That the House:
(a) note that the WE Charity scandal has preoccupied Parliament since the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) was announced on June 25, 2020, and despite many meetings on this topic held by several of the standing committees of the House of Commons in the subsequent weeks, the outstanding and unanswered questions only became more numerous and increasingly serious;
(b) further note that several other scandals and potential scandals have come to light more recently in the context of government expenditures related to the COVID-19 pandemic response, including, but not limited to,
(i) the awarding of contracts to the employer of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff’s spouse to administer the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program,
(ii) allegations of lobbying by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff’s spouse to secure amendments to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program (CEWS) which would benefit his employer,
(iii) the acquisition of ventilators, which did not have regulatory approval for use, manufactured by a company owned by a retired Liberal member of the House of Commons;
(c) acknowledge that the Prime Minister’s abrupt decision to prorogue Parliament intensified the need for parliamentary accountability;
(d) believe that, to ensure that the work required to achieve this accountability does not interfere with the ordinary operations of the House’s network of committees, a special committee with a dedicated mandate should be established; and
(e) therefore appoint a special committee on anti-corruption, to be styled: The Anti-Corruption Committee, with the mandate to examine and review,
(i) all aspects of the CSSG, including its conceptualization, planning, development, establishment, implementation and termination,
(ii) the assorted relationships between WE Charity, including any of its affiliated or related organizations and the Kielburger family, on the one part, and the government and ministers of the Crown and their families, on the other part,
(iii) all aspects of the CECRA program, including its planning, development, establishment and implementation,
(iv) all aspects related to the allegations of lobbying by Rob Silver or MCAP for amendments to the Income Tax Act in respect of the CEWS program,
(v) all aspects related to the acquisition, purchase and regulatory approval of ventilators manufactured by, or otherwise associated with, the Baylis Medical Company,
(vi) any other matter connected to the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response measures that any standing committee of the House may request the committee to investigate,
(vii) the committee be composed of 15 members, of which six shall be government members, five shall be from the official opposition, two shall be from the Bloc Québécois and two shall be from the New Democratic Party,
(viii) the members shall be named by their respective whip by depositing with the Clerk of the House the list of their members to serve on the committee no later than the day following the adoption of this order,
(ix) the Clerk of the House shall convene an organization meeting of the said committee within five days of the adoption of this order,
(x) changes in the membership of the committee shall be effective immediately after notification by the whip has been filed with the Clerk of the House,
(xi) membership substitutions be permitted, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2),
(xii) notwithstanding Standing Order 106(2), the committee be chaired by a member of the official opposition, and in addition to the Chair, the first vice-chair shall be from the Bloc Québécois, the second vice-chair shall be from the New Democratic Party, and the third vice-chair shall be from the government party,
(xiii) quorum of the committee be as provided for in Standing Order 118 and that the Chair be authorized to hold meetings to receive evidence and to have evidence printed when a quorum is not present, provided that at least four members are present, including one member of the opposition and one member of the government,
(xiv) the committee be granted all of the powers of a standing committee, as provided in the Standing Orders,
(xv) the provisions of Standing Order 106(4) shall extend to the committee,
(xvi) the committee and any of its subcommittees have the power to authorize video and audio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings,
(xvii) the provisions of paragraph (o) of the order adopted on September 23, 2020, shall apply to the committee and any of its subcommittees until January 29, 2021, provided that the meetings of the committee and any of its subcommittees shall have the first claim to the priority use of House resources available for committees,
(xviii) the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth may be ordered to appear as witnesses from time to time, as the committee sees fit,
(xix) the committee be instructed to present an interim report no later than February 15, 2021,
(xx) the committee’s initial work shall be supported by orders of the House issuing for
(A) the unredacted version of all documents produced by the government in response to the July 7, 2020, order of the Standing Committee on Finance, provided that these records shall be filed directly with the Clerk of the House either electronically or in hardcopy within 24 hours of the adoption of this order and, in turn, transmitted to the committee which shall, until it may decide otherwise, consider them in camera,
(B) a copy of all records at Speakers’ Spotlight pertaining to speaking appearances arranged, since October 14, 2008, for the current Prime Minister, 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, which had been originally ordered to be produced on July 22, 2020, by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, provided that these records shall be filed directly with the Clerk of the House either electronically or in hardcopy within 24 hours of the adoption of this order and, in turn, transmitted to the committee which shall, until it may decide otherwise, consider them in camera,
(C) all memoranda, e-mails, documents, notes or other records from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council Office, since June 25, 2020, concerning options, plans and preparations for the prorogation of Parliament, including polling and public opinion research, provided that these documents shall be laid upon the table within 10 days of the adoption of this order and, upon tabling, shall stand referred to the committee and to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs,
(D) a complete accounting of all communications between the government and any of WE Charity (or its affiliated organizations), Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger, Speakers’ Spotlight, Rob Silver, MCAP, Frank Baylis or Baylis Medical Company since June 25, 2020, in respect of the prorogation of Parliament, provided that these documents shall be laid upon the table within 10 days of the adoption of this order and, upon tabling, shall stand referred to the committee and to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
We are here this morning for accountability. As public officials, all parties, including the government, should re-evaluate their reason for being in this Parliament. Public service is deeply important to me. That service is rooted in respect for all Canadians, love of country and deep respect for parliamentary democracy.
I have high expectations of my colleagues because I have high expectations of myself. I believe in this country and the nobility of serving it.
To whom much is given, much is expected. Ultimately, it boils down to trust. Public officials should garner the trust of Canadians, not erode it.
There is no question that this government has been incompetent for several years now, as evidenced by its mismanagement.
Our party has uncovered a trove of compromising information in this WE scandal affair, a pattern that started to arise involving Liberal insiders and the 's family.
A charitable organization, WE, became an extension of the Liberal Party, but worse yet, it soon became clear that the more WE paid members of the Trudeau family, the more the Liberal government rewarded WE. That connection undermines the trust of Canadians.
The opposition must stand up for Canadians. There is concern about corruption, in some cases with the highest offices in the land and with the , who has already been found twice to have violated public ethics rules. The WE Charity, we know, secretly lobbied the Liberal government dozens of times in the past, including during the pandemic, and never registered to do so. That is just further proof that the Canada student service grant program was never truly about the students.
The Ethics Commissioner is investigating. The lobbying commissioner is investigating. The official languages commissioner is investigating. The procurement ombudsman is investigating. We are running out of agencies to investigate the government's conduct. These are valid questions we have that we bring today.
I want to share, for a moment, a lesson I learned from my air force time, talking to some of our incredible World War II bomber command veterans. They had a rule of thumb. They said that when they were navigating night bombing missions and they started getting lots of fire from below, when they started getting flak, it meant they were over their target.
We are getting a lot of flak for this motion. That is because Canadians know we are over the target and we should keep asking questions. We will hold the and his government accountable, as it is our parliamentary function.
We know that when the took office, WE Charity had already begun paying members of his family. Over the past five years, those payments have totalled more than half a billion dollars.
The WE Charity was awarded multiple sole-source contracts over the past five years, well before it worked directly with Bill Morneau to come up with the Canada student service grant. We know that the WE Charity employed a member of former finance minister Morneau's family, and that his family went on two luxury vacations paid for by the WE Charity. We also know that the , Mr. Morneau and several officials and ministers in the current government turned around and handed to their friends a WE management contract of a billion dollars under the guise of supporting youth programming during the pandemic: youth programming that never came to fruition.
The Liberals must immediately stop this cover up, release the documents, tell Canadians the truth and let Parliament do its job. If the documents do not contain anything incriminating, there is no reason for the Liberals to spend so much time and resources hiding them. We are still wondering how much we do not know.
We have already seen that flak firing up from below. The is throwing all of his heavy artillery at us because we are over the target. Prorogation, resignation, filibusters, delays, political games and threatening elections are all just to ask us to stop asking to remove the blacking out of documents and asking for transparency. The Liberals were willing to shut down Parliament in a pandemic after it had already been shut down for months while emergency programs for the country, like the CERB, were expiring. They were willing to put all those Canadians to the side in order to stop a few tough questions from the MP for . Canadians should wonder why. Now the Liberals are threatening an election in the middle of a pandemic to avoid these secrets coming out.
When the government got caught, it tried to hide. It answered with talking points. It turned over redacted documents. It filibustered at committee. Then it shut down Parliament.
Today, I am introducing the Conservative opposition day motion. We are making a modest proposal to establish a committee to look into various ethical questions and problems with the government's handing out of COVID-19 funding to insiders and friends. It is a committee that would examine the misuse and potential breach of trust during the worst crisis Canadians have experienced in their lifetimes. The committee would examine the Canada student service grant, as well as the relationship between WE, the Liberal government and members of family; lobbying efforts for income tax changes, particularly with respect to the Canada emergency wage program; the acquisition, purchase and approval of Baylis Medical Company ventilators, and I know the name “Baylis” is pretty well known in this chamber; and, of course, topics the other parties will identify specifically for this committee.
The committee's initial work would be supported by the disclosure of documents, which this government continues to delay and avoid. The committee would simplify multiple committees into one special committee with a specific mandate to allow finance, health and other committees to do their work.
It is time to put our house back in order and rebuild Canadians' trust. This is the primary duty of any government managing a crisis. We must unite Canadians and put an end to the double standard, with one set of rules for the Liberals' friends and another set for everyone else.
The motion would also be amended today to make clear that the appointment of a special committee to look into the use of public funds by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic shall not constitute legitimate grounds for a general election. We would be changing the name of the committee based on some advice from the New Democratic Party, and we would be challenging all members, including the deputy House leader of the Liberal Party who is shrugging and guffawing at my remarks. I would remind him of his public duty to Canadians. I would remind him that to whom much is given, much is expected. Canadians expect the truth.
Can that member handle the truth? Canadians also deserve accountability, and that is exactly what this committee would do.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the very important topic of our work here in the House of Commons, which we do proudly and diligently for the good of Canada and Canadians.
Our objective today is to enable all parliamentary committees to continue their meaningful work of oversight during the pandemic and to create a committee that will directly address the current government's unfortunate and irresponsible spending decisions during the pandemic and other decisions that may unfortunately be made. This is why we are here today.
The leader of the official opposition moved this motion, but traditionally, the does not move motions on supply days. MPs are generally the ones who do so. However, our leader decided to move this motion because this is an important matter and Canadians need representatives in Parliament who do their jobs and who can oversee the government's actions, department by department, in parliamentary committees and in the House.
We want to hold the government accountable for its management of public money during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this government has made some highly improper and wrongful spending decisions.
The was very excited about playing Santa Claus, as he gave his little daily updates at 11:15 a.m. in May, June and even July, outside his residence. He announced hundreds of millions of dollars, billions even, in assistance to anything in Canada that moved.
What else did we see? We saw that the Liberal government was also prepared to spend nearly $1 billion to help Liberal Party cronies and friends of the Prime Minister's family.
This is what we are talking about this morning. We are talking about the misjudgment of the government when it comes to spending money. It spent nearly $1 billion to help a company close to the Liberal Party and close to the family of the .
Nearly $900 million was involved in the WE Charity scandal. As was mentioned earlier, that organization had no roots in Quebec and barely had a made-up French name. It was the furthest thing from a Canada-wide organization. It was exclusive to English Canada, if not to Toronto, if not to the Liberals.
Through the questions we asked at parliamentary committees, we managed to pull the cat out of the bag and quickly realized that the Liberals were in fact trying help the friends of the 's family. I cannot use the word “lie” in the House, but the Liberal version of events underwent a series of changes, which we will politely call an evolution.
First we were told that there was absolutely no connection between WE Charity and the Liberal Party, and that the Prime Minister's family had never been hired by this organization, but that is totally false. Then we were told they were paid only for travel expenses, but that is completely false. Just yesterday, we found out that some of the figures reported by WE Charity at the committee meetings did not line up with the truth. That is why we must have a committee that will focus specifically on the Liberals' mismanagement of public finances. The situation with WE Charity was not unique.
What future does the government have in store for us?
If the past is any indication, we parliamentarians must be especially vigilant to make sure that the billions of dollars Canadians pay every year in taxes to the federal government are well managed. That is our job. It is funny: We are here to ask Parliament for permission to do our job.
The Conservatives are here to tell the government and Parliament that we want to do our job. We need to do our job; we have to do our job. This is why we are here today. We are asking the government to allow all parliamentarians do their job. When I say that, I am also talking about the Liberal members of Parliament. They also have questions to ask of the government, because unfortunately what we saw this summer was a government saying one thing and then, after being asked more questions, saying sorry that it forgot about other things.
Let us talk about Bill Morneau, who forgot to pay $41,000. Who could believe that? I can tell members that I would always have in mind that I owe more than $40,000. This is what we have seen.
We saw the Minister of Finance resign. We saw the prorogue the House to prevent parliamentarians from doing their job. We saw the government table 5,000 pages of documents, a full quarter of them redacted. This is not what Canadians want, and that is why we must conduct this valid investigation, which is key to our work as parliamentarians.
In our opinion, it is essential that ethics be at the heart of what we do, and that public funds be spent appropriately. What do we have on the table today? We have a motion that will allow us to focus exclusively on managing these issues so that other committees can work on the pandemic and the House can do what it is meant to do. The oral question period always starts with questions about the pandemic, and that is how it should be. However, a committee would allow us to precisely manage that pandemic.
We introduced this motion on the Order Paper, as is the custom, last Thursday. Now all parliamentarians are aware of our goals, our intentions and what we want to do. Then, the Liberal government came along with a strange proposal, to say the least. They want to create a committee that will do the bare minimum in certain areas to avoid directly addressing the root of the problem.
The government would like the committee to be chaired by a member of the government. I have considerable respect for all of my friends in Parliament, whether they be Liberal, Bloc Québécois, New Democrat, Green, independent or Conservative. In the past year, we have seen how the Liberals are working on behalf of the Liberal Party rather than for the good of all Canadians.
A few weeks ago, the House and the committees began sitting virtually. The Standing Committee on Finance was one of them. We saw the committee’s Liberal chair try to suspend the committee’s work by placing his thumb on his webcam. I have never seen anything so ridiculous in my life. I have considerable respect for that person. I will not name him because I have too much respect for him.
Good gracious, that is what is going on in our committees now. The Liberals are filibustering and reading newspaper articles to prevent us from having real parliamentary committee debates. A chair put his thumb in front of his webcam to put an end to the sitting. Just imagine if I tried to put my thumb in front of the camera to adjourn the House. It is ridiculous, but that is what the Liberals did to prevent the hon. member from from doing what he was supposed to be doing in the parliamentary committee.
Let us be serious. Rather than conduct a careful study, the Liberal government is proposing that this be done in four weeks. Four weeks is not enough. Arbitrary suspensions, obstruction, adjournments and cancelled meetings, that is what the Liberals have served up.
For the past two days, the Liberals have been hinting that if this motion is adopted, the government could trigger a general election. How irresponsible. How absolutely outrageous.
I am sorry to say that, but when we talk about an election we talk about serious business. It is not the time to to play chicken on this issue, even if the House of Commons is the best place to talk about that. “Some chicken, some neck,” as we heard on December 30, 1941, here in the House of Commons.
This is certainly not something we can take lightly. It would be absolutely outrageous to trigger a general election in the middle of a pandemic. What would be the reason for it?
As far as management of public funds is concerned, the Liberals are prepared to trigger an election to prevent parliamentarians from doing their work. That way of thinking is unworthy of a parliamentarian, but it is typical of the Liberals. The Liberals prorogued the House, and they are preventing parliamentarians from doing their work in committee. What they are proposing makes no sense.
Since we are listening to our colleagues' recommendations, I move, seconded by the hon. member for :
That the motion be amended in paragraph (e),
(a) by replacing the words before subparagraph (i) with the following: “therefore appoint a special committee on allegations of misuse of public funds by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, with the mandate to examine and review”; and
(b) by adding the following: “, (xxi) the establishment of the committee shall not, in the opinion of the House, constitute legitimate grounds for calling a general election”.
Should this amendment and the proposal we are submitting today in the House be passed by the majority, Canadians will get their money's worth, since we will be able to investigate the Liberal government's management of public funds while continuing our everyday work for the good of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, to start things off, I will list a number of points that are important as we continue to debate this today.
First, it is important to recognize that the government does consider this to be a matter of confidence, because the House cannot establish a committee looking into government corruption and, at the same time, claim it still has confidence in the government. Additionally, the motion is nothing more than a blatant partisan proposal that seeks to paralyze the government at a time when the entire government should be focused on keeping Canadians safe and healthy during this second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second, we cannot have committees finding public servants in contempt without even providing them the opportunity to explain why they made lawful redactions to a small number of items within more than 5,000 documents released to the finance committee.
Third, we cannot turn our committees into partisan tools to force private citizens to release personal financial information. Where would that end?
Fourth, we cannot have Conservatives drowning the government in requests for documents and arbitrary deadlines that are designed to be impossible to meet, forcing public servants to drop their work on supporting Canadians during this pandemic.
Fifth, the Conservative motion is just proposing more political games. It is not a serious effort to examine all the areas of pandemic spending.
Sixth, Canadians want their politicians to work together in this pandemic, not throw mud at each other.
Seventh, we have proposed a path forward for this Parliament with a serious committee that will do serious work.
Eighth, we do not want an election. Canadians do not want an election. We have important legislation before the House, including MAID, conversion therapy and sexual assault training for judges, and legislation upcoming on wage subsidy, rent support and the Canada emergency business account.
Finally, I would hope all parties will work with us in support of Canadians.
I wanted to highlight these items, prior to my responding to some of the things I have heard from both the and the Conservative , because I think they are really important.
To start, the leader says we need to evaluate why we are here in the first place. I would suggest the leader is right. We are here in this House because Canadians have bestowed upon us their trust and confidence. When I say “we”, I am referring to every member of Parliament, no matter what side of the House they sit on. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to our constituents.
If the Conservatives were to consult, as we have been and as, I believe, most members of Parliament have been with their constituents, they would find the number one concern facing our country today is the coronavirus. What we can do collectively in order to fight the coronavirus and protect the health and well-being of Canadians, while at the same time protecting our economy, is the priority in Canada today.
What we hear, day in and day out, from the Conservative Party is the issue with WE. Opposition members want to say it is this huge mountain of corruption. I have been in opposition for many years, and boy they sure can make something look awfully big. I would suggest that, in comparison with other administrations, it is very minimal. It is something a committee could deal with along with all the other things that are done at the House of Commons.
The said to reflect. I suggest that Conservative members of Parliament need to realize that the track they took in 2015 of character assassinations of politicians on the government side is wrong. I suggest that they put that on hold and start dealing with what our constituents want us to deal with, and that is fighting the pandemic.
What is interesting is that, whether they are in non-profit organizations or governments of different levels, indigenous people or private individuals, people across our country not only recognize but also understand the importance of working together. The only group of people that seems to be so focused on being a destructive force is the Conservative Party of Canada.
For example, its members talk about WE. The leader said WE is an extension of the Liberal Party. Let me tell the leader of the Conservative Party that the WE organization got an annual grant from the Manitoba government. The last time I looked, the Manitoba government was a Progressive Conservative government. That was an annual grant. That is hard to believe based on what the leader of the Conservative party has been saying.
My job is not defend WE. My job is to assure Canadians that, as much as the Conservative Party is so bloody focused on this issue, we are going to remain focused on the priority of Canadians, which is to combat the pandemic. We will work with those who want to work with us, and the list is endless, to ensure we are doing what is absolutely essential to protect the health and well-being of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, while at the same time working on our economy.
I have made reference in the past to what we have been able to do by working with Canadians. We have come up with some wonderful things out of nothing. On the other hand, the Conservatives criticize and black-mark our civil servants, yet it was those civil servants who put together and created the CERB program, which assisted millions of Canadians in every region of our country. It is the credibility of many of those same civil servants that is being called into question by the Conservatives.
In part, they are the same civil servants who put together programs such as the wage subsidy program. By listening to what members of Parliament from different political parties said, including many people from opposition parties, regarding the importance of our seniors, they developed programs that would assist our seniors. We have done that in different ways, such as a one-time payment to the GIS and OAS, which are retirement programs. I am especially proud of the GIS, which is for the poorest seniors in our country. We recognize the importance of and the need for additional expenditures.
This is the type of thing we should be talking about inside the House of Commons. The Conservatives want to make a change here. I hope they are not going to hoodwink our friends in the New Democratic Party, who have been very critical of the many government ideas and programs we have brought forward. I will not take that away from them. That is part of what they and the Conservatives should be doing as the opposition, which is to look for ways the government can improve the system and take advantage of the opportunity to communicate with ministers during a pandemic.
I find this motion, which I would classify as a confidence motion, to be amazing. The Conservatives should look at the details and read it thoroughly. It will take quite a while to read, because it is a very lengthy motion.
This all goes back to what it is the Conservatives have been up to for the last five years. They may as well not have had a change of leadership, because it is almost as if Stephen Harper is still here.
At the end of the day, the Conservative Party needs to get on track. It needs to put less attention on some issues and more attention on this issue, the issue of the pandemic. We are now well into the second wave.
I made reference to organizations. I had discussions with Folklorama, an organization I am very proud of. It is such an economic driver for the city of Winnipeg. It is an organization that really amplifies and embodies Canada's diversity. It does so much good for my city, and in fact, our country. It is the longest running multicultural ethnic event of this nature in North America, and someone once said to me of the world, which I suspect could be the case.
Folklorama has now been going on for over 50 years, but not this year. This year we did not have those two weeks of celebration of diversity, with displays of culture and heritage, entertainment in the forms of dance and song, or the gathering of hundreds of thousands of people in the city of Winnipeg to appreciate our diversity. The reason for that was the pandemic.
The Government of Canada, through the wage subsidy program, was able to assist Folklorama. This is one organization. Some of its members said they were not sure if it would be able to survive this year because of the pandemic.
Another great program is 211. We finally have a national 211 program in Canada because of funding that in part came from Ottawa. Obviously it is also the United Way and some wonderful people. I think of Ms. Walker in particular, who did a fantastic job in advocating for 211. Now there is an Internet presence, and most importantly, a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week phone line that can be accessed from anywhere in Canada, from what I understand. By calling 211, people can access all sorts of different programs.
Those are the types of things having a positive impact on real people in all of our communities. I remember months ago talking with the United Way about the program and how important it was to try to incorporate it to its fullest extent in the province of Manitoba. I was so pleased the other week when we finally saw it come to fruition.
There are endless examples of small businesses that are here today because of the support they received from the government. I reference the CERB program. Disposable income that Canadians rely on day in, day out is absolutely critical. That particular program, which came from nowhere and is a direct result of the pandemic, was there for over eight million Canadians. It allowed them to purchase the groceries they needed. It allowed them to get the things that were important to their lives.
On co-operation and recognizing how important the pandemic is, we have been working with provinces. I believe the amount was over $19 billion for the safe restart program. The Government of Canada worked with provincial and territorial jurisdictions in order to ensure we have in place what is important to help us all get through a second wave.
Liberals understand, and I like to think most members of Parliament understand, why we need to be here. We get criticized for proroguing the session. Let me remind members that there was an agreement by the majority of the House when we rose earlier this year that we would come back on September 23. We had agreed to that. We also agreed that we would sit, albeit in committee of the whole, on the floor of the House during the summer. We would have to go back to 1988 to find the last time the House of Commons sat in July and August.
When we were sitting here, I had never before witnessed the opportunity for opposition parties to contribute to policy development for the Government of Canada, never. They had the opportunity not just to ask one question and a supplementary question. They had five-minute slots. We were going for well over two hours, during which hundreds of questions were being asked by opposition and government members of ministers to try to influence policy.
There were more days that we sat in the summer than we lost because of prorogation. Prorogation is utilized, even in the province of Manitoba. Here is a bit of hypocrisy. How can a Conservative member of Parliament criticize proroguing a session, especially if the member is from Manitoba, when the Manitoba government prorogued its session? Go figure. Yes, there is a pandemic in Manitoba, too. It is across Canada. Yes, WE does get money from the Province of Manitoba, too.
The point is that the Conservatives will do whatever they can to twist things. The said the has been investigated by the commissioner more than any other prime minister. We hear that every so often. It was Stephen Harper who established the commissioner. How stupid a comment from the Conservative Party saying the Prime Minister is the worst.
I have far more faith in the commissioner than I do in the official opposition, far more faith, the reason being that the Conservatives obviously have a bias. They have demonstrated that bias since the day after the Liberals were elected five years ago, five years plus a day. Five years ago, the Conservatives started their character assassination and they have not stopped since. Why should people believe what the Conservative Party has to say on the issue of corruption?
Do members recall the Senate scandal during the Stephen Harper government? Do they know how many people were linked to the PMO during the Senate scandal? That is where there was a payout. If we really think about it, the commissioner is there to ensure that the political partisanship we see from the Conservative Party is put to the side and we stick to the facts. The facts on that issue are that it was public civil servants who made the recommendation.
I see my time has expired. I would ask for leave to continue, but I expect the Conservatives would not want this continual barrage of reality.
At the end of the day, I am hopeful that members will see the Conservative interference in the House of Commons, which is having a negative impact on Liberals being able to do what we need to do with regard to fighting the coronavirus that is impacting every region of our country.
That is what Canadians want us to be focused on. That is what the government will continue to be focused on.
Mr. Speaker, you nearly caught me off guard because it is my oldest son's birthday, so I was thinking about something for him. However, I will get back to these very serious matters.
We are debating a motion, moved by the Conservatives, based on a principle that we support right off the bat, that is, to shed light on the key issues that smack of scandal that accumulated during the second term of this Liberal government led by the member for . The desire to call out this government is undeniable, but this is more about getting to the bottom of these issues and the errors in judgment that keep piling up one on top of the other. This needs to happen. However, it might also be appropriate to suggest areas of reflection, possible solutions, improvements and ways to tighten things up.
What we would have liked is not to allow the government to sweep the WE affair under the rug by proroguing Parliament, changing the subject, and coming back with a throne speech which essentially had no substance and which should be followed by some hopefully meaningful economic measures. I have to say, so far, it has worked relatively well. The WE affair is much less in the news than it was before Parliament was prorogued, but that is unacceptable, because Quebeckers and Canadians cannot remain in the dark and ignorant about so important an issue.
Seeing what was coming, the Liberals strategically decided to introduce a motion that was essentially intended to sidestep the problem. The Liberals decided to introduce a motion that would address all of the financial issues relating to the pandemic, but these are two entirely different things.
The fact is that the Canadian government committed hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the effects of the pandemic. We are up to around $325 billion. That is one thing. It certainly deserves a careful examination by Parliament, which is tasked with protecting the interests, in particular the financial interests, of Quebeckers and Canadians. However, the government’s unacceptable ethical behaviour is quite another thing. These are repeated and serious instances of misconduct, of which this is one example.
It seems that the Prime Minister wanted to help a friendly, albeit not-for-profit, organization, an organization that had such serious governance issues that the directors were resigning in droves, an organization that awarded $250,000 in contracts to the Prime Minister’s mother, some $30,000 to his brother and tens of thousands of dollars in expenses to his wife. The former minister of finance benefited from $41,000 in trips. In a sort of admission in which he did not want to admit that he was admitting anything, the Prime Minister threw his finance minister under the bus.
We agree, and we immediately said so to avoid having the exercise turn into a mudslinging contest. The Prime Minister’s family is not politically active. We respect that. Now, we need to shed light on the matter. I am not saying that it was one rather than the other, but we immediately agreed with the principle because my colleague from also made a proposal similar to the one in this motion.
With dramatic flair, the Liberals finally decided that they were going to force a confidence vote. I will say right away that they have probably already finagled and squirrelled away the NDP’s vote, but one has to keep up appearances. They will have to say that they acted correctly in the WE affair. Otherwise, there will be a general election. The entire exercise is ridiculous, because we do not believe it for a second.
However, if the Liberal government thinks it is a good time for it to call an election, we do not. If the Prime Minister thinks it is a good idea for strategic reasons, and if he is so afraid of what a more in-depth investigation will show, let him grow a spine, even if that is not his specialty, or let him go see his pal the Governor General and call an election. He should not try to blame his own strategic calculations on the legitimate opposition parties, whose members were elected just as the government’s members were. A spine is a good thing to have. We can lend him one.
There is something truly distasteful about this challenge. The government is asking us to condone inexcusable behaviour, to say it was all okay. Otherwise, it will call an election. It wants to blackmail Parliament so that it can be cleared of all serious ethical misconduct. Quebeckers are honest and intelligent people. My response to the government’s blackmail is, “Don’t even think it!”
We intended to vote with the Conservatives on this motion, and we will vote with the Conservatives. If the agreement between the Liberals and the NDP still stands after that, the Liberals will remain in power. If not, we will find ourselves in the middle of an election campaign. For those who do not think it is a good idea, that is the Liberals’ problem. It is their choice, their fault, and they will have to bear the responsibility.
Clearly the system does not work very well when it comes to ethics. The Prime Minister was given a trip worth about $50,000 as a gift from his friend the Aga Khan. He broke the rules and intervened directly in a matter under the responsibility of the Department of Justice. Remember that we are in the age of “Liberalist, part A.” In fact, today we have the “Liberalist, part B,” which tell us that, if someone wants to be appointed a judge, they will be better off planting a Liberal Party sign on their lawn or writing a $15 cheque to the Party than having a distinguished legal career. We have had enough. These decisions must be based on fair, relevant and helpful criteria that serve the public interest.
Obviously, there is the WE Charity. There is also—some may have forgotten this—the wage subsidy and the fact that the Liberal Party pocketed some $800,000 earmarked for struggling businesses. The businesses are still struggling, and the Liberals still have not paid back the $800,000. I must point out that the Conservatives have given back what they took. We in the Bloc Québécois never even applied for the subsidy, because we are funded by citizens who believe that what we do is fair, good and legitimate, including striving for independence.
Lastly, let us recall—we forget this all too often as well, although it is perhaps the most important example—that the spouse of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff is vice-president of a company that was awarded an $84-million contract. That is a lot, but, for reasons I cannot understand, it has not garnered much interest.
In any case, it directly implicates the Prime Minister or the PMO. The system is not working. We are faced with the classic Liberal arrogance, the belief that power belongs, almost by divine right, to the Liberals. It is not surprising that Canada is still hung up on the monarchy.
However, our system does not work that way. Power belongs to the electorate.
Therefore, we have the following situation. On at least five occasions, the Prime Minister or members of his immediate entourage made serious ethical mistakes. The Prime Minister gets away with it by shedding a tiny tear that would not even wet the corner of a tissue before moving on to something else. Life is good.
That makes no sense. We therefore thought that the Ethics Commissioner should be given some teeth. His decisions have to smart, they have to hurt. They have to give pause to those who lack the good sense to do the right thing for the right reason. If that means they must be punished by sending them to the corner and taking away their dessert, that is what we will do.
I do not wish to present legislation to Parliament, because we are not at that point, but I do have some food for thought. I present to the House for its considered judgment four ideas that we could debate quickly, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that it is possible to act quickly when there is the will to do so.
First, when the mistake is quantifiable and the individual is found to be at fault, the value of the mistake must be automatically repaid. For example, the Prime Minister was pleased that the finance minister repaid $41,000, and yet, the Prime Minister owes $50,000. Let's start with that.
If the Ethics Commissioner finds someone at fault, they can use their discretion and impose a fine of up to $10,000. That will give pause.
The Ethics Commissioner could recommend fines above $10,000 to Parliament, which is completely sovereign. Parliament would vote on whether to approve that fine. The Ethics Commissioner could also recommend that Parliament temporarily suspend the parliamentary privileges of any member found at fault. The higher the member is in the hierarchy, the higher the standard they are held to. The pyramid is currently reversed, and the highest level is the worst.
Lastly, immediate family members, such as children, spouses, parents, and siblings, would be considered the same as the member of Parliament, in terms of ethics. There would no longer be any distinction between the two. If this were enforced retroactively, it would obviously sting some people. That is not what I am asking for. I want us to think of this as a way to issue penalties that are serious enough that even the worst examples, and I will not name any since I am not allowed to under the Standing Orders, will have to think twice, even though that does not seem like a house specialty. If these rules had been around in 2015, I think the Prime Minister would have thought twice. If he wants to trigger an election, I think he should also think twice.
I am very proud to be here to speak on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay.
We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented economic and health crisis. The pandemic has disrupted our economy. This morning, the Liberal government declared its intent to plunge Canada into an election to avoid questions about the WE Charity scandal and the Prime Minister's family. That is not acceptable. The government must stop shutting down committees and start collaborating with the other parties to explain the WE Charity scandal to Canadians. That is why I am here.
I would like to read a quote:
It has come to this, Mr. Speaker. In order for members of the House to do our jobs and make informed decisions...we need to pry scraps of relevant information out of the Conservatives' clenched fists and drag it out of them as they kick and scream at committee.
Who said that? It was our , in 2011. Remember that man? That man was open by default. He was the man who told the Canadian people that his would be the government of transparency. That was around the time the Prime Minister was the youth critic for the Liberal Party. He fessed up that while he was the youth critic, he had a side gig of charging massive amounts of money to speak to young people for his private business.
It was fascinating when the had to explain how much money he was making running his side business while acting as a member of Parliament. He listed about 28 public speaking events. I thought it was pretty extraordinary to get paid $10,000 to talk to young people when every member of the House does it for free because we believe it is our job. However, we found out yesterday in the release of documents that, no, our Prime Minister did not speak 28 times and get paid for it; it was more like 128 times. We just found that out yesterday because the government was forced to turn over documents.
We are here because of a series of decisions, made at the cabinet level by senior Liberal politicians, that threw off so much of the good work and goodwill in the first wave of the pandemic. I remember those first frightening days in March, when we did not know what was happening and our offices were dealing with Canadians who were trapped all over the world trying to get home. We were trying to answer questions on COVID, and every morning our stood out in front of his house and reassured the Canadian people. Every morning in my home we stopped what we were doing to listen to our Prime Minister speak. I was so proud that in Canada we were showing a unity of spirit.
I remember the press conference on April 8, when the responded to pressure that the New Democrats had been putting on him to deal with the crisis facing university students. Post-secondary students are not only facing massive levels of student debt from years of Liberal and Conservative indifference. They also have huge loans because of the fees they have to pay for university. They knew they had no work coming up this summer, so the ability of post-secondary students to continue their studies was a serious issue.
We heard from some Conservative media people too. They wondered: Are we going to pay students so they can sit in a hammock and smoke pot all summer? What disrespect for students, who are coming out of university with $50,000 or $100,000 of debt.
We pushed the for action, and on April 8 he said very clearly that he would have a plan to help university students. It was a promise, and we are going to get into what happened between April 8 and April 22, when the Prime Minister and his team decided that instead of helping university students across Canada, they would help their friends the Kielburgers. I say this because when the scandal broke and it became clear that the money that should have gone to help university students was being diverted to a group that had close financial ties to the Prime Minister's family, Canadians from coast to coast balked.
What did the do? He pulled that money. None of that money ever flowed. He took that money away from university students, who deserve better.
What we are being told today, after the Liberals prorogued and shut down our committees, after two weeks of blocking our work at the ethics and finance committees, is that the Liberals are ready to plunge this nation into an election. We are in the worst medical and economic crisis in a century. The second wave of this pandemic is already much more serious than the first. We have much more insecurity economically right now, yet this is willing to plunge the nation into the uncertainty of an election when we know that the vectors for the virus could easily be magnified a thousand times by polling and people going door to door, and having to do the jobs of a democratic election, but also leaving Canada without any leadership for the coming three months.
Why is that? It is to avoid giving answers about the WE scandal.
We are here this morning because the Conservatives put their offer on the table. We had gone to the government and said that we needed to get focused. The government cannot continue to avoid questions on the WE scandal and the misspending that happened, and we need to get answers. We cannot have our committees prorogued. We cannot have them filibustered. We asked, in good faith, to set up a committee where we could deal with this so that the finance committee could do its work, House procedures could do its work and ethics could do its work. Boy oh boy, I would love to be sitting at the ethics committee and looking at issues like the importance of getting legislation on facial recognition technology.
We reached out to the Liberals and said, “Let us get a committee in place.” The Liberals said they would get us a committee. It would be chaired by Liberals and dominated by Liberals. The Liberals would then get to do what they do at all the other committees they do not like: They would just monkey-wrench them and shut them down. That is not going to work.
Now the Conservatives have come forward with their anti-corruption motion. As always with the Conservatives, they cannot just come forward with a motion that is something that will pass the nod test with Canadians. Not only was it called the anti-corruption motion, and now they are having to walk that back, but the Conservatives had to start naming a bunch of people who have never actually been charged with corruption. Frank Baylis, a former member of Parliament, sat on the ethics committee with me. I know Frank. I do not know anything about Frank's business, and I do not know if Frank has done anything corrupt. That is something to be found out. However, I find it very uncomfortable when I see people's names being thrown around just because they happen to be Liberals. We can do better than that. The Conservatives have a motion on the table, and it is a very serious motion. We need to get this work done.
Of course, there is actually a third option, which the New Democrats have put forward. It is trying to get, between these two old-line parties, a sense of responsibility in the middle of a pandemic: that we have a committee that has the ability to call for documents. That is unlike the , who said that calling for documents would put thousands of civil servants at risk in the middle of a pandemic. Wow. I have heard a lot of whoppers over the years in the House of Commons, but that is going to rank up there in my top 10 favourites: the right of parliamentarians to get documents is somehow putting not hundreds, but thousands, at risk. We are saying no: that another committee, if it is struck, has the right to get documents.
We agree that perhaps the Conservatives demanding that all the documents be turned over in 12 hours, or 15 or 20, is kind of ridiculous. A committee can decide what is reasonable. We also said that given the fact that we saw, under SNC-Lavalin, how the Liberal chair did such an extraordinary job of shutting it down and squashing it, we cannot trust a Liberal chair.
Now I can see that the Conservatives are very wary of our friend from who keeps taking over the chair at his own committee. They probably do not want that either. Therefore, let us have an opposition chair and let us vote on it. Let us vote on someone who all parties can agree would be a good, solid opposition chair. That way we would know that we could get the job done. That is about working together. That is the offer that is on the table.
In terms of the documents, we have made a number of suggestions. For example, at the ethics committee I put a motion of an amendment to my hon. colleague from . We said we understand the has drawn a line in the sand about his family, and the fact that the WE group was paying Margaret and Sacha Trudeau.
We know they got paid. There is no surprise there. We were told they were not paid. That was false. The WE group asked the Kielburgers if the Trudeau family was being paid and was told they were not being paid. We have to ask ourselves what was going on at WE Charity that the board of directors tried to find out whether Margaret and Sacha were being paid and was falsely told they were not being paid. We went from being told they were not being paid anything to being told they were paid an extraordinary amount of money. That is a key issue in terms of the overall question of the conflict of interest facing the , because my colleagues in the Liberal party have gone out of their way to try and read the Conflict of Interest Act to say that family members, such as a mother or brother, cannot be shown in any way under the laws of Canada to be relatives. That is quite the reading, because it is very clear in section 3, and the definitions of family and relatives, that they are relatives.
Why does that matter? Because under section 5 of the Conflict of Interest Act, it is up to the to keep his personal life in order so that he is not put into a conflict of interest.
I invite my colleagues to read the Trudeau 1 report. It was the family members' relations with the Aga Khan, not the 's, that resulted in the being found guilty. The 's familial connections to WE are very important.
Does this mean the knew what the family was making? I do not think so. I do not think we can make that leap, but what we could say is there is a very strong prima facie case that, once the became the Prime Minister of this nation, the WE group was extremely adept at insinuating itself within the Liberal ranks by hiring the mother and hiring the brother. The Kielburgers told us they were not being paid to do public speaking: they were being paid to do corporate events, which they call ancillary events. That is a serious issue, in the same way as the Kielburger group insinuated itself by inviting all kinds of key Liberal cabinet ministers to participate, and when the WE group was in trouble it called those same people who had spoken at its WE events and got the all-access pass.
Having said that, we know Margaret Trudeau and Sacha Trudeau were paid. To me, that is not the hill to die on. The government has released a whole bunch of documents about the payments already. We have that. Whether they got paid 27 times or 28 times is not relevant to me. What is relevant is the issue of lobbying, so let us put that aside. We said that at ethics. We were more than willing to say at ethics not to deal with the family, but with the . Then the Liberals talked the clock out, so I really do not know what their strategy is half the time, because we could have gotten this motion through.
The issue of documents is really important. My colleagues in the Conservatives are demanding documents and saying they do not have enough documents. We have 5,000 pages of documents. Our friend from came in, threw them all over the room and walked out. Five thousand pages of documents was so much that the Conservatives set up a website and asked the public to do crowdsourced reading of the documents for them.
How serious are the Conservatives? Either we are going to read these documents and take them seriously or we are not.
While the Conservatives threw the documents all over and stomped out and then asked for public help reading the documents, we sat down and read the documents. Those documents raised very serious questions, because they clearly contradicted the government line, where it threw the civil service under the bus time and time again. It is still throwing the civil service under the bus. It is trying to claim that it was the idea of the civil service: the non-partisan, professional civil service. The said 23 times, in one hour at hearing, that the professional, non-partisan civil service came up with the WE idea. The Liberals said it was the professional, non-partisan civil service that blacked out these documents. That is not true. This was done in the PMO.
What do the documents show us? They show that it was not the civil service that came forward with this idea. This happened at an April 17 meeting with the , the Kielburgers and WE's director of government relations, Ms. Sofia Marquez.
WE is not registered to lobby, but it has a director of government relations. In fact, it had more meetings with government officials than General Motors did. That is pretty wild for two guys who present themselves as young idealists from Thornhill. They were so busy with government relations that, on top of their director of government relations, they were going to hire a manager for government relations, and none of that was registered under the Lobbying Act.
Why is that important? It is because the Lobbying Act allows us to see the key meetings that are being held. It allows us to see where the insiders are moving, but the Kielburger group were such total insiders that they did not bother to register to lobby, because they had the key ministers on speed dial.
They had the , who they had invited to come to one of their WE events, where she got to speak and was treated like royalty. When they were in financial free fall, they called her and had a special meeting on April 17. My Conservative colleague asked the minister at the finance committee, at our very first meeting on the WE scandal, if she had taken any meetings with anyone from WE prior to the decision by the government. She said that she never discussed the youth engagement proposal with anyone from WE. Naively, we thought she was telling the truth. We found out four days later she had held the April 17 meeting, so we brought her to the ethics committee and tried to get a straight answer. She said again that she never discussed the youth engagement proposal. That is because on April 17 the youth engagement proposal did not exist. It did not exist until April 22.
She said that she never talked about any of the issues around it, but that is not what we got from the documents from Craig Kielburger. That is not what we got from Sofia Marquez. Craig Kielburger wrote to the and said, “We appreciate your thoughtful offer to connect us with the relevant members of your ministry.... Over the weekend, our team has also been hard at work to adapt your suggestions for a second stream focused on a summer service opportunity.” That minister still has her seat at cabinet after the misrepresentation she made.
On the morning of April 19, two days after that meeting, Rachel Wernick, the civil servant we have been told came up with this idea and who has been blamed again and again by the Liberals, emailed Craig Kielburger for an urgent meeting because she had been told that this was the direction to go.
On April 20, senior policy officials in Bill Morneau's office were involved. There is a man who had one of the most powerful positions in the country. He never bothered to read the Conflict of Interest Act, and he wonders why he does not have a job today. I asked him if he had read the Conflict of Interest Act, as he had been found guilty, and he shrugged and said he was given a lot of documents. It is the failure of the Liberals to take the issue of conflict seriously that has gotten them into trouble.
We are here today as the Liberals have taken yet another step to avoid accountability. We have offered to work with them and have offered to lay out a committee, but this work will continue. This work will get done. If they obstruct us here, we will continue at the committees that we can control and in which we can use our leverage, because Canadians need an answer. What Canadians need, in terms of an answer, is better than the threat of the government to force an election for the to escape taking accountability.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
We find ourselves here today addressing a persistent problem with these Liberals. I was elected in 2018 and my first committee assignment was on the justice committee. The expectation was that, with the agenda set for the spring session prior to an election, it would be a good opportunity for me to learn about how committees operate.
What we saw 10 days later was a story in The Globe and Mail that detailed how the , the Liberal Prime Minister, had interfered in the criminal prosecution of his friends at SNC-Lavalin. This of course led to a real lesson on how Liberals operate at committee and what the Liberals do with their majority at committee. We saw this. They would send in members to shut the committee down. Look, they fired their attorney general.
We heard that because it was 2015 things were going to be done differently. Canada had a female indigenous attorney general. She stood up, spoke truth to power and the kicked her out of caucus. We had Dr. Jane Philpott as Treasury Board president, who stood up and spoke truth to power. She saw that what was happening was wrong. What happened? He kicked her out of cabinet and kicked her out of caucus.
Accountability is not the strong suit of the government, to say the least, and we saw that. Before I was elected, we saw in “The Trudeau Report” that the did not understand ethics laws. That is what we were led to believe. It was the first mistake. The second time was the “Trudeau II Report”, the second wave, if we will, of ethical law breaking by these Liberals.
We arrive in a pandemic after my second election, not even two years after I was first elected, and parliamentarians worked together to get results for Canadians in challenging times. We hear it over and over again that these are unprecedented times. It was very interesting to observe that. I have heard from veteran members that it was very unique to see that type of collaboration.
One of the first things the government did was try an unprecedented power grab. It wanted the ability to tax and spend without parliamentary oversight until December of 2021. That was the Liberals' goodwill. That was their working together. It was their team Canada approach. It is staggering the arrogance these Liberals demonstrated.
During the summer, we learned an organization that had paid half a million dollars to members of the Trudeau family was given a half-billion dollar contract to administer, by the , whose family members had benefited from that relationship. This is during the same summer we had the Prime Minister's chief of staff with questionable connections in the awarding of the emergency commercial rent assistance program. We had the awarding of a contract to build ventilators, ventilators that had no regulatory approval, but the manufacturer, the person who owned the company, was in the caucus room with these Liberals last year. It was a former Liberal MP.
Parliamentarians started to look at the awarding of this half-billion dollar contract. To be fair, originally it was announced that it was $912 million. However, what happened seemed like a bit of scattershot because, as we learned in the investigation that followed, the was announcing programs that had just been put on his desk and the details had not been completely worked out. That was on April 22, but on April 21, the program had been written. Who wrote it? It was the WE organization that wrote it.
We will hear that it could only be administered by the WE organization. However, it could only be administered by it because it wrote it. The organization wrote a proposal that only it could complete.
When the proposal went to cabinet, what was included? Ultimately, it did need to be approved by the cabinet. It was accountable and responsible for the decision. Those decision-makers made their decision, complete with a picture book, and the picture book contained pictures of the 's family. That was the compelling argument. It was not based on the organization's merits; it was based on who it knew. This is what we are seeing with the programs that are being awarded. It is the connections between these individuals and people in the halls of power. With the Liberals, it is not what they know, it is who they know.
Then questions started getting too intense and documents were ordered. On the eve of the release of these documents, the prorogued Parliament. It was a cover-up prorogation. The Prime Minister said, “When Parliament resumes in the fall there will be ample opportunities to continue to ask whatever questions committees or members want to continue to do.”
We were led to believe it was not a cover-up. He said that we could ask any questions, that committees could do their work. Now we are back and the Liberals have taken every opportunity to filibuster those committees, and not just the ones asking about the scandals. They are filibustering the health committee, which is asking questions specifically about COVID-related measures. To be fair, these issues and scandals arose out of an abuse of power when we had these contracts being awarded to Liberal insiders.
Back in August, the said that we could ask whatever questions we wanted. We are in October now and what is he saying? He is saying that if we ask questions about corruption in the Prime Minister's Office or around the cabinet table, members will be met with filibusters. If the filibusters do not wear the opposition down, the Liberals will force Canadians into an election. That is their threat, that is their bluff. During the second wave of a pandemic, they will force Canadians into an election.
We are actually into the third wave, which is the third wave of Liberal corruption. We had that first report from the Ethics Commissioner which found the guilty of breaking ethics laws. The second report from the Ethics Commissioner found the Prime Minister guilty of breaking ethics laws. He is now under investigation for a third time.
Committees have ordered these documents. The Liberals will stop at nothing and literally force an election over not releasing these documents. That is very different from the open by default, sunshine is the best disinfectant and sunny ways we heard from just a few years ago.
Where is that open and accountable government document? Contrary to the promises we heard in 2015, it looks like the Liberals no longer believe that better is always possible. The official opposition, Canada's Conservatives, in concert with the other opposition parties of conscience will stand against Liberal corruption and will not collude with the government. None of us are calling for an election, and it says so in the motion. If discomfort is the ground the Liberals want to use to force an election, that is on their conscience.
We will vote our conscience. We will stand for what is right, we will stand for an accountable government and the Liberals can tell stories about years past and prime ministers long ago. I look forward to hearing about the sponsorship scandal and the stance. We will get answers for Canadians. That is exactly what we promised to do.
Madam Speaker, what a pleasure it is to be back in the House for regular sittings. It is the first time since, I believe, March 12, so I am glad to be back here speaking on behalf of my constituents in central Alberta and the riding of Red Deer—Lacombe.
I want to thank my colleague who just spoke for the excellent work he is doing in holding the Liberal government to account. He has a very busy job as the ethics critic for the Liberal government, which means he is the busiest man in Canada. I want to thank him very much for the fine work he is doing. I know my colleagues will join me in showing him some appreciation.
My constituents are very frustrated on a number of fronts. They are frustrated with the Liberal government's policy on energy. My riding is much like that of Sarnia, Ontario. There is a large petrochemical installation in my riding. It was one of the last holdouts of good paying jobs in central Alberta, which is now under attack by the Liberal government. Those jobs now seem to be in jeopardy.
More important, my constituents are frustrated with the amount of unaccountable spending by the government. Billions of dollars have been rushed out the door. I cannot remember the last time the House sat and passed an actual budget.
These are unprecedented times. We all know, going back in the history books to 1995 and the previous Liberal government of Jean Chrétien, that when money is being spent in a big rush under the guise of an urgent matter, such as the sponsorship scandal then, the Liberals cannot not help themselves when it came to lining their own pockets. The amount of money back then pales in comparison to the amount of money being spent today.
One only has to look at the reason for this motion today to have an anti-corruption committee because of the amount of money that has gone out, with virtually no accountability. First, we needed to shut down the House because of the pandemic. Now the Liberals are keeping Canadians and Parliamentarians in the dark, not because it suits the health care interests of the country but because it suits their design of holding onto power desperately, so desperately, in fact, that they are willing to cause an election that nobody actually wants. They are willing to throw down that gauntlet, force an election on the Canadian public during a pandemic just to cover up the fact that they do not want to talk anymore or have anymore information uncovered about this WE scandal.
Why is this important? It is important on a number of fronts. One is that we need to have trust and confidence in our institutions. The primary institution that Canadians need to have trust in is Parliament. If parliamentarians are not able to do their jobs, if we are not able to get the information we need at committee, if we are not able to have the correct information to make decisions and recommendations, then we are not able to do our jobs. We need that confidence and ability to get that information.
What have we seen so far? My colleague who just spoke said that we were in the third wave of Liberal corruption. I would suggest that we are in a wave pool. The waves just keep coming. The first one was cash for access, which was a very big deal. If people wanted to have influence with the government, all they had to do was go to a fundraiser. If it was a foreign government, all it had to do was to put a whole bunch of money into a foundation that happened to share the same last name as the and it could get what it wanted, so much so that the government had to change the rules. Because the Prime Minister was unable to follow his own rules, we had to change them so political entities could continue to do their business without the issue of cash for access or the perception of being able to buy one's way into the Liberal government's inner circle.
That was one of the first major issues the government had.
Then we had the trip to billionaire island, friends of the family. I remember that very well as the former chair of the ethics committee at the time. It was epic.
Four times, under four different counts, the is the very first prime minister in Canadian history to be charged under ethics laws.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Harper brought it in.
Mr. Blaine Calkins: My colleague said that Harper brought it in. Yes he did. He was wise. He knew that the Liberals would someday form government again and they could not help themselves, which is why we know about this. I thank Stephen Harper for that.
This was the beginning of the erosion of trust that Canadians have in the government. The Prime Minister broke the rules four times, but that alone was not enough.
Then we moved to the SNC-Lavalin affair, which is absolutely disturbing. I remember one of the low points in the last Parliament was the feeling of complete and utter disgust. The former attorney general, now an independent member of Parliament, an aboriginal woman with a good reputation who wanted to do the right thing, resisted at all measures and all counts the pressure she was put under by the public service doing the 's bidding, by the Prime Minister himself, and by several in the Prime Minister's cabinet and their senior officials. This suggests that the Prime Minister was going to get his way, one way or another.
I guess that is pretty indicative of how this runs things, which is where we find ourselves today. He is going to get his way on this motion, one way or another. How someone does one thing is usually how they do all things, and we have seen this behaviour before. The Prime Minister has thrown down that gauntlet because he was going to get his way in SNC-Lavalin, and he is pretty sure he is going to get his way this time as well.
I am curious to see what the NDP will do when it comes time to vote. The New Democrats say that there are three options before the House, but the last time I checked we can vote yea or nay for a motion. Those are the only two options. I suppose they can abstain and run away, but we will see what the NDP does.
With the SNC-Lavalin affair, it was the first time in history that we had an eminently qualified woman of aboriginal descent, and she was absolutely treated like rubbish. She was cast out of not only her cabinet portfolio but also her caucus. Her reward was her voters in the last election, who sent a clear message, not only to the Liberal government but also to all parliamentarians, that the way we conduct ourselves and the way we comport ourselves matter. Ethics and integrity matter, which brings us to the present day and the WE scandal.
We know, because of the bits of information that we have been able to extract so far, that the government's message and narrative on this issue does not match the evidence we have. It does not match it at all. It is no coincidence whatsoever that the prorogation was timed immediately prior to the release of documents. By the way, the parliamentary law clerk was supposed to oversee the redaction according to the committee's request. However, because Parliament was prorogued, the government got to decide what was redacted in those documents. That is not a coincidence. That has cover-up written all over it. It is not the crime, but the cover-up that causes all the issues.
Instead of talking about the things that we ought to be talking about today, we, as the official opposition, find ourselves doing the work that is necessary to expose this corruption for Canadians, to get to the bottom of it and to send a message to Canadians that their tax dollars are going to be spent on the interests they have. Those dollars will not be spent on the interests of the Liberal Party, the Liberal or well-connected Liberal insiders, instead of being used to deal with other economic issues, health issues or first nations issues. There are all kinds of issues across this country. Many of them are manufactured, I would suggest, by the policies of the current government.
We should be talking about those issues, but there are 338 of us here in this House. There is not a problem at all with a dozen or so of us taking time out of our otherwise busy days and having one more committee to sit on to look into this corruption. Canadians deserve answers.
I am proud of our leader. I am proud of the team I am surrounded with here, and I am proud to stand up for all Canadians across this country to get to the bottom of this. I will be supporting this motion wholeheartedly.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
We see a debate take place today that necessitates some comments at the outset on the importance of democracy and the role of the official opposition within that democracy.
There is no democracy without a vibrant opposition. That much is true, particularly in the Westminster parliamentary tradition where the opposition, and especially the leader of the opposition, has an opportunity to engage directly with the government each day on matters of importance to the country. This is different from, for example, a presidential system where that direct engagement is less visible. It is one of the hallmarks of the parliamentary tradition that we have here in Canada and, of course, in Britain, where we borrowed the system from. I do not discount the importance of an official opposition. I do not discount the importance—
An hon. member: That is refreshing.
Mr. Peter Fragiskatos: It is refreshing, and if we were to canvass the opinion of colleagues on this side of the House, my hon. colleague across the way would find that all of us feel the same way.
The opposition plays a very important role, and within that, opposition day motions play a very important role. This is especially the case during times of crisis. It is an opportunity for the opposition to have an entire day to raise matters that are meaningful, and to put forward ideas that actually matter and that have an impact on the direction of the country.
We are seized now, as a country, with COVID-19. It is important for us to think about the way forward and to engage in debate on that very important issue. It is the challenge and crisis of our time. Indeed, it is, without question, the biggest crisis of our time, and certainly the most important one we have faced as Canadians since World War II.
Sacrifices have been made by Canadians throughout the country. I think about the first wave in the spring. We all saw our constituents, and we all had those conversations. There were constituents who stayed home, who kept their distance from loved ones, and it has had a tremendous impact. We will tell our children, grandchildren and future generations about it when we get past this crisis, and we will get past it.
The virus did overcome us, but it did not defeat us. The economy has suffered its largest contraction since the 1930s, and unemployment has increased to levels we have not seen in our lifetimes. Those are the facts that we see on paper and the points we see recited in the business press and newspapers, on television and online. However, it has to be said that the challenges that have been endured and the sacrifices that have been made have been those of real, everyday people.
For individuals and businesses, I cannot properly put into words what they have gone through for their country. I talk to those individuals and business owners every day, and they have had enduring questions as we have passed through the first wave and are now in the midst of a second wave. It is important that the government continue to seize itself with these matters and with this large issue.
However, I am heartened by the fact that at least there is a blueprint, a very important and concrete one, which was established during the first wave, and that is the set of programs that have held the country up, both individuals and businesses. I am thinking about the Canada emergency response benefit, CERB, in particular, which has now transitioned to the Canada recovery benefit, CRB. I am thinking about the Canada emergency business account, CEBA, and the wage subsidy that has helped so many businesses.
We heard my hon. colleague for talk about the CERB today. There were close to nine million Canadians who benefited from that lifeline, and that is a term I do not use lightly, because it was a lifeline for so many Canadians. It ensured they could still put food on the table and take care of their bills and other expenses. Of course, the government had to act, and it did so with measures like the CERB.
I have talked to countless business owners in my community who have benefited from the Canada emergency business account and, of course, a portion of that is forgivable.
CEBA was extremely important and was an idea that came in part from the work done at committees, committees that have an important role. I will discuss the role and potential of committees in a moment. Serving on the Standing Committee on Finance, as I do, is a tremendous honour. In the spring we had an opportunity to raise ideas directly to the then finance minister, the and members of cabinet on what was needed. CEBA was an idea that came out of that engagement, at least in part. Certainly the bureaucracy played an important role and has advised on this and helped to design programs, and its role cannot be understated.
The wage subsidy is a very successful program. I was thrilled to see in throne speech that the government decided to continue it well into 2021. Of course we await more details on that. We could be debating such matters, but unfortunately the opposition is seized with other issues.
I mentioned the public service's extraordinary work, particularly on the CERB and getting it out to Canadians in record speed. That needs to be underlined, along with all the other work it has done. I would be remiss, and I know all members, regardless of party affiliation, would agree, if I did not mention the work done in constituency offices by our incredible office staff. In my case it is Ryan Gauss, Josh Chadwick, Asiya Barakzai and Zheger Hassan who helped me in ways I will never forget in the spring during the crisis and now in the second wave. I know we all value our staff very much engaging with constituents and picking up those phone calls. There are record number of cases coming through our offices. In fact, in my office we have seen about a 350% increase in email and call volumes. I know other MPs will have similar stories to tell this House. It is something we have all seen. We continue to rely on our staff, who have been truly tremendous in this experience.
Have mistakes been made during the COVID-19 experience? Has the federal government made mistakes? It has made mistakes. How can one not make mistakes as a government when one is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis and flying the plane and building it at the same time, so to speak? The programs the government has put in place have never been seen before, programs like the CERB and all the other programs I mentioned. As one is moving at record speed, one is certainly going to make a mistake.
Is the WE Charity issue one of those mistakes? It is. I put that on the record before at the finance committee; other Liberal members have as well. The government has done well, but can the government do better?
What we see today is an opposition day motion that completely ignores the issues of the day. The Conservatives have presented a motion intended to paralyze the government at this most critical time. They proposed a committee that would serve their partisan interests, not the interests of Canadians. There is nothing wrong with reviewing spending. The government has proposed an idea that would lead to the creation of a committee that would do just that. It would review all COVID-19 spending in a non-partisan way. That is necessary. We do need that.
However, what the Conservatives are pointing to is something quite different. They use the word “corruption”. I would caution my colleagues to be careful with the words they use. The word “corruption” implies something quite specific. It implies that members of the government are on the take and that there is some sort of agreement between members of the government and those who have been mentioned, whether it is with the WE Charity organizations and others, where payments are being received or something along those lines. Very nefarious actions are being pointed to that do not exist. Let us be careful with the words we use. I wonder if members would use the word “corruption” out of this chamber.
Of course the government is right to see this as a matter of confidence. We have seen the hypocrisy of the Conservatives when at the finance committee we could have looked at redacted documents and they turned down the idea of having public servants come to testify as to why documents were redacted. They did not want to hear from public servants.
It is time to return to the real work of Parliament. Let us have committees engage on matters of COVID-19, not some political theatre carried out by the Conservatives. We have so much work to do. We have legislation before this House on MAID, conversion therapy and sexual—
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to follow my colleague's thoughtful remarks. I have had a certain amount of experience in this House, as members know. I have had the opportunity to observe opposition tactics over the years, some valid and some egregious. I would put this motion in the latter category.
I would describe this motion as a publicity stunt. What gave it away for me was the original title of the motion, which has since been changed in a kind of Conservative sleight of hand when they realized that maybe they had overstepped themselves a little. When I heard the title, it reminded me of how the Conservatives used to name bills in a previous Parliament. They would give bills sort of Orwellian names, intended to communicate for electoral purposes. I remember when the Conservatives brought in a bill that was really an exercise in voter suppression and called it the “Fair Elections Act.” We know that the Conservatives like to engage in sloganeering, in how they name their bills and motions.
This is supposed to be Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. What is implied in the title of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is the notion of constructive contribution and of constructive opposition, worthy of a Diefenbaker or a Stanfield or a Clark or, on our side, a John Turner, who recently passed.
This motion is profoundly disingenuous, because it really does not seek to scrutinize, broadly, the government policies and expenditures that have been implemented in response to the pandemic. Its intention is really to disrupt for some putative political gain, smack in the middle of the greatest crisis this country has faced since the Second World War. Canadians are not impressed.
Let us look at some of the basic facts about the WE controversy. My colleague just mentioned in his speech that there was no private financial interest in the agreement between the federal government and WE. There was merely a mutually shared goal of helping young people financially survive an unprecedented pandemic and build their careers through meaningful volunteerism.
What the opposition, which claims to be so transparent and noble, fails to tell Canadians is that the WE Charity is not permitted to turn a profit in its dealings with the government or with anyone else, and that is because it is a charity. To preserve its charity tax status, it has to operate as a non-profit organization.
The Conservatives, and, sadly, the NDP has done the same, have let people believe that this was a $900-million contract for an organization, when that in fact was not the case. The $900 million was to be distributed on the ground amongst other organizations. The WE Charity was to be paid for administrative costs, which amounted to 5% of that amount of $900 million, but saying it was to be 5% of $900 million would not make many headlines. We know that is what the opposition is after here, headlines.
The Conservatives conveniently leave out the fact that the recommendation to use WE came from the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy had its reasons for recommending a third party and they seemed pretty obvious, namely it had capacity issues during a pandemic, when the energy, time and attention of public servants were highly focused on the task of designing and rolling out a series of unprecedented support measures in an unprecedented period of time, in an unprecedented health, social and economic crisis. Again, not the party of Diefenbaker, Stanfield or Clark.
Another reason why the bureaucracy was not equipped to do this particular job is that it simply did not have the organizational and digital infrastructure to mobilize Canadian youth quickly.
We know that the preferred using an existing government program and bureaucracy, the Canada Service Corps. That being said, this was by no means the first time the government had used third parties with robust established national networks to deliver support for Canadians. The United Way is one example. The Red Cross is another example. Food Banks Canada is a third example. Besides, one would think that the Conservatives, for ideological reasons, would welcome using third parties, because their refrain is that governments cannot do everything.
The government has proposed a constructive alternative to this misguided Conservative motion. We have proposed that the House appoint a special committee with the mandate to conduct hearings to examine and review all aspects of the government's spending in response to the pandemic. The committee would mirror the balance in committees now, which reflects the relative distribution of seats that Canadians voted for a year ago. The Conservative motion would single-handedly change the standard makeup of committees in this Parliament. Rather than have six members out of 12 for the government, it would reduce the government's representation to one-third of the members of the committee.
How did the Conservatives come up with this number? It boggles the mind. Why not two? Why not one? Why not leave government members off the committee altogether?
The committee the government is proposing would conform to current party proportions, because that is how Canadians voted. The committee the government is proposing would have all the powers of standing committees and would free up all the other committees that the Conservatives are currently paralyzing in the midst of a pandemic. The government has also proactively suggested that the , the and other ministers and senior officials would appear as witnesses from time to time, as the committee sees fit. The committee would also be given the mandate to take over responsibility for the issue of document redactions related to the July 7 motion currently before the finance committee. The committee would allow public servants the opportunity to explain their decisions, before trying to hold them in contempt.
A true fiscal Conservative would jump at the opportunity to create such a committee with such a wide-ranging mandate, but the Conservatives just want to let the opportunity go by and indulge in sloganeering, the lazy politician's pastime. Why are the Conservatives choosing this facile and empty road so often travelled by their party these days? It is because they do not have anything else to talk about. It is because the Conservatives do not have a credible climate plan that can serve, at the same time, to build a more resilient and sustainable economy. It is because the Conservatives do not have a child care plan to allow families, women in particular, to enter and stay in the workforce and contribute economically to this country. It is because the Conservatives do not have a plan for ensuring that our seniors are properly taken care of in long-term care facilities. It is because they do not have a housing plan. It is because they do not have a plan for the auto industry to transition to zero-emission vehicles.
The Conservatives just came out of yet another leadership contest. One would think they would have some ideas. What does one do as an empty policy shell? One plays a shell game. That is what we have here, unfortunately, but this is not the time for games or sleight of hand. People are suffering, businesses are hanging on and people are getting sick. The official opposition needs to start contributing something meaningful.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
We are in the middle of a pandemic and Canada's economy has suffered more than most. In fact, the Canadian government has the biggest deficit in the G20. Out of 20 countries, it is the biggest deficit as a share of GDP. We have the highest unemployment rate in the G7, higher than the rate in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Japan. It is much higher, in fact. That is why I rise today: to implore the House to get back to the people's work.
The government has basically shut down the finance committee, which is necessary for responding to this economic calamity and Canada's poor economic performance, in order to cover up the release of blacked out WE scandal documents and to prevent questioning of government and other officials about the scandal. Not only did the shut down this place in August for over six weeks, during which Parliament was unable to do its work to fight for the Canadian economy and defend the lives and livelihoods of Canadians, but, when it came back here, it decided to cripple at least three parliamentary committees, namely health, ethics and finance, to prevent them from working on our pandemic response and repairing the enormous economic disadvantage that we face here in Canada.
Concerned with the destruction of small businesses, the loss of jobs and Canada's poor performance at the bottom of the pack, the Conservatives came forward with a non-partisan proposal that would take the WE scandal out of the finance committee and put it in a special stand-alone, investigative committee. Let finance do finance, let health do health and let this special committee examine this file. Let us get back to work for Canadians.
We expected that this would be a unanimous proposition given that the has claimed to be so concerned about the well-being of Canadians in this pandemic and economic shutdown. Instead, the Prime Minister has said the opposite. He said that if we investigate the WE scandal any further, he will bring down his own government and force an election in the middle of the second wave of a pandemic. Wow. By the way, he says he has nothing to hide. In other words, there is no secret, but Liberals are prepared to cause an election to prevent it from coming out. Nobody believes that. Thou doth protest too much, Prime Minister.
If he had nothing to hide, he would not have shut down Parliament in the first place. If there was nothing to hide, he would not be threatening to bring his government down today. If he did, we can only imagine what his campaign slogan would be: “Give me a majority so that no one can investigate me.” That is effectively what he is asking for. In fact, what is ironic about his election threat is that he admits it has nothing to do with any policy agenda. He does not claim that there is some policy action for Canadians he would like to take but cannot because he is in a minority Parliament. He admits that he is able to do everything from a public policy point of view that he wants to do. It is just that he cannot tolerate the thought that one little committee might ask some inconvenient little questions about the affair that saw him and his family receive over half a million dollars from a group and then saw him intervene to give that same group a half a billion dollars.
All we want to do is ask a few little questions about that. We do not want to stand in the way of the government's policy responses. If they are meritorious, they will pass through the House of Commons. We do not want to stand in the way of a single, solitary parliamentary committee. Let them all do their work. Let us take this WE matter, which the finds so agonizingly distracting, and put it in a separate place, a safe space, where everyone can ask some direct questions and use the powers of Parliament to get some direct answers.
For some reason, the thought of being asked these questions sends the into a panic. The thought of the unredacted documents being made public is causing a crisis in the Liberal ranks. They are now threatening to call an election to prevent the truth from coming out.
That is not the behaviour of a Prime Minister who has nothing to hide. It is the behaviour of someone who has deep secrets and wants to stop the truth from coming out. He is prepared to shut down Parliament to stop the truth from coming out. Now he is prepared to call an election in the middle of the second wave of a pandemic just to bury the truth. That is the behaviour of a Prime Minister who has deep secrets to hide.
We can understand why he would be ashamed for all of this to be known. Here is a great social justice warrior who has gone around telling us how much he is concerned about the downtrodden. He tells us he is a big believer in redistributing wealth from those who have to those who have not. That is funny, because he has no problem taking money from charities, money that little kids donated with the expectation it would go to poor people in developing countries, and putting it into his own millionaire pocket.
His family are millionaires. There was an inheritance from his grandfather, who was a petroleum magnate. He made lots of money in the energy business and passed it down. We have a millionaire . One would think if he was such a social justice warrior, he would be giving money to charities and his family would be in a rush to hand that money out to those with less. No, he is the exact opposite of Robin Hood. He steals from the poor to give to the rich, especially to himself. Here again we have an example of that.
Speaking of that, what kind of charity spends a half million dollars to pay an ultrarich and politically powerful family, or takes a multimillionaire who used to run a billion-dollar company on a $41,000 all expenses paid vacation, when those little school kids thought they were raising pennies, quarters and loonies to help the world's less fortunate? Do members think any of them were told the money would be used to pay off the 's millionaire family, or to take the multi-millionaire former finance minister and his family on luxurious vacations? Of course not.
This is not just an example of corruption but of gross personal hypocrisy. That is why the would prefer that we all just stop talking about it, and not just prefer. He is willing to shut down the function of government in the middle of a pandemic to force an end to this conversation. Where does that stop? Will it hereafter set a precedent that whenever a scandal gets too close to the he can simply put an end to Parliament and call an election, effectively banning opposition members from asking questions about how he used public funds to reimburse those who have paid his family? Is that the precedent we now set?
Are we really going to devolve to a point where a prime minister is a king and he slams his fist, says he has heard enough, wants no more questions, wants all investigations to cease and if they do not he will bring the whole place tumbling down? That is the precedent the seeks to create, but we will not be deterred. We were elected to hold the government to account, and we will do exactly that.
We will get to the bottom of this scandal. We will further propose key measures to ensure that no prime minister is able to enrich himself at the public expense the way the current has, and that accountability is once again the law of the land.
Madam Speaker, I rise to speak in strong support of a motion put forward by the official opposition to establish a special committee to look into questionable COVID spending on the part of the Liberal government.
In a lot of ways, this should be a routine matter. This is hardly unprecedented in terms of establishing a special committee. There was, after all, the Accountability Act committee. In this Parliament, there is the Canada-China committee. In the last Parliament, I served as the vice-chair of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying. These are all committees that were established to look specifically at certain issues.
Here we have questions about the misuse and abuse of taxpayers' dollars on the part of the government. We have multiple questions on conflicts of interest. We have questions of corruption going to the highest levels in the government, all the way to the PMO.
One would think that, in the interest of transparency and accountability, the government would be eager for such a committee to get to work. As my colleague, the member for stated, if the government has nothing to hide, then let us proceed. We have a who has famously said that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Why would the Prime Minister not want to let the sun shine in?
Let me just say that at the top of the list is the WE scandal. It started back in late June when it was discovered that an organization called the WE organization had received a half a billion dollar, sole-source contribution agreement. It was known at that time that there were links between the and his wife, and the Kielburger brothers.
The , however, said there was nothing to see. He said he had not benefited from the WE organization. His wife had a podcast, but that was all. It turns out that was not true.
About two weeks later it was revealed that the 's brother, mother and spouse had received more than half a million dollars in fees and expenses from none other than the WE organization. The said that he had no choice, that it was the civil service that recommended the WE organization receive this half-a-billion-dollar, sole-source contribution agreement. That turned out not to be true.
Indeed, the more we learn, the more questions arise. For a who said there was no political interference and no political direction, we learned that in addition to the Kielburgers just by coincidence enriching the Prime Minister's family, there had been multiple communications between the Kielburgers and the former minister of finance in the way of three emails and a telephone conversation.
We learned that there were multiple communications between the Kielburgers and officials in former finance minister Bill Morneau's office. Indeed, Michelle Kovacevic, a senior finance official, noted that the PMO was weighing in and that the Kielburgers and the finance minister were besties. However, the said that there was no political interference and he knew nothing. However, as the evidence mounted, the more and more it became clear that the Prime Minister's words were not worth the paper they were written on. The fact is that there was political direction. We know that.
Then we ask why there would be political direction to an organization that had never administered such a program before, that did not have the capacity to administer such a program before, that was in chaos at the time in terms of firing staff and the chair of its board and being in breach of its banking covenants. For an organization that was seemingly the only organization that could possibly administer this program, it is rather interesting that an organization with that kind of a record, which should have been at the bottom of the list, went to the top of the list.
The simple explanation is that there was a quid pro quo. The WE organization benefited the 's family and in return it received sole-sourced contracts with the federal government. There were at least five such sole-sourced contracts prior to the big enchilada of the half-a-billion-dollar contribution agreement. That alarmed Canadians, and rightfully so. It raised a lot of questions.
I happened to serve on the finance committee with my colleague, the member for , who ably led the committee for the official opposition as we sought answers. In the course of those hearings, the government agreed to produce relevant documents. Then what happened? On the very day that 5,000 pages of documents were produced, the prorogued Parliament. The day that the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament was none other than the day prior to which all of these speaking fee documents were to be provided to the ethics committee.
For a government that talks so much about caring for Canadians, about being so preoccupied with addressing the pandemic, the record of the government has been to obstruct, filibuster, shut down Parliament and now even to threaten an election to cover up its own corruption and it is prepared to do so even at the expense of the health, safety and economic vitality of Canadians during this unprecedented crisis. It is an absolute disgrace.
Canadians deserve answers. We need to follow the evidence and that begins by passing this motion.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I join the debate today with a certain amount of disappointment that the official opposition is choosing to use today's motion, not to discuss the issues that matter to Canadians during this pandemic but instead to continue a partisan and unnecessary attack on the government. Those members could be using today's debate to promote an issue that would have a real impact on Canadians, but instead they have chosen an unfortunate and confrontational approach that is out of touch with the needs of Canadians.
Unlike the Conservative Party, our government remains focused on the issues that are affecting Canadians across the country, irrespective of their political leanings, just as we have since the beginning of this pandemic. We hope that in the future we will see more of the collaborative approach from opposition parties to adopting and improving measures that will have a clear benefit for Canadians, similar to what we as a Parliament were able to accomplish early during the pandemic.
Canadians today are facing a second wave of COVID-19 and that leaves people worrying about their jobs, the safety of their families and friends, and even just their day-to-day lives. Responding to those needs should be the focus for us as Parliamentarians to support them in their time of need. To that end, I would like to take my time today to look at some of the measures our government introduced to ensure the safety and continued prosperity of Canadians.
When the pandemic first came to Canadian shores, our government worked tirelessly to ensure that Canadians trapped abroad were able to return to the country. I wonder if members recall what those early days and weeks were like, when citizens in my riding of Châteauguay—Lacolle, and I know across the country, had been travelling across various parts of the world.
In our case, a group of school children were in Honduras when the pandemic hit. Lockdowns were happening and countries were closing their borders. We had to work urgently to get those young people back as well as many other travellers. I heard members of other parties say how much they appreciated the work of Global Affairs, the public servants, extra staff and call centres in getting Canadians back safely.
We worked with airlines and foreign governments to find ways to get Canadians home from far-flung regions around the world. It was a challenging and difficult process, but we were able to get the job done with the support of commercial airlines and partners.
In doing so, we had to ensure the safety of Canadians at home and required that those entering Canada had to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return. In the early days of this pandemic, people were wondering if that was necessary. It absolutely was. Today, it is a matter of course. It is well accepted by Canadians in the interest of public health. This policy remains important to this day as we attempt to flatten the curve of the second wave.
Along those same lines, we have continued to follow the best guidance of our doctors and scientists to protect Canadians, and I emphasize that fact. This is not a political or partisan point of view. This meant making some difficult choices along with our provincial and territorial partners, choices that would make it difficult for many Canadians to earn a living, making it a struggle to pay for their groceries, rent and everyday needs through no fault of their own. I say these were choices, but in a sense they were the right things to do.
Having made the difficult but clearly necessary decisions to protect Canadians, we had to implement quick, agile policy to support those who would be most affected.
Knowing full well that the health of Canadians was at stake, our government had to find innovative ways to help all those who were affected. In March, we introduced the Canada emergency response benefit, the CERB. This was unprecedented.
As I said, earlier, Canadians needed to replace the income they had lost through no fault of their own. Through this benefit, Canadians who lost their source of income because of the pandemic were able to receive up to $2,000 per month. I know that people in my riding really appreciated that. It meant that ordinary Canadians were able to maintain their purchasing power and keep the economy running at a basic minimum level.
Never before has the government reacted so quickly by implementing this type of program to guarantee that all Canadians received the help that they so desperately needed.
The CERB was essential for those who had lost their jobs, those who had to self-isolate and those who had to care for someone with COVID-19. Every day, my riding office received calls and emails from people who were affected not only by the loss of their job, but also by having to keep their children at home or by the illness itself. This financial support was critical.
We also recognized that the pandemic was having a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups in our society. We announced several measures to help the most vulnerable Canadians cope with the health and socio-economic effects of the pandemic, measures such as support for people experiencing homelessness and for women and children facing violence.
Kids Help Phone experienced a dramatic surge in demand, so we increased our support for that organization. We invested millions of dollars in food banks and other organizations to improve access to food for Canadians in need. In Châteauguay, Saint-Rémi and Mercier in my riding, people were very grateful for that. All these investments gave community organizations the support they needed to provide essential services to vulnerable and needy Canadians.
Together with the provinces and territories, we also announced up to $3 billion to top up the wages of low-income essential workers. These people kept going to work every morning to make sure their neighbours, neighbourhoods and communities could get everything they needed. They showed up for work every day despite the risks associated with COVID-19, and Canadians were able to count on them.
I could speak for another 10 minutes about all the programs we have brought in, but I would just like to mention a few. The Canada emergency wage subsidy was created to allow businesses to retain their employees. The deferral of GST payments essentially amounted to an interest-free short-term loan. We also made close to $25 billion available to banking institutions to provide loans to small businesses in need. Finally, we launched a loan guarantee program for SMEs.
We announced early plans to support Canadian businesses as they scaled up production and retooled their manufacturing to develop made-in-Canada products that would fight against COVID-19. I would like to congratulate all those businesses for the good work they did right from the beginning, including those in my riding of Châteauguay—Lacolle, where farmers, manufacturers and transport companies stepped up the challenge.
The Conservatives are clearly deciding to put themselves before Canadians. This is a cheap political move. This motion is intended to paralyze the government and I do not agree with it at all.