it wants to have a debate about this, but no member on their side, beyond introducing this motion, will stand to talk about it. If the opposition members had something to add to this debate, they would stand up, not on points of order but as participants in the debate. However, they are afraid to, because they know that what they are doing is ridiculous. What the opposition members are doing is sitting on their hands and asking us to stop talking. They say that the best way to prosecute this argument is not to talk about it. That is the fallacy in what is being presented here.
I will speak specifically to the issue that has been raised in the motion. The opposition members want us to effectively rewrite the entire process that they availed themselves of: to submit a complaint to an officer of Parliament, to get a finding from the officer of Parliament, and to condition the behaviour of a member of this House based on the finding of that officer of Parliament. Once the whole thing plays out, they suddenly say it is not good enough. They may have been in power for 10 years and never touched or changes these rules, but they are saying it is not good enough.
There is no capacity we could fulfill that would ever be good enough for the opposition. Their job is not to agree with us. Their job is to disagree with us. That is fine. We can live with that. That is part of the parliamentary system.
However, the reality is that the officer of Parliament charged with investigating and delivering findings to this House has reported, and the person being investigated has responded and completely subjected himself to the findings of that report. The member opposite knows this full well. The opposition cannot even stand up and tell us a recommendation of the report that was not followed by the , because the truth of the matter is that the Prime Minister accepted those findings, and the case was closed. That is the end of it.
However, the party opposite wants to continually rehash and play Groundhog Day all over again. I do not blame it. It has no perspective, no priorities, and no other pressing issues in this country. All the opposition wants to do is play this record over and over again. The reality is that Canadians are listening to a completely different radio station right now. What they are listening to, what they are watching, and what they are focused on is how to build a stronger country and how to make sure that the vulnerable citizens in this country get the support they need, and those with ingenuity and imagination succeed. That is what the budget is all about.
The opposition members claim they want to talk about the budget, but the reality is that they could have done that today with one of their motions. If their priority really was helping those with ingenuity succeed or helping support those who are vulnerable, that is what their motion would have spoken to. The fact that it speaks to a finding of this Parliament that has already been tabled and debated is, as I said, beyond my capacity to understand.
I will continue to debate whether the motion in front of us is appropriate and whether it does anything to change the circumstances we are confronted with, which it does not. It does not one bit. If it did, one Conservative member would stand up and take his or her place in this debate. One member of that party would stand up and participate, without raising a point of order, by simply putting his or her name on the list of speakers.
The mere fact that the came in—