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Results: 1 - 14 of 14
View Garnett Genuis Profile
CPC (AB)
Madam Speaker, today we are discussing a proposal by the government that is transparently ridiculous. I think my six-year-old daughter could well understand why it is ridiculous and government members should as well. It is a $600-million government bailout fund for some journalists and media organizations. The distribution of that fund is to be controlled by a committee that includes Jerry Dias and the leadership of Unifor. Unifor's leadership has made it clear that it will use workers' funds for electoral purposes. It will campaign to defeat the Conservatives in the next election and for the re-election of the Liberal government. It calls itself “The resistance” to the Conservatives.
Overtly partisan people are responsible for meting out dollars to journalists; that is for determining who is a journalist and who is not for the purpose of this funding and for determining who gets the money and who does not.
Our contention on this side of the House is that in defence of an independent press, we should not have overtly partisan individuals or entities responsible for meting out funds on the basis, supposedly, of supporting non-partisan journalism. This should be very clear. Having people who are actively involved in campaigning for one particular outcome in the election and also determining who is a journalist for the purposes of receiving funding is outrageous. It is beyond outrageous. I think members across the way would understand this very easily if the shoe were on the other foot.
That is why thus far in this debate members of the government are trying to avoid the real conversation about the real issue by all means necessary. They are making all sorts of other points that do not really address their decision to have partisan mechanisms handing out funding and deciding which journalists get funding.
Government members have talked about the important role that journalists play in our democracy. Of course we strongly agree with that. However, the most important tool that journalists have in their toolbox is a recognition of their credibility. Why do people choose to get their information from credible media organizations as opposed to blogs? Why do people go to nationalpost.com as opposed to liberal.ca to get their media? It is because of credibility. People understand. They hope that when they go to a media organization they trust, they can expect the information to be credible, accurate and non-partisan.
When the government intervenes by determining who gets funding and who does not, it is undermining the perception of credibility in the press by the public. Thus, it makes the job of independent professional journalists that much more difficult. The government is eroding public confidence in the fourth estate and it is doing so for its own interests.
If the government really cares about defending the vital work our independent press does, it should actually listen to what members of the press are saying about the proposal.
Don Martin from CTV says, “The optics of journalism associations and unions deciding who picks the recipients of government aid for journalism are getting very queasy.”
Andrew Coyne says, “It is quite clear now, if it was not already: this is the most serious threat to the independence of the press in this country in decades.”
Jen Gerson from CBC says, “If any of these associations or unions could be trusted to manage this “independent” panel, they would be denouncing it already.”
David Akin says, “I am a Unifor member and had no choice about that when I joined @globalnews. Unifor never consulted its membership prior to this endorsement. Had I been asked, I would have argued it should make no partisan endorsements.” He says “Jerry: I invite you to visit with Unifor members who are also members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. I’ll set the meeting up. You will learn first-hand how much damage you are doing to the businesses that employ us, to our credibility and how terribly uninformed you are.”
Chris Selley, from the National Post, says, “Liberals' media bailout puts foxes in charge of the chickens.”
Chantal Hébert says, “Among the ranks of the political columnists, many fear it is a poison pill that will eventually do the news industry more harm than good.”
That is quite a list of intelligent, thoughtful journalists who comment on a range of different issues and who are known and have recognized names in Canadian democracy.
If the government says that its goal is to defend independent journalists like Don Martin, Jen Gerson, Andrew Coyne, David Akin and Chantal Hébert, then maybe it should listen to those independent journalists, because they understand that when the government pursues policies that undermine their perceived credibility in the eyes of the public, it makes it more difficult—not easier, but more difficult—for independent journalists.
Members of the government talk about an independent press. They talk about how having Unifor on a panel that doles out government funds and determines which journalists get the money and which do not, how having overtly partisan mechanisms controlling which journalists get funding and which who do not, is somehow in defence of an independent press. That is very Orwellian. War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength. It is Orwellian to say that government partisans doling out funding arbitrarily to media organizations of their choice is a way to maintain the independence of the press.
Canadians should be concerned about it because journalists are concerned about it. Not only is it a waste of taxpayers' money and not only is the government trying to intervene to stack the deck in its favour for the next election, but it undermines the independence of the press and it creates greater challenges for the press as they try to do their job. It makes it harder for them to fight back against those who are challenging their credibility.
In response to this, Jerry Dias from Unifor said that he is entitled to his free speech. I agree that all Canadians are entitled to free speech, but he is not entitled to use Canadians' tax dollars to promote those particular views.
Further, we expect certain positions in our democracy to be independent. We expect budgets not to be involved in overtly partisan politics. We expect the Clerk of the Privy Council not to be involved in overtly partisan politics—oops—and we expect some of these people to be outside of speaking about elections and parties. We certainly expect that the people responsible for doling out funding to journalists or deciding which organizations get the money would indeed be independent and would be separate from politics.
This is about preserving the independence of our institutions. We on this side of the House stand for preserving the independence of those institutions. It is not good enough to say it; we have to actually leave those institutions alone and not interfere with them. We should not interfere in the independence of our journalists, our public servants, or the functions of our judicial system, which is another problem. There are so many cases of the Liberals not respecting the independence of our institutions and interfering with them, and they are doing it again with respect to independent media.
The government's argument is that Unifor should be represented because it represents journalists. Here are some important numbers: Unifor is a very large union, representing over 300,000 people. There are about 12,000 journalists in that number; less than 5% of the membership are journalists, so this is not an organization that speaks uniquely and exclusively for journalists. In fact, journalists represent a very small part of the overall membership of the organization, so claiming that Jerry Dias can speak particularly for journalists in the context of public policy and advocacy widely misses the mark, especially since we hear so many journalists speaking out against this situation.
This is part of a broader pattern. We see repeatedly by the Liberal government efforts to stack the deck in its favour to undermine the independence of our institutions. We saw this first with the electoral system, when the government wanted to change the electoral system to its advantage and wanted to do it without a referendum. When the consultations came back and were different from what the government wanted, it ordered another round of consultations, again trying to stack the deck. The government tried to change the electoral system to its advantage and it failed. We called the government out on it.
The government also tried to change the Standing Orders of this place. Without the agreement of all parties, it tried to bring in automatic closure, again undermining the role of the opposition in the House of Commons. The government has tried to do this multiple times, but we successfully stood against it.
We called on the government to clamp down on foreign interference in elections; it refused to act on that.
The government has unilaterally acted to control the structure of the leadership debate. It has pushed through other changes to the Canada Elections Act that allow third party groups to massively outspend political parties in the pre-election period. The government did that to stack the deck.
Now again we see, in its efforts to undermine the independence of the media by having overtly partisan people controlling the handouts that are going to media, that the government is again trying to stack the deck in its favour.
The government does not respect the independence of the media. It does not respect the independence of Parliament. It does not respect the independence of the opposition, and that more than anything else is the reason that the Liberal government must be defeated.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
CPC (AB)
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak to a piece of legislation on an issue for which I have been flooded with correspondence from constituents. This is something that resonates for Canadians.
I want to pick up on something my colleague just said. He said the best thing about the bill is that it has helped him learn how to pronounce the word “statistician”. I agree that this might be the only good thing about the bill. There are many things about the bill that are much worse, and it may be that the parliamentary secretary is finally coming around to the opposition's perspective on this bill. Hopefully, by the end of my remarks we will have sealed the deal in getting the government to realize the problems and, having benefited from the pronunciation exercise associated with the debate, agreeing with us in voting down this legislation.
Before I get into more detail, I want to pick up on the parliamentary secretary's response to my question. One of the provisions of the bill is that it would establish the Canadian statistics advisory council, which would replace the National Statistics Council. One might infer from the names that they are not that different from each other, and one would be correct. One has 13 members and the other 10 members, but when we do away with one council and replace it with another, that is a great opportunity to appoint 10 entirely new people, as if we would not notice in the opposition what is going on in that respect.
To get some clarification, I have to ask my friend across the way what could possibly motivate this legislative change, which effectively allows the government to do away with the existing council and then appoint 10 new good Liberals—I mean, good, qualified appointees—to this panel.
His response is quite revealing in its lack of detail. He tells us participation rates were uneven. Essentially, they did not think people on the council were as good as they could have been, so they have to completely change things so they can appoint a new council. Of course, we will be watching to see the extent to which the government uses this tactic. I really hope that none of the people on this new statistics advisory council were involved in developing the instrument for the government's electoral reform consultation.
There are some real problems with the government's approach to appointments in general and, I would argue, more broadly with its approach to statistics and how it considers science and information on a variety of issues, so I am going to take this opportunity to talk a bit about that as well as to talk about some of the specific provisions in this legislation.
The bill is partly seen by the government as an opportunity to try to push an important political message, which is that it really wants to associate its brand with evidence-based policy. We hear this rhetoric out of the government a lot. I think I speak for the entire official opposition in saying that we believe in evidence-based policy. We believe in data-driven decision making. For us, it is not just a slogan.
The member for Spadina—Fort York is heckling me again. I am sure he is preparing a great question about Ayn Rand again, which he is able to relate to all subjects in this place. I look forward to those comments, based on the member's extensive reading of that author.
If I could get back to my comments, for us as Conservatives, evidence-based decision-making is not just a slogan. It is not just something we want to put in the window. We actually look at the evidence and the details and we apply that information across a range of issues. If we look at the approach the government has taken across a range of files, we will see its total lack of regard for the evidence.
I will cite a few examples, because we have seen and debated examples in the House of the government not being interested in looking at science. The most obvious example of its complete disregard for evidence when it comes to policy-making is its approach to pipeline approval.
On this side of the House we believe that there is an independent process for pipeline review. There is an independent body, the National Energy Board, that collects data, conducts hearings in a reasonable time frame, and provides a report back. By and large, when the government gets a report from an independent consultative body like that, it should be listening. This actually accords with the rhetorical approach of the government.
An independent body is providing advice based on science. What is not to like? However, members of the government actually do not like that very much because, when it comes to pipeline approvals, they want to preserve the ability for the government or the cabinet—and they have clearly shown an intention to use that ability—to reject approvals that are made by independent, impartial, science-based decision-makers at the National Energy Board.
We have seen this anti-science approach when it comes to the northern gateway pipeline, an important pipeline project that would have provided market access for our energy resources, which was approved by the NEB with conditions. It was then approved by the previous government with conditions, and now we have a new government not only rejecting that but bringing in legislation to not allow tanker traffic out of northern B.C.
We know in that context that there is a great deal of tanker traffic off the coast of B.C. coming from Alaska. We have every reason to believe it is going to increase, and yet we have this unscientific—anti-science, in fact—decision by the government members. They are motivated by a political calculus that ignores the actual reality.
When we have the government coming forward with legislation, when the Liberals talk about the importance of science-based decision-making and of statistics, it is important to pose this question. Why are they not listening to the clear evidence when it comes to pipeline approval? Why are they not listening to that evidence?
I can give another example, and this is probably the clearest example of the government's disregard for good statistical methods. That was the Liberals' approach on the issue of changes to the electoral system. There was a process in place whereby a parliamentary committee representing all members of Parliament came back with some good recommendations about how the government could proceed with the implementation of something that was actually an election commitment. That reflected the fact that many Canadians had input into the committee process. Generally speaking, parliamentary committees only hear from experts. I do not think the committee did any sort of explicitly quantitative work, but it did a great deal of qualitative work gathering opinions of Canadians and hearing those perspectives. It came back with a recommendation that a referendum be done with respect to possible different electoral systems.
After that, because the government members did not like the result of what was a good process for engaging and consulting Canadians, they decided to come up with their own process, which was obviously from a statistical perspective highly suspect. It was to have an online consultation that gets people's feelings about things that might have some kind of approximate relationship to questions around electoral systems, but not actually ask the direct obvious questions. We could not ask people if they favour a system that is more proportionate or less proportionate, has certain kinds of possible outcomes, etc. It was generally about feelings and sentiment-based calculations, and through that process, the government decided it would not proceed with it.
This was an attempt, given that the first analysis of public perspectives did not seem to produce the results the Liberals wanted, to reorganize and contort and manipulate the mechanism of consultation to not ask explicit questions but instead to contort the process to try to ensure they had the result they wanted and in the end to justify a political decision, which at that point had probably already been made, which was to back away. This is another case where we see a real disregard for the process of science, of gathering evidence, of consulting with Canadians.
I should also mention that we have the government's disregard for the science when it comes to the risks associated with marijuana use, and we have the Liberals' decision to bring forward legislation to legalize marijuana in spite of the clear risks to young people, as I said, choosing an age that does not at all reflect the science.
The Liberals have been criticized by all kinds of experts for setting the age at 18, for example. There is a great deal of evidence that, even if we were going to legalize it, we should recognize that there are substantial risks and scientifically demonstrated associations between early use of marijuana, even relatively occasional use, and mental health challenges later in life.
That evidence exists, yet in spite of good advice from experts on this issue, the government again has shown that it does not take evidence-based policy-making seriously when it comes to pipelines, electoral reform, and now in this case, the issue of marijuana. We have a government that does not look at or listen to the evidence. Instead, it wants to try to twist and contort how it presents statistical information in a way that is based on a predetermined, preset political agenda. This might satisfy the Liberals' political calculus, but it does not accord with the kinds of principles, the kind of lofty objectives they frequently talk about.
By the way, every time we have a debate about science in the House, it is interesting to see the way the Liberals try to politicize the issues. I remember a case during question period where we had a member who has spent decades working as a scientist asking the Minister of Science a question. The minister said that it was good to see the member finally taking an interest in science. In fact, it was the member for Sarnia—Lambton, who has a long history of working and being involved in scientific development. It shows the very political lens through which the government views this.
Therefore, it is with that in mind, with the level of concern about the way the government uses these words and about its actual record when it comes to evidence-based decision-making, that we approach this legislation. It is legislation that contains a number of elements that raise big questions about what is actually going on and what the government is trying to do.
I spoke earlier, and I want to develop this point a little more, about a specific provision in the bill, which is this new council that the Liberals want to set up. The bill would establish a Canadian statistics advisory council, which would replace the National Statistics Council. I am sure what we are going to hear, and maybe members have already said this, is that there will be an open process for applications, anybody can apply, they will be evaluated dispassionately based on fair and neutral criteria, and they will come to the conclusion that in fact reveals that, well, the best people were former Liberal Party donors, cabinet ministers, or something like that.
The government's record with respect to appointments all the way along is very spotty. There are major questions out there about how the government actually comes to its appointment decisions. I think there are a number of examples that we could talk about that are fairly obvious. For instance, we had the government promising an independent process with respect to senators, and yet, strikingly, the senators that the government appointed are very much voting with government. How could that be? It is almost as if there was a political lens applied to those appointments. Just because the Liberals say something does not make it true. If we look at the evidence, the voting records of those appointed suggests certainly that this is not a dispassionate calculus based on some politically neutral criteria at all. They are trying to send that message even though it does not accord with the reality.
Of course, there is the fiasco in this place around the appointment of a new Commissioner of Official Languages. We had different messages given by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and by a witness at committee—I think the Commissioner of Official Languages appointee herself—saying essentially different things about the conversations that took place in the lead-up to the decision around that appointment. We had repeated questions for the Minister of Canadian Heritage about what conversations were had and how those decisions were made. In the end, it was always a deflection rather than a direct response to the question about that appointment.
However, the reality is that we had a provincial Liberal cabinet minister who the government intended to put in the position, which is a very important office and supposed to be an independent officer of Parliament. Obviously, that person took a step back when it was clear this was not something that was going to be accepted. However, it was not inevitable that would happen, and the government's consistent defence of that appointment decision obviously raises real red flags when we look at the fact that the Liberals are bringing forward legislation that would allow them to entirely reappoint this statistics advisory body.
With all these different appointment issues in the mix, this leads up to what is one critical position, the Ethics Commissioner. The Prime Minister has recused himself, supposedly, from being involved in the appointment of the Ethics Commissioner. However, he has given that power over to the government House leader, someone who clearly serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. It is hard to imagine that there would not be some kind of a conversation that would take place, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, especially given that there may have been conversations that took place around the Commissioner of Official Languages, and yet we had different things said in different places, by different people who were supposed to be part of that conversation, about what conversations actually did and did not take place.
There is a huge credibility problem with the government when it comes down to who it is putting in place for these appointments. When we look at a bill like this, it is worth asking who is actually going to be involved in the appointments. How can the opposition, as we look at this legislation, have any kind of certainty that, as the government gets rid of one body on the basis of what the parliamentary secretary called “participation rates” being uneven, we will see something quite different, and that we will see a body that will actually, in effect, increase the government's control of it.
The government can talk about independent bodies, groups, and agencies and oversight mechanisms all it wants, but then we have to look at how those are formed, who is putting them in place, and who is appointing those people to those positions. If we do not have confidence that the government is actually looking at merit, if it is clear, based on the past track record of the government, and I think it is, that it is only making these appointments or predominantly making these appointments on the basis of partisan criteria, then we cannot, at all, have confidence in the way in which that decision is going to unfold.
I do want to make an additional point with respect to this legislation, and that is that this legislation does not directly affect whether we have a mandatory long form census. We currently have a mandatory long form census, and that will not be changed either way with respect to this legislation. It is not necessary to pass it in order to achieve what clearly is a stated objective of the government, which is to have that mandatory long form census in place.
Other provisions of this bill are evident but are not really the ones I have chosen to dwell on in my speech, but I do want to draw the attention of members to them nonetheless. The bill involves the appointment of a chief statistician during “good behaviour” for a fixed renewable term of five years. It does mean that once a chief statistician is in place, it is at least much more difficult for the government to remove that individual. It also, of course, brings us back to this question of how we can actually trust the government to make credible appointments, if we consider the track record of the government when it comes to those appointments.
The legislation also says that the minister will no longer be able to issue directives on methods, procedures, and operations. The minister will still be able to issue directives on sort of a broad scope of statistical programs, but it will no longer be up to him or her to dictate methods, procedures, and operations.
I have to say I do think the government has a very poor track record when it comes to determining statistical methods, if we judge from the way it organized consultations on the issue of changes to the electoral system. I certainly would not want to see the government manipulating those dynamics around statistical methods and operations. Again, we have observed what the likely problems would be if it were trying to essentially do the same thing that it has already done with regard to other statistical issues, and that is shape the way in which those consultations took place in order to achieve a particular outcome. The broad problem is still there, given the remaining authority and given the issue of appointments.
To summarize very quickly, the main problems that I brought attention to in the legislation are this.
First, we have seen the government's clear lack of willingness to take evidence-based decision-making beyond a slogan. It is clearly a slogan it repeats over and over. However, from the way in which it makes decisions, there is no evidence it is something it considers.
There is also the issue of the lack of credibility the government has with respect to appointments and the way in which those always seem to reflect a partisan criteria.
On that basis, we will be opposing the bill.
View Sylvie Boucher Profile
CPC (QC)
A happy Friday to you, Mr. Speaker, and to all of my good friends.
I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak in favour of Bill C-22. I will use my time to defend my point of view and common sense, which seems to be lacking across the way.
Before I get into the substance of the bill, I would like to comment on how the party in power always uses the same tactic when it knows the media and Canadians will take a dim view of its decisions. It sure likes to make itself look cute.
Here is an example of the government's sneaky tactics: it introduced Bill C-22 on June 16 of last year during the dying hours of the session to ensure that neither MPs nor the public would have much opportunity to debate it.
Here is another example. The Minister of Finance tabled a report indicating that the deficit would be $30 billion, not the modest $10-billion deficit they campaigned on. Any deficit at all is hard to swallow. My children and grandchildren will have to pay for it, but apparently the members opposite do not have grandchildren, so they do not care.
Finally, here is the last example. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons tabled a document stipulating that the Prime Minister should have to be in the House to answer questions only one hour a week, and that the House should meet only four days week in order to balance work and family. Now that is what I call being a part-time prime minister.
I will now get into the substance of the debate, specifically, Bill C-22. I have no objection to the idea of creating a committee whose members would be tasked with examining and reviewing the legislative, regulatory, strategic, financial, and administrative frameworks of national security and intelligence. What bothers me is how this committee will be formed. I have some concerns about that.
First and foremost, public safety is a non-partisan issue. The fact that the Prime Minister's Office decided way back in January who would chair that committee, before the committee was even struck, says a lot about the Prime Minister's attitude towards the members of the House of Commons.
That decision was made by the Liberal Party alone and not as a result of discussions with the other parties. What is more, the Liberals made this decision without consulting the House, even though hon. members expressed interest in being part of the discussion to select the chair of this important committee. Public safety is very important and should never be a partisan issue.
For its part, the Prime Minister's Office will also be tasked with selecting the committee members, contrary to the election promise made by the member for Papineau, meaning that the committee members will be beholden to him and the committee will no longer able to do what it is asked to do. It will not meet the needs of Canadians, but rather those of the Prime Minister himself, as he sees fit. He will be lord and master as usual. Making the committee not as independent as it should be undermines its usefulness and legitimacy.
Under Bill C-22 the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness will have the authority to change or simply block any report drafted by the committee members. The Prime Minister will therefore yet again be lord and master of the committee. I think he rather likes being lord and master. He should consider the fact that there are members in the House who like doing their job.
Perhaps he does not like it, but we like to speak on behalf of our constituents. Is that not why we were elected to the House? There is a song about the world's kings being at the top, but alone. The Prime Minister should think about that. Someone should buy him a mirror. I think he would like that.
I will elaborate. If the report contained information that the Prime Minister or the Minister of Public Safety considered to be sensitive, they would have the right to delete it from the report. That is unacceptable. By “sensitive information” I do not mean confidential information that would harm Canadians' safety if it were disclosed. I am talking about parts of the report that would reflect poorly on the Liberal Party because they would demonstrate its incompetence and bad judgment when making decisions. Our public safety critic gave a very good explanation of the situation.
He said:
If we are going to implement parliamentary oversight, we need to do it right. It needs to be real and substantial oversight. It needs to be parliamentary. Otherwise, this is simply a Liberal Party communications exercise, and this is not something the Conservative Party can support.
It is very important to remember that the Liberals want a committee of parliamentarians and not a parliamentary committee. There is a big difference. The committee should be an independent body that is not accountable to the party in power. Rather, it must guarantee Canadians that their safety is assured in a legal and professional manner.
I am extremely troubled by the fact that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety could have the last word on the reports of a so-called independent committee. Furthermore, it is truly important that the committee members already have experience handling secret information or experience with public safety, national security, intelligence, and defence issues.
That is one more reason why the leaders of all the parties should be consulted. They could ensure that we have the best parliamentarians for the important task they will be doing.
I would like to close by saying that I cannot support such a bill, unless some major changes are made. First, the opposition parties must be consulted before the committee members are chosen. Second, the committee's autonomy and independence from the Government of Canada must be respected in order to prevent the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety from interfering. Finally, I think that strict criteria must be maintained and that parliamentarians with extensive experience in the fields that I mentioned earlier must be selected so that the committee can provide top-notch service to all Canadians.
We are talking here about public safety. That is extremely important, and this committee must be independent. It must be specialized and non-partisan. However, the Liberal government took the liberty of appointing the committee chair in January without any consultation. The Liberals refused to consult with the opposition parties before the legislative measure was even drafted, despite the willingness of the Conservative Party and the NDP to discuss this important committee.
Like our Five Eyes allies, we think that the members of this committee should have significant experience in dealing with secret information, public safety, national security, intelligence, and defence. The chair who has been appointed does not have that type of experience. The committee members are appointed by and accountable to the Prime Minister's Office.
They should be appointed by Parliament and report to Parliament. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister advocated for a reduced role for the Prime Minister's Office, but no action has been taken in that regard.
Bill C-22 would provide for numerous exceptions, and it permits government departments and agencies to opt out of providing certain information to the committee. This undermines the committee's oversight responsibilities and prevents it from fully carrying out its mandate.
Here on the Conservative benches, as the official opposition, we see public safety as a priority and believe that protecting our security and intelligence officers must be a primary concern. We will examine the bill closely, but we remain concerned about the attempts being made by the Prime Minister's Office and the Liberal Part to make this committee another arm of the Liberal government.
The Prime Minister's comments are becoming increasingly totalitarian, despite his promises to be more transparent. Members across party lines are being silenced, even though we were sent here to represent Canadians. He wants to shut us up. The Prime Minister of Canada will never, ever shut me up. If he ever has the nerve to try, I will go straight to the media and shout at the top of my lungs that this prime minister has become a dictator.
We have a committee that is working so hard for the measures that the leader implemented. It is unacceptable to me that the Prime Minister, who was duly elected by the people and who knew what he was in for when he ran for his party leadership, should sit for just one hour a week. That is ridiculous. Do we have a part-time Canadian Prime Minister on our hands? When will he be accountable to Canadians? This is his job; this is what he is supposed to be doing.
What about the unfortunate Quebeckers working on that side, the 40 members who have been skewered by the Quebec media because we never hear from them? Has the Prime Minister shut them up too? Are they expected to keep quiet about the things that bother them?
People can say what they want about Mr. Harper, they can love him or hate him, but he listened to his Quebec MPs. We sat down with him every day in the lobby. He was always asking us how things were going in Quebec.
Have you had that kind of conversation with your Prime Minister? I highly doubt it. Have you Quebeckers on that side of the House ever sat down with your Prime Minister? Has he ever paid attention to what is going on in your ridings—
View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blaine Calkins Profile
2016-11-03 10:32 [p.6513]
moved:
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.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2016-11-03 11:03 [p.6517]
Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise to speak inside this wonderful chamber. I truly thank the constituents of Winnipeg North who have allowed me to be here to respond issues, whether it be this issue or what we witnessed earlier with the special tribute for Remembrance Day, for members both past and present of our Canadian Forces, and for the sacrifices they have made.
I would like to echo the many remarks toward our vets that have been put on the record today and, as a government member, express our best wishes in going forward and encouraging people to participate in Remembrance Day on November 11.
I will be very specific on a few points. When we talk about democracy and, in this case, what the Conservative Party has raised over a number of days, it is important for Canadians not to be deceived by the misinformation of the Conservative Party. Therefore, I will hit on some very specific points that need to be reinforced.
First, the federal rules are some of the strongest in the country, and donations and contributions are made in an open and transparent fashion. In fact, in some provinces, individuals can donate in the tens of thousands of dollars, and others do not have any limits on contributions. In addition, some provinces accept donations from unions, trade associations, and corporations. This is not the case in the federal system. We follow all the rules and the laws around fundraising. We are proud that we have one of the strictest regimes around fundraising for political parties.
Our government spends a tremendous amount of time working hard for Canadians across the country, whether it is meeting with crowds, individuals, or listening to consumer groups, small businesses, and the like. We are engaged so we can deliver for Canadians, and Canadians know that.
Our government has embarked on unprecedented levels of public consultations to ensure we respond to the very real challenges that Canadians face. This is why we did things like raise taxes on the wealthiest 1% and lowered them for the middle class. Canadians wanted these things.
There is no preferential access to this government. This government is demonstrating the most open and transparent approach, not just in following the rules but in being more engaged with Canadians than any previous government. We are consulting and we are engaged. The fact is that listening to Canadians is what is allowing us to deliver for Canadians, as we have been doing for the past year and as we will continue to be doing.
For over a year now, the members opposite have been criticizing this government regularly for engaging Canadians too much, for being too open and accessible, for consulting regularly with Canadians and demonstrating the most open and accessible government our country has ever seen. The Conservatives have been critical of that.
We, of course, follow all the rules and ensure we engage with Canadians. We are listening to them in the most positive and respectful way possible. All members of Parliament and all parties fundraise, and we all abide by the exact same rules, rules that were put in place by the previous government. When the rules are followed, no conflicts of interest can exist. We will continue to follow all of the rules.
There are a number of things I would like to share with the House.
Before he became Prime Minister and was the leader of the Liberal Party, the issue of proactive disclosure came up. A number of my colleagues from all parties will recall that particular initiative. The Liberal Party had third-party status and a relatively small caucus. Our leader stood up and asked for the unanimous consent of the House to bring in proactive disclosure. No matter how often he attempted to do it, we could not get unanimous support to make it happen. However, the leader of the Liberal Party did not stop there. He then indicated that if the House were not prepared to go there, the Liberal Party was, and all members of the Liberal caucus were obligated to abide by proactive disclosure. Even at the expense of the party, we went for proactive disclosure. To the credit of the Harper government, the Conservative Party did likewise months after we made that commitment. That party followed the leadership of the Liberal Party. Months afterward and following a Liberal opposition motion, we were able to garner unanimous support for proactive disclosure. New Democrats finally joined with us.
I say this because we do not have to play second fiddle to other parties in the chamber when it comes to public accountability and transparency and making sure that we are doing things right. The leader of the third party at that time clearly demonstrated that, and is clearly demonstrating that as the Prime Minister of Canada now.
No laws have been broken. The Conservatives can try to conspire and make all sorts of accusations, but the bottom line is that Canada has some of the most stringent laws in place to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. Members of the Liberal cabinet and this government are following the laws of our land so that there cannot be any conflict of interest. The members across the way know that. They are just being mischievous and trying to create something that is not there.
I am a strong democrat who believes in the parliamentary system. I am not going to be intimidated by someone who gives me a $1,500 donation, a $1,000 donation, or a $500 donation. I am accessible to my constituents. I am going to advertise what I do at this point. Every Saturday from 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock, I am at the local McDonald's, meeting with constituents. I have been doing this for over 20 years. What influences me personally is when I hear a good case from my constituents. I take that to my caucus colleagues and to the floor of the House. A good example of that is the reunification of families, because that is an area of huge interest to my constituents. Virtually every other week, whether at the local restaurant or by email or phone calls, my constituents get in touch with me or my office. That influences me personally.
Democracy is an important aspect to who we are individually and who we are as a society. I have had donations in excess of $1,000 and I could not tell anyone the names of all of those individuals. I might be able to list one or two. Do I appreciate these donations? Absolutely. I also appreciate the individuals who volunteer for my campaign. Some people are not in a position to give a cash donation but are more than happy to donate their labour or their time, and they do that in a multitude of ways. Some will assist me and the Liberal Party by knocking on doors and putting up signs. I do not feel indebted to them. I do not feel like I have to bring up every one of their issues on the floor of the House of Commons, unless, of course, it is an issue that I concur with. These individuals are just as important as those who donate to my campaign.
What are we going to see next? Are the opposition benches going to say that so-and-so volunteered a lot on a member's campaign and that it is a conflict of interest because he is influencing the member? It would be bizarre to think so. I have dinners in riding on many occasions and people often have to pay for them. Sometimes I will have a social activity and get hundreds of constituents attending at $10 a pop to participate. Other times I will get a $1,000 donation, and other times I will have a $100 dinner and they will participate. It is all about democracy.
Whether people are putting up signs, making telephone calls, going door to door, delivering brochures, or donating because they do not have the time to work directly on a campaign, I respect all of it. I do not give them preferential treatment. As for accessibility, come to my local McDonald's any Saturday and I am there. I might miss one or two Saturdays a year, but I like to think that I am accessible. I am no different from many, if not most, of the members in the chamber. I believe we all appreciate it.
Does the Conservative Party not have fundraisers in which they charge money? Of course they do. Even the New Democrats do. If we want to change or improve some of the laws, let us propose a study in committee and have a debate on how we might want to look at making some changes to the election laws to enhance them. That is something all members are entitled to do. It could also be done in private members' bills, but do not try to give the impression that laws have been broken when they have not been. I have seen election laws broken in the past and seen the party across the way violate those laws. The members sitting on the other side of the House should not point and throw stones at a glass house when they have been in violation of election laws.
What we have witnessed here is a government that is truly open and transparent on a wide variety of issues. If the members opposite want to talk about accessibility and the Minister of Finance having dinners, tell me about any other minister of finance who has been as accessible to input on budgetary matters as the current minister has been? Let me save the work for them, because they will not find another minister of finance who has been so aggressive in wanting to hear what Canadians have to say about the budget and the next budget. Even Mr. Flaherty was nowhere near to being as close to the public as this government has been in its consultations. I can assure members of that.
We are not always talking about thousands, but about tens of thousands, and we are talking about many different ways, not just through the Internet. In fact, we have a Minister of Finance and a parliamentary secretary who go into many different regions of our country to listen to what Canadians have to say.
Some hon. members: Sunny ways for a price.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Yes, Mr. Speaker, sunny ways, the members are right. We are for sunny ways.
What we are doing is that we are moving—
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2016-11-03 11:17 [p.6518]
Mr. Speaker, for the member who heckled, he is going to put it on his Facebook page. Make sure I am linked to it. I do not know exactly how Facebook works, but I would be happy to be linked.
Let me comment on sunny ways. There is a great deal of merit in recognizing, as the Prime Minister has consistently challenged us to do, that there is always a better way of doing things and that we do not have to settle. We have seen the Minister of Finance take that advice to heart. He has indicated very clearly that he wants to listen to Canadians.
Look at the value and the return we have witnessed from that in the last year. I had someone come to the local McDonald's not that long ago who said to me that this government had achieved more in the first year than the previous Harper government did in the last 10 years. That is not the first time I have heard that particular comment. Where do members think these ideas and suggestions are coming from?
These suggestions are coming through the consultations by, and the accessibility of, the many ministers who are going out and doing what this Prime Minister has asked them to do, to consult and work with Canadians. It goes beyond that, because members of Parliament are also being asked to do this in an apolitical fashion. We say not only to Liberal members of Parliament but to all members of Parliament that they should do what is ultimately in the best interests of Canadian society, and to get out and listen to what Canadians are saying.
I do it every week. I would like to think that we all want to play a very strong role. We can learn a lot from this, when we take a look at the budget, for example. I have had the good fortune of talking about the economic update and the budget twice this week. In those two documents, there was talk about seniors. If members consult, as we have with seniors, they will find that there is wide support for increasing the guaranteed income supplement, helping tens of thousands of seniors to get out poverty. Canadians want that.
Members will also find that there is wide support for the Canada child benefit, which is going to lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty. Again, Canadians want that. Moreover, members will find that Canadians wanted us to reduce the age of eligibility for OAS from 67 to 65. This is something the out-of-touch Conservatives increased from 65 to 67, when they said no to the OAS and increased the age of retirement. We reversed that because we were listening to what Canadians were saying, not only to the Minister of Finance but to many others as well.
I think we should all be very cognizant of the fact that democracy means that there has to be some form of finances. If other members have ideas on how to deal with it, they should bring those up at one of the committees or have some off-line discussions, but they should not try to give an impression of something that is just not true.
There are no laws being broken on this side of the House in regard to financial matters. To try to suggest otherwise is just wrong. To the member who moved this particular motion and started his speech by saying that sometimes people do not think nicely about us as politicians and so forth, that member and the Conservative have a choice. They are choosing to try to give an impression that is absolutely false.
Nothing has gone wrong on this front. I do not know about other members across the way, but I assure the hon. member that I, as a politician, am not going to be bought off by a $1,500 donation. I appreciate individuals who donate to my campaigns and to my political party, or to any political party. It is hard for democracy to work if there is no money. People should not kid themselves, because that is only one aspect of democracy.
When members talk about a slippery slope, let me suggest the real slippery slope here is that if they continue to exaggerate something that is just not valid, it will then become a slippery slope in terms of democracy.
I look forward to seeing how the New Democrats are going to be voting on the motion. My recommendation to them is to reflect on the laws, which they have followed, and I will reserve my thoughts more specific to the New Democrats after I have heard their position. However, I trust they will support democracy, the laws that are here. The fact is, no laws have been broken. Therefore, there can be no conflict.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on the record. It is always a privilege to stand in this place.
View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in this place and join the debate today. I am proud to be splitting my time with the member for Foothills.
I would like to talk a bit about money and preferential access.
In C.E.S Franks's book, The Parliament of Canada, written in the mid-1980s, he talked about the issue of members of Parliament. Originally members of Parliament in England oftentimes were served a notice akin to jury duty. They would be expected to represent their area and to go to Parliament. Back then Parliament was quite new, and this was often considered a burden by many people because it would take them away from home and would often require them to resolve tough issues. As an institution, Parliament was still quite young. Oftentimes even Speakers were threatened with violence. It is documented that many MPs would leave England when they found out they were appointed to represent their area.
It was not until later when the institution of Parliament began to strengthen and the individual roles of members of Parliament began to become stronger that preferential access was seen. Members of Parliament would count on patrons, usually quite wealthy people, to fund their campaigns, with the expectation of a quid pro quo in return.
Obviously, over the years our country has grown in its own institutions, as has Great Britain. I am proud to be a Canadian. I am proud of the rules that we have right now, but as the Prime Minister always likes to say, “better is always possible”.
I am going to address some of the issues with respect to the government's position right now when it comes to enforcing its “Open and Accountable Government” document. I hope all sides of the House will welcome my contribution, because one of the key tenets of democracy is that members of Parliament can speak up, even if what they say may be uncomfortable.
I have spent a lot of time exploring ways that pertain to conflict of interest, particularly how we can ensure that Canadians can have trust in our institutions, which sometimes means that we give our institutions more teeth in a parliamentary sense.
First, let us discuss where there is a problem, using some real world examples. The Prime Minister in his earlier years as the MP for Papineau, and before his election as leader of the Liberal Party, engaged in paid public speaking engagements. What is fascinating about that is while an individual cannot be gifted financial benefits from special interest groups, it turns out that the person can take thousands of dollars if they give a paid speech. In the case of the Prime Minister, it turns out that he was paid thousands of dollars by unions to give speeches, and surprise, surprise, one of the first things he did after taking power, as mentioned by a member earlier, was to repeal union financial disclosure. Ironically, the very law that would have revealed exactly who was getting paid by unions to give paid speeches was repealed by a politician who was paid by unions to give speeches. That is one of the reasons why at the federal level we treat donations from unions and corporations the way we do. However, keep in mind that taking money for a paid speech is potentially a loophole, which the Ethics and Conflict Commissioner is powerless to take action on. That is why today's motion is so important.
Let us not forget that on a year-for-year basis, it has been reported that consultant lobbying has increased 142% under the present Liberal government. That is, in a word, a remarkable increase in lobbying. Let us not forget that it was the Liberals' own national campaign co-chair who was forced to step down after advising others on how to lobby the Liberal government on the energy east pipeline.
On top of that we have a number of Liberal ministers and senior staff members who must work around ethical screens because of ethics-related concerns. By the way, those screens are overseen by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. She is already working with the government on making sure that it fulfills its commitments in those capacities.
Lobbying and ethics-related concerns with the Liberal government are frequently raised, and yet we have not even dealt with the cash for access Liberal fundraisers as of yet, in which extremely wealthy, well-connected insiders are paying as much as $1,500 each to have private, one-on-one access with key Liberal ministers.
Keep in mind that we hear about these things not because the ever-transparent Liberal government tells us about them. No, it is typically journalists who blow the whistle on these kinds of clandestine behaviours. Meanwhile, the Liberals simply shrug and tell us that it is okay because the Wynne Liberals have done even worse provincially, and it is okay to do what they are doing or because of the time-honoured Liberal comment that they are not breaking any rules. Of course, they are always silent on the fact that it is just not right.
Some will say that that is how fundraising works when there are no political public subsidies. I disagree. Yes, ministers are a draw for fundraising purposes. It is common for everyday Canadians to pay $50 or $100 to attend an event and it is a practice, let us be frank, that has gone on for decades. However, secretly sending out invitations to only elite insiders, boasting about special access for a $1,500 ticket, is different. That is something new and something the Liberals are increasingly doing.
Not long ago, I discovered that some Liberal ministers were using a paid limousine service, despite indicating in response to an Order Paper question that they were not. On further investigation, it turned out that one of those Liberal ministers involved was using a limousine that was connected to—wait for it—a Liberal. The point is that this demonstrates that Liberal ministers are not afraid to send taxpayer-provided benefits back to their Liberal supporters.
What happens when someone is paying $1,500 for direct access to a minister? We do not know. However, we do know that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner currently needs more power to find out. Ironically, this is something that the Prime Minister has stated in the past he supports. Who knows? Maybe the Liberals will surprise this place and vote in favour of the motion. That has not been uncommon of late.
Before I close, I want to share one further point. Recently, on the finance committee, I had an opportunity to ask the finance minister what value he placed on the input of the finance committee, which, again, is dominated by a Liberal majority. I asked because the committee had recently been travelling right across this great country, hearing the priorities of Canadians for the 2017 budget. To my great surprise, the finance minister replied that he placed no more value on the reports of this parliamentary committee than he did of any other stakeholder.
Again, this is the very same finance minister who was exposed recently as having attended a $1,500-a-plate private, direct access to the minister Liberal fundraiser. What the finance minister is basically saying is that he values equally the input of these $1,500 stakeholders level and a parliamentary committee. Just let that sink in. All of us here are elected to represent thousands of Canadians and he places no greater value on a parliamentary committee, made up of the people's representatives, than he does on an individual stakeholder. No wonder well-heeled Liberal insiders are lining up to pay $1,500 per ticket for these direct access Liberal fundraisers.
In summary, this motion is a complete necessity when we have this particular Liberal government in power. Let us be honest: we have watched how the Liberal government has responded in question period when this subject has been raised by both the Conservative and NDP opposition parties, and it just shrugs its shoulders and does not even pretend to care about these highly questionable optics.
I should add that we all know that partisan politics is always at a premium when it comes to the fundraising practices of political parties. For this reason alone, I suggest that all members ask themselves the question: is better always possible? It is, if we get some agreement. We have had that agreement in the last few votes on opposition motions, and I hope we will get it today.
View Larry Maguire Profile
CPC (MB)
View Larry Maguire Profile
2016-11-03 15:22 [p.6557]
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak to the opposition day motion today, brought forward by my colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe. I want to thank him for his speech this morning and the work that he has done on this file, but I also want to say as I begin, that I will be sharing my time with the member for Lévis—Lotbinière, and he will have some very encouraging words to say on this topic as well.
No Canadian would ever have thought that one year out in the Liberal's new administration the House of Commons would be debating their fundraising practices and lack of ethics, although it may not be a surprise. As we all remember, every minister was given clear instructions in their mandate letters to go as far as guaranteeing that even a perceived conflict of interest should be avoided at all costs.
Our democracy belongs to every Canadian and in that includes access to members of Parliament, parliamentary secretaries, and yes, even ministers of the crown. Nowhere in our Constitution or even in the standing orders does it say there is a $1,500 entrance fee to be able to talk to those who govern our great country.
As an example of why the issue of special access to ministers should be a concern for all Canadians, we find out that those with deep pockets, vested interests, and the need to bend the ear of a Liberal cabinet minister seem to get special access, that those willing to write a large cheque get to cut the line.
I would like to take this opportunity to let the government know that I, as an elected official representing the good people of Brandon—Souris, have had to wait months and months to get a simple acknowledgement from Liberal ministers regarding a constituent's concern. I wondered what was taking all the time and attention of the ministers, and now I know. They were out soliciting donations rather than ensuring their office was responding to correspondence from members of Parliament.
The motion at hand, which we are discussing today, is more than just dealing with political fundraising. It goes into a much deeper issue of how members of the Liberal government use the power entrusted in them by the electorate and misuse their positions to fill the coffers of the Liberal Party. Watching the Liberals, it is no wonder Canadians distrust politicians. They say one thing, and in this specific case the Prime Minister put it in his mandate letters to his ministers, and then they go out and do the complete opposite.
Now this would not be the first broken promise from the government. It was just a matter of weeks after the Liberals were elected that we found out their plan to create a new tax bracket was in fact not cost neutral with their other changes to tax brackets. Liberal candidates also swore up and down that they would only run an itty-bitty $10-billion deficit. I only wish that the Liberal government was as good at managing the finances of our country and ensuring that our economy was growing as they are with arranging $1,500 pay-for-play fundraisers.
According to a recent Globe and Mail report, they are well on their way to doing a hundred of these special pay-to-play Liberal fundraisers in 2016 alone.
This is exactly why Canadians notoriously rank politicians low on the issue of trust. Almost every single day these past few weeks, we have learned of another Liberal fundraising event either being hosted in a Bay Street law office or a corporate boardroom where writing a cheque, hopefully with a couple of zeros attached, would pave the way to an intimate conversation with a minister of the crown.
Now it begs for us to wonder, where did the Liberals get the idea that it is okay to use their ministers to seek donations to pay for the operations of their Liberal headquarters?
To those who are paying close attention to this issue, the answer is easy. We only have to look down the 401 to see Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne's fantastic antics. Her government also got caught up in a lapse of ethical judgment, and now have gone so far as to draft legislation to completely ban these sorts of fundraising events.
Now I am not suggesting that members of Parliament and ministers should completely remove themselves from raising funds for their own individual campaigns. I'm simply suggesting that this Liberal government stops holding high-priced fundraisers in corporate boardrooms and Bay Street law offices, where there is a very perceived conflict of interest. I would suggest that our Liberal ministers start raising funds at spaghetti dinners or barbecues held in the backyards of their own supporters' homes. It is not appropriate whatsoever to be actively seeking large cheques from those who clearly have a vested interest in government dealings.
In my neck of the woods, it is very common for constituents to write small donations to the political party of their choice. In some circumstances, there will be a large gathering where people from all walks and backgrounds gather to raise funds for a local campaign. Our party, the Conservative Party, collects small donations from hundreds of thousands of Canadians annually. These Canadians do not want to land a government contract nor do they hope that their company will receive government largesse. They believe in our party because we stand up for those people who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules. It is these Canadians who are deeply committed to upholding the values and principles of our democracy.
I urge all Liberal members of Parliament to go back to their constituencies this weekend and ask people from their communities if they think it is right that those people writing $1,500 cheques to the Liberal Party should be able to have preferential access to ministers of the crown. They can ask farmers, who work 12 hours a day, if they think Liberal ministers should be spending so much of their time seeking donations, or they can ask small business owners if Liberal ministers should spend more time thinking of ways to grow the economy than seeking funds from the one percenters.
Perhaps before my colleagues from across the way get on a plane to go home this weekend to ask their constituents for their views, they should maybe stop and chat with Mary Dawson, the Ethics Commissioner, because she said that Canadians should be concerned about the Liberal government's pay-to-play fundraisers. She even said that these sorts of fundraisers are “unsavoury”, and she questioned whether people were getting fair access. After my Liberal colleagues are done chatting with the Ethics Commissioner, they should speak with the Commissioner of Lobbying, who said that these fundraisers create “real or apparent conflicts of interest”.
This issue is not that complex. In fact, this issue is not even ideological or partisan in nature. It is misusing the offices of power and those offices should be above any political disagreement.
I call upon my Liberal colleagues to stand up against their party brass and do what is right. They should call upon their party leaders to stop these dodgy fundraisers. As elected members of Parliament, we should not be so focused on filling the coffers of political parties. We should be focused on improving the quality of life for Canadians and, in doing so, improve the level of trust in this institution. As I said, our democracy belongs to every single Canadian. I would like to believe that we live in a country where, no matter where we are from or the amount of change we have in our pockets, it will not limit the ability to make our voices heard in the government.
Furthermore, there is no Liberal who can stand here with a straight face and say he or she is not breaking the spirit and intent of the Prime Minister's instructions when he said:
If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians. It is important that we acknowledge mistakes when we make them. Canadians do not expect us to be perfect—they expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest.
The Prime Minister even went as far as to say:
...you...must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties.... This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.
It is abundantly clear that if the Liberal government and its ministers do not immediately end the practice of high-priced pay for access fundraisers, they will continue to be in direct contradiction of their own mandate letters. The defence of standing up every day and saying, “Everything is all right here, move along” is not acceptable. It is not fooling Canadians one bit.
Every day the Liberal ministers continue to organize and collect fundraising cheques in this manner, it only further erodes the confidence of Canadians in our political process. While dubious Liberal fundraising practices brought down a previous administration and caused a judicial commission, it is only in the Liberals' best interests to stop what they are currently doing and admit that it is wrong before the inevitable outcome of a political scandal, again.
While the government will stand up and spend its political capital on defending these practices, I can assure the Liberals it will not pay off in the long run. We have read this story before and we know how it ends. Trust me, a Liberal usually ends up in some form of political purgatory.
I call on all members of the House to vote in favour of the motion. It has been said before that we cannot legislate common sense, but I certainly hope that by shining lights on these sketchy fundraising practices, the government will call off its Liberal party bagmen, fire up the barbecue, and invite their local supporters over to their backyards for a $5 hamburger. There could be nothing more Canadian than that.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
View Jacques Gourde Profile
2016-11-03 15:38 [p.6559]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this important debate on the Liberal Party's antiquated culture of political financing.
As everyone knows, the Liberal Party has many new faces who, unfortunately, will find themselves in embarrassing situations just because they are subject to a culture of dodgy fundraising and a clear lack of ethics that ensures that preferential access to ministers of the Liberal government is for sale or lease.
We recognize that all parties and all members of government do political fundraising for their own election campaign and the partisan activities of their party. Personally, I do not have a problem with MPs of any party attending fundraisers as long as they do so in their capacity as the MP for their riding.
There is a problem when a Liberal MP in his capacity as minister invites certain Canadians with specific interests to a partisan fundraiser and charges $1,500, or any other amount. That is problematic to me, because we are in a grey area.
This gives rise to a conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict of interest, preferential access, or the appearance of preferential access, and I would go so far as to say influence, or the appearance of influence. The role of minister is very important in our parliamentary system. It is incumbent upon these individuals to demonstrate the greatest integrity possible when making future decisions for our country.
It is very important to distinguish between “providing information” and “trying to influence the ministerial direction” or even a minister's judgment. A good minister must steer clear of outside influences.
Unfortunately, members will have undoubtedly noticed, thanks to the issues that I and the media have raised, that this is not what we have seen in the past year with this string of Liberal Party of Canada fundraisers.
Thus, it is quite reasonable and legitimate to devote one day to shedding light on these shady practices and to ask the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to enforce and oversee the directives established in the document “Open and Accountable Government”. This document was released by the Prime Minister himself to ensure that his directives are followed and not forgotten.
Despite how strict and comprehensive Canada's political financing legislation is, we still have to examine it even more closely and call upon the services of the commissioner in light of the Liberal approach to fundraising taken thus far.
The specific goal is to ensure that no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, is accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to the Liberal Party. People should not be given privileged access in exchange for donations.
As I have already said in the House, my only reason for mentioning a few situations that have come to light and that already seem suspect is wanting to protect the integrity of cabinet positions. I hope that the members opposite will one day thank me for saving them from the same fate that other members of their party have met in court. What members of the Liberal Party will be sentenced 20 years from now because of this culture? I hope that all of our debates will help to protect them from the most senior members of the party or from themselves.
The problem in the case that was recently made public is that a current minister was the honorary chair of a fundraiser organized by an “interest” group that just so happens to have an interest in that department. What a coincidence.
These sorts of events are generally quite the social affairs. People pay $1,500 to eat canapés and drink a glass or two of wine and are given privileged access to discuss very specific issues. In this case, there were groups of 20 to 40 people, which translates into $30,000 to $60,000 in donations. Did people really spend all of that money just to rub shoulders with the minister? Of course, as a bonus, they also get to listen to the wonderful speech that is given.
Let us be serious. Between 20 and 40 people are being given a specially prepared opportunity to emphasize the importance of their vision, their direction, and their projects, which often require public funds.
For me and many others who know the difference, that is called a closed-door discussion. That discussion will influence the direction of policies and programs for the benefit of a minority rather than for all Canadians. That is unacceptable.
It is one of the reasons I urge the members across the aisle who have been appointed as ministers to protect themselves from this dishonest fundraising practice for their own sake and for the sake of Canadians. It is up to them to have, from the outset, the good judgment to refuse this type of activity, however lucrative and appealing it may be for the Liberal Party. The end does not justify the means in fundraising for the Liberal Party.
It is very unfortunate that my colleagues across the aisle are acquiescing in this moribund theatre of bad taste. In all humility, I am saying that with the aim of protecting them, but especially with the greater aim of ensuring that Canadians are not disillusioned once again with our political system because of the Liberal Party.
Sooner or later, this influence peddling will inevitably lead to unhappy consequences such as sanctions. We saw that this week, when we heard the findings of the Charbonneau Commission, as Jacques Corriveau, a former member of the Liberal Party of Canada, was found guilty of illegal political fundraising.
As the old saying goes, cheaters never prosper. Let’s make sure that in the future, the Liberal Party of Canada does not have to repay money it should never have received. As many will have guessed, I am referring to the $40 million that is taking a long time to get back into the hands of taxpayers.
It would be a great gesture of humility on the part of the Prime Minister if he apologized to the Canadian people for illegal fundraising by the Liberal Party of Canada and if he made sure not only that that culture vanishes but also that the money stolen from taxpayers is returned to them.
In closing, I have absolutely no intention of frightening young children with scarecrows wearing red ties, or with skeletons rising from the coffers of the Liberal Party of Canada, but it is important to me to give all of my Liberal colleagues a friendly warning, a reminder to all those appointed as ministers: they should never forget what a privilege they are being granted to serve our country with integrity for the good of future generations.
I have the following advice for them: for the sake of all Canadians, they should never be forced into making a decision that would go against Canadian principles and values. My esteemed ministerial colleagues can be certain that history will judge them on the decisions they make and on the repercussions those decisions will have for the well-being of the entire Canadian community.
With regard to these ministerial fundraising events, I wonder whether the ministers opposite are able to sleep well at night. I worry about their getting enough sleep, because it is very important to be able to live with one’s conscience regarding the decisions one makes for the entire country. It is also important to be able to look at oneself in the mirror, head held high, and have the feeling of having done one’s duty without having been influenced or bothered by a fundraising stratagem that is at odds with one’s judgment and conscience.
I thank all my colleagues for their attention, and I hope that my good advice will benefit this new generation of new politicians whose only flaw, in my opinion, is that of having chosen a superficial, seductive party that bases its policies solely on short-term appeal and popularity. That party misuses popular words in speeches designed to please and shows many photos of smiley, happy people. In reality, however, it is deceptive and does not generate truly positive results for our security or economy, and it does nothing to protect or create jobs in Canada.
It must be said that, a year ago, the Prime Minister’s document entitled “Open and Accountable Government” got some good press, but it is sad to note that, under this government, many people hear what they want to hear; there are no concrete results, and existing laws are not being obeyed.
I hope that, between now and the next election, many people will choose to jump the Liberal ship before it sinks with what little savings we have left.
View Arnold Chan Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arnold Chan Profile
2016-11-03 15:53 [p.6562]
Mr. Speaker, I would normally say that I am pleased to join the debate on most matters that come before this House, but today is not one of those days. Let me say why, before we get the usual cackles and heckles from the other side. It is because of the type of conversation and particularly the use of language coming from the official opposition. I accept that there is a legitimate role for the opposition to call into account and to question the choices made by the government, but the deliberate use of language like “pay to play” and “cash for access” is not helpful in our democracy. While I accept that there are legitimate questions that the opposition should pose to the government, this type of language ultimately demeans the overall participation and the confidence of Canadians in our political process.
I first want to get back to the whole nature of political fundraising and the fact that all of us in this House participate in that process in order to both fund our individual campaigns within our respective ridings and also participate in the process to support our political party. That is part of our system. Canadians can participate in our democratic process in a multitude of ways. They do so in part by volunteering in our campaigns, they express their particular opinions and positions to their elected officials, and they also participate by way of donating money. That is part of our democratic process.
At the end of the day, the key for me is this. What are the checks and balances that are put on our system? I would remind folks that we are dealing with human nature. If someone makes a donation to a member, or if someone is providing volunteers to a particular member's political campaign, it is human nature, it is natural, that the member would perhaps view that person in different light than he or she might view someone who is highly critical of his or her position or political party. That is human nature. We understand that. However, the question is whether there are appropriate checks and balances placed on our political system as it relates to fundraising and the conduct of the government of the day.
I would suggest that there are basically four criteria that have evolved over a series of reforms to the political financing system. It started back in 1974, but it has subsequently moved through to, more recently, 2003.
There are basically four criteria that ultimately have an impact with respect to circumscribing the potential view that the government is providing preferential access.
The first is the change with respect to who can contribute. This change was brought about in the reforms of 2003, which limited contributions to individuals and removed the capacity of corporations and unions to make political donations.
The second is how much each individual can contribute, which is again an evolved practice. The major concern back in 1974 with the first set of reforms was the view that large corporations had undue influence due to the large amounts they could contribute to parties, and that was subsequently circumscribed in the reforms that took place in 2003, which limited individual donations to $5,000.
Then, to be fair to the Conservative Party on the other side, when it came into power it decided to lower that threshold down to $1,000. There has been a gradual adjustment upward, and now the figure rests at $1,525, and there is a built-in mechanism within the election financing provisions to allow that to grow by $25 a year. Therefore, this year individuals can donate up to $1,525 to political parties, can donate up to $1,525 to individual riding associations, and can then make a one-time contribution to leadership candidates for the same amount.
The third important thing is caps. The cap is a really good thing that exists within the Canadian political system, when we compare it to what we are seeing south of the border. We have strict limits with respect to the quantum of spending that can take place in a political campaign. Caps are placed on political parties and caps are placed at the individual riding level. Those caps are major constraints from the undue influence of financing on our political system. That is quite different from what we see south of the border.
The fourth is the reform that is taking place, and to be fair, a reform that was introduced by the previous government. It deals with the issue of public reporting and transparency with respect to donations. What basically has been done ensures that any donation that is over $200—it started out as $100—and up to the donation limit must be transparently and publicly reported. It is that transparency that provides the ultimate check in terms of the perception of undue influence or preferential access given to any particular participant in the political process.
My colleagues on this side of the House and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health have noted that, when it comes to the issue of consultation, this particular political party has provided unprecedented levels of consultation with Canadians since it took power in 2015. We have been engaging incessantly, consulting on a broad range of issues. I will be frank: I am literally inundated by requests from various ministers to consult on their particular mandate items, to make sure they get feedback from Canadians and to provide that report to the ministers so that they can take that into account as part of the government's decision-making process.
In my riding of Scarborough—Agincourt I have held several town halls and consulted with my constituents on a wide variety of issues. I have also worked in concert with my fellow members from the Scarborough area to collaboratively bring issues to the public, ranging from electoral reform, to Canada Post, to the environment, to defence, to the economy. Next week, we will be gathered together again, and I am taking this opportunity to invite those who want to participate to join the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance in a pre-budget public consultation with respect to the direction the government is taking.
We are extremely accessible to all Canadians, and we remain accessible in a variety of ways. We can be accessed through our constituency offices or here in Ottawa. We take feedback through letters, online, or by way of the telephone. All members treasure the opportunity to get that feedback as part of our political process. We should all be exceptionally proud of that.
The bottom line is that we all follow the rules. We follow the rules in the open and transparent ways I laid out, and that circumscribes the perception that there is any undue influence.
I particularly find it rich that we are getting a lecture from the Conservative Party, a party that literally took the issues of ethics, political financing, and electoral accountability to new lows. They were such lows that Canadians responded, quite rightly, in the last election in a rather vociferous way as to how they felt there was a complete lack of transparency coming from that other side. In case my friends on the opposite side, particularly those in the official opposition, are having some trouble with respect to that particular issue, let me take them down memory lane and remind them of some of the troubles we have faced that came from the opposition.
In question period today the member for Carleton asked a question of the President of the Treasury Board. The President of the Treasury Board rightly reminded us that it was the Conservative government that took the issue of partisan government advertising to unprecedented levels, taking essentially what are government resources for partisan personal gain.
The Conservative government awarded unprecedented numbers of contracts to parties outside of government at unprecedented levels, to the point that nearly $1 billion in spending took place over the previous government's mandate, for advertising that was really about driving the government's re-election plan; things like the so-called economic action plan. Members will recall that those particular ads seemed to be in a particularly interesting colour that was somewhat similar to the party colours of the current official opposition, which was using essentially what was the cash or the resources of government for its partisan political purposes.
I am proud that we are part of a government that has instituted a process to ban this type of practice and that there is an independent review.
There are appropriate times for the government to advertise, particularly as it relates to providing public information, but it should not be featuring members of the government in those particular informational ads, which is quite different from, for example, the practice of the member for Carleton when he was serving as a government minister.
Let us go to the second particular issue. Let us look at the actual changes to the Canada Elections Act itself.
This is, again, a subject matter where the previous government, the Conservative government, tried to use the rules to disproportionately benefit itself. For example, let me remind members that the Conservatives, interestingly, just before the previous election, decided to suddenly raise the individual contribution limit, which at that time had been $1,200, up to $1,500. Then, subsequently, during the election itself, they changed the rules within the Canada Elections Act to allow the amount of compensation coming back to political parties to be increased the longer the writ period was and to allow them to use the spending advantage they had as the incumbent governing party at the time, more so than the other political parties. Doubling from the traditional 37-day campaign to an unprecedented 77-day campaign, which we had not seen since the 1800s, allowed the parties and individual ridings themselves to spend more than double the traditional amount that would be permissible in a particular election campaign.
They thought that would give them an electoral advantage. Luckily, Canadians saw through that particular action.
Then let us look at the activities of the previous Conservative government. I raise this with some regret, but I think it is important to remind ourselves as we engage in this debate that it was in fact the Conservative Party that had some real ethical breaches with respect to its particular practices.
Remember, it was in fact under the Conservative Party itself that actual convictions took place under the Canada Elections Act. For example, there was a particular scheme, known as the in-and-out scheme. That took place in the 2006 election and saw an unprecedented number of Conservative ridings, 67 to be exact, see $1.3 million get shuffled in and out of their ridings in order to try to hide advertising that was done for a national purpose and, yet, was attributable to ridings that could not spend up to their election limits. That allowed those particular riding associations to claim a larger rebate than they were otherwise entitled to and allowed the Conservative Party to spend more money than was allowed under the cap that was imposed on political parties.
Elections Canada said that violated the rules. The Conservative Party knew there were going to be convictions on that particular matter and, as a result, ultimately chose to negotiate a settlement before it would be found in actual violation of the Canada Elections Act.
Let us remind ourselves of who one of the main parties was in that particular election scheme. I believe the gentleman's name was Irving Gerstein, who was actually appointed a senator. Again, I contrast how the Conservative Party has treated the Senate, which, of course, it uses for its partisan fundraising purposes. I can think of another senator, good old Senator Michael Duffy, who was expressly recruited into the Conservative caucus for fundraising purposes.
These charges were laid and ultimately resolved without having to go to criminal court, because the Conservative Party knew that it was ultimately in the wrong.
Let us remember that when we are dealing with the issue of partisan fundraising, all of us participate in this particular process. However, it is important that we ensure that it is done above board.
To continue with the points I made earlier, namely about the constraints imposed on political financing and who can contribute, to be fair, these have been even further narrowed to the point that now only citizens or those who are permanent residents can contribute. The quantum that can be contributed is relatively circumscribed. The strict spending limits imposed both on ridings and political parties are important and one of the critical constraints that ultimately limit the capacity of political parties from having excessive funding drives.
Finally, with respect to the public reporting process for any donation, anything that is basically over $200 has to be reported publicly and be accessible to all Canadians. It is important to note that this reporting includes the name of the particular individual and the fact that they have a reportable address, so that Canadians can know who is supporting a particular political party.
Again, I find the motion before the House not helpful. There are very clear rules with respect to the conduct of all political parties and ministers, and they were followed. In fact, it was important that we sat down and spoke with the Ethics Commissioner so that there would be very clear guidelines and rules with respect to the appropriate activity. As a result, it is my submission that there are no violations and no existing problems requiring a fix that my friends on the other side are suggesting.
I would also remind those members that they too fundraised in an incredibly aggressive fashion. Over the nearly 10 years that the Conservatives served in government, I have a very long laundry list of instances where ministers of the previous government engaged in fundraisers of similar quantum, subject to the caps, and that they took the position that they were following the rules applied at the time.
Again, these rules were established primarily by the other side and are the current ones that exist today. We are following those rules. Those rules are being abided by.
View Larry Bagnell Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Larry Bagnell Profile
2016-10-06 10:11 [p.5556]
Mr. Speaker, I am just going to start out by explaining to the public watching TV, members here, the journalists, etc. what today's debate is all about.
Basically, all the mystifying procedures that happen here, the various votes, who is on committee, and all this stuff, are handled by 159 standing orders that we as MPs create. The huge number of new MPs—probably the highest number in history, in this Parliament—may find some of these procedures very mystifying, strange, or even bizarre. Some of those come from England's House of Commons and were established before Canada was even created. Today is those members' chance to change the rules of the House. Are they most effective for doing the business of the nation?
One of the 159 standing orders is number 51, which mandates today's debate. The Right Hon. Paul Martin wanted to give backbenchers and all MPs a chance to have a kick at the can in these procedures, so he put in the standing order that says that between the 60th and 90th days of a new Parliament, everyone gets a chance to have a take-note debate on the Standing Orders, which is what we're doing today. After this debate, all this information will go to the procedure and House affairs committee of the House to do with what it will, and it can make recommendations to the government on changes to the Standing Orders.
An example is that the last time we had this debate, on February 17, 2012, one of the suggestions was electronic petitions, which are now a reality; so members can make a difference.
On this side of the House, the present Prime Minister has the same philosophy as the Right Hon. Paul Martin: that this is not for the government. Today, this is for backbenchers, for all MPs to express their ideas, so the government is not providing any input. The government has no idea what we as individual backbenchers are going to say. I think it is going to be a very fun, non-partisan, creative brainstorming day to improve Canada's house of democracy for the benefit of all Canadians.
I'm going to have to talk very quickly to get through about 14 points, just for further discussion. I am not necessarily in favour of or against them, but they are points we might discuss further. I apologize to the translators for talking quickly, but really it is just a warm-up. If they think I am bad, wait until the member for Laurentides—Labelle gets up.
A lot of members will talk about decorum in the House. They have certain concerns, and members will hear that later today.
The first of my 14 points is that the shape of Parliament can actually determine attitudes. If we were in a semi-circle like in Sweden or in Congress, we would be all focused toward the Speaker, a common problem for Canada, and we are all trying to solve it together. It is the same in the committees. Why do we have to have it as adversarial, across the board from each other?
My second point is first nations, recognizing that we are on the traditional land of the Algonquin First Nation. First nations have run successful governments in Canada for centuries, for generations. Maybe we should look at some of their successes. Some members might be interested in reading how the Six Nations Confederacy was instrumental for the designers of the American constitution and Congress.
My third point is this. If an MP of today were given another job to add to all his or her other jobs, not only the MP work but another 28 hours of work that he or she had to do, would the MP find that frustrating? For 10 years, I have had to spend 28 hours every week commuting to my riding. When members revamp the Standing Orders, I ask them to please be sensitive and gentle for those of us who have to travel a long way.
My fourth point is that it is incumbent on all of us today to think of the procedures of the House and Senate and committees as being structured in such a way that the amount of legislation that Canadians need, regardless of who is in Parliament, can be dealt with without any draconian measures by the opposition or the government to get this work done.
My fifth point is that in Congress, if members watch it, at times there are two podiums and there is a person from each party at a podium, and they are debating back and forth for a few minutes. In this Parliament, we really get no chance to debate with each other. We get a 10-minute speech, we only get to speak once, and except for a question, there is really no ongoing debate. Ten minutes may be enough or not enough. One of the greatest speeches in history, the Gettysburg address, just took barely more than two minutes. So are the speaking limits too long or too short?
My sixth point is that the situation is totally different in committee. There members have unlimited chances to speak, instead of just once as in the House. Members can speak 1,000 times or for 10 hours each time they speak, as long as they maintain relevancy and avoid redundancy and repetition.
Seventh, not long ago in this place, MPs were not allowed to have papers or read a speech. There are some who would like to go back to that. I remember being here many years ago when all the MPs from one party were reading almost identical speeches, which was not very productive. I am not doing very well today because I have lots of paper here, but that is an idea some people had.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Don't look down.
Mr. Larry Bagnell: Don't look down, yes.
Mr. Speaker, eighth is why not have electronic voting for some of the more repetitious votes, or votes whose outcome we know. In Sweden, members are in a semi-circle and get five seconds to vote. They push a red or green button, and there is a big board with green and red buttons and the total is displayed automatically. Then there is another five seconds to do the next vote. They could do 300 amendments in 10 minutes, whereas it would take us a day.
The ninth point is interesting. I am a simple backbench MP. Quite often, I only leave this building by two or three o'clock in the morning. Can anyone imagine if another full-time job were added to an MP's work? That is what happens when someone becomes a minister. Obviously, there is not appropriate time to do both of those jobs. One of them will not be done well. In Sweden, ministers do not sit in the house. They are given brand new MPs to do their MP jobs, to take care of their constituencies and to give their speeches, and ministers can devote all of their time to their ministerial work.
Tenth, I want to make a point for those of us who travel. Having Fridays alone off would not give me more time in my constituency. There would have to be no votes after noon on Thursday; otherwise, I would spend all day Friday travelling and still would not get time in my constituency, because it is a 14-hour trip. I have to take three airlines.
As for my eleventh point, to be fair to all Canadians, I personally think there should be playground equipment at the new Centre Block, both inside and outside, for families.
Twelfth, senators are often assigned to delegations on trips on joint committees with the House of Commons based on their parties, but soon there will be a Senate where most of the senators will not belong to a party. I think that whole system has to be looked at.
Thirteenth, I think private members' business needs to be looked at. It could be really abused at both ends of the spectrum. I have a slot now for the first time in 11 years, and I could propose some crazy thing that could seriously affect 30 million Canadians. That could happen if MPs were allowed to do whatever they wanted. On the other hand, I have heard that in the past, a government could go to an MP and say that it did not like his or her speech, that it had a speech it wanted read, and the MP was told to read it.
With any private member's bill, whether it comes from the Senate, the House of Commons, or members, the end result is the same. It becomes the law of the land. A bill is a bill is a bill. Any of these bills should go through two screenings, one from the factual, technical, scientific, professional, knowledge-based input of technical experts who have spent their lives on a certain topic in the bureaucracy, and the second is from the point of view of the social licence of the people, which we provide as politicians.
Last, I do not know what it is like in the other ridings, but in my riding, May and June are my busiest months. It might work better for me if we were to come back earlier in September and leave earlier in the spring, so I could get to all the graduations, etc.
For those who are really excited about this topic and scintillating debate on procedure, there is an excellent paper people might want to read, called “The Good Parliament”, by Professor Sarah Childs. She was commissioned to do it for Britain. That report contains 43 recommendations to ensure the diverse and inclusive equality of participation in an effectively organized House of Commons in Westminster, England.
I have three final points from members who could not participate in this debate. First, they suggest there be a maximum time in the Standing Orders for each different category of bill, a different amount of time, but with a limit. Second, they recommend that members who are not on a committee could get mailings from the clerk on important issues if their input were needed. Third, they call for MPs to have comparable staff to civil servants and the ability to pay for at least four.
I am prepared now to answer any questions on my 14 points. Members should remember that if they could not get into the debate, there are questions and comments. They do not have to ask questions. If they could not get on the speaking list today, they could make their comments in the questions and comments period.
View Arnold Chan Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arnold Chan Profile
2016-10-06 16:31 [p.5616]
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by thanking all my colleagues, on all sides of the aisle, for their overwhelmingly constructive comments today on the take-note debate as it relates to the Standing Orders.
I, along with a number of colleagues I see within the House, have the privilege of sitting on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I have been carefully taking notes from most of the members in terms of their ideas and suggestions. I know that our very able clerk, Mr. Andre Barnes, will summarize all those issues, so that we can review them carefully and present our recommendations back to this place in terms of changes to the Standing Orders.
I want to say again that the point and the nature of the Standing Orders is to provide us with clear rules with respect to our conduct in this place. However, when it comes to conduct and decorum, it really comes to each and every one of us in terms of how we comport ourselves when we are in this place. Again, I urge members to be mindful of that. Many members today have demonstrated that, with a significant generosity of spirit, as we have entered in this debate here today.
My mandate was quite different. I indicated that my purpose today on the government side was primarily to table items that were within the government House leader's ministerial mandate letter and our electoral platform that I had not heard already during the course of the debate. I think I have heard most of it. The items have been covered, in large part. The purpose of doing so was to allow the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with the opportunity to consider those, and whether it is necessary to make rules changes to the Standing Orders in order to give them greater effect. I will cover a few of them that have not been covered and that I have not heard yet.
I am not convinced that some of these instances within the minister's mandate letter require Standing Order changes. I think it is more of a function of the practice of Parliament and the practice of the government of the day. A lot of things we had discussed in the previous election related to our sense of the conduct that occurred or what we found offensive in previous Parliaments, or the erosion of some of the traditions and practices of this place, requiring a change to the Standing Orders. I hope that is not necessary. I hope that we can respect the traditions of the British parliamentary practice and procedures, so that we do not have to use the strong hammer of amending the Standing Orders to do so. I will cover the ones that I have not heard today, and I will leave it to my colleagues to perhaps comment on them.
One of the commitments we made in the last election was related to the creation of a Prime Minister's question period. I have not heard any commentary on that today with respect to whether that would be a good practice. It is certainly a practice that is adopted in the United Kingdom. There is a dedicated period of time where the prime minister would make himself or herself available to take questions from members. I do not know whether that would change the nature with respect to our overall perception that question period is far too theatrical and far too canned, quite frankly, in terms of the give and take that takes place.
We have heard a lot of suggestions with respect to giving much greater power to the Speaker to enforce the rules of debate, and some of the other amendments with respect to suggesting that questions be tabled in advance so that a substantive response can be given, which is the practice essentially in the British Parliament. I certainly would be supportive of us moving in that particular direction. However, I do want to table the concept of whether the Standing Orders require a change with respect to a dedicated Prime Minister's question period.
The second major item I have not heard much discussion about relates to the use of prorogation and omnibus bills. Again, this was a situation that occurred in the 39th, 40th, and 41st Parliaments, with respect to a situation of prorogation and an increasing use of omnibus bills.
It has been a commitment of this particular government to try to avoid using omnibus bills. The only exception to that should be the budget bill. In the presentation of the budget, it does have the inevitable effect of having significant amendments to all kinds of consequential acts to bring the budget into effect. I do not think that even the budget itself should deal with things that fall outside of budgetary measures. I am very wary of the use of omnibus bills as a standard practice to slide certain types of items through that are not relevant to the minister responsible for moving a particular bill forward. Again, there is a question as to whether that is appropriate use within the Standing Orders, but I again want to table that.
One of the other things that rose in previous Parliaments was with respect to the estimates and whether there is consistency between the estimates and public accounts. At the end of the day, parliamentarians need to have a clear mechanism to ensure that the tabled estimates are consistent with the public accounts. This is something that the President of the Treasury Board is working on. I do not think it requires a Standing Order change, but this is something that the procedures and House affairs committee ought to consider.
Other things that go to the independence of this place, particularly as they relate to the officers of Parliament, are whether there are mechanisms and ways to ensure that officers of Parliament are properly funded, that their reports to the Speaker and ultimately to the House are appropriate, and that the government of the day does not constrain the operation of the officers of the House in doing so. I would also extend that to the parliamentary budget officer. We have seen instances in the past where that has been a challenge. We want to ensure that each of the officers of the House, and the parliamentary budget officer, have the necessary tools so that parliamentarians get the necessary information they need to keep the government to account, while by the same token providing information in a neutral manner.
I thought I heard some discussion about the disclosure of expenses. I do support the concept that the activities of the Board of Internal Economy should be more public and should be open, by default, as opposed to the current practice.
I have a couple of final points to table, and they are already incorporated within the Standing Orders. They deal with ensuring that this workplace is free of harassment and sexual violence. Again, this is something that the procedure and House affairs committee does need to periodically review, that our conduct in this place be reviewed to make sure we avoid situations we have found sometimes unfortunately in the past between members, and between members and their staff. Canadians need to have confidence that we are acting in a fashion that holds the highest standards of workplace practice and that the procedure and House affairs committee continues to review that.
We have heard a lot about family friendly. I do not have much more to contribute to that particular debate, as it has been effectively covered in broad detail. I would encourage members to constantly be open to change. The way in which we conduct ourselves here is often dealt with within historical practice, and is often ossified to a time that is long past. I appreciate that fact, for example, as it relates to the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Despite the fact that there is a stranger in the House, none of us has ever exercised the rule to call that matter out.
We need to continue to have that openness among us, to find new ways to accommodate and encourage more members, and a greater diversity of members, to participate and become members of the House of Commons.
I do not have much more to add. My time is up, and I am going to encourage questions and look forward to the debate as it continues today.
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2016-09-22 13:41 [p.4974]
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to point out that I do plan to share my time with the hon. member for Long Range Mountains who is sitting just to my right.
It is always an honour to rise to speak in the House on any issue that has the importance to get to the floor, but today I am particularly excited because I have the opportunity to speak to an issue with which I am not only familiar but that I care about. It inspired me to get involved in politics in the first place and it impacts a region that I care about more than any other place on planet earth, and that is Atlantic Canada.
Today we are debating a motion in the House involving the appointment of Supreme Court justices, namely the custom to appoint a Supreme Court judge to fill a vacancy that was left after the retirement of a judge from that same region.
This whole debate arises out of the new process that the Liberal government introduced to introduce an open and transparent process that is independent from the executive and non-partisan in that it has a former Progressive Conservative prime minister, and that is different, chairing the committee that is overseeing this whole operation. This is the kind of process that the International Commission of Jurists implored the previous government to introduce when it came to the appointment of Supreme Court justices.
If we set aside just for the moment, but I will come back to it, the importance of regional diversity on the court, this process would be stellar. There would be no questions, and I expect it would not even be controversial enough to make it to the House because it would get universal support. However, on the issue of regional diversity, it is important, and I am supporting the motion for this reason. It is about federalism.
Federalism is part of the constitutional fabric that makes Canada the country that it is. As discussed by the Supreme Court of Canada, an institution I deeply respect, they described it as a political tool that promotes diversity within our country and enhances national unity at the same time.
In the Nadon reference, which I will come back to again in a moment, the Supreme Court flagged that it is not just sections 5 and 6 of the Supreme Court Act that make regional representation in government important, it is also about the understanding of legal traditions and social norms. We could supplant Nova Scotia's name or Quebec's and the argument would remain the same. I do support regional diversity on the court, and I hope Atlantic Canada is represented on the court. This idea that 32 Atlantic Canada MPs are silent while we are actively speaking out like this in the House of Commons is laughable and false.
What I really have to get to here, and this is the grand take-away from my remarks, is that given the messenger, it is hard to take this criticism seriously when we had 10 years of a Conservative government that sought to undermine the integrity of the Supreme Court of Canada, the justice system in Canada, and indeed to diminish Atlantic Canada as a region in our federation.
I mentioned the Nadon reference previously. That case revolved around the attempted unconstitutional appointment of a Supreme Court justice. In that case, what made it worse was that on the back end of the decision, the Conservative executive, the Prime Minister's Office, was involved in a spat with the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She is a tremendous jurist who we are lucky to have in this institution. Instead of abiding by a decision that they disagreed with, which would have been the mature thing to do, the Conservatives launched an adolescent spat to try to undermine the integrity of the most pre-eminent legal institution in our country. They should be ashamed of themselves.
In addition to the Conservatives' disrespect for the Supreme Court of Canada, their attitude toward justice in Canada boggles my mind. What they sought to do was spend millions of Canadian taxpayers' dollars to defend charter violations time and time again, which makes it hard to take criticism legitimately from the opposite side on how we are dealing with the Supreme Court of Canada.
When it came to assisted dying legislation, the Conservatives sought to ensure that the legislation the Supreme Court required would not get passed. When it came to protecting vulnerable people such as drug addicts and sex workers, they sought to introduce criminal legislation that would make these people less safe. The Supreme Court of Canada said no, they were not allowed to do that. When it came to their attempts at Senate reform, the Supreme Court said they were doing it wrong again.
When it came to trying to deny full access to aboriginal title to our indigenous population in western Canada, the Tsilhqot’in case, the Supreme Court said no. When it came to a ban on medicinal marijuana, on the basis that marijuana cannot be a medicine that patients use, the Supreme Court said no. When it came to introducing mandatory minimum sentences, the opposition, when they were in government, took the attitude that they were better positioned as legislators in Ottawa than a jurist sitting on the ground with the accused before them and access to a full body of evidence. I cannot understand it, and again the Supreme Court said no, that is not allowed.
It is not just the Supreme Court that the Conservatives attacked, it was the justice system from top to bottom. We need to look no further than their attempts to, again, spending taxpayer dollars, refuse the integration of Omar Khadr into Canadian society. When it came to the case of Ron Smith, they got tied up in litigation that was based around the refusal to ask diplomatic services to protect a Canadian who was on death row in another country.
I apologize in advance if I get emotional about the next one because it strikes home with me. The Conservatives spent $1.4 million Canadian taxpayer dollars to deny health care benefits to refugees. I am particularly emotional about this one given the experience that my community has had in welcoming refugees to rural Nova Scotia on the eastern shore in Pictou County and in Antigonish.
I feel compelled to draw attention to one example who have now become my friends, the Hadhad family in Antigonish. They ran a chocolate factory in Damascus that employed 30 people and in a week, they lost everything, a lifetime's worth of work, to the war. When they landed in Nova Scotia with nothing but the goodwill of the community to welcome them, they started from scratch. However, they said that if they had to start from scratch they would start that day and they started making chocolate in the basement of the home the community found for them. When they were on their feet, they decided they wanted to give back and when the wildfires broke out in Fort McMurray, they donated a month's worth of profits to the relief efforts in Fort McMurray.
These are not only the kind of people we should be welcoming as newcomers to Canada, but we should be aspiring to be as Canadians. While we welcomed them to our shores, the Conservatives now in opposition spent $1.4 million seeking to deny them access to a full range of healthcare benefits and it was disgraceful.
Continuing on the theme that it is hard to take this criticism legitimately, there is a latent narrative the Conservatives are trying to push in the motion that Atlantic Canada is not being effectively represented despite the fact that there are 32 strong Liberal MPs. I find it ironic that the Conservative Atlantic MPs have been silent on this. Perhaps it is because there are none, because they do not speak to issues that matter to Atlantic Canadians.
Since the election we have been focused on growth in Atlantic Canada. We are constantly advocating for the rights of Atlantic Canadians and investment in the region. Just this summer when the Prime Minister visited New Glasgow and 4,200 people came out to see him, we had announcements of $190 million in infrastructure, $75 million in affordable housing, and $50 million in small craft harbours. These investments create work in the short term, but lay the framework for economic growth in the long term and that is what matters to Atlantic Canadians.
What excites me most is that these are not one-off investments. These are part of a strategy that was announced in July called the Atlantic growth strategy and this strategy was not something that we campaigned on. It was not in our budget. It was a plan that was formed in direct response to the feedback of 32 Liberal MPs working with the government to ensure that the interests of our region are represented in the priorities of the government, and we are having success. This plan focuses on immigration, innovation, infrastructure, trade, and tourism. These are the priorities of the Atlantic caucus that have made it into federal policy and will help Atlantic Canada grow.
It was difficult, 10 years of watching Conservatives diminish my region economically by revamping EI. Their plan for Atlantic Canada was to encourage young people to move to Alberta. The kinds of investments we are making are going to allow young people and families to stay in our region. I cannot stand here and listen to criticism either about the role of the Supreme Court of Canada or members' supposed defence of Atlantic Canada after the record they had in government. I am very pleased to stand here knowing in my heart of hearts that we have been standing up for the rights of Atlantic Canadians, acting on their behalf. I will continue to act as an advocate within our caucus and in public for my region because that is the job I was elected to do.
View Darrell Samson Profile
Lib. (NS)
Mr. Speaker, I see that people in the House are finding it easier to pronounce “Chezzetcook”. That means they are saying it fairly often, and I thank you for that.
I must say that I am extremely happy to be here in the House after two and a half months of working in the constituency and having the opportunity to be with my constituents. It is good to be back, but I enjoyed my time back home, doing the real work for the people who elected us. That is where they are and we have to do that, of course.
Mr. Speaker, I want to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for West Nova, as well.
I have been listening to the debate most of the day today. I do not know what to think anymore about the Conservative Party. In the last two or three days, its members are now, for the first time in 10 years, speaking about Atlantic Canada. I do not know if it was just because on October 15 they noticed that, my God, maybe they didn't do anything in Atlantic Canada, maybe they should think about doing something, maybe they should try talking about Atlantic Canada, and maybe they should try learning more about Atlantic Canada.
There we are. This is what is happening right now.
I can tell members that I and my 31 colleagues from Atlantic Canada have been working hard on many cases. This is just another one that we have been working on. The Atlantic growth strategy we are working on that is customized to make sure it is going to bring prosperity to Atlantic Canada in many ways is one; the infrastructure investment across this country and Atlantic Canada is another; the small craft investment is another one. Those are all big investments, tax cuts, etc. that we have been working on over the last six to nine months.
I am excited to talk about this topic because I want to make the contrast between the former government and our government. That is the objective of my presentation today. With the former government, there were a lot of things done, as my colleague mentioned a few minutes ago, that were not open and transparent; far from it. When I think back, I remember the former prime minister said he would not appoint any senators. Guess what? He appointed 57 of them. There were 57 partisan appointments made by his government.
What is happening here is that we have a government that is going to make some big changes to many of the practices that we have been under in the last 10 years—and by that, I am talking about the Supreme Court and the Senate.
As members know, the Liberal senators are independent. That was done by our leader before he was even Prime Minister. That is a clear sign of a path of openness and transparency.
Let us talk about this new process. This new process speaks on three fronts. The first, of course, is the open and transparent one; the second is Canada's diversity; and the third is the merit base, which is extremely important.
The first one is openness and transparency. Qualified judges from across Canada can submit to become a Supreme Court judge. I believe, and we believe and we know, that there are many highly qualified Atlantic Canadian judges who would be in the pool used by the Prime Minister to choose the new Supreme Court judge. They can apply online, and the government of Canada is actively doing many promotions to invite as many qualified people as possible.
The second one is diversity. The committee must consider if we want gender parity; it must reflect diversity as far as linguistic, cultural, regional, and employment equity representation. That is the big piece of the Canadian diversity.
The third one is the merit base. That means the government will be doing everything it can to attract, as I said earlier, as many qualified people as possible.
I am so pleased to say that our Canadian government has acted on its promise to appoint bilingual justices. That is extremely important because lawyers had been unable to get their message across or argue their cases in the Supreme Court without the help of an interpreter.
That is no longer a problem, which is a significant victory.
Today's debate is primarily about the appointment of a justice from Atlantic Canada. Before I get into that, I want to underscore the excellent work that Nova Scotia's Justice Cromwell did for many years. I thank him for his work. The seat is vacant because he retired.
As we all know, this is not officially in the Constitution, which does state that three justices must be from Quebec. However, regional representation is essential and has long been upheld. It is of vital importance, and we must guarantee it.
The new justice must be from the same region because we can benefit from regional perspective, vision, and knowledge in such matters as maritime law.
Let it be legal culture. Let it be social culture. They need to bring that expertise and their competencies to the Supreme Court of course.
Our government respects this convention. It is taking this decision seriously. This process is simply creating an opportunity for Canadian judges to apply, and we encourage many of them of course. We are confident in Atlantic Canada. Many strong and qualified judges will surface through this process. By being selected through an open and transparent merit-based process will give them that much more legitimacy, which is important.
What does that mean? It means that our open process will allow them to function but it also means that the days of secret backroom deals, side deals, friends, rewards, are over. That is out. That cannot happen through this process. That is pretty impressive. Our Canadian government expects better and will do better.
Of course, I am a strong advocate of the appointment of the next Supreme Court judge from Atlantic Canada, and I have every confidence that our Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice will find many qualified candidates and will make the right decision for Canada, for Atlantic Canada, and for the Supreme Court of Canada.
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