That the House: (a) call on the Prime Minister to waive solicitor-client privilege for the former Attorney General with respect to allegations of interference in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin; and (b) urge the government to launch a public inquiry, under the Inquiries Act, in order to provide Canadians with the transparency and accountability promised by the Liberals in the 2015 election campaign.
He said: Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in the House to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and as the ethics spokesman for the New Democratic Party.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
We are now two weeks into the explosive allegations that the 's Office attempted to end a legal investigation, a legal case into corruption against SNC-Lavalin.
Yesterday, Gerry Butts, who was the architect of the sunny-ways' revolution that propelled the present into the office he holds, was forced to resign in disgrace. This shows us that the crisis and corrosive nature of this scandal is eating its way right into the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister must come clean with Canadians today.
The Prime Minister needs to explain himself. The allegation that the PMO tried to shut down the legal case of corruption against SNC-Lavalin is extremely serious. What is even more serious is the open bar for lobbyists and the privatization of public goods and services to benefit companies like SNC-Lavalin. Canadians deserve credible answers. The Prime Minister needs to assure them that the government did not cover up this scandal.
I am going to start off with four really concerning issues we need to consider when are looking at the SNC-Lavalin case.
The first is a very serious allegation that the Prime Minister's Office attempted to shut down the legal case of corruption against SNC-Lavalin. If that allegation is true, then the has lost all moral standing with the Canadian people.
The second, which is just as explosive and very important, is the possibility that because the former justice minister, the very first indigenous woman justice minister in the country, did not go along with the pressure from the Prime Minister's Office, she was demoted, punished. Then we saw this horrific whisper campaign against her credibility by key Liberal staffers to assassinate her credibility. These allegations must be answered.
The third issue is the powerful backroom lobby system in Canada, that when SNC-Lavalin called everyone in the Prime Minister's Office and all key departments, they jumped and responded and whether, because of those lobbying efforts, the government rewrote the laws of Canada and slipped that into an omnibus bill to specifically protect SNC from its legal consequences.
The fourth is the culture of insider access that has taken place under the , the open bar for lobbyists and the privatization of public services to benefit companies like SNC-Lavalin at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer.
We can put these issues under the three toxic Cs of political life: the allegations of corruption, which have to be answered for the Canadian people; cronyism, which has been the underpinning of the Liberal Party for much too long with its insider pals; and third, the corrosive effect this has on public confidence.
We are here today to restore public confidence and to ask the to come clean with the Canadian people, to stop hiding between the solicitor-client privilege that is keeping the former justice minister from speaking and to agree to an independent inquiry, similar to what we had under Gomery, so the answers can be looked at and presented to the Canadian people in a credible light, so they will know whether the government has undermined its legal obligations or whether it can come clean. That is what we are asking the to do.
Just three months ago, SNC was the sponsor of the biggest schmoozefest in Ottawa. It was the ultimate insider access event to get to meet all the top Liberal ministers. They were all at the beck and call of SNC. The person the Liberals had advertising this SNC event was the indigenous affairs minister. They were using this minister's photo for an SNC event. What were they all coming together for? It certainly was not reconciliation, because that is not the most important relationship for the . They were all coming together to talk about how they could benefit from the privatization of public services.
Let us think about this for a moment. How is it possible that a company that was under criminal investigation for illegal bribes to both the Liberals and the Conservatives was able to host an event where all the key Liberal ministers and staffers were there? How is it possible that a company with a long and ugly history of allegations of corruption and bribery in Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Libya was able to host this event, knowing it could promote every key Liberal to be there, and the Liberals saw nothing wrong with this? It is not that their moral compass is bent in the wrong direction, there is no moral compass. It never was about the middle class and those wanting to join it. It was always about the Fortune 500 and those who were on the inside track to get there. The most important relationship never was about reconciliation with first nation people; it was about protecting their friends.
We get told now that SNC is too big to jail, too big to fail. However, I would point to Arthur Porter, who was the centre of one of the biggest fraud investigations in Canadian history. Under the former government, which is as in with SNC-Lavalin as the present one, Stephen Harper appointed Arthur Porter to oversee Canada's spy agency. This shows how much Canada is up for sale to these insiders. They always say “Too big to fail, too big to jail”, but Arthur Porter ended up in a Panamanian jail, and Canadians were no worse off for him finally getting punished.
We need to talk about clearing the air, because the government is now talking about the jobs. I am very concerned about the jobs for all the honest working people at SNC-Lavalin. However, I am also worried about the jobs of many Canadians. Their jobs have been taken away, like the workers at the heating plant right here in the National Capital Region. They worked there for years, but their jobs are being undermined because the government wants to privatize to SNC. The government says that it is worried about jobs, but it never worried about jobs when those working for Stelco and Sears lost their pensions. Why not? Because it was the family business of the that had the contract to windup their pensions. The Liberals were looking after the 1%. They would not stand up for the pension rights of Sears or Stelco workers, but they would stand up for the rights of Morneau Shepell. The is the minister of the 1%.
Let us talk about KPMG, a company that established an offshore fraud account so that multi-millionaires could evade paying their taxes. What did the government do? It not only cut a deal with KPMG and said it was okay, but it actually hired a KPMG representative to be the treasurer of the Liberal Party. It never was about the middle class and those wanting to join it. It never was about reconciliation. It was about the government and the 's insider relationships for whom they would bend the laws of the country. They will look after their friends. They will do things behind closed doors. They will turn the public services of Canada into a cash cow for their lobbyists and their friends.
Now the Liberals are saying not to be negative but talk about positive things. However, there is nothing more negative for Canadian public life than corruption and cronyism. Until we clear that up, until we can say to the Canadian people that they can trust that everyone will have a fair chance, then Canadians have no reason to believe. Therefore, I ask the to do the right thing, to stop hiding, to explain why Gerry Butts had to take the fall, and for the Prime Minister to vote for our motion to have an independent investigation and stop hiding behind that fig leaf of solicitor-client privilege.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased rise after my colleague from to speak to the important revelations that have emerged, some of which came to light last week.
We already had concerns about potential political interference by the PMO and the Prime Minister himself in the case against SNC-Lavalin when we left to go back to our ridings over a week and a half ago. This is a very important criminal case, given that the company has engaged in many rather shady dealings involving corruption in other countries. Many questions were raised at that time which have yet to be answered. No clarification has been given since the first time this allegation was raised a week and a half ago.
On the contrary, many other questions have been raised since we left the House on February 8. At that time, the veterans affairs minister was still in cabinet, but she resigned last week. What is more, the Prime Minister's principal secretary also resigned last week.
Today, the Liberals would have us believe that they have absolutely nothing to hide, that the government is being transparent and that we have to get our answers somewhere else. However, all these events happened within a week, not to mention that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has launched an investigation into the matter, which only happens when there are questions on the issue brought to his attention. Today, I am sure that the government will keep trying to have us believe that this is a non-issue, but that is absolutely not true.
A lot of questions need to be answered. That is why the NDP is calling for an independent public inquiry. What is more, the Liberals used their majority on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to simply refuse to shed light on whether the 's Office interfered with the former attorney general of Canada regarding the SNC-Lavalin trial. This is a fundamental question that deserves answers. Given that the standing committee refused to look into this, we are calling for a public inquiry. Clearly, the Liberal majority has no intention of shedding light on this issue.
In reality, the Liberals are trying to distract us by calling people who are not involved in this issue to testify. They are trying to create distractions to divert our attention. They obviously have something to hide. I find it hard to believe that a minister and the Prime Minister's principal secretary would resign when a scandal broke if they had nothing to hide. That is why we need to shed light on this whole business.
We need to launch a public inquiry to clear up the issue of political interference, because our justice system is founded on the independence of the courts and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. That independence is enshrined in law. The Attorney General cannot give these kinds of directions willy-nilly, or with a simple phone call. The Attorney General is required to follow clear procedures when giving directions to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to influence the conduct of penal and criminal prosecutions.
These protections exist for a reason. Our laws are designed to guard against political interference in the judicial process, in order to avoid the slightest suspicion that the justice system might be politicized. That independence is the cornerstone of our system. Today, the independence of the court system is being called into question because of potential, attempted or actual political interference by the , his office and his principal secretary. The public inquiry will determine which one of those it was. For now, we do not know why the Prime Minister's principal secretary resigned, but I believe that launching an independent public inquiry is warranted.
The NDP also feels that we need to consider the employees of SNC-Lavalin. In the wake of this political interference scandal, they are worried about their future, and I can understand why.
That is why the focus today is not SNC-Lavalin, but the Prime Minister's government. His very office has brought the independence of our country's judiciary into question. That is the issue, not SNC-Lavalin, which is currently dealing with legal problems and irregularities with the awarding of foreign contracts. Naturally, this raises questions, but the employees work in good faith to support their families and they do their best every day.
The SNC-Lavalin executives are the real focus. That is why it is important to ensure that the most senior executives of the company, who were involved in the corruption at the time, are brought to justice. It is unfortunate that today we are seeing these executives get off scot-free, even though they have committed serious crimes, because of the administrative delays in the justice system.
I can understand that Canadians are worried about a company getting off so easily in such a terrible case of foreign government corruption. That is why we must absolutely look into this issue and into the political interference in our judicial system. It is extremely important to ensure public confidence. Canadians are increasingly under the impression that the government only looks after the interests of Canada's biggest players, the corporations and their executives. The government seems to listen to them very carefully when they want something. Whether it is SNC-Lavalin or KPMG, for example, the Liberal government seems to lend them a very receptive ear when some of their business practices are called into question.
SNC-Lavalin is a good example. KPMG is another. When push comes to shove, the Liberals always give priority to corporate interests over the interests of workers, as we saw with Sears and GM. They could care less about the workers, which is why we need to be thinking about them today. We must make sure that workers and the public interest are foremost in our discussions and in our minds, in every decision the government makes. It is quite clear that, in many areas, the government cares only about its buddies who give them hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the past, some companies that seem to have this government's ear have sometimes made illegal donations.
The other part of the problem I want to talk about is the political influence that SNC-Lavalin had in the debate on Bill . I was on the Standing Committee on Finance when the bill was studied. I asked the official what motivated the idea of a deferred prosecution agreement, and she seemed to be rather alone and a little unprepared for the many questions from the opposition and the government. The member for asked a number of questions, including some on division 20 of Bill . Although I asked which cases and files could have motivated such a bill, this official was not able to provide a single specific case. She was obviously trying to evade the question, but there was clearly something fishy going on.
This part of Bill seems to have been drafted for a specific case, namely, SNC-Lavalin. This company had been asking for such a measure for many years, and it kept asking until it was successful. Once this happened, the company continued to lobby to get this bill passed and to make sure that the Attorney General would grant this deferred agreement.
This deferred agreement has not yet been granted, which may be why the former justice minister stepped down. We must adopt this motion today so that we can get to the bottom of this affair and make sure that there was no political interference and that there will not be any under the next government.
That the motion be amended by adding the following after the word “Act”:
“and to report back to the House no later than May 31, 2019,”
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the principles of solicitor-client privilege in a government context.
According to the authors, Manes and Silver, the origin of the law of solicitor-client privilege goes back to Tudor times in England and originated as respect for the oath and honour of a lawyer who is duty bound to guard communications with clients. At first, that duty was restricted to an exemption only from testimonial compulsion, that it was the right of the lawyer or client to refuse to testify in court regarding confidential communications. Later, as the law of privilege evolved over time, confidentiality expanded from communications in the context of litigation to any communication for legal advice.
Confidentiality in the communication between the solicitor and the client became a benchmark. It was supposed that if the consultation between the client and the solicitor could not be kept confidential, then clients might be less inclined to be forthcoming with their lawyers, thus reducing the quality of advice that a lawyer could give.
In Canada, over the last few decades, solicitor-client privilege has evolved from not simply a mere rule of evidence to a substantive rule of law, as well as a principle of fundamental justice that is captured within the meaning of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada has described it as “a principle of fundamental justice and a civil right of supreme importance in Canadian law”.
Today, the Supreme Court of Canada recognizes the great importance of solicitor-client privilege and the unique role that it plays in our legal system. Solicitor-client privilege is nothing short of a cornerstone of our legal system, regardless of the nature or context of the legal opinion sought.
What is the raison d'être of solicitor-client privilege? Our legal system is very complex. The complexity of rules and procedures is such that in the Supreme Court's view, realistically speaking, it cannot be navigated without a lawyer's expert advice. It is in the public interest that this free flow of legal advice be encouraged. Let me repeat that because it is so tellingly important: It is in the public interest that this free flow of legal advice be encouraged between lawyers and their clients.
The integrity of the administration of justice depends on the unique role of the solicitor who provides legal advice to these clients. Because of that importance, the Supreme Court has often stated that solicitor-client privilege, this cornerstone of our legal system, should not be interfered with unless absolutely necessary. It must remain as close to absolute as possible, with very few exceptions. As such, the Supreme Court of Canada has adopted stringent norms to ensure its protection.
The gatekeepers of the solicitor-client privilege are the lawyers themselves. They act and are ethically bound to protect the privileged information that belongs to their clients. What is it exactly that is subject to this stringently protected category of solicitor-client privilege? It is privilege that will attach to every communication between a lawyer and a client that is for the purposes of giving and receiving legal advice and that is intended to be confidential.
The privileged nature of a document or the information it contains does not depend on the category of the document but on its content and what it can reveal about the relationship and communication between a client and his or her notary or lawyer. All communications between a solicitor and a client directly related to the seeking, formulating or giving of legal advice are privileged, along with communications within the continuum in which the solicitor tenders advice.
According to the Federal Court, the continuum protected by privilege includes “matters great and small at various stages…includ[ing] advice as to what should prudently and sensibly be done in the relevant legal context” and other matters “directly related to the performance by the solicitor of his professional duty as legal advisor to the client.”
In determining where the protected continuum ends, one good question is whether a communication forms “part of that necessary exchange of information of which the object is the giving of legal advice”.
If so, it is within the protected continuum. Put another way, does the disclosure of the communication have the potential to undercut the purpose behind the privilege, namely, the need for solicitors and their clients to freely and candidly exchange information and advice so that clients can know their true rights and obligations and act upon them?
For example, where a director of a government department receives legal advice on how certain proceedings should be conducted and the director so instructs those conducting proceedings, the instructions, essentially cribbed from the legal advice, form part of the continuum and are protected. Disclosing such a communication would undercut the ability of the director to freely and candidly seek legal advice.
Public sector counsel is in the same position as private sector in-house counsel with regard to solicitor-client privilege. The client of government lawyers is the Crown, that is the executive. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that solicitor-client privilege attaches to communications between government employees and government lawyers, many of whom belong to the Department of Justice.
As stated by the Federal Court, “The Attorney General and those working for him [or her] as legal advisors are solicitors for the purposes of advising the executive branch of the government of Canada.”
In the public sector as well, solicitor-client privilege has permanence. The privilege belongs to the client not to the lawyer. Courts will not permit a lawyer to disclose a client's confidence. Solicitor-client privilege enjoys a status more elevated than that enjoyed by almost any other recognized privilege, given the central role that this doctrine plays in the effective operation of our legal system, and has for centuries. It is in the public interest that the free flow of legal advice between a lawyer and a client be encouraged and protected. As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2008 Blood Tribe decision, “Without it, access to justice and the quality of justice in this country would be severely compromised.”
As previously mentioned, solicitor-client privilege attaches to communications between solicitors and their clients, communications concerning a consultation, or legal advice that the parties intend to be confidential.
In the government context, the client is the Crown. Who can waive the privilege within government can be a complicated question. Court decisions considering this question have often been inconsistent. However, consistent guidance has been provided on when privilege can be considered to have been waived, whether in the private or public sector context.
For a waiver to occur, the client must be aware of the existence of the privilege and voluntarily express the intent to waive it.
For waiver to occur, disclosure must be voluntary. Courts will only find waiver, whether express or implied waiver, when they are of the view that an objective consideration of the client's conduct demonstrates an intention to waive privilege. For example, this may occur where the privileged communication is shared with a third party, or where the privileged communication is relied on as an element of one's claim or defence. Disclosure compelled by statute is not voluntary and, therefore, cannot constitute waiver of solicitor-client privilege. This is sometimes called the limited waiver exception in legal parlance. It should not be confused with the doctrine of partial waiver, to which I will now turn.
It should not be assumed that if a client waives privilege over one communication that privilege over every other communication is also waived. Clients, the holders of the privilege, have the ability to waive privilege over none, some or all of the confidential communications they have with their lawyers. In considering whether a partial waiver, meaning a voluntary waiver over a particular piece of privileged advice, resulted in a broader waiver, courts will consider all of the factual and surrounding circumstances.
The answer is never easy. As in the case of a partial waiver, it is also the case that not every disclosure will result in a waiver of solicitor-client privilege. For example, common interest privilege allows parties with interests in common to share certain privileged information without waiving the privilege at all. The roots of common interest privilege as an exemption to the waiver are in the litigation context, where sharing in the contents of reasonably anticipated litigation does not result in a waiver of litigation privilege itself.
Some courts have also extended common law interest outside of litigation to the commercial transactions context. Parties that have a common interest in the successful completion of such a transaction may be able to share solicitor-client privileged materials without a waiver occurring. As with traditional solicitor-client privilege, the communication between the parties sharing the common interest must be made on a confidential basis.
I have just referred to what is known as litigation privilege. Litigation privilege protects against the compulsory disclosure of communications and documents with the dominant purpose of the preparation of litigation. Although litigation privilege differs from solicitor-client privilege in several respects, the two concepts overlap to some extent. The classic examples of items to which litigation privilege applies are the lawyer's file and oral or written communications between a lawyer and third parties, such as witnesses or experts, prepared in the context of reasonably anticipated litigation.
Litigation privilege is a common law rule of English origin. It was introduced in Canada in the 20th century as a privilege linked to solicitor-client privilege, which at the time was considered to be a rule of evidence necessary to ensure the proper conduct of trials and legal proceedings. Because of these origins, litigation privilege has sometimes been confused with solicitor-client privilege, but indeed the two are distinct even though they overlap at times.
However, since the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in the case of Blank v. Canada in 2006, it has been settled law that solicitor-client privilege and litigation privilege are distinguishable. In Blank v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada stated, “They often co-exist and one is sometimes mistakenly called by the other’s name, but they are not coterminous in space, time or meaning.”
In that decision, the Supreme Court of Canada identified the following differences between the two concepts. The purpose of solicitor-client privilege is to protect a relationship, while that of litigation privilege is to ensure the efficacy of the adversarial process. On the one hand, solicitor-client privilege is permanent, whereas litigation privilege is temporary and lapses when the litigation ends. Unlike solicitor-client privilege, litigation privilege applies to non-confidential documents. Litigation privilege is not directed at communications between the solicitor and client as such.
The Supreme Court of Canada also stated, “Unlike the solicitor-client privilege, [litigation privilege] is neither absolute in scope nor permanent in duration.”
While it is true that in the decision of Blank v. Canada the Supreme Court of Canada identified clear differences between litigation privilege and solicitor-client privilege, it also recognized that they do have some characteristics in common. For example, the court noted that the two privileges “serve a common cause: The secure and effective administration of justice according to law.”
More specifically, litigation privilege serves that cause by ensuring “the efficacy of the adversarial process” and maintaining “a protected area to facilitate investigation and preparation of a case for trial by the adversarial advocate.”
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I thank the member for for moving this motion today. I am proud to say that the official opposition will support it unanimously.
Before speaking to the importance of holding a public inquiry, I would like to talk about why this issue matters to us, as a country. We are and must always be a country governed by the rule of law. This essentially means that when we, as parliamentarians, pass a law on behalf of those who elected us, we are not above that law.
We are all subject to the rule of law. We are all equal under it. We are bound by its conventions, and our political or societal status does not entitle any one of us to special treatment under it. These core principles of the rule of law must be upheld for any democracy to function. As history tells us, whenever the rule of law is impeded or subverted or corrupted, the consequences can be extreme. We cannot claim to be a country under the rule of law when political agendas can dictate the course of justice, and that is precisely what the and his office stand accused of.
To understand the severity of these allegations, which the has yet to credibly refute, we have to go back to 2015. SNC-Lavalin, a major Canadian construction firm, was charged with bribing the Libyan government under dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Eager to avoid prosecution, the company launched a massive two-year campaign to lobby the new Liberal government for a special judicial proceeding that would get it off the hook. The lobbying worked. The mechanism to secure that ruling was wedged into an 800-page omnibus budget bill and became the law of the land.
Up until this point, no laws had been broken. The aggressive lobbying and legislative manoeuvres that followed were certainly suspicious, but not illegal. However, that all changed when the push to cut SNC-Lavalin a special deal met resistance inside the justice department.
After carefully examining the SNC-Lavalin case, the director of public prosecutions decided to move forward with criminal prosecution. That is when the political operatives of the Prime Minister's Office sprung into action.
According to the Globe and Mail, the Prime Minister's Office pressured the then attorney general to overrule the decision by the director of public prosecutions and to grant SNC-Lavalin the special deal that the company had sought for some time.
When the did not do it, presumably out of devotion to the rule of law she was duty bound to protect, the fired her. At the time, she said in a written statement, “It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence.”
We did not know it at the time, but that statement foreshadowed what would later come to light: the alarming possibility that the 's Office exerted its power to influence the administration of justice, or to put it another way, when the justice department said no to SNC-Lavalin, the Prime Minister's Office would not take no for an answer.
Many have attempted to describe the profound seriousness of these allegations, but none have done so better than the former Ontario Liberal attorney general, Michael Bryant, who said that when he was prosecuting cases, if a politician had ever called him up, he would have put down the phone and called the police.
Since these allegations have surfaced, the and his office have engaged in an obvious cover-up. He refuses to waive solicitor-client privilege, as prime ministers before him have done when the public interest has demanded it. Doing so would allow the former attorney general to speak to tell Canadians her side of the story, but the Prime Minister has kept her silent to protect himself.
Last week, the Liberals on the justice committee voted in lockstep to keep the truth from coming out, defeating a motion calling on several key PMO and government officials, including the former attorney general, to testify in front of all Canadians.
The Prime Minister continues to change his version of the facts and to hide behind others. He blames everyone, from his own office's staff to Scott Brison, and even the former attorney general, for the mess in which he finds himself. Those are not the actions of a prime minister with nothing to hide. He is mistaken if he thinks that the resignation of his closest advisor is going to make this go away.
Thus, I will request once again that the Prime Minister immediately waive solicitor-client privilege and allow the former attorney general to speak.
The way in which the story has unfolded, with almost daily changes to the 's version of events, high-profile resignations, anonymously sourced smear campaigns, and coordinated cover-up manoeuvring, suggests this is not an ordinary political scandal. Something more sinister is at play here.
Section 139 of the Criminal Code deals with obstruction of justice. I draw the attention of the House to subsection (2), which reads:
Every one who wilfully attempts in any manner other than a manner described in subsection (1) to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.
It would be up to the police to decide whether what transpired between the Prime Minister's Office and the former attorney general of Canada was criminal. I expect this matter to be brought to their attention shortly, if it has not already.
I have always said that all options were possible. If a crime has been committed, then those responsible have to be punished accordingly.
Today I am proud to stand with my colleagues to support this motion urging the to waive privilege in this case. Canadians are tired of hearing him speak for the former attorney general. It is time Canadians heard from the former attorney general herself.
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be able to stand in the House and discuss this matter today, but it also brings great sadness because we find ourselves in a situation where, as parliamentarians, we are trying to force the government to do something that it should openly and honestly be embracing at this point in time.
As the has pointed out very well, the sordid saga of what has transpired here to date is one that warrants public investigation. It warrants justice committee investigation. Indeed, it very clearly warrants a light being shone on it so that we can understand exactly what happened, including whether or not there has been criminality and whether or not there has been political interference in a criminal prosecution.
I was very pleased and honoured to be able to sit with the justice committee last week as we discussed, in public, our concerns with respect to the matter, and indeed put forth a list of witnesses that we would like to hear on the matter. Unfortunately, as everybody knows, that was not accepted by the majority of Liberals in the committee. Indeed, there were very troubling comments made during that justice committee meeting that really underscore the importance of having a public inquiry.
First and foremost, it was said by a member on the committee that we were making hay out of nothing. As well, a member indicated that this was nothing more than a witch hunt. We have heard those stories from the south as well, and it does not seem to be working that well in the United States, so I do not know why they would choose the term “witch hunt” to be their lead line up here.
Most importantly, the chair of the committee, and indeed every single Liberal member on that committee, indicated, full-throated, that they believed the and the Prime Minister's Office, and that these allegations were unfounded. That was why they opted to have a very narrow legal conference on what certain principles of law are, much like the one the read to us this morning in his defence of why the government does not want to have a public inquiry.
We are asking for this public inquiry today because, quite frankly, we have taken the proper steps. During the cabinet shuffle in late January and early February, it was very interesting that the former issued a 2,000-word written statement, detailing not only her accomplishments but also a warning. The warning was that we must speak truth to power, and that she spoke truth to power. Buried at the end of one of those paragraphs, which was very interesting to me, was when she said she expects that role to continue.
Why would the former say in a letter that she was concerned about world events where there is political interference trumping public policy, unless she herself had something to say about what had been transpiring within her party and within her cabinet?
We took the right path. We asked questions in the House. There were two questions. My colleague from Durham asked a question, and my colleague from Victoria asked a question about why the member had been fired from her position as attorney general.
The response was wholly inadequate, but more telling than being wholly inadequate was the fact that the did not take the opportunity to thank the minister for her work or say anything complimentary about her time as the minister. This was a glaring oversight, and incredibly classless when we think about it.
We proceeded to go to the justice committee in order to try to get more information after allegations were made in The Globe and Mail. We were told by the members that we should look past those allegations. They questioned whether there was anything behind the allegations, since they came from anonymous sources.
It is quite interesting that today we are in a situation where those anonymous sources have led to two incredibly high-profile resignations, both from cabinet and from the inner workings of the Prime Minister's Office. Surely somebody is taking these allegations seriously, even if it is Mr. Butts and even if it is the former .
Why should we have a public inquiry? A public inquiry, first and foremost, accepts evidence and conducts its hearings in a public forum, and focuses on a very specific occurrence. I can think of no other example in my 11 years here where we have needed to get to the bottom of something that is so crucial to the rule of law.
The extent of the media coverage has been enormous. The fact that it has reached into the living rooms and kitchens of Canadians is important because it puts upon us, as members of Parliament, the onus to shed light on the matter, so that we can go home and tell people exactly what has happened and what is going on, and have more to say than “This is a cover-up” and “This is stonewalling”.
Finally and foremost, why should members of Parliament, despite partisan leanings, vote in favour of this? In seven and a half short months we will be going door to door, probably sooner than that if we are doing our jobs correctly, and we will be asking our constituents to once again place their trust in us as their members of Parliament to represent them in the House of Commons. I emphasize the word “trust”.
I have to wonder if, individually, all of us as members of Parliament, especially those who sit on the government side, are not troubled by the secrecy, because our constituents are. Are members not troubled by the smear campaign that was launched from the 's Office on the former attorney general? Our constituents are troubled.
Are members not troubled by the 's attempt, day after day, of spinning a narrative and dancing so close to the line on waiving privilege that we end up with a 20-minute dissertation on the floor of the House of Commons of what is or is not solicitor-client privilege?
Are members not troubled that there have been two high-profile resignations in no more than 11 days since this matter began? My constituents are troubled.
When Liberal members of Parliament go to the door what will their response be? Is it going to be that we have to trust the and that they believe in the Prime Minister and his team? Is that going to be enough? How will those members respond when they are asked the fundamental question, which I know it is going to be asked because it is being asked now: Why is the former attorney general not allowed to speak? What is the response that those members will give?
I am going to conclude with this. There are 40 special members of the Liberal caucus on the other side, 40 members who have indeed, like myself and many colleagues on this side, taken an oath in order to be a counsel, solicitor or barrister in this country. One of the key tenets of that oath is the phrase, “I shall champion the rule of law”. The onus on those 40 members is, indeed, greater than the onus on the MPs who have not received that incredibly important burden in society of championing the rule of law.
Therefore, I encourage the members of Parliament for , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , the , the , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and to uphold the oath under which they deservedly became a professional solicitor in this country.
I encourage them to do the right thing, vote in favour of this public inquiry and shine a light on what is possibly a criminal matter, and to do it today.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today on what is a fundamental issue in our democracy, which is the constitutional convention of an independent attorney general. Unlike some of the speeches we have heard today where people suggest it does not matter to constituents, be assured, it matters to mine.
This may not be the kind of issue, like climate change or the housing crisis, that everyone will say is on the top of their list, and that is not surprising. Because it is such a bedrock principle of our democracy, people in Canada happily take it for granted. They do not take it for granted in places like China, or in banana republics, but they expect an independent attorney general to act in that way. I will be saying in the course of my remarks just what this convention entails and ask the House whether or not this matter does not deserve a full inquiry.
We can see there are two parts to the NDP motion I presented today. The first one deals with the solicitor-client privilege. The government would have us believe this is somehow too complicated for Canadians or parliamentarians. I will try to refute that during my remarks.
The second principle is that the government be urged to launch a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act to give Canadians the transparency and accountability promised by the government when it was running for office in 2015, because this is all about what happened and whether the Canadian public has a right to know. That is why it is such a fundamental issue.
I want to say at the outset that these are allegations of improper interference. I have no knowledge of what happened and neither do most Canadians. What we do have a right to know is the circumstances that have occurred, where two resignations have happened, one by the most senior political person in the PMO, namely the principal secretary to the , and the resignation by the former attorney general herself.
Canadians are asking what happened and why it matters. I am anxious for Canadians to use the justice committee, of which I am honoured to be the vice chair, as the vehicle to at least find out whether there was anything improper in the circumstances. I am not here to say there is anything improper. I do not know, but I do think Canadians deserve answers. The place to do that is the justice committee, at least initially.
For reasons I will describe, we also need an inquiry in the same way the Gomery inquiry was established under the Inquiries Act of Canada. It allowed for a number of things to be unearthed. That changed the course of our Canadian political history. This may or may not be in that category, and that is exactly why we need to know.
The question about solicitor-client privilege is not as complicated as the government would want us to think. Reasonable people can understand legal principles, and the question of whether or not the government can waive that privilege, whether that be the Prime Minister or the government at large, the Governor in Council if you will, is of course without question. The government can waive the privilege. Indeed, many prominent lawyers I have spoken to have said the government already has waived the privilege because the told us that he did not direct the former attorney general to do anything vis-à-vis SNC-Lavalin and the remediation agreement at issue. Therefore, it is already waived in the eyes of some.
Whether that is true or not, there are fundamental principles. The Shawcross doctrine, which we will come to, may or may not have been transgressed. I do not know. That is exactly why we need to have an inquiry. We need to start with the justice committee, and we need to have a full public inquiry so Canadians can see the state of their democracy at this moment in time.
The allegations are, of course, well known. We have had media reports, admittedly by unnamed individuals, whistle-blowers perhaps, that the or senior staff in his office pressured the former attorney general to interfere with a decision of the independent Public Prosecution Service to deny SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement, sometimes called a remediation agreement, for charges of corruption or fraud relating to bribes paid to officials in Libya under the Gadhafi regime many years ago.
The 's first line of defence was “I did not direct the former attorney general to do anything”, but of course that is not the issue; the issue is whether or not improper pressure was exercised.
Second, the Canadian public wants to know why she has chosen to resign and why she did a rather unusual, if not unprecedented, thing when she decided to put a letter out to her constituents and to Canadians saying that she was speaking truth to power now and wanted to assert the importance of an independent Attorney General. Then a few weeks later, she resigned even from the position that she was assigned in cabinet, namely the Veterans Affairs portfolio.
Canadians want to know why. Why did she feel she had to say that, and then why did she ultimately resign? Yesterday, why did the principal secretary, the leading official in the 's Office, also say he had to resign? The line he used was that it was because he was becoming a diversion, and I would not deny that.
The removed her from office as justice minister, and people are asking serious questions as a consequence. Professor Craig Forcese has written a very helpful article on the whole public law aspect of this matter. He starts by saying that there are different degrees of influence that a government can exert on an Attorney General.
There is nothing wrong whatsoever in asking advice of cabinet colleagues. Indeed, as Lord Simon in the United Kingdom said, sometimes you'd be a fool not to do so, but where you cross the magic line of the Shawcross principle, first established in the 1950s and now the law in Canada as well—a constitutional convention, in fact—is that one cannot pressure or exert undue influence on the Attorney General. At the end of the day, he or she has to stand up and say, “The decision to prosecute or not to prosecute was mine alone. That decision to go into a remediation agreement or not, to tell the director of public prosecutions to do thus or so—that was my decision and mine alone.”
Obviously, someone thinks there was a problem here, including the former attorney general, who was removed from her office and then subsequently resigned. Canadians want to know why.
Why is the government, with its avowed commitment to transparency and accountability, not anxious to have her and Mr. Butts, the principal secretary, speak and tell their side of the story to clear it up? Maybe there is nothing here, but for the government to not want that to happen causes reasonable people to be concerned and to ask questions.
That is all that this motion is designed to do: to ask the government to please waive any privilege it thinks it has and that she might think she has and let her speak. Let her tell her side of the story, and also allow us to hear from the other side, the other alleged protagonist in this drama, Mr. Butts, and others who work for him in the 's Office. Why would the government not welcome that? That is what is confusing, and it is actually adding fuel to this fire.
As Professor Forcese says, there are degrees of influence, and it matters whether it is pressure or whether it is direction. Canadians might be wondering why this matters and why it is such a big deal; it is because we cannot have partisan or political considerations in supervising prosecutions. It simply cannot be done if we are going to keep the convention of an independent prosecution, of an independent law officer of the Crown, which is what the Attorney General is.
In some democracies, such as England, the role of the Attorney General is separate. In that system, the role played by our Minister of Justice is played by the Home Secretary, so important is it that the Attorney General be seen to be outside political influence. That is what some countries do.
We have seen south of the border, with Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey, how that plays out. We in Canada have been proud, and justly so, of an independent prosecution service, and now people want to know if there were any problems that occurred in this circumstance.
In 2002, in the Supreme Court decision of Krieger v. Law Society of Alberta, the Supreme Court said:
It is a constitutional principle that the Attorneys General of this country must act independently of partisan concerns when exercising their delegated sovereign authority to initiate, continue or terminate prosecutions.
That is why it is a big deal. Was there anything that crossed that line, the Shawcross line? As we heard in the eloquent speech of the deputy opposition leader and justice critic for the official opposition, what is at the bottom line here is the rule of law.
The Attorney General owes her ultimate loyalty to the rule of law, not to the government of the day. That is a bedrock constitutional principle in our country that we sure hope was not transgressed in circumstances when pressure may have been exerted to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement when it was clear that the director of public prosecutions, that independent officer, did not think it was warranted. Our Attorney General appears to have not thought it was warranted either; then, poof, she was removed from her cabinet role in that regard.
Is that a problem? I do not know that it is or is not. I need to understand further.
Professor Forcese concluded as follows:
At risk of being very wrong, one might infer that people in the [Attorney General's] office thought a line had been crossed – someone was, after all, the Globe [and Mail's] source [for the story that led to this bombshell]. But if a clear Shawcross line was crossed, the expectation would then be that the [Attorney General] would resign.
Of course, that did not happen initially, but then eventually it did.
The government members have been speaking about just how difficult this whole solicitor-client business is, and about the independence of the prosecutorial function being so difficult and so forth. The late Mr. Justice Rosenberg of the Ontario Court of Appeal wrote down what he thought the five components of the Shawcross principle were. He said:
[T]he Attorney General must take into account all relevant facts [in making a decision to prosecute] including the effect of a successful or unsuccessful prosecution on public morale and order.
It is perfectly legitimate, in other words, to take those into account.
Mr. Rosenberg continued:
Second, the Attorney General is not obliged to consult with cabinet colleagues but is entitled to do so.
That is no problem. He went on to say:
Third, any assistance from cabinet colleagues is confined to giving advice, not directions.
That is why, presumably, in his first original line of defence, the talked about direction so categorically.
Mr. Rosenberg continued:
Fourth, responsibility for the decision is that of the Attorney General alone; the government is not to put pressure on him or her.
That is the point.
Fifth, and equally, the Attorney General cannot shift responsibility for the decision to the cabinet.
Nor, I dare say, can responsibility be shifted to anybody else.
Having explained the Shawcross principle and explained for Canadians why this is such an important question before us, now we can talk about what to do about it.
We have asked, and I join the official opposition in that regard, for a justice committee to hear from the key principals in this story. We should invite our colleague, the now former veterans affairs minister and former attorney general, the MP, to come and tell her side of the story.
She is getting advice from an eminent former Supreme Court justice, the Hon. Thomas Cromwell, and we hope that some advice is provided that would let her feel comfortable in coming and telling Canadians her side of the story.
We have asked for that, and so far, sadly, that has not happened. The government members on that committee have somehow thought this was just politics, that there was nothing to see here, so drive on. They may be right, but why on earth would they not let us find out so we can put our minds at rest? The government members of the committee then, of course, accuse us of being partisan when we want to do our job as parliamentarians.
What else do we know? We know that there was a frenzy of lobbying for this particular company. It is an engineering company, so I would not be surprised if it was lobbying about bridges and roads and the like, but it was lobbying for something called justice and law enforcement, and that is a little unusual for an engineering company. It visited officials in the 's Office 14 times over the period of a couple of years, 12 visits with principal secretary Butts and the Prime Minister's senior Quebec adviser, Mathieu Bouchard.
All we have asked for is for those two individuals to say what happened. Is that crossing some line? Are we somehow being irresponsible in wanting to know?
This is an unusual circumstance because, lo and behold, we soon thereafter had this brand new insertion in an omnibus budget bill, called a “deferred prosecution agreement”. I am not here to say that those are horrible and improper at all times—not at all. There may be a legitimate role for them, and I am sure that was brought to the attention of the director of public prosecutions.
However, Transparency International and others lobbied to make sure that if we were going to insert that section into the code, it did not allow the national economic interest to be taken into account. That is not a legitimate relevant consideration in granting one of these, so there is a question as to whether the DPA could even be appropriate in these circumstances. I do not know, and that, I gather, is still before the courts in some way.
Then the pivoted and said that he did not direct her at all, but that there was a resignation from cabinet by the former treasury board president, and had that not happened, she would still be .
Hello? It seems a little odd in the circumstances to date that the sudden resignation would trigger all of this, and then yesterday his principal secretary decided to offer his resignation.
I salute Professor Donald Savoie of the Université de Moncton, who has written so much about the centralization of power in the 's Office. I dare say that there are a lot of questions about whether it is the so-called board of directors of Canada that decides what goes on—what we used to think was the cabinet—or if it is really the Prime Minister's Office. I do not think a company of the sophistication and size and SNC-Lavalin would have been lobbying the Prime Minister's Office that many times if it did not also perceive that it had a lot of influence on cases of this kind.
It may be that the DPA is a legitimate exercise, but it is passing strange that we no longer have this individual in the cabinet and that individual in the Prime Minister's Office.
In all of these circumstances, I have to ask again: Why would the government not join us in trying to get to the bottom of this? Indeed, when the proverbial shoe was on the other foot, I note that the Liberals in opposition were anxious to have an inquiry before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in respect of Senator Duffy. They put forward a motion to the government of the day that that the committee be instructed to examine the conduct of the 's Office regarding the repayment of Senator Duffy's expenses, that the Prime Minister be ordered to appear under oath as a witness for a period of three hours and that the proceedings be televised.
It is kind of interesting, now that the shoe is on the other foot, that this seems radical and wrong, but I want Canadians to remember it only because when Liberals were in opposition, they understood what the job of an opposition is. When our democracy may be under threat, when there is a possible breach of a constitutional convention, I expect Canadians to have parliamentarians join together and get to the bottom of it, regardless of partisan considerations.
Mr. Speaker, Canada is a nation governed by the rule of law. This basic premise is not only written into our Constitution, but it is also found in the actions of our political actors and in the structure of our executive, legislative and judiciary institutions, as well as how they relate to one another.
Upholding the Constitution requires not only respect for the supreme law of the land, as set out in the provisions of our Constitution, but also rules and practices that reflect and support constitutional values.
As a member from Quebec and someone who has worked in the legal field in several jurisdictions, including in Europe, the United States and Quebec, but mainly in Quebec, I found it very troubling to hear certain members and media outlets suggesting that Quebec does not uphold the rule of law to the same extent as other provinces. That statement is completely false and utterly shameful.
In our parliamentary system we must adhere to and respect well-established constitutional principles and conventions. Foremost among them is the principle of separation of powers, which our Supreme Court has emphasized in a principle that is fundamental to the workings of Parliament and the courts. This principle requires that each branch of government recognize the role of the other branches and respect the appropriate limits of its own role.
As Justice McLachlin, later the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote in New Brunswick Broadcasting in 1993:
It is fundamental to the working of government as a whole that all these parts play their proper role. It is equally fundamental that no one of them overstep its bounds, that each show proper deference for the legitimate sphere of activity of the other.
In 2005, Justice Binnie observed that it was a wise principle that the courts and Parliament strive to respect each other's role in the conduct of public affairs. He went on to state:
Parliament, for its part, refrains from commenting on matters before the courts under the sub judice rule. The courts, for their part, are careful not to interfere with the workings of Parliament.
We have emphasized, here in the House, the need to respect parliamentary privilege. As Justice Binnie indicated, “[p]arliamentary privilege...is one of the ways in which the fundamental constitutional separation of powers is respected.”
However, we also need to remember that the separation of powers requires respect for the constitutional principle of the independence of the judiciary and that we need to refrain from interfering either directly or indirectly—and that is important to note—in the adjudicative function of the courts. That applies particularly to courts that deal with criminal and other related cases.
One way we in the House continue to protect the principles of the separation of powers and judicial independence is through respect for the sub judice rule. That rule is embodied in a cherished constitutional convention.
Democratic government under the rule of law has been under attack lately domestically and abroad. Continuing to ensure respect for constitutional conventions is one of the ways our political culture supports a modern parliamentary democracy that is also attuned to the values Canadians cherish, including the independence of our courts and the right to a fair trial.
Similarly, we need to abide by the sub judice convention because it contributes to respect for the principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary, which are fundamental to any pluralistic democracy.
We need to strike a balance between the powers, roles and duties of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and this long-standing convention is an important means of accomplishing that.
Parliamentarians should be very familiar with the sub judice convention. There has been enough talk about it.
In fact, it is described at length in the authoritative guide to the workings of the House of Commons, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which I hope everyone has read, as an “exercise of restraint on the part of the House in which restrictions are placed on the freedom of Members to make reference in debate to matters which are sub judice, that is, awaiting judicial decisions. It is also understood that matters before the courts are also prohibited as subjects of motions, petitions or questions in the House.”
This book goes on to note that this “restriction exists in order to protect an accused person or other party to a court action or judicial inquiry from any prejudicial effect of public discussion of the issue. The convention recognizes the courts, as opposed to the House, as the proper forum in which to decide individual cases.”
It is also worth noting that the convention “has been applied consistently” to “all matters relating to criminal cases”.
In our parliamentary system, speaking of a matter that is before a court of justice, particularly a court seized with a criminal matter and related proceedings, may risk prejudicing the outcome of a trial and may affect the protection of due process, including the presumption of innocence afforded to accused persons in our society.
Let me say this. Over the last few days, we have seen a rush to judgment and politicalization by certain opposition MPs. While I hasten to say that I offer no excuses for SNC-Lavalin, and indeed it is fully capable of defending itself, I find it highly troubling that some colleagues would readily condemn it for their own personal political gain.
When I meet lobbyists, which we have bandied about as almost a dirty word, it is highly informative of what goes on in Canadian society. I choose carefully who I meet. It is not a one-way discussion; it is a two-discussion. I ask them what they can do for the citizens of Canada.
As we who have been elected to this House know, our duty in this House is to be the representatives and voices of our constituents, not just the ones who voted for us but all the constituents in our ridings. That does not mean that we can ignore what businesses say to us, because they employ a lot of people in our ridings. In the centre of Montreal, they employ many people who are not necessarily capable of voting for someone like me, because they come in through the 14 metro stations in my riding. That does not mean that I will not stand up for those people, the employees, if there are circumstances that affect their families, whether or not they have chosen to vote for me.
My job is not to protect business but to protect the people in my riding: their charter values, their livelihoods, and first and foremost, their physical integrity and their right to have gainful jobs and to contribute to this economy. Therefore, when a company, whether large or small, comes into my riding, my principal focus is the employees and ensuring that good jobs for Canadians are maintained in my riding.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms constitutionally guarantees the right of a person charged with an offence to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, according to the law, in a fair and public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal. I am certain that no one in this chamber would want to undermine that fundamental constitutional right by discussing a matter that is within the rightful purview and jurisdiction of the court and is before it pending a decision.
In the case at hand, it is reasonable to ask this: After a proper accounting is made of white-collar crime and the actors are punished and fines are levied, what is left? It goes back to what I said earlier. The answer, more often than not, is employees who may see their families and livelihoods jeopardized by further prosecution. In this sense, and I will stress that I have no direct evidence of what has been discussed, the Prime Minister's Office would have been remiss not to seek advice from the then attorney general, and the then attorney general would have been remiss not to give that advice.
I want to take a moment as well to pay homage to the work done by the former minister of justice in advancing key elements of our platform. Whether it was the legalization of cannabis or assisted-dying legislation, they are elements that touch upon moral values and go beyond legislation. I want to pay tribute to the work she did in that role in advancing the values of Canadian society.
She has also helped me, on personal level, deal with issues of which I know very little. In that sense, I refer to indigenous issues, which are top of mind for this government. I want to thank her for her service in that respect.
This brings us back to the reason for the rule, which is to protect not only the constitutional rights of accused persons, but also the constitutional principles of judicial independence and separation of powers.
In the House, which respects these principles as well as constitutionalism and the rule of law, we need to do everything in our power to prevent interference, or the perception of interference, in due process, the broader principles of fundamental justice and the impartiality of the courts.
Let me discuss this concept in some detail. As I have said, by convention, members of Parliament do not comment on matters that are pending before the courts. This is known, as I said earlier, as the sub judice rule, which is just fancy Latin for matters under judicial consideration.
The rule is appropriately described in Beauschene's Parliamentary Rules and Forms of the House of Commons of Canada: “Members are expected to refrain from discussing matters that are before the courts or tribunals which are courts of record.”
Why do I mention this? It is because, so far, despite many media reports, what we have are unsubstantiated allegations. Indeed, we have had two high-profile resignations, but we do not know the substance of those allegations. I know many people will stand in the House and say that we should get to the bottom of this. What I have said in the last few minutes as an answer speaks for itself.
If anything, the motion today is premature, absolutely premature, with very few substantiated facts. The members opposite, even some reputed legal minds, in fact legal minds I respect quite profoundly, would hasten to waive solicitor-client privilege. We could have a long discussion as to whether it has already been waived.
Hon. Erin O'Toole: It has.
Mr. Marc Miller: I thank the member for for pointing that out. We worked in the same firm, but not contemporaneously. He has suggested that it already has, and again, he is substituting his mind for other legal minds. I know, despite that, that he is a humble man.
Solicitor-client privilege is a basic tenet of our democracy, of common law courts more particularly. As applied to the relationship between the Prime Minister's Office and the Attorney General, it has a number of particular legal twists. However, the fundamental tenet remains the same. It allows the client, in this case the Governor in Council or the Prime Minster's Office, whatever we call it, to get full, complete counsel on matters that are of capital importance. The corresponding role of the lawyer is to give free and unfettered advice back.
Again, as many members have pointed out, it is a privilege that can be waived by the proverbial client. Whether it should be is an entirely different consideration, because we are talking about complex matters that, as we have seen in the last week, have been highly politicized and based on what we know to be, so far, unsubstantiated reports.
Members may take different positions on this motion, and indeed different positions may be taken within our caucus and with respect to other parties in the House, but there is a level of prematurity here that we cannot deny.
I have heard a number of arguments given here today. I am studying the motion, and indeed, my colleagues are studying the motion, in depth. We need to take a deep look at where we want to go with this. These are matters before the court, and as I mentioned, I am in no position to, nor should I necessarily have to, defend one of Canada's largest companies. It has wise counsel.
Yes, there may very well be jobs at risk, regardless of the province they lie in. I have no direct evidence that discussions occurred, but the very difficult discussions that may have occurred between the 's Office and the former attorney general were most likely appropriate under the circumstances, and correspondingly, the former attorney general's advice had to be heeded. Attempting to open that process to a highly politicized inquiry through which members may very well, wittingly or unwittingly, compromise judicial positions in court, with potentially unintended consequences, is cavalier, particularly in the face of unsubstantiated evidence.
I would readily concede that we do not know enough. The issue is whether we are publicly entitled to know enough. The only things that prevent that are solicitor-client privilege, which is a basic tenet of a pluralistic democracy, and various levels of confidentiality that may or may not be asserted. This lies at the very core of what we are as a country and as a democracy, which is respect for the division of powers, respect for judicial process and respect for the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law.
I respectfully submit to the House that before implicating any particular company, or importantly, any person, it is important that we exercise the requisite prudence and refrain from discussing these matters, not only to protect the parties but because the trial could be affected by debate and conjecture in the House.
I ask all my colleagues in the House to join me in reflecting on the importance of maintaining respect for the sub judice convention and the broader constitutional principles that have been developed specifically to protect criminal matters and related proceedings.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this new chamber for the first time, question period notwithstanding, to speak to a very important topic. I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Most of the speeches we have heard on this topic, or at least those from this side of the House, have stressed how important it is for us, as parliamentarians, to be transparent with and accountable to Canadians. This is the role of all parliamentarians, regardless of their political affiliation.
The opposition motion moved today by my colleague from calls on the to waive solicitor-client privilege for the former justice minister, who was demoted and changed files on January 14. It was surprising to see the justice minister move to veterans affairs, but it was even more surprising to see her issue a statement about this change in responsibilities. I found one sentence from this statement particularly interesting, and I will quote it. The former minister of justice and member of Parliament for said:
The role of the Attorney General of Canada carries with it unique responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice, and as such demands a measure of principled independence. It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence.
It was very surprising to read this, because a minister who is moved to another portfolio rarely writes this kind of statement. Her statement was surprising because there was no context until recently. Many MPs, experts, journalists and Canadians wondered why the former attorney general felt the need to express that sentiment. Obviously, everything that has happened since then has created context for her statement. Solicitor-client privilege prevents her from speaking about the circumstances that led to her dissatisfaction and, shortly afterward, to her resignation from cabinet.
We do not have all the details or all the information, and that is why the solicitor-client privilege must be waived. We are hearing about the rule of law. I believe that every MP here in the House recognizes that Canada is a country that respects the rule of law. In this regard, waiving solicitor-client privilege does not undermine the rule of law in any way.
In the solicitor-client privilege relationship in this case, it is up to the client to give their lawyer permission to disclose information. The Prime Minister is free to give that permission. What we are calling for today is clarification on the troubling situations that have resulted in two weeks of confusion and chaos and yesterday's surprise resignation of the 's principal secretary.
We deserve to hear the truth about what happened because, as I was saying, we have the sub judice rule. We live under the rule of law. Some journalists have pointed out that this rule of law, this way of doing things, is what distinguishes us from countries like Libya, where the rule of law is tenuous.
We need transparency and the appearance of justice. We have to ensure that there is no political interference in the judicial process. That is why we moved this motion to call on the Prime Minister to waive solicitor-client privilege and allow the former attorney general to tell her side of the story. The Prime Minister and a number of government MPs have given their side, but the former attorney general has not had the opportunity to respond.
This past weekend, even the and the said they needed to hear the former attorney general's side. We need to hear it. We moved a motion at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to try to invite her and the Prime Minister's former principal secretary as witnesses.
That motion was voted down by the majority of members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which obviously has a Liberal majority. The Liberals proposed a resolution to call witnesses who do not really have anything to do with the situation and ask them to talk about the possible relationship.
We expect the same thing will happen this week when a motion is tabled in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to learn more about the suspended or deferred prosecution process. However, that is not the issue before us now. The issue before us now is whether there was political interference in the decisions that the former attorney general and minister of justice had to make.
The fact that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is currently unable to do its work fully justifies the second request set out in the opposition motion, namely to launch an independent public inquiry into what happened. It is clear that the Liberal majority on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights does not want an independent public inquiry, since it refuses to call witnesses who could shed some light on this complicated situation. If the committee is unable to find out what happened, we need to find another way to do that, and that involves an independent public inquiry.
My colleague from said we need to be careful with solicitor-client privilege. That relationship is sacred and must not be jeopardized. We must also be careful with matters before the courts. The sub judice rule forces us to keep quiet and ensure that, as parliamentarians, we do not interfere with matters before the courts.
Here is an example of how the Standing Committee on Finance used the sub judice rule. Members will recall that we did a study on connections between KPMG and alleged activities on the Isle of Man, activities that may have amounted to or could have been interpreted as tax fraud or as incitement to tax fraud.
We tried to investigate KPMG the same way American committees investigated KMPG. In a similar case in the United States, committees did not hesitate to use all the strength and power they had to ensure that KPMG executives went to jail in the United States.
There were no concerns regarding the sub judice convention. The legislature felt it had a duty to use its powers to get to the bottom of the situation. We did not do that, even though our parliamentary committees here in Canada have essentially the same powers as those in the U.S. Congress.
We refuse to give ourselves the authority to investigate because the sub judice convention is being interpreted too broadly and in such a way as to shut down any relevant questions if the government itself decides to use a court of law, like the Federal Court, or if KPMG decides to appeal to the Tax Court of Canada to try to make its Isle of Man scheme legal.
Quite frankly, the sub judice convention is being used far too broadly in the context of our Canadian Parliament and within our committees, and this is preventing us from doing our job.
That was the case at the Standing Committee on Finance. Based on what I witnessed last week at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and what I expect to see on Wednesday, the committee cannot play its full role, which is to seek the truth in situations dealing with how our country functions under the rule of law and how we apply the rule of law.
The bottom line is that we are in a situation where the government claims to have done nothing wrong, despite some considerable doubts raised by statements made by the former minister of justice. We on this side of the House have questions about some very serious allegations, and our questions deserve an answer, for the sake of transparency and respect for the rule of law.
That is why I am proud to support this motion to waive solicitor-client privilege and launch an independent public inquiry into the allegations.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise as the member for Essex on our NDP motion today. I want to thank the member for for his hard work.
The motion asks members of the House to call on the to waive solicitor-client privilege for the with respect to allegations of interference in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and to urge the government to launch a public inquiry into this scandal. This is important to repeat because so many people in Essex have asked me about what is really happening here. They deserve answers and the motion seeks to find them.
It has been quite a week in the wake of reports alleging the or senior staff in the PMO pressured the to interfere with the decision of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to deny SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement for charges of corruption and fraud relating to bribes paid to officials in Gadhafi's Libya between 2001 and 2011. This saga has played out in national headlines, and the bombshells just kept coming this week as the story grew every day, becoming more bizarre and unbelievable.
Canadians now have every reason to believe the fired Canada's first indigenous justice minister for speaking truth to power because she would not shield alleged corporate criminals at SNC-Lavalin. This was followed by her quitting her current cabinet post and quickly seeking legal counsel. What has ensued is a story that is changing faster than my kids' when they get in trouble and are trying to get out of it.
The Liberal Party cannot keep its story straight. The has denied these allegations and pointed to the 's continued presence in cabinet as evidence that nothing happened, which begs the question of why she would resign and seek legal advice.
To Canadians, this is a clear case of the Liberals showing who really matters to them. It is not GM workers in Oshawa, Sears workers across our country or postal workers who were forced back to work by them. They compromised the independence of the justice system to bail out their corporate friends from serious criminal charges of fraud and corruption.
Liberals, like Conservatives before them, used an omnibus bill, a monster legislative tool, to jam things into a single vote. This is an erosion of our democracy, and New Democrats have been consistently critical of this blunt tool. I have never heard a government member cite the deferred prosecution agreement as a piece of the omnibus legislation, nor have I ever been supportive of these being used as they are undemocratic tools. Now we find out exactly why SNC-Lavalin had 50-plus meetings with the PMO and related ministers.
Continuing on the theme that there is nothing to see here, we move on from all the good corporate goodies that were buried in the Liberal omnibus bill to the discovery that SNC-Lavalin was rewarded for its endless lobbying efforts with the creation of a piece of legislation that would let it get off any charges without going to court and getting its due. Instead, it can ask the government just to write it a parking ticket and let it walk away.
I ask Canadians watching this at home if they are not tired of watching these two parties write rules for corporations while they are forced to play by the rules and be held accountable? This is what I am hearing from my constituents. They are tired. How many Canadians do we meet with who are looking for legislation to help their families and loved ones? Lyme disease patients, seniors and people who cannot afford their housing or medication would give their eye teeth to get one meeting with the to let him know how broken our systems are and how much Canadians are suffering.
However, they cannot get in to see the . They cannot get into that office, but SNC-Lavalin, a construction firm, can get endless meetings in order to change the rules so it can break the law without any consequences. Canadians are tired of having two sets of rules: one for corporations and the rich and another for everyday people.
That is not even the worst of it, or the reason we all watched this play out this week. We need to be clear that SNC-Lavalin received its get out of jail free card from the Liberals in the omnibus budget bill, but that was not enough. It had the free card, but it was itching to use it. It wasted no time lining up to be the first to use its shiny new legislation. It submitted to have its case put under deferred prosecution, and that is where the allegations begin, allegations of pressure from the PMO on the and her team to accept its submission.
This is where it starts to get shady, in case Canadians did not think it was already shady. I will repeat that the AG alleges that she felt pressured to accept the deferred prosecution agreement and let SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial, and she did not want to. This is the root of why we are here today, why we need the truth and why we need to hear from the former .
There has been a lot of worry about what this investigation would mean for workers at SNC-Lavalin in Canada. I share that worry, how it might hurt them and their communities. In all of this sordid affair, it is once again working people who are stuck between a corrupt company that wants to skirt the rules and the worry over their jobs to keep their families thriving. This is unfair.
The story keeps changing day after day, at times blaming the previous after her resignation, implying that it could be because she did not speak French, or maybe because Mr. Brison resigned, all the while witnessing an ugly whisper campaign that is being waged on her personally. We saw this play out on social media. I hope this campaign did not come from people who were sitting with her on that side of the House. I hope they were not spreading this misinformation about her to discredit her from speaking up, as she should, on behalf of all Canadians.
Then we find ourselves at the justice committee, where the member for represented the New Democrats well. He brought reasonable amendments to the government motion to invite the former , Gerry Butts and Mathieu Bouchard to appear before them as witnesses. Those amendments were struck down by the Liberal members on the committee.
Those Liberal committee members are stonewalling, making a parliamentary committee unworkable. I echo the member for , as he heads into that committee today as vice-chair for our party. He is hopeful that today the committee will revisit this, that there will be a conversation about bringing folks who were involved in this directly to that committee. I do hope that happens. These individuals hold the truth. Unfortunately the Liberal committee members voted against these witnesses, trying to deflect onto the piece of legislation they changed and its validity. Instead they should be focusing on what was said by whom and when to the former .
Canadians expect their government to work for them, and that is what New Democrats are committed to doing. That is why we are calling for an independent public inquiry into the 's SNC-Lavalin scandal to provide answers. We are also calling on the Prime Minister to waive solicitor-client privilege for the former and let her speak her truth to power publicly.
The NDP has also called on the Ethics Commissioner to investigate, which we are thankful has been accepted. This will not be the first time the Ethics Commissioner investigates the ; it is the fifth time. Even when he was found in breach of ethics, twice, there were limited tools the Ethics Commissioner had to hold the Prime Minister and the government to account. The government members who are getting up today, saying that it is good enough that the Ethics Commissioner is investigating, know this very well. They know there will be no consequences if it is indeed found that there is a breach of ethics. It is a long process. We need this to be cleared now.
If Liberals truly have nothing to hide, then this will be an easy vote. Supporting our motion today will signal to Canadians that Liberals will stand with New Democrats and the opposition members in wanting the truth to come to the light of day. The Liberals keep telling us how important an independent justice system is, but it all goes out the window when it is their friends in trouble.
The Attorney General cannot be pressured by the . This allegation is an erosion of trust in a pillar of Canadian democracy. The need for a public inquiry is clear. Canadians deserve a government they can trust. The Liberals have an opportunity here to end the speculation that is playing out in our headlines and support the truth being set free.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time this afternoon with the member for .
I appreciate the opportunity to speak today. I was disappointed to see the former member for resign from cabinet. I was fortunate to have many conversations with her when she was the minister of justice about a variety of issues. I always appreciated her passion.
Yesterday, a man who was committed to the country and worked tirelessly to make Canada a better place for all its citizens resigned. Gerald Butts always had all the time in the world to listen to me when I had suggestions, comments or concerns. I will miss him in the Prime Minister's Office.
The truth is out there and no one seems to want to listen. The has already made it clear there was no wrongdoing. I am not going to repeat his statement today. What I will say, though, is that there was a time when people were taken at their word, and I take the Prime Minister at his word that neither he nor anyone in his office pressured or directed the former attorney general in this matter.
The opposition talks about this being a non-partisan issue, yet refuses to allow the processes already in place to take their course. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has launched an independent investigation into this matter. I, along with our government, welcome the opportunity to clear the air and for the commissioner to provide an independent assessment. As well, the justice committee is seized with this matter.
I would like to speak about something that has been troubling me for some time, about how politics has become so hyper-partisan. Civility and respect seem to be cast aside in the interest of seeing who can score the most political points. People have retreated into their corners and shout into the middle, not listening to each but rather screaming to see who can be the loudest. We type rather than talk. Our world is moving at lightning speed, social media amplifies negative messages and it has become a race to see who can be first rather than who can be the best. When I speak to people in Oakville North—Burlington and across the country, they want it to stop. They are becoming cynical about politics.
The member who sits opposite from me in the House, the member for , without fail, speaks with wisdom and civility and is able to set aside partisanship in order to thoughtfully and respectfully debate issues. We may not always agree on policy, but I would never turn down the opportunity to work with her.
I am blessed to do what I do, to represent the fine people who live in my riding and to take part in debates in this place.
Before he passed, my friend Arnold Chan gave a powerful speech in the House. He said:
It is the basic common civility we share with each other that is fundamental. It is thanking our Tim Hortons server. It is giving way to someone on the road. It is saying thanks. It is the small things we collectively do, from my perspective, that make a great society, and to me, that is ultimately what it means to be a Canadian. We are so privileged to live in this country, because we have these small acts of common decency and civility that make us what we are. I would ask members to carry on that tradition, because that is the foundation of what makes Canada great.
When we think about it, is that not what makes us proud to be Canadian? Arnold expressed these concerns in 2017, but I fear it has only become worse since then.
The residents in my riding are working hard to pay their bills, look after their family, make their community better and find some time to enjoy life. Our government is working hard to ensure that people do just that, to help them get ahead, see a brighter future for their children and ensure their parents can enjoy their golden years.
The Canada child benefit is a great example of this. When I speak to those who are receiving it, they tell me it has made their lives easier. In my riding, families have received $70 million in Canada child benefits since 2018. In the Halton region, that number is over $245 million. That money is not only helping families, it is boosting our local economy and businesses. Kristen, a single mom with a beautiful daughter, has told me what a difference this payment makes in her life.
Scotiabank just released a report that showed our government's Canada child benefit was providing $3,350 more to a family with a net income of $35,000 and $1,848 less to a family with a net income of $250,000, compared to the previous Conservative government's program. Our government is lifting children out of poverty and focusing on those who need it the most.
We have lowered taxes for the middle class. It was the first thing we did. The average family of four is $2,000 further ahead today than it was in 2015.
We invested in public transit, both local transit and GO trains, so Oakville and Burlington residents could get home faster and enjoy time with family, friends or attend their child's lacrosse game or music recital.
I know that Oakville North—Burlington residents are passionate about the environment. They treasure our green space and are outspoken advocates for taking action on climate change. In fact, they demand action on this issue. Our climate plan would put a price on pollution and put eight out of 10 families further ahead in 2019.
I meet with small business owners who thank me for the changes we have made to the small business tax rate, lowering it from 11% to 9%. I visited businesses like EarthFresh Farms and UPC, which are thriving because of our focus on innovation and clean technology.
There is no doubt in my mind that we have changed the conversation around gender equity since taking office, in my riding, across Canada and around the world. I am always deeply touched when a young girl tells me she appreciates what I am doing in Ottawa and that I am not what she expected in a politician.
I am inspired when I visit employers who are mentoring young women during the young women in leadership program I developed in my riding. I look at some of the incredible programs that are being developed in Halton like Camp Molly, which is being organized by Deputy Fire Chief Monique Belair of the Oakville Fire Department to encourage young women to look at firefighting as a career choice.
The first year I ran young women in leadership there was not one young woman who chose firefighting as her career. The second year we changed a few things and were able to send three young ladies there. In May, at Camp Molly, there will be dozens of young women from across Halton who will experience the variety of career options within the fire service, showing them that fire services is not just about putting wet on hot. I hope that my staff and I have played a small part in broadening horizons for young women and opening their eyes to the endless possibilities before them.
Our historic investment in the national housing strategy with $40 billion over 10 years ensures that groups like Habitat for Humanity—
Mr. Speaker, I have the greatest admiration for my colleague the MP for , who is an instrumental member of the Pacific caucus and who has been and continues to be a strong advocate for her riding.
I also have the utmost appreciation for former principal secretary Gerald Butts, who has always served this country with integrity and advocated for positive politics. I hope he will continue, and I expect him to continue, to serve Canadians in whatever endeavour he takes on.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to some of the matters raised by the member opposite's motion. There are already two processes under way that are investigating the allegations raised by the motion. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will be holding hearings on this issue and the Ethics Commissioner will be conducting an investigation. I am confident that these two processes will be completed in a fair and thorough manner and will provide Canadians with the answers and the information they seek.
There is every reason to believe at this time that these two groups, one composed of Canadians' elected representatives from both other parties and one representing a non-partisan perspective, are up to the task of considering the questions that Canadians are asking. That said, it would be helpful to discuss the roles, responsibilities and powers of each of these two processes.
Let me speak about the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
With the exception of standing joint committees and certain standing committees, the Standing Orders set out a general mandate for all standing committees. They are empowered to study and report to the House on all matters relating to the mandate, management, organization and operation of the departments assigned to them by the House. More specifically, they can review and report on: the statute law relating to the departments assigned to them; the program and policy objectives of those departments and the effectiveness of their implementation; the immediate medium and long-term expenditure plans of those departments and the effectiveness of the implementation thereof; and an analysis of the relative success of those departments in meeting their objectives.
In addition to this general mandate, other matters are routinely referred by the House to its standing committees, such as bills, estimates, order in council appointments, documents tabled in the House pursuant to statute, and specific matters that the House wishes to have studied. In each case the House chooses the most appropriate committee on the basis of its mandate.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has the power to review and report on the policies, programs and expenditure plans of the Department of Justice, which has the mandate to support the dual roles of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, the chief law officer of the Crown.
The committee also has the power to study the policies, programs and legislation of the following entities: the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Courts Administration Service, Administrative Tribunals Support Service of Canada and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
In particular, the committee may review proposed amendments to federal legislation relating to certain aspects of the Criminal Code, family law, human rights law and the administration of justice, notably with respect to the following statutes: the Criminal Code, Youth Criminal Justice Act, Divorce Act, Civil Marriage Act, Canadian Human Rights Act, Judges Act, Courts Administration Service Act, and the Supreme Court Act.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights may also undertake studies on subjects related to its mandate, either as referred to it by the House of Commons or on its own initiative. For example, it recently conducted a study on juror mental health and prior to that it conducted a study on human trafficking in Canada.
In the course of a study, the committee holds public meetings, considers evidence from witnesses and reviews written submissions and other authoritative documents. In the case of its human trafficking study, the committee also travelled across Canada to hold private sessions with witnesses who were uncomfortable testifying in a public forum. This enabled it to hear from witnesses that it otherwise might not have been able to hear from but whose testimony was crucial to the study.
At the conclusion of a study, the committee usually reports its findings and makes recommendations. The committee may request a government response within 120 days.
As to the Ethics Commissioner, under the Conflict of Interest Act, a member of the Senate or House of Commons who has reasonable grounds to believe that a public office holder, which includes the , has contravened the act may, in writing, request that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner examine the matter.
In conducting this investigation, the commissioner has the power to summon witnesses and require them to give evidence orally and/or in writing, under oath or affirmation and produce any documents and things that the commissioner considers necessary. For the purpose of enforcing these powers, the commissioner has the same powers as a court of record in civil cases.
The subject of the complaint also has an opportunity to make submissions to the commissioner. The commissioner's investigation is required to be conducted in private. The commissioner is required to provide the Prime Minister with a report setting out the facts in question as well as the commissioner's analysis and conclusion in relation to the request made by a parliamentarian. The report is to be provided to the person who made the request, to the public office holder who is the subject of the request and to the public. The commissioner may not include in the report any information that he or she is required to keep confidential, unless the information is essential for the purposes of establishing the grounds for any conclusion in a report.
As I have explained, these two processes are already under way. Both will investigate the allegations raised by the motion moved by the member opposite, and I am confident that these two processes will be thoroughly and fairly conducted and will provide Canadians with the answers and information they seek. There is every reason to believe that these two groups are up to the task of considering the questions that are being asked.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend, the member for .
It is very revealing for me to listen to the Liberals here today. One after another, they want to tell us all about the inner and intricate workings of any committee in the House of Commons and want to debate sub judice rules and all sorts of protocols and doctrines rather than speak to the heart of what New Democrats have brought forward as a motion here today.
I thought my Liberal colleagues would have taken the motion seriously, because it deals with our very trust and confidence in government itself, never mind the day-to-day eroding of trust and faith in this particular government and its own credibility. Instead, Liberals have spent the entire day avoiding the elephant in the room, the very central questions that Canadians are asking about what exactly is going on in the 's own office with this scandal. They refuse to believe that Canadians are somehow not going to be satisfied with the constantly evolving stories coming out of the Prime Minister's own mouth and the fact that every time they say there is nothing to see, another shoe drops, giving even more compelling reason for Canadians to suspect the allegations they first read about just over a week ago are of merit and may in fact be entirely true.
Let us walk ourselves back to exactly how we got here today, when New Democrats are moving a motion calling on the to waive his solicitor-client privilege, which has effectively silenced the former attorney general of Canada but has not silenced the Prime Minister. He has gone on day after day, talking about all their private conversations. He actually ends up contradicting his own version of events day after day. Meanwhile, his former attorney general cannot speak at all because the Prime Minister refuses to waive this privilege, maintaining that she is unable to speak without breaking that privilege.
We also asked for a public inquiry. Canadians, a surprising number of them, watched last week's emergency justice committee hearing as we sought to have the most fundamental elements of this story discussed and debated at committee and to call the most relevant witnesses. They watched a two-and-a-half-hour spectacle, as Liberals, claiming independence and innocence, stonewalled and refused every attempt to actually hear from people who were involved. They wanted to hear from witnesses who had no idea what actually went on between the 's Office and the former attorney general. They only wanted to hear from those people, the current and others, who had no clue what happened. However, when we asked for people such as Mr. Gerald Butts and the former attorney general and on down the list, the Liberals refused.
We asked them to also encourage the to waive solicitor-client privilege so the former attorney general could speak. The Liberals refused. At one point I said it would be really good for Canadians to hear from the former attorney general. One of the Liberal committee members said she agreed. I asked then why she had just voted against it; she said she had not, when 10 minutes before that, she had voted against that exact proposition.
I am not sure what world they are occupying, but it is a troubling one, because at the heart of this matter is the confidence Canadians must maintain, regardless of their political persuasion, in this institution and the ability of government to work on their behalf, not just on behalf of the wealthy and the well connected.
Dozens of times this very well-connected company met with the 's Office, met with Gerald Butts, met with the Prime Minister's principal secretary in Quebec, pleading, asking, demanding for the law to be changed to allow a company that is convicted of fraud and bribery charges, as SNC-Lavalin has been, to continue to bid on federal government contracts.
The Liberals in fact buried that change in the law in a 550-page omnibus bill. Even Liberals on the finance committee said it was inappropriate. Even the chair of the finance committee said it was the wrong place to discuss it, and it was never discussed. The concerns we raised were dismissed, and the Liberals, one after another, voted for that change to allow companies to plead out—to admit guilt, take a fine, pay back the bribery charges, and then continue to bid on those lucrative contracts.
There are two sets of rules here. One is for average, ordinary Canadians who face obstruction of justice or bribery charges and face the full weight of the law. Another set of rules is for well-connected folks who can lobby the 's chief adviser, lobby the chief architects and strategists of the government and lobby the Prime Minister himself in order to get the changes made.
After succeeding in getting those changes, the government needed one final step. It needed the public prosecution office to actually allow this company to plea out.
Listen to the Liberals as they talk about this, about jobs and how they need this plea deal for this company to protect jobs. Written into the law itself is that one cannot argue economic missed opportunities to get a plea deal. One cannot say that because there may be job losses, a company should be allowed to avoid the full weight and punishment of the law. One cannot apply a plea deal. Properly, the public prosecution office has refused to do that.
The allegations that appeared told us that. Someone from the 's Office was applying pressure to the former attorney general of Canada to push for this plea. When she resisted, she may have been fired. It was inexplicable why eight months before an election, and just six months after a cabinet shuffle, the needed to shuffle her out of justice and out of serving as the attorney general. She was the first female indigenous attorney general and justice minister in Canadian history.
We all watched the swearing-in ceremony. The former attorney general was clearly not pleased. She was clearly upset with what the did.
When the eventually saw her leave his cabinet, did anyone notice that he did not have anything nice to say about her? Did anyone notice that in his public utterances, it took him more than a week to deny the sexist and racist smear campaign against her that was coming out of the 's own office? It took him seven days to say how terrible the comments were that she was prickly and difficult to work with. As one Liberal member said anonymously, if she thought that being a woman and being indigenous protected her somehow, she was wrong. Think about that. A Liberal MP went, on background, to a national newspaper to say that she must have thought that because she was indigenous and a woman, it somehow protected her.
The , a so-called feminist, has said that there is no relationship more important to him than the one with indigenous peoples. It took him a week to publicly denounce those comments, comments that may have come out of his own office. One wonders what exactly is going on.
At the very heart of this is the independence of our courts to apply the law equally to all Canadians. We have a Liberal Party that stated that it was going to be different. The Liberals were going to be open by default. They were going to be transparent. However, when we sought that openness and transparency, what did the Liberals do? They voted against all our efforts and then said that the committee should go in camera, behind closed doors, to discuss sensitive things. They want to talk about these witnesses, but they do not want to talk about those witnesses. It is incoherent.
The good thing about telling the truth, I would offer the , is that it is easy to repeat, because it does not change. I noticed that with the , day by day the story was different: the allegations were entirely false; the evidence that nothing untoward happened was that his former attorney general was still in cabinet. The next day, where was she? She was out of cabinet, having resigned.
The Liberals know how bad this is. If they do not, shame on them. They stand up, one after another, and say that the does not need to waive solicitor-client privilege, that we do not need to hear from the former attorney general at the justice committee and that the 's word is good enough for them. The 's word has not been consistent at all in this scandal.
I will remind my Liberal colleagues, because many of them were not here, that back in 2013, there was an opposition day motion the Liberals moved in Parliament:
That the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics be instructed to examine the conduct of the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the repayment of Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses; that the Prime Minister be ordered to appear under oath as a witness before the Committee for a period of 3 hours, before December 10, 2013; and that the proceedings be televised.
That is what the Liberals thought in opposition when the whole Nigel Wright-Mike Duffy payoff was going on. They thought that a good person to hear from was the himself. Now they flip over to being in government and they say, “Oh my, the told us several versions. We believe them all. We are Liberals. We are somewhat morally flexible when it comes to the truth."
The said something on Monday that was different on Tuesday and changed again on Wednesday, but it all sounds right to the Liberals. Canadians are left wondering who these guys are. They are three years into governing and cannot find the truth with both hands.
The Liberals are looking around and wondering why no one believes them when the head of the Liberal Party, the of Canada, has implicated himself in a scandal that goes right to the heart of our faith and belief not only that government but that our courts are independent and that all Canadians, regardless of their stature or connections, will experience a fair hearing and trial.
We see two sets of rules in place, one for well-connected and wealthy people and another for everyone else. Canadians deserve the answers. Canadians will eventually get the answers. It is only a question of when and how.