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 '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 '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 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 '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 , 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 . 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 and to the '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 , 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.
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 . 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 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.
Mr. Speaker, my thanks to the member for 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 , Zita Astravas, before our national defence committee. She is currently the chief of staff to the . 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 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.
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 , 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, the 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 . 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 . 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 and the 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 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 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 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 , the Prime Minister's Office, the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 , 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 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.
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 and his chief of staff testified. The has testified several times. The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
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 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.
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 be 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 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 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 . 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.
Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from for his hard work and his speech on these 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.
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 , 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 . 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 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—
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 , 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, 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 .
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.
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—
Mr. Speaker, it is an error I fall into on occasion. I apologize.
The 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 and the , 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 and the 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—
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—
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 Kalemba. 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.
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 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.”
Madam Speaker, I want to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
I am pleased to take part in today's debate on the motion moved by the member for , 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.
As we heard during the debate, if the Liberals do not want to hear from those witnesses, I hope the 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.
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 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 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 '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 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 was the one who promised sunny ways and transparency. He promised to be open by default.
Back in November 2015, the 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 's flagship message in “Open and Accountable Government”.
This is not an exaggeration. If the House will indulge me, I would like to refresh for Canadians the '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 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 '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 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 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.”
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 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.
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 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 , 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 , 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 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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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—
Madam Speaker, let us start, of course, at the beginning. In the beginning, this 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 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 will be saying, as I am splitting my time with him, is that the 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 '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 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 's director of policy and cabinet affairs.
Mr. Theis is the man who puts things in front of the 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.
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 adviser, “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 '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 adviser 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 adviser.
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 adviser to the , who had nothing whatsoever to do with setting up this whole affair. It is incredible.
These two gentlemen in the 's Office would have seen the promotional material that WE circulated in the PMO. Do members know who was in that promotional material? The '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 did with that money.
If the government has nothing to fear, if the has any courage, he will support this motion and let us get to the answers.
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for , 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 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 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 showed he was aware of the allegations around sexual misconduct by the former chief of the defence staff. This was confirmed by the , 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 '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.
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—
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 , 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 , for holding the to account and getting answers.
We learned, through defence committee testimony, that the was aware of the allegations around sexual misconduct by the former chief of the defence staff. This was confirmed by the , and the 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 '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.
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 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 '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.