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View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
I'd just like to welcome everybody here to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, meeting number 160. We are dealing with committee business and two motions: the first from Mr. Kent and the second from Mr. Angus.
I would like, first of all, to welcome some members with us today who aren't usual members of the ethics committee. Ms. May was supposed to be here but I don't see her yet. We're going to welcome her here today, as well as Ms. Raitt, Mr. Poilievre, Ms. Ramsey and Mr. Weir. I think that's everybody. While the extra members are not members of this committee, as a courtesy we typically give guests the right to speak.
Having said that, I'll turn the floor over to Mr. Kent.
View Peter Kent Profile
CPC (ON)
View Peter Kent Profile
2019-08-21 13:01
Thank you, Chair.
Good afternoon, colleagues. You'll recall that on January 10, 2018, this committee met in a special session with the former Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, enabling her to brief us on “The Trudeau Report”, which turned out to be Trudeau report number one, the results of her investigation into the Prime Minister's illegal vacation.
Ms. Dawson spent two hours with us, providing important relevant details on how she came to find the Prime Minister guilty of four violations of the Conflict of Interest Act. The findings of “The Trudeau Report” number one detailed unacceptable ethical lapses by the Prime Minister. However, Trudeau report number two, the scathing report released just last week by current Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, details many more serious violations of the Conflict of Interest Act, up to and including, by any reasonable measure, attempted obstruction of justice or as Commissioner Dion concludes, actions “contrary to the constitutional principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law.”
This is why, colleagues, Mr. Gourde and I wrote the following letter to the chair of our committee, Mr. Zimmer:
Yesterday, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner released the “Trudeau II Report”. The report found “The Prime Minister, directly and through his senior officials, used various means to exert influence over Ms. Wilson-Raybould. The authority of the Prime Minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the Crown's chief law officer.”
This is incredibly concerning. These findings show that Justin Trudeau used the power of his office to reward his friends and to punish his critics.
This is a grave situation. Not only is Mr. Trudeau the first Prime Minister to have been found guilty of breaking the law, he is a repeat offender.
Canadians deserve fulsome answers to the many remaining questions. We ask that you urgently convene a meeting of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics for the purposes of receiving a briefing from the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
We would be prepared to move the following motion:
That, given the unprecedented nature of the Trudeau II Report, the Committee invite the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to brief the Committee on his report, and that the Committee invite any further witnesses as required based on the testimony of the Commissioner.
Colleagues, in this committee's previous consideration of opposition motions regarding the SNC-Lavalin scandal, Mr. Erskine-Smith, speaking for all Liberal members of this committee, characterized those motions as premature until the justice committee completed its study and the Ethics Commissioner completed his investigation. The Liberal majority voted against all opposition motions.
Now we know the chair and Liberal members of the justice committee shut down their study prematurely, and a week ago, the Ethics Commissioner published the “Trudeau II Report”, reporting to parliamentarians and to all Canadians that their Prime Minister broke the law by improperly attempting to influence the Attorney General in “many ways”. It confirmed Canadians' decisions and suspicions and much more.
It is a weighty report, even though the commissioner states that his investigation is incomplete and even though he reports he was prevented by the Clerk of the Privy Council from accessing relevant witness testimony under a blanket confidentiality shield, thus blocking him from looking at the entire body of evidence. Despite all of those challenges, the Ethics Commissioner declares he gathered sufficient factual information to properly determine the matter on its merits. He has itemized those facts in great detail.
Again, as the commissioner writes in his conclusion, the Prime Minister's actions were “improper” and “contrary to the constitutional principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law.”
Colleagues, these detailed findings of fact on a Prime Minister's actions are unprecedented in Canadian history. I hope that you will agree that a debriefing session with the Ethics Commissioner as soon as possible is as appropriate now as was the debriefing session on “The Trudeau Report” number one with the previous commissioner last year.
Thank you, Chair.
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Kent.
We have a speaking order: Ms. Raitt, Mr. Angus and Mr. Poilievre.
Ms. Raitt.
View Lisa Raitt Profile
CPC (ON)
View Lisa Raitt Profile
2019-08-21 13:06
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I echo the comments made by Mr. Kent with respect to the desire for this committee to move forward by hearing from the Ethics Commissioner.
I am here today because I was a member of the justice committee that was shut down in March of this year in favour of the Ethics Commissioner's conducting his study. A letter was sent by the Liberal members of the committee on March 18 to the chair of the justice committee. Those members were Randy Boissonnault, Iqra Khalid, Ali Ehsassi, Ron McKinnon and Colin Fraser.
They said their conclusion, after the testimony heard at the justice committee, was that all of the rules and laws were followed. They also said they believed that the ongoing study of the Ethics Commissioner was the appropriate way forward and that they had faith in the Ethics Commissioner. They also noted that the opposition parties rushed to judgment before hearing all of the relevant information.
Following the shutting down of the justice committee, the ethics committee then tried to raise the issue for discussion. On March 26, the matter was again blocked. As a result, we were left with the office of the Ethics Commissioner being the only venue where an investigation was taking place. Indeed, if you look at Hansard for April and May of 2019, when asked questions by members of the opposition, the Prime Minister said and then reiterated continuously that he had faith in the Ethics Commissioner conducting his study.
However, most recently the Prime Minister, in commenting on the “Trudeau II Report” issued last week, said two things that caught my attention. The first was “We fully cooperated with the Commissioner” and the second was “I disagree with that conclusion”. These two statements carry great weight. They're by the Prime Minister of Canada and they are the only statements regarding the Ethics Commissioner's report on record by the Prime Minister on this matter. It is unfair that the Ethics Commissioner has no voice and no venue to be able to respond to these two assertions made by the Prime Minister.
There is a provision in the Conflict of Interest Act to allow somebody who is being investigated to appeal a ruling of the Ethics Commissioner. We find ourselves in some uncharted territory because what the Prime Minister seems to seek to do is to change the report of the Ethics Commissioner by saying that he doesn't agree with it and that he fully co-operated.
The evidence of the Ethics Commissioner in his report is that, to the contrary of the Prime Minister's statement, they did not fully co-operate with the commissioner at all. Indeed, the commissioner went to great lengths to note his concerns with respect to the appropriateness of the way in which the Prime Minister sought to produce documents, be interviewed and, at the end of the day, determine whether or not a waiver would be extended to allow the Ethics Commissioner to have access to all of the information he deemed appropriate for the study.
Where we find ourselves in uncharted territory is this: The Conflict of Interest Act does not allow for the Ethics Commissioner's report to be changed. No committee of Parliament, no vote in the House of Commons can change the contents of a report by, or the decision of, the Ethics Commissioner. The report is what it is and stands as it is, yet the Prime Minister is now trying to say the report is wrong.
The good news for him is that if he chooses to in fact go ahead and appeal the ruling of the Ethics Commissioner, he has the ability to do so. He can do that by launching a judicial review at the Federal Court of Appeal. That is the appropriate venue for the Prime Minister to challenge the Ethics Commissioner, not in the court of public opinion, which he is seeking to do right now.
Why does this all pertain to a visit by the Ethics Commissioner to committee? Well, I do believe, as a lawyer, that there are rules regarding procedural fairness. Clearly, the Prime Minister is not going to be seeking judicial review of this ruling. He hasn't said he is going to do that, and in fact it doesn't seem as if he has any plans to even address that question.
That being said, it is still fair for the Ethics Commissioner to be able to respond in some way, shape or form to questions by the committee, by members of Parliament who seek to understand the discrepancy between what the Ethics Commissioner found and what the Prime Minister is attempting to assert to the Canadian public.
That is the issue of public interest that is so important in having the Ethics Commissioner come to testify. It is the foundation of our rule of law that accusations are allowed to be responded to and rebutted. That, I believe, is something, as parliamentarians, we owe to the Ethics Commissioner, who does his work at the request of all parliamentarians and indeed is voted on by all parliamentarians to sit as an officer of Parliament.
In summary, Mr. Chair, I would say that, after months and months of the Liberal members of Parliament on the justice committee, on the ethics committee, the Prime Minister himself and every minister who answered a question in the House of Commons answering with the refrain that they trust and believe in the independence of parliamentary officers and will listen to them and will co-operate fully, it is owed to the Ethics Commissioner, due to all of these comments, to have the ability to come in and respond to the two things the Prime Minister has said about this report, which are, first, that he fully co-operated with the commissioner, which the commissioner says is not the case, and second, that he disagrees with the conclusion, without telling us which conclusion he disagrees with.
With that, Mr. Chair, I pass the floor to the next individual, and I hope that my colleagues on the other side will, in fact, allow for the Ethics Commissioner to appear today, in fairness, in justice and to uphold the administration of our procedure.
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
The speaking order is Mr. Angus, Mr. Poilievre, Ms. May, Mr. Weir and Ms. Ramsey.
Go ahead, Mr. Angus.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It’s simple: no one is above the law. It’s a fundamental principle in Canada. The obligation to ensure ethical standards for all parliamentarians is the role of this committee. Mr. Dion’s report is clear: Mr. Trudeau broke Canadian law. He set up a plan to undermine the role of the former attorney general of Canada to help his friends at SNC-Lavalin. It’s not acceptable in Canada for the Prime Minister's Office to be an open bar for lobbyists. We have an obligation to abide by the codes and ethics of the Parliament of Canada.
Mr. Chair, it is my understanding that Mr. Dion is ready to speak. Is that correct?
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
Just to be clear, he said he'd make himself available on short notice. Based on some questions from all parties here, he has made himself available today by video conference so he is standing by if a motion is passed.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
He reports to our committee. He's an officer of Parliament and, as an officer of Parliament, his job is to ensure that every parliamentarian meets the highest ethical code. When you are the Prime Minister of this country you are expected to meet the highest ethical code. We have the commissioner ready to speak and to respond to the report, as his normal function is to come to our committee and present that report.
We need to hear from Mr. Dion because to have the Prime Minister of the country found guilty of breaking the law to aid very powerful people by writing a piece of legislation that existed only for that company—it was written for one purpose, to give them a “get out of jail” card—and then by having a campaign involving so many key people in the Liberal government to put pressure on the Attorney General and the independent prosecutor, this is not acceptable.
Either we have the rule of law in this country or we don't. That is the fundamental question. For the Prime Minister to invoke the Mark Zuckerberg defence, which is “Hey, thanks a lot for finding me guilty. I'm just going to blow you off....” Mark Zuckerberg may get away with that because he lives in another jurisdiction and he is a gazillionaire, but Justin Trudeau cannot blow off the Ethics Commissioner of Canada. If he wants to do that, then he needs to come back and bring in a law that says he's no longer bound by any laws. However, right now he is bound by the Conflict of Interest Act and he's been found guilty.
We see there is a pattern of interference by his office and the Privy Council, which prevented nine potential witnesses from giving testimony. We need to know who those nine witnesses were. We need to know how extensive the interference in and the obstruction of the work of the Ethics Commissioner was, because the Ethics Commissioner reports to us. It is our job to go back to Parliament whenever there is a problem with lobbying, with the work of the Privacy Commissioner, the work of the Information Commissioner or the work of the Ethics Commissioner. When their work is being interfered with for political purposes, it is our job to put our partisanship aside and say that we have to have a standard that all parliamentarians meet and the Prime Minister has failed to meet this.
Mr. Chair, you have the power to ask the commissioner to report to us. I'd like to see you exercise that. He has to report to us. This is his job. Any attempt by the Liberals to stop that will be continuing a pattern of interference in and obstruction of the fundamental principles of the parliamentary system.
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Angus.
Next is Mr. Poilievre.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Chairman, you've told us that the Ethics Commissioner is standing by ready to testify about the guilty verdict he rendered against the Prime Minister last week. Now, the Prime Minister's MPs across the way will decide whether, after silencing Jody Wilson-Raybould, they will silence the Ethics Commissioner as well by voting to ban the Ethics Commissioner from appearing at the ethics committee. If so, what does that indicates about the ethics of this government?
It's important to recap why we're here.
SNC-Lavalin is accused of over $100 million in fraud and bribery. It's accused of stealing over $100 million from among the poorest people in the world. Instead of going to trial, the company convinced the Prime Minister to change the Criminal Code to allow alleged corporate criminals to get off of a trial by signing a deal to apologize and promise never to do what they did again. The Prime Minister passed that in an omnibus bill and then demanded that his Attorney General extend such a deal, against the earlier decision of the top prosecutor not to. She refused, so he fired her. She spoke out, so he kicked her out and shut down numerous parliamentary inquiries into the matter.
Since then he has told us to wait for the Ethics Commissioner to issue his verdict. We all waited, assuming that when that verdict came we'd all be able to hear about it right here in the ethics committee. Here today, we will decide if in fact that will happen. We know there's a lot more to this story that the Ethics Commissioner has not been able to tell. At least nine witnesses were prevented by the Trudeau government from telling their full story because of a government-imposed gag order under the guise of cabinet confidentiality.
There are many mysteries that we need to unravel in this matter and only by hearing witnesses can we do so. One of them is the famous 9,000 jobs claim. Most of SNC-Lavalin's jobs are for construction work done in this country. They're going to be building a north-south transit project here in Ottawa. Well, they can't build that in Hong Kong or Munich and then drop it out of a helicopter on the nation's capital; that work will have to be done here. The headquarters must stay in Montreal until the year 2024 according to a loan agreement with the Québec pension plan. The CEO of the company has said that the company is not moving anywhere, and we know that leaving Canada would not exempt the company from prosecution or conviction.
We tried to ask the government where this claim about jobs had come from. In fact, Ms. May asked some of the best questions on this matter. She asked Mr. Wernick:
In the public interest then, Mr. Wernick, in preparing advice to cabinet, what work did you do to assess the threat to jobs? Did you look at the commitments made to the Government of Quebec not to move headquarters, as mentioned? Did you look at the current financial status of SNC-Lavalin? Did you in fact have an independent assessment of whether there would be any impact on jobs from a decision to proceed as the director of public prosecutions had decided to proceed?
His response was:
No, because the file was entirely in the carriage of the then minister of justice.
Apparently, the justice department now does job assessments.
Gerald Butts had a different story when Ms. May asked the same questions. She asked:
Is there any evidence that jobs were actually going to be at stake by letting this go through the courts and letting the independent director of public prosecutions and the Attorney General do their jobs?
Gerald Butts responded:
I can't recall anything specific.
He said, regarding the jobs claim:
That's my understanding from Department of Finance briefings, but I have to say it's been a long time.
Now they're claiming that the Department of Finance has proof of this 9,000 jobs claim. Therefore, let's turn it over to the finance minister.
In the Ethics Commissioner's report, the commissioner states:
When asked if he, or his office, had undertaken a study or analysis of the economic impacts of the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision, Mr. Morneau testified that none had been conducted.
Then a reporter, on March 7, asked the Prime Minister, “Both Mr. Wernick and Mr. Butts testified they had no direct, empirical evidence of this 9,000 potential job loss.... Did you have any evidence of 9,000 jobs potentially being lost?”
The response was “We had heard representations from various sources, including the company itself, that this was an issue of deep concern to them and that it would potentially have consequences as dire as the company having to leave Canada altogether”. You'll notice he didn't provide any evidence, but he did claim that the company might leave the country altogether.
Let's turn to the Ethics Commissioner's report on that. It says that top Trudeau adviser “Mr. Bouchard's notes from the same October 23, 2018 meeting with senior officials of the Privy Council Office show that they also discussed SNC-Lavalin's board of directors' potential plan to move the corporate headquarters but the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec...would not let that happen.” In other words, Mr. Trudeau's office knew in October, months before he made the claim that the headquarters would leave, that the eventuality was impossible.
Given that this was not about jobs, the most important question I want to ask is this: What motivated this? What on God's green earth would compel a Prime Minister to pass a law, at the request of one company, exempting corporate criminals from prosecution, put pressure on his Attorney General to overturn his top prosecutor and then fire her when she refused to do so?
We know that SNC-Lavalin gave $100,000 in illegal donations to the Liberal Party. We know they swarmed Parliament Hill and the PMO with lobbyists. There was a revolving door between the government and SNC-Lavalin. We need to know the real motive for helping protect this company.
We are here at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to hear the testimony of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
The current government tried to silence the former attorney general. Are Justin Trudeau’s Liberals going to use their majority to do the same? Are they going to stop the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner from appearing before the ethics committee? Are they going to attempt another cover-up so that Canadians don’t find out the truth before the election? Such is the decision before us.
Thank you very much.
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Poilievre.
Next up we have Ms. May.
View Elizabeth May Profile
GP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks to the committee for the opportunity to speak.
Thanks to Mr. Poilievre's intervention, I don't have to recite the jobs questions I asked at the justice committee.
I'm deeply troubled by what faces us. All of you around the table I regard as friends, and I try to approach things in a very non-partisan way, which is very hard on the eve of an election. Everybody goes into hyper-partisan mode then, and this is, in a lot of ways, red meat right before an election. I know that, but something is really wrong here. Something is deeply wrong here, and I beg my friends around the table to allow Mr. Dion to speak to us.
I thought I knew what had transpired in the SNC-Lavalin mess based on the testimony of our former justice minister and former attorney general. Her chronology, her notes, I thought covered everything that had occurred, and I believed her every syllable, but Mr. Dion's report has shaken me far more than our former attorney general's testimony, and I'll tell you why.
We now know there were meetings that took place on the edge of other international gatherings, like in Davos, including the Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau and the CEO of SNC-Lavalin, and that the idea of changing our law to insert a deferred prosecution agreement into the Criminal Code came from SNC-Lavalin for their use specifically.
No wonder the machinery of government began to panic when the plan wasn't working out. There was a hiccup because the justice minister and attorney general at the time respected the principle of prosecutorial independence and wouldn't intervene against the section 13 report of the director of public prosecutions.
This is a critical point: There were other ministers involved. I thought and still think, because I bend over backward to be fair to everyone concerned, that part of the reason the Prime Minister doesn't realize what he did was wrong is that he didn't receive a decent legal briefing from his Clerk of the Privy Council. None was provided to him by the clerk or by his staff, but he did receive a decent legal briefing from Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former minister of justice and attorney general, who told him, “Watch what you're doing. You're interfering in prosecutorial independence”. I know she didn't sit him down and get out a chalkboard and explain it. She didn't think she had to.
What I find really troubling about what Mr. Dion uncovered is the idea that in any government governed by the rule of law a minister of justice and attorney general's position would be so deeply undermined by her colleagues.
I know that a lot of Liberals have said it was wrong of her to tape Michael Wernick. I understood why, under the circumstances, she felt it necessary, but the deeper distrust is to imagine that a report from a former Supreme Court judge, a very respected jurist, John Major, peddled by SNC-Lavalin's lawyer, also a former Supreme Court judge, Frank Iacobucci, blinded people around the cabinet table—because of the power of those justices' titles and the previous work they have done on the Supreme Court—to the reality that the only legal advice they should have been taking was from their own lawyer, the attorney general.
However, what is really shocking to me is that they peddled this report undermining the judgment of their cabinet colleague, the minister of justice and attorney general. They peddled it without even sharing it with her. I ask my Liberal friends to imagine for one minute a scenario in which Jean Chrétien allowed his cabinet colleagues to circulate a memo undermining Irwin Cotler. Can you imagine Pierre Trudeau allowing his cabinet colleagues to circulate a memo undermining the judgment of John Turner?
This is really scandalous. The Prime Minister is guilty here of the kind of offence for which resignation is appropriate. I leave it to him. I'm not calling for his resignation, but it does strike me as beyond belief that this kind of thing could go on. It's not a small matter. It shouldn't be covered up. We really do need to ask Mr. Dion what he uncovered. We need to hear his opinion on the nature of further remedies and how many steps we should take to ensure that cabinet confidentiality is removed so that those nine additional witnesses can be heard.
I also want to say very clearly that I don't think this is a partisan issue. I think it is systemic. It is shocking that the senior civil service of this country could be manipulated by a transnational corporation in this fashion, and I think lots of other transnational corporations may have the same kind of access. This is systemic regardless of who is in the PMO. Regardless if it's a Conservative or a Liberal government, we have to ensure that the machinery of government, our civil service, is not at the disposal of transnational corporations to do their bidding.
I don't think it's about the Prime Minister and making this a political football in the election campaign. I think it's a much larger issue and I think it is systemic. I'd like to hear from the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
I think we now have a moral obligation to protect our democracy against the power of large global firms.
Right now our democracy looks weakened by this. We need to get to the bottom of it.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Ms. May.
Next up is Mr. Weir.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
View Erin Weir Profile
2019-08-21 13:31
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank you and all members of this committee for giving independent MPs an opportunity to participate in today's meeting.
One of the things I've really appreciated about being an independent MP is the opportunity to take a more dispassionate look at the issues. That's what I've tried to do in all the committee hearings on SNC-Lavalin.
I'd like to say a few words about my reading of the Ethics Commissioner's report and some of the topics that I think might be worth pursuing if this committee decides to hear from the Ethics Commissioner and perhaps other witnesses.
The commissioner's key conclusion is that there was a violation of section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which says that public office holders should not:
seek to influence a decision of another person so as to further the public office holder’s private interests or those of the public office holder’s relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.
I don't think anyone is alleging that the Prime Minister sought to further the private interests of his family, his friends or himself. I also don't think there's any doubt that many, if not most, public policy decisions will either further or detract from the private interests of various companies and individuals. The key conclusion from the Ethics Commissioner is that the Prime Minister improperly tried to further another person's private interests.
That finding hinges critically on an interpretation of what is “improper”. I think it would be well worth this committee's time to dig into that with the Ethics Commissioner. We've heard a lot about findings of fact but really this conclusion comes down to an interpretation of one word in the Conflict of Interest Act, which is something that I think could be open to challenge and certainly could be open to further exploration.
It's a little bit unclear to me whether the Ethics Commissioner believes the Prime Minister is guilty of any kind of conflict of interest in the classic definition of that term. It does seem clear that the Ethics Commissioner believes that the Prime Minister is guilty of improperly furthering another person's private interests but there's already been some debate about how that language should be interpreted and what's improper. I would suggest that as an appropriate focus for this committee's work.
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Weir.
Next we will go to Ms. Ramsey.
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