Mr. Speaker, where we last left off was on the importance of holding governments to account.
This is the House of the common people where we restrain the Crown and limit its powers to maximize the liberty of the people. In this instance, the allegation is that the Prime Minister personally and politically interfered with the criminal prosecution of a powerful corporation.
In other words, the judicial branch of government suffered, or almost suffered, a major act of interference by the head of the government in the person of the Prime Minister. As Parliament, we are the legislative branch but we have the accountability mechanism here in the form of question period, committees and the other tools at our disposal to bring the Prime Minister back in check when he abuses the other branches of government.
In other words, we do not as legislators dominate the judicial branch. We merely provide it with the laws it interprets, but we can act as its protector here in the House of Commons in instances where the executive has spilled over and invaded the territory of the judicial branch.
That is precisely what we are doing. Just as the judicial branch sometimes must constrain the executive, particularly when the executive infringes on the rights of the population., we as parliamentarians in the legislative branch can also restrain the executive when it attacks the sacred ground of the judicial branch. That appears to be what the Prime Minister attempted.
The decision to prosecute an enterprise charged with fraud and bribery is one left to independent prosecutors in the office of the director of public prosecutions. Interference in that prosecution by any member of the executive has the effect of contaminating the judicial branch with politics. We, as parliamentarians, are the decontamination team. We are here to decontaminate the corruption that spilled out of the executive and almost into the judicial branch, but for the courageous acts of the former attorney general, who closed the floodgates and prevented that contamination from spilling completely into this criminal trial.
Thank God, she was there. What a relief. Canadians should breathe a sigh of relief that we had such a woman of integrity doing that job at that moment. Do we think that things happen for a reason, that people are in a certain place at a certain time because they are especially needed there?
In May of 1940, Europe was collapsing under the aggressive attacks of an evil and mendacious dictator. If it had not already, France was soon to surrender. Germany had already successfully attacked numerous of its neighbours and Chamberlain, who had signed a “peace for our time” treaty with Hitler, was on the verge of almost losing confidence in the British House of Commons. While he commanded a majority still, it was clear that he did not have enough support in the commons to carry out a war effort.
There is a story of a famous meeting where Churchill, Chamberlain and Lord Halifax gathered together in one room. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. It was clear that Chamberlain was on his way out, and the obvious replacement was Lord Halifax. Most people would have assumed it would be Churchill.
Who was Lord Halifax, and what was his plan? He was a widely respected member of the aristocratic elite and a senior Conservative of the British Parliament. He had engaged in efforts already, in the early stages of the Second World War, to initiate negotiations for the surrender of all of mainland Europe to Hitler. He initiated those negotiations through Mussolini. In other words, he was going to ask Mussolini to be the mediator in negotiations between Great Britain and Hitler on the surrender of Europe. That was his plan.
The three of them went into this meeting expecting that Lord Halifax would come out as prime minister. As certain historical accounts relay the events, Chamberlain said that he believed that he was losing the confidence of his caucus and perhaps of the commons and that he could no longer be prosecuting this war and would resign. On the question of who would replace him, he said that he thought it should be Lord Halifax. As the story is told, Lord Halifax said no, that he thought it should be Winston Churchill. Of course, Winston Churchill said, “I agree”.
Thank goodness that happened, because days later, when Churchill would become prime minister, he fundamentally altered the policy of the British government. It was not just that he was giving these stirring addresses to rouse the nation. There are many of those examples, and we can get lost in the soaring and brilliant rhetoric of the time. However, we miss, sometimes, that he actually changed the policy of the British government from one of survival to one of victory. He said, “You ask, what is our aim?... It is victory, victory at all costs”. He prosecuted the war with that full intention in mind. It was not to delay and frustrate the enemy for a later date, when they could one day renegotiate a settlement. It was to totally obliterate Hitler's Third Reich, and that is exactly what he did.
However, imagine if Lord Halifax had come out of that room as prime minister. Imagine the different world we would live in today. He would have attempted to negotiate a settlement that would have surrendered all of western Europe to a monster, but instead, we had a courageous lion who was prepared to fight and win at any cost. We might live in a very different world today had Winston Churchill, who in the years leading up to that moment was a very controversial and often very isolated backbencher during his wilderness years of the 1930s, not emerged as the prime minister, an unlikely prime minister, but arguably the most consequential one in modern history.
I relay this story merely to point out that sometimes certain people are in certain places at the right time. Although the stakes are nowhere as high today as they were then, as I think we will all admit, there is no doubt that there is something very important at stake in this particular controversy as well, and it is the independence of the prosecutorial arm of the government from politics. Had it been another attorney general, someone more malleable, someone whose convictions rested on sand rather than stone, we might have had a different outcome. That person might have said, “Sure. Clearly the prime minister wants this. It's illegal, but he gets what we wants. We know how he is. The clerk has made it clear that he is in a mood and he is going to get it done one way or another”.
A less courageous and principled attorney general might have just folded like a cheap suit and allowed that to happen. However, it was not someone else. It was this attorney general, and she stood up again and again. They pushed and they pushed, and she would not back down. She finally said that she felt like she was about to witness the Saturday night massacre, which was a reference to Nixon's Watergate firings. She said to the Clerk of the Privy Council that she was waiting for “the other shoe to drop”, and it did. Less than a month later, the Prime Minister would shuffle his cabinet and punt her from her position, making up a confusing and incredible, fantastic story about a game of musical chairs that resulted from the simple resignation of one Treasury Board president, who was completely unrelated to the situation at hand. She was then replaced with another Attorney General, who the Prime Minister thought would be more malleable.
This takes us to the future. What can Canadians expect of this case if the government is re-elected and the Prime Minister continues in office? They can expect that within weeks, he will direct his Attorney General, someone he believes will do his bidding, to sign a special deal with SNC-Lavalin. That is what he has done twice before. Once was on December 8, 2015, when his government immediately, upon taking office, granted an exemption to SNC-Lavalin, allowing it to continue bidding on federal contracts, even though it was charged with fraud and banned from bidding for being charged with fraud and bribery. The second time he attempted to provide a special deal for SNC-Lavalin was the controversy we are now discussing regarding his former attorney general.
Let there be no doubt that if the Prime Minister is re-elected, within days he will interrupt the criminal proceedings, the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, to protect the company from trial. He has noted, and so have his staff and former staff, that they can do this right up until the moment a verdict or a plea is rendered. In other words, he knows that he has time on his hands. He knows that if he is back in office, he can try this same game all over again. He has shown a relentless determination to allow this corporation to avoid criminal prosecution, and he will carry out that determination if he is given a chance after the next election.
That is yet another reason we cannot allow him to serve in this office one minute longer than necessary. We need to replace him with a prime minister who respects the independence of both the judiciary and the prosecution so that decisions on criminal charges are rendered by judges and juries, not by politicians. That key separation is essential for the successful functioning of any democracy. That is precisely why we are holding him accountable for his already egregious interference, and it is further why we will argue to the Canadian people the need to replace him to make sure that this kind of odious, monstrous interference is never allowed to repeat itself.
I look around this chamber today, and the member from the Okanagan is here. He was among the very first to notice this strange amendment to the Criminal Code that popped into the omnibus budget bill. There we were, at 10 o'clock at night, turning 500 pages as we rushed to pass a bill the Prime Minister said needed to become law quickly. All of a sudden, there it was, right before us, an amendment to the Criminal Code right in the middle of a budget bill. It was the last thing we ever thought to find there. It was like finding fish in trees, so completely out of place it was.
There was only one witness to comment on it, and it was a public servant who simply gave the technical explanation of what it was. That was it. There were no anti-corruption crusaders, no corporate accountability experts and no law professors to come forward and explain to us what we were getting ourselves into. We were told that, by the way, we had to move quickly. We had to get this passed.
All of us were asking the same question: Who is asking for this? Who wants this?
We all go to church suppers or neighbourhood farms, or we knock on the doors of our communities in the suburbs of Canada, and nobody ever says, “Our laws are really cruel to corporate criminals. We really ought to find a way to let the crooks get off without a conviction. Maybe they could just pay a fine, fess up, promise not to do it again, and that would suffice.” Nobody ever says, “Enough with all this business of trials and convictions. Enough with calling the executives before the court to testify under oath. That is too inhumane. We need to find a nicer way to do it.” I do not remember hearing that from anyone in my constituency at the tens of thousands of doors I have knocked on since last summer, yet it was indeed a top budget priority of the Liberal government in mid-2018. Then, of course, it became the Prime Minister's top priority in relation to his attorney general in September, as soon as that Criminal Code amendment became law.
All of a sudden, there was panic. The attorney general had to be called on the carpet to answer to the clerk and the Prime Minister about why she had not moved with haste to direct the director of public prosecutions to extend this settlement offer to SNC-Lavalin.
The company was concerned. It was telling the Clerk of the Privy Council and others about a board meeting that was coming up on September 20, only days away, and it asked if the Liberals could not get it off the fraud and bribery charges within the next week. It had a board meeting, for God's sake. How was it supposed to do business?
Of course, the right answer that a normal prime minister would give if a corporation made such a demand would be, “Get out of my office. Go to court. If you did nothing wrong, defend your case and get acquitted. I never want to see you here again.” That would have been the right answer.
However, the Prime Minister kept inviting them back again and again. He said that they were doing everything they could for them, but there was one problem with the attorney general. She was getting in the way and mucking up their plans. The government set it up so that SNC could get off without a trial. It even amended the Criminal Code to make it possible for this one company, but this nuisance attorney general would just not play ball. She was told that she had a few months to get it done or they would move her out.
That is exactly what the Liberals did. They sent her packing, because she would not play ball. The old boys told her how things were going to work, and she said that where she comes from, they have the rule of law, and it does not work that way. They told her that she was no longer the attorney general, and they found someone perhaps more malleable.
The Prime Minister said the cabinet shuffle had nothing to do with the former attorney general's refusal to co-operate and give a deal to SNC-Lavalin, but here is what we know for sure.
When she was the attorney general, the answer to SNC-Lavalin's request for a settlement was a clear “no”. She looked at the act, she looked at the decision of the prosecutor and said that it was not going to happen, period. Therefore, the status of that request was, no.
The new Attorney General comes in. What is his public position is on it? Maybe. Therefore, by moving the former attorney general out and moving a new one in, SNC-Lavalin has gone from “no” to “maybe”. The Prime Minister would have us believe that his decision had nothing to do with that issue. Of course it did and it has had the consequence of reopening the possibility that this company, charged with stealing $130 million from the poorest people in the world, might get off without a trial. That is the effect of the cabinet shuffle. The Prime Minister can deny that was his intention, but it is definitely the effect.
We really have to wonder why the government is so obsessed with helping this one company get around the rules and avoid consequences. There are thousands of trials in Canada every year. People are charged all the time with crimes. Why this particular company? Why this particular group of well-lobbied-for executives? Could it possibly have something to do with the $100,000 of illegal donations that the company flowed to the Liberal Party of Canada? Those donations were funnelled through phony invoices, bonuses and expense claims, in a systematic fraud designed to move cash into Liberal Party coffers, and that has absolutely nothing to do with the decision?
I hear the deputy House leader of the Liberal Party blaming Stephen Harper, that it is Stephen Harper's fault that SNC-Lavalin gave illegal donations to the Liberal Party, that Stephen Harper must have somehow carried out mind control to force all of those executives to ask their employees to generate phony expense claims, bonuses and invoices so they could give the money to the employees, who would then give those donations to the Liberal Party. Stephen Harper then must have exercised mind control over the Liberal Party officials who received all of those donations and thought nothing unusual of them. It must have been Stephen Harper's incredible power of mind control that he was able to do that. I have to give that member across the way some points for creativity. First it was Scott Brison's fault. Now it is Stephen Harper's fault.
I admit it was Stephen Harper's fault. Let me tell people why. The member got me on to another train of thought.
Back in the sponsorship scandal, the Liberal Party was never prosecuted, even though it admitted it received a million dollars of illegal money. It was funnelled in through what Judge Gomery called an “elaborate kickback scheme”. Harper was always just a wee bit suspicious about why no one in the Liberal Party got prosecuted for it. He thought that maybe it was because the attorney general was a Liberal politician and controlled prosecutions, so maybe we should make the prosecutor independent from the political process.
That is why we created in the Accountability Act the director of public prosecutions, a completely separate office wherein decisions to pursue prosecutions of federal crimes would be made with no politics involved. So independent is this office that the director cannot even be removed by the executive without a vote in the House of Commons. Therefore, the process for removing a director is the same as for other officers of Parliament. Therefore, Stephen Harper created this office in the Accountability Act and he said that the only way an attorney general could direct the DPP to change course in any prosecution was in writing.
The attorney general has to write it down and publish that direction in the Canada Gazette so every Canadian has the ability to see what direction the politicians are trying to give to the prosecutor. There are no more backroom deals. It is because of that act that the Prime Minister could not secretly exert pressure on the prosecutor and allow that political interference to go ahead.
Therefore, yes, it is Stephen Harper's fault. He is the one who brought in the Federal Accountability Act, the very first act of his government. Because of that, the current Prime Minister got caught once again trying to help his friends in trying to violate the rule of law.
Therefore, we can blame Stephen Harper for something and be truthful about it. I know he is devastated to learn that the Liberals are blaming him for all of their political heartache right now, but as much as they would like him to be to blame, all of the misery is self-inflicted. Nobody forced the Prime Minister to help is corporate friends. Nobody forced him to interfere 20 times with the former attorney general to try to get to her shelve a criminal prosecution of a Liberal-linked corporation. Nobody forced him.
Yes, the lobbyists were persuasive; yes, they were abundant; yes, they were crawling all over Parliament Hill pressuring Liberals around him, but the Prime Minister had a choice. He could have said no to the old Liberal way of doing things. He could have said no, but instead he did exactly what Liberals always do, which is to help friends in high places, the powerful insiders, the people behind the scenes who pull the strings. He made a decision to let them drive his agenda and he is now suffering the consequences for that decision right now. That is the core reality.
We hear the Liberal member on the other side heckling away about Stephen Harper. The problem the Liberals are having is that they refuse to take responsibility for their own conduct. If they were to do that, they might be able to heal the wound. However, by continually lashing out and blaming everybody under the sun for the Prime Minister's personal conduct, they only make their problems worse.
First Scott Brison was to blame, then the former attorney general was to blame and now we hear it is Stephen Harper. I am sure we will hear soon that the former Treasury Board president is to blame. Everyone is to blame except the Prime Minister for his own conduct. He is making others pay for his mistakes.
The Prime Minister should learn from the case before him, that people must be held responsible for their own conduct. That is the case for SNC-Lavalin as well. If he had recognized the principle of personal responsibility, he would have understood that this corporation should have to go to trial to own up for what it did and for the actions that it allegedly carried out in Libya, with fraud and bribery amounting to $130 million. Would it not have made more sense for the Prime Minister to hold this company to the standard of law rather than to the instincts of politics? I think we all agree now that if the Prime Minister had thought in those terms, he would not find himself today in the state of disgrace in which he is currently.
Here we are at a fork in the road. There is a decision to be made by the members across the way. Will they allow the investigation to run its course so the truth can be known and the players can be held to account or will they continue with the cover-up?