Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It is good to be able to address the committee after the meeting this past Friday, and it's good to see all of you, some of whom I've seen over the past few days in the House.
We find ourselves in a unique position here. I don't think it would be out of line to say that over the last number of weeks the current Liberal government has been rocked by yet another scandal.
In the context of this scandal, we have faced as a nation an unprecedented pandemic requiring tremendous action by all levels of government, which have, rightfully so, provided aid to Canadians at a time when they have been in desperate need. I would state boldly that I don't think there's a person in this country, and maybe not even a person in the world, who hasn't been affected in some way by COVID-19, but when you look at what provides the strength of our nation—the democracy, the foundations of who we are—we look to institutions like Parliament, and we look to governments at all levels, in legislatures and city halls, and expect them to work in our best interests.
Unfortunately, we have seen over the last number of weeks that the best interests as defined by the current government and members within that government clearly have not been in the best interests of Canadians. There were personal ties to that, and those ties have—I mentioned this word earlier—rocked this government. More importantly, Madam Chair and members of this committee, it has rocked the trust that Canadians expect to be able to put in their leaders, especially at a time of such an unprecedented crisis.
I was proud to be one of the members who signed the letter that did in fact recall this committee with a motion to try to get to the bottom of exactly what has happened here. I know that other committees are also doing important work, but it is key that we have these debates and these discussions and, ultimately, that Canadians get the answers they deserve, because the trust that is required in a democracy has been shaken.
A saying that I've heard often is that trust is easily broken and hard to earn. I think it's important to acknowledge there has been a great deal of trust that's been broken. My colleague Mr. Barrett talked about this, and I think I'll mention at different points in time some of the other scandals that have eroded the trust that Canadians should have in their government. I don't exaggerate when I say that I hear from constituents each and every day about the fact their trust in government has been truly shaken. We need to do something about that. It is incumbent upon every member of this committee, and every MP, quite frankly, to ensure we do everything we can to restore the trust that has been shaken.
Madam Chair, what I'll do is outline briefly, from my perception and informed by the hundreds of conversations I've had with constituents over the last number of weeks, their feelings on some of the issues that we are moving through today. In fact, I had a conversation with one of the Liberal cabinet ministers. I was very appreciative that after a comment in question period—this was back a number of months ago—a minister would follow up with me. I hadn't heard back in a week or so, so I had my staff reach out to her office.
I had a number of conversations back and forth and then that minister did in fact reach out. I was very appreciative of that. I think that during this crisis all members would agree that quite a bit of work has been done together. We have shown that we can put politics aside when we are working for the best interests of Canadians.
I had a series of issues that I brought forward to this minister about various programs. People were falling through the cracks. One issue was the Canada summer jobs program.I don't have the numbers in front of me, but there were hundreds of last-minute applicants to that program. All of us as MPs have had experience with that program in a way that sees true benefit to our communities, especially during a time like we find ourselves in now.
When the government adjusted some of their rules I quite frankly was optimistic that that program would be able to benefit the organizations, small businesses, in my community, and the more than 60 self-governing municipalities across my beautiful constituency.
That minister mentioned something. Instead of making the Canada summer jobs grant larger, there was this new program that had at that point just recently been announced. It was going to take the place of it. At that time I shared my concerns that I wasn't sure it was going to work, especially in a rural constituency where quite a few of the organizations that were applying for the Canada summer jobs grant would have involved a student either moving or having to commute. It would have incurred costs. A volunteer incentive, although we encourage volunteerism.... Throughout this crisis we've seen an incredible level of volunteerism, whether it be helping out neighbours.... I've heard many stories come through my constituency office showcasing the best of what Canada is all about.
The Canada summer student grant was meant to be a kind of replacement for the Canada summer jobs grant. Although I shared my concerns, of course, the minister said that she would note those, and that was the end of the conversation. I do give credit for the fact that the minister did reach out to a member of the opposition to deal with concerns with a number of the government programs.
Then we fast-forward to when this program was announced, and we ended up getting—like all the MPs I'm sure did—the information about how people should apply. We started sharing some of that information with folks who had asked us to keep them updated and whatnot, but then it started to smell.
It's unfortunate that this would be the case, because this program, well-intended or not, was meant to benefit students. It started to smell, and we saw over the course of a number of weeks some incredibly troubling revelations. The government had brought forward a program with an organization that was maybe not even capable of managing that program. There were close connections to the himself, and his family.
I would take a moment here to note that the allegation made by the members opposite—a number of them we heard at length, and there are a few different members here today—was that somehow it was the goal of the opposition to go on a “witch hunt”—one of the terms used—to drag the 's mother or brother, or whatever the case was, before this committee.
I would hope that since the last meeting, the members opposite would have actually read the motion and the letter that called this committee back, because it had nothing to do with bringing the 's mother or family members before this committee. It does have to do with the issue that I referenced in the beginning, which is trust of our institutions.
When you're the and are afforded all of the authority associated with that high office in our dominion, it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. Certainly, Conservative members don't want to see family members of politicians dragged before this. However, we do expect that for a high office-holder in this land, whether a minister—like the and the very troubling allegations that have just recently come out—or the Prime Minister himself, or quite frankly any of us, if there are connections that cause a shaking of the trust in our democratic institutions, Canadians deserve answers.
As was clearly articulated on the other side, we all run for office not to get our family members involved in the political battles that take place in the capital. However, when those who hold offices make decisions—whether they involve those family members or not—scrutiny needs to be applied.
I'll reference a senior who called my office who had not yet received the GIS. That senior had been watching the news that morning and noted to me how $300,000 was worth more than their home and was more than they had ever made in any particular year throughout their entire life. They were frustrated that it seemed to them that the Liberal politicians were just in it for themselves and those closely connected to them. That's where it comes back again to the shaking of trust.
As I referenced before, trust is easy to break, but hard to earn. I would go as far as to suggest that we need to be very diligent that we move forward in a way that helps restore that trust to Canadians. I want to get to the amendment at hand because I think that Canadians.... We have to be willing to work diligently to ensure we have that clear understanding, because as we move forward with the scandal, we saw that there was a new revelation each and every day, it seemed. The 's apology, after it was revealed the dollars involved and his family members involved.... We had questions about who authorized this, where the money was going and what seemed like almost a Ponzi scheme of referrals and references and various aspects of what happened to move forward.
We see very clearly that lack of transparency throughout the entire system. There's been a breaking of trust. When we have the opportunity—all of us, as members of Parliament and members of this committee—to bring clarity and to help restore that trust that Canadians expect in their institutions, I think we need to do everything we can to ensure that light is shone and that answers are found. We need to ensure that we have a clear objective to demonstrate to all Canadians that we are doing what's in their best interests and that it's not for our personal benefit that we have put our names on a ballot, but that we come to the capital to debate the pressing issues of our land for Canadians' best interests.
The amendment, Madam Chair, is important to differentiate the conversation that led up to it. I would move a subamendment, if the clerk would indulge me. I apologize that my French isn't good enough to assist in this.
I would just like to add two words to ensure, as I've outlined, the trust issue, that we have a clear ability to shine light on everything that's happened in this scandal, to ensure that light is shone.
The subamendment I would move is that, after the words “provide the records to the”, I would add ”committee and the Ethics Commissioner”, so that we can move forward in ensuring that Canadians get answers on this ever-evolving and.... In fact, I find it quite staggering.
Madam Chair, I'm a fairly new member of Parliament. It's been, certainly, an interesting and educational number of months to have first been elected. It has impressed upon me the importance of our institutions and that we get to the bottom of all aspects of this.
I have much more that I would love to say. I mentioned that I'll get to some of the testimony that we heard. I took fairly detailed notes, because it felt more like a university class last week. I must reference the Latin specifically. I admit I did not study Latin, but I did study Greek and Hebrew, two other dead languages—Greek, in terms of the ancient Greek. Now, I studied it. That doesn't mean I remember much of it.
Certainly there is much more I have that I could say, but my final comment....
Is the clerk making the additions I need to make in terms of the amendment to the amendment?
Ms. Brière, every time I've spoken in this committee, you've interrupted me within 10 seconds on a point of order to add your name to the speakers list. I find that fascinating. Ms. Shanahan took the opportunity at the last meeting to interrupt on points immediately after I started speaking.
In the interest of collegiality, and that spirit of collegiality that we talked about early on, I won't be interrupting you ad nauseam, and with a predictable cycle, throughout your speaking at this meeting. I do find it interesting—I do find that very interesting—that other members are able to draw the chair's attention without interrupting another member when making their remarks.
In my letter to the clerk dated July 13, I raised the point that it is concerning to think that payments might be funnelled this way in order to secure government contracts with respect to the $300,000 paid to members of the Trudeau family by the WE organization. Having visibility on speaking engagements that the family members have been paid for is germane to having an understanding of breaches that may have occurred. We have a situation where it is evolving minute by minute. It's important to understand if organizations are using members of the 's family to gain access to government. That's important.
It's important to reiterate also that the issue is not with members of the 's family being paid for their profile, be it for their work in a particular field or because, in the case of Ms. Margaret Trudeau, she is the wife of a former prime minister. That would garner some interest on the speaking circuit for sure, but when we have this organization that was not paying other speakers and only paid speakers who were related to someone who could financially benefit their organization, it's important to understand how widespread this is. That's necessary.
There's no intention or desire on my part or on the part of my Conservative colleagues to call any members of the Trudeau family other than the . I don't think that is necessary. The personal information with respect to addresses, contact information, is not germane, but with respect to speaking fees paid, and speaking fees paid by whom, that is germane to the work of this committee.
I will be supporting the subamendment.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, I'd like to talk about a few points.
To the subamendment, I think we had a thorough discussion at the last meeting about what the mandate of this committee was and about the different roles this committee has. I made the point in my discussions that, for the committee here, our role is to review the work of the four officers of Parliament who are included in our mandate.
I am wondering if the subamendment is expressing some lack of confidence in the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, so I'd like to share with the committee some notes I made concerning the commissioner, the act and the role of the commissioner in executing that act.
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner administers the Conflict of Interest Act by establishing compliance measures, investigating possible contraventions of the act and providing advice to public office holders on their obligations. The commissioner is an officer of Parliament. Officers of Parliament are independent from the government and report directly to Parliament.
The Conflict of Interest Act came into force on July 9, 2007, which created for the first time a legislative regime governing the ethical conduct of public officer holders. Prior to this date, public office holders were subject to non-statutory codes of conduct.
Some additional information on the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is that this person is appointed by the Governor in Council, by commission under the Great Seal, after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the House of Commons, and after approval of the appointment by resolution of the House. He or she holds the office for a seven-year term.
Under the Conflict of Interest Act, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner must be a former judge of a superior court in Canada or of a provincial court; or a former member of a federal or provincial board, commission or tribunal who has demonstrated expertise in at least one of the following areas: conflict of interest, financial arrangements, professional regulation and discipline or ethics; or a former Senate ethics officer or former ethics commissioner. The position was created in 2007 and replaced the Office of the Ethics Commissioner under Parliament of Canada Act, section 81.
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner also provides confidential advice to the Prime Minister and to public office holders on all matters pertaining to the implementation of the Conflict of Interest Act, and in addition the commissioner may, at the request of a parliamentarian or on their own initiative, investigate any alleged breach of the act by a public officer holder. The commissioner may, in the course of investigation, consider information provided by the public that is conveyed to the commissioner by a parliamentarian.
I think this information that is publicly available is important for the Canadian public to understand. The role of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is to undertake any investigation of alleged violations of the Conflict of Interest Act.
I would like to return once again to our mandate here in the committee, because many members here did cite the text of Standing Order 108(3)(h), paragraphs (v), (vi) and (vii), during the course of their interventions. I just want to point out, especially in (vi), that the text must be read in its entirety. It's in a certain context:
(vi) in cooperation with other committees, the review and report on any federal legislation, regulation or standing order which impacts upon the access to information or privacy of Canadians or the ethical standards of public office holders;
It's not to investigate public office holders themselves.
This was very interesting to me as I was reviewing all our statutory requirements for this committee, because I took a look at the work of this committee historically. I think it's something that behooves us to see how the important work of committee members actually leads to the creation and the evolution of better standards of practice—
Returning to the work of this committee over the years, its early work before the creation of this committee was the creation of a Special Joint Committee on a Code of Conduct. Then, in the 38th Parliament, the mandate of this committee was studied at length, and I think it behooves us, as I say, at the beginning of starting any work in a committee, to know what the mandate is.
Studies since that time related to disclosure of names of the access to information applicants. Again, looking at the appropriate execution of the legislation at the time, there was a calling of witnesses in the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, which was actually.... There was a lot of testimony towards a full public enquiry, and to my mind, it points again to the fact that this is not the appropriate place for this kind of committee work, this kind of investigation.
Other work since then had to do with the estimates, the Access to Information Act and the naming of the different officers, including work on some of the more recent initiatives that had to do with privacy and social media in the age of big data. I think this points to the clause in our mandate that talks about initiatives. Indeed, some very good work was done on the growing problem of identity theft and its economic and social impacts, as well as on protecting Canadians' privacy at the U.S. border.
Also, more recently, in the 42nd Parliament, work was done on “Addressing Digital Privacy Vulnerabilities and Potential Threats to Canada's Democratic Electoral Process”. Also, of course, there was report 20, the “International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy”. This is the kind of work that this committee undertakes.
Coming to the subamendment, it is not for this committee to be receiving personal documents. That is the prerogative, the job and, in fact, the very important work of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, because this is the person who has been named, with the agreement of all parties, to undertake this work. It is not the work of this committee. We are not an investigative body.
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
You'll recall, as a recap, that there was certainly a lot of discussion about the mandate of this committee and about what its extent was. There was one allegation that we were looking to drag Justin's mother to the meeting and perhaps her relatives and her family.
You'll recall that it was my colleague, , who brought forward this compromise. That's what brought us here today with this amendment, which was to use the tools of the commissioner in this investigation and to have the appropriate documents above and beyond what's been reported. You'll recall we already know through public record that $300,000 and more of pecuniary interest was transferred to family members. The compromise was to have this amendment essentially allow the private information of a private citizen to go directly to the commissioner.
In conversations with my friend, who is providing the subamendment, recognizing the announcement of the to agree to go to the finance committee, I think there would be a fair comment or feeling that the compromise that was put forward by my colleague might have been dead in the water at that point, that the Prime Minister might not have been willing to attend two committees, given the precedent.
What this amendment does—and I'm hearing this amendment for the first time—is that it essentially brings us back to the original spirit of the amendment the Conservatives proposed originally, which is, in fact, not the compromise that we tried to provide. I feel like, if I could just be so plain as to say, this is now a game of chicken, because we believed we were negotiating in good faith with our friends across the way in order to have accountability brought to this ethics committee.
Being here and representing my good friend and very learned colleague , I'm here to represent that original compromise and that original interest to allow for the Ethics Commissioner to do his work in the investigation, provided there is support around this table to have the come to this committee.
This committee is not the finance committee. This committee has a different mandate, and the mandate is very clear. It's an ethical mandate. There have been financial breaches, as we've heard today from the 's $41,000 forgetting of monies that should have been paid to this organization and the many other ethical breaches that continue to unravel, but at the end of the day, our mandate here is to shine a light on this issue.
I would like to think, I would like to hope, that, if there was goodwill around the table to support the original amendment as it was, then I would be willing to stick with the intention of the original amendment over the subamendment. In fairness, I am just hearing the subamendment for the first time. It's a very smart subamendment, by the way, because it brings it right back to where we are, at square one.
Through my comments through you, Madam Chair, I want to hear from the other side. I want to hear from government if they are negotiating in good faith on a compromise before I make my decision on whether to vote for the subamendment or not. If they're operating in good faith, and we were to vote down this subamendment—and I'm going to speak very plainly—then the expectation is that we would get support from the government side to support the spirit of the original amendment, which was to have the documents go to the Ethics Commissioner and have the called to this committee.
Now I'm not naive enough to think that the invitation is going to automatically result in his appearance, but this is about accountability. This is about integrity. If there are games to be played, if there are future filibusters to be had, let's just be very clear that we could wrap this up very quickly. If in a few comments on government from the other side they say, “Yes, we'll support this amendment, as was the original spirit. We will negotiate in good faith with the New Democrats on the amendment”, then I won't support the subamendment, but if I don't get that, Madam Chair, if I feel like we're going to be filibustering, if I feel like we're going to be into another procedural shenanigan....
The public is watching, and they'll see what's gone on in this committee. The public is not stupid. That's where we are at with the amendment that I'm bringing forward on behalf of my colleague.
I'm very curious to hear from the government side. If it is willing to operate in good faith, we could vote on this motion. We could put the question on this amendment and call this meeting to order to get on with things. Otherwise, we might be facing another filibuster, and we'll be right back to where we started.
That's where I'm at right now. Where I'm from, plain talk is not bad manners. I hope that in speaking plainly and clearly folks know what's on the table right now. I hope to hear from members of the government side that they are operating in good faith, and that we're not going to have another filibuster. We can have this committee operate within its mandate and call the to testify before this ethics committee.
I got that. I just wanted to make sure on that part. The reason why, Madam Chair, I sought that precision—to make sure that it directly goes—is that.... It gets back to the principle that I raised at the last meeting.
If you'll allow me a little bit of time to talk about that, my concern always has been that.... Why we set up the commissioner, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, was that it takes it out of our hands. We have delegated this authority to act on behalf of all members of Parliament, regardless of political affiliation, to act in our better interests because sometimes it happens that.... I know all members are honourable, but even I am tempted every so often to play a political game. I know, shocking as it is, Madam Chair, it does happen to all of us from time to time. When we're talking about these important issues, about the finances or whatever background—I don't know; it could be a criminal issue; it could be whatever background that people might have—we want to make sure that this information is going to the person it should go to, and that is the person who is entrusted to act in a non-partisan way on behalf of all of us. That is the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
That's the reason I sought out an understanding on that. With that, Madam Chair, I have to admit that I feel very comfortable with the amendment. I still feel uncomfortable with the subamendment. My position hasn't changed on that. It's not said in the reason. I'm not trying to advance any political agenda on this. I'm really trying to think out.... It's fine for this issue, but there are going to be other issues that are going to come out, and we don't want to cross the Rubicon on this one. To use another good Latin reference, we don't want to cross that Rubicon; we don't want to cross that river. We want to stay on this side. It's in all of our interests to do so, and it will be in the interest of subsequent generations of politicians because we're only here temporarily.
Madam Chair, I'd like to compliment Mr. Kurek for part of his opening comments today when he talked about where we find ourselves. We do find ourselves in a health crisis. We do find ourselves in a global pandemic. I think Parliament has done a very good job of coming to the aid of Canadians in extraordinary ways, in ways that frankly make us the envy of the world.
I really appreciate the proposed steps taken by the government, which have have been improved by members of the opposition, to come up with things such as the Canada emergency response benefit and the Canada emergency wage subsidy, which I think is going to be playing an increasingly important role in making sure that our economy grows back better. I appreciate the input that all members of Parliament have made, that I know my colleagues on this side have made, and I certainly know that you have heard from your constituents on what we did in terms of old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and business loans.
All these measures, which were designed to get Canadians through this health crisis, have worked well. We have worked hard on that. To limit the spread of this disease, we told people not to go in to work. It comes with costs and consequences, however. We worked very hard to make sure that those efforts were worth it. However, Madam Chair, one thing that—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
This will take about five minutes.
The first time I spoke on this committee, hopes were high. We sit on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and we must be accountable, honest and transparent.
We took a break and it was good to see each other again, even though we are now very far away from each other.
Having said that, I was not able to speak at the last meeting, but I was very disappointed in a lot of things. Since the pandemic began, we have been told we need to act quickly and what we are going through is unprecedented. I agree, but what would happen if the committee, which is responsible for quickly shedding light on an issue, were unable to do so? We all have the ability to get to the bottom of this quickly, to help people who have needs and to make sure that the rules are followed.
I attended both meetings of the Standing Committee on Finance on this issue. Given everything we heard, it is important—to me, I am brand new—that, day by day, the perspective changes. For several days, my constituents have been calling and asking me what is going on.
As I said earlier in the House, the—I do not want to use the word "ordinary" here—administrators volunteering at an association for their children "have to disclose any personal information that could lead to a potential conflict of interest." You and I are the first to disclose any potential conflict of interest. Folks have asked why it is that members of the government, who are not overseeing evening educational events for their children, but, rather, managing billions of taxpayer dollars, do not do it too. I told them that they were absolutely right, that they cannot simply stand by and watch what's going on, and that we must take action.
I believe I have now been speaking for five minutes.
We are discussing the subamendment and we need to get to the bottom of the issue. Anyway, what is there to hide? We must be accountable.
You will have gathered that I support Mr. Kurek's subamendment.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to raise a couple of points before we get to the other issues. First, I hope Mr. Barrett does not feel he is being targeted. It's a combination of circumstances. I, for one, am also learning things from meeting to meeting. Although my comments on Friday raised a number of eyebrows, I see that other members like to flaunt the fact that they speak Latin, Greek or Hebrew.
As we pointed out on Friday, it is important that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner be provided with all relevant information to examine the matter in hand. We have full confidence in the commissioner, since it is part of his mandate to provide advice on any matter relating to enforcement of the Conflict of Interest Act. It is also part of his mandate to investigate. However, our committee is neither an inquiry committee nor a kangaroo court. That is why we accept the part of Mr. Angus and Mr. Green's amendment that says a copy of all documents should be provided directly to the commissioner.
I, too, welcome Mr. Kurek's remarks today. It's true that Canadians need to know the ins and outs of this situation. Indeed, we are working for all Canadians. That has always been our priority, especially since the beginning of this pandemic. Mr. Kurek also claims that we have not put Canadians' interests first. Yet we have implemented many programs, whether to help individual Canadians, personally, or to support businesses, such as the emergency wage subsidy, which we adapted to be even more responsive to the needs, concerns and issues faced by all our entrepreneurs during the crisis. Let's not forget the measures to provide commercial rent relief, or to help seniors, people with disabilities and students. In students' case, the program was designed to support them. Within the first week of the program's launch, 35,000 applications were made by people from all walks of life. We can see that the measure was necessary and expected.
We acted quickly and effectively. The numbers show that we have helped millions of Canadians and that billions of dollars have been distributed to support everyone. We even proposed a way for Parliament to work so that bills could be debated and put to a vote, a clear example of our respect for democracy. Rest assured, I am not going to repeat what I said on Friday.
With respect to the matter in hand, the has apologized. As mentioned earlier, he is now ready to answer questions from members of the Standing Committee on Finance. As for the subamendment, in my opinion, investigative work is the commissioner's responsibility. He is entitled to receive the documents and records he deems necessary, and he may do so confidentially.
For these reasons, I agree with my colleague Mr. Fergus.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I'll keep my remarks very brief.
Again, the question of the mandate of this committee has been brought up. I would actually use the comments that Mrs. Shanahan made, in part, in her speech on Friday. I apologize if this isn't quite 100% verbatim. It was as fast as my shorthand could go. She said that we have wide powers of how to conduct our business, when referring to the committee.
The inference that we want to turn this into a kangaroo court or go on a witch hunt, whatever the case may be, is absolutely not the case. However, with the number of calls that I'm getting in my constituency office—emails, text messages, Facebook comments and messages—Canadians demand answers. It is incumbent upon us all to ensure...and I'll use another quote from Mr. Fergus's testimony on Friday. It is that democracy is fragile. It is. We've seen shaking of the trust that Canadians expect to put in their government, regardless of its political stripe.
Seemingly, every time Twitter gets refreshed, there's a new revelation, a new element to the scandal that is being revealed. Certainly, from what I'm hearing from my constituents, we must do everything we can to restore the trust that Canadians expect to have in our Parliament and in their government, regardless of whether they voted Liberal or not. We need to take every step necessary to help bring that trust back.
I would encourage all members to once again consider the question that was asked by that constituent I mentioned, with a phone call earlier this week: “What is the problem with shining light on this issue?”
I encourage members to support the subamendment. I would like to see it go to a vote, so we can move on.
I appreciate the opportunity to join this committee today to further explore the role of this committee in relation to what's in front of us, with the amendments and the motions that have been moved.
I'm going to start with a bit of background. When I was a city councillor in Toronto, one of the roles I fulfilled in David Miller's mandate was to appoint an ethics and integrity commissioner. As we were formulating that office, one piece of advice we got from several different bodies across the country—municipal, provincial and federal and people with experience—was to be very careful about setting up politicians to investigate politicians. There's a political theatre and a political process for that, but when you set up investigative bodies with competitors—with colleagues investigating each other—it very quickly becomes something that is unfair, both to those who are accused of wrongdoing and to those who are asked to participate in the investigation of colleagues. It's impossible to divorce the ethical standards from the political behaviour. This doesn't give us good, strong ethical governance structure. It doesn't give us good, strong investigative results. It doesn't give us clarity on what's been done wrong, what's been done right and what needs to change in terms of the rules and regulations to make sure that democracy and good governance are protected.
The motion that's in front of us is understandable in terms of its intent to get information from private citizens transferred to the Ethics Commissioner, so that the investigation of the situation we find ourselves in can be appropriately done and reported back to Parliament. The findings can be done through an independent system, which a previous Parliament wisely set up and put together. I think that's a really important principle.
I think there is a gap in the way in which it operates because of the issues that have been raised here, such as family members' roles in the conflict of interest guidelines, which family members, to what degree we understand family members' behaviours and how that impacts us as public office holders. I think we need clarity around that. It's critically important, even without this issue in front of us, to maintain the confidence and trust Canadians have in the governing process.
When we set up a parallel investigative process, it is not unlikely that this body could reach very different conclusions from the Ethics Commissioner. That calls the role of the Ethics Commissioner into question immediately. That's not a good situation. For those of us who rely on the Ethics Commissioner to clear our names or to deliver findings to us, it is not a good situation to undermine the integrity of that office while that office is doing critically important work on our behalf.
I'm very reluctant to set a precedent in this committee, which does not have a mandate to investigate any member of Parliament for any reason on a particular issue. To suddenly say that this committee would then have the power to compel any member of Parliament to attend and suffer the political consequences if they decline the invitation sets a really dangerous precedent. It sends this ethics standing committee off in a whole new direction it was never intended to deal with.
We set up the Ethics Commissioner not to depoliticize what was happening, but to give us clarity in a political setting. From there, how we choose to respond to the Ethics Commissioner is where this committee's work begins. At that point, I would assume, having read previous Ethics Commissioner reports on individuals, that the relevant information as to where the rules were broken, which rules were broken, why they were broken if they were broken, what rationale existed to frame the rules the way they were and what proposals may be required to change that is where the work of this committee starts.
It doesn't start by investigating the individuals simultaneously, regardless of who that individual is. It is very clear, if you read the full mandate of this committee, that our job is to evaluate those reports and to make recommendations to Parliament on what changes need to be made to guidelines and conflict of interest regulations so that Canadians can have confidence in Parliament.
I have complete support for 's motion to request that this information be forwarded to the Ethics Commissioner. That's fine. I think it's massively premature to call the , in this case, in front of this committee while that ethics investigation is under way. I think that is a flaw in the way the amendment is drafted.
I also think it assumes a conclusion to the Ethics Commissioner's investigation, that somehow we can start asking the questions in real time while that investigation is under way. Clearly, it's like doing the investigation and the trial all at the same time. I don't think that's an appropriate way to proceed.
I do support the motion, as I said, the amendment in the spirit of Mr. Angus's motion, but I am very concerned about calling politicians from the House, any MP from the House, in front of the ethics committee every time there's a political point to be made. I think that sets a very dangerous precedent, and I can't support that at this time.
I do appreciate—I deeply appreciate, actually—the candour of this discussion. I think it's very important for us to be open and honest with Canadians in terms of what our intention is when we enter into these good faith discussions, because it is a critical point.
I have to say, coming from city council myself, that the size and scope of this type of scandal would have required probably an immediate censure and there wouldn't have been a long and drawn-out process, given the information that's already been made public, quite frankly.
The spirit of the motion was to have the here today. What I've heard in the previous speakers' comments is that there's really no intention to have the Prime Minister join us here today, and that in fact it's not part of what they think is the appropriate use and mandate of this committee.
What I'm not interested in, Madam Chair, is the theatre of the invitation. What I want to be assured of is that when people are voting to support this invitation to the to testify here, they're doing it in good faith, where they actually believe—and they state on the record here today that they believe—that the Prime Minister should testify at this committee, given our mandate.
If that's not present, if this is going to be the theatre of voting for the amendment simply to get the documents subverted from this committee to the ethics and conflict of interest investigator, then that's not actually supporting the spirit and intent of the compromise, because this isn't actually a compromise at all, in fact.
That being said, I would love to hear from members opposite that they do believe that the mandate of this committee is much like that of any other committee. I'm on OGGO as well. Ministers are not backbenchers. This is not about dragging any old politician before a committee. This is about government. This is about cabinet. This is about responsibility. Quite frankly, I've said this before. Apologies are not the same as taking responsibility, and taking responsibility demands holding accountability. This committee is structured to hold government accountable.
Through you, Madam Chair, I need to be very clear again and plain in my language. If the members opposite do not actually believe in the intent and don't support having the come before us today, then I will be supporting the subamendment, and we will bring the documents here, because that's the spirit and intention of the motion that my colleague brought to this table, and I'm not here to play games, quite frankly.
Unless I hear from the opposite side that they believe the , much like he's doing in finance, much like ministers do—
I will call the committee back to order.
I find myself in an interesting situation where I'm expected to break the tie. As the chair of this committee, I have reviewed the documents in front of me, including our procedure book and the expectations that are outlined there. I've also conferred with the clerk, and I have come to a decision.
As the chair of the committee, it is expected of me to break the tie one way or the other; of course, it cannot be sustained as a tie. I am not expected by the green book to give a reason for my decision; however, I will provide you with a reason here today.
In the mandate set out for this committee, towards the end of the mandate, it says this:
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.
There's an important distinction here in terms of the mandate of this committee. Yes, it will review bills and reports that are brought forward by the four officers of Parliament; however, it may also “propose”, which is to say create a new study or initiative in these areas, and “promote, monitor and assess such initiatives”, which would tell me that this committee does, in fact, serve as a body to promote, monitor and assess the activities that take place by office-holders within this place called Parliament.
That said, it is for sure within the purview of this committee to monitor and assess the actions of those on Parliament Hill. The of this country, Mr. Justin Trudeau, is one such office-holder. It is definitely within the purview of this committee to have him come here and testify.
The amendment that has been put forward requests that. The amendment that has been put forward requests that a list of speakers be made available to the clerk, then to this committee and to the Ethics Commissioner.
My question, as the chair of this committee, is whether it is in the public's best interest that this take place. Ultimately, this committee is responsible to assess the actions and take on other studies having to do with public office holders and their conduct. We do that not for our own sake, but for the sake of the Canadian public.
In this case, we are looking at over $900 million that was committed to by the of this country and his cabinet, and that money was to be given to an organization to run a youth volunteer program. That $900 million is public funds; that is taxpayer money from the Canadian people. Therefore, I would surmise that the Canadian public does, in fact, have an interest in how that money was utilized.
It has been suggested by some members of this committee that some of that money—not money that was incorporated in that $900 million, but in previous interactions with WE Charity—was also public money that may have been used to fund the members who are on the speakers list that has been requested. Again, because that is public money, it is, in fact, in the interest of the Canadian public to understand how that money was used.
That said, I will make my decision in the interest of Canadians from coast to coast, and I believe that what is in their best interest is full transparency. I vote yea.
(Subamendment agreed to: yeas 6, nays 5 [See Minutes of Proceedings])
Again, Madam Chair, I would like to stress that I do not agree with the committee's decision on the subamendment for reasons that I have been arguing for quite some time. I'm not going to raise them again.
I feel we are making a big mistake here. If we start asking for documents about a member's legal or business past to find out who did what and whether it has anything to do with the machinery of government, where will it end? I believe we are setting a really bad precedent here.
I was prepared to support this approach, and I said loud and clear that this information should be forwarded directly to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, as he is the designated person to conduct this type of review. I still support that approach. If we leave the door wide open to the potential smearing of the reputations of honourable members of Parliament, their family members and their friends, where will it end? It's an important question to ask.
We should turn this over to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. No one can say that the commissioner is reluctant to stand up to power. He has been in the position for two and a half years, and in that time, he has demonstrated that he has no hesitation whatsoever in making decisions or making his opinion and findings known after an investigation. It's better that he, rather than we, be in charge of that. If politicians are asked to monitor other politicians, how far are they going to go? Can their impartiality always be guaranteed when they do this kind of study?
It's a bad idea. It is, however, a decision the committee has made. I will certainly continue to ask questions about it. This really does not sit well with me, but if we want to limit the damage, the least we can do—as we agreed when we set up this committee, in this Parliament, in February—is to discuss the documents we obtain in camera, so that we do not—although we have already done so—overstep our responsibilities or allow abuses to take place.
So I am making a plea to you in moving that this information be considered in camera. That way, we could at least limit the damage we are about to cause.
I therefore support my colleague's subamendment.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'll be voting against it. I think the notion of a parallel investigation concerns me deeply. The integrity of the Ethics Commissioner and the work that independent officer of Parliament does is profoundly important. The idea of competing opinions on interpretation of evidence simultaneously as that independent officer goes forward, I just think is wrong. I think it undermines, as I said, a very strong ethical framework that Parliament has put in place to hold us accountable, because we know that's, unfortunately, a necessary part of any parliamentary process. I wish it weren't true.
The issue that is in front of us is how to, I would hope, make the ethical framework, the rules of conflict of interest and rules of integrity clear and stronger so that future parliamentarians are framed with an independent, principled way of finding information, assessing facts and, if necessary, taking action to hold members accountable. It was a deliberate decision of past Parliaments not to have parliamentarians do this for good reasons, and I am deeply concerned about this.
I don't think it's inappropriate to have the here, as I said in my comments, to answer questions as to what's happened. That's not the point I was making. The point I was making and the concern I had, and the concern I still have with what's being decided here today, is this notion of a simultaneous parallel process to the Ethics Commissioner's. What happens if this committee reaches a separate set of conclusions than the Ethics Commissioner? What does the Ethics Commissioner do? Have we not undermined the independence of that office?
I think we need to think about that, not in the context of the current timetable or framework in which we sit, but I think we need to think about that in the context of the next situation that comes along. Do we want independent oversight of parliamentary processes as they relate to both cabinet members and backbenchers, any member elected to the House of Commons, or are we going to constantly have a committee that will be able to call a member, accuse a member, demand evidence of the member, display that evidence to the public and then reach a conclusion that has no consequence whatsoever because the Ethics Commissioner hasn't been involved?
There's a reason why opposition parties went to the Ethics Commissioner first. That's the process. That's the appropriate process, and that's the process we've agreed to as parliamentarians. We're changing that today. We're not changing it based on strengthening an overall ethical framework or accountability mechanisms. We're changing it because there's information in the public realm, and there is a political opportunity to exploit that in the committee setting. Let's be frank about it.
Of course you're going to get push-back from a political perspective, but I'm not speaking here from a political perspective or from a partisan perspective. I'm speaking here as a parliamentarian who takes the issue of ethics and accountability extraordinarily seriously, and I support wholeheartedly the notion of an independent office of Parliament doing this work.
History has shown us that there were pitfalls to politicizing accountability, instead of strengthening it, and this committee's job is not to go after members of Parliament. It's to set the rules by which parliamentarians are held accountable, and the decision in past Parliaments was to very clearly put that in the hands of an independent Ethics Commissioner. I have confidence in that commissioner, and certainly my experience as a parliamentarian over the last six years has seen that they have the capacity and the fortitude to speak truth to the power that parliamentarians hold and to hold us accountable through that process.
I have confidence in that, and I have a great deal of concern about the way in which this committee is reinterpreting its mandate and, in particular, the notion that there should be a parallel accountability process that could look very different from the one that gets delivered to us by the Ethics Commissioner, whose job it is to do a non-political, non-partisan interpretation of fact, present findings to Parliament and then move forward with accountability measures.
I support, as I said, getting all the information to the Ethics Commissioner. I think that's fundamental to a good decision, but I don't support simultaneously delivering it to other groups of parliamentarians so they can go off and do their work in different committees.
I have a great deal of reservation with regard to some of the things we made today, irrespective of which party we're talking about, irrespective of what issue we're talking about, from an ethical process, from a legal process of how we're handling this issue. I will just end with this: God help you if you find yourself in a situation where parliamentarians are suddenly swirling around your behaviour and you no longer have access to an independent Ethics Commissioner and instead it's just a partisan committee. That is not a good practice to be establishing.
I have made my point.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Each day, each hour and it seems like, today, each minute, more is revealed about the growing WE scandal. We had stunning revelations from the today. We've had, of course, much conversation about the 's actions. We have had inferences and references to other members of cabinet who have connections to this organization or have been lobbied by this organization and, in some cases, maybe even lobbied without that having been in the manner that is prescribed by the relevant acts. I believe, as I have mentioned before, that Canadians deserve answers on this.
This motion is very simple. I would encourage all members to consider it our duty to see that those members of Parliament who have been appointed to cabinet, who hold the highest and most powerful offices in our nation, would be asked to simply spell out what they know so that we, as a committee, can review and Canadians can understand what there is to see here. We have a strong tradition in this country to ensure that executive government is held to account, and that's done through Parliament and its structured committees.
Madame Brière mentioned at some length last week the stereotype that is given politicians. Certainly, when I started the journey of getting into public office midway through last year, I got into politics understanding that there is a certain stereotype that exists. According to one Reader's Digest article I read, this is one of the least respected professions, only above that of lawyers. Maybe there's a correlation, with lawyers often being politicians, but I am not a lawyer.
It is a stereotype that I work diligently to break. I work to be transparent, to be open, to be honest and to ensure that Canadians are well served, and specifically that the 110,000 or so people who live in Battle River—Crowfoot are well represented, that they can trust me and that they are served by me, as I have the honour to briefly hold the title of the member of Parliament for Battle River—Crowfoot. I don't take that for granted one day. That's why I fought so hard to see Parliament resume, albeit modified. I've been very disappointed with much of how the parliamentary procedure has taken place over these last number of months.
In the interest of time, I would just make a couple of small comments. One is that I find it very interesting that a number of members of this committee have referred to the job of the Ethics Commissioner, which I have the utmost respect for. However, in previous comments, Mr. Vaughan specifically didn't refer to this, but the other members did. I find it tragic, actually, that a number of members said that it is the committee's job to review the reports of the Ethics Commissioner, yet a number of months ago, right prior to the COVID pandemic breaking out and seeing Parliament greatly change, we saw that members of the government voted against having the Ethics Commissioner come to this committee to explore one of his reports.
I believe it is in the interest of Canadians to do everything possible to shed light on this issue. Certainly I can imagine there are many members within government who are trying to figure out a strategy to deal with the ever-evolving WE scandal, but as a member of the opposition, I would encourage all members of this committee to truly look at this as an opportunity to have all members of Her Majesty's government in this country shed light on the connections that they have. This is not meant to be anything other than that proactive disclosure, which we have seen unfortunately not done by certain members who hold cabinet positions.
There is the ability for Canadians to understand what their government is dealing with, and to trust that the dollars are being spent in the right way, that we have that relationship between members and their constituents. All of those things depend on that subject that I talked about before, and that is trust.
I would simply say this: Let's make every effort possible to help restore trust in our institutions, and let's shed light on the scandal so that we can get the answers that Canadians deserve.
With that, I will conclude my comments and move the motion as distributed.