That, in the opinion of the House, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner should be granted the authority to oversee and enforce the directives to Ministers listed in Open and Accountable Government in order to end the current practice of “cash-for-access” by ensuring there is no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians or political parties.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak today. I thank my colleague for seconding the motion, and of course all my colleagues on this side of the House who have been asking very pertinent, very relevant, and very tough questions in regard to this. In terms of what brought us to this point of having to move the motion, it is actually a sad day.
Before I get going, this will probably be my last opportunity to do a speech before we have Remembrance Day. I want to thank all of my colleagues in this place today who spoke so eloquently, so articulately, and so passionately about Veterans' Week. If allowed, I would add a little personal touch to this.
I want to thank my colleague, Yonah Martin in the Senate, who allowed me to sponsor a bill in the previous Parliament to recognize the Korean War Veterans Day. I would just add a personal story to this.
My grandfather, who I grew up with on the family farm, had three brothers. At the time, the policy of the Government of Canada was that one male would be allowed to stay home. Even though it was all voluntary that was the way it was decided. My grandfather Don was the lucky one who did not sign up to go to war. He was chosen to stay home and look after the family farm.
His brothers, Joe, Robert, and James, all served with the Canadian Armed Forces. Robert was killed in the Italian campaign and is buried at Coriano Ridge. James served with 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and was killed in February, a couple of weeks before the Battle at Kapyong in Korea, and is buried in Busan. His oldest brother, Joe landed on D-Day and survived. He was the only one of my grandfather's brothers who survived, or did he? Sadly, around the age of 60, after returning from the horrors of war, he took his own life after having a very tumultuous time.
It is very important that we recognize and honour those who made these sacrifices. I just wanted to get that on the record.
The reason I wanted to talk today about the motion, and am pleased to introduce it, is that the Prime Minister, upon his election, and the new Liberal government that we have here in Ottawa produced a document called “Open and Accountable Government”. It is a very large document and it contains a lot of words.
However, we do not know what some of these words actually mean. That is why we are using the motion today to get clarification on what the intent actually is. It is truly sad that I have to table a motion, calling on the Prime Minister to follow the rules he has here in his very own “Open and Accountable Government” document. However, here I am, calling on the Prime Minister to do something to make sure that Canadians can be confident in the business of the government, in the business of political activities.
Why is this important? Canadians need to have confidence that the people they send to Ottawa are acting in their best interests. I am not going to go back and do a litany of all of the things that have transpired before this. However, when somebody in the general public asks what someone else does, we laugh and chuckle and say, “I'm a lawyer”, and then the lawyer jokes ensue. If it is “I'm a politician”, then the politician jokes ensue.
It really should not ensue. Political life should be something that we aspire to. Asking for the opportunity to represent our constituents, our country, and to come here to do what is best on behalf of all Canadians is actually a very noble calling.
It is incumbent on each and every one of us in the House to then make sure that the reputations we have as individuals, but also the reputation of the institution, the institution of Parliament, the institution of the Government of Canada, and the federal government, which should be leading by example in all ways, actually maintain that trust and that sacred bond with the people of Canada.
We need to be open and transparent, and accountable for everything that we do, for everything that we say, and for all of the money that we spend. It is a clear principle. There should be no taxation without representation. We should understand how policy decisions are being made, and how influence is conducted here in Ottawa.
I am not going to say that all lobbyists are bad. I am not going to say that all politicians are bad. I am saying that in order to make sure that we are clear and above board, and have the trust of the Canadian public, we must do so in an open and accountable way.
Let us refer to the document that the Prime Minister has. It says, in his message to ministers:
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.
We have seen clearly in the House of Commons that when we ask questions with regard to this “Open and Accountable Government” document, they answer with just technical compliance with the Elections Canada laws, which is already a violation of the Prime Minister's own rules. It continues:
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.
Yet again, I will make the case. Time and again, when questions have been put to the government on this particular matter, on this document, the government's response is that they are hiding behind a lower bar, the bar that has been set with the Canada Elections Act financing, and of course, the bar that we have with the Lobbying Act, the ethics act, and the code of conduct for members of Parliament and ministers, and so on.
This document was meant to be a higher bar. It came in with much fanfare and was touted by the government as being the solution. However, what we are seeing is that it is not actually being utilized. It was all for show and there are no substantive changes that have been made.
I will remind folks of the issues pertaining to the Gomery Commission and so on. As I said, I do not want to dredge up all of that history. I am not here to do that today. However, it painted this institution, it painted politicians, and it painted government with a very negative brush. It is imperative that all of us make sure none of us in the House are painted with that brush again.
The document goes on to say:
You are accountable to Parliament for the exercise of the powers, duties and functions with which you have been entrusted. This requires you to be present in Parliament to answer honestly and accurately about your areas of responsibility, to take corrective action as appropriate to address problems that may arise in your portfolios...and to work with parliamentary colleagues of all political persuasions in a respectful and constructive manner.
That respectful and constructive manner should be that, at the end of the debate on this motion, we have an agreement in the House, absolutely, unequivocally, to pass the motion so that we can work and co-operate together and have the information from each other that we need, in order to govern this country wisely and in good conscience.
A general principle stated in the document is that:
...a public office holder should not participate in a political activity that is, or that may reasonably be seen to be, incompatible with the public office holder’s duty, or otherwise be seen to impair his or her ability to discharge his or her public duties in a politically impartial fashion, or would cast doubt on the integrity or impartiality of the office.
Canadians want to know. We have seen several cases where questions have been put in the House with regard to Apotex, for example, where we talked about the activities of the chairman of the board, who is actually actively organizing a fundraising campaign, a cash for access fundraiser, for Liberal cabinet ministers. Meanwhile, Apotex is suing the federal government. It is organizing a fundraiser for the Minister of Finance, the same Minster of Finance who sits on the cabinet litigation committee, deciding what the government strategy is on lawsuits that face the government. Apotex is actually throwing a fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Canada.
It just does not pass.
As the chair of the ethics committee, when we ask the Lobbying Commissioner and we ask the Ethics Commissioner to look into these matters, we do not get a satisfactory answer from them. They tell us, unequivocally, that they are unable to get access to the information that they need. They cannot get the information they need because they do not have the ability to enforce this document.
This is what the motion today is all about. The motion says we have an “Open and Accountable Government” document. It was tabled by the government. It is enforced by the Privy Council Office. Nobody, not the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Ethics Commissioner, the Lobbying Commissioner, actually has access to cabinet documents.
I am not suggesting that all members of Parliament have access to cabinet confidentiality, but to remove any perceived notions of conflicts of interest or ethical lapses, surely to goodness we can allow our commissioners to review this information to make sure everything is operating above board.
In annex B, Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, it says:
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.
This is not happening. A lot of questions are being asked. When the Minister of Justice appeared at a private event in Toronto hosted by a law firm at $1,500 a touch, one had to wonder what is going on. This was not an event where anybody could buy a ticket and go to it; this was a private event. There are more of these examples. One only has to scan the media, and the media are doing a very good job right now of chasing these things down.
We found more than 90 of these cash for access fundraisers, a vast number of them at the $1,525 maximum ticket price. That is a lot of coin. That is a lot of jingle. We are not talking about $50 to go to a fundraising dinner. We are not talking $75. We are talking about people who can shell out $1,525, without even blinking about it, and have direct access to ministers who are responsible for making decisions on behalf of the Government of Canada.
The document goes on to say:
There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
One only has to look at the recent appointment to the Halifax Port Authority, where the individual in question actually donated $1,525 to the Liberal Party and attended and helped organize an event for a land developer who will actually receive money from the federal government to host the same minister, the Minister of Finance again, who decides where that money will go.
These are interesting questions. Somebody ought to be able to find out and investigate whether this actually passes the ethical bar, because when this document is set up, the Prime Minister's own document, the rules that he is supposed to follow, the rules that his cabinet ministers are supposed to follow are enforced by the Privy Council office. Who does the Privy Council office report to? It reports to the Prime Minister. Is that not convenient? Is that not absolutely convenient. It sounds an awful lot like another government that is deeply admired by the Prime Minister, which might set up something like that and call it accountability.
We need third-party, objective eyes on this. The office of the Ethics Commissioner is an organization that is established as being very credible, very non-partisan, very effective in the work it does.
The Ethics Commissioner, in several cases when we have talked to her at committee, has said that she gives hard advice and soft advice. She has actually said this in committee. When I asked her about this, she said she gives hard advice based on the act and the code of conduct. This is where she has jurisdiction and where she has authority. She says that she could do more, not for her benefit but for the benefit of everybody in this room, if she had more access and was able to look into actual partisan political fundraising activities to see if there was an ethical breach or an ethical lapse.
She does not have that ability, but she does have the ability to give soft advice, and she says that she looks at all other documents. She looks at the document that the Prime Minister has on the Government of Canada's website, and she would provide soft advice. When I asked her the question in committee if she has recently given any soft advice, her reply was that she has given lots. I wonder why.
Just a couple of the examples I have given today would indicate, in my opinion, that the Ethics Commissioner has probably given advice to Liberal cabinet ministers, maybe even the Prime Minister himself. I do not know. I will trust that she is doing her job, but she has been giving lots of advice to make sure that these ethical lapses do not happen, not for her benefit, but for our benefit, for the benefit of all Canadians so that they can clearly see and understand and trust that nothing fishy is going on.
Right now, we just do not know, but when we put the dots up on the board somebody in grade 6 can connect them. That is how blatant this is. It is so obvious to everyone involved that something is not right.
Before I conclude, I want to highlight one other aspect that has recently come back into the media. That is a WikiLeaks email involving a visit by Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate, back in 2014. Glen McGregor has an article. Joan Bryden has published some articles on this. I wrote to the Ethics Commissioner some time ago and asked her to look into the relationships between Bluesky Strategy Group, Canada 2020, and the fundraising activities that this so-called independent think tank has actually been doing on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Here we have an organization, Canada 2020, which was started by Tim Barber and Susan Smith, who are well-known lobbyists with Bluesky. The president of Canada 2020 is Thomas Pitfield, who is married to none other than Anna Gainey, who is the president of the Liberal Party of Canada. They are having a conference here this week in Ottawa, funded by the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario.
We know through the emails that we've seen that this organization has organized meetings between Hillary Clinton and Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal Party of Canada and Canada 2020 tried to turn a meeting into a fundraiser, against the ethical standards of Hillary Clinton, if you can believe that. They have posted a number of opportunities to win a trip to meet somebody very influential on their website in the Liberal Party. Is that all within the technicalities of the rules? I am not sure, because the Ethics Commissioner is not allowed to go and investigate.
When I wrote my letter to the Ethics Commissioner, it was several pages long. I do not have time right now, although I would have loved to read it into the record. I put these questions to the Ethics Commissioner and the Lobbying Commissioner, and the Lobbying Commissioner at least has the ability, to a certain degree, to look into the lobbyist side of the equation. When the question was put last week at the committee, we found out that the Lobbying Commissioner is looking into this. The Lobbying Commissioner said there is enough information and enough doubt here that we need to have an investigation to make sure that the access to ministers is being properly recorded and everything is above board. The Ethics Commissioner, again, said that she would love nothing more than to look into these matters but she does not have the ability to do so.
What we need to do is seriously consider this motion. We need to take it as being very important because the reputations of this institution, the House of Commons, of political parties, even of Elections Canada, of the Ethics Commissioner, and of politicians in general hinge on this. It is absolutely very important.
We know that Canada 2020 and Bluesky Strategy, a lobbying firm—though I did not realize that think tanks needed lobbying firms—share the same building. They share the same people. They are getting money from the Government of Canada. They are organizing Liberal Party fundraisers. That is hardly what I would bill as an independent think tank. It does not pass the open and accountable government guidelines set out by the Prime Minister, in my opinion and in the opinions of virtually everybody sitting in opposition to the government, I would guess; and I am hopeful not even in the opinions of some of the members of the Liberal Party.
The solution is to shine the light on this. Let us open it up. Let us have the Ethics Commissioner take a look. Let us trust in her judgment, her wisdom, and her office to have all of the information to make a determination as to whether or not this is kosher.