Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 13:54
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We all appreciate the efforts of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and his office, as well as their support to members and Parliament. As far as this report is concerned, the Prime Minister has thanked the commissioner and accepted his report. This matter has been thoroughly studied. As we all heard, the justice committee heard from 10 witnesses for a total of 13 hours of testimony over five weeks.
In addition, we now have this detailed report from the commissioner. It represents months of work for him, and it’s 63 pages long. The Prime Minister has stated unequivocally that he was only trying to protect the jobs of thousands of Canadian workers the whole time. I would think all workers and all Canadians would expect that if their jobs were in jeopardy.
We also have a guide by the Honourable Anne McLellan. She spoke with all the former attorneys general. Her guide helps clarify the relationships between—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 13:56
I will start over. We also have a guide by the Honourable Anne McLellan. She spoke with all the former attorneys general. Her guide helps clarify the relationships between attorneys general and their colleagues in cabinet. The Prime Minister has already pledged to all Canadians that he will act on Ms. McLellan’s recommendations.
The combined processes of the justice committee and the commissioner, which took many hours, months and pages to complete, were detailed and thorough. It’s obvious to me, after hearing my honourable colleagues speak, that the opposition’s real objective is simply to play politics.
We're all thankful for the work of the commissioner's office in support of all members of the House at all times. The commissioner's report is quite detailed and Canadians have had a good opportunity to familiarize themselves with the content. The Prime Minister has thanked the commissioner and accepted the report.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Steve MacKinnon: Though he disagrees with the conclusions, especially when so many jobs were at stake—which is no laughing matter—he has already announced that steps will be taken to ensure that no government goes through a similar situation in the future.
This government, as any government, should take seriously the responsibility of standing up for jobs and growing the economy. It's the responsibility of any Prime Minister to stand up for people's jobs. In fact, it's the responsibility of all members of Parliament. People whose jobs are on the line should expect no less of their elected representatives.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 13:58
No.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Steven MacKinnon: Nor is that a point of order, Mr. Chair.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 13:59
That member, with his rich experience in Canada's private sector, we'll have to look at his views with some skepticism too.
It's the responsibility of any Prime Minister to stand up for people's jobs and livelihoods across the country, and that should also be the job of all members of Parliament while upholding, of course, at all times, the rule of law.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 14:00
Mr. Chairman, where I come from, we listen to folks and then get to speak and have a healthy exchange.
I've now been interrupted three times by things that were not points of order. I hope the committee will indulge in hearing the rest of our statement.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 14:00
I'm just expressing it through you, Mr. Chair—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2019-08-21 14:01
Thank you.
I appreciate your chairmanship today, Mr. Chair.
The Prime Minister's objective throughout, as he stated, was to protect thousands of jobs in Canada, all the while ensuring the integrity and independence of the justice system. As has been confirmed on multiple occasions, no direction was ever given to the former attorney general.
Also, former attorney general Anne McLellan has authored a report after speaking with all former attorneys general, as well as constitutional scholars, and has offered recommendations, including a process and a set of principles to guide the relationship between the Attorney General and the government. Both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General have already stated that they will be looking at how to best implement those recommendations, such as the protocol on interactions with the Attorney General and better education for all parliamentarians on defining the role.
The matter before us today has been studied quite extensively. The justice committee heard over 13 hours of comprehensive testimony from 10 different witnesses over a five-week span, and we now have a very thorough 63-page report by the commissioner.
The opposition's claim to simply want the facts is contradicted by the fact that what they seek is found in the commissioner's report. It is already public, on top of the 13 hours of testimony that I just referenced, so the only conclusion that I and members of this committee can come to is that the opposition seeks to prolong this process for political reasons and partisan games.
It is for that reason, Mr. Chair, that we will be opposing this motion.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
When I was first made vice-chair of this committee I don't think anyone realized how popular we'd be. Welcome, everyone.
I have two points of clarification. First, when Ms. Raitt talks about procedural fairness, of course, a decision-maker owes procedural fairness to the subject of an investigation. It's not the other way around. Second, to the point about silencing Ms. Wilson-Raybould, I watched hours of testimony before the justice committee. I read 43 pages of testimony, at the the very end of which she said she had nothing more to add to the process. Those are my two points of clarification.
I am not supporting this motion because of any.... Mr. Scheer was in my riding yesterday, and I want to be clear that I'm not supporting this motion because of any purported grassroots Conservative campaign. I got 10 emails from my riding. That's not what motivated me. I will be supporting this motion, though, to invite the commissioner to discuss his report, one, in the interests of transparency and accountability and, two, because in my own considered view, I think the Ethics Commissioner's conclusions are legally flawed in many respects and I'd like to ask him some questions about his legal mistakes.
I've given a lot of thought to what happened. I've read what feels like a never-ending set of materials and coverage, and in the interest of making probably nobody happy, I want to share a few of my own conclusions, a number of which I've shared publicly before.
First and generally, it is both true that the then-attorney general did not exercise sufficient due diligence on the file and that the PMO, at the same time, exerted pressure that should not have been exerted.
The Shawcross doctrine states that an Attorney General may, but is not obliged to, consult with colleagues in the government, and indeed, it would be a mistake in some cases not to consult. A 2014 general directive states that “it is quite appropriate for the Attorney General to consult with Cabinet colleagues before exercising his or her powers under the DPP Act in respect of criminal proceedings. Indeed, sometimes it will be important to do so in order to be cognisant of pan-government perspectives.” Moreover, in examining the evidence, McLellan's report is also clear that the Attorney General could have engaged in conversations with the DPP. She suggested that she could have asked for more information and solicited a second opinion.
Now to understand all public policy considerations here—and I take Ms. May's point that there was not a sufficient economic impact analysis—I'll tell you that if Ms. May or I or perhaps Mr. Kent were the Attorney General, the right course of action would have been to request an economic impact analysis from the finance minister or a third party when you have a section 13 public interest notice from your DPP. While Commissioner Dion was right that these considerations should not bear on his strict analysis under the act, they do colour the overall situation, and the deputy minister's comments in testimony to Dion raised the same concerns for me.
At the same time, Dion's report in its factual findings made clear that the PMO exerted pressure that should not have been exerted. The Shawcross doctrine is clear that the government is not to pressure the Attorney General at all for any reason, and McLellan's recommendations to establish new protocols for existing standards are themselves an acknowledgement that what took place should not have happened.
It is important that the Prime Minister has acknowledged that mistakes were made, and I trust that McLellan's recommendations will be implemented.
Third, I know that my Conservative colleagues, and perhaps all colleagues on the other side, will disagree with me, but personally, having thought about this a lot, I think the reaction and outrage about this situation have been disproportionate to these original mistakes of improper pressure, and I'll give three reasons.
First, in my view, a DPA should have been considered more seriously. Organizations are made up of good and bad people. When bad people do bad things in those organizations, they should be held criminally responsible to the fullest extent of the law, but the good people in those organizations, the innocent employees, so long as the organization has reformed its practices, should not suffer as a result.
Second, given that this was a new law and the Attorney General had never intervened under the DPP Act, getting a second opinion from former chief justice McLachlin made sense to me. I disagree with Dion's finding that there was any tantamount direction, but from what I read in his report, I can see that there were repeated efforts to ask for a second opinion—and proper repeated efforts to ask for a second opinion. Where I disagreed in reading his report was that I could see no evidence that the analysis or advice of Chief Justice McLachlin was in any way predetermined. He made that factual finding, which I think is an incorrect one. A second opinion from a respected jurist would have been reasonable.
Last, in the end there would always have been a great deal of transparency even if the Attorney General had succumbed to that improper pressure and changed her mind. McLellan notes that with the creation of the DPP in 2006—one of the very few things I will say that the former Conservative government did well—the federal justice system has undergone the most significant organizational change in the last half-century and that any decision by the Attorney General to intervene must be in writing and public. Again, McLellan notes that its use would bring a high degree of public and political scrutiny.
Last and related, I do not accept Dion's findings that there was a conflict of interest. In my view, that conclusion is legally incorrect.
Mr. Weir, you have highlighted some of the reasons why. The Prime Minister and his staff, and you can read it in Dion's report, on multiple occasions were referencing jobs. We can question the evidentiary foundations of their intentions, but their intentions.... In the conversations with Gerry Butts, the conversations with the staffers, or Mr. Trudeau himself, they are saying, “We care about protecting jobs”, and Dion documents multiple instances of this. So they were standing up for jobs, albeit with mistakes in doing so, but in my opinion, having read the evidence, they were standing up in the public interest. At no time were they improperly furthering a private interest under the act. There was a breach of Shawcross but not a conflict of interest.
A conflict would occur if, as a public office holder, I further a family member's interest, a friend's interest, my own interest—or, in any basic statutory interpretation where we read the act consistently with reference to other parts of the act and the purpose of the act, we would find that basket clause that one ought not to improperly further a similar interest.
Conflicts are inherent. They demand recusal. They are unchanged actually by proper or improper pressure. Making mistakes to stand up for the public interest is not a conflict, though it was a breach of the Shawcross doctrine. The commissioner's analysis and conclusions are, in my own view, legally wrong on this point.
To the extent that partisan considerations, because those are mentioned on four occasions in the report, were brought to bear, first, no one should have brought these concerns, and in fact McLellan's protocol would prevent any politically exempt staff from participating in any conversations going forward.
Of course, Mr. Trudeau said, “I'm the member for Papineau.” His own evidence to the commissioner was anchored in his experience with his constituents and his understanding of the negative consequences of layoffs for communities. I'll tell you, if Andrew Scheer is elected and stands up for dairy farmers, or if I continue to stand up for animals, or if the member for Oshawa had said, “You know what, I'm the member for Oshawa and I'm concerned about the GM plant closing”, or if I say to Bill Blair, “I'm the member for Beaches—East York, and you're damn right, we have to do something about gun violence”, it's not so clear that these are always partisan considerations.
As McLellan cites one respected scholar, and I think we can all, as partisan politicians, acknowledge this, in many instances the approach that is taken may benefit the public while also serving partisan interests. Lastly, public opinion will be the final arbiter of whether the primary motivation is non-partisan—and yes, motivations do matter.
In my view, the primary motivation in this instance was to protect the public interest in jobs. The public interest was pursued improperly but at no time did the Prime Minister improperly further a private interest. The commissioner is legally wrong, and I would like him to sit right there so he could answer questions about how he got this analysis so completely wrong.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
This is not a comment, Charlie, that I think Peter Kent is more reasonable than you all the time, but in this instance, while his motion—
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Kent's motion was, I think, a reasonable one. I think this particular motion is an overreach. It's inconsistent with the past practice of this committee and it is effectively.... I am repeating myself from previous occasions, but we are not an investigatory body and it is treating us as one, so I will be voting against the motion. I was happy to support Mr. Kent's motion to invite Mr. Dion, but inviting an endless stream of witnesses is not something I can support.
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