There are three main reasons why we feel this motion must be supported. First and foremost, this is about preserving free speech in a democracy, and about the non-partisan nature of our federal public service. Second, it's also about the rapidly deteriorating relations with China and what the government's policy actually is on China. Third, and almost as important, it's about the checks and balances of the institution of this government and the balance that a House of Commons standing committee puts forward in holding the government to account.
What do I mean when I say “free speech”? Clearly, we are in a democracy and, therefore, people who have expertise based on the history of their careers and the experience they have gained over their careers can inform citizens on government behaviour. Whether it was an academic career, a financial management career, an industry career or the public service is irrelevant. They have gained experience, and once they are private citizens, they have the opportunity to inform the public.
We cannot have a Prime Minister's Office, or the Prime Minister himself, for whatever reason, looking to prevent anyone in this country from having the opportunity to speak freely to an issue and to inform citizens on that issue. A democracy is only as good as the information that citizens have. We know from the media reports that part of the conversation is that the PMO directed not to speak out against the government because this is an election year.
Even more so in an election year do we need to have the opportunity to have experts speak out, so that when citizens go to the polls, they have valid and informed information so that they can make a decision on whether or not the current government is the right government to lead them, going forward.
China, and our relationship with China, is one of the most important or significant issues facing the nation at the moment, with two people who are imprisoned in China—wrongfully, in Canada's opinion—and the serious economic impact of our exports of soy, pork and other grains being prevented from getting into China. This is a significant diplomatic and economic relationship and we need to know what experts think of the government's approach before we go to the polls.
We absolutely need to understand whether or not this Prime Minister has continued a pattern of behaviour of attempting to silence those who are experts or private citizens from being able to provide informed opinions, upon which Canadians, in a democracy, can make informed decisions about the shape and direction of their nation, and of course, the expertise of the government.
Secondly, we're looking at the partisan nature of the public service. If, in fact, the Prime Minister's Office is attempting to take non-partisan public officials and arm-wrestle them into behaving in a way that is partisan, if in fact that's what happened when they were asking the assistant deputy minister, Mr. Thoppil, to call these former diplomats and tell them that it's an election year and that they need to check in with the government on the government's policy, then the very fabric of Canada's democracy is at risk.
In Canada we have a non-partisan public service for the very reason that it spans across different governments. If they are asked, or directed by the PMO, whether or not they were specifically directed or whether the PMO merely intimated that direction, everyone in the public service knows that the Prime Minister's Office and the use of the term "Prime Minister's Office" are not to be taken lightly. They are, in many respects, a not-so-veiled threat that your behaviour needs to be a certain way. It's a very difficult position for a public servant to be in when the Prime Minister's Office calls and asks them to do something.
We as a committee have a responsibility to determine whether or not the Prime Minister's Office actually directly phoned a public servant and asked them to behave in an inappropriate way, in a partisan way, when doing so is totally and completely outside of that individual's responsibility to do so and goes against everything in the nature of our government.
Furthermore, we need to understand whether or not that supposed Prime Minister's Office individual did it with the knowledge of the Prime Minister, because the buck stops with the Prime Minister. We also need to know if it went to the Clerk of the Privy Council, or if in fact it completely skipped him, which also would be inappropriate. From free speech to not muzzling people to ensuring that we have non-partisan public servants and whether there is any way the Prime Minister's Office is asking public servants to behave in a partisan way—these are serious allegations that we need to get to the bottom of.
Additionally, we need to talk about Canada's policy on China. Clearly the government's policy up to this point has been weak and has not achieved what we need it to achieve. When supposedly these private citizens—the former diplomats Mr. Mulroney and Mr. Saint-Jacques—were told that they needed to check in with the government on their policy so that they can speak with a single voice, well, perhaps the opposition and all parliamentarians and Canadians should have and be afforded the same opportunity to hear what the government's policy is. We at this committee need to hear from the foreign affairs minister exactly what Canada's China policy is. If this senior associate deputy minister is able to tell two private citizens that they need to check in on the China policy of the country, then I think that all Canadians have as much responsibility to have that information as well. That is the role of a committee, to ensure that information gets to the citizens of the country.
Last, but by no means least, we have a responsibility, as the legislative branch, to do these kinds of investigations. There are only about 30 members of Parliament who are in cabinet, and in our country, in our democracy, they form the executive branch of our government. The other 300 or so, in addition to those cabinet ministers, form the legislative branch. House of Commons standing committees and all members of Parliament in the legislative branch have a responsibility to represent not only the citizens in their respective ridings but also citizens across this country to ensure that we hold the government to account. We're here to understand what the government's doing. We're here to challenge the government. We're here to represent all Canadians in holding the government to account and influencing the government's direction.
If that's not the role of members of Parliament, if the role, specifically of Liberal members of Parliament, is simply to do whatever the government says, then what is the role of members of Parliament and how is that undermining the very fabric and foundation of our democracy?
We saw quite clearly that the Prime Minister and senior people, both elected and unelected...because, of course, one big challenge of the Prime Minister's Office is that they have an incredible amount of authority and are able to dictate all kinds of things, but with far fewer checks and balances by not being elected officials.
If we saw, as we did with the SNC-Lavalin scandal and certainly with the Admiral Norman affair, the undermining and erosion of the independence of the judicial branch and how members of Parliament, specifically Liberal members of Parliament on the justice committee, were shutting down any kind of inquiry and open and transparent democratic investigation into the behaviours of the government, it affects not only one of the key pillars, the independence of the judicial branch, but also the checks and balances and the independence of the legislative branch.
Therefore, I am calling on all members of Parliament today at this committee to assume their responsibility to the citizens of the nation, to the office they hold and to their responsibilities as members of Parliament to hold government to account and ensure not only that the policies and the practices are correct, but also that the institution of government and the Parliament itself remain intact. We must vote in favour of this motion because there is far too much at stake, from free speech to the jeopardizing of a non-partisan public service, to not knowing what the government's China policy is and, therefore, not being able to hear from those who would agree with whatever it is and those who may disagree, and to ensure that we preserve and protect the very structure of our foundation of the independence of the executive, the legislative and, of course, the judicial branches and the role and accountability of a House of Commons standing committee to investigate when the Prime Minister is potentially overstepping his role and responsibility with a pattern of behaviour to muzzle anyone who would criticize, putting partisan goals ahead of the responsibility and the structure of the nation and, of course, covering up what's really going on and hiding the truth from Canadians.
The motion is to hear from these witnesses, to investigate these serious allegations and to protect and preserve Canada's democracy. I am pleading with the members of this committee to vote in favour of the motion.