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43rd PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • No. 076

CONTENTS

Thursday, March 25, 2021




Emblem of the House of Commons

House of Commons Debates

Volume 150
No. 076
2nd SESSION
43rd PARLIAMENT

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Speaker: The Honourable Anthony Rota

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayer



Routine Proceedings

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1005)  

[English]

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act

Committees of the House

Public Safety and National Security 

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in relation to the main estimates 2021-22, and reports the same.
    On a personal note, I want to thank the clerk for saving the chair from impeachment.

Public Accounts  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the following three reports of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts: the 14th report, entitled “Taxation of E-Commerce”; the 15th report, entitled “Public Accounts of Canada 2020”; and the 16th report, entitled ”Oversight of Government of Canada Advertising”.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to each of these three reports.

Status of Women  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, entitled “Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women”.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

[Translation]

Canada Shipping Act

    He said: Mr. Speaker, this morning, I am pleased to introduce a bill to amend the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.
    This legislative measure will address head-on the labour shortage in the marine industry, which is a major concern. A foreign national who holds a diploma from a recognized school, such as the Institut maritime du Québec in Rimouski, will now also be able to benefit from the privileges that come with the certificate of competency and sail on the majestic St. Lawrence River.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and in an effort to avoid yet another vote this evening, if you seek it, I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion: That the opposition motion scheduled for debate later today be amended in paragraph (b) by replacing the word “10 a.m.” with the following: “11 a.m.”

  (1010)  

    All those opposed to the hon. member moving the motion will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.

Petitions

The Environment  

     Mr. Speaker, the Town of Erin has been permitted to dump treated effluent into the West Credit River, which is one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in my riding. The West Credit River is one of the last pristine cold-water fisheries in the Greater Golden Horseshoe and is home to native brook trout. Belfountain is also part of the Niagara Escarpment, which has been declared a UNESCO World Biosphere reserve.
    The petitioners call on the Government of Canada to implement a federal environmental impact assessment on this proposed waste treatment plant.

Gander International Airport  

     Mr. Speaker, I present a petition on behalf of the mighty little town of Gander. The Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce, God love it, has been putting this petition together for quite some time. There are about 1,000 signatures on it.
    This is in regard to one of the greatest little airports in the world. It is the Gander International Airport. In the 20th century, it was the most notable for being one of the largest airports around World War II. It was built for that reason. Of course, in this century, it became famous for welcoming all those stranded passengers on 9/11 and inspiring the great musical Come From Away. It is currently in financial trouble.
     The petition calls on the Government of Canada to help it out in this time of need, as it is still, to this day, an essential service, not just for Central Newfoundland but the entire province, the east coast and, as we have proven, an international asset for aviation safety.
    We call on the government to help Central Newfoundland, in particular, and the Gander International Airport. As Reg Wright, the CEO of the airport once said, it is the airport that was built for battle and now needs a bit of help.

Opioids  

     Mr. Speaker, I rise with a petition from a group called Moms Stop the Harm, a group of mothers from across the country who have lost loved ones to the opioid crisis, a crisis that is causing devastation in all our communities across Canada.
    The petitioners point out that the opioid crisis is one of the most deadly public health emergencies of our lifetime, with a death taking place every two hours and a death toll of over 15,400 in the past four years alone. As the overdose crisis rages, they call on the government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency; to take steps to end those overdose deaths and overdose injuries; to immediately collaborate with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan; to ensure that any plan considers reforms that other countries have used, such as legalization, decriminalization and changes to flawed drug policies; and to ensure this emergency is taken seriously, with adequate funding and program supports.
     Mr. Speaker, I am tabling two petitions today.
    I am also tabling a petition regarding the opioid crisis. As members know, the opioid crisis is taking the lives of so many. They are preventable deaths, and the petitioners recognize that this crisis needs to be dealt with and the Canadian government needs to declare it a national health emergency.
     The petitioners call for action. They call on the government to take steps to end overdose deaths and overdose injuries, and to immediately collaborate with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan. They also want to ensure that the plan considers reforms that other countries have used, such as legal regulation of drugs to ensure safe supply, decriminalization for personal use and changes to the flawed drug policy and policing practices.
    We want to ensure this emergency is taken seriously and met with adequate programming and supports. These lives matter. We can end the overdose crisis if we want.

  (1015)  

Indigenous Housing  

     Mr. Speaker, the other petition I am tabling is with respect to indigenous housing.
     The petitioners recognize that over 80% of indigenous people live in urban, rural and northern communities and that indigenous peoples are 11 times more likely to use a homeless shelter. They recognize that the 2017 National Housing Strategy did not include any specific funding, strategies or policies for urban or rural indigenous housing, even though the mandate letter from the minister specifically outlined such a strategy.
     The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association and its indigenous caucus have put forward a number of suggestions for the government to act on. This includes for the government to develop a “For Indigenous, By Indigenous” national housing centre; to increase the supply of stable, safe, affordable housing by building 73,000 new units of housing for urban, rural and northern indigenous peoples; to support the tenants' well-being and long-term success with wraparound indigenous services; and to accelerate action on indigenous homelessness; and to focus on northern housing.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns

    Mr. Speaker, if the government's revised response to Question No. 373, originally tabled on March 22, could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.
     Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

[Text]

Question No. 373--
Mr. Bob Saroya:
    With regard to illegal firearms entering Canada: what is the government’s estimate of the number of illegal firearms that have entered the country since 2016, broken down by year and by method of entry (air cargo shipments, land passenger vehicle smuggling, etc.)?
    (Return tabled)

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.
    The Deputy Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

[Translation]

Points of Order

Government Response to Question No. 373—Speaker's Ruling  

[Speaker's Ruling]
    Since the government just tabled a revised response to written Question No. 373, this concludes the point of order raised by the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska yesterday.
    However, I would like to remind members that Standing Order 32(4) states that “Any document distributed in the House or laid before the House...shall be in both official languages.” That is a principle set out in the Constitution and the Official Languages Act.
    I thank hon. members for their attention.

Government Orders

[Business of Supply]

  (1020)  

[English]

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion—Instructions to the Standing Committee on Ethics and to the Standing Committee on National Defence  

    That, with a view to support the authority of committees in their important inquiries of public interest:
(a) regarding the study on questions of conflict of interest and lobbying in relation to pandemic spending by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics,
(i) an order of the House do issue for due diligence reports, in the care, custody or control of the Privy Council Office, respecting the Canada Student Service Grant, and that these documents be deposited, in both official languages, with the Clerk of the Committee no later than Thursday, April 1, 2021,
(ii) Rick Theis, the Prime Minister's Director of Policy and Cabinet Affairs, be ordered to appear before the committee on Monday, March 29, 2021, at 2:00 p.m.,
(iii) Amitpal Singh, the Deputy Prime Minister's Policy Advisor, be ordered to appear before the committee on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at 2:00 p.m.,
(iv) Ben Chin, the Prime Minister's Senior Advisor, be ordered to appear before the committee on Thursday, April 8, 2021, at 2:00 p.m.;
(b) regarding the study on addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces by the Standing Committee on National Defence, Zita Astravas, formerly the Minister of National Defence's chief of staff and the Prime Minister's Director of Issues Management and currently the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness's chief of staff, be ordered to appear before the committee on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at 10:00 a.m.;
(c) should the Prime Minister instead appear before the committees mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b), at any of the dates and times mentioned, for at least three hours, the witness otherwise scheduled to appear, and any other witnesses scheduled to appear before the same committee at a later time, be relieved of their obligation to appear pursuant to this order; and
(d) it be an instruction to the Chairs of the committees mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) to convene televised meetings of their respective committee, at the dates and times mentioned, for at least three hours, for the purpose of receiving evidence from the individuals then ordered to appear or the Prime Minister, as the case may be, unless the individual has been relieved from attending under the provisions of paragraph (c), provided that the witnesses be required to appear until discharged by the committee.
    Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending March 26, 2021, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bills. In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bills be distributed now?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Mr. Speaker, we are here today to move along business that we started last summer.
     It was last summer that Canadians first learned about the WE scandal involving the Liberal government. This is the scandal of the WE organization paying members of the Prime Minister's family half a million dollars and then being awarded, in an untendered agreement, half a billion dollars of taxpayer funds as part of a proposed or planned pandemic relief program for students.
    We heard many different things at the time, both from the PMO and from the WE organization, including that members of the Prime Minister's family had never been paid. Then, of course, that story changed over time.
    When hearings began last summer and members of the opposition began to get answers for Canadians, the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament, effectively killing the work of those committees. At the time he said that when the House resumed in the fall, there would be lots of time for questions. There was certainly lots of time, and that time was spent by Liberal members filibustering across multiple committees.
    At the ethics committee alone, the filibuster lasted for the equivalent of 20 meetings. When that filibuster finally ended and we were able to order witnesses to appear, it was December. In December, we initiated that process, but the government's partners in this deal, the founders of the WE organization, Craig and Marc Kielburger, took until March to agree to appear at the committee, and then eventually said they would not, even if summoned.
     A summons was issued to them, and they did appear. During that appearance, we heard more contradictions to previous testimony and sought to have more witnesses called as a result.
     The Prime Minister's testimony in the summer was before the heavily redacted document dump that came on the eve of the cover-up prorogation in August, and so here was no opportunity for members to compare and contrast the answers given by the Prime Minister, his chief of staff, other witnesses from cabinet, and the information that was in that document release. As more information has come out, the need for more questions to be asked has come to pass, and we need these witnesses to appear.
    I should note, before I mention the defence committee, that I will be sharing my time with the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman. He sits on the defence committee and is the shadow minister for defence.
    This is happening at the same time that the defence committee is dealing with the study with respect to sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. The allegations it is dealing with concern the former chief of the defence staff. The former chief of the defence staff is alleged to have perpetrated sexual misconduct. It was reported to the Canadian Forces ombudsman in 2018. That information was relayed to the Minister of National Defence and to the Prime Minister's Office, at which point one would expect that a thorough investigation would be undertaken, one that would include the appropriate authorities.
    However, a blind eye was turned. Instead, the alleged perpetrator was given a raise by the Prime Minister, and the victims were left without justice. Other members of our Canadian Armed Forces are left wondering what protections are being afforded them by the government that they serve with unlimited liability.
    It is important to note that members of our Canadian Armed Forces serve this country with unlimited liability. They ask very little of us in return, but guaranteeing them a workplace that is free from sexual misconduct, particularly when it is perpetrated by Canada's top soldier, seems like the least we could do for them. However, that is not the case, so members of the defence committee have looked for a witness to appear. Those efforts have been blocked.

  (1025)  

    There was a due diligence report with respect to the Canada student service grant that was committed by the Privy Council. That report was not tabled with the committee, so we are seeking that information as well with this motion.
    It is important to note how we came to this point. With dozens of hours wasted to filibustering and dozens of meetings lost to delays and obstruction, parliamentarians were not able to fully engage in the defence, finance, PROC or ethics committees, among other committees. I was going to make it an either/or between the defence and ethics committees, but the filibusters were across multiple committees.
    The study at the ethics committee has to do with pandemic spending. We had intended to wrap this study up in the fall, but of course those obstructions prevented us from doing so and prevented us from getting on to the other important work that the committee intended to undertake, such as to protect victims of sexual exploitation online and to examine emerging technologies, such as facial recognition, as is the mandate of our committee, and the defence committee barely has its feet under it in the study with respect to sexual misconduct in the military. It is facing a brick wall from the government.
    It is tremendously concerning that when it comes to accountability and how the government spends the public's money. Half a billion dollars in support for students was originally billed as $912 million, but members of the Liberal Party do not want answers and accountability for Canadians.
    It is alleged that this program was designed to help students. They could have devoted those funds to the Canada summer jobs program, which was already in place, with some modifications that were made to it last year, but instead of committing those funds to an established, tried, tested program, the Liberals cooked up something new and gave it to friends of the Prime Minister. They let down all of those students who did not have employment opportunities, and in fact let down the business owners who could have benefited from having the labour of the students who would gain experience when they were already facing hard times. These businesses would have had subsidized labour in that time, and the charitable sector also missed out by not having the volunteers that were promised in that program. The Canadians who were let down in that process make up a laundry list. It is incumbent on us to get answers on how that came to pass. We need to find out what happened so that it does not happen again.
    We are looking at another budget. It is the first time I have been able to say that in years. We have not had a budget here in over two years, and we want to make sure, when we go through that process, that that we do not see the government set to repeat the same mistakes that we have seen over the past year in particular.
    The opposition is looking for a very measured result from today's motion, and that result is to have witnesses appear at committee to testify on studies at those committees. We have to devote a supply day to this. Earlier this week we used one of our opposition supply days to talk about what the government's plan was, asking for it to table a plan for the House and for all Canadians to see on coming out of the pandemic. A year ago, it was reasonable to say that there were some things the government might not have planned for. There was some things it could have planned for and did not, but now, with a year's experience, it ought to have a plan.
    Today we are looking to make committees work and we are looking to make the House work, so we are asking for these witnesses to appear. Of course, if it is the position of the government that these witnesses should not appear, then there is the option for the Prime Minister to appear at committee. The choice is certainly the government's to make. The opposition has made the choice to make Parliament work, and I hope that all members of the House vote with us to make the House of Commons work and to make committees work so that we can get answers for Canadians on how their money was spent and so that we can ensure that we have a safe, respectful work environment for all members of our Canadian Armed Forces.

  (1030)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have just been reviewing the motion. I know that the opposition motion is calling forward a whole laundry list of individual people and I realize the member said that the Prime Minister could come instead. It would appear as though the member is trying to hold these people hostage at the expense of the Prime Minister, but I would refer him to a quote: “Mr. Speaker, our precedents and practices are very clear. It is the ministers and the ministry at large who are responsible to the House and to its committees, not their staff members. Their staff members are responsible to the ministers and members for whom they work.”
     I have another quote: “Quite simply, Mr. Speaker, when there is a question about conduct in a minister's office, the committee obviously can call the ministers and the ministers will answer those questions.”
    Do members know where those quotes are from? They are from May 25, 2010, and the Right Hon. Stephen Harper.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
    Mr. Mark Gerretsen: Mr. Speaker, I am so glad that the opposition members would agree that Stephen Harper had it right, so why do they have it wrong—
    We have many more questions to get through.
    The hon. member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.
    Mr. Speaker, I find myself agreeing with the member opposite. Stephen Harper had it right about a lot of things, and when it comes to this matter, if the ministers came to committee and provided forthright answers to the members who are asking them questions, it would be a different story.
    A minister of the current government, under questioning at committee by me, provided a misleading answer. When we cannot get forthright answers from ministers, when we have contradictory information in documents that are released, and when we have obstruction from the government with illegally redacted documents, as verified by the parliamentary law clerk, we are going to continue to call witnesses. We cannot count on the ministers. We are going to have to hear from their staff.
    Mr. Speaker, I received an extraordinary letter on Twitter last night from the lawyer representing WE's financial people, attacking us on Twitter for the fact that they have not answered a number of key questions about how the organization works, about financial connections and about how many schools were actually built. I would say for any member of the House that after eight months, Parliament has no clue as to how the financial operations of WE work.
    However, I would like to raise a question that was in the letter. The lawyer stated that answering the question about how many schools they actually built would require months of work and an analysis of thousands of pages of documents. This is a group that told children to give them $10,000 and they would build a school, and that for every $10,000 they would build a school.
    I ask my hon. colleague if he does not think that a multi-million-dollar charity would simply have a list of how many schools it has actually built, and that it would be fairly straightforward to say that it was given this money and built these schools? Instead, we are getting these letters from lawyers on Twitter.

  (1035)  

    Mr. Speaker, the manner in which that letter was received via Twitter is extraordinary. The government said that this organization was the only one in Canada that could administer $912 million—or, later, half a billion dollars—in taxpayer funds, so the claim that it does not even keep a list of the projects that it has built is extraordinary.
    If this individual, as stated in this public letter, is unable to answer those questions, I would expect that Craig and Marc Kielburger would be able to furnish members of committee and this place with that answer, because they were the only organization, as claimed by the government, that could administer half a billion dollars. Let us see how they administered all the money they took from school kids.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague. I want to compliment him on his speech and get him to comment on the latest rendition of the Liberal cover-up.
    Yesterday at the public safety committee, I asked the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness if he would have his chief of staff, Zita Astravas, who is avoiding the defence clerk, to come and speak and testify, as she should be required to do as a member of staff when an officer of Parliament is asking it. Of course, the Liberal chair of the public safety committee blocked the question and would not allow the public safety minister to answer.
    Could this member comment on the fact that there continue to be cover-ups on all committees and on the sanitization of the corruption in this party?
    Mr. Speaker, there has been evidence across multiple committees of the lengths to which Liberal members will go, under instruction from the Prime Minister's Office, to prevent accountability and to prevent the truth from coming to light.
    We were told, in 2015 and earlier, by the Prime Minister that sunlight was the best disinfectant. Let us let the sunlight shine on the testimony of these witnesses. Let us let the sunlight shine on the due diligence report that the Liberals failed to table. Let us let the sunlight shine on all of the redactions in those illegally redacted documents. Canadians deserve answers.
    Mr. Speaker, my thanks to the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes for bringing this motion to the floor. I think it is important that we demonstrate to Canadians that the Liberals are blocking the work of parliamentary committees, and that they are stopping us from getting to the bottom of some very serious scandals within the Liberal government, including the WE scandal and the sad case of sexual misconduct by the top officers in the Canadian Armed Forces.
    There is talk about ministerial accountability, but then we have ministers who refuse to be accountable. That is why we need to hear from key witnesses, including their staff and chiefs of staff, so that we can shine the sunlight and show Canadians the truth.
    Looking at the coordinated effort by the government to stop committees from hearing from witnesses and getting to the bottom of what is actually taking place, it is evident that Liberal members would rather protect their political skins and their political staff than protect those who serve us in uniform. It has become abundantly clear. With revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against the former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and the allegations against the current Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Art McDonald, it is all too obvious that the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have a serious and ongoing problem with stomping out sexual misconduct.
    We ask a lot of the brave men and women who serve us in uniform and, in return, we as parliamentarians have a duty to protect those people who have sworn an oath to protect all of us. We cannot allow our daughters, sisters and mothers to work in these unsafe environments. No one should ever be subjected to sexual harassment when they show up to serve our nation.
    I want specifically to address the part of the motion calling the former chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence, Zita Astravas, before our national defence committee. She is currently the chief of staff to the minister of public safety. On February 9, revelations had already come to light that General Vance was alleged to have not conducted himself with honour: he had sent an email to a subordinate that was sexual in nature, and that information had been presented to the Minister of National Defence on March 1, 2018. When those revelations came out in early February, we had an emergency meeting of the national defence committee and we brought forward a motion calling a number of witnesses to appear, including Zita Astravas. Nothing ever came of the invitation that was extended to her, dating back to February 9.
    Fast forward a month, and we had a situation with allegations coming out against Admiral Art McDonald. We had expanded the study and we brought forward the motion to again call Zita Astravas to appear. Originally we asked to summon her, because it had already been a month since she had actually been at committee and she had refused to appear, so that time we wanted to issue a summons. That was amended by members of the committee to invite her once again. Here we are, almost a full four weeks after that time, and she has not yet appeared.
    On Monday, March 22, we brought forward a motion at committee to summon her, to ensure that she did appear to speak to this issue. Again, the Liberals stood and filibustered for a couple of hours to prevent the motion from being carried. It is a sad state when we have government members stopping witnesses from appearing on something as disgusting as sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces. They would rather block hearing from witnesses than stand up for the brave men and women in uniform.

  (1040)  

    I can also confirm that the clerk of the national defence committee has called Ms. Astravas's office at Public Safety. He has left voice mails, he has gone through the PMO switchboard and he has also sent emails. Ms. Astravas has not returned any of those calls or emails. That is why it is so important that today's motion passes: so we can finally get to the bottom of what Zita Astravas knew.
    We know that on March 1, 2018, when Gary Walbourne, the former ombudsman, presented the evidence to the Minister of National Defence, the minister pushed away from the table and said no. He mumbled something about maybe having the ombudsman take it to the National Investigation Service. We know the very next day that his chief of staff, Zita Astravas, reached out to the PCO, Privy Council Office. We know that they also talked to PMO senior adviser Elder Marques, who has agreed to appear before committee.
    There is mounting evidence that Zita Astravas was involved in what happened with that information after the meeting, when it was presented in confidence by Gary Walbourne to the Minister of National Defence. Rather, she took that information and shared it with who knows who. We need to talk to her about everyone who was brought into the loop. It could have included Katie Telford, who is chief of staff to the Prime Minister. It definitely could have involved the Clerk, and we know it involved the Deputy Clerk of cabinet in the Privy Council Office. There is so much out there that we need to dig down on.
    The stories from the Prime Minister and the defence minister on the sexual misconduct allegations against General Vance continue to change. When this news first broke on February 4, the Prime Minister and the defence minister were pretty much saying that they were not aware of these allegations prior to what was reported in the news. That is false, because we know that evidence was presented to the minister on March 1, 2018, and the Prime Minister later said that he and his office were aware on February 24. They keep changing their stories. He admitted in question period on March 10 that he knew there were allegations, but did not know the content of the allegations. That is not good enough. If they were aware of those allegations on March 1, 2018, why did they extend General Vance's contract by three years and why did he get a raise of $50,000? Where are the facts on this?
    If we look at the testimony of Gary Walbourne, the minister refused to talk at committee about private conversations with the ombudsman, and then he pushed away from the table when he was presented with evidence. He now admits that he would not look at the evidence and said it would have been political interference if he had gotten involved in the investigation. Gary Walbourne said yesterday that was “bizarre” and “weak”. That is not a proper excuse.
    Yesterday, the Minister of National Defence directed the Royal Canadian Navy to look into an investigation they did of a comment about a red room on a Zoom call, which implied sexual misconduct. The Minister of National Defence cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that he cannot be politically involved and then give instructions to review an investigation. This is a cover-up at the highest levels. The Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence refuse to be accountable. There was the big raise and the extension for General Vance, who was overseeing Operation Honour, which was signed off on by the Prime Minister.
    We need to find out if Zita Astravas waved any red flags to the minister, the Prime Minister's Office, the Prime Minister or the PCO to stop the raise. Was she complicit? Were all of them complicit? We cannot forget about the role of Richard Fadden in all of this. When we heard about these rumours in 2015, the national security adviser, Richard Fadden, investigated them. When this happened with the current Prime Minister's Office and the PCO, they did not even talk to Daniel Jean, who was the national security adviser.
    All of this is so sad, and it is important that we address this going forward and have witnesses appear at committee so we can get to the bottom of the facts and to the truth.

  (1045)  

    Mr. Speaker, a little later I will get the opportunity to talk about the destructive parliamentary force the Conservative Party tends to want to play, but my question is specific to this member.
    I will quote from a CTV News article, which says:
    When considering Vance’s appointment for the military’s top post, Ray Novak told the House of Commons defence committee on Monday that, in March 2015, the National Security and Intelligence Advisor briefed then-PM Harper that the general was in a relationship with a subordinate U.S. officer who was “not in his chain of command” during a NATO deployment in Italy.
    If we are going to start to have these types of investigations, would it not be appropriate to maybe even call Stephen Harper before the committee for his behaviour or lack of action?
    Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Winnipeg North often has trouble understanding how investigations work, how national defence works, and for that matter, the roles and responsibilities of Parliament.
    Ray Novak, the former chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper, was actually very candid in his comments about how we investigated General Vance. When we contrast that to the Liberals turning a blind eye, we see that they talk about having zero tolerance for sexual misconduct, but they took zero action.
    It is a testament that yesterday we learned from Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of the defence staff, that he had to cancel Operation Honour because it did nothing to protect the women of the Canadian Armed Forces from sexual misconduct. That is an indictment upon the government and the Minister of National Defence.

  (1050)  

    Mr. Speaker, I find this remarkable. We know now that Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, when he was defence minister, were aware of the allegations and investigated them back in 2015. However, they then went on to appoint General Vance to lead the program to stamp out sexual misconduct in the military with Operation Honour.
    In hindsight, do the Conservatives believe it was an error to appoint an individual to head up a military operation meant to stamp out sexual misconduct, when that individual was in fact alleged to have been involved in precisely that kind of behaviour?
    Mr. Speaker, back in 2015, I was the parliamentary secretary to the then minister of national defence. We thoroughly investigated the rumour and the allegations of fraternization when General Vance was posted in NATO at Naples. Based upon the investigation and all the advice we received, no evidence could be found of wrongdoing. Essentially, the person he was investigated about in Naples was his fiancée at the time he was appointed as chief of the defence staff.
    Unlike the Liberals, we talked directly to General Vance about it. Unlike the Liberals, we carried out an investigation that lasted months, and we were prepared to delay the timeline of holding the change of command ceremony. Looking back, I question if General Vance gave us all the details and facts. I do not think so. We also know that at the end of the day, the Liberals renewed his contract in 2018, after they knew about actual evidence of sexual misconduct.
    Mr. Speaker, does the member think the Liberals actually care about protecting women in the military? From where I sit, I just do not see it.
    Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are all talk and no action. A case in point is that in 2018, we passed Bill C-77, which would have brought a victims bill of rights to National Defence, and protected the privacy and security of victims and witnesses in proceedings involving certain sexual offences.
    Three years after the fact, the Liberals have not even brought that bill into force, and they did nothing to General Vance. For three years they knew there were sexual misconduct allegations against him and evidence of it. Again, the Liberals failed. They failed the women in the Canadian Armed Forces more than anyone else.
    It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to get to the bottom of this and shed light on what actually happened to ensure it never happens again.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it is my responsibility as Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and as a minister to be accountable to Parliament. That is why I am participating in today's debate on the Conservatives' opposition motion.
    For those of us on this side of the House, our priority is helping Canadians. I want to take a moment to remind opposition parties about something they may have forgotten: We are in the middle of a pandemic. People across the country are suffering. Thousands of Canadians are grieving their dead, but what the Conservatives want to do today is engage in petty partisan politics.
    The Conservatives could have opted to debate climate change, but that would mean believing it is real. They could have debated the inequities in our justice system or reconciliation with indigenous peoples, but that is not what they chose to do. They chose to engage in partisan politics. That says a lot about their priorities.
    The motion before us today orders certain members of ministerial staff to appear before committees.
    I would like to begin by making it clear that ministers are accountable to the Administration of the House of Commons for duties carried out within their departments and for the actions of their political staff in their political offices, period.
    Page 30 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice states the following regarding the fact that ministers are responsible to Parliament:
    In terms of ministerial responsibility, Ministers have both individual and collective responsibilities to Parliament....The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates; individual ministerial responsibility provides the basis for accountability throughout the system. Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of a Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts.

  (1055)  

[English]

    Now, this is not a new concept. It is quite the opposite. I ask members to allow me to quote the former prime minister, who, in the 2006 publication “Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers”, stated, “Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the exercise of their responsibilities whether they are assigned by statute or otherwise.... Ministers are personally responsible for the conduct and operation of their office.”
    Former Conservative House leader Jay Hill strongly made the case on behalf of the former Conservative government on May 25, 2010. I was there, and he was extremely clear. Mr. Hill said:
    In our system of government, the powers of the Crown are exercised by ministers who are, in turn, answerable to Parliament. Ministers are individually and collectively responsible to the House of Commons for the policies, programs and activities of the government. They are supported in the exercise of their responsibilities by the public servants and by members of their office staffs.
    It is the responsibility of individual public servants and office staff members to provide advice and information to ministers, to carry out faithfully the directions given by ministers, and in so doing, to serve the people of Canada....
    Ours is a system of responsible government because...ministers are responsible to the House for everything that is done under their authority. We ministers are answerable to Parliament and to its committees. It is ministers who decide policy and ministers who must defend it before the House and ultimately before the people of Canada.
    I could not agree more with the remarks of the former Conservative House leader. However, there is more that Mr. Hill had to say on this, and I am in complete agreement with what he said.

[Translation]

    In his remarks, Mr. Hill clearly stated that ministerial staff, much like public servants, are not accountable to Parliament for either government policy or decisions regarding government operations.
    Public servants may be called to testify in committee on the implementation of policies, but they must defer to the minister to answer questions about the policies themselves and the decisions pertaining to them.
    As for ministerial staff, the scope of information available to them is even more limited than it is for public servants, because they are not involved in the department's operations.

[English]

    Ministerial staff have no authority to make decisions on behalf of ministers. As I have said, they report to and are accountable to ministers. Ministers are accountable for their actions.
    Ministerial staff did not put their names on ballots. They were not elected. They do not have the same rights and privileges as MPs. The opposition will likely point to ministerial staffers called before committee in 2010. There is a big difference here. There was clear evidence of staffers breaking the law. The Privacy Commissioner subsequently issued two reports that found that ministerial staffers had interfered with the release of records under the Access to Information Act.
     It is critical to point out that there was much debate about the decision by the government to send ministers to committees rather than staff. Ultimately, this position was accepted by the Liberals, who formed the official opposition at the time. We accepted that, and it was the right thing to do. There was a clear acceptance of the principle of ministerial responsibility.
    Today, we find ourselves in a similar position with numerous staff members being called before committees. Now we have this heavy-handed motion. There is clearly a lack of due process with the motion. Mr. Hill touched on due process in his intervention in 2010 when he said, “People's conduct is being attacked without any of the fairness or procedural safeguards or principles of justice that would be found in a court or a tribunal.”

  (1100)  

[Translation]

    That is exactly what is happening at the Standing Committee on National Defence. The Conservatives moved a motion calling for a ministerial staff member to appear before even getting a response to the invitation.
    Today's motion goes even further. Staff are receiving orders to appear before committees and, in some cases, before even getting an invitation. It is unprecedented. This is certainly an abuse of the powers and privileges they have as MPs.

[English]

    We have sent a staffer to testify at committee, and we all saw what happened. The staffer was badgered by the Conservatives, repeatedly interrupted, accused of a cover-up, accused of being untruthful, accused of something that was false and easily verified with a simple Google search.
    We have also seen a preview this week of how the opposition would treat staff appearing at committee. The member for Carleton, without any evidence, accused a staff member of giving a handout of half a billion dollars to a friend of the government. So much for due process.
    Just yesterday, the member for Carleton smeared one of the staff members in question, falsely accusing him of destroying documents. This is completely unacceptable, and is a further demonstration that the Conservatives are only interested in partisan politics.
    We know now how the opposition treats staff who do not have the privilege and immunities that members enjoy. Their actions speak for themselves. Members of this House are protected from intimidation through our parliamentary privilege. It is totally irresponsible for members to turn this protection into weapons against those who are not covered by these protections. Not only is it irresponsible, it is a clear abuse of power.

[Translation]

    Our government has co-operated with and supported the parliamentary committees in their important work. When documents were requested they were provided. When ministers were invited to appear, they appeared.
    On the matters raised in today's motion, we have demonstrated ministerial responsibility many times.
    The Prime Minister and his chief of staff testified. The Minister of Defence has testified several times. The Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth has testified. The former finance minister testified. The ministers have assumed their responsibility of being accountable to Parliament. It is their responsibility to be accountable and that is what they did. They will continue to do so, in fact.

[English]

    What we are seeing here is the opposition using the tyranny of the majority to walk all over the rights of the minority. It is seeking to weaponize our parliamentary institutions to reach a preconceived conclusion. It is seeking to undermine the public's trust in our institutions.
    Calling for staff to appear before a committee is not the only case of the opposition behaving this way during this Parliament. It has been using its majority at committees to call for the production of papers, which is fine, as that is its right and its job, while questioning the neutrality and integrity of the public service. It is refusing to trust the non-partisan public servants to redact documents. At the finance committee, the Conservatives wanted to find public servants guilty without even hearing from them. How low can they go? They have undermined faith in the public service as an institution during a pandemic, which is not the time for Canadians to lose trust in our institutions. The Conservatives are playing a very dangerous game.
    I want to take a moment to step back and provide a few other examples of the irresponsible behaviour of the opposition, and there are many. To be honest, we had to choose. The deputy leader of the Conservative Party posted a telephone number of a private company on social media and encouraged Canadians to call and demand that the company break Canada's privacy laws and release information. This led to harassment and personal threats that left employees fearing for their personal safety and required the police to get involved. Moreover, the Conservative ethics critic sent a letter to a private company asking it to break the law. The opposition tried to compel the release of personal information of private citizens.
    Those are just a few examples that we picked among so many others.

  (1105)  

[Translation]

    It is the type of thing that undermines everyone's confidence in the House of Commons, in its capacity to be a positive agent of change in the life of all Canadians. I am referring to the point that the former Conservative House leader, Mr. Hill, made 11 years ago. Our constitutional principles require that ministers be accountable to Parliament. It is a fundamental principle.

[English]

    Let me quote Mr. Hill on that important point. He states:
    This is no substitute for ministerial responsibility. When ministers choose to appear before committees to account for their administration, they are the best source of accountability and they must be heard. Public servants and ministerial staff support the responsibility of their ministers. They do not supplant it. They cannot supplant it.
    By using its majority on committees, the opposition is trying to deflect accountability from the minister to ministerial staff. That is unacceptable.
    Let me end my remarks with some wise words from that former Conservative minister whom I have quoted extensively today. He is right. He stated this about the staff:
     They bring to us many talents and I expect many of them, when they accepted their jobs, never imagined that one of the skills required was to stand up to the interrogation of a bitterly partisan parliamentary committee.
    As a result of the actions of the opposition today, like the approach of the Conservative government in 2010, I say here today that ministers will instruct their staff not to appear when called before committees and that the government will send ministers instead to account for their actions.

[Translation]

    While the Conservatives continue to play political games, we continue to focus on keeping Canadians healthy and safe, as well as protecting their jobs and stimulating the economy during this time of crisis. Everyone makes choices.

  (1110)  

    Before we go to questions and comments, I would ask hon. members to keep their questions, comments and answers to one minute each. A lot of members want to speak and participate in this period.
    The hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, would the government House leader agree with his Minister of National Defence at the defence committee on March 12 who, when asked, “Who is responsible and accountable for the failure of this allegation being investigated?”, replied, “Yes. I'm absolutely responsible”?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, today's motion has to do with inviting employees to committees, to take advantage of what I referred to earlier as the tyranny of the majority to walk all over the minority, to force people who were not elected and who did not choose to come forward to testify. These people are often treated with no respect.
    What is clear is that the principles of ministerial responsibility must apply here as they have always been applied and as they must continue to be applied.
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. colleague has been talking about keeping Canadians safe and so on and so forth.
    We are talking about sexual misconduct by some of the highest-ranking members of the Canadian Armed Forces. We have to wonder whether the public is truly protected. If misconduct is happening at such high levels, what is going on at the lower levels? Is that the culture of the organization? How can we put partisanship aside to make real change and avoid simply creating a fancy program that ultimately does nothing?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question, which is very serious and extremely important.
    Every individual must be able to work, live and grow without feeling threatened and without discrimination, sexist remarks or threats. This principle applies to everyone at all levels of management and governance.
    I believe that everything must be done to protect everyone in our society, especially women who, all too often in the past, and even today, have experienced these types of threats and attitudes. I believe that is what the government is trying to do. As we have said, never again—this must not be allowed to happen again, whether in our armed forces or in society as a whole.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague about support for students. We are here today to talk about some of the scandals, such as the WE scandal and where that money went. Right now the government has promised time and time again to follow through on, for example, my unanimous consent motion to halt student loan payments. The Liberals have not stopped taking interest on those loans, which they also promised to do.
    The $912 million that was supposed to go to students never did. We keep hearing about how students will be getting support, but what I am really interested in today is how we can expect students and recent graduates to believe the government. How can we trust the government to do the right thing when it breaks its own promises, when it breaks the promises it has made to Canadian students and recent graduates, when $912 million goes missing and does not go to help the students who need it so desperately right now?
    The member talks about how Parliament needs to work. Well, the government members need to do what they say. They need to follow through on their word and the government is not doing that, so we have to find other methods to hold them to account.

  (1115)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. It is a very important question as it has to do with students, who are the future of our country. Students are the future leaders of unions and businesses, and will probably be future members, ministers and prime ministers.
    Our government was there for students from the very start of the crisis. We gave them access to funds because we knew that student jobs were most at risk. What do students do between semesters or in the summer? They often work at restaurants, hotels, patios and festivals, those sectors of the economy that have been affected almost more than any other. It was no longer possible to get those types of jobs.
    With the Canada emergency student benefit, we helped them get through that extremely difficult period. We created other programs. Unfortunately, the opposition often criticized those programs, but they were needed to help our students.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am going to ask my colleague if he thinks it is petty partisan politics for Parliament to want to know about why there was no investigation into alleged sexual impropriety at the highest levels of our Canadians Armed Forces? Is it petty partisan politics to want to know why the government gave an almost billion-dollar contract to someone who was friends with the Prime Minister? There is clear evidence that perhaps the Prime Minister's Office did help the program.
    Let me suggest that the over 20 meetings of filibustering by the Liberals is, indeed, petty partisan politics. What have they got to hide?
    Mr. Speaker, we are hiding nothing; absolutely nothing. The minister went to the committee when invited and he will go again when invited. What is petty politics is not recognizing the principle of ministerial accountability. It is funny that when the Conservatives were in power, it was so important to them. Mr. Hill gave great speeches. I was there. I quoted him today. Now all of a sudden, the principle of ministerial accountability is not important anymore and does not count. Did we throw it out the window? We invent other ways of making this Parliament work. We can change it every day if we want to. Why not? Ministerial accountability is fundamental; it was then and it is today.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his commitment to drawing the line between what is appropriate and what is not. The reality, unfortunately, is that in the six years I have been here, I have seen opposition members do some pretty incredible stuff when it comes to staff people, including the folks who work at this table in front of me, yelling and screaming at them as though they are political and partisan people when it comes to this place. We must draw a line, the line between what is acceptable and what is not. Who is responsible and who is a staff person who is working under the direction of a minister?
    Can the minister expand on some of what he has witnessed over the last number of years when it comes to partisan attacks? If the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman had invested half the amount of time into actually trying to solve some of the problems as they relate to the military, instead of just going on a witch hunt day after day, he would be so much further ahead.
    Can the minister reflect on that?
    Mr. Speaker, I really thank my colleague for his thoughts and the question. I think what it raises is extremely important. We are the public face of this Parliament. We put our faces on signs and posts and decided that we would run for the parts that are fun and the parts that are not that fun, and are difficult actually. Our staff did not make that choice. They chose to work for one of us, whatever the party, to change the world, to change and improve our society through their advice, support and help to ministers.
    They did not sign up to come here and to go before committee to get insulted and treated badly. They do not deserve to be treated like that. No one, none of us, deserves to be treated like that. Where the line is drawn, to directly answer the question by my colleague, is at the level of ministerial responsibility. That is a fundamental principle of our democracy and system, and we respect that system. I hope my colleagues do too.

  (1120)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Shefford.
    Hearing the government House leader tell us just now that the ministers are responsible and accountable and that it is not up to their staff to answer for them was music to my ears. I completely agree with him. It would make no sense.
    The problem is not that we disagree on the principles, it is that they do not walk the talk. The minister can tell us that he is responsible and that he is taking care of all this, but he and the government are not dealing with the situation.
    We spent the better part of last summer on the WE scandal. We were making such good progress that we were starting to shed light on the matter. The only thing the government could come up with was to prorogue Parliament to prevent the committee from continuing its work. We were forced to stop, and when the work resumed, they still kept us waiting for the documents.
    Last summer, I asked the Prime Minister and the former finance minister whether due diligence had been done before the government invested in WE Charity. They said that yes, it probably had. When I spoke to Mr. Shugart, the Clerk of the Privy Council, he confirmed that due diligence had been done. I asked him to send us the due diligence report, and he promised to do so. However, we never received it. That is an important document.
    When someone invests money, regardless of the amount, they need to know who they are doing business with. If I have $2,000 to put into an RRSP, I am not going to give that money to the first peddler who comes along without knowing who he is and what he is going to do with my money. I make sure to give my money to a bank or trust, a responsible organization that is going to manage my money responsibly and ensure that I am not wasting it.
    When the government, which manages my taxes, decides to invest my money, I expect it to be at least as diligent as I am, if not more. Normally, when someone is managing other people's money, they should be even more careful than when they are managing their own.
    The WE Charity contract was not a $2,000 deal. It was a contract for $43 million, possibly more because of the potential for subcontracts. Clearly WE Charity was willing to subcontract the work. It gave National a contract and could have given contracts to its other organizations, such as ME to WE, and other shell corporations. We were shown quite an extensive organizational chart, actually. There was at least $43 million involved, plus more for student grants that could have totalled almost $1 billion. It could have been as much as $904 million.
    It was the middle of the pandemic, so the government decided it did not have time to manage the program and would not bother with a tendering process, which is due diligence 101. It awarded the contract to the only organization it thought could provide the service: WE Charity.
    The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and the Standing Committee on Finance heard from experts who said that a tender is essential but that if the situation is truly beyond one's control and a tender is not possible, even greater vigilance is needed. Based on what we know so far, the government, which should have been even more vigilant than usual, awarded the contract having done no due diligence whatsoever. It awarded a $43-million contract without checking into the recipient at all.
    Then there was another emergency. We parliamentarians kept digging and realized that WE Charity, the entity the government had entrusted with $43 million of our money, was just a shell corporation. It was a new company. The Kielburger brothers are no fools. Their lawyer informed them that this was a big contract worth up to $1 billion and that they would be paid $43 million. The idea, then, was to put this into a separate company, because if the deal ever fell through, they did not want WE Charity to go belly up too. That was the plan in a nutshell, and I did not make it up. The Kielburger brothers told us the story themselves.

  (1125)  

     Their lawyers are the ones who recommended that they put $43 million into a new shell corporation, with no financial history, to manage nearly $1 billion, without due diligence or a tendering process.
    What did we learn as we kept digging? We learned that the corporation in question was not even capable of providing services in French. Everyone likes to talk about how Canada is this great bilingual country, but that is pure fiction. Yet again, the government is all talk and no action on languages, as on everything else. The organization was not capable of providing services in French, so it was forced to subcontract services in Quebec to National.
    What else did we learn as we dug deeper into this scandal? We found out that people from WE Charity had helped the government design this program. The people who wanted to get paid for deciding where our money should go were telling the government what to put in the contract that they would then awarded. On top of that, they were told to put it in a shell corporation so that they would not lose anything if the project were to fail. Unbelievable.
    Not only were they the ones designing the program, but what else did we learn? The people who were telling the government how to design the program were not even registered as lobbyists. No one from WE Charity was registered as a lobbyist. However certain individuals were working with public servants every day to design a program that would get them a $43-million contract. That is hardly small potatoes
    The icing on the cake is that, by asking questions, we learned that the Prime Minister and the finance minister at the time were in a conflict of interest when they issued that contract. The worst part is that they were aware of it. They knew that they should not get involved, but they did so anyway.
    There was an initial cabinet meeting, as the Prime Minister testified last summer. He saw the subject on the agenda and said that he was not sure he could get involved because he was in a conflict of interest. He knew the Kielburgers, and his family, namely his mother, brother and wife, had received contracts worth approximately half a million dollars from them. In order to reassure the Prime Minister, the meeting was postponed for two weeks.
    The Prime Minister then had two weeks to think. Nevertheless, he and the then finance minister ended up voting on a contract in which they had a conflict of interest, a contract that was problematic for all the reasons I just outlined.
    They do not want to answer our questions. They prorogue Parliament when they think we are asking too many questions. We therefore put our questions to the Kielburger brothers, who confirmed a few things. One of the brothers—I believe it was Marc Kielburger—confirmed that he had sent a message through LinkedIn to several employees in the department, thanking them for working with him to shape the program. The government, meanwhile, tells us that everything is fine, that it prepared the program itself, without any help from WE Charity.
    WE says that it was thanking public servants for preparing it. We want to get to the bottom of this. If the ministers do not want to give us an answer, we will ask the employees involved, the ones the Kielburger brothers referred to. We want to ask them what really went on, but we are being told that the ministers have to take responsibility.
    I agree with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. I would love to see the ministers take responsibility. That is music to my ears. I invite them to testify before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and to answer for their staff. However, they must actually give an answer. They cannot do what they have been doing over the past few months, such as sending 5,000 pages of redacted documents, including 349 pages that, according to the law clerk, were redacted in a way that did not comply with the committee's instructions.
    I hope they will not prorogue Parliament or call an election to prevent us from continuing our work. They must stop beating around the bush. They must take responsibility. Unfortunately, we have lost faith in them. At this point, we are determined to get to the bottom of this matter. It is taxpayers' money, and it is not peanuts. We are talking about $43 million to manage almost $1 billion. We want to hear from those responsible for this program. I want to see the due diligence report that we have been promised since August.

  (1130)  

    

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, earlier this week, I heard the government House leader, in response to multiple questions, say over and over that committees were “masters of their own work”. That seems to be a standard reply. In other words, committees can decide how to conduct their business. However, today, we have the revelation that he does not really think that anymore. Now he is saying that they are not really masters of their own work, because the Liberals do not like it if they want to call certain witnesses as opposed to other witnesses.
    I wonder if this is a concern for the member as well and whether he thinks this shift in government position away from the autonomy of committees is of concern.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his very important question.
    I agree with him. In fact, I did not mention this in my introductory speech, but I was surprised by what the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said. I have a great deal of respect for him because we can trust him on his word. He is intelligent and honest and a man of integrity. A few minutes ago I heard him say that if the committee ordered officials to appear before the committee, he would advise them not to obey those orders. It is quite unusual for a minister to tell his employees to disobey committee orders.
    I would like an explanation on this. I think this is pretty serious. My colleague is absolutely right. It is one thing to say that you take responsibility, but it is another thing to do it. When the committees call on the ministers, it is not to get together for a cup of coffee. It is to honestly answer questions without beating around the bush. If the committee thinks it is important to hear testimony from officials, then it is the minister's job to tell his employees that they must obey the orders. He must certainly not encourage them to revolt against the orders given by the committee. It makes no sense. I have too much respect for the leader—
    We will now move on to other questions.
    The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord for his speech and for the months he has spent working on the whole WE Charity scandal.
    He painted quite a captivating picture of all of the Liberals' mistakes. However, I want to mention the students, who have been overlooked in this scandal and who did not end up getting the money or assistance. The Liberals dragged their feet on the Canada emergency student benefit. We had to twist their arms. They broke their promise to pay the interest fees on student loans. They completely mismanaged the program. There were conflicts of interest and oversights, and students ultimately paid the price.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    I think he is absolutely right about students and citizens paying the price. Based on what we were told, WE Charity has reimbursed all the money it was given, so there may be no loss there. We need to look into that, but that is the information we have now.
    I think the program was a good idea initially. Getting students who need to earn money into the labour market and, by the same token, helping organizations that need workers is a good idea. I have nothing against good ideas. I do have something against the insidious way they tried to do it. To be blunt, the government was trying to help its friends. WE Charity helped Mr. Trudeau's family, and Mr. Trudeau's family helped WE Charity in return. The really despicable part is that they claimed they wanted to help students and organizations.
    I agree that we should help students and organizations. In fact, I do that myself. I help organizations in my riding. For example, I participate in the various events that they organize. I try my best to help them. I think they need help, especially during the pandemic. As for students, there is no question that we should help them. I will reiterate that the program is not the problem. The problem is the way the program was implemented. It was not done properly. Basically, helping students was just a pretext. The real objective was to help WE Charity. That is what was done.

  (1135)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord for his hard work and his speech on these two two files that we are talking about today, namely WE Charity and the cases of sexual assault within the Canadian Armed Forces.
    These two files provide clear evidence of this Liberal government's lack of transparency with regard to all of the things it is trying to hide from us for various reasons. That is really hurting our democracy and fails to meet our need to know the details of these key files, namely the WE Charity and the cases of sexual assault within the Canadian Armed Forces.
    As my party's critic for the status of women, I rise today to speak to the following part of the Conservative motion:
    
    That, with a view to support the authority of committees in their important inquiries of public interest:
    
...
    
(b) regarding the study on addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces by the Standing Committee on National Defence, Zita Astravas, formerly the Minister of National Defence's chief of staff and the Prime Minister's Director of Issues Management and currently the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness's chief of staff, be ordered to appear before the committee on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at 10:00 a.m.;
    
(c) should the Prime Minister instead appear before the committees mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b), at any of the dates and times mentioned, for at least three hours, the witness otherwise scheduled to appear, and any other witnesses scheduled to appear before the same committee at a later time, be relieved of their obligation to appear pursuant to this order; and
    
(d) it be an instruction to the Chairs of the committees mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) to convene televised meetings of their respective committee, at the dates and times mentioned, for at least three hours, for the purpose of receiving evidence from the individuals then ordered to appear or the Prime Minister, as the case may be, unless the individual has been relieved from attending under the provisions of paragraph (c), provided that the witnesses be required to appear until discharged by the committee.
    Today, therefore, I will be addressing this part of the Conservatives’ motion, the sensitive matter of sexual assault that is currently being considered by both the Standing Committee on National Defence and the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. I will focus on three aspects. I will begin with a brief history of the issue and the reason why the Standing Committee on the Status of Women is studying it. I will then talk about the current debates, before concluding with a few hopes for the future and for the follow-up to the investigation.
    In 2015, former justice Marie Deschamps published a devastating report on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, which led to an article by Noémi Mercier in L’actualité. That same year, shortly after the Deschamps report was released, the Conservative Party appointed General Jonathan Vance chief of the defence staff. As Ray Novak, former chief of staff to Stephen Harper, confirmed, allegations of sexual misconduct were already circulating when Mr. Vance appeared before the national defence committee in 2015. The Conservatives called for an investigation, which found that nothing inappropriate had taken place. Mr. Vance’s appointment was then confirmed. Immediately after he was appointed chief of the defence staff, General Vance launched Operation Honour, aimed at eliminating sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
    In 2018, former Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne received a complaint against Mr. Vance supported by evidence deemed credible. The victim, however, did not want to go any further, which prevented the ombudsman from pursuing the investigation. His hands tied, on March 1, 2018, Mr. Walbourne tried to warn the Liberal Minister of National Defence and show him the evidence of General Vance’s inappropriate behaviour. The minister apparently refused to look at the incriminating documents or discuss the matter with the ombudsman. This is clear evidence of the government’s lack of transparency, which it tried to hide.
    Mr. Walbourne described the meeting as hostile. The minister apparently refused to speak with him seven times, until Mr. Walbourne retired. It seems the Minister of Defence simply had his chief of staff at the time, Zita Astravas, notify the Privy Council of the allegations, without following up in any way or calling for an investigation. An email from Mrs. Astravas dated March 5, 2018, confirmed that the Minister of Defence heard the allegations against Mr. Vance and that she herself forwarded the information to the Privy Council.
    In 2019, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women looked into the matter just before the end of the session when the general election was called. The study was put on hold. When we tried to refer the study back to the committee, the Liberals first tried to say that the matter should not be considered in two committees, and that the Standing Committee on National Defence could do the job. At first, the government even tried to hide from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that members wanted to address this feminist angle from the start.

  (1140)  

    Now we are finally discussing it. The study started last Tuesday, but we had to work hard to be able to discuss this aspect, the treatment of women in the Canadian Armed Forces. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women can now examine the issue from that angle.
    Let us go over the timeline of events. General Vance announced his retirement on July 23, 2020. On February 2, Global News reported that allegations of sexual misconduct had been made against General Vance. The Standing Committee on National Defence looked into the matter, paying particular attention to the actions of the Minister of National Defence, who had known for three years that General Vance was the subject of serious allegations.
    When the Minister of National Defence first appeared before the committee, he systematically refused to answer questions on the pretext that the case was before the courts.
    The testimony of Gary Walbourne, who confirmed that he had informed the Minister of National Defence and that the minister had not even wanted to look at the file, was a real black eye for the government.
    Other witnesses at committee confirmed that the minister should have taken action and that he had several tools at his disposal to order an inquiry. None of the witnesses could understand why the minister failed to act.
    The Minister of National Defence appeared before the committee again in March. This time, he agreed to speak in order to defend his handling of the case. He admitted that he had refused to look at Walbourne's file, claiming that he did not want to do the investigating himself, though no one was asking him to do that.
    One of the missing links for finding out exactly what happened and what the Liberal government did, or rather did not do, is the Minister of National Defence's former chief of staff, Zita Astravas, who is currently serving as chief of staff for the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. She was the one handling the case.
    The committee tried to contact her several times to invite her to testify, but she never even responded. The committee tried to force her to appear, but the Liberals wanted to invite her again rather than force her. The Conservative motion was defeated by the Bloc and the Liberals. The Bloc Québécois wanted to give her one last chance before forcing her to appear because, let us be frank, that is an extreme measure.
    I remind members that the Trudeau government had no problem dragging Mark Norman, second in command, through the mud. The Prime Minister even said twice that the case would be going to court, while Mr. Norman wanted to sound the alarm about Scott Brison's plot to withdraw the Asterix contract from the Davie shipyard to help his buddies at Irving. There is a double standard here.
    The Crown finally dropped the charges and Scott Brison resigned. Meanwhile, as the Trudeau government was doing everything it could to take down Mr. Norman, the Liberals did absolutely nothing with Mr. Vance. General Vance's successor as chief of defence staff, Admiral McDonald, even pulled out after some allegations of sexual misconduct against him—

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been reluctant to raise it, but the speaker prior to the current member and now the member have, on two occasions, referred to the Prime Minister by his last name instead of using his title or his constituency. Members know full know that we are not supposed to be making reference to members by name.

[Translation]

    I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his comments. He is quite right.
    I am sure the member is aware of the rules. I would ask her to respect them as she continues her speech.
    The hon. member for Shefford has two minutes remaining.

  (1145)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am on target for time.
    Since Tuesday, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women has resumed its study of the issue of sexual misconduct. The Standing Committee on National Defence is also examining it. Our first witness was the Minister of National Defence, who basically repeated that he found these allegations concerning and disturbing, yet he did nothing about them for over three years.
    The Department of National Defence, meanwhile, continues to say that sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is unacceptable. While Operation Honour was supposed to reduce the number of sexual assaults, we now know that senior officers have committed assaults with impunity.
    Because generals outrank military judges and cannot be disciplined by anyone in the Canadian Armed Forces, we are now seeing many cases of sexual misconduct at the highest levels.
    General Vance, the former chief of the defence staff who launched Operation Honour, had already been accused of sexual misconduct back in 2018. According to former ombudsman Gary Walbourne, the defence minister refused to even look at the incriminating evidence.
    That the defence minister did nothing for nearly three years is quite troubling. By failing to take action against the highest-ranking officers, the government chose to protect the generals instead of the victims who were in the worst work environments possible. Members of the military are subject to the Code of Service Discipline, which means that the senior officers are in a position of power over the members. It is therefore easy for the officers to abuse their power and their subordinates, a point that was mentioned on Tuesday in the Standing Committee on Status of Women.
    The Bloc Québécois believes it is important to learn from the General Vance case, to prevent such things from happening again. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the motion to have the defence and status of women committees study this issue.
    In conclusion, some solutions could be implemented, but it will take political will to make the Canadian Armed Forces safe again for women and to break the culture of silence. You cannot call yourself a feminist and continue to tolerate sexual violence in the Canadian army. For all these reasons, I believe it is high time we took action.
    Mr. Speaker, I will try to speak French. I thank the member for emphasizing the importance of dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces.
    In the member's opinion, what is the next step that should be taken to get answers—

[English]

    I am going to interrupt the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. We are not getting his video. Could he check to ensure it is on? We had video initially and then it disappeared.
    Mr. Speaker, unfortunately I am getting a whole bunch of errors and I cannot start my video. I do not know why it kicked off. I will reboot the system and try to get back in.
    I thank the hon. member. We have heard enough of the question to get started, and I compliment the hon. member for using his second language. The hon. member for Shefford can respond to the part of the question that we did hear.
    The hon. member for Shefford.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question.
    The reason I read out the motion is that witnesses who have not yet appeared are named in it. We had this same debate at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. There were attempts to not summon certain people who were key witnesses.
    I think the key to getting to the bottom of this whole thing is letting both committees do their investigations.
    Today, during the second hour of the status of women committee meeting, from noon to 1 p.m., we will be joined by retired Justice Marie Deschamps. As I said, in 2015, she wrote a report and recommendations, not all of which were implemented. The least we can do is revisit those recommendations to find out why they were not implemented and what can be done as soon as possible. Let us give the defence committee and the status of women committee a chance to study the issues simultaneously.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am a bit concerned. It appears the Bloc, whether willingly or unwillingly, seems to be falling into what I would suggest is the Conservative trap of playing a very destructive role.
    Whether it is in committees or on the floor of the House of Commons, the government House leader referred to the whole idea of tyranny of the majority walking over the rights of the minority. The government's focus is on the coronavirus, and that is where our focus needs to be. Committees can do the work.
     Why does the Bloc now want the House of Commons to override what is taking place in our committees today?

  (1150)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am shocked to hear my colleague say that we are undermining the work of the committees.
    I would remind my colleague that with respect to the other part of today's motion regarding the WE Charity, we had a report before us and it was the government that slammed the brakes on the work of the committees by proroguing Parliament last summer.
    I can give other examples. A major report on the effects of COVID-19 was being examined at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The same goes for the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, which was studying an important topic. The Liberals were the ones who ended the work of the committees with prorogation.
    The same was true for the work on the WE Charity. The Bloc and the Conservative Party are not the only opposition parties that want to shed light on these affairs. The NDP wants to as well. At the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, among others, we want to shed light on the allegations of sexual assault in the Canadian Armed Forces.
    The opposition parties are not responsible for tearing down the government. It is the government that is tearing itself down and preventing the work of the committees.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech and for all of the work that she has done over the years to support women's rights.
    I want to come back to the scandal involving sexual assault in the Canadian Armed Forces and the Liberal government's many versions of what happened there.
    The Minister of National Defence told us in committee that he had never heard of this scandal. We then learned that the ombudsman had informed him of it three years ago. The Prime Minister said that he learned about it from the media, but he too was actually informed of it by the Privy Council a few years ago.
    Does my colleague from Shefford think the Liberals tried to cover up this scandal rather than standing up for women?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    When listening to the testimony at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I felt like I was watching a ping-pong match, with the ball flying back and forth between the ombudsman, the minister and the Prime Minister's Office. I assume my colleague is seeing the same thing at the Standing Committee on National Defence.
    In the end, who are the big losers in all of this? They are the victims of sexual assault in the Canadian Armed Forces. They are the ones who no longer know where to go to report cases of assault because of this process, which was completely lacking in transparency.
    We need independent authorities to look into these complaints. We need to find solutions.
    In order to do that, the committees need to continue their work. The government needs to stop saying that we want to do away with committees. We want the committees to work and find solutions for the well-being of women in the Canadian Armed Forces.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to join the debate today, albeit not from within the House itself but from within my constituency of Edmonton Strathcona. I will be splitting my time today with the member for Timmins—James Bay.
    This is a long motion, so I am going to speak about a number of different portions of it. I am going to start by talking about the committee work and the important, vital role committees play in our parliamentary democracy.
    We heard from the government that it is the opposition that is causing problems and preventing committees from doing their work. I have to flag that I just do not see this as accurate. We know committees must be empowered and we know they must be independent, but they are not able to do their work right now because of obstruction from Liberal members of these committees. A perfect example is the committee on which I sit, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Sitting on this committee for the last few weeks, I have been listening to members of the Liberal Party talking about their cats, about cutting their lawns and about a number of different things in order to not have to discuss the very important issue of global vaccine equity.
    At the committee I would like to talk about vaccines, about how they are being dispersed around the world and how we are making sure dangerous variants appearing around the world are not endangering Canadians. I want to talk about why we do not have national capacity to develop vaccines in Canada. I want to talk about why we are the only G7 country taking vaccines from poorer countries through the COVAX program, despite having negotiated 10 times what we need through bilateral agreements. However, we cannot talk about that because the Liberals have been filibustering.
    What is even more disturbing is that while I would love to talk about what I think is one of the most important issues of the moment, which is the equality of vaccine distribution, the committee also needs to be talking about all the things happening around the world. The committee needs to be talking about arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It needs to be talking about what is happening with China, Hong Kong and Myanmar, and what is happening with Yemen, which is named as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. We cannot do that work either, because of the obstruction by the government.
    When we hear the government say it is in fact the opposition that is preventing it, it is very clear to me that this is in fact not the case. It is the filibustering, the withholding of documents, the redacting of documents and the obstructing of work. Our democracy is in a very sad state when we are not being enabled to do the work we need to do. Because the NDP strongly supports anything that adds to the transparency and accountability of the government, I will certainly be supporting this legislation.
    The next thing I want to talk about is the WE scandal and some of the things that have happened around the WE scandal. As an NDP member, I have been very pleased over the pandemic to see the support we have been able to get the government to agree to for Canadians. The CERB was always just going to be a tweak on EI, but the NDP was able to convince the government to make it $2,000 and extend it into the CRB. We knew the wage subsidy was going to be 10%; we convinced the government to get it to 75%.
    The rent program was a deeply flawed program because it was landlord-driven, but we were able to convince the government to fix it. Of course, we were not able to get it applied back retroactively to April, so many constituencies and many businesses in Edmonton Strathcona really suffered, but we were able to get a program for people. We were able to get support for seniors and for people living with disabilities, and we are really proud of that.
     We were also able to get some support for students. There was the CESB and there was a moratorium on student loan repayments, but we lost the thread there. In June, there was a huge announcement that there was going to be all this money for students. It was going to be great and help students. We knew they were suffering. We knew that not every student came from a wealthy family and that not every student was getting the support they needed, and they were not able to work over the summer, something they needed to do, so we were delighted to hear about the supports.

  (1155)  

    However, I was very concerned when I heard the organization being used to develop this program was the WE Charity. As someone who has worked for over 25 years in international development, I was very disappointed when I heard Mr. Trudeau defend the partnership, saying that WE was the only group with a countrywide network capable of operating—
    Order. I see now that the hon. member recognizes that little error. That has happened a couple of times today, and I give a nudge and a reminder in that direction for members to avoid that mistake.
    We will go ahead with the hon. member for Edmonton Strathcona.
    Mr. Speaker, it is an error I fall into on occasion. I apologize.
    The Prime Minister defended the partnership, saying that WE was the only group with a countrywide network capable of operating a program on this scale for young people. That was not true. That was very clearly not true. As someone who has worked in the sector, I can tell members that there are a number of organizations that could have done that much better.
    I can also tell members that the WE organization is not a good international development charity. There is a reason that it is not part of any charitable umbrella group. There is a reason that it is not seen as a player within the sector. It does bad development work. It takes advantage of students. To be perfectly honest, it is basically the Liberal equivalent of a charity: it is all glitter and no substance, or, as we say in Alberta, it is all sizzle and no steak.
    There were many organizations that would have been capable of doing that work and developing that program really well, and there are tons of ugly details that I can get into, such as the unethical relationships and the extremely poor judgment that we saw from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, but I do not want to talk about that; I want to talk about students, because, like so many Canadians, I am weary of hearing about scandal after scandal by the government.
    What I think has been lost in this discussion is that there was almost a billion dollars promised to help students, and it went missing. Nobody knows where that money went. In Alberta, there have been massive cuts to post-secondary education. Students and recent graduates are really suffering in my province and across the country. The Liberal government promised to relieve student loan debt; it has not done that yet. The Liberals agreed to my unanimous consent motion to halt repayments on student loans until after the pandemic, but again they acted in bad faith and have not done that.
    We need to find out why they wanted this money to go to WE charity, because it is in fact a really bad organization to give money to, but we also need to know what we are going to do to protect students and how students ended up having to bear the brunt of these bad decisions by the Liberal government.
    Now I am going to talk a bit about what happened with sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces.
    As the NDP deputy critic for women, gender and equality, I am shocked at the allegations of sexual misconduct in the military. I have dedicated my life to international development, sustainable development and human rights, with a particular focus on the rights of women and girls in Canada and around the world, so I am deeply troubled by these allegations and the continued failure to protect women and to have a reporting mechanism in place that will protect victims.
    For women to be able to serve equally in the armed forces, they have to have confidence that complaints will be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly, no matter who is the perpetrator. The Minister of National Defence and the Prime Minister knew about sexual misconduct allegations against the chief of the defence staff, General Vance, in 2018, yet they decided to leave him at the very top of the chain of command for more than three years.
    I have to tell members that I had a phone call last week. One of the victims actually phoned my office and wanted to talk to me about what she had experienced. She felt revictimized. She felt scared of reprisal. She felt that the country that she had devoted her life to was not protecting her safety. It was a very difficult conversation for me to hear. For the government to say that we do not have the right to get the information to get to the bottom of this and to fix the problems within our military for women like the young woman who phoned me is an insult. It is an absolute insult. It insults women and it insults students.
    The Liberals have tried many times here in the House and in many committees, and not just in the foreign affairs committee, to obfuscate and filibuster. They have worked to lead a conversation about what needs to be covered. They make excuses, they blame the Conservatives, they blame the provinces, they blame the processes in place, but they have the power to make those changes. They still have not come to terms with the fact that they have the ability to make those changes—

  (1200)  

    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Cloverdale—Langley City.
    Madam Speaker, I would ask this. Does the member believe the Liberals have any credibility left as champions of women's rights, based on what has been heard at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women?
    Madam Speaker, I spoke to a young woman from the Canadian military. It was heartbreaking to hear how much she wanted to support the military and do her job, but under the current government she felt she could not do her job and was not being protected. To hear a proud member of our military say she was afraid and had been abandoned by the government gives me little faith that it is protecting women. That needs to change right now.
    Madam Speaker, I understand and appreciate the member's desire to get the information she wants, but I appeal to her sense of whether it is appropriate to ask staff to come forward to testify at a committee. I know she used to be the executive director of an organization where she had staff below her.
    Would it have been appropriate for staff to be called to testify or would she, as the executive director, have said that she would answer on behalf of her staff?

  (1205)  

    Madam Speaker, the key priority here is getting answers, because that is what the opposition's role is. It is what the government needs to do and it is our job within the committees. I was the executive director of an organization and would feel it was my responsibility to speak on behalf of that organization, but I also had staff who were experts in particular areas and they would be the best people to ask. That is what I am saying. When we cannot get answers from the government, when it does not answer our questions in good faith, what are we meant to do as opposition? I am a new member of Parliament, but not so new that I do not know what my job is. My job is to hold the government to account. The government is making it very difficult for me to do that.
    Madam Speaker, I want to thank my good friend and colleague for all the work she does. She mentioned students, and when the government rescinded the $912 million it promised because of the WE scandal. The government failed students, even though it supported my friend's unanimous consent motion to have the loan repayment moratorium extended until at least May 2021.
    Can she tell us about the NDP's plan?
    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for being such an important voice in Parliament and an important mentor to me.
    We would like to see the government stop the interest on student loans, as it should not be profiting off the backs of student loans, and put a moratorium on repaying student loans.
    Recent graduates are suffering right now. Let us give them the help they deserve: the same help we have given to other sectors. Let us forgive some debt. Our leader came forward this week and brought a plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt per student.
     We should be working toward tuition-free post-secondary education. There are 24 countries in the world that have free post-secondary education. That is something we should be working toward.
    Madam Speaker, it is always a great honour to rise in the House representing the people of Timmins—James Bay. We are dealing today with another day of immature fighting between the Conservatives and the Liberals.
    When the Conservatives were in power, their schtick was conducting everything in camera. Everything had to go in camera. The idea that we could have a public committee was outrageous. Everything had to go in camera.
    On the other hand, if the Liberals do not like a question, they filibuster. We have a government actually obstructing its own committees, then the Liberals act like the whiniest picked-upon people. They have a new thing now: there is somehow a tyranny of the majority picking on the minority. The minority here is the Government of Canada.
    The Liberals have been filibustering about the fact that the Liberal government is trying to stop accessing vaccines in the third world. They have been filibustering on that. They have been filibustering the very serious issue of sexual misconduct and the failure of the defence department to defend women in the military. Rather than get answers, they are filibustering.
    Of course, they have filibustered in the ethics committee day in and day out for so long that, in terms of what is happening at the ethics committee, I think we know pretty much all that we are going to know about the WE group. We know that after eight months, we can honestly and confidently say we do not have a clue how this financial operation runs. This is such an obscure, massive system of all their real estate holdings, their private companies, their supposed public entities, their charities and their holding companies that we still have not been able, after eight months, to get answers. That is very serious. In fact, we just had a letter from their lawyer who is outraged that we are asking how many schools they actually built. Apparently it will take months to get an answer to that.
    On the issue of what is before—

  (1210)  

    The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands has a point of order.
    Madam Speaker, on the issue of filibustering, I believe it is the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, an NDP member, who holds the record for filibustering in the House. Just—
    That is debate. The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, please proceed.
    Madam Speaker, this is typical. The Liberals believe that if they act like sock puppets for the Prime Minister's Office they will get advancement instead of actually acting like parliamentarians. It is a typical example that they insult and shout, but then nobody is a victim like a Liberal is a victim. That is certainly something I have seen.
    I will say that there is one thing Conservatives and Liberals agree on at committee. As the one member of the New Democratic Party, whenever I try to find a compromise, the Liberals and Conservatives absolutely agree that there is going to be no compromise. It is going to be a fight to the finish.
     I have tried to work with the Liberals. I want to get this thing solved. The reason I want to get this solved is because these procedural games are interfering with some very serious work we need to do, so I would say a pox on both their houses. One of the things that we actually need to deal with is the study into Pornhub/MindGeek, which I am very concerned is not going to get finished. There are very serious issues here, and I do not see any interest in compromise from the Liberals or the Conservatives at this point so that we can get that study done.
    We have received some extraordinary messages from people around the world who are looking to our committee to do something that has never been done before, and to shine a light into some very dark corners. However, there are powerful statements that might never see the light of day because of the filibustering.
    I was astounded the other day that we actually got a message from Rose Columba. I had mentioned her, and she was the first one to come forward. She was raped and tortured as a child, and her abuse was posted on Pornhub, which is owned by MindGeek. The abuse that young child suffered was horrific, and she could not get it taken down. She wrote to us, saying she thought that it would be a monumental moment if we actually got the study done. She said that:
     I was the first Pornhub survivor to speak out with my face and real name [that was] initially on social media... and then... [on] BBC World.
    I learned of her story from BBC World, but I did not know that she is Canadian.
    Her letter continues with:
     ...I was 14, I was raped, and my attackers videoed the assault and posted it. After my rape, I tried to commit suicide, and after I survived [I] struggled greatly to manage my life.... I was revictimized by the posting of the video on Pornhub where an unknown number of others could watch, download and distribute my assault.... Six videos of my rape at age 14, uploaded by...my attackers, stayed on Pornhub while they refused to remove them for over half a year. My cries to them where I begged them to take it down, stating that I was a minor and it was non-consensual, both of which were glaringly obvious, went unheard...while ads appeared [alongside] the rape video.
    She has reached out to our committee and asked us to do the job that needs to be done in getting answers.
    Here is another letter I want to read into the record. In case the filibustering goes on forever and we never get this done, it should be on the record. This is from a person who had worked in management at Pornhub/MindGeek. It says:
     I fear for my safety and so I prefer not to give more details...[but] please investigate all the cam-girl sites that MindGeek runs. I am certain many of the “models” are being held captive in trafficking situations all over the world. For example, women trying to escape North Korea will be held captive and forced into the cam studios in China by their trafficker, who they just thought would help them get out.... This story repeats globally. MindGeek denies responsibility by separating themselves from the cam-girl studios. Instead, these companies are managed as affiliate relationships, marketing relationships, but MindGeek is making a lot of money off these women held against their will.
    The letter continues with:
     Ask MindGeek to provide all the financial records for all incoming and outgoing transactions in their affiliate networks for all business units. All pay sites. All Tube sites. All cam sites. All advertising networks like TrafficJunky. It will be very clear that the scope of the problem is much larger than anyone on the ethics committee or reporting in any mainstream media currently realizes. This problem is so much bigger than Pornhub.
    This former manager also mentioned that he was:
...discouraged from contacting Interpol when I stumbled on child content by my superiors. I was not allowed to report this kind of content when it crossed my desk.
    The issue that is before us is that we have a law in Canada, passed in 2011, that says if an online site has an allegation of child pornography, it has to refer it to the police.

  (1215)  

    Little Rose Kalemba, who was 14, was held and raped again and again and was physically tortured, when she went forward, she could have contacted Pornhub. It had a legal obligation to contact the RCMP and we would have a record of it.
    Serena Fleites, who spoke to us, was sexually abused at age 14 and she begged Pornhub to take the video down. There should be a record. Pornhub said it could not find any record of Ms. Fleites. It was going to check its files. However, there is a law in Canada that says there is a duty to report.
    The RCMP came to us, and told us it was difficult, that it needed more funding. We asked if it had ever dealt with Pornhub and asked it about compliance with the law. My understanding is that the RCMP said no. Then we read in La Presse that the RCMP went to Pornhub and asked about the duty to report, and Pornhub had said that it was not a Canadian company, that Pornhub, based in Montreal, is not a Canadian company, and the RCMP left.
    We are now being told by the director of public prosecutions that it is really a provincial matter, that even though we have federal laws to deal with child pornography, somehow it is the provincial government's responsibility to do this.
    These are the questions that we need to get to. We need to have the Minister of Justice come to explain whether or not we are going to have child pornography laws in this country that will be enforced or not enforced. We need to get to the study.
    I am encouraging, asking, begging my colleagues in the Liberal and Conservatives parties to stop beating each other with these plastic sticks for the cameras and to get down to the work that we need to do at committee. I would like to move that we amend the motion, if my colleagues would agree, to replace “10:00 a.m.” in paragraph (b) with “11:00 a.m.”
     It is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion. Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes if he consents to this amendment being moved.
    Madam Speaker, while we are supportive of the concept, at this time we will not be able to support the amendment.
    There is no consent. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 85, the amendment cannot be moved at this time.
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Cloverdale—Langley City
    Madam Speaker, having listened to this very passionate speech, I am very thankful for the member standing up and fighting for women in regard to the incredible tragedy we see happening with a company like MindGeek.
    Does the member believe that the Liberals have any credibility left as champions of women's rights, based on what we see happening at committee?
    Madam Speaker, what concerns me at committee, and it is not separate from ethics, is what happened with the investigation after the military ombudsman brought forward an allegation of sexual misconduct by Gen. Vance.
    The military ombudsman attempted to meet with the minister. The minister would not hear him. The next day, the PCO demanded to know the name of the woman complainant. Of course, in any case like this, it is the job of the ombudsman to protect a complainant. What concerns me is that Mr. Walbourne says that he was then forced out of his job, in what he said became an increasingly toxic environment.
    We have to assure the women of our nation who serve our country and put their lives on the line that this nation will have their back against men who try to use their power to undermine them. I believe we could get to the bottom of what is going on in the military if the Liberals would stop obstructing that part and actually bring forward the witnesses we need so we can get a report for all the women in the military.

  (1220)  

    Madam Speaker, notwithstanding the opening remarks about the Liberals and Conservatives, I agree with just about everything the member said in his speech. I know that he spoke very passionately about it.
    I, too, would love to see committees doing this very important work. I am assuming that this member is supporting the motion too, because another NDP member indicated that they were. However, I fail to see how this particular motion does anything other than politically go after staff members.
     If the member is very much interested in actually studying these very important issues, why would he support this motion that would only clog up the committee with additional partisan business, as opposed to getting to the important work that he talks about?
    Madam Speaker, if the member wants to talk about clogging up committee, I had to sit through 40 hours of the Liberals talking about the kind of underwear they bought while we needed to get to the issue of parliamentary business.
    The Liberals are telling us these poor staffers come in to make the world a better place, but we are talking about political staffers here. When the Liberals were in opposition, I remember when they brought a Conservative staffer before committee in 2006. They were more than willing to bring a Conservative staffer to committee. However, now that it concerns the Prime Minister's Office, the Liberals are saying that they have to protect them, that this is terrible behaviour by the majority somehow. Yes, it is a majority. That is what committee is.
    Whenever the Liberals do not get their way, they do not try to compromise or work out a solution. They just figure that they will talk about ridiculous things like the kind of underwear they bought. That is literally what they were talking about at our committee. They will talk for hours and hours. They wasted the equivalent of 20 straight meetings and then blamed us for all of the work that never got done. I would say to my colleague to just look in the mirror once in a while.
    Madam Speaker, I thank my friend and colleague from Timmins—James Bay for all the work he has done in the House of Commons.
    Canadians have seen too many Liberal scandals over the past few years, like at the Aga Khan's island and the SNC-Lavalin scandals. The Prime Minister was found guilty of breaking ethics laws in both of those cases. Now we have serious allegations about sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces and, of course, we have the WE scandal.
    Earlier today, the government House leader stated to the House that today's motion is nothing but petty partisan politics and that we are undermining the public service.
    Does the member believe that we should just move on and that this is nothing but petty politics?
    Madam Speaker, I think the Liberals should stop their filibustering on vaccines and stop filibustering what is happening at the defence committee. I think the Liberals and the Conservatives need to work with us and get the ethics committee back on track so we can get to the Pornhub study.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I want to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe.
    I am pleased to take part in today's debate on the motion moved by the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, and to point out to the House that we must once again expose the bad faith of the Liberal government, which is attempting to shirk its responsibility for answering to Canadians.
    I have made several speeches condemning this matter and asked many questions about the government's judgment and rather elastic conscience. No one has shown more contempt for ethics and transparency than the Liberal government since it came to power in 2015.
    Today's motion essentially seeks to compel the government to talk, something that is apparently easier to do in secret. The government often hides behind closed doors.
    The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics would obviously prefer to get answers from the Prime Minister, who took an oath to serve our country well. At the very least, the committee would like to get answers from the people who have been summoned. Even that would be better than nothing.
    I think it is worth repeating the motion.
     That, with a view to support the authority of committees in their important inquiries of public interest:
(a) regarding the study on questions of conflict of interest and lobbying in relation to pandemic spending by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics,
(i) an order of the House do issue for due diligence reports, in the care, custody or control of the Privy Council Office, respecting the Canada Student Service Grant, and that these documents be deposited, in both official languages, with the Clerk of the Committee no later than Thursday, April 1, 2021,
(ii) Rick Theis, the Prime Minister's Director of Policy and Cabinet Affairs, be ordered to appear before the committee on Monday, March 29, 2021, at 2 p.m.,
(iii) Amitpal Singh, the Deputy Prime Minister's Policy Advisor, be ordered to appear before the committee on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at 2 p.m.,
(iv) Ben Chin, the Prime Minister's Senior Advisor, be ordered to appear before the committee on Thursday, April 8, 2021, at 2 p.m.;
(b) regarding the study on addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces by the Standing Committee on National Defence, Zita Astravas, formerly the Minister of National Defence's chief of staff and the Prime Minister's Director of Issues Management and currently the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness's chief of staff, be ordered to appear before the committee on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at 10 a.m.;
(c) should the Prime Minister instead appear before the committees mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b), at any of the dates and times mentioned, for at least three hours, the witness otherwise scheduled to appear, and any other witnesses scheduled to appear before the same committee at a later time, be relieved of their obligation to appear pursuant to this order; and
(d) it be an instruction to the Chairs of the committees mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) to convene televised meetings of their respective committee, at the dates and times mentioned, for at least three hours, for the purpose of receiving evidence from the individuals then ordered to appear or the Prime Minister, as the case may be, unless the individual has been relieved from attending under the provisions of paragraph (c), provided that the witnesses be required to appear until discharged by the committee.

  (1225)  

    As we heard during the debate, if the Liberals do not want to hear from those witnesses, I hope the Prime Minister would at least be wise enough to appear before the committees to tell the truth and shed light on these long-standing issues. A ridiculous amount of time and House resources were wasted when the Liberals filibustered. That is unacceptable. Making so many people work for nothing is a waste of time. Why are we being kept in the dark? What is so dangerous about all of this that the Liberals want to cover it up?
    In a healthy democracy, governments need to be very transparent. This is 2021. Canadians have a right to know what is going on in Ottawa. They have a right to know what the government wants to do with their tax dollars. Why is so much being kept from us? Perhaps the Liberals are looking out for their close friends or are trying to protect certain people, but from what? What did these people do, give or get, and in return for what?
    We simply want to get to the bottom of these events. If there is nothing to hide, the witnesses and the Prime Minister just have to show up and tell Canadians the truth. Then we can move on. However, the Liberals are dead set on hiding certain shocking actions that could hurt the government if Canadians were to learn about them before an election is called. I think that Canadians have the right to know what they are dealing with. They have the right to know everything before they cast their vote. They want to be confident in their vote for the person who will be representing them.
    Unfortunately, this government is desperate to hide its close ties with friends who do favours for them. We do not understand what is going on, so we want to find out. In conclusion, the committees have to be able to do their job, and the filibustering must end. The time we are wasting is costing Canadians a lot of money. There is nothing to be gained by making us waste our time.

  (1230)  

    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his highly speculative speech. I could feel his indignation.
    On June 15, 2020, the office of the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth received an email from Helping Hands, which offered its services. These services happened to match the WE Charity program exactly. Did my colleague have the opportunity to ask questions in committee about the fact that WE was not the only organization capable of delivering this type of program, contrary to what was being said in the media?
    Madam Speaker, such questions were asked, and if memory serves, WE Charity was unfortunately the only organization that could implement this type of program. Therein lies the problem.
    Why was such a major program, worth almost a billion dollars, awarded without a call for tenders? Any Canadian who wants to win a federal contract worth more than $25,000 normally has to respond to a call for tenders. In this case, a $1-billion contract was awarded without a call for tenders, simply by picking up the phone.

  (1235)  

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I share much of my hon. colleague's concern and dismay at the lack of transparency and accountability.
    Although I wonder if he does not believe that it is important for the ethics committee to complete its study into pandemic spending and report to Parliament in a timely manner, particularly with a federal election rumoured to be on the immediate horizon.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.
    All I want is for the committee to be able to do its job. I attended the committee meetings, and I can say that countless hours were lost due to filibustering aimed at preventing witnesses from doing what they needed to do and testifying. My only hope is that we can work during the hours allocated for committee meetings and get to the bottom of the situation as quickly as possible for the sake of all Canadians.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, with regard to WE, we know that the government was going to give a contract worth almost a billion dollars. We know that the Prime Minister admitted he should have recused himself and that his family benefited to the tune of close to half a million dollars. We know that the government prorogued Parliament, seemingly to escape this.
    We also know that they have spent 40 hours filibustering at committees to avoid answering questions, and we know that there is a LinkedIn message that really can make a person suspicious about the very active role of the Prime Minister's office.
    Can my colleague, who sits on that committee, tell us how much they still need to find out from these witnesses and what the government's response has been to date?

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.
    Various facts lead us to believe that there were very close ties between the Prime Minister's Office and WE Charity.
    Last summer, in August, the Clerk of the Privy Council told us that WE Charity had helped Liberal officials develop the program at the recommendation of the finance minister. That was reported to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. However, when we asked the Kielburger brothers in committee whether they had been involved, they said no. They told us that they had received a call from the government asking them to help implement the program, so there were people at those planning meetings who are unaccounted for.

[English]

     Madam Speaker, it is always an honour to rise in the House and represent the people of Red Deer—Lacombe. I am proud to stand in my place, holding a Liberal government to account, using one of the precious few opposition day motions we have to try to force the Liberals to live up to even the minimal ethical standards Canadians expect from their government.
    Today's motion is seeking answers. It is seeking to support and empower members of Parliament in their important work and to end the Liberals' coordinated cover-ups at the defence and ethics committees.
     It is deeply disturbing that the Liberal MPs on the committees are continuing to block key witnesses from testifying on both the government's WE scandal and the Liberal cover-up of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. How did we get here? In both cases, the short answer is that we got here because of Liberal cover-ups.
    As members and most Canadians will remember, the WE Charity scandal came about when the Prime Minister and the then finance minister Bill Morneau gave a sole-sourced contract to run the Canada student service grant. The program announced was worth upward of $1 billion, including over $45 million in fees to WE Charity, an organization with close ties to both the Prime Minister and the Morneau family.
    These ties were so close, in fact, that WE received at least $100,000 in recent donations from Mr. Morneau and his wife. The charity also employed Mr. Morneau's daughter. As for the Prime Minister, WE Charity had paid his family members hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees. Since the Kielburgers' recent testimony at the ethics committee, it is not clear what that exact figure is, but it could be as high as $566,000.
    Recent evidence from the ethics committee has raised additional contradictions to the Liberal government's claims that the public service recommended WE Charity to run the program. Craig Kielburger wrote to Ben Chin, a senior adviser in the Prime Minister's Office, saying, “Hello Ben, Thank you for your kindness in helping shape our latest program with the gov't. Warmly, Craig”.
    This interaction appears to be in complete contradiction to the Liberal government's talking points, reigniting the concerns of corruption this Prime Minister previously attempted to quash when he prorogued Parliament. Kielburger's explanation that Mr. Chin had no role and that this was a personalized message sent from a staff member is simply bizarre. It simply does not make sense, and it deserves further scrutiny.
    On a matter as important as this, we need the truth. That is why we are asking two senior staffers from the Prime Minister's Office and one from the finance minister's office to appear at the ethics committee, so they can explain their interactions with the Kielburgers in respect to the selection of WE Charity to run the Canada student service grant program.
    The second cover-up is equally as disturbing and involves the Minister of National Defence's failure to address allegations of sexual misconduct at the highest levels in the Canadian Armed Forces. When the former military ombudsman brought an allegation forward to the minister regarding then chief of the defence staff General Vance, the minister refused to even look at it. Instead, he attempted to pass the buck on to the civil servants in the Privy Council Office. He did not follow up. He did not ensure that the complaint was handled appropriately, and he certainly did not ensure that this matter was treated with the seriousness that it ought to have been.
    The minister abdicated his responsibility, and in doing so, he failed the people, particularly the women, serving in the Canadian Armed Forces who came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. He has tried to claim he was avoiding political interference. The reality is that it appears he was trying to avoid doing his job because it was going to be difficult, uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing to the government.
    While the minister was not willing to investigate or ensure an investigation took place, or to even make sure that the right mechanisms existed for investigating the man at the very top of the Canadian Armed Forces command structure, he was still able to give him a pay raise.
    Throughout this whole ordeal, we have seen shifting narratives of who knew what and when, and of what the Prime Minister knew and when he knew it. Canadians deserve the truth. Serving members of the Armed Forces deserve the truth. Women serving in the Armed Forces need the truth. Since the Liberals seem all too happy to coordinate a shameful cover-up, we are left with few options.
    In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have slowed time down to a crawl. While November 2015 may seem like ages ago at this point, Canadians have not forgotten the commitments made to them back then by the government. This Prime Minister was the one who promised sunny ways and transparency. He promised to be open by default.
    Back in November 2015, the Prime Minister wrote a message to his ministers as part of his document “Open and Accountable Government”. Do members remember this document? It was made up of lovely words, but they were extraordinarily short-lived in the current Liberal government. Today's motion is essential because of the government's complete abdication of its responsibility to the principles outlined in that very document.
    I could easily go back and talk about cash for access, billionaire island or SNC-Lavalin to make my point, but the current Liberal government has such a poor track record when it comes to ethical behaviour, I do not really have to go back that far at all. Just in considering the WE scandal and the Liberals' cover-up of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, which are the two topics that this motion is dealing with, we can demonstrate that the Liberals have gone back on virtually every notion contained in the Prime Minister's flagship message in “Open and Accountable Government”.

  (1240)  

    This is not an exaggeration. If the House will indulge me, I would like to refresh for Canadians the Prime Minister's words in that document, “To be worthy of Canadians’ trust, we must always act with integrity. This is not merely a matter of adopting the right rules, or of ensuring technical compliance with those rules.” By refusing to look at evidence of sexual misconduct against the then chief of the defence staff presented by the then military ombudsman, the Minister of National Defence did not act with integrity. Refusing to speak with the ombudsman again afterward is not acting with integrity. Turning his back on members of the Canadian Armed Forces who want accountability for sexual misconduct is not acting with integrity.
    The next part reads, “As Ministers, you and your staff must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny.” When it comes to the WE Charity scandal, honesty and impartiality are less achievable than a balanced budget for the government, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister's and former finance minister Bill Morneau's ability to arrange their private affairs, which they have both admitted when they acknowledged they should have recused themselves from the selection process for the Canada student service grant.
    The document continues, “This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.” Even if acting within the law was the high bar, the government would have tripped over its own shoelaces two steps in. For those who do not believe me, let us count the number of ethics laws the Prime Minister has already broken.
    The document goes on, “The trust of Canadians will also rest on the accountability of our government. In our system, the highest manifestation of democratic accountability is the forum of Parliament. You are accountable to Parliament for the exercise of the powers, duties and functions with which you have been entrusted.” In response to the WE Charity scandal, the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament in the middle of a pandemic to ensure that the full extent of his misdeeds did not come to light. When Parliament resumed, we saw countless hours of filibustering to avoid the truth and the Prime Minister even threatened an election during the pandemic just because members of Parliament wanted to create a committee to investigate the WE scandal, all to avoid accountability.
    The document goes on to state, “This requires you to be present in Parliament to answer honestly and accurately about your areas of responsibility...” When it comes to both the WE scandal and the defence minister's failures to address sexual misconduct, we have seen countless revisions to the stories about who knew what and when. Honesty and accuracy have been replaced by deception, deceit, duplicity and the distortion of so-called facts, so much so that they bear little to no resemblance to the truth at all.
    It continues, “to take corrective action as appropriate to address problems that may arise in your portfolios, to correct any inadvertent errors in answering to Parliament at the earliest opportunity...” Corrective action has been in short supply. Instead, the government has continued to double down on mistakes by trying to cast the blame on others, like the former military ombudsman, or civil servants at ESDC or the Privy Council Office. The only problem that the Liberals seem to try to actually address is their problem of parliamentary accountability and the pesky opposition members who continually demand the truth from them.
     Instead of working to live up to the high standards they claim to have for themselves, they coordinate filibusters across numerous committees, while repeating clunky talking points in the House of Commons that, at best, dance around the question or do not even relate to the topic at all.
    The excerpt ends with the following, “and to work with parliamentary colleagues of all political persuasions in a respectful and constructive manner.” This is where we can hold out a little hope. So far, we have seen very little constructive and respectful engagement from the Liberal government. The Liberals prefer to use procedural manoeuvres to keep Canadians in the dark, refusing to allow the sunshine that they once touted as the best disinfectant to shine in.
     However, this is the Liberals' opportunity to change. This is the opportunity to demonstrate that they believe what they said five years ago, that it was not just virtue signalling put forward at the beginning of their mandate, that it was actually something that they continue to aspire to even when it is inconvenient. I guess we will see how the vote goes.
    I would like to move the following amendment. I move:
    That the motion be amended in paragraph (b) by replacing the word “10:00 a.m.” with the following: “11:00 a.m.”

  (1245)  

    It is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion. Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes if he consents to the amendment being moved.
    Madam Speaker, with a hat tip to the member for Timmins—James Bay and thanks to the member for Red Deer—Lacombe, I consent.
    The amendment is in order.
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Edmonton Strathcona.
    Madam Speaker, I have some questions for my colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe on the impacts he sees the current government's obstruction and scandal around the WE Charity might have on the charitable sector.
    We have talked about how this has hurt students and how, frankly, it has hurt our democracy in Canada. However, I also have some real concerns that when we see a charity like WE do things like it has done, when we see a bad example of the charitable sector, that there will be impacts felt by other charities even though, of course, the vast majority of charities do the important work that needs to be done and we depend upon the work they do.
    Does the member feel the government has caused damage to the charitable sector by its work with the WE Charity.

  (1250)  

    Madam Speaker, first, today is my youngest son's birthday; he turns 19 today. As a result of the pandemic, he missed his graduation last spring from high school and spent his first year of college basically at a computer in one of the rooms of our house. He is a student who is trying to work his way through the pandemic.
    In answer to my colleague's question, integrity matters in all aspects of what we do in government and what we do in business. If we do not conduct ourselves with integrity, then there is no ability to move forward, whether it is donating to the charitable sector or getting it to do work. Whether it is in business or in government, integrity is what matters, and the current government is sorely lacking it.
    Madam Speaker, the member highlighted the Conservative Party of Canada's spin on the importance of character assassination to discredit whenever one can the personalities of politics as opposed to trying to play a more proactive role in dealing with issues important to Canadians.
    Could the member explain why the Conservative Party continues to shy away from what its membership mandated, saying to the Conservative leadership that climate change is not real? Could the member make a clear statement in recognizing that climate change—
    The hon. member for Red Deer—Lacombe.
    Madam Speaker, again, as I outlined in my speech, the Liberals obfuscate and ask questions not relevant or even germane to the topic at hand. Asking me about climate change during a motion about accountability at a committee shows just how out of touch the member and his government are.
    If he does not believe me, we can just check with the reputation of the Aga Khan, or the reputation of the office of the Governor General or the reputation of the past Liberal ministers who have been cast aside. We can check with the reputation of those who organized the WE Charity. We can check with the reputations of those at SNC-Lavalin. We can check with the reputations of everybody the Liberals have thrown under the bus who have gotten in their way or they have cast aside through their mismanagement and the fact that they have been exposed for their dealings with well-connected insiders.
    That is what this debate is all about today, and I am sorry the hon. parliamentary secretary has not figured that out.
    Madam Speaker, when the WE Charity scandal broke, one of the things we asked the government to do was immediately pivot and put these funds into the Canada summer jobs program so small businesses and non-profits that needed help could hire students who also needed help.
    Could the hon. member comment on the lack of the government's pivoting at this moment to use those funds in a way that would have helped Canadians when they needed help the most?
    Madam Speaker, my simple answer for my colleague is that when one is mired in scandal and paranoia sets in, one is unable, through paralysis, to get anything achievable done. This is where the current government is and that is why it is unable, in my opinion, to even deliver something as a simple as a budget two years after the last one.
    Madam Speaker, I asked a question intentionally, because the Conservative Party, as an opposition party, has many days in which it gets to set the agenda of the House of Commons. This is its second time this week.
    I would like to emphasize, as I did in the question, that the Conservative Party of Canada is more focused on personal attacks and looking under every little rock as much as possible to try to create a negative image toward politicians in general, with a special focus on ministers of the Government of Canada. The Conservatives have an opportunity to debate something I think Canadians would welcome. For example, this past weekend, the Conservative Party of Canada and its membership failed to pass a motion to declare that climate change was real. They failed to recognize that most Canadians recognize that climate change is real, but not the Conservative Party of Canada.
    The Conservatives had a golden opportunity in an opposition day motion to be more relevant to what Canadians from coast to coast to coast have an interest in. As opposed to trying to further their beliefs based on their membership, they have chosen once again to focus on character assassinations and trying to be as disruptive to the Parliament of Canada as they can be. They are not happy with what is going on in the committees, because Liberal members of Parliament are there during the day, afternoons and evenings, ensuring that there is a higher sense of ministerial accountability.
    I saw some of the behaviour of opposition members during the summer and the character assassination that was taking place. They should be ashamed of some of the actions and some of the questions they were putting to us. Then they get upset when the Liberal Party members say just wait a minute. We disagree with the direction in which the Conservatives want to take standing committees. We will stand up for ministerial accountability, but I think Canadians would be upset with the irresponsible behaviour we have seen from opposition members on the floor of the House of Commons and in committees.
    The Conservatives are critical because Liberal MPs are filibustering. Conservative, NDP and Bloc members of Parliament have all filibustered at different points in time. It is an unholy alliance. I do not know how the Conservatives conned the New Democrats and the Bloc to come onboard with them in what they are trying to accomplish today. They are joining the Conservatives in filibustering this Parliament. Shame on them.
    They do not recognize what the Conservatives are really up to. This has nothing to do with championing women's rights. Conservative members have asked whether the government has any credibility on this issue. Of course, the Government of Canada has credibility on this. One only needs to look at things like the appointment of cabinet ministers shortly after the Prime Minister took office and the many actions our leader has taken to reinforce how important it is that we champion women's rights. All members of the House of Commons should be champions for women's rights.
    It is a tyranny of the majority to walk over the rights of the minority. That is in fact what we are witnessing. After all, the opposition parties combined can pass whatever they want in the House. They do not like what is happening in the committee, so now they are trying to take control of the committees by passing motions on the floor of the House of Commons.

  (1255)  

    Imagine the outrage if the government attempted to do that in a majority situation and tried to take control of the standing committees. Then we would have the current unholy alliance bellowing from all the balconies how terrible it is that the government is using the floor of the House of Commons to force the committees to do what the House of Commons wants them to do.
    It is a tyranny that we are seeing from the opposition parties not recognizing the important role that standing committees play. I get agitated, because I believe what the Prime Minister has been saying for months from day one, namely, that we need to be focused on helping Canadians. That is something this government has been focused on since day one.
    I must thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, and I know that his mother in Windsor, Marta, and his constituents would be very proud. They would be very proud of this member of Parliament, because as the Conservatives are so focused on looking under those rocks, we are actually doing work. This particular member is developing, promoting and encouraging the summer youth program. We understand how youth have been affected by the coronavirus and we are going to see an expansion of the youth program, because, as the parliamentary secretary who is responsible for it recognizes, that as much as the opposition party wants to play their destructive force, we still need to do a lot of good work. We will continue to do that.
    I cite the parliamentary secretary as an example, because it was just yesterday or the other day this week that I heard a presentation by him and sensed the excitement about a program that will help young people from coast to coast to coast, whether as a result of the efforts of the parliamentary secretary, his minister, the government as a whole, or the strong leadership we have seen from the Prime Minister, mandating that Liberal members remain focused on helping Canadians.
    Every so often I hear from opposition members that it is the Liberals who are filibustering and that it is causing all sorts of issues that make them feel uncomfortable. Do members know how many hours I have sat in committee hearing New Democrats filibuster? It is more than I have heard from Conservatives. I did not like it, but I never moved a motion on the floor of the House of Commons to try to prevent an opposition member, or a member who is not in the majority, from being able to communicate.
    Let there be no doubt that if this motion passes, we would be saying to standing committees that it does not matter what takes place at committee, because we will be telling them what they should be doing. Where are those great defenders of our standing committees among the opposition?
    I believe that the opposition collectively is more concerned about things like elections. I have heard them talk about elections. I do not hear the Prime Minister or Liberal members talking about elections. I do hear the opposition parties talking about elections. I hear them constantly working together. I witness and see them working together to see how they can try to talk more about scandals than about the coronavirus. It was a different story 12 months ago, when we saw a much greater sense of co-operation and a much greater sense of wanting to remain focused. That does not mean that we cannot be critical of government.

  (1300)  

     Look at the thousands of questions that were asked back in June and July by the opposition. How many of them were about on the vaccine? If my memory serves me correctly, back in June and July, zero or not such questions were asked. How many questions were asked about WE? There were hundreds if not maybe even thousands. I do not know. I do not have the research capabilities to find out those numbers.
    At the end of the day it is about priorities. More and more, we hear the collective opposition as being more concerned about frustrating the government and what it needs to do to be there for Canadians than about taking care of the interests of Canadians. I say shame on the Conservative, Bloc and NDP members for not recognizing what they should be doing. The government House leader himself said if they want to have ministers come before the committees to provide that sense of accountability, we are prepared to do that. It was good enough for Steven Harper when he was the prime minister of Canada, but it is not good enough here. There is so much more that we could be doing.
    It is truly amazing that when the Prime Minister put out the challenge of taking a team Canada approach to combatting the coronavirus, we were quick to give a lot of thanks to people who came to the table.
    The other day I was talking to my daughter, Cindy, the MLA for Tyndall Park, about Manitoba's personal care homes, supportive housing and assisted living residences. Think in terms of the nurses, health care workers, providers, custodians, managers and volunteers. They were doing absolutely critical work, working with hundreds, if not thousands, of people who needed them there. They provided a critical service.
     I know I speak on behalf of all members, from the Prime Minister down and from my daughter, when I give our thanks for their being there. We recognize how important their role was through this last 12 months, but we are not through with the coronavirus. That third wave is very real. It is tangible.
    One of the members who spoke before me said they wanted the committee to do this, that they would like to have more on that and more on this. I too would like to see committees debating different types of issues and maybe try to refocus on them, if I could. I hope to be on PROC. I would like to be able to share my thoughts with PROC, hopefully later this evening. I can tell my colleagues that these standing committees play a critical role in Parliament. One only has to look at some of the principles that we have established. Here I refer members to page 30 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which states:
    The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates; individual ministerial responsibility provides the basis for accountability throughout the system. Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of a Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts. Ministers exercise power and are constitutionally responsible for the provision and conduct of government; Parliament holds them personally responsible for it.
    That is what the former prime minister believed. It is in our Standing Orders, but it is not what the Conservative Party of Canada wants to focus on now. There is actually nothing that could come forward on the WE issue that would make the Conservative Party happy. It would like debate on that to never end.

  (1305)  

    As opposed to debating important government legislation, the Conservatives do not mind tying up committees. They do not mind bringing committee issues to the floor of the House to try to stir the pot to fit their agenda. Do they really want to talk about issues like climate change? I do not think they do. Unfortunately, the House leadership of the Bloc and the NDP seem to concur at times with the official opposition. Maybe I am wrong, but wait and see what happens with this vote.
    To try to give the impression that motions of this nature do not have any ramifications for what is taking place in Parliament is irresponsible. I believe that standing committees could be doing a whole lot more to protect the interests of Canadians from coast to coast to coast if they could get down to business and start to do what our Standing Orders actually say they could and should be doing.
    I listened to the New Democrat member for Edmonton Strathcona when she was talking about the WE issue. It has been discussed quite a bit. The opposition has declared the WE volunteer organization to be a real mess, a terrible organization. I understand it. They are official about that, but do my colleagues know that the Province of Manitoba also has contracts with WE, not only once but at least twice? I say that to my colleagues from Manitoba. Maybe they should be talking to Brian Pallister.
    What about the Province of Saskatchewan? It too has contracts with WE. Are they talking to the premier in Saskatchewan? I do not know about the rest of the provinces. I have not made any other enquiries in regard to them. Are they giving them a heads up of all their so-called inside information that disqualifies them? It is not my responsibility to defend WE. It is interesting that Conservative and NDP members try to give a false impression. If it were up to them, they would like to say that it was the Prime Minister who said “yes” and that he wanted WE to have this contract. That is false, balderdash, a bunch of garbage.
    All opposition members know that it was a civil servant who made that recommendation to government. What does that say about the civil servants? Do members have confidence in the civil servants? I wonder to what degree members of the opposition are being straightforward on that issue.
    The mover of the motion and other Conservatives kind of tipped their hat a little. They say that the motion is about these two issues, yet on the other hand, they talk about all sorts of ethical breaches. Imagine if we had the same set-up we have today, with an ethics commissioner, in the eighties during the Mulroney years, or even before then. Members will often refer to the number of times the Prime Minister has been cited.
    The Conservative Party can continue to play that destructive parliamentary role all they want. My appeal is to the Bloc and to the NDP to recognize that what is happening today on the floor of the House of Commons is not in the best interests of Canadians. It is not in the best interests—

  (1310)  

    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Winnipeg North for the excellent job he is doing as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
    In his speech, he mentioned that the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Conservatives do not understand, as though our problem is that we are asking questions. My problem is that I want to know why the Liberal government will not answer our questions and send its witnesses to committee, rather than drawing out the debate and filibustering.
    Is there a code of silence? What does the government have to hide? Let us be honest and transparent, and Canadians will be better off.
    I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about the Liberal government's code of silence.

  (1315)  

[English]

    Madam Speaker, again that is not accurate. Over the summer, we saw a long list of witnesses, right from ministers to the Prime Minister, including the Minister of Diversity. There were a number of ministers who went before committee. We even saw civil servants before committee.
    I understand opposition. After my 30 parliamentary years in the Manitoba legislature and in Ottawa, I understand the role of opposition. I also understand what the coronavirus is doing to our country. I am suggesting to the member that the Conservatives might be able to fool the Bloc and the New Democrats, but they do not fool me with respect to what they have been doing over the last few months.
    Madam Speaker, on behalf of the New Democratic Party and all the people I know, I offer my sincere sympathy to the member for Winnipeg North. I have never seen a man suffer more from, or be more beleaguered by, the very notion of democracy. How it vexes him, how angry and frustrated it makes him, that the majority of the House of Commons could actually make a decision that disagrees with the Liberals, as if it is such a terrible thing. I wonder if we could have boxes of tissue sent across the nation to comfort him as he whines, because I would like to say this.
     Here we are in a discussion about House procedures, and the Liberals are shutting it down. With respect to foreign affairs, they are shutting down an investigation into how the Liberals took the COVAX vaccine from the third world. They shut down discussion on a Uighur genocide motion. They have been using their position to stop an investigation into sexual assault allegations in the military. Of course, they have interrupted the ethics committee time and again.
    I would like to ask my hon. colleague this question: Why do the Liberals not stop playing games and let the majority of the House actually do the work for the Canadian people?
    Madam Speaker, I must say that I have my own tissues, but I appreciate the gesture.
    I can assure the member that I am very much familiar with opposition tactics and aware of what is taking place in our standing committees. The member himself raised issues and concerns about a wide variety of different issues that the standing committees could be dealing with, and I concur with those thoughts.
    Where we might differ is that the member seems to be of the opinion that no matter what, the government has to respond to what has been mentioned on a few occasions today as the tyranny of a majority in walking over the rights of a minority.
    On occasion we are seeing that, and today is a good example. We will wait to see how the NDP and Bloc—
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party is accusing the Conservatives of filibustering, and the Conservatives are accusing the Liberals of filibustering. What a sorry spectacle. My colleague seems to think that speaking loudly will save him from having to answer embarrassing questions.
    The truth is that it was the Liberal government that prorogued Parliament last year, which is why we now have so many unanswered questions. For example, earlier, he was talking about the WE program in the provinces, but a note from an official to Minister Chagger said the organization—
    I will remind the hon. member not to refer to sitting members by name.

  (1320)  

    Of course, Madam Speaker.
    As I was saying, an official sent a minister a note saying that WE Charity had no offices in Quebec and that its staff did not speak French, so it might not be a great idea to choose that organization, especially seeing as community organizations were ready to do the work.
    We want to ask these questions, but we cannot. What does my hon. colleague have to say about that?

[English]

    Madam Speaker, the member seems to think that I might be shy in terms of asking questions. I would ask if there would be leave of the House to allow me to continue to answer any number of questions members would like to ask for the rest of the day.
    I believe the member has—
    I would like to propose an amendment to the minister's motion that we continue with the debate today: He could remain and answer questions for the evening, after the hour of ordinary adjournment, until midnight.
    I think we are entering into debate.
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands.
    Madam Speaker, I listened to the intervention earlier today by the member for Timmins—James Bay. He talked about filibustering and accused the Liberal Party of filibustering.
    This member also talked about filibustering, but the funny thing is that if we google “filibustering” and end up at the Wikipedia page as it relates to Canada, there is no mention of the Liberal Party. As a matter of fact, it is just the Conservative Party and the NDP that are mentioned there.
    I would note that the NDP holds the record for filibustering in the House—
    Madam Speaker, on a point of order, do we have a member here who can only participate in an intelligent conversation by using his Wikipedia notes to—
    The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands.
    Madam Speaker, former member David Christopherson filibustered for eight hours in 2010. In a PROC meeting earlier this summer, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby actually bragged about the fact that he had the record, and that is how I knew it, for the longest filibuster.
    I am wondering if this member could shed some insight into whether or not he really thinks—
    Madam Speaker, on a point of order, just on issues of personal space, I am very worried about the coronavirus, so could the member move down about eight rows? I am worried about him intervening in my personal space.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    We have the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands answering the point of order.
    Madam Speaker, I find it very troubling when the member is making points of order that are completely not points of order, and he knows it. It is especially offensive because this member routinely calls out the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan online about intervening and interrupting when people are speaking.
    We are entering into the realm of debate.
    The hon. parliamentary secretary.
    Madam Speaker, I hope you are going to make sure to deduct the time spent on those points of order.
    On the issue of filibustering, I have witnessed many filibusters over the years. One of the more intriguing ones was by the member for Carleton when there was a budget debate. The member for Carleton literally consumed every hour of that debate, except for the last 20 minutes, so that he could let the New Democrats speak before we actually came to a vote. He denied everyone else the opportunity to speak. That was on the floor of the House.
    Not to be outdone, the NDP did it too, a few years ago. We could talk about David Christopherson and other members. I have seen many filibusters and have had to put up with them.
    Filibustering is done for a reason. I suspect there is a very good reason for what is taking place in our standing committees. There is a good rationale for that.
    Madam Speaker, what we have here is a perfect example of a Liberal technique on display, brought to us by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader's railing against the opposition simply for pointing out that Liberals have not a shred of credibility left as champions of women's rights, based on what has been happening at committee.
    It seems the government is saying that if a big lie is told often enough and loudly enough, eventually Canadians will believe it. Is that what the parliamentary secretary is trying to do here?
    Madam Speaker, no, not at all.
    I would never disappoint my daughter, who is an MLA in the Manitoba legislature. I will always be a champion for women's rights. I would like to think that all members of the House would do likewise.
    Whether it is the Prime Minister of Canada today or Stephen Harper, who was prime minister when the Vance issue first came up, I like to believe that even Stephen Harper, at times, was there to champion women's rights.

  (1325)  

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I would like to ask a question that relates more to democracy.
    The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said that the opposition was not being honest, among other things. I would like to quote something the House leader said this morning:
    “As a result of the actions of the opposition today, like the approach of the government in 2010, I say here today that ministers will instruct their staff not to appear when called before committees and that the government will send ministers...”
    I have to wonder. If a motion is adopted by the majority of the House, I do not understand how the government could not respect it. It seems to me that this is what democracy is all about.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I can appreciate what the member is saying, and I would ask her and the Bloc members to read page 30 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. It makes it very clear that it is the ministers who are accountable, and we have gone out of our way to ensure that there is a high level of accountability.
    Madam Speaker, let us start, of course, at the beginning. In the beginning, this Prime Minister created a program that already existed. That program is called the Canada summer jobs program, and it is a program that lets young people work for charities, small businesses and other organizations that serve the community. The federal government simply reimburses a share of the wages paid to that student employee.
    Now, the Prime Minister was suddenly hit by a lightning bolt that caused him to think it was necessary to contract out the very same program that had been functioning for so many years, and with such great success, to a group that just happened to have paid his family half a million dollars in speaking fees and expenses. He told us that there was no other way this could have been done. He told us that a bureaucrat in the employment department, the very department that has been running the successful in-house program for decades, concocted this scheme to give the money to this particular organization called WE.
    The entire government's defence, as the member for Langley—Aldergrove will be saying, as I am splitting my time with him, is that the Prime Minister had nothing to do with any of it. The defence is that a mid-level bureaucrat rammed it all down his throat, and he was suddenly hit with a surprise attack at a cabinet meeting, when he apparently pushed back and said, “Hell no, I'm not giving all this money to my friends. Come back to me in a week and I'll reconsider”. That is the basis of his defence.
    There is only one problem with this defence and that is the documents. Let us start with correspondence between the WE organization and the Prime Minister's own senior adviser, Ben Chin. Craig Kielburger, the founder of WE, sent Ben a message about the program. The message read, “Hello Ben, Thank you for your kindness in helping shape our latest program with the gov't. Warmly, Craig.”
    We would think that, if Ben actually had no role, and that it was in fact a mid-level employment department bureaucrat who did it all, he would write back and say, “Craig, thanks for the message but you're being far too kind. I had nothing to do with setting up that program. It was designed by an employment department bureaucrat, with no involvement from the PMO. I wish you well in all of your future endeavours”. However, he did not write that. Instead, he wrote, “Great to hear from you Craig. Let's get our young working!”
    In other words, he was not for a moment suggesting that the message he got from Craig Kielburger was wrong, but rather, he was validating that it was, in fact, right.
    If Mr. Chin has nothing to hide, and if he played no role in setting up this program, then surely he will have no difficulty coming, as this motion from the hon. member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes has proposed, and testifying under oath to explain his lack of involvement in establishing that very program. He would have to be careful because he would be followed by Rick Theis, the Prime Minister's director of policy and cabinet affairs.
    Mr. Theis is the man who puts things in front of the Prime Minister at cabinet, so he would know if the Prime Minister really did push back on this half-billion-dollar grant to the group that paid off his family. If so, he would be able to answer very specific questions before a parliamentary committee, putting the whole thing to rest.
    That is exactly what we are proposing in this motion. We are proposing that Mr. Theis come to explain who really set up this program and whether the Prime Minister really did push back on paying off this group that had done so much for his family.

  (1330)  

    What we find instead when we look at Mr. Theis's correspondence with the Kielburgers is that Mr. Theis was actually quite involved in the early stages.
    I have a quote directly from correspondence from Craig Kielburger to this senior prime ministerial advisor, “Please find attached an updated version of the project plan and budget.... We appreciate your assistance both on timelines for a decision, and, if relevant, potentially assisting with streamlining the contribution agreement.... [W]e would appreciate a list of names with whom to discuss the youth entrepreneurship program to ensure that it's...[ready] for phase-2 recovery...[plans].”
    In other words, the contribution agreement, which again we were told was not the purview of the Prime Minister's Office but was being handled by a mid-level bureaucrat far away on the other side of the Ottawa River, was in fact being discussed between Mr. Kielburger and Mr. Rick Theis, the top advisor to the Prime Minister.
    In fact, we have correspondence from Sofia Marquez, a lobbyist for the WE organization. She wrote, “Hi, Rick, Just wanted to let you know that I and, our co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger are on the line waiting for you. Thank you! Sofia”.
    To Ms. Marquez, Mr. Theis responded, “Sorry! Joined!” Then began the telephone conversation between the Kielburgers and this second to the top prime ministerial advisor.
    We are now getting to a summary of the program. It says here that Rick Theis spoke to Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger and Sofia Marquez, and according to Mr. Theis, the call lasted for approximately 25 minutes, so it was a substantive conversation. The summary states, “WE Charity raised their ongoing work with ESDC on the [Canada student service grant]”. That is the employment department and the half-billion-dollar grant. It continues, “as outlined in the attached document, and a proposal for a social entrepreneurship. Mr. Theis asked WE how what they are proposing for the [student service grant] would ensure diversity of placements. The Kielburgers expressed concern that this type of program would need to get off the ground soon. At no point were expenses discussed, nor any commitment, assurances or advice given by Mr. Theis to WE on any subject, other than to contact the ESDC.” That is Mr. Theis's claim.
    It took 25 minutes for Mr. Theis to tell them not to ask him, but to ask ESDC because he has nothing to do with this. How long does it take to say to call someone else because they have the wrong number? They spoke for 25 minutes on May 5, during which time, as is documented here, the Kielburgers were in a rush to get the money flowing. Do members know what happened? On May 5, their expenses became eligible for taxpayer reimbursement.
    It was a total coincidence that this 25-minute conversation was about nothing. They would have us believe that this is a Seinfeld conversation. It was a 25-minute conversation about nothing, except that the Kielburgers asked if they could please hurry up because they wanted to get busy spending all that money promised. What do we know, on that very same day those expenditures became eligible for taxpayer reimbursement. This is a top advisor to the Prime Minister, who had nothing whatsoever to do with setting up this whole affair. It is incredible.
    These two gentlemen in the Prime Minister's Office would have seen the promotional material that WE circulated in the PMO. Do members know who was in that promotional material? The Prime Minister's mother and wife.
    By the way, everyone in the PMO, the boss's wife and mother get money from WE. Maybe take that into account when deciding whether to give them some money. I am sure that Mr. Theis was so nice because he knew that the boss's wife and mother were getting paid by the organization with which he was having that 25-minute Seinfeld conversation about nothing.
    The Liberal government might think a half-billion dollars is nothing. To the working people, to the people who are bagging groceries and serving on the front lines paying taxes throughout this pandemic, half a billion dollars is not nothing. They do not get speaking fees from powerful organizations like WE. They work hard every day for their money, and they deserve answers on what the Prime Minister did with that money.
    If the government has nothing to fear, if the Prime Minister has any courage, he will support this motion and let us get to the answers.

  (1335)  

    Madam Speaker, on November 5, 2013, there was a vote on a motion before the House. The motion stated:
    That the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics be instructed to examine the conduct of the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the repayment of Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses; that the Prime Minister be ordered to appear under oath as a witness before the Committee for a period of 3 hours, before December 10, 2013; and that the proceedings be televised.
    This member voted against that motion. I am curious if he can explain what the difference is between the request that came from the House at that time and the request proposed today. Why would one warrant it when the other did not? It is a genuine question.
    Madam Speaker, actually, I am glad to have a chance to explain the difference because back in the Conservative era, we were getting in trouble for giving too much of our money to the government. That was the scandal of Nigel Wright. He wrote a cheque with his own money and gave it to the government.
    Liberals get in trouble for precisely the opposite reason, which is taking money from the government, or in this case, through third party organizations funded by the government and funnelled to the Prime Minister and his family. Of course, that is the pattern with illegal Liberal law-breaking.
    SNC-Lavalin had given countless illegal donations to the Liberal Party, which earned it the right, according to the Prime Minister, to avoid criminal prosecution for bribery and corruption. In the case of the Aga Khan island, the Prime Minister took hundreds of thousands of dollars—
    We will continue with questions and comments.
    The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay.
    Madam Speaker, I am not even going to raise the issue of Bill Morneau because what else can be said about that? Let us talk about the minister, the one from Waterloo. Talk about throwing civil servants under the bus with misrepresentations and falsehoods.
    The minister from Waterloo was asked the straight-up question of whether she had met with the Kielburgers in the lead-up to this. She said that she never discussed the Canada summer student grant. Of course, we naively thought that meant she had not met with them, but there was an April 17 meeting. When she was asked about it, she did not remember the meeting. She said nothing.
    However, we have Craig Kielburger writing to her, thanking her for setting him up with a civil servant. Over the course of that weekend, the WE group wrote a plan and wrote back to thank that minister. She was asked in committee, and she would not admit to that meeting. Craig Kielburger was asked about that meeting, and he did not seem to remember it. Sofia Marquez, the government lobbyist, was also asked about that meeting.
    It is in the documents. The documents show us the clear political connections that led to civil servants being told to direct this program to the WE group.
    Madam Speaker, the member rightly points out all the political involvement, whether it was that minister from Waterloo, who is not a public servant but a politician; whether it was the two PMO staffers I just mentioned, whose fingerprints are all over the set-up of this program; or whether it is Amitpal Singh, who then worked for Bill Morneau. I guess to keep him quiet they moved him into the office of the Deputy Prime Minister after Bill Morneau became Bill “no more”.
    We have an email transaction from him, an email from Amitpal Singh to Michelle Kovacevic, who is a public servant. We were all told the public servants were just leading the charge to set up this program.
    This political staffer wrote about connecting them with Sofia, from WE, and about speaking that day about the Canada student service grant and the work ahead of on the national file. In other words, hint hint, nudge nudge, get to work and get these people their money. That is a message from a political staffer. No wonder the bureaucrats at finance said that WE was “besties” with the finance minister at that time.

  (1340)  

    Madam Speaker, I am looking to find out from the member for Carleton a little about the culture of the Liberal government. We heard of course that it wants to point the guns or the bus at the civil service as responsible for it, but one of the witnesses we are looking to have testify is Ben Chin, who was implicated in the destruction of documents with the B.C. government, the destruction of documents in the gas plant scandal with the Ontario Liberal government and the SNC-Lavalin scandal with the current government.
    I am just wondering what it says about a government's ethical views if it has someone like that as the Prime Minister's top adviser.
    Madam Speaker, well, it says a lot, and none of it is good.
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Carleton, for splitting his time with me today so that I can speak to the opposition day motion before us in the House. I also want to thank my colleague, the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes and Conservative shadow minister for ethics, for moving this motion. I appreciate the opportunity to represent my community of Kelowna—Lake Country.
    The motion states very aptly in its first sentence, it is “to support the authority of committees in their important inquiries of public interest”. It should be no surprise that I believe committees do some of the most important work in the House of Commons when it comes to studies and getting answers. I have spoken on the importance of committees several times in the House before. I expressed concerns when the Liberals shut down committees almost completely in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, leaving a lot of gaps in the scrutiny of legislation, emerging issues and important studies that needed more review. Many committees barely sat for most of the year.
    One of the other issues is how committees can hear from witnesses, and I have seen first-hand how important committee work can be. During much of 2020, I was on the industry, science and technology committee, which met until the Liberals shut it down due to the prorogation of Parliament. It had important studies and heard testimony on emerging issues such as from the largest grocery stores, Internet giants on contact tracing and censorship, tourism stakeholders and more.
    I have said in the House before that the committee I sit on now, the Standing Committee on International Trade, only met once between April and September of 2020, losing time to do important work such as hearing from exporters and importers on how COVID-19 and its related restrictions had affected them, doing studies on domestic wineries having to pay excise tax due to a WTO challenge, and doing a pre-study on the Canada-U.K. trade agreement, which the committee finally began halfway through November 2020. This was only thanks to the Conservatives moving a motion, as there were deadlines that we knew had to be met in order to give certainty to businesses.
    My colleagues on the Standing Committee on National Defence and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics are working to get answers on two very important issues that Canadians and my constituents are concerned about. Unfortunately, the Liberals have gone to great lengths to prevent MPs from getting answers and finding out the truth, including blocking key witnesses from appearing.
    The ethics committee has been working to get answers on the WE Charity scandal and the $500-million contract offered to it to manage the proposed Canada student service grant. Let us not forget how the Prime Minister and the then finance minister, Bill Morneau, failed to recuse themselves from cabinet discussions on this issue despite their personal ties to the charity. As Conservatives and other opposition parties tried to get answers, Liberals prorogued Parliament and filibustered committees to try to delay and cover up this issue for as long as they could. This put the governance of our country at a standstill.
    Speaking of committees, let us remember that five months ago, in October 2020, the official opposition sought to pass a motion to establish a committee to look into the government's actions and further investigate exactly what transpired with the sole-sourced WE Charity contract. During this time, the government threatened to call an election over this and the motion did not pass.
    It is important to note that this was the first time in over 150 years of Canadian history that a prime minister turned a motion to create a committee into a confidence vote, where the government could fail. How incredibly desperate were the Liberals to not have their actions looked into? Canadians deserve an ethical government that is focused on their priorities. It was disappointing that this vote failed at the time, as it would have allowed parliamentary committees to get back to work for Canadians rather than be tied up by Liberal time-wasting filibusters.
    Further to the importance of supporting the authority of committees in their important inquiries of public interest, as is outlined in this motion, at a recent defence committee meeting, testimony from the Prime Minister showed he was aware of the allegations around sexual misconduct by the former Chief of the Defence Staff. This was confirmed by the defence minister, and the Prime Minister knew for three years.
    At a recent ethics committee meeting, Craig and Marc Kielburger claimed that a senior adviser in the Prime Minister's office, Ben Chin, had no role in setting up the $500-million Canada student service grant. However, documents released to the finance committee last summer proved that this was simply not the case.

  (1345)  

    This is a serious contradiction, and Canadians deserve answers about what actually happened. Craig Kielburger said that the Prime Minister's Office had no role in setting up the grant, which would have given the WE Charity a half-billion dollar program to administer, and that is taxpayer dollars. Then we heard that Mr. Chin had a written message about the PMO adviser's efforts to “shape our latest program”. The committee absolutely must hear from top Trudeau advisers. Canadians deserve the truth.
    A constituent in Kelowna—Lake Country wrote me to say—
    We have a point of order from the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands.
    Madam Speaker, there have been a number of instances today when members have referred to the Prime Minister by his name. It would appear as though they are just reading text that was provided to them. However, as you would know, they cannot say the name of a sitting member of the House in here. I would encourage you to not just correct this member but, indeed, ask all members who are preparing to speak today to consider that.
    The hon. member is quite correct. It has been quite repetitive today with the mentioning of members' names. Please be mindful of that norm that we have in the House.
    Madam Speaker, a constituent in Kelowna—Lake Country wrote to me to say that “...the stonewalling and contempt for the intelligence of the electorate is staggering”.
    We have seen their true character through the actions of the Liberals during this pandemic. Someone's true character often comes out during times of incredible stress. In times of crisis, we see heroes emerge who perform incredible acts of courage and physical strength, or beautiful gestures of care to help someone, or laser-focused leadership. What we saw from the Liberals during this time of crisis and stress was their true character: turning to the easiest of solutions and turning to Liberal friends. There was a lack of requests for proposals, giving sole-sourced contracts to known Liberal friends and not bothering with declarations of conflicts of interest. The Liberals and their friends will say, “Move on, there's nothing more to see here”, but every time a document is released or someone testifies, we gain new insights into the true character of how the Liberals govern.
     In the end, we know that accountability comes from the top. That means there has to be accountability from the Prime Minister, his government and all who have been involved. It is also why this motion specifies that, should the Prime Minister instead appear before the committee mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) at any of the dates and times mentioned for at least three hours, the witnesses otherwise scheduled to appear, and any other witnesses scheduled to appear before the same committee at a later time, would be relieved of their obligation to appear pursuant to the order.
    The other part of this important motion is regarding the national defence committee and getting answers there. I want to thank my colleagues on the national defence committee, including our shadow minister for defence and the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, for holding the defence minister to account and getting answers.
    We learned, through defence committee testimony, that the Prime Minister was aware of the allegations around sexual misconduct by the former Chief of the Defence Staff. This was confirmed by the defence minister, and the Prime Minister knew for three years.
    Tens of thousands of women have served, and continue to serve, Canada honourably and without compromise in our military, but the government has failed to ensure that women have a safe environment, free from abuse or harassment by superiors and colleagues, to do this important work. We must ensure that this is corrected. We need to hear from those involved, including the Minister of National Defence's former chief of staff, on what transpired in the minister's office and why actions were not taken earlier, promptly, to get answers when the allegations first became known to them.
    This government often likes to portray itself as a feminist government, yet it spent years without taking action and thoroughly investigating the sexual misconduct allegations the defence committee is finally looking into now. This is unacceptable. What message does this send to any woman who currently serves, or may in the future serve, our country in the military?
    In summary, committees need all the tools available to them to do their work and to get answers for Canadians. We need to hear from these senior members of the government to ensure that the record reflects what has occurred, whether with the WE Charity scandal or with the allegations against the former Chief of the Defence Staff. This motion would ensure that there would be accountability from the government, it would ensure that those who make decisions are accountable to parliamentarians and it would ensure that committees could continue to do their jobs: scrutinizing government decisions and finding answers we would normally not get out of question period or debate here in the House of Commons.

  (1350)  

    Madam Speaker, I share many of the member's concerns. I know that most Canadians probably want not only to get to the bottom of these very concerning issues, but also allow the ethics committee to finish its work on pandemic spending and the other important matters it has before it.
    I understand that my colleagues on the ethics committee have proposed a compromise, which is that perhaps the senior staffers from the PMO could respond in writing to the questions that the opposition members have. I wonder if my colleague could comment on this proposed compromise as a way to break the deadlock and move on with the important work of the committee.
    Madam Speaker, what we are seeing here is a coordinated effort to stalemate committees. As to the filibustering, we have seen these actions continue since last summer. We then saw the prorogation of Parliament, so these committees have not really been functioning properly for quite a long time. This is one of the reasons why we have this motion here: so we can get on. The member is absolutely right. Committees need to get on to the important work and look at other studies that are important to Canadians.
    Madam Speaker, one of the things that the sexual misconduct scandal has done is trigger people. A woman in my riding spent 20 years in the military. She was raped. Her son was assaulted on the base because of her reporting. She lost her job. She lost her career, and she wants to know what the process is. Who does she report to? How do people deal with these kinds of things in the military and the police forces, when they are not taken seriously and when they see impunity in this system?
    I would like to get the member's comments about how women are supposed to deal with impunity in our Canadian Armed Forces and in the RCMP. We have a legacy of this.
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his comments and for sharing that really sad situation. My colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound wrote an opinion piece titled, “Canadian Armed Forces needs more Eleanor Taylors—not fewer”. It goes into her situation and looks at what some of the issues are. It is a really good opinion piece that I would encourage people to read. It lays out the desperate situation that a lot of women feel. It is definitely something that needs to be worked on.

  (1355)  

    Madam Speaker, in opposition, the Liberals always tried to bring political staffers to committee. Now they are making this argument that we should not call staffers. It is ministerial responsibility. However, we have done something completely different in this motion. We have given the Prime Minister the opportunity to be accountable. The Prime Minister has the opportunity, if he believes in this principle of ministerial accountability, to appear in place of his staffers at the committee and answer questions for them. We have done something that Liberals did not do in opposition, which is to give the government that alternative.
    The government has spoken about filibusters, and Conservatives use the filibuster tool from time to time. We have done it to prevent the government from trying to unilaterally change the Standing Orders. I was part of a filibuster to prevent the government from trying to dramatically change the rules unilaterally and neuter the role of the opposition. It is a question of what we are filibustering for. When we have filibustered, we have been protecting the rules or prerogatives of Parliament. Liberals have been filibustering to prevent studies into their own corruption. If they are filibustering to prevent a study into their own corruption, I would say that is completely different from the necessary efforts that opposition parties have undertaken in the past, when the government has tried heavy-handedly to completely change the rules and neuter the important role that opposition has to play in the House. I wonder if my colleague has any comments on this.
    The hon. member for Kelowna—Lake Country has 10 seconds.
    Madam Speaker, the hon. member said it very well and obviously his experience shines through. Basically we are dealing with a government that is not focused on transparency and accountability. Liberals are filibustering the committees in order to—
    I have to resume debate.
    The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister will have three minutes for his speech and will be able to complete it after oral questions.
    Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time. I expect I will only have time to hit on some introductory points.
    I view this motion not necessarily to be the best use of the House's resources, and perhaps that is obvious, given the nature of the debate we have had so far. The principal reason is that it flies in the face of ministerial responsibility, which is a fundamental pillar of our Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Of course, I could regale the House with quotes of the former prime minister Stephen Harper, who confirmed this repeatedly at every opportunity, but the point has been made along those lines already.
    My sense is not just that it is an issue of ministerial responsibility. There have been exhaustive studies looking into some of the matters. I will speak specifically to some of my own experiences before the finance committee, which the ethics committee is now seeking to re-examine. Literally hundreds of hours at various committees have been dedicated to the study of the same issues. There have been thousands of pages of documents. Not only have there been political staff already testifying on these matters, but the opposition has demanded that public servants, who are non-partisan in nature, show up. The Prime Minister himself showed up at the finance committee to testify in respect of certain matters.
    My experience during those committee appearances was that certain committee members of the opposition parties, primarily the Conservative party, were completely inappropriate during those hearings. I heard drive-by smears, not only of the political staff who did attend but of their families as well. I had to ask for an apology and on one occasion, I actually received one for the level of disrespect that was lobbied toward the Prime Minister's chief of staff.
    Though I only have about one minute remaining, perhaps by way of introduction, I do think the motivation behind this motion is not truth seeking in its function. It seems to be a distraction, because the opposition members do not seem to have any ideas that they wish to put forward to consider. In the era of a global pandemic, they could be making suggestions on how we could foster a strong, inclusive and sustainable economic recovery. They could be pitching solutions to climate change or vaccine deployment. They could be making suggestions on how the government could improve its public health response to COVID-19. Instead, they want to demand that individual political staff come before parliamentary committees to testify about a matter that has been before several committees for a number of months.
    I will cut my comments off here and resume after question period.

Routine Proceedings

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1400)  

[Translation]

Auditor General of Canada

    Pursuant to subsection 8(2) of the Auditor General Act, it is my duty to lay upon the table reports of the Auditor General of Canada.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(g), these reports are deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
    We will now move on to statements by members.

Statements by Members

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Greek Independence Day

    Madam Speaker, today, Greek Canadians celebrate their 200th anniversary of the Greek revolution. The Greek bicentennial is a time to remember and celebrate the outstanding contribution of Hellenic Canadians.
     Today, I want to share a true Canadian story of the Dimakarakos family of Brampton. Steve Dimakarakos' father, Kyriakos, came to Canada in 1958 with his wife Georgia in search of a better life.
     Kyriakos had a life-long career with CNR while being an active member of his church and community. His son Steve moved to Brampton in 1972. He and his three siblings went to university and made their contributions in small business, finance, the public sector and to community organizations. Eric, Ken and Stephanie continue this legacy and the next generation of the family Zara-Rose and Leo will see the CN Tower lit blue tonight.
    Happy Greek independence day to Greek Canadians—
    The hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

Birthday Congratulations

    Madam Speaker, this past February, a local St. Thomas resident, Fred Kondal, turned 25 again. I know to so many members this might not seem noteworthy. It is quite amazing for someone to have celebrated the same birthday two years in a row. This is not some trick to hide his age. It is true. Fred was born on February 29, 1920, so last year he turned 25, despite having made 100 trips around the sun.
    All joking aside, Fred has made contributions to some of the most beloved franchises in movie history in his career as a makeup artist, working alongside Harrison Ford while filming The Empire Strikes Back; Christopher Reeve in Superman; and Sir Roger Moore, who took up the mantle of James Bond 007 in the seventies.
    Whether he is celebrating turning 101 or 25 and one-quarter, I would like to with Fred a belated happy birthday for this year and many more to come.

Health Care

    Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Dr. Gulzar Cheema and iCON for their work supporting multicultural and multilingual communities, patients and caregivers across British Columbia. Their work includes community education, knowledge sharing and technology of chronic disease prevention and self-management.
     Dr. Cheema has been the leader of the South Asian portfolio of iCON since 2008. His work includes engaging communities and educating patients in the Indo-Canadian community on critical health issues, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.
    Through public health forums and community workshops to help patients and families optimize best practices in chronic disease prevention and self-management, Dr. Cheema's leadership at iCON has helped the organization reach over 7,000 Punjabi-speaking patients.
    I thank Dr. Cheema and iCON for their work and dedication to health care for multicultural communities in our region.

[Translation]

Sainte-Germaine-Boulé

    Mr. Speaker, at the risk of snapping my suspenders, I just want to say that the world capital of suspender snapping is in my riding, Abitibi-Témiscamingue. At least, so claims Sainte-Germaine-Boulé, in Abitibi West. They are going to defend that title against the rest of world in a week, on Thursday, April 1, at 10:30 a.m., in front of the giant statue of “Monon'c Jack”. They will be going toe to toe with major cities, but I can guarantee that Boulé will be the global, virtual reigning champion of suspender snapping.
    People from my community came up with this creative, eccentric and fun idea to inject a bit of magic and joy during these tough times. Ours is a tight-knit community. In Quebec, when we say we are “snapping our suspenders”, we mean we are proud, we are boasting.
    The Bloc Québécois is certainly proud, and I just had to share this initiative and boast about the people in my riding, especially Mr. Tremblay. I cordially invite you, Mr. Speaker, and my riding neighbour to come to Sainte-Germaine-Boulé to snap your suspenders.

  (1405)  

Madawaska-Restigouche

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to commend the immigration initiative of businesses in my riding. Like other areas in Canada, Madawaska-Restigouche has a significant shortage of skilled labour. To address this shortage, many of our employers have no other choice but to turn to immigration.
    I want to salute the businesses that attract skilled newcomers. In turn, these newcomers will participate in the growth of our economy and the overall development of our communities. Last Saturday in Edmundston, I was honoured to meet and welcome 11 Togolese families who, after a mandatory quarantine at a hotel, were able to come out in public for the first time. The smiles on the faces of these families and their children were something to see, as was the pride of the people who were there to welcome them to Canada.
    I tip my hat to the employer, Nadeau Ferme Avicole, and the people of Upper Madawaska, and I thank our new families for choosing us. We are honoured.

[English]

Community Leaders

    Mr. Speaker, Peace River—Westlock is a large riding, with many towns, municipalities, Métis settlements, first nations and municipal districts. My job as MP overlaps with over 500 other elected representatives.
     I rise today to honour these men and women. Their hard work over the past year has been exemplary. When these leaders let their names stand, they had no idea that they would have to deal with COVID. They have remained faithful, serving their citizens. They have listened, they have helped and they have stood up when needed.
     For many, these positions are part-time, yet in the face of COVID, they stepped up, took on extra responsibilities and still tried to look after their own livelihoods. It is no small task to serve others while keeping one's own family above water.
    I very much thank all the chiefs, chairpersons, mayors, reeves, school councillors and board officials and the MLAs. Their work is appreciated.

Greek Independence Day

    Mr. Speaker,
    [Member spoke in Greek and provided the following translation:]
    One hour of freedom is worth 40 years of slavery and prison.
    [English]
    This is a famous Greek phrase as we mark the bicentennial of Greek independence today.

[Translation]

    March 25 marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of Greece's struggle to regain independence after four centuries of oppression under the Ottoman Empire. This fight ultimately led to the return of democracy in Greece, 2,000 years after its birth.
    This victory was won thanks to the sacrifices of all Greeks who loved their freedom, their language, their culture and their religion.

[English]

    It is with immense pride that I rise in the House to pay tribute to the sacrifices of my ancestors and celebrate the vibrant culture and heritage of Greece. I invite all Canadians to join our community in celebrating this historic milestone.
    [Member spoke in Greek]

Penny Appeal Canada

    Mr. Speaker, today, I am delivering a statement written by Milton's Daughters of the Vote delegate Wardah Shaikh. She states:
     “As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has put immense strain on families and businesses across the country. Too many people have been unable to work, and local businesses have been struggling to make ends meet as this crisis persists. Fortunately, there are many organizations committed to helping them get back on their feet while supporting community members who are in need of food. One such organization is Penny Appeal Canada, a Muslim aid and development agency delivering aid both domestically and internationally. During Ramadan, throughout April and May, Penny Appeal Canada will be partnering with local restaurants in Ontario and Alberta to purchase 6000 meals which volunteers will deliver to families in need. Penny Appeal’s goal is to support our communities through small changes that make a big difference in people’s lives.”
    Milton is extremely proud of Wardah, and I am proud to say that Wardah will be volunteering with Penny Appeal Canada this Ramadan. I would invite everybody to join her and to join her team called “Team Orange”. Visit pennyappeal.ca to sign up today. I thank Wardah.

  (1410)  

Kraft Hockeyville

    Mr. Speaker, this year marks the 15th anniversary of Kraft Hockeyville, an exciting event that celebrates family, community and the spirit of hockey. This year, the historic village of Bobcaygeon is one of the four finalists.
     Many across Canada will recognize Bobcaygeon from, of course, the Tragically Hip song written about escaping the hustle and bustle of the big city for the quiet country life. Others will know Bobcaygeon as the hub of the Kawarthas for its amazing shops, restaurants, trails, boating and, of course, fishing.
    For me, it is my hometown. It is where I grew up. In fact, it was in 1991 when the Bobcaygeon Cougars Bantam hockey team, which I was part of, went to the all-Ontario finals where the community centre was bursting at the seams, while family and friends cheered us on. Indeed, hockey has always been a big piece of the village's character and the arena serves as a focal point for the area, not just for sports but for such events as the famous Bobcaygeon Fall Fair.
    Voting opens April 9, at 9 a.m., and goes until 5 p.m. the next day. I encourage everyone all across the country to register now and vote Bobcaygeon.

Greek Independence Day

    Mr. Speaker, today, March 25 marks 200 years since the Greek war of independence began, the start of the revolution which would allow the people of Greece to regain their freedom after 400 years of Ottoman occupation.
    On this day in 1821, the words eleftheria i thanatos, freedom or death, became the slogan of the nation, and brave men and women fought courageously for a better future for their country, for a liberated Greece.
    It is thanks to the heroes of 1821 that Greeks are still around today to thrive in communities around the world.
     The bicentennial of Greek independence is a momentous occasion for Hellions and Philhellenes to remember and honour these heroes, but it is also a moment to reflect on how far Greeks, both in and out of Greece, have come in the 200 years since independence and where they are headed in the future.
    [Member spoke in Greek]

Natural Resources

    Mr. Speaker, if by chance the Liberals intend to have us continue business here, in a few weeks I will be presenting a motion to support Canada's energy workers, my constituents and all Canadians. When we support our oil and gas industry, it generates billions of dollars in tax revenue. We support thousands of direct and indirect jobs that support business, our communities and the families that thrive within.
    If we are to recuperate from the pandemic's economic fallout, we cannot twiddle our thumbs with Canada's most important export resource at the mercy of foreign competitors. I call upon the government to support my motion to further stand by our energy sector workers.
     We have world-class resources, with the highest environmental standards. It is time we celebrated.

Government Accountability

    Mr. Speaker, responsible government means accountable government. Responsible government is why we are here now, in this place, to hold the government accountable. However, the Liberals seem to believe that government exists for them and their friends and that charity begins at WE. In the words of former Liberal minister David Dingwall, “I am entitled to my entitlements.”
     Sadly, the Liberals are known for such choice phrases. That is why Canada's Conservatives will bring in the toughest accountability and transparency laws in Canadian history. Conservatives will toughen the Conflict of Interest Act and impose higher penalties. Conservatives will tighten the Lobbying Act to end the abuse by Liberal insiders. Conservatives will increase transparency to end Liberal cover-ups. That is responsible government.

Velma’s House

    Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the families of MMIWG2S, survivors of violence and advocates who have been fighting for years to see Velma’s House open in Winnipeg Centre this Friday.
    Velma’s House, named after the late elder Velma Orvis, who was a tireless supporter and advocate for women, girls and two-spirits, is a 24-7 low-barrier safe space that will be open 365 days a year to provide safety, comfort and connection to those experiencing violence or exploitation or who are unsheltered. The space will serve our community with a trauma-informed and harm-reduction approach, have an in-house elder, and be staffed by a diverse team, including those with lived experience.
     I want to thank Ka Ni Kanichihk and the 24-7 safe space planning committee, the Manitoba Coalition of Families of Missing and Murdered Women, the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre, the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, End Homelessness Winnipeg and the West Central Women’s Resource Centre for their tireless efforts in making this happen for our community.

  (1415)  

[Translation]

Quebec Social Workers' Week

    Mr. Speaker, this week, Quebec is recognizing the vital contribution of social workers.
    We are talking about 15,000 professionals who protect young people, help seniors, bring comfort and propose solutions for people in all sorts of situations, and that is important.
    Social workers want to understand our reality, listen to us and guide us, and that is important.
    Social workers focus on our strengths, believe in us and help us regain confidence, and that is important.
    Social workers help us change things, and that is important.
    These professionals address the social determinants of health to improve the standard of living in their communities, and that is important.
    As a social worker myself, I want to commend my very competent and dedicated colleagues and recognize the important role each of them plays in helping people and the community.
    Never forget, dear colleagues, we have you, and that is important.
    Thank you for everything.

[English]

Health

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday it was reported by our local newspaper, the Langley Advance Times, that there were five overdose deaths from illegal drugs in Langley in January and February. In the past, this number would have represented the entire year in my city.
     All reports are pointing to the fact that the illicit drug market has become far more toxic. Despite this, the Liberals want to reduce the penalties for these drug traffickers who are responsible for the harms in our community. It is shocking.
    Sadly, drug dealers are not the only culprit. Since the start of this pandemic, overdose deaths have doubled in B.C. Social isolation from lockdowns and a lack of clarity about the future are creating serious consequences on the mental health of Canadians, and the government voted down our motion to create a data-driven plan to get out of it.
    Thankfully, Canada can count on the Conservatives for a robust plan to secure our mental health on the other side of this crisis.

[Translation]

Violence Against Women

    Mr. Speaker, enough is enough.
    The escalation of domestic violence in our society is extremely disturbing. Over the course of seven weeks in Quebec, seven women were killed by violent men. It is clear that what we are doing as a society to fight violence against women is not enough. All governments should immediately intensify their efforts to enhance support for resources dedicated to protecting women and fighting domestic violence.
    The pandemic has changed people's living conditions, making problems worse. We need to act fast. We want to express our deepest condolences to the families of Elisapee Angma, Marly Edouard, Nancy Roy, Myriam Dallaire, Sylvie Bisson, Nadège Jolicœur and Rebekah Harry. We owe it to them to do better.
    There have been discussions among representatives of all parties in the House, and I believe there is unanimous consent to observe a moment of silence in memory of the seven Quebec women who recently lost their lives and of all victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

[English]

    I now invite hon. members to rise.
     [A moment of silence observed]

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

  (1420)  

[English]

Health

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has failed to get a vaccine delivery guarantee from the European Union. Reports indicate that vaccine deliveries from India could be delayed for all of April. Canada lags the developed world on vaccine deployment.
    How many more months of lockdowns will these new delays cause?
    Mr. Speaker, Canada has already received half a million vaccine doses from India, on top of what was originally scheduled, and Canadians can also expect 1.5 million doses from the United States on top of what was originally scheduled.
    We are using every diplomatic channel and relationship possible to increase and advance our deliveries. Montreal is now at 17% of the population having received a vaccine. There is more work to do, but we are delivering.
    Mr. Speaker, other countries are opening up, and Canada has not even hit 15% to 20%. That is a failure.
    This morning Health Canada officials confirmed the four-month delay in doses is an off-label use of a COVID-19 vaccine. Health Canada also confirmed this morning that there will likely be more changes to dosing directions. Canadians are left wondering: Is there a plan? Why did the Prime Minister create a science problem because of his vaccine supply problem?
    Mr. Speaker, I think the member opposite is failing to recognize that as science has evolved and recommendations have changed, the government has changed recommendations associated with the evidence and experience and expertise of scientists, researchers and public health experts. The government believes that the best way to respond to the pandemic is by using science, by understanding that as our knowledge and our understanding of the virus changes, so will our responses.

[Translation]

     Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister failed to secure delivery guarantees for vaccines from Europe. Vaccine deliveries from India will be delayed for all of April. Canada is already behind all our allies.
    How many more months of lockdowns will these delays cause?
    Not a single shipment of vaccines from the European Union has been blocked or delayed to date. Shipments of millions of vaccine doses continue to arrive in Canada, as planned. The Prime Minister spoke with the President of the European Commission yesterday, and she reassured him that this will continue to be the case.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General report on pandemic preparedness found that it was the Liberal government that shuttered the global pandemic monitoring system and left Canada vulnerable. The audit also found that the Public Health Agency relied on a risk assessment tool that was not designed to consider pandemic risks.
    Why did the government shut down Canada's pandemic warning system in the lead-up to the COVID-19 pandemic?
    Mr. Speaker, in fact, perhaps the member opposite would like to read the expert panel's interim report, wherein the expert panel indicated that although there were changes made to the global public health information network, these did not delay the response by Canada.
    We have reviewed the Auditor General's report. We agree that this country, along with all countries, will need to review our response to the pandemic and make investments in public health, as we have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic.

  (1425)  

[Translation]

     Madam Speaker, according to the Auditor General report on pandemic preparedness, it was the Liberal government that shuttered the global monitoring system. The audit also found that the Public Health Agency relied on a risk-assessment tool that was not designed to consider pandemic risks.
    Why did the government shut down our warning system in the lead-up to the COVID-19 pandemic?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite knows, this government has used science and evidence every step of the way to respond to COVID-19. I will also say that since the beginning of the pandemic, we have expanded the Public Health Agency of Canada by more than 1,000 employees to date, to bolster our capacity in a number of critical areas. I would urge the member opposite to stop stalling and pass Bill C-14, which would allot a further $690 million for the Public Health Agency of Canada, as dedicated in the fall 2020 economic statement.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, today the Liberals are finally recognizing the need to increase health transfers to Quebec and the provinces. After years of effort by the Bloc Québécois, Ottawa is finally acknowledging that the federal government is underfunding health care. It is a first step.
    Unfortunately, the amounts in Bill C-25 are not recurring and they are seven times lower than what Quebec and the provinces are asking for. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, even the longest journey must begin with a first step.
    Will the government commit to recurring health transfer increases, up to 35% of costs?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, every step of the way, we have been there for provinces and territories to support them in their pandemic response, including $19 billion in direct transfers and the purchase of PPE, vaccines and medical equipment. The Prime Minister has committed to continue to be there for provinces and territories to support them as the country recovers from COVID-19.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the Quebec proverb says it is not enough. The Bloc Québécois is not saying it, the Quebec premier and all the provincial premiers are saying it. I will even quote them: short-term funding, while helpful, does not permit the provinces and territories to address Canadians' long-term health care needs. They need $28 billion to make up for chronic federal underfunding, coupled with annual indexing.
    We are talking about $4 billion. That is seven times less than what they asked for and it is not recurring.
    Does the government promise that this is a first step in a journey leading to 35% federal funding of health care costs?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, what I have said repeatedly in the House and what the Prime Minister has committed to repeatedly in the House is to be there for Canadians, to be there for Quebeckers and to be there for the Province of Quebec throughout this pandemic and beyond. That is our commitment today to Canadians. We will do whatever it takes to get Canadians through this pandemic and back on the road to recovery.

[Translation]

Violence against Women

    Mr. Speaker, seven women were killed in the span of six weeks in Quebec. We must put an end to this femicide immediately.
    Violence against women is a pandemic within a pandemic. Organizations that support women need help immediately. We need a plan.
    What is the Prime Minister waiting for?
    What is the plan to stop femicide and save lives?
    Mr. Speaker, one life lost is too many. We grieve with you.
    We continue to put survivors at the centre of what we do.

[English]

    There were 160 lives lost in 2020, and seven women lost in seven weeks in Quebec. Even one life lost is one too many. Our government will continue to work with frontline organizations that have already, over the past year, supported close to a million women, children and non-binary folks in their hour of need. We all must do more and in their memory, we will.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, as a nation, we are dealing with the crisis of the pandemic. On top of that, the climate crisis continues to persist. We have the Conservatives, a party that denies there is even a problem, and the Liberals who continue to delay taking any real action to fight the climate crisis. More than just delay, we have a Prime Minister who is all for show. He bought a pipeline, he continues to exempt the biggest polluters and he continues to subsidize the fossil fuel sector.
    How can Canadians trust the Prime Minister to take on the climate crisis?

  (1430)  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question on such an important day when the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of Canada's approach to pricing carbon pollution, because carbon pollution should not be free anywhere in this country.
    Canada brought forward a strengthened climate plan in December. It is one of the most detailed and comprehensive climate plans anywhere in the world. It provides a detailed path through which we will not only meet but exceed our current Paris Agreement targets. We have indicated that we will be bringing forth a new target that we will be announcing at the Earth Summit in April.
    This government takes climate change very seriously. It is an existential threat, but also an enormous economic opportunity for this country.

[Translation]

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, the chief of the defence staff of our armed forces is facing allegations of sexual misconduct involving a female member of the Canadian military, which is very troubling. That is why it is important to get to the bottom of this and determine who in the government knew what and when.
    One key figure in this matter who has not yet testified is the former chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence. Will the Prime Minister allow that individual to testify before a parliamentary committee so these matters can be studied thoroughly?
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague knows full well that departmental responsibility is a fundamental principle.
    Ministers are there to answer questions, whether in the House or in committee. I find it very serious that the opposition is trying to use its majority to bring in people who are here in good faith to work hard for Canada, to intimidate them, to mistreat them in committee and to disrespect them. Ministers are here to answer questions. It is the very principle of departmental responsibility, and we are going to follow it.
    Mr. Speaker, “very serious”, “mistreat”, “intimidate”: is the minister aware of the nonsense he just spouted?
    We have to get to the bottom of this. This person, the former chief of staff, is at the heart of the government, the army and the Prime Minister's Office. That person has to say what she knows. That is why we want her to appear. Will the government allow this person to testify before a parliamentary committee so that the whole truth can be told?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said, in our parliamentary democracy, it is a member of cabinet who is accountable to Parliament, it is a member of cabinet who is accountable to committees, not their employees.
    It is something the Conservatives have always supported. I clearly remember when the leader of the government at the time, Jay Hill, defended departmental responsibility tooth and nail. A number of people sitting on the opposition side today were there, applauding it and were in full agreement. I am very surprised that they changed their minds today.

[English]

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister claims that his office had nothing to do with the half-billion dollar grant to a group that had paid his family half a million dollars.
    However, there is something about the timeline that does not add up. I have the contribution agreement that gave WE the half-billion dollars. It was signed on June 23. However, the Kielburgers got authorization to start spending taxpayer reimbursable money on May 5, six weeks earlier.
    Did the Kielburgers speak to anybody in the PMO on May 5?
    Mr. Speaker, as committee members have requested, I have testified at committee and provided this information. As we have confirmed, the contribution agreement was negotiated between the professional non-partisan public service, and this information is all on the public record.
    The member opposite seems to be very concerned about students and youth. It would be great if his Conservative colleagues would stop holding back Bill C-14 so that we could help students with interest relief and Canadians from coast to coast to coast, as we are still in the midst of the pandemic and have a lot of work to do.

  (1435)  

    Mr. Speaker, the question was whether or not the Kielburgers spoke to anyone on May 5.
    They had to have found out somehow they were eligible to spend taxpayer funds on May 5, and it certainly was not from the contract, which was signed by that minister on June 23, unless they have some telepathic abilities.
     It turns out they do not have telepathic abilities, but they do have a telephone. They spoke to Rick Theis, top adviser to the Prime Minister and cabinet, on May 5, the day they started spending money.
    Will they let Mr. Rick Theis be nice and testify at committee to answer questions?
    Mr. Speaker, ministers are accountable to Parliament, not staffers. It is a long-standing tradition, something my colleagues supported at the time. That is why our ministers are in question period and appear at committees to answer questions.
    Let me quote Jay Hill, government House leader under Stephen Harper:
    When ministers choose to appear before committees to account for their administration, they are the best source of accountability and they must be heard. Public servants and ministerial staff support the responsibility of their ministers. They do not supplant it. They cannot supplant it.
    My colleague agreed with that at the time. Why did he change his mind?
    Mr. Speaker, here we are in the middle of another series of Liberal cover-ups, all to protect the Prime Minister. It is in the middle of a pandemic when other countries have governments spending their time making sure they get their economies back on track, and these Liberals are looking to cover up corruption. Canadians want a great Canadian comeback, and with these Liberals, they are focused on a great Canadian cover-up.
    Will the Prime Minister allow these staff to testify on what they knew about sexual misconduct in the military and the half-billion dollar WE scandal?
    Mr. Speaker, I think the Conservatives are trying to cover up for the mistakes they made during their convention this weekend and the important decision by the Supreme Court today, so they want to switch channels. They are getting into petty politics. They know very well that there is a principle of ministerial responsibility. At the time they formed government, they fought very hard for this principle.
    I remember the MP for Carleton and other colleagues sitting there in the House and how much they believed in and fought for this principle. What happened? Have they changed their minds all of a sudden?
     Before we go to the next question, I want to remind hon. members who are joining us virtually to adjust their microphone so that it is either slightly above, between their nose and their upper lip, or slightly below, between their chin and their lower lip, so we do not get any popping sound. Our interpreters do yeomen's work and we do not want to jeopardize their health.
    Mr. Speaker, even adjusting the equipment would not improve the quality of the answer by that minister.
    It is the same old song and dance. They shut down Parliament, filibustered committees for the equivalent of 20 meetings alone at the ethics committee, and yet they are talking about another party trying to change the channel? It is a cover-up of corruption of the highest magnitude.
    Members of the Prime Minister's family got a half-million dollars and then they gave that organization a half-billion dollars. The chief of the defence staff is alleged to have perpetrated sexual misconduct against the soldiers he was entrusted to lead and protect, and the minister and Prime Minister knew about it. They gave him a raise and did not protect the enlisted men and women who serve our country.
    These people need to come testify. We expect the staff to testify. Will the Prime Minister let them?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the Conservatives that we are right in the middle of a pandemic, that Canadians are suffering and dying, and people are losing their jobs and we should be debating that today. How can we help Canadians, how can we help workers, small businesses, families and seniors? Instead, what do the Conservatives do? They fall into petty, partisan politics and personal attacks, like my colleague just made. That is a shame. There is a principle that they know and defended, the principle of ministerial responsibility, and now they have changed their minds? Seriously?

[Translation]

Health

    Mr. Speaker, it is crazy. The Prime Minister refused to acknowledge the need to increase health transfers, but eventually said we could discuss it after the pandemic.
    Today there was an announcement that the federal government will be increasing health transfers slightly during the pandemic. They have a hard time understanding, but they get there in the end.
    Does the Minister of Finance understand that a permanent, substantial increase to health transfers is needed immediately, and will she include that in her upcoming budget?

  (1440)  

    Mr. Speaker, funnily enough, the Bloc usually wants to hear a yes, but it does not want to hear a yes this time. We already told them that yes, we will increase health transfers.
    We are in a pandemic right now. We are working very hard with all the provinces and Quebec in particular. We are focusing our efforts on helping the provinces get through the crisis, either by providing equipment and vaccines or bringing in various measures.
    We have been there for the provinces, and we will continue to be there for them.
    Mr. Speaker, let us talk about that.
    From the start of the pandemic, the federal government left Quebec and the provinces to fend for themselves. At the start of the pandemic, for every $100 it spent, the federal government invested 15¢ in health during a health crisis. With today's announcement, for every $100 spent, $1 will go to health during a health crisis. That is an improvement, but it is obviously nothing to applaud. Again today, despite the announcement, Quebec and the provinces are asking for more.
    Will the government increase health transfers to 35% on an ongoing basis?
    Mr. Speaker, there is no reason to applaud, because during a pandemic we do not applaud, we work. We roll up our sleeves and we work. We work with the provinces.
    There is one thing that the Bloc Québécois may not like these days. It sees how well we are working with Quebec through the agreements reached, for example, to help Lion Électrique, or to provide Internet service in the regions. The Bloc Québécois clearly sees that the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec are working hand in hand for Quebec and Quebeckers, and it does not like that.
     Mr. Speaker, today, the Canadian Medical Association released a new study showing that the cost of elder care alone will increase by $490 billion over the next 10 years. Ottawa has responded with a single $4-billion transfer.
    This study reminds us that, as the Bloc Québécois has always reiterated, seniors do not need national standards, they need health funding to increase on an ongoing basis.
    What is the government waiting for to implement a significant, unconditional increase in health transfers on an ongoing basis?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the opposition of what we have been doing for seniors.
    For many months we have been providing support for seniors through tax-free payments and enhanced community supports. While the government does remain committed to implementing policies that were reaffirmed in the throne speech, at this time they know that we are focusing on managing the COVID-19 public health crisis, and we have given billions to provinces and territories to help with public health at this time of the crisis.
    Seniors can be assured that our government will be there to support them.

[Translation]

Labour

    Mr. Speaker, the Port of Montreal has been described as the lifeblood of Quebec's and Ontario's economies. In total, $100 billion worth of goods move through the port every year.
    A number of Canadian businesses rely on the Port of Montreal to import and export goods. Unfortunately, a strike seems likely because the government has failed to facilitate the negotiations on the port workers' collective agreement.
    Why has the Liberal government not ensured that the two parties could come to an agreement that works for everyone?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we understand that the parties have not yet reached an agreement, but the good news is that the parties are back at the table. We also recognize the central role of the port and we are aware of the uncertainty of the current situation and the anxiety that it is creating in supply chains. We have heard concerns from many stakeholders in recent weeks. We understand these concerns and take them very seriously. Right now our focus is that the parties are at the table. We have supported that negotiation through providing mediation services, and we look forward to a resolution at the table.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, a 19-day strike last year at the Port of Montreal resulted in $600 million in losses. These economic losses are unacceptable for businesses.
    The Liberal government has been dragging its feet long enough. Canadians should not have to suffer economic hardship as a result of the government's inaction.
    Is the Liberal government waiting for another crisis before it steps in? With the pandemic, the Canadian economy cannot withstand a new strike.
    Why did the government not do more to make sure that the parties could come to an agreement that works for everyone?

  (1445)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

[English]

    We have been on this file from the very beginning. These parties have been negotiating for two and a half years, and the federal mediation and conciliation service has been there at the table to support the parties. We realize the economic harm that this potentially can cause. Last month I took the extra step of appointing two senior mediators from the mediation service.
    I want to assure the member that we are in close contact with the parties, we are monitoring the situation very closely, we are aware of the potential harm this could cause, and we are providing every support possible to have an agreement made at that table.
    Mr. Speaker, yet there is no resolution.
    On Sunday, Port of Montreal longshoremen completely rejected the collective agreement proposal, and a strike at one of our most vital ports is looming. Our rail lines are reducing service, ships are being rerouted and we could see some major delays in receiving essential goods. Our reputation as a reliable trade partner is in serious jeopardy.
    Will the minister start taking Canada’s supply chain seriously and ensure our port system remains open for business?
    Mr. Speaker, we absolutely recognize the central role of the port and we are aware of the uncertainty that the current situation is creating. There is a great of deal anxiety in supply chains across the various sectors, and it has the potential to cause significant reputational damage and economic harm across Canada, particularly in Montreal, in Quebec and in Ontario. We are absolutely fully on top of this situation. We are providing the supports. The mediators have been at that table for almost two and a half years. We will continue to monitor the situation and we strongly encourage the parties to come to an agreement at the table.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, today's Supreme Court ruling is good news. Canadians are concerned about the climate crisis, but they are also concerned about the Liberals' lack of action.
    Canada has missed every single climate target. The Liberals continue to hand out billions of dollars to big oil companies instead of putting that money into transit, energy-efficient homes and clean energy, and good jobs for workers in the low-carbon economy. They failed to deliver on their promise of a just transition act.
    When will the minister stop treating the carbon tax as a silver bullet, stop leaving workers behind and stop subsidizing big polluters?
    Mr. Speaker, again, I am very pleased to speak to the climate issue on a day when the Supreme Court reaffirmed the federal government's ability to ensure that we are pricing pollution in every part of this country. It is an important component of a comprehensive climate plan that is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building an economy that will drive prosperity in what will become an ever increasingly low-carbon universe of the future.
    Certainly Canada has a climate plan. It has perhaps one of the most detailed climate plans in the world. We announced that plan in December. It demonstrates to Canadians very clearly how Canada will not just meet but will exceed the targets that it has established—
    The hon. member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, The Globe and Mail reports that Canada's nuclear safety regulator gave a 10-year licence extension to the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, despite inspection data that government experts said appeared to defy the laws of physics. The concern is around the aging pressure tubes holding the nuclear fuel bundles. A tube failure could result in a billion-dollar repair bill, at best, and a catastrophic Fukushima-like meltdown at worst.
    Why does the government taken this hope-for-the-best approach to nuclear safety?
    Mr. Speaker, protecting the health and safety of Canadians and the environment are our top priorities when it comes to nuclear energy. Canada has a comprehensive and robust regulatory framework for nuclear safety, one of the best in the world. We are committed to continuous improvement. We are working closely with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and we welcome all its recommendations.

Diversity and Inclusion

    Mr. Speaker, representation matters. All aspects of our society and our institutions, including the justice system, must reflect the diversity of Canada. After introducing critical reforms in 2016, our government has made the appointment process more open and transparent, leading to the appointment of more than 400 highly meritorious jurists.
    Could the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada update the House on ongoing efforts taken by our government to increase diversity on our bench?

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Bonavista—Burin—Trinity for his advocacy.
    Yesterday our government announced the historic appointment of the first indigenous judge to the B.C. Court of Appeal, Justice Leonard Marchand, and also filled all vacancies on the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. This shows our commitment to diversity on the bench. More than half of all judges appointed by our government are women, and appointments also reflect increased representation of visible minorities, indigenous people and LGBTQ2+ Canadians. Our courts must reflect the diversity that makes Canada great, not only because it is right but because it makes our justice system better.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, all military members need to be able to report abuse of power and sexual misconduct, confident in the knowledge that they will not suffer further abuse or reprisal. The passing of Bill C-77 in 2019 ensured that the privacy and security of victims within the Canadian Armed Forces was protected in law. However, this key legislation has not been implemented or enforced. Those who come forward still suffer. Why has the defence minister failed to implement the charter of victims in the armed forces?
    Mr. Speaker, we as a government are working to provide support for victims through the ombudsman for victims in our country. We have funded a number of different programs across this country specifically targeted to victims. I can cite, for example, the family liaison units that came about as a result of MMIWG.
    We look at all aspects of Canadian society in order to ensure that victims are accompanied in their dealings with the criminal justice system, and we do our best to treat them and support them with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
    Mr. Speaker, Canadians continue to learn that far too many military members who have experienced sexual assault and misconduct remain trapped in a culture where their voices go unheard. Bill C-77 protects in law the anonymity and security of victims and witnesses in these cases, but failure to implement this critical charter has allowed serious allegations to be ignored, investigations to be shut down and charges to be dropped.
    Why has the defence minister, for two years, failed to ensure that the charter of victims in the armed forces is enforced?
    Mr. Speaker, as I stated in my previous answer, we take victims' rights seriously across all aspects of Canadian society, and that includes the military. I will come back to the member with a specific answer to her question that focuses on the military.

International Trade

    Mr. Speaker, we recently learned from a senior government official that the Liberals were not pursuing a complete exemption from President Biden's buy American policies and are only looking at sector-specific exemptions. The Conservatives negotiated a full exemption back in 2009.
    Did the Minister of International Trade push for a complete exemption for Canada from buy American during her call with the U.S. trade representative on March 22, or is the government's position now just settling for second best?

  (1455)  

    Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite knows, buy America was raised directly during the bilateral meeting with President Biden. As Ambassador Hillman confirmed under testimony before our committee, the issue of buy America is consistently raised in almost every meeting between almost every minister and their U.S. counterparts.
    We will continue to engage actively with our business community here in Canada, the business community in the United States and all levels of government in order to get a successful outcome to this issue, just as we did in our concerted effort to successfully conclude the new NAFTA.
    Mr. Speaker, strict buy American policies would be devastating to the Canadian economy and impact our integrated supply chains if the Liberals fail to get a full exemption. The government would be handpicking which sectors and perhaps which businesses will succeed or fail if it is seeking only a partial exemption.
     If a full buy American exemption is not granted to Canada, what is the Liberals' plan to stop good-paying, middle-class Canadian manufacturing jobs from packing up and moving south of the border?
    Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite should know, Canada already benefits from a complete exemption from the Buy American provisions that the United States put in place.
    As I mentioned earlier, we continue to work at all levels in order to gain an exemption to buy America. This is just as much in the interest of the United States as it is in Canada's. We are all looking for a strong economic recovery in North America, and we will work with the Biden administration to get there.

[Translation]

Health

    Mr. Speaker, today, the Auditor General confirmed that the management of our borders during the pandemic was a complete failure.
    The federal government was unable to find out whether 66% of travellers coming to Canada were in fact complying with the quarantine rules. That means that two out of every three travellers who came to Canada slipped right through the cracks.
    How is it possible to lose track of two out of three people when the health of the population and the lives of seniors are at risk?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as of March 8, two million verification calls and over 70,000 in-person visits had been made to verify traveller compliance, and 1.2 million referrals had been made to law enforcement since April 1, 2020. There had been a 96% quarantine compliance rate since April 1, 2020, and a 98% quarantine compliance rate based on law enforcement activities. We have worked with partners across the country to make sure that people quarantine when they are required to do so by law.

[Translation]

    The hon. member for Jonquière on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
    We did not see the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques the entire time he was asking his question. There was only the visual. I would like to know if he can start again.
    We will allow the member to repeat his question.
    The hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.
    Mr. Speaker, today, the Auditor General confirmed that the management of our borders during the pandemic was a complete failure.
    The federal government was unable to find out whether 66% of travellers coming to Canada were in fact complying with the quarantine rules. That means that two out of every three travellers who came to Canada slipped right through the cracks.
    How is it possible to lose track of two out of three people when the health of the population and the lives of seniors are at risk?
    Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois needs to make up its mind.
    Millions of Quebeckers are in the red zone and cannot see their parents or grandparents, Quebec has a curfew, and we fear that a third wave is coming based on the variants, but the Bloc Québécois is telling us that it wants to eliminate the hotel quarantine for snowbirds returning home.
    That would mean easing restrictions. Now it is saying the opposite. It needs to make up its mind. Does it want fewer restrictions or more restrictions?
    We put in place one of the strongest systems in the world, and we will continue to do so.

  (1500)  

    Mr. Speaker, we can see that the government is confused. It just gave two different answers to the same question.
    Not only was the federal government unable to make sure two out of three travellers were actually quarantining, it was not even able to loop in the proper authorities to help.
    The federal government gave law enforcement the names of only 40% of the people at risk of violating quarantine. Ottawa let the majority of the people who crossed the border go unmonitored, without even notifying Quebec. Now it wonders why the variants are spreading all over the place.
    Does the government realize that it committed gross negligence?
    Mr. Speaker, the government has put in place one of the strictest systems in the world, with tests at departure and arrival, as well as a federally controlled hotel quarantine.
    Meanwhile, the Bloc Québécois wants to eliminate the hotel quarantine for returning snowbirds.
    The Bloc Québécois is telling us that it knows that Quebeckers cannot leave their homes, that they are being asked to make sacrifices, that it is asking for a whole bunch of things, but that it wants to eliminate the criteria for certain people returning to Canada and lower expectations in spite of everything that is happening right now.
    That is irresponsible.
    A point of order, Mr. Speaker.
    Unfortunately, during my colleague's question, someone activated their microphone, and we did not hear a good portion of his question.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on this point of order.
    I like my colleague, but I think he is exaggerating a bit. I heard the question clearly, and I had no trouble seeing his colleague while he was asking it.
    There may have been a slight delay during his response. If the hon. minister wants to give his response again, that would be fine.
    The hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, I am well aware that this is a new situation and that there are technical difficulties.
    For my part, however, I heard the minister's response just fine. There was a delay of a fraction of a second between the response and the video, but I think everyone understood what the minister said. They may not have understood what he meant, but they were certainly able to hear him.
    If the House agrees, we will move on to the next question.
    The hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.

[English]

Agriculture and Agri-Food

    Mr. Speaker, for a year now we have been asking the Liberal government for its plan to bring international farm workers to help Canadian fruit and vegetable growers with their crops. These workers are vital to giving Canadians a secure and reliable supply of produce. However, growers are still uncertain they will have their workers in time to harvest the early crops and get the next crops planted, because of the new convoluted quarantine and testing requirements.
    Why does the Minister of Agriculture and her Liberal friends care so little about Canadian agriculture and Canadian food sovereignty? Where is the plan?
    Mr. Speaker, our government recognizes the importance of temporary foreign workers to our producers and our food processors. We are working tirelessly to ensure that temporary foreign workers can arrive safely in Canada by supporting employers with the additional costs incurred to accommodate the isolation period. All federal departments involved in the temporary foreign worker program have worked together to simplify processes and facilitate as much as possible the safe entry of these workers.
    Mr. Speaker, they need to do better because a farmer here in Haldimand—Norfolk is concerned about one of his international workers who has been alone in quarantine for over 25 days. Why? He is still waiting for a test kit from Switch Health. This wait is unacceptable and inhumane and, sadly, it is not an isolated case. We had real problems getting international farm workers here last year and now the bumbling Liberal government just keeps creating new difficulties for farmers.
    Why will they not help our farmers feed Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said before, our government recognizes the importance of temporary foreign workers. All federal departments involved in the temporary foreign worker program have worked together to simplify processes and facilitate as much as possible the safe entry of workers. We recognize the integral role that our farmers and food processing employers play in ensuring that Canadians have access to food. We are here to support them.
    The fall economic statement committed an additional $34.4 million to continue the mandatory isolation support for temporary foreign workers. Between September and December 2020, around 2,053 temporary foreign workers arrived in Canada to support the 2021 season.

  (1505)  

[Translation]

Employment Insurance

    Mr. Speaker, the three opposition parties, including the Conservatives, agreed that there was a need to extend EI benefits from 15 to 50 weeks in the case of serious illness.
    We all agree on that. We will not accuse the government of overspending, because we realize that this is an extremely important social safety net for people who are fighting for their life. Is the Prime Minister committed to making this change to the EI program before the next election?
    Mr. Speaker, Canadians want a flexible EI system that meets their needs, and they deserve it.
    That is why we have spent the past five years modernizing it and making improvements for the benefit of Canadians. EI sickness benefits are an important support measure for Canadians who can no longer work. Right now, too many beneficiaries exhaust their benefits. That is why we are committed to extending the benefit period to 26 weeks.

Telecommunications

    Mr. Speaker, this past year has been difficult.
    The citizens of Brome—Missisquoi contacted me many times to share their frustration at the absence of a reliable Internet connection. Many of us have had to work or study at home. The pandemic accelerated the need for this essential service.
    Can the Minister of Rural Economic Development share with the House the measures our government is taking to make sure that Quebeckers have access to reliable high-speed Internet?
    Mr. Speaker, we will keep our promises to Quebeckers.
    This week, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announced a $420-million investment aimed at connecting every Quebecker to high-speed Internet within the next two years.
    Clearly, our government is prepared to collaborate with all of its partners to defend the interests of all Canadians in rural and remote regions. I would like to thank the Liberal members of Parliament for their work in this area.

COVID-19 Emergency Response

    Mr. Speaker, on February 16, I asked the Minister of Finance a question. A business in my riding is having problems with the commercial rent assistance program because they are non-arm's length tenants. The Minister told me that she wanted to help all businesses who needed this support. Several businesses need this assistance in order to avoid declaring bankruptcy. A month and a half later, we still do not have anything for small and medium-sized businesses.
    Will the Minister fix the program and show some respect for our businesses on the brink?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his advocacy on this important issue. As a result of our program rollout, we have learned that we need to make certain adjustments as we go, including what was originally the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program, which was converted to the Canada emergency rent subsidy program. We made certain changes, and now have seen nearly 100,000 businesses receive a direct subsidy to contribute to the fixed costs of keeping their doors open.
    We will continue to monitor these programs to adjust them as necessary to ensure that businesses are supported, so that they are still here on the back end of this pandemic to contribute to the recovery.

Housing

    Mr. Speaker, home prices are skyrocketing. The CMHC and the banks confirm what we already know: the market is overheating. The Liberals' plan for first-time home buyers continues to miss the mark completely. We are over halfway through their program that was to help 100,000 Canadians, but it has reached just a tenth of that, despite the hot real estate market.
    When will the government implement housing policies that make sense and secure the future for young Canadians priced out of the market?
    Mr. Speaker, our government introduced Canada's first ever national housing strategy because we want every Canadian to find a safe and affordable place to call home. As part of the national housing strategy, we introduced the first-time home buyer incentive, which will help middle-class Canadians achieve their dream of owning a home by lowering their monthly mortgage payments without increasing the down payments.
    In the fall economic statement, we committed to expand the program to be more reflective of the financial realities of first-time home buyers in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria.

  (1510)  

    Mr. Speaker, in the Vancouver area the cost of an average home is already inflated by $644,000 because of red tape from all levels of government. COVID is not the time for extra costs for home owners. At the finance committee, I asked the assistant deputy minister in charge of tax policy if there were plans for a new home equity tax. He told me that he would not comment on new taxes and that I should ask the finance minister.
    Therefore, will the minister introduce a new home equity tax, yes or no?
    Mr. Speaker, our government is not thinking of or considering bringing in any home equity tax. Any suggestion of that is false. We have clarified that a number of times. I will keep saying it over and over again: We are neither considering nor implementing that.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, today's landmark decision is an important one in the fight against climate change and the most efficient tool in this effort. The Supreme Court affirmed what the Conservative leader's party rejected just this past weekend: Climate change is real and we have to act.
    Can the Minister of Environment and Climate Change please update the House on today's decision and our plan to fight climate change?
    Mr. Speaker, that is an important question. Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed what Canadians have known along: Climate change is real and putting a price on pollution is of concern to Canada as a whole. Only Conservative politicians are disputing the reality and urgency of climate change.
    Today's historic decision is a win for the millions of Canadians who believe we must build a prosperous economy that fights climate change, many of whom participated in the court's hearing, such as doctors, economists, cities, labour, indigenous groups and young people. It is a win for the hard-working families who will continue to receive more money in their pockets through the climate action incentive.

Fisheries and Oceans

    Mr. Speaker, coastal British Columbians have been appealing to the government for months to declare a wild salmon emergency and to save Pacific wild salmon, but after two years of not having a federal budget, people are rightly concerned that the Liberals are not taking this seriously. Coastal first nations and British Columbians need a government that will make historic investments in the conservation, protection and restoration of wild salmon habitats.
    Will the minister declare a wild salmon emergency today and make the necessary investments in the government's budget to protect Pacific wild salmon?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his hard work and advocacy on the fisheries committee, where they are now doing a study on wild Pacific salmon.
    This is a species that is in critical shape. We know that there are a lot of factors impacting our wild Pacific salmon, including climate change and human impacts, both from contaminants and from changes in land and water use. That is why our government has invested $145 million in habitat restoration. We are going to continue to work with first nations communities, provinces and territories to find the best solutions possible because we know how iconic this species is to British Columbia.
    There is more that needs to be done, and I look forward to working with the member opposite to—
    The hon. member for Fredericton.

Diversity and Inclusion

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister admitted that there is systemic racism in all systems that govern this country. He recognized that systemic anti-Black racism exists in Canada, causes deep pain and has undermined the livelihoods of Black Canadians, and Canada's own public service is complicit. As a result of systemic racism and discrimination, the government has failed to achieve equality and correct the conditions that disadvantage Black civil servants.
    Reparation is the act of making up for wrongdoing. Will the government fight in court the Black civil servants who courageously came forward to expose the wrongdoing they faced during their careers, or will it work toward reparation? Will the government commit today to review the Employment Equity Act and ensure it brings down the category of visible minorities, acknowledging the unique and systemic racism faced by Black employees?

  (1515)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for raising these important issues.
    Our government is committed to building back even better, and being consciously more inclusive. This is work that we started when we took office in October 2015. We brought back an anti-racism strategy that was created by Canadians for Canadians, informed by indigenous people, Black Canadians, racialized Canadians, religious minorities and so forth.
    We have an anti-racism secretariat. Yes, we are committed to reviewing the Employment Equity Act. Yes, we are committed to working with all partners who want to ensure that Canadians are not left on the sidelines. We recognize that COVID-19 has impacted the entire world, all Canadians and disproportionately certain segments. We are committed to ensuring that those—
    I am afraid that is all the time we have for today.
    The hon. member for Kanata—Carleton is rising on a point of order.

Gender-Based Violence