In light of the revelations we've heard, and following on two scandals that saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau twice found guilty of breaking the law—the Conflict of Interest Act, with respect to his trip to Billionaire Island and with his involvement in the SNC-Lavalin scandal—it's imperative that this committee exercise its function to ensure that Canadians can have confidence in their public institutions and can have confidence in the Prime Minister's Office and in the occupant of that office, and, when there is reason to call into question that confidence, that the full force of sunlight is effected so that we can have transparency. We heard from Prime Minister Trudeau once that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and this motion is an effort to achieve that effect, to disinfect.
So let's put some sunlight on this. Openness and transparency were proclaimed to be hallmarks or commitments of this government, and we're looking to see that. It's worth noting that in the “Trudeau II Report”, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mr. Mario Dion said there were nine witnesses who were not able to testify because doing so would reveal a confidence of the Queen's Privy Council.
Now that is a problem, because we were told that all cabinet confidences would be waived during that investigation, and that was not the case. It's documented, and so we had nine witnesses who wanted to aid in that transparency that an independent officer of Parliament was looking to bring to the issue, and doing that was not possible.
I think, given the reality we're faced with, that we have a shifting narrative, it's important that we pin down all the facts as soon as possible so that we can assure Canadians that Parliament is exercising its function as a check against the executive branch of government. The records that are asked for in this motion speak directly to this issue, which has been dominating the front page of newspapers and which has been the top story on the newscasts across our country for weeks. We have this $912-million program that was awarded without competition. I'm aware—and I am sure that I'll hear from members of the Liberal Party—that it wasn't a sole-source contract, but we heard yesterday from civil servants that this was not a tendered contract. There was no tendering process. There was no RFP. The contention was that we wanted to get it done fast, so we did it.
Okay, but why was this organization selected?
There are a few distinctions about this organization that are a matter of public record and that need to be considered. One of those considerations is that members of Justin Trudeau's family, including his mother Margaret and his brother Alexandre, together benefited in the amount of more than $300,000 in dealings with this organization, with WE Charity.
We know that the Prime Minister's wife is a spokesperson for this organization. We know that Justin Trudeau is regularly involved with this organization as well. We know that Ms. Grégoire Trudeau did one time receive a speaking fee from this organization as well, prior to Justin Trudeau taking office as Prime Minister.
That's a lot of money. That's not an insignificant amount of money when we're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars and about nearly $11,000 per engagement for Ms. Margaret Trudeau. That's significant. Then for this company to be awarded this arrangement, this contract, without competition....
If we want to decide on common language other than calling it “sole source”, if that's an impediment to us getting facts and transparency, I'm happy to engage in that conversation. But it is what it is. We heard yesterday that no competition was engaged on this.
We also know that for July 2, 2017, in one of many sole-sourced arrangements with WE Charity, there was a more than $1-million contract between the Government of Canada and WE Charity that saw and his mother, Margaret, on the lawn of Parliament Hill. Documents related to whether or not Ms. Margaret Trudeau was paid her approximately $11,000 speaking fee for that effort have not been released by the PMO and have not been forthcoming from WE Charity. That's a problem. It's a problem when taxpayer dollars are going out of their hand and then into the hand of the mother of a public office holder, the head of our government. Any reasonable person would see that it's inappropriate.
This organization, WE Charity, has declined to pay speaking fees to other people with exceptional reputations and perspective in the field that Ms. Margaret Trudeau is also known to be an expert in, or well known for, in the field of mental health. That's commendable; I think it's tremendous that she speaks on that issue. I think talking about those issues is so important today. In the context of COVID-19, I think we've all heard, and some of us may have experienced in our communities and in our families, that with regard to mental health, there will be real challenges for folks who've been isolated as a result of this. So it's very important. But why pay her and not somebody else? Is it appropriate for her to be paid with taxpayer dollars, as the mother of the , $11,000 for 90 minutes' work? These questions that have been raised are incredibly important.
The answers we received yesterday at the finance committee are very interesting. The mandate of that committee is different. I know there are motions that will come forward from other members today. I think it's important that we not lose sight of this committee's mandate. This is the ethics committee. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is again investigating the , a prime minister who has twice been found guilty of breaking that law. We also have the , who now has an investigation being conducted by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner as well, having already once been found guilty of breaking that law. The work of this committee is tremendously important.
I recognized that this would cause discomfort to my colleagues on the other side of the room, as it's the leader of their party, members of the cabinet and the same party that they sit in who are the subject of these questions. I genuinely believe that the sooner we get all the answers, the sooner we can put this matter to rest. Nothing would give me more satisfaction than being able to reassure Canadians that the rule of law is being followed, that we have an open and transparent government and that there is no more to see here. For now, there is more to see, and that's why it's important that we get a look at these documents.
I look forward to hearing other comments from members of the committee, Madam Chair. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to move this motion.
Okay, I will continue, then.
Indeed, I would like to bring to the committee's attention our mandate and the fact that our mandate is actually a review mandate of the work of the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and the Privacy Commissioner. Given that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is now charged with this work, we are not an investigative body. Indeed, we are a review body. We are here to make sure that the commissioner is able to do his or her work. That is our role.
I'd like to just read out the mandate, actually—I find that this is always very helpful—and to do a review of the mandates of the other committees that we know have motions before them on this issue.
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics reviews, among other matters, the effectiveness, management and operations as well as the operational and expenditure plans relating to four Officers of Parliament: the Information Commissioner; the Privacy Commissioner; the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner; and the Commissioner of Lobbying. It also reviews their reports, although in the case of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the reports concerned relate to the Commissioner’s responsibilities under the Parliament of Canada Act regarding public office holders and reports tabled pursuant to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. In cooperation with other standing committees, the Committee also reviews any bill, federal regulation or Standing Order which impacts upon its main areas of responsibility: access to information, privacy and the ethical standards of public office holders. It may also propose initiatives in these areas and promote, monitor and assess such initiatives.
So we are not an investigative body. In fact, that was a discussion that we had in our first meeting here, when we set our rules and procedures.
I'm going to switch to French here.
I recall that we had a very detailed conversation about the fact that this committee is responsible for studying highly sensititive matters that pertain directly to people's confidentiality and privacy. It was determined that we would not discuss individuals or specific people.
The fact that we have a public life, as members of Parliament—or commissioners—is one thing. But it is quite another matter when it concerns a spouse, mother, brother, sister or any other person with whom we are related and who, in some instances, are just ill-fated to be so related. As I have eight brothers and sisters, I can tell you I have experience of this. We can't begin to conduct investigations into all of our families. It is not the role of this committee to tarnish people's reputations.
There is a reason why former Prime Minister Harper enacted the Conflict of Interest Act and appointed a commissioner. This made it possible to study situations considered worrying by MPs in strict confidentiality. The process has my complete confidence. There may be some here who do not trust the commissioner's office or the commissioner himself, but that is another matter. As for me, I am convinced that he has everything required to conduct the investigation as he sees fit.
The issue is mainly about our mandate, and that is what we should focus on. As MPs, we are responsible for dealing with matters that the House of Commons entrusts to us. We need to make sure that commissioners have the tools required. These commissioners, who are non-partisan and independent, are appointed for specific periods.
They are there to do very important work on behalf of Canadians.
I agree with my colleague opposite. We can ask questions to determine whether certain actions of an MP or a member of that MP's family, or even other relations, are appropriate. We are speaking about two things here. The immediate members of an MP's family include the wife or husband and their children, but as I was just saying, there are also other relations.
Is this reasonable? Is this really what we want to do? Have we truly got to that point? Are we going to conduct a public investigation into everyone when other tools are available?
I spoke about the Ethics Commissioner. And we also know that the Standing Committee on Finance held a meeting yesterday to discuss the contribution agreement.
I know it's a bit technical, but the fact is that there is a difference, for the public, between what is a contribution agreement, what is a transfer payment and what is a procurement contract.
A procurement contract is used to obtain goods or services. It is an agreement between a federal government contracting authority and an outside party to purchase goods, provide a service or lease real property. Most often, the outside party is chosen through a competitive selection process.... A transfer (payment) arrangement is used to transfer monies...from the federal government to individuals, organizations or other levels of government...to further government policy and the department's objectives.
Under a contribution agreement [a type of transfer payment], the government sets the high-level funding parameters, including the [program and policy] objectives, desired outcomes, eligible expenditures, and performance measurement.... However...the government does not direct or dictate how the recipient will carry out their project.
Those are the definitions. That is indeed the work of the finance committee. I daresay that we don't comment on other committees, but from the time I was participating in the government operations committee, I know that this could also be part of their mandate, to judge whether to conduct a study as to whether the department's work was carried out with all due processes and whether this was the appropriate method to use.
It is not uncommon, as we heard yesterday at the finance committee—
Thank you, Madam Chair, and I thank my honourable colleague for mentioning me.
That was a good, timely reminder of past incidents, so I will just say two things: It is definitely within the purview of our committee to investigate ethical breaches within public office holders, but to my colleague's statement, it is also a very important obligation within our committee that we handle these matters in a manner that is respectful and that is not dragging other people in. When Mr. Andrews, a former Liberal, was going after Dean Del Mastro, I thought, every single day that he was here, that we had to have a proper process, and that is very important because we are not a kangaroo court here.
On the issue of the Trudeau family being involved, we have to be careful, because Madam Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has done a lot of really very impressive things. I have no interest in bringing her in any way into this story. Margaret Trudeau has inspired many people with her incredible work as a public spokesperson. I think it is a very terrible situation that we are even having to discuss Margaret Trudeau.
Why this issue matters is that it is about WE and the relationship to the Trudeau government. I was very surprised to learn that WE began to hire members of the Trudeau family after Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister, and then we learned that other key people, for example, Jully Black, an incredible public figure, was not paid and Theo Fleury wasn't paid. It raises the question of whether or not there was an attempt to buy political influence. That, to me, is the issue before us.
If the Liberals are concerned about how we have documents on members of the Trudeau family, I share that concern. I don't know that we are here to go after Justin's brother, who is a filmmaker. If he is a spokesperson for WE and he got paid by them, he probably thought they were paying him because of his incredible skills as a filmmaker. That may be why he signed up. Our issue is whether or not there was an attempt to buy the influence of the government, because the financial interests of the Trudeau family and WE have become very convoluted and very connected. That's what we need to clarify.
We know that the Conflict of Interest Commissioner has launched this investigation because of those convoluted ties. As well as those convoluted ties, we learn more and more about 's ties with WE, so that is of interest. I have no interest in what Bill Morneau's children do at WE and whether they are paid or whatever. It is the issue of recusal and the issue of buying influence that are the focus we have to deal with. That is separate from the finance committee and it is separate from government operations. It is about the obligations of public office holders. It is about the obligations that we established when our committee first began to review the Conflict of Interest Act and when we are called upon to review it, and it is the same with the Lobbying Act. It is to make sure that it applies to everyone in a manner that is fair. That is the role of our committee.
When we had the first finding of guilt for the , we would have expected that measures would be put in place in the Prime Minister's Office to protect the Prime Minister and prevent conflict of interest from happening a second time. That didn't happen. The SNC-Lavalin case was very shocking because it cost the his chief of staff, Gerry Butts, and it cost the Clerk of the Privy Council, something that has never happened before. The Clerk of the Privy Council is someone we all look to as the independent, non-partisan voice of the civil service, advising the to make sure he follows the rules, and that didn't happen.
When we end up in a situation in the middle of a pandemic, in which $900 million is awarded to a group that has deep ties to the Trudeau family, the obvious question is why that did not raise flags in the Prime Minister's Office. Again, I will not support in any way bringing Trudeau family members before our committee, because that's not the issue, but we need to hear from Katie Telford, chief of staff, about why it is that there were no checks and balances. This is not difficult stuff to figure out about the obligation to recuse. Why did not recuse himself? Not only does his family have direct financial ties; Bill Morneau has been very involved with WE as well.
Then we learned from finance—again, finance is a separate committee—that there was a proposal circulating before the made his announcement that set the stage for WE getting this contract, and that the proposal was within the Prime Minister's Office, apparently with PCO, and it was in the Department of Finance with . Again, we go back to not just the refusal to recuse but to whether or not WE was given the inside track on a massive program that was supposed to be doled out in a pandemic to help university students. If that was the case, then that was severe interference in the workings of government. Major questions have to be asked.
We as a committee are looking at that. Our obligation as the ethics committee is to make sure we have the appropriate checks and balances, as my colleague says. Obviously, the appropriate checks and balances were not in place because this scandal should never have happened. It should never have happened in a pandemic, during extreme economic uncertainty, that a decision would be made to award money so easily to people who are so connected to the 's family, where there were clear financial interests going back and forth.
That is an embarrassment to all of us. I think it is also an insult to the work that all of us did across party lines when we were asked at the beginning of the pandemic to reach out to every organization in our region to identify placements where we could hire young people through Canada summer jobs. So much work was done. Across party lines, we stepped up. The civil service stepped up. We identified them. In my region, we would have had hundreds of placements. We had all the medical students in northern Ontario. We were identifying placements for them. We were identifying farm organizations that wanted to hire the agriculture students coming home. We had law firms calling us because of what they were being told, with Liberal MPs saying it was going to come through Canada summer jobs. All of that got sidelined. Suddenly this proposal came through, this proposal that was announced by the just after WE began circulating their proposal, which was, I admit, different, but it was very similar in terms of what it was to be.
Our focus here is not what happened in terms of the other contracts. Our interest here is whether or not political influence was attempted to be bought through the hiring of people close to the and whether the Prime Minister's and 's refusal to recuse themselves put them in a conflict of interest and put a decision at risk that has now been a huge embarrassment. I say this across party lines, that in the middle of a pandemic I've been very proud of the work we've done. I've been proud of being able to stand up for government programs that we'd worked on and helped change and improve. Whether it was small business or whether it was CERB, the emergency $2,000 a month, I could say to people in my riding that across party lines we were working together.
I cannot justify this $900-million deal that may not even be legal, paying students well below minimum wage. The more we learned about it, the more we learned that WE did not have the capacity to do it. I cannot stand idly by as a committee member when questions are being raised about the financial links with the family. If the Liberals want to put forward a motion about how we discuss this, so that we are not bringing in the Trudeau family and embarrassing them for the work they do on the sidelines....
The should have known that, because of those financial links, this would put him in a conflict. This is the Prime Minister's responsibility. I would like to see the Liberals say to us, “Okay, here's a deal. We will bring the Prime Minister to this committee and he will speak as to why he didn't think it was a problem that his family was being paid and that he was awarding this out.”
It's the 's responsibility that I'm interested in. It's 's responsibility that I'm interested in. It's Katie Telford, as chief of staff, who should have been looking after our Prime Minister and putting some kind of big ethical mitts around him so that he didn't keep putting his finger in the conflict of interest socket. That's what I'm interested in. I'm not interested in our committee being used to go after the individual members of the Trudeau family. I agree that we can put in limits on how that's done, and we can talk about that, but I would like the Liberals to tell us that they are going to have the Prime Minister sit here and explain why he put his family in that position.
In a previous life not so long ago, I worked as a family mediation notary. I worked with several parties to reach a compromise. I am prepared to do this again and to work with several parties, even though I am now talking about political parties, to find a motion we can work with.
But if the opposition parties are trying to score political points by focusing on a single event, for which the has apologized, and are attempting to involve the family of an elected member, then I can tell you right now, Madam Chair, that I will oppose it.
Are we blameless? Of course not. That is why the Prime Minister apologized sincerely. And yet, the opposition parties have also made mistakes in the past. If the opposition parties want to play that game, of looking at government expenditures, we could also examine the guidelines established by the government to prevent a party from paying partisan offices out of House of Commons funds, or from taking advantage of the fact that the opposition would like to call upon Mr. Ian Schubert to ask why he had reservations about Mr. Bruce Carson when he was working for the Conservatives, not to mention the ties between then Prime Minister Harper's cabinet and the Senate expenses scandal.
Yes, we could start pointing at our adversaries, but I sincerely believe that this is not the best way to structure the committee's work. We can try to raise awareness among Canadians rather than create a political spectacle. People often say that politicians are crooked or thieves. If we take advantage of every trifling opportunity to generate a political extravaganza, we are confirming that they are right. What we have here is an excellent chance to demonstrate to Canadians that there are guidelines in place and that we can always do better.
You may not be aware of this, Madam Chair, because we are still just getting to know one another, but I also taught at the University of Sherbrooke, the best university in the world in Canada's most beautiful city.
I taught at the Université du troisième âge in a program for people aged 50 and over who wanted to continue their education with a view to lifelong learning. The program's goals are to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge, combat isolation among seniors, promote the integration of seniors into cultural and social settings, encourage exchanges, support seniors in their desire for personal growth and provide society with a new wave of dynamic and responsible citizens.I also gave professional training to share my passion for the work of notaries and to train the next generation. All this is indicative of my strong belief in education, in the transmission of knowledge and in the acquisition of best practices. What we have here is an opportunity to do precisely that.
I just mentioned that before I joined you all here, I was a notary and still am. I love this profession. It is based essentially on ethics and probity. Whenever I affixed my seal, it meant a credential that could be trusted. As a notary, my role was not to represent one or other of the parties, but rather both. I know that elected members from other provinces may be bemused by my profession because our legal systems are different. However, in Quebec, notaries are recognized as public officials precisely because of their probity and ethics.
To provide a context for my comments today, and to help members of the committee better understand my line of argument, it is important to briefly explain the underpinnings of my moral code and professional ethics. As I have already mentioned, before being elected in the beautiful riding of Sherbrooke, I worked as a notary who specialized in human rights and mediation. This work required rigour and integrity. There is no bias; we are there for everyone, for all parties, to ensure that everyone gets a hearing, and that each party can express their point of view with the end result an agreement that is satisfactory to everyone. As you can see, questions of ethics have always been at the core of my professional work.
To further stress how hese ethical questions ought to be expressed, I am going to speak to you about my second professional challenge. I was fortunate to have been a lecturer at the University of Sherbrooke for almost 25 years. I would like to mention in passing that I want to congratulate the university for having received the international STARS certification at the platinum level. The university is now one of the 10-best teaching institutions in the world in the field of sustainable development.
When I was a lecturer, I could make effective use of concrete examples from my professional work in my teaching. In the examples I used, and in the questions asked by students, ethical issues came up frequently. As you might expect, notaries must ensure that clients have no power over them and that there are no ethical conflicts in managing clients who have competing interests. As for the common good, another concrete example is the importance of ethical and moral issues when dealing with a tutorship, a curatorship or a power of attorney
So that this illustration can provide a better context for the ethical issues we have to deal with today, I would like to discuss them with you. When a tutor or curator is appointed, it is important to ensure that the appointee is completely independent and will always make decisions that are in the best interests of the person being represented, without ever placing themselves in a conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interest situation.
To any members of the opposition who would want to depict us—and especially me—as wanting to prevent an investigation into an ethical pseudo-scandal, I offer as a pledge of my probity my 28 years as a notary and a teacher of the profession. Not once since I was elected have I ever failed in my rectitude and I continue to strive to ensure that the government spends public funds effectively.
As Montesquieu famously said: "Power should be a check to power". The checks and balances mechanism requires that we, who exercise legislative power, can control the action of executive power.
I am therefore here in my capacity as someone who can control government action, a role that I have admitedly exercised to a lesser degree because of the pandemic, during which the government, through our amazing public service, has demonstrated that it is capable of rapidly and effectively coming up with funds to help Canadian families. It succeeded in doing so, and I believe this will help us get through the crisis better. We have supported our fellow citizens when others among us demanded we abandon them.
The independent officers of Parliament play an essential role in ensuring federal transparency and accountability and in effectively running the institutions upon which Canadians depend. That is why, in the previous term of office, we strengthened the Access to Information Act, precisely because we believe in open and transparent government.
I would like to remind the committee that in 2015 we published the document entitled "Open and Accountable Government", which sets out:
core principles regarding the roles and responsibilities of Ministers in Canada’s system of responsible parliamentary government. This includes the central tenet of ministerial responsibility, both individual and collective, as well as Ministers’ relations with the Prime Minister and Cabinet, their portfolios and Parliament. It outlines standards of conduct expected of Ministers as well as addressing a range of administrative, procedural and institutional matters. It also provides guidance to ministerial exempt staff and useful information for public servants and Canadians on Canada’s system of government. Finally, on the critical issue of ethical conduct, Ministers are expected to be thoroughly familiar with the Conflict of Interest Act.
A passage from the foreword is also very edifying. I would like to quote it, Madam Chair.
To be worthy of Canadians’ trust, we must always act with integrity. This is not merely a matter of adopting the right rules, or of ensuring technical compliance with those rules. As Ministers, you and your staff must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.
I may be here before you as the MP for Sherbrooke, but I have also had the opportunity to serve Canadians as the parliamentary secretary to the Hon. Mélanie Joly, the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages. That being the case, I am well aware that ministers and parliamentary secretaries must act honestly and comply with the highest ethical standards if they are to maintain and enhance public trust in the integrity and impartiality of the government.
As public office holders, ministers and parliamentary secretaries are subject to the requirements of part one of "Annex A Ethical and Political Activity Guidelines for Public Office Holders", and to using best practices for ministers and parliamentary secretaries in fundraising and dealing with the lobbyists described in Annex B.They are also required to discharge their official duties and conduct their personal affairs in a manner that will stand up to the most rigourous public scrutiny. This too is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.
I fully comply with these standards established by our government, and I am sure that this is also the case for all MPs on our side of the house. Once again, I would like to draw attention to an important fact. I am prepared to undergo a rigourous public examination, but I do not believe that our families ought to be subjected to such rigourous public scrutiny.
I would also like to comment on requests for interventions by political staff and public servants. I would like to do so by paraphrasing some principles from works by Dr. Kenneth Kernaghan.
Politics and policy are distinct from administration; thus politicians make strategic decisions and public officials carry them out.
These officials do not publicly state their personal opinions about government policies or administration.
Public officials give frank and objective advice to their political masters privately and confidentially; in return, the executive branch protects the anonymity of these officials by publicly shouldering accountability for ministerial decisions.
Once again, it is up to the ministers to account to Parliament for their actions, as my colleague minister Chagger did yesterday.
I acknowledge that it may be helpful for officials to assist ministers in the more technical aspects of responses. However, they ought not to be subjected—and their families even less so—to a public Inquisition, as the opposition parties would like.
As I mentioned earlier, rather than use this committee as a court of inquisition, we should be using it as an educational platform.
I would like, Madam Chair, to explain what I believe our committee should be taking into consideration.
Ethical issues should indeed remain central to the concerns of parliamentarians. The bond of trust between the population and its elected representatives is vital. It is thanks to institutions like the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, and this committee, in addition to the rigourous work carried out by the various political parties and this government, that this bond of trust will be not only maintained, but renewed.
The 21st century has presented us with an unprecedented wave of cynicism, which has no doubt opened the door to all kinds of extremist policies, propaganda, and populism, all of which have a lasting impact on the political landscape, and they are all policies that for the most part—and this is truly unfortunate—appeal to the emotional and even impulsive side of voters' psyches. Needless to say, urgent action is needed when, in a democracy that prides itself as being healthy, dynamic, open, inclusive and sustainable, part of the population can be swayed by fear-inducing messages and political negativity.
If Plato has taught us anything, it is that searching for truth must be central in our decision-making and that rational thinking needs to be exercised in good faith, pragmatically and, especially, in accordance with a reality-based dialectic. It is therefore essential for Canadian political parties to avoid sinking into dogmatism or the rhetoric of fear.
We need to give Canadians credit for their intelligence and to ensure that we address public policy issues rationally. Doing so would strengthen ethics in the political collective action of this chamber, and make it more enduring and more universal.
We also need to give consideration to Canada's specific characteristics. We have always been able to protect Canadians from the political extremism found in other countries by giving politicians of various political stripes a way to offer Canada balanced options that avoid diverting legislative and parliamentary instruments for strictly partisan purposes.
Madam Chair, I hope that this balance, in which Canada takes so much pride, can be preserved, and that the various members of this committee will remember their role as parliamentarians. A descent into petty partisanship would be a disservice not only to this Parliament, but also, more broadly, to the political class and Canadians.
When questions of ethics are raised, it is essential to refocus on the main concept that binds us together, which is a democracy. The word "democracy", which is derived from the Greek words "demos", which means "people", and "cratos", which means "people", has undergone many changes in definition throughout history. The Greeks saw democracy as an equal opportunity to obtain a government position through a lottery. Today, it is generally agreed that democracy means a multitude of freedoms in addition to free, equitable and frequent elections, as explained by Robert Dahl. Added to these two visions of democracy are the ideas propounded by many thinkers, which make important contributions to democratic theory.
Alexis de Tocqueville was one such thinker. In 1831, he decided to study American democracy in order to document it and highlight its leanings. This leads to the next question, which is about Alexis de Tocqueville's definition of democracy and the sociological and political consequences of thereof? For Alexis de Tocqueville, several factors come into play in any definition of democracy.
One concept that is central and essential to the idea of democracy is the rule of law. The rule of law is a concept which ensures that citizens with executive power cannot place themselves above the law. Generally speaking, the rule of law describes a nation in which no one is above the law. According to Alexis de Tocqueville, this form of equality among citizens with respect to government action and the application of law means much more than mere equality before the courts. It leads to a change in the mindset of citizens, with members of society believing and feeling that they are all equal. Even though inequalities unfortunately continue to exist, the population retains this feeling of equality.
According to Alexis de Tocqueville several other characteristics define democracy. He begins by pointing out that the process leading to democracy is ineluctable because it is natural among humans to want uniform living conditions and equal rights for everyone. This can only lead to democracy and the rule of law. Equal rights, on the other hand, means that everyone can improve their conditions. Everyone can thus aspire to social mobility. He argues that this process is unavoidable. Because this theory of democracy and equality leads to social climbing, material property lies at the core of the democratic vision. Personal comfort and the desire for personal enrichment lead to an individualism that may cause citizens to leave the public sphere for a more private sphere. This isolation is a threat to democracy, which can only exist if the population participates in politics and in public political life.
To prevent this isolation, Alexis de Tocqueville requires the establishment of many civil associations that allow citizens to become involved, put pressure on the government, and assemble to discuss ideas and issues. For these associations—and, ultimately, our democracy—to subsist, it is nevertheless important to retain people's trust in their institutions. The work of this committee is therefore crucial. I am pleased to be part of a government that ensures the preservation of individual freedoms so that they can become vehicles for democratization.
I would like to conclude with a few words about the substance of the accusation. It is important to recall that, contrary to what members of the opposition are claiming, no contract was awarded to the WE organization; it was rather a contribution agreement.
This distinction may appear to be a matter of semantics, but the administrative distinction is extremely important, as are the underlying implications.
It should also not be forgotten that, contrary to what some members of the opposition are saying, the WE organization was not chosen by the , but rather recommended by the public service, more specifically by Ms. Rachel Wernick, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister in the Skills and Employment Branch.The department and Ms. Wernick decided that only the WE organization could provide the student grant services within the assigned deadlines and that it would have been impossible to do so internally within this timeline.
Our government has the utmost confidence in our public service. We are pleased to be able to say that the Canadian public service is the best in the world. As a former lecturer at the University of Sherbrooke, I am disappointed to see that the student grant program is running behind schedule. Many citizens in my riding are students who have serious financial needs. These needs are exacerbated by the current crisis and I am disappointed to see that this money will not make its way into the hands of the students as quickly as anticipated.
I would ask all members of this committee to shift their focus and remember why this measure was implemented and what our priority should be to help Canadians and the most vulnerable among us get through the crisis.
I would therefore ask that all members of the committee remain within the terms of our mandate.The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics must continue to fulfil its mandate and remain an institution in which partisanship does not become more important than the issues being dealt with.
Some pressure groups accuse politicians of putting on a show in committee, and of behaving as if they were in a recording studio, where you can record your opinion into the minutes without really debating anything or making any progress. Let's show the people who have this very cynical vision of our work that, on the contrary, we always work on behalf of the public, and that in spite of our partisan divisions, we can act as parliamentarians to ensure that our work always strives for the common good.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from the Sherbrooke riding for her presentation to the committee. I found her comments relevant and accurate, with perhaps one exception.While it is true that the University of Sherbrooke is certainly among the best in Canada, I believe that the University of Quebec in Outaouais is at the top of the list. I take pride in being the MP to represent this university in the House of Commons.
Ms. BrièreRaised some very important points. She reminded us of the importance of our work here, and the responsibilities of this committee. It is up to each and every one of us to ensure that we have a sound and lasting system that can review ethics-related issues and function not only during this Parliament, but future parliaments too.
Madam Chair, I have only been sitting on this committee since the beginning of this Parliament, but would like to congratulate you on the manner in which you have been chairing this committee in such a balanced and sensible manner. You have demonstrated a great deal of flexibility by allowing people to express their points of view, but also made sure that we do not descend into partisanship. This is particularly important when dealing with ethical questions. I applaud your efforts.
I recall that from the very outset we discussed the rules that we would be following around this table. One of our earliest meetings was held on February 19, 2020. The pandemic had not yet been officially declared and we were able to meet in committee more closely with the participation of a much larger number of assistants and in the presence of members of the general public who were interested in attending our public meetings.I found that once we had developed the committee procedures, we made good decisions. One such decision had to do with how we would treat the private information of individuals when dealing with matters of ethics. There was a constructive discussion between members of the opposition and the government. Indeed, I should not be making this distinction because in my view, you have always tried to encourage people to act as MPs, as parliamentarians, rather than people who represent the narrow interests of their particular political party.
These discussions included one between Mr. Angus and myself about how to treat the private information of individuals. I would like to quote this discussion in the language of Shakespeare, because the documents I have here are in that language.
We were having a debate, Madam Chair, about how we deal with material and witness selection for individuals.
I guess we should start with what Mr. Angus said, after you gave him the floor. We were talking about what to do when the committee...and I'll quote. You said:
Any time the committee puts a motion in place—any motion—the committee does have the ability to overrule that motion with unanimous consent. This would be the standing motion for most cases, but should there be a case where we feel that there's an exception or the committee feels that there's an exception then, through unanimous consent, that could be overruled.
Then you turned the microphone to Mr. Angus, who said he was “very supportive” of this; however...and I will quote:
...I think we need to be specific. I'm trying to think of the language, because anything that happens in this committee could embarrass someone because we deal with ethics and breaches, etc. If we have to have discussions that affect the private information of individuals in extraordinary circumstances or that are not germane to our study.... Sometimes we will get information on a person and will want to talk about whether or not a witness is appropriate, and we have to talk about that amongst ourselves. However, we can't use in camera to avoid discussing certain people who may have to come. I just want to get clearer language on how that would be used so that we're very clear on it.
I just wanted to make sure I quoted that correctly. That's an excellent point, and I think it's particularly relevant to what we're doing here today in terms of what we're trying to get at here.
My colleague Ms. Shanahan had talked about a number of ways we want to get that. How do we discuss? We shouldn't discuss people in public, and she expressed that this wouldn't be on for her.
Mr. Angus said:
Certainly when we discuss witnesses, we do that in camera because we have to set priorities and we don't want that information to be misused or misinterpreted, but we do discuss people here. That's part of what we do with ethics. Issues are brought forward. We name people we think should be brought. That's sometimes done in public.
Then he said:
I think the issue is being able to say, “I think we should go in camera” if we're going to discuss something of a personal nature that should not be germane to the committee. How can we just define that a little more clearly so that we're not abusing that, but we're saying that if we're going to go in camera on something it's because there is specific personal information that should be brought to committee but should not be in the realm of the public?
Then, Mr. Angus, if you remember correctly, we had a great little back and forth on this issue.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I appreciate that.
He asked me if I could get some clearer language. I said I would like to do that, and we tried to figure out how we should do this. I said, “I will make one suggestion. I feel that everyone is in favour of the amendment you are proposing”. I was speaking to Mr. Angus. I said, “Would it be possible to set it aside for the moment and work on it”, so we could take some time to try to get the language right.
Then let me get right down to the crux of the issue. It's that we decided to carve out a little exception. We said that we needed to trust each other, that we were going to bring forward information and use that information correctly, and that we were going to make sure we didn't abuse these situations. We tried to make a bit of an amendment. I suggested, Madam Chair, that we would want to make sure that when we do go in camera that we would do so—and we added the proviso to our standing order—to “protect the privacy of any individual”. We had that debate and eventually we adopted that.
I think this is relevant, Madam Chair, because when we take a look at the motion before us that is being brought forward
it fits precisely within the framework and responsibilities of our standing committee. I would like to quote it —as submitted by Mr. Barrett:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), the Committee review the safeguards which are in place to avoid and prevent conflicts of interest in federal government procurement, contracting, granting, contribution and other expenditure policies; and that, to provide a case study for this review, an Order of the Committee do issue to Speakers’ Spotlight (the company that made the bookings for the speeches by members of the Trudeau family) for a copy of all records pertaining to speaking appearances arranged, since October 14, 2008, for Justin Trudeau, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Margaret Trudeau and Alexandre Trudeau—including, in respect of each speaking appearance, an indication of the fee provided, any expenses that were reimbursed and the name of the company, organization, person or entity booking it—provided that these records shall be provided to the Clerk of Committee within one week of the adoption of this Order.
I agree with that. It's excellent. Not only that, but please note the use of the words "a case study".
Madam Chair, I am not a lawyer, but I did have the pleasure of studying some Latin. The following well-known principle:Quando aliquid prohibetur ex directo, prohibetur et per oliquum, means, "What cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly".So what we are in the process of doing is skirting the parameters of our responsibilities here at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
The evidence was in Mr. Barrett's comments. I will quote you the passage in English.
He said, let's get a look at these documents. We're going to call it a case study.
We can't do that. It isultra vires. It's not within our mandate. One must not indirectly do that which we are prohibited from doing directly.
In her presentation, my colleague Mrs. Brière rightly said that we need to trust our institutions and our parliamentary officials, whose mandate is to examine these types of questions.
What needs to be avoided is the disclosure of the private information of persons related to politicians.
Madam Chair, I am prepared to do so for myself and even for my wife. It is clear and it is among our responsibilities. That is the reason why we all, as members of Parliament—
I love this place. I think it's a great place, not because I'm here but because of what it represents.
Democracy is fragile. Take a look at the 5,000 years of reliable human history, oral and written history, that we can turn to. Take a look at the opportunities, as Madame Brière pointed out, in a demos kratos. Take a look at governance by the people, in its most extreme form. We're talking about the Greek city state, where you had to be.... Well, you certainly weren't my colour. You had to be male. You had to be over a certain age, and you had to be a free person—not a slave—to participate in the affairs of the city state.
If we take that as an example of democracy—which we would find repugnant to ourselves today, when we have universal suffrage and participation—from then until what we have today, if we add up all the years that we've had this form of government by the people, for the people, we're looking at somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 years. It's certainly not a continuous history. It happens. It occurs. It falls off and disappears. It picks up again in some form, continues for a while and then it falls off again.
We have a great responsibility to tend to this very resilient yet very delicate system that we have here. We have to avoid the temptation that we are sometimes faced with to try to seek very short-term advantage or interest and rather to think of the longer term. I think we're at one of these points. Where do we stop? We're going to seek out the information of the mother of a politician, the brother of a politician. Where does it stop?
One of the motions says that we should be seeking out information from every single member of the government—every single cabinet member—to see what we get from that. It's called a fishing trip. We're going out to see what we can find.
We shouldn't do that. We have an Ethics Commissioner. We have the office and counsellors who are there to provide us with information and counsel, who we could call up at any time to see if our affairs or activities are in order. It's to our benefit to have that, but to arrogate that responsibility to ourselves is an error and one that we have seen....
I think it was a former Conservative House leader, whom my colleague quoted, who said that the men and women who work in this area—that could mean our staff or people we know or whom we are related to—did not sign up to be tried by a committee, to be humiliated and intimidated by members of Parliament. Implicit in that is exactly what I was saying: to be using this kind of information to seek short-term political gain. People didn't sign up for that. We shouldn't give in to the temptation to do that.
We should, however, ensure that the Ethics Commissioner has access to the information that, in this case, he needs. We should, perhaps, invite the commissioner here to make sure that he has access to that information. We could ask how we could play a role in helping him discharge his duties. That would be an appropriate role for this committee. That's a role that falls right into the specific mandate of our committee.
When we take a look at the general mandate towards standing committees, it's a general mandate that, and I quote—I'm not the first one to do it here—from chapter 20 of the 2009 second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Referring to standing committees, it says:
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. More specifically, they can review: the statute law relating to the departments assigned to them; the program and policy objectives of those departments, and the effectiveness of their implementation thereof; 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.
That's all related to the departments. It goes on to say that:
In addition to this general mandate, other matters are routinely referred by the House to its standing committees: bills, estimates, Order-in-Council appointments, documents tabled in the House pursuant to statute, and specific matters which the House wishes to have studied. In each case, the House chooses the most appropriate committee on the basis of its mandate.
Further on, it talks of specific mandates, moving away from the general mandates. On the specific mandate of this committee, it says:
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics reviews, among other matters, the effectiveness, management and operation together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to three Officers of Parliament: the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
—which is germane to our discussion today—
It also reviews their reports, although in the case of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the reports concerned relate to his or her responsibilities under the Parliament of Canada Act regarding public office holders and reports tabled pursuant to the Lobbyists Registration Act. In cooperation with other standing committees, the Committee also reviews any bill, federal regulation or Standing Order which impacts upon its main areas of responsibility: access to information, privacy and the ethical standards of public office holders. It may also propose initiatives in these areas and promote, monitor and assess such initiatives.
This is the thin branch that some of my colleagues are trying to hang on.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'd also like to thank the staff for setting us up in such a way that I feel very comfortable with my two-metre distance from my colleagues, as well as with the directions on the floor and all the protocols, notwithstanding coughs.
I would also like to extend, through you, my gratitude to this committee for having the courtesy to allow me to speak as the deputy critic for ethics. It's been very illuminating to be here today. We have heard a lot from the government's side, certainly anything from, as was referenced earlier, stories in Greek and Latin to biographical stories. It's good to get to know everybody in that way.
I do feel that this is a very critically important issue for Canada and for this committee in particular.
Notwithstanding the loquacious nature of my colleagues, I just want to draw attention to the narrowing of the scope that I feel is happening here. There have been some very good procedures and standing orders that have been read into the public record. Certainly, for the viewers who might not know that, and even for me as a new MP who may not have read every single aspect of the mandate of this committee, it's been very important.
Madam Chair, I'd also like to acknowledge the work of my friend along the way who pointed out some of the omissions in the mandate of this committee, which I think are also important to fulfill the public record.
We've heard a lot about the appropriateness and the extension of conflict of interest regarding the political involvement, potentially, of family members here in this committee. I would agree with my colleague Charlie; I have no interest, nor do I think it's appropriate to necessarily bring spouses and family members before this committee that way, because, quite frankly, they haven't signed up to be cross-examined at committee. However, each one of us has. I think there is a responsibility for the and for senior members of both his staff and, of course, some of the ministries to be present here.
I do want to remind members of this committee, from my early learnings, that under the Conflict of Interest Act, it is very clear. Despite the very liberal definitions of “conflict of interest”, I thought it would be important for this committee to add the following contribution. Family members or relatives are included seven times in the Conflict of Interest Act.
The following are the members of a public office holder’s family for the purposes of this Act:
(a) his or her spouse or common-law partner, and
(b) his or her dependent children and the dependent children of his or her spouse or common-law partner.
Again, I have no interest in bringing any of those people before the committee.
“Relatives” are defined as follows:
(3) Persons who are related to a public officer holder by birth, marriage, common-law partnership, adoption or affinity are the public officer holder's relatives for the purposes of this Act unless the Commissioner determines [otherwise].
I'll go further to where it states, later on in part 1, “Conflict of Interest Rules”, that:
For the purposes of this Act, a public officer holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends [or neighbours] or to improperly further another person's private interests.
I think that's a very germane and important point.
We also look at influence under section 9: “No public office holder shall use his or her position as a public office holder to seek to—”
Yes, excuse me, Ms. Gaudreau.
I believe that things are now working properly for the interpreter.
I just wanted to put into the record, actually, some of the very interesting recommendations from, again, someone whom I have huge respect for on this committee and who is, I believe, the doyen or dean of this committee, and that is Mr. Angus. He can correct me if it wasn't him who was present on the statutory review.
The 10 recommendations put forward, I think, give us much pause for thought. I believe a couple of recommendations have been adopted. They include adding public office holders such as the Governor of the Bank of Canada. That is very important.
This is the first recommendation:
Give the Commissioner the power to administer financial penalties and other penalties for breaches of the Act where an examination results in the finding of contravention, including but not limited to:
a) Suspension for a specified period
b) Suspension of Member's right to vote for a specified period
c) Require reimbursement of the value of the gift, hospitality or benefit received
d) Impose a fine not exceeding $5,000.
That's really coming to the heart of what we're trying to do here. We're trying to dissuade members of Parliament from contravening the act.
Recommendation two states:
Enshrine Ministerial accountability guidelines into the Act: Amend section 16 of the Act to include Annex B entitled: “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers, Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries”, as follows:
a) Ministers, Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries should not seek to have departmental stakeholders included on fundraising or campaign teams or on the boards of electoral district associations.
b) Ministers, Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries should ensure that government facilities and equipment, including ministerial or departmental letterhead, are not used for or in connection with fundraising activities.
c) Ministers, Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries and their staff should not discuss departmental business at any fundraising event, and should refer any person who wishes to discuss departmental business to make an appointment with the Minister's office or department as appropriate.
d) Ministers, Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries should ensure that fundraising communications issued on their behalf do not suggest any connection between fundraising and official government business.
Recommendation three in the minority report is very interesting:
Allow members of the public to bring complaints, not just MPs.
Recommendation four states:
Extend the definition of “Ministerial staff” to include all work including contract and volunteer work.
Recommendation five states:
Expand the definition of Public Office Holder to include all Governor in Council appointees, including the Governor of the Bank of Canada.
I believe that has been done.
Some of these recommendations, Madam Chair, came from well-known organizations like Democracy Watch and experts in the field. I think it was a very comprehensive study, although clearly one that was quite controversial, because there are two minority reports. It just gives us an idea or a flavour of the kinds of discussions we can look forward to having.
Recommendation six states:
Empower the Commissioner to continue investigations that have been referred to the RCMP.
Recommendation seven states:
Reduce the value of a gift that requires disclosure from $200 to $100.
Recommendation eight states:
Maintain automatic divestment rules for reporting public office holders with significant decision-making power or access to privileged information, including, but not limited to, Ministers, Ministers of State, Parliamentary Secretaries, Chiefs of Staff, Deputy Ministers, Ministerial staff and employees of Ministers' offices. Maintain automatic divestment for appointees to agencies and bodies with broad mandates. All other appointees should be subject to a case-by-case divestment of controlled assets.
Recommendation nine states:
Define and toughen post-employment and secondary employment rules for MPs and Senators.
Finally, recommendation 10 states:
Include an apparent conflict of interest in the definition of a conflict of interest.
I think there's much food for thought there. I thank the New Democratic Party for the work they have done in the past and continue to do in this very important area.
As I put aside the idea that we should...and I look forward to us doing the statutory review of the act. It is the question of whether or not we have full confidence in the Ethics Commissioner to carry out his duties. To that, I would say that in the act we have the qualifications and the standards that the commissioner must hold for the seven-year term. I, for one, am very satisfied that we have someone in whom we can have full faith.
I will leave it at that. Thank you.
The point I was trying to make was that I know you put a political lens on many things.
But we're here because we believe in politics. We're here because we like politics. When we got involved in politics, we knew what we were getting into. We knew that it would be our name on the ballot, that we would be responsible for what we said, whether in the House or in committee or in a newspaper article, and we understood that if sometimes we don't say things the way we should or if we slip on a banana peel, we would have to deal with the consequences and the embarrassment sometimes of being so-called misquoted or what have you. So we got into this line of work very cognizant of what it involves, and I would say that our immediate families did as well.
I would imagine that anyone who has entered politics has had discussions with immediate family, especially with spouses, because sometimes children are too young to really have a say in our decision to enter politics. I hope that everyone would have the agreement of their spouse to enter politics; if not, I think that could lead to trouble down the road. But that's not the topic of discussion here.
This is a political committee. I think we've conducted ourselves in a very respectful manner today and with a lot of professionalism, but that should not obscure the fact that this is fundamentally a political committee. The Ethics Commissioner, on the other hand, is not a political person, and that's a very important distinction to keep in mind as we discuss this issue.
This is a political committee. The role of the opposition is to score political points. I know this because I've been in opposition. I've been on the government side. I was on the government side when I was first elected, and then I sat in opposition for 10 years. When you go from government to opposition, you leave the responsibility of governing, which takes up a lot of time for members and cabinet ministers on the other side. You leave that responsibility, and your focus becomes almost entirely political.
I'd like to add that there's nothing wrong with that, because politics is fundamental to our democratic system. It's how the will of the people, the priorities and concerns of the people, get translated into government decisions. How does that happen? It happens because we have election campaigns and parties put forth platforms that are intended to reflect the wishes of the voters in order to be elected on those platforms, and the opposition's role is to point out imperfections in the government's approach. Oftentimes we've seen that persistent opposition attention to an issue will result in the government modifying its approach to the issue, and that's what makes our democracy so effective and efficient and so wonderful. So there is nothing wrong with the fact that there's a political angle in this committee and in the House of Commons.
Politics is as old as the hills, Madam Chair. It predates democracy. It is everywhere: in corporations, in educational institutions, in non-profit organizations, in sports. I would submit to you that probably the most difficult political decision in sport is being coach of the Montreal Canadiens. So politics is everywhere.
Mr. Fergus was speaking before, so eloquently and with great erudition, on the arc of history. I know that others have touched on this in their comments.
What has really been the common thread through the evolution of society over the last how many hundreds or thousands of years? It is that we have been moving away from a system that was arbitrary, sometimes cruelly arbitrary, where power resided in a tyrant or a king who could make decisions on a whim that caused great harm to some people. We are moving slowly—and sometimes up and down, I agree, as Mr. Fergus said—towards a system that is not governed by the subjective but by the objective, a system that is not arbitrary but system-based, a system that is rational, I should say, a system where, while we recognize that politics is fundamental to democracy, we also recognize that there are certain instances when, for the greater good of the system itself, for the integrity of the system itself and for the faith that people who vote place in the system, we have to take politics out of the process. We do this with courts of law.
You know, there's a misunderstanding generally, I think, in many quarters—and this is natural, in a way—that when a judge hands down a decision, somehow it's a matter of opinion, like, “Oh, yes, the court decided this because that's the judge. Whatever, that's his or her experience, and his or her bias.” But the system we've built painfully over decades and centuries is a system whereby those who are making decisions of that nature must take themselves out of the decision. They must base their decision on logic, on law, on rules, on evidence, on precedence, and of course, we know that precedence is very important in our system.
This is the kind of world that we are wisely moving towards every day, and as part of that process, we've taken many important steps forward since the time Mr. Angus and I came to this House. When I arrived here, I sat on the government operations committee. I would actually encourage every new member to try to sit on that committee, because it looks at the essence of how government operates and it deals with all kinds of ethical questions as well.
One of the first things we did on that committee, after I was elected, was to review a law called the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which was another attempt to take politics out of important matters of government. We heard from witnesses who had been whistle-blowers and had been treated the way that subjects might have been treated under kings and queens 500 or 600 years ago. They were humiliated because they brought a wrong to the fore. They were mistreated. They lost their jobs. They were under incredible mental stress, and this law was brought in to give them due process, to make sure that they could lodge a complaint without experiencing retribution, but that law is a non-political law. That's a non-political process because it's a very important part of maintaining a system of government based on rule and integrity.
The Ethics Commissioner's position is very much the same. It's an attempt, and a successful one, to have someone who is not political make decisions about very important matters. I think this is very important to keep in mind. We're a political committee. I know I'm not normally a member of this committee, but it's a political committee, and the Ethics Commissioner is a non-political person who cannot afford to let politics enter into the process that he oversees.
I think it's very important that we understand that the public is very cognizant of what constitutes overreach. I've been in politics for a number of years, and you can tell right way that the public can see through a ruse or some kind of situation that really goes beyond what is necessary. I think the public understands that dragging those who are not part of the immediate family of a politician before a political committee for the purpose of maybe scoring political points and exposing their employment activities may not be fair and that it is best left to a non-political person to examine those relationships and those employment activities and to report on them.
I think the public understands what is fair and decent. I would submit that to examine the contracts of someone who is not part of the immediate family that would normally have to report their activities anyway to the Ethics Commissioner, and to extend that scope to people who are really not directly related to the situation at hand is not necessarily the most effective and decent approach.
I would also like to take a couple of minutes to talk about the current context in which we are living. This is the greatest national emergency situation since the Second World War. I think everyone recognizes that. The government is not perfect. That's why we have an opposition. The government has rolled out a series of programs—in electric speed, really—designed them and rolled them out with great alacrity in a very short period of time. Yes, there will be bumps in the road.
The government recognizes that no program will be perfect and, therefore, it has adjusted a number of programs. It adjusted the CERB when it realized that those whose incomes might have dropped by 90% but who were still working would have no support. It decided that there should be a ceiling on how much you could earn before you lost the CERB. That ceiling was determined to be $1,000. It then adapted the wage subsidy program, including extending the timeline for the wage subsidy program.
It brought in a special loan program for small and medium-sized businesses, and when it found that some of the criteria were too restrictive, it admitted that it was not a perfect design and it adapted the program so that more business people could benefit from it.
Then it realized that students were put in a very difficult position. Students, by the way, whose unemployment rate is over 30%, were in a very difficult position because, through no fault of their own, they saw the prospects of their summer employment evaporate overnight, summer employment on which they depend to earn money to pay tuition but also other living expenses. The government brought out a program very quickly to help students as well. Again, it allowed students to earn up to $1,000 and still benefit from the Canadian student emergency benefit.
It's often said that youth, our students, are our future. It's not just a cliché. We were talking about universities and the education system. We have one of the best in the world. The more students who benefit from an education, the better our country will be in the short, medium and long term, so it's very important to support students. We know that through the introduction of all of these programs—I think Canadians know this, they know it deep down—the intent of the and of the government was first and foremost, in every case, to stand by Canadians in their moment of need, including students.
We've heard, for example, from the volunteer sector. We all have many non-profit groups and charities in our ridings, and I think, as members of Parliament regardless of party, we know these groups very well. We know the important work that they do, and we know that there is a crisis in volunteering, Madam Chair. A generation that ardently contributed to the voluntary sector is now retired, and they have to pass the torch to another generation.
We've heard anecdotally, but also I think it's in serious studies, that there's a shortage of volunteers and that maybe not as many young people are stepping in to take up the challenge of volunteering. We know that, when a person volunteers, the impact on them is profound. The feeling they get of doing good and of contributing is so powerful that they remain volunteers for the rest of their lives.
This program was designed in good faith and it was not perfect but had to be rolled out very quickly. This program was intended to connect young people to the volunteer experience, not only to allow them to acquire skills that would help them in their careers but also to create a lifelong engagement towards volunteering activities, which will only be of positive benefit to our society in the long run.
I think it bears mentioning that government cannot do everything. I know my colleagues across the way—
Mr. Matthew Green: You have colleagues here, too.
Mr. Francis Scarpaleggia: There, too, but my colleagues across the way have often said....
I apologize. I am raising a somewhat ideological question here.
My colleagues across the way often say governments cannot do everything, and I agree. I agree that governments cannot do everything. That is why, when the government, at the beginning of this crisis, understood that food banks were facing increased requests from those in need and it decided that it wanted to support food banks, it went to organizations that had broad reach, national scope. It went to Food Banks Canada and it went to the Salvation Army, and when the government decided that it wanted to help the non-profit sector because their revenues from donations were dropping precipitously, the government said, “We can't do this ourselves. We can't do everything”, and they went to see organizations like United Way, Centraide in Quebec.
Clearly, when it came time to roll out in very quick time a national volunteer program for youth, the public service recognized that the WE organization—and it was said at the finance committee yesterday—had the reach, the network, the goodwill of youth and the technological capability to handle that kind of rollout. Were there bumps in the road? Yes, Madam Chair, there were, and there always will be in government.
That is essentially the context in which we are having this discussion today. However, the main point I'm trying to make, and that my other colleagues have made, is that we have a very robust system for examining and investigating questions of ethics. We as a Parliament, as previous Parliaments, thought this matter of ethics was so important that it should be put in the hands of a qualified non-political person to conduct due process and that these matters needed to be dealt with in that way so that the political dimension does not interfere with due process. If it does, it does not serve our democracy well because it diminishes the faith that Canadians have in the systems and the institutions we've given ourselves as a democracy.
We need to recognize that this committee has important work to do. It has an important mandate. Also it's important to point out that when Ms. Shanahan spoke about mandate, what she was getting at is that this committee has a non-partisan role to play. Despite the fact, as Mr. Angus said, that committees can decide what they want to do, nonetheless they operate within frameworks and, especially a committee as important as the ethics committee, they have an interest in focusing on the broader principles and due process.
That is the point that Ms. Shanahan was making. It was not that committees are somehow constrained and do not have the liberty to look into what they want, but that it is very important that the ethics committee act in a professional and maybe a little less political manner than perhaps other committees, because it is important that the ethics committee maintains the faith of Canadians.
I know the Liberals are in trouble when they start talking about Stephen Harper. It's like in a cartoon when you lay a rake on the lawn for another cartoon character to step on and it whacks them in the face. That's the Conflict of Interest Act with these Liberals. They can't help but not step on this rake. It hits them in the face over and over again. Prime Minister Harper had the foresight to lay out this very transparent law for public office holders to follow. The Liberals can't help themselves but to break the law in this case.
With respect to Prime Minister Harper, I'd like to reference his decision to recuse himself from any decisions dealing with Talisman Energy. It was reported in 2012 in the Ottawa Citizen that the prime minister recused himself, and the reason was that his brother was an employee there and he wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
We don't need to go back to Plato and we don't need to practice our Latin to look at very recent and relevant examples of why what we're doing here is essential to preserve public confidence in our institutions.
Let's look back to 2017. —and the Liberal government—gives more than a million dollars to his friends at WE. Campaign contributors, the founders of that organization, donated to his leadership. They employ members of his family. He hands them a million bucks to have a July 2 event on the stage here in Ottawa, and he'll bring his mom. Why won't they tell us if she was paid? Those are taxpayer dollars.
I'm not looking for Margaret Trudeau to come to this committee, nor am I looking for Ms. Grégoire Trudeau or his brother Alexandre to come to this committee. But he's put them in a terrible position by not recusing himself from this decision. He apologized for it, so he recognized what he did was wrong. Now he needs to follow through and be transparent, and he needs to appear at the committee. We're requesting him to come. My motion is not asking for anyone to appear at this committee. It's looking for records, documents as reported on in media. There's no fishing expedition or witch hunt. This is a matter of public interest and it's a matter of preserving confidence in public institutions.
We're going on the slow roll through this meeting, and I know we're going to hear more from the government members of this committee, and that's fine. I just wonder what they have to hide. Why the attempt at a cover-up? Why not just vote on the motion? Have the courage of your convictions. Don't run out the clock. Vote, if you disagree with it. We've heard from all members on your side now. We'll hear from Mr. MacKinnon in a second—I can't wait. Then let's have a vote.
I know there's other committee business to deal with. I look forward to seeing how you vote. We've heard what you think. You're confused by the motion. I hope I clarified that for you. We're not looking for these people to come to committee. There's one Trudeau I would want to come here, and it is , and I would like him to not invoke cabinet confidence. I would like him to bring all relevant documents.
If someone is proposing that we bring a Trudeau here, I'm not today, but sure, if we're going to bring a member of 's family, let's bring him. If that's an amendment the government would like to move, to have Justin Trudeau come to this committee, I will tell them now that I will vote in favour of their amendment. If they are not moving that amendment, let's talk about the motion.
The motion is for these records pertaining to speaking appearances. I think that's pretty innocuous. We were going to give the organization a billion dollars to hand out. They were going to benefit by $43.5 million. If there's nothing to hide, let's see them. I'm not looking for their tax returns. I'm not looking for their pay stubs. These folks are being dragged into this by virtue of the 's failing to recuse himself from these deliberations, which he admits was wrong.
Just because you say sorry after you get caught robbing the bank doesn't mean that there isn't an investigation. It doesn't mean there won't be a trial, and it doesn't mean there won't be consequences.
This committee is the master of its own domain. We've heard that the government members want us to respect the mandate of this committee and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. It certainly wasn't the case when we wanted to bring him here to report on his work on the “Trudeau II Report”, on his finding that the broke the law, the Conflict of Interest Act, for a second time. We didn't see any support for that from government members, which is inconsistent with what they're saying here today.
Let's talk about this. We've had a history lesson, thank you. I hope that I get credit from Madame Brière's alma mater. I will apply it to future learnings. I have a college in my riding, St. Lawrence College. I'm happy to have them. Since we're doing academic shout-outs, they're great. It's higher learning for sure.
We've had some fun. We've heard about people's pasts. We've heard about ancient history. We've had linguistic lessons, but let's instead talk about this. I've heard no amendments from the government. I've heard no effort to call , because they said that there's someone from his family that someone wants to come here. Yes, invite the Prime Minister to testify at this committee, and I will support your amendment. That would show that there has been an examination of conscience in the Liberal caucus room, that it's not just about politics, that it's about doing what's right.
I agree with my colleague who said we should depoliticize....
It's laid bare for everyone to see that the Liberals have attempted to filibuster this committee. Mrs. Shanahan has demonstrated the Liberal cover-up.
You talk to the clock until two o'clock, and now you don't want to deal with any of this committee's business—for shame.
That's politics, Mr. Scarpaleggia. That's naked, partisan politics. That's exactly what you said we shouldn't do here. Vote on the motion. Have the courage of your convictions, but that's not what we're seeing here. I thought we respected the committee's mandate. Is the committee's mandate not to vote on the motions put forward by the members? That's fascinating to me.
We read from procedural texts. We read historical texts. We've written new texts. I wonder how that translates in the streets of your constituencies. Would you feel the same way about another party that had a prime minister who awarded a non-tendered contract worth nearly $1 billion to an organization that paid his family hundreds of thousands of dollars? Would you feel the same way? I'd wager you wouldn't, but here we are looking to clean up another one of 's messes.
It's the third time he's under investigation, and though it may not concern members in the Liberal caucus room, it concerns constituents in my riding. It concerns people across this country—non-political people. It's an embarrassment to have a prime minister who has been found guilty of breaking the law multiple times and is under investigation again. There's great smugness we often hear in the attempt to contrast the head of government in our country against the President of the United States. So often...oh, the smugness that comes! I feel no moral superiority to any nation when this is what we see here in Canada.
Again, to go back to Mr. Fergus's point, if hardball is to read from the public disclosures on the website, which, for Mr. Gourde and I, the results have been published from our public disclosures, or that Mr. Kurek has completed his on time.... He has completed his disclosure with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's office. Like for everyone else, like other public servants, there are technological limitations to their being able to discharge their duties in the same time they normally would, but he filed on time. If there is an issue to be taken, I encourage government members to raise that, but as far as resources go, that's not for the opposition members to have to seize themselves with at this committee. We're talking about the Conflict of Interest Act, but with respect to that other code, members here, members on the Conservative side, have met their obligations.
If playing hardball is filibustering the committee, running the clock until two o'clock and slyly moving a point of order to try to adjourn the committee, it's clumsy, but I'm not sure if that's hardball. It's consistent with my experience during the hearings on the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the cover-up that the majority Liberals tried to affect there. That's consistent with my experience. It's consistent with Canadians' experience with .
Liberal members have demonstrated that should this committee look to be the master of its own domain, should they wish to exercise their mandate to review ethical matters dealing with public office holders, they will filibuster when it's their they're trying to protect. They saw Gerry Butts fall in disgrace. They saw Michael Wernick fall in disgrace under Justin Trudeau. They saw their majority reduced to a minority, a distinction, again, that Justin Trudeau has.
First-term majority governments usually become second-term majority governments. If they are first elected by a majority, they probably will be re-elected a second time with a majority. That is not the case for because Canadians put the Liberals on a shorter leash, having had those ethical violations the first time.
It should be concerning for all Canadians that the government members don't want that accountability and don't have the courage of their convictions to vote on the motion on the table, knowing that their other colleagues gave notice of the motion in advance of the meeting to give them time to prepare a response and to articulate that to their fellow committee members and to Canadians. That's not accountability. That's not the government open by default that you all ran under. That's not using sunlight as the best disinfectant, as you promised. That's not the sunny ways that we heard from . It's obstruction. It does a disservice to Canadians. It does a disservice to your constituents.
Mr. Scarpaleggia mentioned the testimony we heard yesterday at the finance committee and the contention that WE Charity was the only organization in the country that could carry out this sole-source deal. When you only ask one person, if you don't ask anybody else what their capabilities are, guess what the answer is going to be. If you ask Google to give you a document that says whether they are the best search engine and here are some of the requirements you would like them to show you so you can endorse them as the best search engine, but you don't ask anybody else, they're going to demonstrate the standard that you asked for and they're going to get your endorsement. WE Charity was the only one who responded to this. It wasn't competitive.
We heard also that Ms. Wernick came up with this on her own. She testified yesterday that a finance official proposed WE Charity. We heard from Mr. Scarpaleggia that there's a crisis in Canada, that young people aren't volunteering. That's not what the head of Volunteer Canada said at committee yesterday. She said young people in Canada are very generous with their time. We also heard yesterday that this call for 100,000 volunteers is not consistent with what she understands in her industry, in her sector, as being the need. It's a vastly inflated number.
That was the testimony in finance yesterday.
However, here we are at ethics, having just endured a multi-hour Liberal filibuster as part of the cover-up into 's third ethics scandal. Selective reading of texts and ancient history lessons have got us no closer to any transparency, but you know that when we hear about hardball and about assuming that the better angels are on the government side of the table, there's something more here. We're onto some trouble.
That's something that I heard at finance committee yesterday too. I heard one of my colleagues say that we're onto some trouble here with this Liberal government. I think he's right. Multiple investigations by independent officers of Parliament and here we are today with government members, Liberal members of this committee, in a coordinated effort, engaging in a cover-up to not allow this committee to do its work.
Mr. Fergus said that you play hardball. Well, Mr. Fergus, I think if you check the record, you'll see that's what you said and—
Thank you, Madame Chair.
I don't know whether I've said it yet today, but thank you for doing such an excellent job of keeping everybody on their respective sides without our going into the middle and breaking parliamentary procedure. Thank you so much.
It's been a fascinating day. Certainly we learned a lot about Madame Brière's long history at her college or university. We learned about ancient Athens and we went through the medieval era, so if you'll indulge me, I'll quote scripture from the book of Luke.
You didn't know I was an altar boy, did you? Well, I was. In the book of Luke, it says that what is done in the darkness will be shouted from the rooftops and what is whispered in the backrooms will be shown to all. I think this is what happens when we end up with corruption scandals and conflict of interest. It's embarrassing for the government.
I don't go back as far as Athens, but in my time in Parliament I've seen a lot of the tawdry, backslapping, rum bottle politics on the Rideau, which was famous for all the tawdry deals. I came in just after Jean Chrétien spent a couple of billion dollars on golf balls. I remember Brian Mulroney getting money in a brown paper bag and explaining that to Canadians. There was Bruce Carson. I've seen that one, and Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright. The work of this committee has been sometimes very raucous and very confrontational, but it is this committee that tries to establish some review of the ethical behaviours of parliamentarians.
We are not a technical committee. We are a political committee, as my good friend Mr. Scarpaleggia said. It falls to us to sometimes bring these issues into the public light.
I have been quoted extensively, so I feel as if I might have a life here beyond my limited career. If other people do quote me in perpetuity, it might speak to how long I've been on this committee.
The issue of the integrity of documents is something I've spoken of before. I've raised it when we've had Liberals in power and Conservatives in power, and we do need to establish precedence. I think that's really important.
I think what makes this issue difficult is that we had the WE charity state publicly that no money was paid to the Trudeaus, and that was false. The question of trusting them on this is very.... It raises questions now that have to be answered. What were those financial relations? The refusal of the and to recuse themselves has raised ethical questions that must be answered.
When we had two other findings of guilt against the , we tried to have the Ethics Commissioner report to our committee, but we were blocked by the government, so how do we make recommendations about how things should be done if the government refuses to let the Ethics Commissioner speak to our committee so that we can present to Parliament a report that would suggest changes?
If we had done that on the previous two findings of guilt, might not be in the situation he is now, because maybe there would have been some measures put in place.
Madame Brière was great in talking about how we have these standards. Well, we have standards, but if those in power refuse to respect them, we have a problem. This is why the Prime Minister is under his third investigation.
We could talk all night. I've been in many long filibusters, but I have a conflict of interest with my own family members. I should put it out in case someone finds out. I am trying to move one of my daughters this weekend. That's a conflict of interest for me, because I'm a lot more afraid of my wife than I am of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and I have to help move my daughter, so I'm trying to bring us together.
I've heard the Liberals say again and again that they think it's inappropriate that the financial records of the Trudeau family be brought before our committee, and they keep mentioning the Ethics Commissioner. I certainly heard my Conservative colleagues suggest that they want to hear speak, because it's Justin Trudeau who put his family in this situation. It was his choice, and it was WE's choice to start paying the Trudeau family after he became that put them within a very fair discussion about political influence.
I would offer a friendly amendment that we, the New Democrats, would support this committee calling for the financial records to be obtained from WE and transferred to the Ethics Commissioner so that we're not turning this into a family circus, but we want those documents turned over.
If the Liberals supported that, then that would back up everything they've said for the last three hours, excluding all the stuff they said about medieval kings and princes, ancient Athens and all the other stuff. However, the gist of what they kept saying was to trust the Ethics Commissioner.
We would put that forward in a friendly amendment. We could say that we'd call on to explain his role in this and the decisions he made. The Liberals have said, again and again, that it's not fair to draw on the family members, that it's the office-holder, so if the public office holder, Mr. Trudeau, agrees to come here, we would agree to transfer the financial documents of the Trudeau family and the WE corporation to the Ethics Commissioner so that he gets to decide what's going to be released or not be released and we get to hear from the public office holder.
I would make that a friendly amendment if my colleagues are interested. Then we could vote on this, and then we could go home, and I could go move my daughter and not be in serious conflict with my family.
Other than that, I'm willing to stay.