Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Robert Aubin Profile
View Robert Aubin Profile
2019-05-15 17:27 [p.27861]
Mr. Speaker, it is an immense pleasure to speak to the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre, whom I have admired immensely since arriving here in 2011.
I will quickly remind members of the motion, which states:
That, in the opinion of the House, a special committee, chaired by the Speaker of the House, should be established at the beginning of each new Parliament, in order to select all Officers of Parliament.
On October 21, Canadians and Quebeckers will vote in the next Parliament. The first and perhaps most important distinction to make is that, when people go to the polls, they will not only elect a government, they will elect 338 men and women who will represent them in the House and form the next Parliament.
Naturally, every member of every party works hard to ensure that theirs has the largest number of seats and forms the government because that is the system we have. However, we could very well find ourselves in a situation where, to keep the government going, several parties could be called on to collaborate if the people, in their infinite wisdom, decided to elect a minority government.
That speaks to the primordial importance of parliamentarians. First and foremost, Canadians will elect a Parliament; then, there will be a government, which will form a cabinet. We all know how it works. I just want to make it clear, because we hear so much nonsense about the role of opposition members. By the way, for anyone that follows my podcasts, that will be the subject of my next one.
The role of opposition members is different, but just as important as the role of government members. Again, in their infinite wisdom, Canadians want their government, regardless of political stripe, to be responsible and to allow all different perspectives to be expressed in the House.
When we talk about officers of the House, we are talking about parliamentarians' staff. For those who do not really know what is meant by “officers of Parliament”, I will give a few examples that should sound familiar.
First there is the Auditor General. If there is one report that people look forward to every year, it is the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General has the team and resources needed to keep tabs on the government's actions. He or she raises any issues of concern.
The Chief Electoral Officer is another example. Thank God we have a Chief Electoral Officer who ensures that our voting system is impartial, neutral and functional and that it operates without interference from foreign countries.
We could talk about the Commissioner of Official Languages. We could talk about the Privacy Commissioner, especially now, when personal information is such a sensitive topic. We could also talk about the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
I would like to make one very important point. We have been saying this all along, but it is still just as true, that in all situations, these officers of Parliament must not be associated with a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict of interest, so that they can do their jobs and also be perceived as having no ties to the executive.
What is happening right now with the appointment process? The whole process, or nearly all of it, falls entirely to the executive. It is all very well to say that the process is legitimate and fine, that there is no influence, that it is truly a coincidence that appointees are also on the Liberal Party donor list and that no one saw that coming. There is, at the very least, an appearance of conflict of interest there, which undermines the very credibility of these officers of Parliament, whose work is generally impeccable.
Before they can get to work, however, we need to make sure the appointment is impeccable. The existing process only requires the executive branch to consult the opposition parties. The word “consult” is open to interpretation. We recently saw that consulting can be as simple as sending the opposition party leaders a letter stating the name of the proposed candidate, not even a short list.
There is already a problem here, and there is an even bigger problem with the voting system, which needs to change. As we saw with the Conservatives, and again with the Liberals, a government is getting elected with 39% of the popular vote. That, however, is 39% of a total turnout of about 50%. That government suddenly ends up with 100% of the power and the responsibility of appointing 100% of the officers of Parliament. This is a clear procedural flaw that needs to be addressed.
Thank God we have this extremely simple proposal. Notwithstanding the member for Hamilton Centre's indisputable talent, his motion does not reinvent the wheel. We are not the first to notice this problem with potential conflicts of interest or apparent lack of neutrality. New Zealand and other parliaments have already taken steps toward what the member for Hamilton Centre is proposing, in order to give full authority back to elected officials via a multi-party committee.
We got a taste of how this could look when a committee made up of members from all parties was created to study electoral reform. Thanks to the NDP, this bill went a bit further to allow members of political parties that are not officially recognized in the House to serve on this committee. This brings all parliamentarians together and ensures that a single party is never making the final decision, which is instead based on a broader consensus among parliamentarians. This is, after all, about their employees.
These are our employees. When the government introduces a bill at 3 p.m. and I have to comment to the media at 3:45 p.m., it is difficult for me to analyze a 200-page document. Fortunately, the Parliamentary Budget Officer works full time, 365 days a year, minus vacation, on this and many other budget issues, to give us credible, objective and partisan-free information. We want more emphasis on ensuring that this information is free from any appearance of political involvement. This is truly a step in the right direction.
The member, in his infinite wisdom, particularly thanks to his experience in parliamentary procedure, and because time is running out as the session comes to an end, was not sure what the outcome of the motion would be, even if we all voted in favour of it. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think this is not a good idea. I tried to find a reason, just to play devil's advocate. Perhaps someone would want to yield power to the executive in the hope of winning the election and getting that power to make choices. This would be a bad idea, since it would undermine nearly all of the principles I have been talking about today.
We could say that this is how it has always been, that it must be a British tradition and that we will not rock the boat. Well, no, we must move things along and go further. I believe that this motion is a step in the right direction. We could tell ourselves that we do not have the structure to do it. That is exactly what this motion does: it gives us the structure to do it, and it is up to us to find the means to move forward. I would like to point out that this costs nothing. All it takes is an ounce of common sense to recognize the merits of the proposal we are debating.
In my research, I could find no reason for voting against this motion. I look forward to hearing different points of view. What I am hearing so far already suggests that we seem to be headed for a broad consensus. However, I would like to present an amendment to the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre, who saw that time was passing and thought that perhaps we should move beyond the issue of principle and set up a pilot project that would take us further.
This is what the amendment says:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “in the opinion of the House,” and substituting the following: “during this Parliament, a special joint committee co-chaired by the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament should be created as a pilot project to begin undertaking the selection process for the vacant Auditor General of Canada position”.
Note the term “Parliament” rather than “government”.
This is a golden opportunity to take the first steps towards this new arrangement and open the door wide for the next legislature.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
View Alupa Clarke Profile
2018-10-26 10:49 [p.22876]
Madam Speaker, it is always an honour to rise to speak in the House.
I would like to say hello to the people of Beauport—Limoilou who are watching us now on CPAC or watching a rebroadcast on Facebook or Twitter.
Without further delay, I would like to address the previous speaker's comments. I find it interesting that he said their objective was to prevent foreign influence from third parties.
The bill will pass, since the Liberals have a majority. However, one problem I have with the bill is that it will allow more than 1.5 million Canadians who have been living outside of Canada for more than five years to vote in general elections, even if they have been outside Canada for 10 or 15 years.
These people have a privilege that even Canadians who have never left the country do not even have. The Liberals will let them randomly choose which riding they want to vote in. This is a massive privilege.
If I were living in the United States for 10 years and saw that the vote was really close in a certain riding, thanks to the new amendments made to the bill, I could decide to vote for the Liberal Party in order to ensure that a Liberal member gets elected. That seems like a very dangerous measure to me. It will give a lot of power to people who have been living abroad for a very long time. That still does not make them foreigners, since they are Canadian citizens.
For those watching us, I want to note that we are talking about Bill C-76 to modernize the Canada Elections Act.
This is an extremely important issue because it is the Canada Elections Act that sets the guidelines for our elections in our democracy. These elections determine the party that will form the next government of Canada.
I am sure that the people of Beauport—Limoilou watching us right now can hardly believe the Liberal government when it says that it wants to improve democracy or Canada's electoral system or allow a lot of people to exercise their right to vote. The Liberals' record on different elements of democracy has been deplorable the past three years.
Two years ago when the House was debating the issue, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The Liberals introduced a parliamentary reform that included some rather surprising elements. They wanted to weaken the opposition, thereby weakening roughly 10 million Canadians who voted for the opposition parties, including the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Green Party.
They wanted to cut speaking times in the House, which is completely ridiculous. I have said it many times before and I will say it again. An MP currently has the right to speak for 20 minutes. Most of the time, each MP speaks for 10 minutes. Through the reform, the Liberals wanted to cut speaking times from 20 minutes to 10 minutes at all times. The 20-minute speaking slot would no longer exist.
I have a book at home that I love called The Confederation Debates. It features speeches by Papineau, Doyon, George-Étienne Cartier, John A. MacDonald, Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, among many others that I could name. These great MPs would speak for four, five, six, seven or eight hours without stopping, long into the night.
With their parliamentary reforms, the Liberals wanted to reduce MPs' speaking time to 10 minutes. They wanted to take away our right to speak for 20 minutes. All this was intended to minimize the opposition's speaking time, to stifle debate on various issues.
What they did yesterday was even worse. It was a clear-cut example of their attitude towards parliamentary democracy. They imposed time allocation. In layman's terms, they placed a gag order on a debate on the modernization of the Canada Elections Act. No example could more blatantly demonstrate their ultimate intent, which is to ram the bill through as fast as possible. It is really a shame. They want to ram this down our throats.
There is also what they did in 2015 and 2016 with their practice of cash for access.
When big-time lobbyists want to meet with a minister or the Prime Minister to discuss an issue, they just have to register and pay $1,500, or $1,575 now, for the opportunity to influence them.
These are not get-togethers with ordinary constituents. These are get-togethers arranged for the express purpose of giving prominent lobbyists access to top government officials and enabling them to influence decisions.
Here is a great example. The Minister of Finance attended a get-together with Port of Halifax officials and people closely connected to the Port of Halifax. No other Liberal Party MP was there. That is a blatant conflict of interest and cash for access.
If Canadians have a hard time trusting the Liberals when they say they introduced this bill because they want to enfranchise people or improve democracy and civic engagement, it is also because of all of the promises the Liberals have broken since their election in 2015.
Elections and electoral platforms form the foundations of Canadian democracy. Each party's political platform contains election promises. Personally, I prefer to call them commitments. The Liberals made some big promises. They said they would run small $10-billion deficits for the first two years and then reduce the deficits. Year after year, however, as they are in their third year of a four-year mandate, they have been running deficits that are much worse: $30 billion, $20 billion and, this year, $19 billion, although their plan projected a $6-billion deficit.
They broke that promise, but worse still, they broke their promise to return to a balanced budget. As my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent has put it so well often enough, this is the first time we are seeing structural deficits outside wartime or a major recession. What is worse, this is the first time a government has had no plan to return to a balanced budget. It defies reason. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, an institution created by the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, said again recently that it is unbelievable to see a government not taking affairs of the state more seriously.
Meanwhile, with respect to infrastructure, the Liberals said they were introducing the largest infrastructure program in Canadian history—everything is always historic with them—worth $187 billion. What is the total amount spent to date? They have spent, at most, $7 billion on a few projects here and there, although this was supposed to be a pan-Canadian, structured and large-scale program.
The Liberals also broke their promise to reform the electoral system. They wanted a preferential balloting system because, according to analyses, surveys and their strategists, it would have benefited them. I did not support that promise, but it is probably why so many Canadians voted for the Liberals.
There is then a string of broken promises, but electoral reform was a fundamental promise and the Liberals reneged on it. It would have made changes to the Election Act and to how Canadians choose their government. That clearly shows once again that Canadians cannot trust the Liberals when they say they will reform the Election Act in order to strengthen democracy in Canada.
Let us now get back to the matter at hand, Bill C-76, which makes major fundamental changes that I find deplorable.
First, Bill C-76 would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize the use of the voter information card as a piece of identification for voting. As one of my Conservative colleagues said recently, whether we like it or not, voter cards show up all over, even in recycling boxes. Sometimes voter cards are found sticking out of community mailboxes.
There are all kinds of ways that an individual can get hold of a voter card and go to the polling station with it. It is not that difficult. This Liberal bill enables that individual to vote, although there is no way of knowing if they are that person, unless they are asked to provide identification—and that is not even the biggest problem.
It does not happen often, thank goodness, but when I go to the CHUL in Quebec City—which is the hospital where I am registered—not only do I have to provide the doctor's requisition for blood work, but I also have to show a piece of ID and my hospital card.
View Luc Thériault Profile
View Luc Thériault Profile
2018-03-01 17:18 [p.17567]
Mr. Speaker, the last time I spoke, I tried to convince my Liberal and Conservative colleagues of the merits of the bill introduced by my colleague from Terrebonne on political financing.
I would like to give an overview of this bill for the benefit of voters. This bill seeks to introduce or reintroduce per-vote party financing. This small measure would cost very little, benefit democracy, and produce a number of worthwhile results.
We have had several discussions and many questions in question period about the cash for access dynamic of political fundraising, or in other words, privileged access to the government and the Prime Minister. I am talking about private dinners that will now be advertised. People will be invited, and it will be announced that a private dinner will be held at the cost of $1,500 a person for those who can afford to attend and who have things to say to the Prime Minister about the interests of lobby groups. The Liberals think that this is a big step for democracy because they are now going to advertise these events.
At this moment, however, how many of the viewers watching this debate on television can afford to donate $1,500 to a political party, seeing as, unlike lobbies, they have no interests to advance by donating to the Prime Minister's riding of Papineau through a fundraiser being held in Vancouver? These people attended a $1,500-a-plate dinner and told the Prime Minister what they wanted, and the same day their bank was approved, poof, $70,000 magically found its way to the coffers of Papineau, 5,000 kilometres away. What a way to finance an election.
The mere suspicion and appearance of a kickback is enough to damage our democratic institutions and undermine public trust in democratic institutions.
When it was in opposition, this government said it wanted to restore the per-vote subsidy. Now that it holds the purse strings, it is backtracking under pressure from multiple lobbies. Right now, its coffers are full, as are the coffers of the Conservative Party. It is well known that power alternates between these two parties. They are two sides of the same coin. It comes as no surprise today to see these two parties joining forces to wipe out the per-vote subsidy.
This flies in the face of the Liberal government's apparently empty promise to reform the Canada Elections Act and introduce a fairer voting system, but it is not the first time the government has said one thing and done another. One of the reasons we wanted a fairer voting system was to give Canadians an opportunity to express a broader range of ideas in the House by giving smaller parties a voice and seats in the House and enabling them to participate in democratic debate. Since that did not happen, we think the least the government can do is encourage people to express their political views by providing per-vote funding.
Per-vote funding would enable voters to vote for what they believe in so that a vote for, say, the Green Party, which is a minority party in the House, would not be a total waste. It would give such minority parties a say in the democratic debate of a democratic society for four years. It would enable small parties to participate on a more level playing field in the democratic debate of a democratic society as expressed in an election campaign.
The government wants to backtrack on this. I am disgusted at the government's failure to keep yet another promise.
It is disgusting.
View Michael Cooper Profile
View Michael Cooper Profile
2018-03-01 17:23 [p.17568]
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-364, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, introduced by the hon. member for Terrebonne.
Bill C-364 seeks to do two things. First, it seeks to re-establish the per-vote subsidy, which provides that after a federal election political parties receive taxpayer subsidies based upon the number of votes they received during the previous election. Second, it seeks to reduce the maximum amount an individual can contribute to a political party from $1,500 to $500.
I oppose Bill C-364 because I do not support the re-establishment of the per-vote subsidy, nor do I believe it makes sense or see any compelling reason for why the maximum limit should be reduced from $1,500 to $500.
The heart of this bill relates to re-establishing the per-vote subsidy, and I want to take a bit of time to talk about why it is I oppose the re-establishment of the per-vote subsidy. In that regard, it is helpful to provide some context in terms of how the per-vote subsidy came to be.
It came to be as part and parcel with political financing reforms introduced by the Chrétien government in 2003, whereby a $5,000 maximum cap was set in terms of contributions to political parties. That change in political financing laws was a step in the right direction, to the Chrétien government's credit. It is something we continued when the previous Conservative government reduced the maximum contribution amount and banned union and corporate donations altogether.
When the $5,000 cap was introduced, it constituted a monumental change in political financing laws in Canada. Indeed, prior to that, there were really no rules or limits. Unions and corporations could donate large sums of money to political parties. In that fundraising environment, it is no surprise that political parties often relied upon a smaller pool of donors who contributed large sums of money, whether it be from corporations, unions, or other wealthy individuals.
Then the rules changed, and changed very quickly, almost overnight. As a result, the per-vote subsidy was introduced to allow political parties to transition and acclimatize to the new rules respecting fundraising activities. It was never intended that the per-vote subsidy would be permanent; rather, it was intended to be an interim measure. It is precisely for that reason the previous Conservative government phased out the per-vote subsidy following the 2011 election.
There are proponents of re-establishing the per-vote subsidy, and they argue that it is a more fair and equitable way in which to finance political parties. I respectfully disagree with that assertion. I say it is an unfair way to finance political parties, starting with asking taxpayers to pick up and subsidize, out of sweat-soaked taxpayers' dollars, political parties. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that re-establishing the per-vote subsidy would cost taxpayers $45 million annually. I can think of a lot of better ways to use 45 million taxpayers' dollars than to subsidize political parties.
Moreover, I would submit that the per-vote subsidy is unfair in as much as the party that receives the largest share of the votes receives the largest subsidy. Why might that be a problem? Is it fair to ask taxpayers to continue to subsidize a political party that they may no longer support, that they may no longer agree with, having regard for the fact that there could be a significant shift in support between elections? I would say that is not fair.
In that regard, as a result, almost always there is a built-in advantage for governing parties over opposition parties. Again, I say that does not sound very fair. That does not sound very equitable. In addition, it provides a significant advantage to established political parties and a significant disadvantage to new parties. After all, a party that competed in a previous election would receive large amounts of taxpayer-subsidized funds, whereas a new party would receive nothing, if it was a new party that did not compete in the previous election.
There are many examples in Canadian history where political parties have emerged to go on to be very successful, whether it be the Reform Party or the Bloc Québécois, of which the member for Terrebonne was a member at least up until yesterday.
For all of those reasons, I would submit that the per-vote subsidy is not fair and is not equitable.
Proponents would go on to say that this bill would help take money out of politics, except that it does not take money out of politics because it provides that individuals can continue to contribute to political parties, as I believe they should. All it does is provide a whole new stream of revenue, courtesy of the taxpayer, to political parties.
Then there are proponents who would say that at least it would diminish the need for the Liberals to engage in their unethical pay-to-play, cash for access, $1,500 fundraisers. I say that we do not need to pass Bill C-364 for the Liberals to end cash for access. All that needs to happen is for the Prime Minister to follow his “Open and Accountable Government”. Do members remember that document? It was the code of conduct that the Prime Minister said would bind him, his cabinet ministers, and his parliamentary secretaries.
“Open and Accountable Government” provides that there should be no preferential access to government, and no perception of preferential access to government. Imagine that: the Prime Minister actually doing what he said, keeping his word to Canadians. I know for this Prime Minister, it is a truly novel concept.
For all of those reasons, while I believe this is a well-intentioned bill, I cannot support it.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
2018-03-01 18:02 [p.17573]
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise this afternoon to speak to the bill introduced by my colleague from Terrebonne. It is a noble bill that has to do with political party financing.
Our role here is to faithfully represent the public and our ridings. Are there some people who have more rights than others in a democracy? No. The basic principle, the fundamental principle, is that everyone has an equal voice. Unfortunately, a correlation has been observed between political party financing and the results the parties obtain. The system becomes distorted, and money wields greater influence.
The wealthiest people can decide to finance political parties, those able to form government in particular, in other words, the two main parties. This has happened in recent months and years, where people were given access to power at fundraising dinners or galas for $1,500. Obviously, those donors expected something in return. That approach skews our democracy; it hijacks it. Under that type of system, those with more money have a greater say.
My colleague is suggesting that we reduce this type of financing and replace it with public funding. This bill is about restoring public funding, as my colleague from Trois-Rivières pointed out in his speech. We had this type of funding before, but it was abolished under the Harper regime.
Public funding was brought in under Jean Chrétien in response to the sponsorship scandal. Friends of the party were providing financing, and they then got a kickback in the form of contracts. That was the sponsorship scandal. Mr. Chrétien figured that he needed to save face, so he made the process a little more democratic. This is unfortunately how things sometimes work in our society. It takes a scandal for us to implement a more progressive measure or to improve our democracy.
My colleague is proposing that we bring back the principle of per-vote funding for existing parties. This is a wonderful principle. It is not the end of the world, nor is it a cure-all, but it would help get us back on track.
As my colleague from Trois-Rivières and my other colleagues were saying, we are looking at the principle. In the House, no one can justify voting against this bill at second reading because of the details. We are all open to the idea of improving the bill in committee, as we have said repeatedly during today's debate. That is the principle.
Our role as legislators is to pass good laws that improve democracy and reflect the desires of the people we represent. That is what we are talking about, and that is what we should aspire to. I cannot imagine anyone voting against this principle in good conscience today. If any Conservatives or Liberals vote against this bill, I can only deduce that they are doing it with an eye to the next election. We condemn cynicism in politics and the mediocre levels of trust in politicians. If any members vote against this bill on the pretext of having small details debated and improved in committee, I would not trust those members because they would have shown that what matters to them most is power. Anyone who votes against this bill is showing that all they care about is winning the next election and making sure their party stays strong thanks to financial contributions from the rich and powerful.
Tax havens are a good example. In their fine speeches, the Liberals say they are against them. The minister says the net is tightening, but in reality, nothing concrete is being done. The Liberals continue to legalize more and more tax havens. Does that really benefit the middle class and those working hard to join it, as the Liberals say? Not in the least.
If the business world and the banks on Bay Street in Toronto tell their friends to keep doing what they are doing and promise that in exchange, business people will get together and keep giving them $1,500, that does not work.
That is not democracy. That is the opposite of democracy. It is financial dictatorship and that needs to change.
My colleague introduced a bill that is based on a meaningful principle and that represents a step in the right direction. In my opinion, this is a fundamental democratic principle. Everyone should be in favour of it. I can only assume that anyone who opposes it is acting in bad faith.
I would like to close by saying that we have spoken out against the $1,500 dinners and against the Prime Minister accepting donations from people from Toronto and Vancouver and authorizing a bank for their cultural community in exchange for those donations. We spoke out against that. That is not the kind of system that we want. We want more objective principles.
My colleagues and I are currently part of a group of independent parliamentarians. If this bill were to be passed tomorrow, we would not get a penny as a result. We are rising today on a matter of principle because we believe in a better democracy. We are here to defend values, not just personal interests, which seems to be the case for my colleagues opposite and my colleagues on this side. I encourage everyone to vote for my colleague's bill. As I said, we are at the principle stage. Improvements will be made to the bill in committee.
View Michel Boudrias Profile
View Michel Boudrias Profile
2018-03-01 18:08 [p.17574]
I suppose it is more of a right to wrap it up, Mr. Speaker.
Does anyone know what percentage of Canadians support and have confidence in politicians and their promises? It is 3%. I am sure everyone will agree that the people are not exactly giving us top marks. There is definitely room for improvement when it comes to the bonds of trust between us and our constituents. We owe it to them to do better, that is for sure. People are expressing dissatisfaction to an alarming degree and are constantly saying that politicians are sellouts and power can be bought.
Now more than ever, we must ensure that we are beyond reproach, squeaky clean. That is why I am asking my colleagues to do everything they can to separate us as politicians from any appearance of conflict of interest related to money. I have heard some very good arguments in favour of that. We will be voting on the bill I had the honour of introducing, Bill C-364. The bill would restore public per-vote funding for all parties that receive at least 2% of the votes in an election, so it only applies to the serious ones.
However, the maximum amount for donations that can be collected by parties would be reduced from $1,500 per person to a reasonable $500. I am proud to introduce this bill because it serves the interests of the people who vote for me and for my colleagues. To be democratic is to put shared interests before personal interests. That is what I am asking some of my colleagues to do, but not all because some have already seen reason. I am asking those who are still having difficulty seeing the light. I am referring to the two major parties that take turns governing.
Public funding is fundamentally democratic. For every vote received, parties get a small amount of money to finance their activities. We are talking about just under $2 a year, but this makes all the difference. Providing just under $2 in stable and predictable funding for all political parties, from the largest to the smallest, tells people that, yes, it makes a difference when they vote for the party of their choice, no matter the polls and the political landscape of their riding. It tells people that their vote is added to the votes of all those who share their ideals, enabling the party of their choice to operate between election campaigns. It ensures that public debate is vigorous by allowing a plurality of votes and points of view. It also reduces that blight on democracy that is strategic voting, protest voting, or voting for the least objectionable candidate.
Let us work together to restore public funding for political parties. Let us restore it and finally put an end to the deplorable era of cash for access. Let us forget the $1,500-a-head cocktail receptions, where those who can afford it pay for privileged access to decision-makers. We are all members of Parliament, and we all know that politics involves costs. That is a part of politics. We all need to campaign, pay for our signs and offices, and buy our volunteers coffee now and then. We are not trying to take away the right of citizens to contribute financially to a party. We encourage people to donate if they can and want to.
Most families in Terrebonne, the riding I have the honour to represent, do not have $1,500 to spend on meetings with politicians. I would go so far as to say that if families in my area had $1,500 to spare, they would have no trouble thinking of all kinds of smart, sensible things to spend it on. They certainly would not spend it on lunch with a politician. Nor would I, for that matter. That kind of investment is made by people who have personal interests to promote, not by ordinary citizens.
I think the time has come to separate private interests from our democracy. In a way, what this bill does is nationalize our democracy, making sure that it works for all Quebeckers and all Canadians. Let's do the right thing together. Let's nationalize our democracy once and for all, and let's give the power back to the people.
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
2018-02-09 12:15 [p.17009]
Mr. Speaker, since we are still talking about Bill C-50, let us all agree on why we are here.
We are talking about this bill, the main goal of which is to restore the Liberals' reputation, which was tarnished by certain ministers and the Prime Minister. We are not talking about the Prime Minister's vacation to the Aga Khan's island. He was severely chastised by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner recently for that. We are talking about political party financing.
As we all know, politics and the exercise of democracy requires funding. Funding is needed to run an election campaign. In order to raise that money, some members of the Liberal government sold privileged access. At what price? It seems that the maximum amount that can be donated to a federal party is $1,500.
In May 2016, the Prime Minister went to the home of a wealthy businessman, where 32 guests paid $1,500 each for exclusive access to the leader of the government.
We also learned that the Prime Minister was present at receptions hosted by the wealthiest people and business people at $1,500 a plate, in order to meet people interested in the infrastructure bank. There were also Chinese nationals hoping to buy Canadian telecommunication companies in B.C. Other people had interests in cannabis, for example. All of these very influential people with a lot of money managed to land a private evening with the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister cannot deny it. This has been made public, so Canadians would know, which put him in an awkward position, much like the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice.
If that does not constitute selling access to ministers or the Prime Minister, I do not know what does.
In October 2016, as I said, it was the Minister of Finance who was hosting a cocktail party at $1,500 a plate with wealthy people from Bay Street. The Minister of Finance is supposed to be an arbiter and show fairness to all Canadians, since he regulates Canada's financial sector. However, he had no problem taking money from some of the world's wealthiest people.
The activities of the Minister of Justice have also been the subject of much discussion. What exactly is the problem? How is the Minister of Justice in conflict? Certain lawyers hoping for judgeships attended the Minister of Justice's fundraising events, which were held not in her riding, but in various places across the country. Since the minister is the one who approves judicial appointments, there is clearly a conflict of interest there.
Certainly political parties need to hold fundraisers to generate revenue and to have a platform for candidates' ideas during election campaigns. The problem is the lack of transparency with respect to who attends, what they talk about, and access to ministers.
“Open and Accountable Government” states the following:
There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions...
That is exactly what we are talking about today.
Let me be clear. Very few of our constituents, such as the people of Salaberry-Suroît, can afford to spend $1,500 to attend a private event. When someone is prepared to do so, they obviously expect something in return. In the case at hand, it is the possibility of becoming known to a minister or getting one's name into an address book, which could help get an idea or a project off the ground. It goes without saying that there is always the possibility of putting a word in or making a recommendation to the right person.
The only way to make these events less secretive is to make them more transparent. To that end, we have to allow the media to publicly report on the goings on at these events and to name who was present. One might think that that is the goal of Bill C-50 . However, as my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley said, the Liberals invented the Laurier Club loophole.
In some cases, specifically during party conventions, people might donate the maximum amount of $1,500 to the Liberal Party, but the names and addresses of those donors do not have to be made public. Under Bill C-50, every donation of $200 or more will have to be recorded in a report sent within 30 days to Elections Canada, which could publish that report on the Internet. Again under Bill C-50, any fundraising activity that involves ministers, the Prime Minister, and party presidents has to be announced five days in advance, a measure we applaud. In fact, that is why we support this bill. However, that does not stop people from avoiding disclosure by buying a $1,500 ticket under the pretext of attending a Liberal Party convention, for example.
This is just another bill that allows the Liberals to have it both ways. They claim to want to improve transparency, but with a bit of game-playing and an open back door they can continue to provide Liberal Party donors with a bit of discretion to ensure that they do not have to disclose their names and addresses, except in a final report at the end of the year. They also get to keep organizing questionable events providing special access to the Prime Minister and ministers.
Is that loophole fair? Should it be removed? The NDP thinks so. We made this recommendation in committee and the Liberals rejected it outright. Every time we make a recommendation in committee, the Liberals take great delight in rejecting it. Why? If the recommendation improves a bill, if it improves transparency, if they are looking to be accountable to the public, and to be fairer, more equitable, and more ethical, why do they refuse to prohibit privileged access at conventions? No one knows. We suspect that the Liberals are not opposed to that revenue stream.
We are also asking that the Chief Electoral Officer be given investigative powers to ensure that political financing during elections is fair and equitable and that he has the public's trust. Once again, the Liberals rejected the NDP's recommendation out of hand. The NDP has made many recommendations in committee, but the Liberals have ignored them, even though that is part of the democratic process. What is the point of having committees if we cannot make sensible recommendations based on the advice of experts and common sense and if the Liberal majority, which refuses to listen to reason or to be open to other ideas, always prevails? What is the point of hearing from one witness after another, if in the end the government does not listen to any of their suggestions?
The Liberals are the champions of excessive consultation. They are doing the same thing to farmers. The Liberals keep saying that they want to know what to do to protect supply management and maintain family farms in Canada. They keep telling farmers that they are going to consult them and listen to them and that farmers are important, but when it comes right down to it, the Liberals are using farmers as a bargaining chip.
Getting back to the matter at hand and Bill C-50, it is the same thing. Once again, fair, sensible, and significant recommendations that would make Bill C-50 more than just a charade will not be acted upon because, unfortunately, the Liberals rejected them.
Bill C-50 still allows parties to hold fundraisers and makes it even harder to fight corruption. This is an opportunity to strengthen our democracy and prove to all Canadians that their elected representatives live up to moral and ethical standards, but that is not where the Liberals are going with this.
Clearly, the bill does not go far enough. There is an effort to be more transparent, but it still allows cash for access events to be held. Those kinds of events, which we oppose, have been making headlines for the past six months. They will stay in the headlines because certains parties will maintain this practice, as the Liberal Party is doing now.
I want to reiterate that this was a Liberal promise in 2015. This is a betrayal of the people who voted for the Prime Minister, who then decided to give up on the electoral reform that Canadians, especially young Canadians, so desperately want.
We are trying to get young people more involved in politics, not just as candidates, but more interested in political activities, in the debates, in social issues. We want young people to know what is going on, to propose ideas, and to become engaged.
There was one idea that really united young people, gave them hope, and might have won them over, but in the end, they were told “never mind”; the old system was too advantageous for the Liberals, and our young people were robbed of that hope.
What effect will that have? Youth voter turnout has declined by 30% over the past 30 years and no one seems to mind. The Liberals do not seem to think it is important to remedy the situation. They are in power. They have a majority. That means that they are going to continue to dash the hopes of these young people who believed them. These young people will be told to have faith because there may still be some authentic people who keep their promises and bring integrity to politics. Nevertheless, with every broken promise, it becomes harder and harder to show people that there can still be honest politicians worthy of our trust.
Electoral reform was not just a simple election promise. It was a commitment made by the Prime Minister to everyone. Again, we are nowhere near it. The Prime Minister has done a complete about-face and left people with their shattered dreams of a better world.
It is 2018 and there is nothing left of the promise that brought the Prime Minister to power. He made people believe that legislators could not agree. However, as I mentioned, 90% of the people did agree. The Conservative Party, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party, everyone agreed that there was a need for electoral reform and that proportional representation had to be part of the next system. That was not enough for the Liberals.
Clearly, a mixed member proportional system resonated with MPs, Canadians, and experts alike. It would have given a voice to every Canadian.
For all these reasons, I find that Bill C-50 is poorly thought out. It does provide some additional transparency, but there is so much more to be done. The Liberals could have gone further. We hope that they will listen to reason and will be open to the NDP's recommendations and those of the other parties and the experts.
Under the bill, any party that does not follow the rules would be fined $1,000. However, according to a former chief electoral officer, this fine would not deter parties from breaking the law. If donors can donate up to $1,500, the parties are still making money and still manage to fill their coffers. It is not hard for them to pay a $1,000 fine. That is ridiculous.
This really is a smokescreen. The Liberals are trying to restore their public image, but this is mostly fluff.
I think the Liberals should go back to the drawing board, improve this bill, and make it genuinely ethical and moral.
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2018-02-05 12:17 [p.16731]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak about democracy in Canada today and, more specific, about political fundraising, which is an important part and an important reality of the political system in which we operate.
Bill C-50, which I am proud to lend my support to, is designed to enhance the transparency of political financing in Canada. It would do a number of things, but I will focus my remarks on just a few, such as the scope of application of the bill to not just cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister, but to opposition leaders and contenders for the opposition leadership; the necessity to report attendees of fundraisers to Elections Canada; and the need to advertise publicly the fundraising activities involving one of the individuals affected.
However, before I get into that by point analysis, I would like to spend a little time talking about why transparency is an important value in our democracy and in our political financing in particular.
It is a trend around the world where people, rightly or wrongly, believe their governments can be bought. I do not believe that is true in Canada. We have a phenomenally strong electoral system that has a number of institutional safeguards to prevent this kind of phenomenon from taking place.
The fact is that everyone deserves to benefit from the decisions of their government, and not just the wealthiest members of society who are able to buy influence. I would not suggest for a moment that there is a single member of Parliament in the House whose integrity is for sale. However, it is important to build public confidence by demonstrating that our institutions prevent that possibility from ever arising.
We know that a system where only the richest can dictate policy decisions is not the kind of society in which we want to live. Governments have a duty, in my mind, to serve the public interest and not the personal interest of either politicians or their donors.
The perception of politicians peddling influence is also a very important point that we need to make. When members of the public believe, even without grounds to reasonably believe it, when the perception is that politicians will sell themselves and their values to have a donation made to their riding associations so they can stay elected in perpetuity, it undermines faith in the system and is a heck of an inspiration to cause citizens to become disengaged with the work of their government and disengaged with the electoral process more generally.
We cannot ban donations altogether. Realistically, campaigns cost money. Every member of the House knows this. I value, greatly, the small donations that citizens gave to my campaign to put up election signs on my neighbours' yards, and some of the larger donations that maybe went to a communications plan to let the public know about some of the work I planned on doing locally and perhaps our party was campaigning on across the nation.
The fact is that there is real value in this form of civic engagement, and I believe citizens should be able to contribute to political parties or candidates of their choice to help get that message out during a campaign. However, we need safeguards. Gone unchecked, members of society with a capacity to pay have the potential to influence the activity of their elected officials. I do not believe that is fair or just, and it is not the kind of Canada in which I want to live.
Thankfully some of the safeguards we have in place are some of the strongest the world has to offer. We have spending limits for campaigns, a certain value cannot be exceeded, depending on the length of the campaign, which keeps it reasonable. The party or the campaign with the most amount of money does not necessarily have the loudest megaphone.
We have individual donor limits. I believe it is $1,575 annually. Again, I could not in good faith stand here and say a member of any political party, no matter his or her persuasion, would sell his or her integrity for that figure, or any figure for that matter. I trust my colleagues on all sides of the aisle.
We also, importantly, do not allow corporate or union donations. This is important because we know that the donations coming into campaigns, to candidates and to parties are made by Canadians, and we have a duty to govern for them. We are not pursuing merely corporate interests or unions that can afford to pay. This is about serving people.
Some improvements are needed. Of course, some people are not familiar with the political process, the electoral process and maybe have never donated to a campaign in their lives. I can imagine the thought process they may have when they hear about a campaign fundraiser that maybe costs $500. That is a lot of money for most of the people who live in my riding. The median income in the riding I represent is about $21,000.
The idea that some of these people will contribute $1,500, or even a more modest amount of $200 is not something they can reasonably afford. They do not want to believe that their neighbours who may have that kind of money lying around are able to walk into a fundraiser with a politician, or perhaps a future politician, and dictate what that person will campaign on in the future.
At the end of the day, what forms the idea in the basis of a campaign cannot be what has been demanded by a donor. There can be no quid pro quo. We cannot have the sense that because people donated to a campaign, they are owed some kind of an obligation. That is not right. We need to ensure that the politics of our country are dictated by what serves the public best, not what the richest donors can afford.
That is why I believe Bill C-50 would add certain important elements to enhance the transparency of our political financing system. If I look specifically at the need to report attendees to these fundraising events to Elections Canada when the cost of the fundraiser is over $200, which is the same threshold as today, I know this will let the public know who came to one of the fundraisers of the Prime Minister, or a minister, or leader of the opposition, or a candidate for opposition leadership. If I see 100 donors making maximum donations to a person's campaign and the next day he or she comes out with a new policy designed just to meet the needs of that donor base, I will know something is up. When I go to the ballot box, that will inform my decision-making.
Assuming that Bill C-50 passes, I also note the requirement to report, at least five days in advance, that there will be a fundraising initiative. This gives the public the opportunity to enquire about the nature of the fundraiser and potentially attend if people are so inclined. It prevents the opportunity for the person or party hosting the fundraising event from sequestering the attendees and burying the message to ensure the public never finds out who was there.
Transparency is of extraordinary importance. I would like to pre-emptively answer a question I heard asked of the last speaker about the need to ensure Bill C-50 would apply to both government and opposition sides of the House. I would only suggest that it would be appropriate to limit the scope of the legislation to the government if I did not believe individual members of Parliament had the ability to make a difference. I reject that notion as strongly as I possibly can.
As someone who is not part of the cabinet, not sitting as Prime Minister, not an opposition leader, or not campaigning to be the leader of a party, I know I still have the opportunity to make a difference. My integrity is worth more than a $1,500 donation to my riding association. It is not fair for the wealthiest members of my community back home in Nova Scotia to have additional influence on me than my neighbour who might earn $21,000 a year, like the median person in my riding. I, and I trust every member in the House, am in it for the right reasons. We are here to serve the public, not just the wealthiest members of it.
I am pleased to support Bill C-50. I know it will make one of the strongest political financing systems in Canada even stronger, it will strengthen our democracy, it will enhance public perception of our electoral system more generally, and it will give faith that politicians are here for the right reason, which is to serve the public interest.
View Blake Richards Profile
View Blake Richards Profile
2018-02-05 12:26 [p.16732]
Mr. Speaker, when we look at the legislation, we essentially see the Liberals trying to provide cover for the fact that they are taking cash for access. It really boils down to that. It does not change that and it does not stop them from doing it. It just simply allows the Prime Minister and his cabinet to continue to do it. They just have to ensure they put it up on a website somewhere, a few things like that, but it does not prevent it from happening.
I started to think a little about that, as well as the Prime Minister and his pattern of not being accountable. That of course extends to the recent ruling by the commissioner, in which he was found guilty on four occasions, but there really has been no consequence of that. He is refusing to repay that money. I paralleled that back to 2012. At that time, as a member of Parliament, the Prime Minister took inappropriate travel expenses. When he was found to have done that, he decided that maybe he needed to make it right and repay that.
Does the member think it would be more proper for the Prime Minister to repay the money this time as well? It was good in the past, why can it not be good now?
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2018-02-05 12:27 [p.16733]
Mr. Speaker, that question was a bit of a mixed bag and I would question the relevance of two-thirds of it. It started on whether this was an opportunity to legitimize cash for access events and it had a very partisan slant against the Liberal Party. I note that this bill is actually non-partisan in its very nature. By definition, it applies to the government and the opposition parties, no matter who is in government.
On the issue of the Prime Minister's accountability, I cannot help but note that he is currently on a town hall tour, visiting residents, and giving them access to him for free, with no opportunity to stack the room with partisan supporters of one kind or another.
The hon. member would seemingly suggest there should be a higher standard for the Liberal Party than for opposition parties. This should apply to every party in the House with an opportunity for somebody to influence the decisions today or in the near future. It is a perfectly fine approach. I note that the person the member referenced, the former Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, actually suggested this legislation is a good thing because it strengthens our democratic institutions.
View Michael Cooper Profile
View Michael Cooper Profile
2018-02-05 12:47 [p.16735]
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to on Bill C-50an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing).
Bill C-50, more particularly, would require certain public notification and reporting in respect of certain political fundraising events. In that regard, Bill C-50 would require that where a cabinet minister or party leader or leadership candidate attends a political fundraising event, and where the ticket price for the event is more than $200, that public notification would be required and a report would be sent to Elections Canada on the event.
The government has sold this bill as a bill to increase transparency, accountability, and to strengthen Canada's political financing laws. I say that one should not buy into the bill of goods that the government is trying to sell to Canadians. This bill is not about increased transparency. It is not about increased accountability. It is not about strengthening Canada's political financing laws. Rather, what Bill C-50 is about is legitimizing and sanitizing the government and the Liberal Party's sordid cash for access racket. That is what Bill C-50 is about.
Why would the government, by way of legislation, seek to legitimize cash for access? As my colleague, the hon. member for Banff—Airdrie has pointed out, the government has found its hand caught in the cookie jar one too many times. The government has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and as much as the Prime Minister has said one thing, he has then done another. We have a Prime Minister who, after all, more or less disavowed cash for access fundraising and then proceeded to engage in cash for access fundraising. He not only engaged in cash for access fundraising but perfected cash for access fundraising.
To understand the degree to which the Prime Minister broke his word to the Canadian public, one need only look back to the 2015 election, when he told Canadians to elect him and that he would deliver the most open, most transparent, and most accountable government in Canadian history. To try to demonstrate that he meant what he said and said what he meant, the Prime Minister, upon appointing his cabinet, unveiled a document called “Open and Accountable Government”.
“Open and Accountable Government” was the code of conduct, the standards of conduct, by which the Prime Minister said that he, his ministers, and parliamentary secretaries would be held to. “Open and Accountable Government” did deal with sets of standards, standards of conduct, for cabinet ministers, for the Prime Minister, and for parliamentary secretaries, specifically relating to political fundraising.
It is important to speak to and review some of what “Open and Accountable Government” said to understand how blatantly and how flagrantly this Prime Minister has broken his word to the Canadian people. “Open and Accountable Government” says, among other things, “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.” However, it gets better. It says, “There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access..”.
Moreover, “Open and Accountable Government” states that department stakeholders, including lobbyists, should not be targeted for the solicitation of political funds. That is what “Open and Accountable Government” says. That is the standard the Prime Minister set for himself and his cabinet, so it begs the question: what did the Prime Minister do following the issuance of that standard? The answer is that the Prime Minister ignored “Open and Accountable Government”.
It was as if “Open and Accountable Government” had never been written. As my friend, the member for Barrie—Innisfil, said, it was not worth the paper it was written on, because almost immediately, the Prime Minister doubled down with cash for access event after cash for access event. Indeed, in 2016, the Liberal Party held more than 100 cash for access events, like one held in May 2016, in Toronto, with none other than Mr. Sanctimony himself, the Prime Minister, who was at the residence of a Chinese billionaire. There were other Chinese billionaires there, each of whom paid $1,500 to the Liberal Party of Canada. There they had an evening with the Prime Minister, making dumplings and having the ear of the Prime Minister, and, I am sure, spending a wonderful evening with him.
Among those in attendance was none other than the chief investor in the Wealth One Bank of Canada, a bank that was seeking a banking licence in Canada at the time of the cash for access fundraiser. What a sweet deal: $1,500 to the Liberal Party and an opportunity to spend the evening with the Prime Minister to talk about Wealth One Bank. Sure enough, the licence was approved.
At the very same event, there was a Chinese Communist official. He was not a Canadian citizen, so he could not send the money directly to the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party said not to worry about it. Two weeks later, that same individual wrote a $200,000 cheque to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. I guess we are supposed to assume that it was a coincidence that he would spend the evening with the Prime Minister and two weeks later decide to write a $200,000 cheque to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
My friend from Barrie—Innisfil says that we could not make this up. Well, we really could not, because it is just incredible. It speaks to the hypocrisy, to the lack of ethical conduct, on the part of the government.
Here we are today with Bill C-50. What does it do? It requires public notification five days before an event. I say, big deal. It requires reporting to Elections Canada of an event. I do not know if it occurred to the government, but every single political contribution is already reported to Elections Canada, so in terms of substantive improvements to political financing laws in Canada, the bill falls short.
It is nothing more than smoke and mirrors so that the Prime Minister can pretend that he is doing something about political financing, all the while giving himself a blank cheque to engage in the most sordid types of political fundraising activities. This is a cynical bill, and Canadians deserve more than a cynical bill from a cynical and ethically challenged government.
View Scott Reid Profile
View Scott Reid Profile
2018-02-05 13:12 [p.16739]
Mr. Speaker, I want to address Bill C-50 by articulating what I believe is its central purpose, which is not to remedy an absence in the law that has resulted in unlawful behaviour. Rather, it is to deal with an issue that was never unlawful; it was something that did not pass the sniff test and was not considered acceptable by Canadians.
Therefore, the goal of the bill is to put in some new and completely insignificant reporting requirements about who attends cash for access or pay-to-play fundraisers. It puts some minimal limitations on where they can be held, and has a few other little bells and whistles of that sort. It does so for the purpose of saying that the government has done something to address what the Canadian public regards as an ethical problem even though, strictly speaking, it is not a legal problem.
The goal here is to normalize or legitimatize a practice that Canadians have said is not normal and not legitimate, which is holding fundraising dinners at which individuals pay up to $1,500 a pop to meet someone as eminent as the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance, people who have a direct impact on issues of immediate importance to their enterprises. Sometimes we will see multiple people from the same company buying tickets, effectively grouping together, as a way of maximizing the potential interests that the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance would have in talking to them. In doing so, the government is saying that this practice, once it reports on it, will become legitimate, or at least it hopes Canadians will regard it as legitimate.
I want to make the suggestion that Canadians' rejection of this practice as illegitimate is well-founded. It is quite deep. I certainly hope the legislation will not overcome the concerns Canadians have.
Let me read a bit from an article by The Hill Times a few months ago. It talks about a particular event held at a prominent law firm in Toronto where the justice minister was present. The attendance fee was over $1,000 a ticket. The Hill Times wrote, “So [the] Justice Minister...wasn’t breaking any rule by being the guest of honour at the pricey fundraiser organized by a Bay Street law firm. It just smells really bad and violates the spirit of the government’s own code of conduct.”
Canadians think it is illegal, they are surprised to learn it is not illegal, and now, with this process of requiring some reporting, the government can say that it is explicitly legal. We heard it in the minister's response about those sneaky opposition leaders out there who were having their own fundraisers, with the same sort of things occurring. The minister who raised this earlier apparently believes or wants us to believe that leaders of the opposition or of third parties are capable of delivering favours and that people would buy tickets based upon that. Of course that is nonsense. It is a diversion from the fundamental ethical problem, which is that ministers can deliver favours. I am not saying that the ministers have delivered favours. How would I know? However, clearly, some of the people who have been buying tickets believe it is a possibility, and the Canadian public emphatically believes it is a possibility.
Maybe the Canadian public is all wrong and stupid. That is certainly a prominent theme in Liberal policy, or policy adjustments with the current government. I mean the Canadian public was all wrong about electoral reform, for example. Let me tell people what those stupid, poorly-thought-out Canadians think.
I will quote again. The Globe and Mail states:
A Nanos public-opinion survey, conducted for The Globe and Mail from Nov. 26 to 30 [of 2016] shows that 62 per cent of Canadians disapprove of the Liberal Party's practice of charging people $1,500 a ticket to meet in private with...[the Prime Minister] and senior cabinet ministers who oversee major spending or policy-making decisions.
Maybe 60% of Canadians are wrong again, but maybe there is the possibility that people are not wrong, that they are upset, and that this exercise of pulling the wool over their eyes is inappropriate, illegitimate in itself.
Why does this fail the sniff test? Why do Canadians think this is not the right way to do fundraising? The answer to that, I think, is illustrated by a number of examples I can offer of specific Liberal fundraisers. These were the source of the ethical conundrum.
Chinese billionaires, and when I say Chinese, I mean someone who is a citizen of the People's Republic of China, not a citizen of Canada, attended Liberal fundraisers even though they were not allowed to donate. They were not Canadian citizens. One such individual, Zhang Bin, who is also a Communist Party apparatchik, attended a May 19, 2016 event, at which a cabinet minister was present. We were told that Mr. Zhang and a business partner, just to sweeten the deal, donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and donated $50,000 to build a statute of the current Prime Minister's father.
Another example was on November 7, 2016, in B.C. B.C. multimillionaire Miaofei Pan hosted a fundraiser at his West Vancouver mansion. This was going on at the same time the federal government was in the process of reviewing the $1 billion bid by China's Anbang Insurance Group to purchase one of British Columbia's largest retirement home nursing care chains, which it did.
The government's behaviour also fails to live up to the highfalutin rhetoric in the mandate letters to all ministers, which say:
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. 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. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.
The mandate letters are publicly available and this can be read in every letter.
Clearly, having these fundraisers does not achieve that target. The Liberals are completely failing to achieve their targets, so they are trying misdirect, saying they have a new set of rules that make it all okay. I do not know, maybe this will work; maybe it will not work. The question is why the Liberals are trying it in the first place.
The answer is that this is the backbone of Liberal fundraising. Attendance figures suggest that the party brings in somewhere between $50,000 and $120,000 per event when the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance is in attendance. The Liberal Party needs these events to keep its fundraising up. It has not developed successively a mechanism for going after a large number of smaller donations or of getting this size of donation in the absence of this kind of event.
That is a problem for the Liberal Party, I grant that. However, may I suggest for the Liberal Party that developing a grassroots appeal will not be done by holding this kind of event and then trying to cover it up. On the contrary, a populist appeal necessarily involves trying to reach out at the grassroots level. The Liberals are doing better than they did in the past, in all fairness, but that is where they should be concentrating. They should not be concentrating on trying to epitomize pay-for-play or cash for access, something Canadians have spoken against so very strongly.
View Richard Cannings Profile
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague across the way what her thoughts are on the question of the unethical conflict of interest that goes on at these cash for access events. First is the transparency. They are two very different things. I would argue that conflict of interest is the biggest problem, and the bill only tries to solve a smaller problem and does nothing for the elephant in the room. I wonder if she could comment on that.
View Pam Goldsmith-Jones Profile
Lib. (BC)
Mr. Speaker, the intent of the bill is to move in a step-by-step way, continually toward greater transparency and accountability. The way that should work in a democracy is that we all hold one another accountable. Whether someone is a volunteer, a donor, or a candidate, it does not matter; we are all citizens of Canada and we are all responsible for the integrity of the system.
I would like to note what the acting Chief Electoral Officer said in October 2017:
In this regard, I note that the Bill offers a calibrated approach. Not all parties will be subject to the new requirements, and that is a good thing. Similarly, the rules will not apply to all fundraising activities, but only those for which a minimum amount is charged to attend and where key decision-makers will be present.
It occurs to me that is something every member of Parliament can agree to.
View Richard Cannings Profile
Mr. Speaker, as the previous speaker said, something I will repeat, elections are central to our democracy. Through them, the people of Canada give us here in the House of Commons the huge privilege and responsibility of representing them. If people feel elections are not fair, are biased in any way, it erodes the confidence they have in us and in all the work we do here.
This bill is about political financing. It arose in response to the cash for access fundraisers that Liberal cabinet ministers were organizing. There are a lot of things wrong about these events. First and foremost is the conflict of interest: lawyers paying to lobby the Minister of Justice or bankers paying to lobby the Minister of Finance. They are paying the Liberal Party. It would be bad enough if one had to pay a government user fee to gain access to cabinet ministers to recoup the cost of their salaries or whatever, but this money went directly to the Liberal Party. Finally, is the secrecy. Events were usually private. The public did not even know about them so could not attend them if they had wanted to or were wealthy enough. As well, we did not find out who donated until the year-end reports.
This bill would only fix the last problem. It entirely misses the point on the most serious aspect of cash for access. If we asked a reasonable person on the street about what they find troubling about the cash for access problem, they would not single out the lack of transparency. They would not say that if they only knew the names of the people involved they would feel okay, or that if only they had been invited it would be okay. No, they would say that the problem was the conflict of interest in asking people to pay big bucks to the Liberal Party if they wanted access to cabinet ministers.
We know lobbying happens every day on Parliament Hill without money changing hands. I was talking to one of my Liberal colleagues the other day, and he was saying how busy he was in his office with lobbyists. That is great. He is working hard and that is his job. However, cash for access is a different kettle of fish, and this bill should have put an end to it. Instead, it actually legitimizes cash for access, with a dollop of transparency.
Because of that added transparency, that extra step, the NDP will reluctantly support this bill, but will keep reminding the Liberals that the conflict of interest aspect of these events has to be dealt with. The Liberals say they are fighting inequality in our society, but cash for access entrenches inequality. It gives more power to the powerful. No wonder many Canadians are cynical about politics and politicians. If anything increases cynicism in politics, it is when politicians break promises.
People are smart. They know that governing is difficult and sometimes one cannot fulfill every little promise made during the election. However, when someone breaks a big juicy promise, a promise that got them elected, people feel completely betrayed.
Last weekend, a constituent emailed me about an issue, so I called her back and we talked about that issue. At the end of the conversation, she said how happy she was to hear directly from her MP. She said that she had lost confidence in politicians after the last election. She said that during the campaign, she and her husband had engaged their children in discussing party platforms and issues, and figuring out which were most important to them.
In the end, they actually let their children decide who they were going to vote for. In the end, they decided electoral reform was one of the most important issues. They did not want Canada to elect another Parliament where a party with 38% or 39% of the vote held 100% of the power. They were deeply disappointed in the Conservative government for taking us down a path that two-thirds of the country disagreed with. They were excited to see that three of the other parties made electoral reform a central plank in their party platforms. They were happy to hear those leaders, including the present Prime Minister, repeat time and time again that this would be the last election run under first past the post.
That is what I saw at the all-candidates forums during the election. The Liberal candidate stood beside me to repeat the mantra that this would be the last election run under first past the post, that the government would ask Canadians and experts what the best new system would be, and they would implement that. The audience would stand up and cheer. Those people are not so happy now. The woman I talked to was devastated. She told me her children were so disappointed with the Liberals for going back on this promise that they might not vote in the next election when they are old enough. This betrayal is going to breed cynicism across Canada.
All of us here knock on doors throughout our ridings. Some people are happy to see us. Some people do not agree with our party. However, the big disappointment for me when I began door-knocking was the number of people who told me that they do not vote. They told me to not even try to tell them to vote or why they should vote. That changed in the last campaign. Most people were engaged in issues and were going to vote. I think they were energized by the feeling of change sweeping across the country and the chance they had to make a difference.
Three of the parties had pledged to change the electoral system so that every vote would count and strategic voting would be a thing of the past. One could vote for one's favourite candidate and party and know that one would make a difference in the final result. Unfortunately, they elected the only party that would break that promise.
It started out well. The minister asked MPs to hold town halls to talk to Canadians about electoral reform to find out what they thought. NDP MPs answered that call. We held multiple town halls and asked people their opinions at the end of the meetings. We wrote down the numbers on the kind of system they wanted. We sent out questionnaires to every household in our ridings and tallied those numbers, and 80% of those responses were in favour of proportional representation.
Liberal MPs held town halls as well, but few, if any, asked people what system they favoured. NDP MPs started going to some of those meetings to find out if our results had been biased, and asked the crowd at the Liberal town halls for a show of hands on which system they would like. About 80% of those people wanted proportional representation as well.
The electoral reform committee met through the summer asking experts from across the country and around the world what the best system for Canada might be. Almost 90% of those experts said that proportional representation would be the best system.
The Prime Minister said that he broke his promise because he could not find a strong demand from Canadians for change and thought that changing would be bad for Canada. He is ignoring those experts. He did not ask Canadians. Instead, the government sent out a laughable survey that asked ridiculously biased questions around the margins of electoral reform. There was no question asking, “Do you want change?” or “Do you want seats in the House of Commons to reflect the proportion of a vote?”
Despite the silly questions, the survey did find that 70% of respondents wanted a government where several parties agreed before a decision is made. Almost two-thirds agreed that it is better for several parties to govern together, even if it might take longer for government to get things done, as the question said.
Canadians want political parties to work together in Parliament. Despite the way that last question was asked, things will actually get done faster if that happens. Just look at the snail's pace of the current government's actions, brought on by its uncooperative attitude with the opposition that has brought the system to periodic halts.
Canadians want a fair electoral system that produces results that accurately reflect the faces of this country. Canadians want more women representing them in the House. All of this could be achieved with a new electoral system that uses some form of proportional representation.
We must work constantly to maintain a healthy democracy in Canada and we must fight everything that breeds cynicism about our work here in this place. Many Canadians feel they have no voice, that their votes do not count, and that they do not have an equal opportunity to voice their concerns to the government. Real electoral change would do that.
Finding out sooner which lawyer paid $1,500 to the Liberal Party to get access to the Minister of Justice does not help much. Finding out in advance that there is a an event on Bay Street where one could meet the Minister of Finance with an admission fee of only $1,500 does not help. We need strong laws banning unethical conflicts of interest and we need true electoral reform to keep our democracy strong.
View Pat Kelly Profile
View Pat Kelly Profile
2018-02-05 15:19 [p.16761]
Mr. Speaker, we certainly would not want to hold up question period, so I was happy to yield at that time.
With the three minutes I have left just to pick up, I spoke of the background and the history on this bill and the issue purported by the Liberals to solve. Being that of a problem with fundraising that the Liberal party is the only one with the problem.
Mr Speaker, we know that cash for access and the calls to eliminate and calls to question and be concerned about the conflict of interest inherent in cash for access fundraising were the reason for this bill. The Liberals had to do something. They had to be seen as doing something about a practice that only the Liberal Party party takes part in, so they tabled the bill we are now debating.
As I said before question period, Bill C-50 is not necessary. The government could at any point simply choose not to shake down its own lobbyists and stakeholders for money for the party. It could simply choose to not allow that of members of its own cabinet, who have the power to dispense contracts, to hire people into the public sector, to make judicial appointments, to put out cash to subsidize businesses. A minister of the crown has these powers. Members of the opposition do not have these powers. Leaders of opposition parties do not have these powers. Government backbenchers do not have these powers. A minister of the crown has these powers.
It is the swinging back that we have heard, and I am sure we will hear more in a minute or so, that this is something about anything other than cash for access fundraising. It is just silly.
I will conclude by reiterating that I do not intend to support this legislation. To do so would be to lend credibility to a government that is merely seeking cover for a practice that Canadians find odious, that nobody besides members of the opposite party think is okay. I am not going to allow them to use the passage of this legislation to say they have somehow sanitized and legitimized the practice of cash for access.
View Nathan Cullen Profile
View Nathan Cullen Profile
2018-02-05 15:39 [p.16763]
Mr. Speaker, the timing of the introduction of Bill C-50 was interesting in that it fell right as the Liberals were breaking their promise on electoral reform. It is the bait and switch of a party that was looking to get out from underneath the burden of having promised something and then blatantly betraying that promise.
One would wonder where this came from. The bill was born from the allegations, which I think were quite correct, that the Prime Minister and many of his cabinet ministers were finding themselves in an obvious, to everyone else, conflict of interest. We had the justice minister meeting with high-priced Bay Street lawyers, fundraising. We had the finance minister meeting with members of the financial industry, who have interests in his department. These were not just meetings. They were fundraising events. They were $1,500- and $1,200-a-person fundraising events.
If we all remember the Prime Minister's own much-vaunted mandate letters to his cabinet, which applied to him as well, not only could his cabinet ministers not find themselves in a conflict of interest, they could not even place themselves in the appearance of a conflict of interest. It is somewhat ironic now, because the author of those mandate letters broke our conflict of interest rules.
Bill C-50 does what the law already prescribes, which is that we have to make things public, but it does not do anything about cash for access, nor the appearance of or an actual conflict of interest. Is there any hope in the legislation that future fundraising events by the government would not create the same dynamic, the same scenario of ministers being lobbied and donated to by people who have self-serving interests?
View Michelle Rempel Profile
View Michelle Rempel Profile
2018-02-05 15:40 [p.16764]
Mr. Speaker, I actually thought of my colleague last week, when, in a town hall meeting, the Prime Minister said, in response to a question on whether he would ever entertain questions on democratic reform or change the voting system, he said yes, as long as it was not proportional representation and a ranked ballot system. As long as it is him as a dictator defining what Canada's democracy looks like, he is good with it. It is that tone that would probably answer my colleague's question as to why the bill was introduced.
What is going to happen with this? Honestly, I think the system is going to get worse, because we have not addressed this glaring, huge loophole in our political financing system. Six million dollars entered the Canadian system, which I am sure any of my American colleagues would say they have to fundraise in five minutes, but that is a lot of money in the Canadian political context. Now that people are aware of it, it is only going to get worse. The bill should have dealt with that loophole. This is going to have a huge impact on the next election, and not for the better.
View Rachael Harder Profile
View Rachael Harder Profile
2018-02-05 16:00 [p.16766]
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-50. I am deeply concerned with this bill and by the unethical behaviour that is demonstrated by the current government, opposite to me.
The piece of legislation before the House is in fact a poor attempt to appease Canadians after the Liberals were caught and called out for holding numerous so-called town hall meetings, or meet and greets, with the Prime Minister or other members of the cabinet.
These were parties where individuals who wanted to attend were expected to pay upward of $1,500 or more in order to get through the door. These parties were held with elite people, like the finance minister, the Prime Minister, the justice minister, and the list goes on.
I can just imagine the price chart at the door when people walk in: $1,200 for 30 seconds with the Prime Minister; $1,500 for 60 seconds with the Prime Minister. Maybe a group of 10 people who are each willing to pitch in $1,500 would get a whopping two minutes of the Prime Minister's time all to themselves. The selfies are complimentary, of course.
Apparently this is the Liberals' way of consulting in an open, accessible, and transparent manner. These are the types of buzzwords they like to use all the time to describe the work they do. However, I stand here today to use my voice on behalf of millions of Canadians who believe otherwise, Canadians who are actually frustrated with the elitism and the hypocrisy that is demonstrated day in and day out by the current government.
The Liberal government has said that it tabled this legislation in order to make its cash for access events more transparent. What the Liberals fail to understand is that these fundraisers in their very essence are unethical. Changing the rules that surround them does not change the fact that they are altogether wrong.
This legislation does nothing to condemn the use of power and manipulation to draw money out of people for the sake of privileged access. This legislation simply seeks to ensure that the Canadian public is made aware of such elite activities.
Bill C-50 simply proposes that all fundraising events that are attended by ministers, party leaders, or leadership candidates are advertised at least five days in advance. In effect, the Liberals are mandating to themselves that they must advertise their events. That is an interesting measure of accountability. It also requires political parties to report to Elections Canada the names of those who attend. However, anyone who donates over $200 already has to have their name made known.
All in all, this bill does nothing to ensure that ministers and the Prime Minister are accessible to all Canadians equally, which is, in essence, a key component of a democratic system. The Liberals are still granting themselves permission to hold cash for access events that cater to the elite and prevent common Canadians from having a voice.
Justin Trudeau claims that he is listening to everyone, that he is—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
View Dane Lloyd Profile
View Dane Lloyd Profile
2018-02-05 16:31 [p.16770]
Mr. Speaker, many years ago during the 2006 election, one of the most important issues of the day was accountability and transparency. The Liberal government at the time had been implicated in the most severe case of political corruption in modern Canadian history. People may remember this as the sponsorship scandal. I know I remember.
For years, Liberals linked advertising firms with government contracts, kept high-profile Liberal organizers on the payroll, and generously financed the Liberal Party of Canada, all in return for little or no work, as was later found in the investigation. This operation can be best characterized as a machine, which infected and controlled agencies across the government. The purpose of this machine was to place the resources of the government at the disposal of the Liberal Party of Canada.
After years of Liberal corruption and independent investigations, Canadians had enough. In 2006, they elected a Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper to get to the bottom of things and root out the corruption. We introduced the Federal Accountability Act, an act that dismantled the machine built to abuse taxpayer funds and power for the benefit of the Liberal Party. It also helped ensure that future governments, including a Conservative government, would never again abuse the apparatus of government for the benefit of their political party.
This accountability act created measures to protect Canada from political corruption. We created the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying, and others to ensure all future governments were held to account. I find it quite rich to listen to the speeches of my Liberal colleagues who claim they respect the officers of Parliament and Conservatives do not, when it was in fact our previous Conservative government that created these officers of Parliament to clean up the Liberal mess.
Not only did Conservatives implement accountability by creating these new officers, we created stiff new political financing rules that limited political donations to individuals, banned corporate and union donations, and capped those donations at just over $1,000. In fact, if Conservatives had not implemented these tough new rules, the Liberal Party would still be holding cash for access fundraisers for thousands of dollars, and Canadians would not even have the right to know about it.
This brings me to the fundamental point of this debate. On one hand we have the Conservatives' record of holding government to account, even when it is not in the best interest of our own party, and on the other hand we have the Liberals, with Bill C-50, always trying to find ways to avoid playing by the rule and spirit of the law. In fact, this entire bill would be completely unnecessary if Liberals started acting in the way Canadians expect of their representatives.
No sooner had the Liberal Party regained its former place of power than it set about reconstructing that infamous machine. The machine used to leverage taxpayer funds and power for the benefit of the Liberal Party at the expense of the Canadian people. Ministers began holding fundraisers, a perfectly acceptable and necessary activity for politicians. However, these were no ordinary fundraisers, held in church basements or Legion halls across the land. No, these were exclusive fundraisers for the ultra-wealthy to pay the Liberal Party for exclusive access to decision-makers.
Did these ministers break the law? No, but they showed their true colours. They showed that once given power, they will always leverage every angle for the benefit of their own party at the expense of the interests of Canadians. That is exactly why people elected Conservatives in 2006. Conservatives see the opportunity to abuse power and make laws to prevent that abuse. The Liberals, on the other hand, see an opportunity to abuse the spirit of the law, and rather than take real action to eliminate that abuse, they will go to any lengths to justify it. That is simply not acceptable and Canadians deserve better.
Bill C-50 is a joke. It is a public relations stunt designed to fool the Canadian people into believing that the Liberal Party has changed. Conservatives know better and Canadians are not fooled.
Let us take into account what this bill intends to implement. All fundraisers with tickets of $200 or over must be advertised prominently on the party's website, together with a list of those in attendance and how much they are required to pay. This provision is simply unenforceable and goes to the heart of my argument for why this legislation is a public relations exercise designed to make it appear that the Liberals are doing something about cash for access, while giving them a free hand to continue with these tainted fundraisers.
Take, for example, the fact that any political party could host an exclusive fundraiser, a fundraiser for which no funds may be required for people to attend, but one where the expectation and obligation to donate may be very strong. For instance, an exclusive invitation to a group of wealthy business people or lawyers doing work with the Government of Canada would not require the Liberals to disclose the details of the event, including the participants or how much they are required to pay as long as it is less than $200, but at the event it could be easily made known that the Liberal Party would appreciate those in attendance supporting the party through financial donations: wink, wink; nudge, nudge.
The sad fact is that neither the Federal Accountability Act nor Bill C-50 can prevent parties from engaging in this kind of behaviour. No amount of laws, short of having a member of the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner at every political fundraiser, can prevent these activities. The best solution for preventing future abuses of political power for financial gain is for politicians to take a stand and refuse to tolerate cash for access. The public has placed its trust in us, and in turn, expect nothing but the highest standards of personal and professional accountability and for us to make decisions that are in the best interests of the people. I believe Canadians deserve better and I know, as members of Parliament, we can do better.
In fact, there was a time not so long ago that the Prime Minister promised Canadians better. He stated in his “Open and Accountable Government” document, “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.” It further stated, “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.”
This is the standard that Canadians want from their representatives, and I am ashamed that the Prime Minister has paid lip service to this and broken yet another promise to Canadians. No longer do we have a government that places priority on ethics when it comes to political financing. We have a government that places priority on the illusion of ethics, and that is exactly what Bill C-50 intends to create: the illusion that the Liberal Party of Canada has changed in any way from the days of bagmen soliciting funds from those in business with government.
It is time to stop the illusion and give Canadians what they really deserve: accountable government.
View Candice Bergen Profile
View Candice Bergen Profile
2018-02-05 16:43 [p.16772]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's comments, although I do not want to hear more about his referral to age.
Could my hon. colleague comment on what is going on currently whereby the Prime Minister has breached and broken four parts of the Conflict of Interest Act, said sorry, but refused to make right the wrong that he has done?
When we think about ethics and honourable behaviour in this place, could my hon. colleague talk about how the Prime Minister is disrespecting Canada and Canadian taxpayer dollars by what he has done?
View Dane Lloyd Profile
View Dane Lloyd Profile
2018-02-05 16:44 [p.16772]
Mr. Speaker, it goes to show that some things do not change. We have a party in government that will use all apparatuses of government, whether it be personal jets or meal allowances, or the power of ministers to fundraise and cover costs for personal pleasure. Canadians expect better of their government, and they expect better of their Prime Minister. There was over $200,000 spent on security and jet costs, which is perfectly understandable, but we had $32,000 on a government jet and over $1,700 on booze and meals. The Prime Minister needs to pay this money back. It was an illegal vacation. He needs to pay the money back.
View Candice Bergen Profile
View Candice Bergen Profile
2018-02-05 16:45 [p.16772]
Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to rise and speak and contribute to debate in this place on behalf of the people of Portage—Lisgar.
It seems that too often these days I feel I am standing, whether in question period or during debate, and we are talking about ethical lapses that the current government is showing. I find it disappointing. I think that Canadians are disappointed. However, it seems that more frequently we are talking about some of these conflicts of interest and ethical lapses. Sadly, with Bill C-50, there is no exception to this pattern.
We hear the Liberals portraying themselves as being cloaked in virtue as they discuss the bill on political financing. What Liberals and especially the Prime Minister are very good at is talking a good game. Saying all the right things is the Prime Minister's forte. Doing the right thing, not so much. The Prime Minister, on so many issues around ethics, says one thing with his words and a completely different thing with his actions. Bill C-50 is no different, and the backstory to the proposed legislation is even more telling.
The House will recall how the Liberals were creating for themselves a big ethical crater, because literally the moment they got into government, they began setting up and holding their cash for access fundraisers. Members will remember the Minister of Justice being the guest of honour at a fundraiser held at a Bay Street law firm in Toronto, which was targeting members of the legal community, the very people she was making decisions for and about, including appointing to the bench. She was selling access to herself to these individuals. It was absolutely shocking. Members may also remember the parliamentary secretary, the MP who was the Liberal point man on legalizing pot, as the main attraction who was then lobbied by marijuana advocates and investors at a fundraiser.
Members will remember the Prime Minister himself travelling the land and appearing at more $1,500 fundraisers than any of us can count. These were not just one-offs; there was not just one fundraiser that he went to. The Prime Minister, as we all know, has gone to more fundraisers, and $1,500-a-head fundraisers, than any of us can count. Of course, there was the ultimate cash for access trade-off, where the Prime Minister and his wife called and asked the Aga Khan if they could use his private island for free while, at the same time, he was asking them for public money. Wow, a free island holiday for access to the Prime Minister, and a personal benefit to the Prime Minister. However, I will get to that one a little later.
The Prime Minister has done more cash for access events than any of us care to count, but we all remember the one that came to light where the Prime Minister sold access to himself when he met a wealthy tycoon who was the principal investor in a bank that was seeking federal approval to begin operations. That was a bad idea. He was at another one of these events when the Prime Minister met a Chinese billionaire who also was asking for some government favours. Lo and behold, just weeks later, he made a quarter of a million dollar donation for a statue of the Prime Minister's father, and a donation to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. It is “You give me this. I'll give you that. You give me cash. I'll give you access. You give me cash. You have my ear.”
On another occasion, a Quebec businessman in the vaping industry bought a ticket to speak to the Prime Minister about Bill S-5. In fact, the gentleman told Global News, “ I saw an open door and I walked through it – and I’ll walk through every open door I see.... I took $250 out of my own pocket to accomplish what I needed to accomplish..”. He got access to the Prime Minister.
What is the problem with Bill C-50? In a nutshell, it would formalize and try to legitimize these cash for access fundraisers. As I said, it attempts to confer a veneer of legitimacy upon them. What Bill C-50 would not do is make these fundraisers legally ethical. They are unethical. Changing the rules to allow deep-pocket individuals to meet the Prime Minister to bend his ear on government business is still wrong.
If the Prime Minister would like to shut down his cash for access fundraisers for the Liberal Party, he would stop doing them. He could tell his cabinet the same thing, to stop doing these fundraisers. He could maybe follow his own guidelines.
Let me read from the Prime Minister's own “Open and Accountable Government” document. He told his ministers, under “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, the following: “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.” Wow, everything I just described moments ago is contrary to what this “Open and Accountable Government” code does.
This does not require legislation; it needs conviction and integrity. It needs men and women and a government that is authentic and genuine and does not just say the right words but does the right thing. That is not what the Liberals and the Prime Minister seem to do.
Why could the Prime Minister not have said he would follow the rules like everyone else? Why could the Prime Minister not have just said this: “I put this out. It makes sense. I have asked my ministers to follow these guidelines. We're going to follow them.” Obviously, it is because the Prime Minister thinks that rules do not apply to him. We have seen this over and over with the Prime Minister. He thinks there is one set of rules for one group of people and another set of rules for him.
That brings me to another point, and it is with regard to a provision in Bill C-50 that I want to highlight for the House. Clause 2 in the bill would, among other things, enact a new section, 384.4, of the Canada Elections Act. I am going to summarize briefly what this would do.
Section 384.4 would basically put into legislation that if a registered party received a contribution that does not comply with the act, that party would have 30 days to either return that contribution to the donor or pay it to the Receiver General of Canada. The principle behind this is that in the event of a breach of the fundraising rules, the message is clear and the law is clear that the money must be paid back. That is in the bill we are currently discussing. If a party receives money that it is not entitled to, that party cannot just apologize and then smile. It has to pay that money back. That is not a revolutionary idea. Although we have some concerns with Bill C-50, this provision makes sense.
This is not revolutionary. If people are caught taking something that does not belong to them, they give it back, pay it back; they make restitution. We teach our children that when they take something that does not belong to them, they have to make amends, and that includes saying sorry. More importantly, and maybe the toughest part of saying sorry, is actually making it right.
These are rules and lessons that we as parents, as society, and certainly as leaders in this place should be adhering to. However, we are seeing a stunningly hypocritical exception to this principle, and that is with the Prime Minister.
When the former Ethics Commissioner handed down her report which determined that the Prime Minister had violated the Conflict of Interest Act, the House will recall that what he did cost taxpayers over $200,000. If the Prime Minister is truly sorry and wants to be transparent, if he truly wants to put action behind his words, then he needs to right the wrong he has committed. He needs to pay back the taxpayer. He also should look seriously at making the wrong right. He should make the wrong right by paying back the value of that holiday. That is one of the principles of making restitution. If somebody takes a painting that does not belong to that individual, then he or she has to give that painting back or pay back the value of that painting.
It is one thing to talk about legislation like this, but the Liberals are still having their cash for access events. This legislation would do nothing to stop it. We have good rules in place. All we need are men and women of integrity and honour to follow those rules and then show leadership. When they have done something wrong, stop doing it and make it right. That is what we are asking the Prime Minister to do. I would think that all Liberals would agree, as would everyone in the House. We are asking the Prime Minister to not only be sorry but to make right the wrong that he has done.
I expect that the Liberals will not be asking me questions about that, but I would ask them to think about that. In their own meetings with the Prime Minister, ask him to do the right thing: make this right.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and join the debate today. I have 10 minutes to talk about the government's ethical challenges, which is far too little time for a topic like this, but I will do my best.
We are talking about the issue of political fundraising. Of course, this is a sensitive subject for the Liberals after the fourth quarter of 2017 results. It is surprising that they want to have a discussion about political fundraising, because the Conservative Party has done so much better despite being in opposition than the Liberal Party has in fundraising.
The Conservative Party benefits from fundraising that relies on smaller, individual donors, and people who believe in what our party stands for. Obviously, we are in opposition, so there is no conceivable benefit that they could get in terms of a quid pro quo type of thing. People donate to our party and, generally, people should be donating to political parties because they believe in what those parties stand for and want to express their support for the ideas that those parties represent. However, Liberal ideas are not so popular right now. Therefore, the government has had to rely on other ways of fundraising, and here we come to their dubious cash for access fundraising program.
What appears to have happened, and there has been a great deal of criticism about this, is that we have had ministers and the Prime Minister meeting with people, in the context of fundraising, who have done business or are looking to do business or to get some kind of benefit from the government at these very high-dollar fundraising events. In some cases, the maximum is $1,500. People pay this money presumably in the hope of being able to talk to a minister or to the Prime Minister about the specific issues that they are dealing with the government on.
This is very different from what was done under the previous government. I know the guidelines, because I was a candidate at that time. We had very strict guidelines in terms of how and to whom we could advertise any fundraising event. We could not even highlight the area that a minister was working. We had to simply advertise him as an MP. They were events that were not dealing at all with the specific subject matter of their ministry. Yes, we had fundraising events where ministers spoke, but they were open, low-dollar events, and provided opportunities for anyone to come. Specifically, they were not about trying to bring in people that were potential clients or people who had some kind of special economic relationship with the government.
As I recall, there was one exception, and it is the exception that proves the rule. There was one minister who made a mistake. Actually, it was not even the minister but somebody else who organized an event for, I believe, the heritage minister. As soon as the mistake was identified, an apology was given and the money was reimbursed. This was the only case, and it was immediately rectified. It was something the Conservatives recognized should not happen.
On the other hand, we have the current government that thinks this practice is acceptable. The Liberals think it is acceptable for, hypothetically, the justice minister to have a $1,500-a-person event where the minister is speaking about how to get a judicial appointment. “Come and pay $1,500 and hear the Minister of Justice speak about how to get a judicial appointment” or “Come to this $1,500 event with the heritage minister where we will talk about how to access art grants,” and it is only advertised to people who are in the artistic community. There are myriad other possible examples. The Minister of National Defence could speak to those involved in making defence equipment, and one has to pay $1,500. These are hypothetical examples, but the government does not see anything wrong with the idea of explicitly fundraising to people who are involved in doing business and want to pay for that preferential access.
Very clearly, it is legitimate for government to be meeting with industry, to be sharing information with key stakeholders, but it needs to do that outside of the context of party fundraisers. These things have to be separate. This is the position that we have taken. It is what the Conservatives did when we were in government. As I have mentioned, we were able to have a very strong fundraising program, because we asked people to donate not because they were getting something in return, but because they believed in the ideas that we were standing for. However, the Liberal Party has a different approach to how they have done this, and I think we have seen time and time again that they have a lack of concern for conflict of interest.
Whenever issues of conflict of interest are raised, they will say, “Do you not trust the Ethics Commissioner? Let us leave it for the Ethics Commissioner.” Then when the Ethics Commissioner ruled that the Prime Minister broke the law, when the Ethics Commissioner ruled that the finance minister had to pay a $200 fine because of his failure in terms of his disclosure, when those things happen, they say, “Let us just move on, and by the way, trust the Ethics Commissioner.”
However, voters of this country are going to hold the Prime Minister, the finance minister, and other members of the government accountable for the choices they have made in those cases where the Ethics Commissioner has shown in reports that they have behaved inappropriately.
The government, in response to its problems with ethics, came forward with Bill C-50, the political fundraising bill. This is an insubstantial public relations exercise, and I might add, not a very effective public relations exercise. Conservatives and New Democrats have spent all day speaking about and highlighting the government's ethical problems. Next time the Liberals try to devise a public relations exercise to cover their lack of ethics, maybe they should go back to the drawing board.
Nonetheless, this is a public relations exercise, a very insubstantial bill that aims to deal with cash for access fundraisers, but it does not in any way prevent the government from continuing with the practice it has been doing. Instead, it requires some greater degree of financial disclosure in the context of these things, but it still allows them to happen. It still allows for situations where the Prime Minister or ministers can charge $1,500 to people that are directly dealing with the government, with their department, and then discuss issues related to the business of government in the context of fundraisers. There is nothing in this law that in any way changes that. It just requires some marginally greater degree of the release of information.
The government has been saying that there has been criticism of its practices, so it will continue with those practices but it will pass a law that does not in any way materially change those practices and hope people will think that something has changed. I have a suggestion for the Liberals. Rather than put forward this public relations bill that does not substantively change anything, why not focus on changing their behaviour to bring it in line with the standards that Canadians would expect when it comes to conflict of interest? That is the problem. The problem is not the law. The problem is the actions of the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet.
If the government members are going to try to respond to their own ethical failures with new legislation, frankly, they can do a lot better. Here is a proposal that I would have for a change in the law to deal with ethics. Why do they not introduce meaningful sanctions for people who break the law? That is the biggest question I get from Canadians with respect to the Prime Minister's behaviour. They say if they drive too fast, if they park illegally, they have to pay a fine. However, the Prime Minister cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in security costs that should not have been incurred, as a result of an illegal vacation that the Ethics Commissioner found to be illegal, yet there are no sanctions.
Most of my constituents think that if we are going to change the law with respect to the government's ethics in response to these issues, let us have a law that introduces meaningful sanctions for those who break the law, especially for the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers. For his troubles, the finance minister was fined $200 which, not to delve too deeply into his personal finances, does not seem like a lot of money. It does not seem like it is going to have a big deterrent effect in terms of future behaviour. Maybe that is something that the government should consider in future legislation.
Certainly with respect to the problems around the fundraising, the government's cash for access program, the bill absolutely changes nothing. It does not address the fundamental problems and the government has clearly indicated that it does not think there is a problem, that it will persist with the kind of behaviour it has undertaken until now. This is completely different from what we saw under the previous government and it begs the question, why does the government not think that people who are not paying for access would be willing to donate? Why do people think it is necessary to engage in these shady types of practices?
We had one suggestion at least from an NDP member musing about the possibility of a return to the per-vote subsidy. I want to say that, on this side of the House, we certainly do not support having taxpayers subsidize political parties.
Let us be very clear. It was the Conservatives who lowered the contribution limit substantially and eliminated corporate and union contributions. We did that as part of the Federal Accountability Act, one of the first pieces of legislation that was brought forward by Stephen Harper. Also, we eliminated the per-vote subsidy. Our democracy is doing fine. We are well-served by the present system and there is no need to return to taxpayers giving money to political parties.
View Martin Shields Profile
View Martin Shields Profile
2018-02-05 17:46 [p.16781]
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.
Last Friday, my office got a call from a constituent who was unhappy about the government's lacklustre action on the TransCanada pipeline expansion. She wondered how she could get hold of the Prime Minister. She had some other things to say as well, such as that members opposite should remember that their sunny ways just are not cutting it for many Canadians. She was not interested in paying $1,500 to meet the Prime Minister, though.
Ralph Klein could have been describing the Liberal government's attitude when he joked, “Edmonton isn't really the end of the world—although you can see it from there.” It might seem like the end of the world from Ottawa, but we in Alberta are hurting, as is Canada, with the resource industry and no pipeline to tidewater. When the energy industry is suffering needlessly, that is Canadian jobs and prosperity out the window. My constituent still wants to know who she can talk to and how she can get to the Prime Minister.
The pipeline not getting to tidewater means that in the U.S., they build a hospital a week and a school every day. It means that in Ontario, they build a car for $30,000, but there is only one market, which takes it for $15,000 then sells it back to us for $30,000. It is why the U.S. can buy cheap oil at a 50% discount, haul it back to New Brunswick, and sell it to us at 100%. However, I digress just a little.
My constituent wanted to know how to get hold of the Prime Minister. We all know that it is a tall order. The leader of a G7 country cannot sit by his phone all day and take calls. However he might want to do that, he cannot. What is the answer? How does she get hold of the Prime Minister or a senior cabinet minister? The answer could be that it might take a while, but she will get a response if she writes a letter or an email. It will come in time, but that is just too long. In Canada, one must get an answer without having to shell out $1,500.
This bill is supposed to make sure that no pay-to-play takes place in this country. That is important. Canadians expect that. Anyone who believes in the integrity of democracy should demand no less.
I have a friend named George who sees the world as black and white, not grey. He understands what right and wrong is, so he has a real problem with politicians. He is a friend of mine, and he has a problem with me. He says, “Don't you guys understand what is right and wrong?” To him, this is a black and white issue, and it is wrong. Making one's case to elected officials is not a privilege only available to those who can afford to do so.
Last year, Maclean's ran a story about what the Prime Minister learned from watching The West Wing growing up. Apparently, the show was a formative influence. Maybe he remembers season one, episode five, when President Bartlet's chief of staff invited various fringe interest groups to meet with senior officials. He called it the “big block of cheese day”. The idea was that everyone has a right to appeal to their government, not just the well connected or the wealthy and not just people who own helicopters and private islands. That is an aspirational example. Maybe the Prime Minister skipped that episode.
Frankly, it is alarming that we even need a bill like this in Canada. Why does the government need legislation to remind itself to act ethically?
I have a friend named Karen who I have worked with for many years. She sees the world as black and white when it comes to ethics. She is a strong, ethical person. She has been involved in politics but cannot understand why we do not get why this is unethical. Can the government not tell right from wrong? It is troubling that it needs Parliament to pass legislation to remind it of such a basic standard, but it seems to think it does.
I have been troubled by some of the headlines on this bill over the last few months. A headline in The Globe and Mail, on May 31, 2017, said, “Liberals’ fundraising bill fails to quell cash-for-access charges”. A headline on iPolitics, on October 3, 2017, said, “Liberals’ fundraising bill needs teeth, says official”. A headline on the CBC, on October 17, 2017, said, “Cash for access fundraising law should be widened, says ethics commissioner”. What, the Ethics Commissioner?
The bill, which should not be necessary in the first place, does not stop cash for access. It is an ethics bill that the Ethics Commissioner has misgivings about. An event needs to be advertised before it is held and then a report on the event has to be submitted afterward. Cash for access could continue; this legislation would not stop it. The bill gives this practice an air of legitimacy. As the member for Calgary Shepard mentioned in his speech on the bill, it is window dressing.
We need more than window dressing; we need a real commitment to ethical behaviour. The Prime Minister is the first Canadian prime minister to break a federal law while in office. He violated multiple sections of the Conflict of Interest Act, and he refuses to pay back the expenses he charged taxpayers for his illegal vacation.
The member for Red Deer—Mountain View made a good point in his speech. The member noted that when the Prime Minister was the member for Papineau, he was forced to repay money that had been inappropriately charged to his member's operational budget. Why is this situation any different? When one breaks the rules, one makes amends. That is what is expected of normal Canadians. The Prime Minister needs to show that he does not think he is above playing by the same rules as the rest of us. He needs to pay that money back.
Needless to say, Canadians expect a higher ethical standard from their prime minister. They expect the standard that the Prime Minister outlined for his cabinet in their mandate letters. Those read, “you 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. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.”
The key points here are that a minister's actions are expected to bear the closest public scrutiny, and they need to go above and beyond just following the law. The reasoning should be obvious: following the law is not enough when it comes to ethical behaviour. If one behaves unethically, one cannot just use the law to cover up for one's actions. Therefore, what happened? A few cash for access scandals, an illegal vacation later, and we have new laws being drafted to make up for these ethical lapses.
I have a friend named Sue. I worked with her, a colleague in a leadership position. To her, ethical behaviour was the foremost thing we needed to practice in our professional lives. It was black and white. We had to understand ethics and make our decisions that way. She was very much respected for her leadership.
When I use public transportation, there are signs indicating that some seats are reserved for those who might have trouble standing. What if those signs were not there? It would not suddenly become ethical to remain seated while someone holding an infant struggled to stand. We would not say, “Sorry, but I won't give up my seat to you unless they pass a law forcing me to do so.” However, that is what the government is doing here. Rather than relying on their own integrity to do the right thing, the Liberals are passing a law.
That is why this legislation will not make any difference. Being required to advertise an event and report on it afterwards would not deter those who are determined to practice cash for access. One has to have moral guidelines and principles. It is right or wrong. Cash for access is morally wrong. The best way to stop cash for access is to stop doing it. It is that simple. There is no law that is needed. As with giving up one's seat on the bus, it is basic ethical behaviour.
If we look at rankings of professions in our country, we will see nurses and farmers at the top of that list. They are believed to be acting ethically. Who is at the bottom of that list? Politicians are at the bottom, because the average Canadian does not think we act ethically, and this is an example of why.
I must emphasize again that the issues my colleagues and I are raising today are fundamental to a strong democracy. Canadians are the inheritors of a great democratic tradition, a centuries-old Westminster parliamentary system with its roots in Great Britain. In some respects, we MPs are the guardians of this proud democratic legacy. Canadians trust us to live up to the highest democratic principles. When the government is caught practising cash for access, that trust is broken. It must be regained. I am sorry to say that for the many reasons I have tried to outline today, this legislation is not the way to do that.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
View Alupa Clarke Profile
2018-02-05 18:07 [p.16784]
Mr. Speaker, at the end of my colleague's speech, he said that this new system the Liberals would bring forward with this bill, until we win the next election and delete it, would make it so that the governing party would have a systematic preference for raising money, which would make it stronger for the next election.
Does the member think that it is more than just a privilege that would give the Liberals more strength? Does he think that this is close to real corruption?
View Kevin Waugh Profile
View Kevin Waugh Profile
2018-02-05 18:08 [p.16784]
Mr. Speaker, I talked about that in my speech, the access because of the $1,500. People are not only giving $1,500, but hosting a Liberal event right in their home. Writing a cheque for $1,500 and mailing it in is very different from hosting an event right in their house. We have seen these allegations about the Liberal Party in the last 18 months, whether in Calgary, Toronto, or British Columbia. This does not pass the smell test. Canadians know better than this, and they are upset with this legislation, no question.
View Tom Kmiec Profile
View Tom Kmiec Profile
2018-02-02 12:31 [p.16704]
Mr. Speaker, I want to take members of the House on a journey through the logic of this bill.
An hon. member: It might start a revolution.
Mr. Tom Kmiec: Yes, it might start a revolution, Mr. Speaker.
Let us start with a short title proposition for the bill. I think it is a Liberal Party slogan, but I also think it should become a short title for Bill C-50: in God we trust; all others pay cash. It is also a Yiddish proverb, which is why I want it to be introduced as a short title for this bill. It comes down to the logic of what is in this bill, which is that the Liberal Party of Canada has a deep-seated problem with accepting illegal donations from stakeholder groups.
I am not saying that it is individual backbench members of the government caucus. I am saying that government ministers have struggled with this very mightily, and now they are introducing a piece of legislation that will apply only to them. Seemingly, they could have already done this. They could have already applied moral and ethical standards to not do this. Instead, they chose to pass a piece of legislation to tell them not to do something. On this side of the House, we are being told, “Trust us this time”, and perhaps give them some cash, if they accept the short title. “Trust us this time. We will obey this law because we are able to do that.”
The leader of the government, the Prime Minister, has proven that he is completely incapable of living up to the standards contained within the ethical requirements, both in the code and in the law itself. The Ethics Commissioner has sanctioned him and has mentioned that there are ethical violations of four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act. She enumerated them and provided the reasoning on both sides of the issue. Actually, she completely eviscerated every single argument put forward by the Prime Minister and his lawyers excusing the behaviour.
On one side, we have this fiasco the House is now trying to deal with and are demanding that taxpayers be returned the $200,000 he wasted, that he unfairly and unjustly procured for himself. Now we are being told that there will be a new law passed. Cabinet ministers in the government will be expected to live up to the ethical moral standard that will be contained in a law; that is, the disclosure of who attends Liberal Party fundraisers. If that is the goal of this piece of legislation, the logic of it almost demands that the short title become “In God we trust; all others pay cash”, because that is the logic. It is a bill about nothing.
Other members have mentioned this. The member for Edmonton West did so in prior debate. He referenced a Seinfeld episode called “The Pitch”, in season 4, episode 3, in which George comes up with an idea for a show about nothing, absolutely nothing.
There is nothing contained in this bill the government cannot already do. I mentioned to a few members that what I thought could be easily done is to tell a 10-year-old to google “Liberal Party fundraisers”, and that would fulfill the same things contained in this law.
We could google to see where ministers travel. I have my staff do that anyway, because I want to know if Liberal cabinet ministers are travelling to Calgary or other provinces in areas of interest to me so that I know where they are doing fundraisers. There are pictures posted online all the time on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Snapchat.
There is nothing in this law that would bring a modicum of improvement of any sort to the ethical and moral obligations of the government. It cannot live up to them anyway, so why would it force it into a piece of legislation if we know it is incapable of following the Conflict of Interest Act already? Why should the House pass a piece of legislation that will tell the Liberals to do something when we have proof that they are incapable of living up to those established requirements already? It is the Prime Minister himself who cannot live up to the Conflict of Interest Act requirements, and he has been sanctioned for it by the Ethics Commissioner. We know that already, so why do we need laws?
I obviously will not be supporting the bill. I will think about moving an amendment to change the short title. I see the table officer thinking about it. I will think about it and let him know at the end of my speech if that is something I want to do or if I am just kidding.
I notice that the punishment for the strict liability offences is a penalty of $1,000 for violations of this act. Holding a major fundraiser with cabinet ministers would perhaps raise $50,000, $100,000, or $200,000. We do not know.
There are a lot of private sector companies that could be available for purchase by state-owned enterprises owned by the People's Republic of China they could organize fundraisers around. Who knows how much money they could raise? They would then be liable for a $1,000 summary conviction fine.
It does not seem to impact the Liberals. The Prime Minister has been fined $500. This would be double that. A double increase is almost ridiculous. It is a pittance, considering the amount of funds a cabinet minister could potentially raise by travelling to a certain city and holding these with stakeholders. It is not something one is supposed to do.
I speak partially from experience, having been a former exempt staffer here in Ottawa. I was also a staff member in the Edmonton legislature. I knew what the rules were. We were all told what the rules were. It was something that both staff and ministers were responsible for. We had to protect our minister as best we could. It was incumbent on the minister also to know where the line was for an ethical and moral obligation. It did not need to be in legislation for us to know what was right and what was wrong. In this case, the Liberals are saying that they need it in legislation. They need to be told by the House of Commons and the Senate what is wrong and what is right.
In this case, they would continue to take money, potentially money they should not be raising from certain stakeholders, but they would disclose it. They would provide a report, in a nice format, somewhere online. Perhaps they would tweet it out or put it on Snapchat or Instagram. It would be so much easier for us to find. They should not do it in the first place. It is just that easy.
If they are offered a private helicopter ride to a beautiful island somewhere in the Caribbean, they should just not take it. It is just that simple. There is nothing more complicated about it. They do not need to run everything by the Ethics Commissioner. They do not need to check in with the Ethics Commissioner. Can they take a vacation. It is simple. If someone is offering them something that is too good to be true, such as a free paid vacation to an island somewhere, they should not take it.
If cabinet ministers have an opportunity to fundraise large sums of money, and it is coming from stakeholders in their departments, they could be lobbying them by buying these tickets. They should just not do it. They should not take the funds. If they did, they should return the funds. The House in the past has been pretty generous to ministers who have admitted to fault and have paid it back. Ministers have done it. Members of Parliament have done it. The House has been judicious in how it deals with such situations.
We rely on things like the Ethics Commissioner to outline the facts of a case, and then we deal with those facts in the House, which is also why we are asking the Prime Minister to return the money he illegally, unfairly, and unjustly charged to the taxpayer.
This legislation is just window dressing. It is a bill about nothing. There is no content to it. It really should be amended. We could amend almost the whole thing by saying, “In God we trust; others pay cash”, because that is what it seems to be about. They have fundraising targets they need to reach, and they are desperate to do so. In their bid to make it look as if they are ethical and moral and that every single member of the cabinet has splendid integrity, they are saying that they will have a piece of legislation and disclose everything so everyone will know exactly who is fundraising with them and who is attending their meetings.
It does not matter. If they are lobbyists, is it at a lobbyist's home? If these are stakeholders and there is a perception of a conflict of interest in the future, they should just not do it. They should not take their cash.
Mr. Speaker, you have given me an indication that my time is coming to a close, but that is the contribution I wanted to make to this debate. They should just not do it. They should return the money if they have taken it unfairly. Also, they should not pass a piece of legislation that should be just common sense. If it is common sense, it does not need to be in legislation. That is exactly why we call it common sense. That is not the purpose of legislation. Legislation is to provide rules and guidance formally and to make something have actual consequences. Bill C-50 does not do that. It is a Liberal Party of Canada problem. It is not a Government of Canada problem.
View Erin O'Toole Profile
View Erin O'Toole Profile
2018-02-02 13:00 [p.16708]
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise on Friday in a lively debate here on Bill C-50, which would make changes to Canada's Election Act and is premised on political fundraising.
As my good friend and colleague from Calgary Shepard phrased it, this really is a Seinfeldian bill about nothing. It came as a result of inappropriate conduct by the government with respect to cash for access fundraisers, literally within minutes of forming government. I will speak for a few minutes on why that may seem astonishing to many people, since the Liberals had been out of a power for a decade. However, if we look at the people involved, we will see this is their modus operandi, cash for access. No wonder the Prime Minister and many minister hit the ground running after their election on #realchange.
Essentially, a read of the bill would result in the question of what the changes are. I guess it means that before hosting an event, somewhere in a prominent place on the Internet, the event must be published. Is that truly earth shattering? There are few other elements about what needs to be reported and what is disclosed. However, the main thrust is that now, buried on page 8 of the #realchange website, there is information on the event.
Clearly, the way the Prime Minister structured his affairs was that these fundraisers were happening almost right away. We have seen pictures of them, where the Prime Minister of Canada was helping to host or even preparing a meal for Chinese billionaires. It really caused some questions to be asked very early in this Parliament. Some of the same interests that helped organize or attend those fundraisers were also part of the Trudeau Foundation, named after the late prime minister.
There was some suggestion, because the Liberal government at first cancelled the monument to the Afghanistan war, that because of that Chinese support for the Trudeau Foundation, a statue Pierre Trudeau would be built before a monument to our Afghanistan veterans. It is shameful. I am glad the government then, after outrage, came forward with some sort of proposal, but it cancelled something I had announced as veterans minister, the location, as well as another monument to our Victoria Cross winners.
That was a series of events the Prime Minister and other ministers had replicating this cash for access for insiders, including some that had links with groups like Canada 2020. I am sure there are wonderful people in that organization. I like to describe it as, “What do the students from Queen's who are on the Queen's Liberal campus club do when they graduate? They join Canada 2020.” Now they run events in conjunction with the Prime Minister's office and have exclusive access. There is an inappropriate connection between the Prime Minister and that front group. We also see influence being extended through a number of these intimate cash for access dinners in which the Prime Minister engages.
Why are we not surprised by this conduct, despite language about being open and accountable in the Liberal election platform and in the Prime Minister's note to his ministers on accountability and being clear from even the perception of conflict of interest? The people running the Prime Minister's office, during their years at Queen's Park, in and around Ontario politics, set up the most elaborate cash for access scheme that Canadian politics had ever seen. Throughout the governments of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, there was a machine providing access for cash.
I will quote a few details contained in a great Globe and Mail article that I would suggest some members of the Liberal caucus peruse. I know they already are having concerns about the direction some of the minds in the PMO are forging.
The Globe and Mail reports that there were 159 intimate cash for access fundraisers with Premier Wynne just in a few years, with no disclosure or confirmation of who attended. Three of them were for $10,000 a ticket. In that period, the Liberals raised $20 million from the cash for access machine.
As we know from the first few weeks of debate in the House, Canadian taxpayers paid to move that machine from Toronto to Ottawa to run the Prime Minister's Office, and within weeks, he was attending these same-styled intimate cash for access dinners. It really took outrage from the House of Commons and Canadians for him to stop that, put a note on the website or advertise it, and those elements of their public relations campaign led to Bill C-50.
We have to look at what is expected when we talk about transparency and accountability. The government tosses those words around so cavalierly, but let us look at the record.
There is a report from the former ethics commissioner in the name of the Prime Minister. Her report reveals that the Prime Minister accepted a luxury gift from someone he casually knew 30 years prior. He describes him now as a friend. I am 45 and if I had not talked to a friend in 30 years, I might say I went to school with that person, but we were not BFFs. I am not sure if the Prime Minister is Facebook friends with the Aga Khan, but I do not see that a 30-year casual interaction at a funeral justifies a family friendship.
What was more scary in that report was the fact that the Prime Minister did not feel it was important because he was almost a ceremonial figure for the country. That is ludicrous. At the same time, the good organization run by the owner of that private island was lobbying the government for continued support for its programs. They are good programs, but that is in direct violation of the act, which the Ethics Commissioner said, four times. That is the first report in the Prime Minister's name. Another one is coming on lobbying from the cash for access dinners that I referenced at the beginning of my speech.
With respect to conflict of interest, for Canadians following this debate, there can be a real conflict of interest or the perception of one, which is why the Prime Minister, in his mandate letters, which he made great fanfare about releasing but now ignores routinely, says that ministers are supposed to be beyond even the appearance of conflict.
The finance minister, prior to running, was making advocacy speeches publicly to change pension legislation in Canada, while he had a large interest in a company that advises on making those changes. Then he introduced a bill in Parliament to do that, knowing full well that, at the very least, there would be a perception of a conflict of interest maybe. Am I being unreasonable? No, I am not.
I know the finance minister is an honourable man. He made a big mistake. He should express that and likely stay back. He should probably, as an hon. member of the House, step aside until the report on that bill is complete. That would live up to the lofty goals contained in the mandate letters of the Prime Minister. However, why should he do that when the Prime Minister has more investigations about him and refuses to account for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on an illegal trip. He is sending quite a signal to his caucus. He is saying that he wrote this in the ministers' mandate letters, but if they are following leadership by example, his example is to not be accountable.
We can have Bill C-50, we can have a ton of bills in the House, but if Liberals are not making decisions in the nation's interest that are showing they are clear from even the perception of conflict of interest, if they are not showing they are willing to take leadership and own up to mistakes, repay money, and step away from important portfolios while investigations are pending, the language in mandate letters is useless. It is just words.
I want to hear some accountability from these members. We do not want Canadians to see the cash for access scheme that led to 15 years of corruption and incompetence in Ontario.
View Erin O'Toole Profile
View Erin O'Toole Profile
2018-02-02 13:12 [p.16710]
Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe the member would stand up and compare the record of the Conservative Harper government to this one. In nine years, how many investigations of Stephen Harper were there by the Ethics Commissioner? There were zero. In less than two years, there have been two investigations by two separate officers of Parliament.
The Harpers would pay for tickets for flights if a family member came out. They would pay back some of the cost of groceries. Who was on that trip to the Aga Khan? There was the veterans minister and his partner, the president of the Liberal Party, and Canada 2020. This was a junket of epic proportions that showed judgment by the Prime Minister that is not fit for leadership. Then his wife asked for another trip. This is Liberal entitlement with a capital E. Then, it is unreasonable for us to ask him to pay the money back.
We hear these people read the same answers over and over. What took the Liberal Party of Chrétien over a decade to creep in, the entitlement and corruption, was in place within weeks with these guys. That is why we need change, and we need a Conservative government.
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