Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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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 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 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 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 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 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 Tracey Ramsey Profile
NDP (ON)
View Tracey Ramsey Profile
2019-08-21 13:34
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the committee members for having me at the committee today.
I am having some serious déjà vu. Having sat on the justice committee along with some of my other colleagues here on the other side, this experience right now feels very familiar to me, with silence from the Liberal members and opposition members laying out the reasons why we'd like to hear the truth.
I am certainly appreciative of Mr. Dion's report, but it leaves many questions. There are still questions to be answered that are incredibly important to democracy in our country, as my colleague mentioned.
My son is 18 and will be voting for the first time this year. I can't imagine a country where the Prime Minister can break the law and not admit it and not apologize for it, but thinks that, quite frankly, somehow Canadians are going to accept it. Is this Canada's future now? Is this the bar we're setting, that the individual in the highest office in the land can break the law and nothing happens in response? He doesn't have any accountability for that. The players who are involved have no accountability for that. Mr. Morneau has been mentioned at this table. There are many questions surrounding his involvement, which he now in some way tries to say he can't recall, which seems incredibly unbelievable to Canadians.
This matters. This is about the Prime Minister trying to corrupt the Attorney General's office. This report is incredibly important to Canadians. I think it's a mistake if there are those sitting around this table who think this does not matter to Canadians, that they don't understand enough about it, and there are members who want to get stuck talking about the McLellan report, or different things, such as the DPA, that surround this.
The Prime Minister of Canada has broken the law. We have questions for the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner that need to be answered and that Canadians deserve the truth about. The pursuit of the truth and getting answers to questions that people have in this entire thing has constantly been blocked by the Liberals.
All of us walked in through the press today and were asked questions because this report leaves things hanging, and we can't leave those questions hanging because this is an incredibly serious thing, regardless of who will be Prime Minister of Canada come this fall. We need to know who was involved and to have other people come forward, and we can't accept that it is now okay for the Prime Minister to break the law in Canada.
I implore the Liberal members of this ethics committee, as I have done many, many times at the justice committee, to allow the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to speak before us.
I understand, Mr. Chair, that he is waiting, so I move that we go to a vote so we can allow his testimony to begin and ask questions of him. I move for a vote, please.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I, too, would like to talk about the report, and I will keep it short. The title of the report alone gives me the chills: the “Trudeau II Report”. The number II means it’s the second report in the same session about the fact that the Prime Minister broke the law. In the case at hand, he violated section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act. Here is what that section stipulates:
No public office holder shall use his or her position as a public office holder to 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 [I repeat, improperly] further another person’s private interests.
In paragraph 282 of this very detailed report, Commissioner Mario Dion specifies that “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.”
That is a scandal in itself. One has to wonder, with an election around the corner, whether Canadians deserve a prime minister who breaks the laws of his own country. This is scathing.
I hope that in the next few minutes, my colleagues across the way will have the moral conscience to permit us to invite the commissioner to come testify. He’s willing to do it. We have other questions to ask, and there is more to come on this story. We’d like to shed some light on that and learn the whole truth. Canadians deserve to know the truth before the election on October 21.
In the democracy in which we live, it’s very troubling for all Canadians to see that an individual in a high-level position like the Prime Minister’s doesn’t seem to understand the separation of executive, legislative and judiciary powers.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Lisa Raitt Profile
CPC (ON)
View Lisa Raitt Profile
2019-08-21 13:40
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The reality is that the Ethics Commissioner found that the Prime Minister improperly used political considerations in attempting to have the Attorney General essentially overrule the director of public prosecutions.
The Prime Minister is saying that it was not the case, that in fact it wasn't political considerations but had to do with something else, namely jobs. My colleague, Mr. Poilievre, I think has completely debunked that notion. I know that my colleague, Ms. May, would do the same thing in a heartbeat if she had an opportunity to do so.
We are at this impasse where we would like to know what were the political considerations noted in Mr. Dion's report and alluded to in some recent interviews of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott.
After the report was made public on August 15, Jody Wilson-Raybould was interviewed by CBC. It was a lengthy interview by Vassy Kapelos. She was asked a number of times about what had happened and for her comments with respect to the report of the Ethics Commissioner.
In response to one of the questions, she made the following very clear: “I would not change the actions that I took. I believe that Canadians want to see, in their public officials, particularly ones that hold offices like the Attorney General of Canada, that they will be making decisions not based on political considerations but based on a fundamental understanding of the law and based on a fundamental understanding about how we maintain the fundamental tenets of our democracy and are constantly vigilante on that.”
She would not make changes to any of her actions because she would not make decisions that were not based on the principles or values she had always embraced. She went on to say later that upholding independence and the rule of law was what she was doing in her role as the Attorney General. A number of times she indicated in other parts of her interview that she had questions with respect to political considerations.
After Ms. Wilson-Raybould's interview, Jane Philpott was interviewed further by Vassy Kapelos and she got more to the point. She talked very specifically about considerations that should and should not be taken into account when decisions are being made.
Kapelos asked her whether there was a conflict for the purposes of benefiting a private corporation: “...the Ethics Commissioner determined but the Prime Minister often speaks about his motivation. If you say that you don't know for sure that it wasn't, what do you think he was motived by?”
Ms. Philpott responded, “I don't think it's motivations that concern people so much as whether or not we hold and regard what is in the best interests of the country and that we hold and regard the very pillars of what our democracy is founded upon. One of those pillars is that our justice system needs to be independent and”—with my own emphasis, Mr. Chair—“politicians who have the desire to further their political career, to ensure that they will win an election, to potentially support those who may have supported them financially or in other ways, those are not the kinds of motivations that should be on politicians' minds when it comes to a criminal matter. It's extremely clear that politicians, the executive and legislative branch, should not interfere with the judicial branch of government.”
Those were Jane Philpott's words, which caused me to wonder what information she has that causes her to have such a strong point of view on what political considerations may or may not have been taken into consideration when decisions were being made.
Mr. Chair, that brings me to the issue of this waiver.
The reason the Ethics Commissioner was unable to get further in terms of the political considerations, other than the four times he clearly noted he believed the Prime Minister, himself or through his staff, was politically interfering, is this. The reason he can't get any more granularity on it is that, as he noted, he was unable to get the relevant information that he wanted.
I'm going to read from his report on page 5, paragraph 14. Actually, I'm going to start with paragraph 13. It says:
In order to gain access to as much relevant information as possible, on March 29, 2019, I instructed legal counsel in our Office to engage with counterparts in the Privy Council Office to request that witnesses be enabled to provide all of their evidence to our Office. Despite several weeks of discussions, the offices remained at an impasse over access to Cabinet confidences.
On May 3, 2019, I raised the matter directly with the Prime Minister during his interview. Through legal counsel, Mr. Trudeau stated that he would consult with the Privy Council Office to see whether the Order in Council could be amended.
Now, the order in council that we're speaking of, of course, is the order in council that was passed by cabinet in order to allow Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott to speak up to a certain point in time, and after that point in time was reached, they could not speak to matters that had cabinet confidence around them.
On May 28, 2019, with the issue of access to Cabinet confidences unresolved, I wrote to the newly appointed Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Ian Shugart. I set out the concerns expressed by witnesses, noted above, and explained what I believe to be the legislative framework that, at least implicitly, authorizes our Office to access such information. I cited provisions of both the Conflict of Interest Act and the Parliament of Canada Act that prohibit me from revealing confidences of the Queen's Privy Council in the context of public declarations of recusal and our annual reports, respectively. I explained that I understood these prohibitions to mean that our Office would have prima facie access to this information. I then drew the analogy between these prohibitions and the restrictions on the disclosure of confidential information placed on me in the course of examinations, and why I would have similar access to and a similar prohibition on publishing Cabinet confidences in that context.
That was the Ethics Commissioner's pitch on May 28 to the Clerk of the Privy Council, explaining why he should be able to receive the information that the Prime Minister said was being held back due to cabinet confidence.
In a letter dated June 13, 2019, the Clerk of the Privy Council declined my request for access to all Cabinet confidences in respect of this examination.
Mr. Trudeau's legal counsel indicated that the decision on whether to expand the waiver was made by the Privy Council Office without the involvement of the Prime Minister or his office.
But as we all know from this long and sordid, drawn-out affair that we've been witnessing since January, there is always somebody who can overrule a bureaucrat, and that's exactly what Mr. Trudeau wanted Jody Wilson-Raybould to do. So for him to say that he wasn't part of the decision actually is completely irrelevant because he always has the power to tell the Clerk of the Privy Council what to do.
However, I continue reading:
Because of the decisions to deny our Office further access to Cabinet confidences, witnesses were constrained in their ability to provide all evidence. I was, therefore, prevented from looking over the entire body of evidence to determine its relevance to my examination. Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the Act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence, should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament [emphasis here], not by the very same public office holders who are subject to the regime I administer.
I am convinced that if our Office is to remain truly independent and fulfill its purpose, I must have unfettered access to all information that could be relevant to the exercise of my mandate. I must be satisfied that decisions made by the most senior public office holders, including those discussed at Cabinet, are free from any conflicts of interest.
In the present examination, I have gathered sufficient factual information to properly determine the matter on its merits. Because of my inability to access all Cabinet confidences related to the matter I must, however, report that I was unable to fully discharge the investigatory duties conferred upon me by the Act.
Now, why is this important? This is important because the Ethics Commissioner is detailing very clearly that he sought to get information on cabinet confidences that were outside the waiver the Prime Minister already had given.
Jane Philpott, as well, in her interview said it very clearly, when she was asked by Vassy Kapelos whether or not there was any further information that she thought was relevant that was covered by the waiver. She was asked, “Are you in possession of any information that you think the Ethics Commissioner should have had access to?” Her answer was that “There are pieces of information that I am aware of that I am not at liberty to speak about.”
Jane Philpott further goes on to say, “So what I would point to for Canadians is what the Ethics Commissioner said, which is that he was able to get enough information to make a determination in terms of whether or not there was a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act or not. So it didn't, in a sense, hold him back from being able to make a determination on this, but I would say that I can affirm that there are pieces of information that I am aware of but that, because of the oath that I made to Queen and country to keep in secret that which shall be kept secret, according to the oath that I made as a cabinet minister, unless I am released from that obligation, I am not at liberty to share those pieces of information either with you or with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.”
We know there is more information out there. Jody Wilson-Raybould has said that, as has Jane Philpott, and indeed the Ethics Commissioner attempted to get it. He was unable to get it by virtue of the decision of the Prime Minister. That is not fully co-operating with the Ethics Commissioner, and again, as I said before, that deserves to be reviewed.
More importantly, and most recently, there has been the publication of a book. The book is written by a CBC reporter by the name of Aaron Wherry, and in it, Aaron Wherry had unprecedented access to the Prime Minister on this topic.
If you recall, I said that there were certain things that the former attorney general couldn't discuss, that the former president of the Treasury Board could not discuss, that were not given to the Ethics Commissioner and that the witnesses were not allowed to talk about. One of those things was what happened after the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould and what happened in the meetings between the Prime Minister and the former attorney general, because that waiver was cut off when the former attorney general left her time as Attorney General and moved to Veterans Affairs, and as you know, she resigned from Veterans Affairs after that.
Miraculously, it would appear that the concept of cabinet confidence doesn't apply to the Prime Minister—much like every other rule seems not to apply to the Prime Minister, quite frankly—because he gave complete access to this writer, Aaron Wherry, to detail the meeting he had with Jody Wilson-Raybould post her time becoming the Minister of Veterans Affairs. He is waiving cabinet confidence to a reporter in order to get his side out in a novel, yet the Ethics Commissioner cannot receive this information. Jody Wilson-Raybould says there is information and Jane Philpott says there is information that is of interest to Canadians.
I would like to ask the Ethics Commissioner whether or not he has taken any legal advice as to whether or not there has been a waiver of this cabinet confidence by the Prime Minister to cover the period of time that is currently not covered and extend it over that period of time. I think that would be of great interest to Canadians, and I also believe it is something that goes to the heart of ensuring that we get to the bottom of the matter.
Picking up on what Elizabeth May said just a few minutes ago, this is the kind of scandal and the kinds of actions that warrant the highest level of punishment. We can't force that, but it can be at the discretion.... Clearly, as she said, it's not going to happen, but we still owe it to Canadians to understand and give them the truthful information on what has happened and not just take the word of the Prime Minister, because we have seen over and over again that the Prime Minister simply does not keep his word.
Thank you.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 13:54
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We all appreciate the efforts of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and his office, as well as their support to members and Parliament. As far as this report is concerned, the Prime Minister has thanked the commissioner and accepted his report. This matter has been thoroughly studied. As we all heard, the justice committee heard from 10 witnesses for a total of 13 hours of testimony over five weeks.
In addition, we now have this detailed report from the commissioner. It represents months of work for him, and it’s 63 pages long. The Prime Minister has stated unequivocally that he was only trying to protect the jobs of thousands of Canadian workers the whole time. I would think all workers and all Canadians would expect that if their jobs were in jeopardy.
We also have a guide by the Honourable Anne McLellan. She spoke with all the former attorneys general. Her guide helps clarify the relationships between—
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.
The justice committee shut down their study. If the Liberal members want to have Anne McLellan, they can go back to the justice committee. This is about the ethics committee. To bring in the report of Anne McLellan, a former Liberal, go back to the justice committee that you shut down. This is about the ethics committee and Mr. Dion's report.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 13:56
I will start over. We also have a guide by the Honourable Anne McLellan. She spoke with all the former attorneys general. Her guide helps clarify the relationships between attorneys general and their colleagues in cabinet. The Prime Minister has already pledged to all Canadians that he will act on Ms. McLellan’s recommendations.
The combined processes of the justice committee and the commissioner, which took many hours, months and pages to complete, were detailed and thorough. It’s obvious to me, after hearing my honourable colleagues speak, that the opposition’s real objective is simply to play politics.
We're all thankful for the work of the commissioner's office in support of all members of the House at all times. The commissioner's report is quite detailed and Canadians have had a good opportunity to familiarize themselves with the content. The Prime Minister has thanked the commissioner and accepted the report.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Steve MacKinnon: Though he disagrees with the conclusions, especially when so many jobs were at stake—which is no laughing matter—he has already announced that steps will be taken to ensure that no government goes through a similar situation in the future.
This government, as any government, should take seriously the responsibility of standing up for jobs and growing the economy. It's the responsibility of any Prime Minister to stand up for people's jobs. In fact, it's the responsibility of all members of Parliament. People whose jobs are on the line should expect no less of their elected representatives.
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