Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Angus made a point that I was going to make as well.
I think it's improper for any number of reasons. It is a standing practice for our committee that there be notice. I would have expected some conversation in advance if there wasn't to be notice. Regardless, forget process, on substance it's not something I can support. I completely agree with Mr. Angus.
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Erskine-Smith.
We'll go back to Ms. Raitt.
View Lisa Raitt Profile
CPC (ON)
View Lisa Raitt Profile
2019-08-21 15:18
Thank you.
I appreciate the commentary of the two members.
If it is about whether that becomes public, I understand the concerns. My concern is that the Ethics Commissioner should have all the information that he was not allowed to have with respect to cabinet confidence. That is being freely given to other people and digested in a way that is more, I would say, sympathetic to the Prime Minister.
I'll withdraw the motion, because I believe that the members don't agree with me that it's important to move ahead.
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
The committee would have to agree to have that motion withdrawn. Is it the will of the committee to do that?
You'd like to vote on it.
Is there any further discussion on the motion?
View Bob Zimmer Profile
CPC (BC)
It's a recorded vote.
(Motion negatived: nays 7; yeas 2)
The Chair: Is there any further discussion today?
I believe we've exhausted the motions and are ready to head home. Thank you, again, for coming to Ottawa.
We're adjourned.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2019-07-30 12:59
Good afternoon, colleagues. Welcome to the 151st meeting of the foreign affairs and international development committee. I particularly want to thank members who have come from across the country to be here for this session today.
Today's meeting is to consider a request, under Standing Order 106(4), made by four members of the committee.
I understand, MP Alleslev, that you're going to introduce and speak to that motion.
Please take the floor.
View Leona Alleslev Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much.
As you know, the Conservatives have called this emergency committee meeting because of reports that the Prime Minister has used the power of his office to attempt to muzzle private citizens and respected former career diplomats David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques. These are serious allegations that merit an investigation, and of course it's our hope that this committee will agree to and support our request today.
As Mr. Mulroney said in some of the public statements that he's made, discouraging private citizens with expertise in foreign relations from speaking freely is fundamentally an undemocratic idea. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has shown a clear pattern of silencing those who would speak out against him. We're concerned that Canadians no longer have confidence in the Prime Minister when he says that he did not direct these civil servants to try to silence his critics.
We saw the Prime Minister attempt to defend himself with the same language that he used during the SNC-Lavalin scandal and various other affairs, such as the Vice-Admiral Norman affair and a trip to India, and we obviously do not necessarily believe that. As Canadians know, Trudeau's early denials in the SNC-Lavalin scandal have turned out to be false, and now we're wondering what the case is with this affair.
It is clear that the Prime Minister has shown a pattern of behaviour of attempting to silence anyone who would challenge or criticize the government's approach to anything. The foreign affairs committee today must find in favour of our motion to be able to get to the bottom of this. Anything less would be a cover-up.
We would like to move the following motion:
That, the Committee invite the following witnesses to appear:
a. Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland;
b. Paul Thoppil, Assistant Deputy Minister for Asia-Pacific, Global Affairs Canada;
c. David Mulroney, as an individual;
d. Guy Saint-Jacques, as an individual;
e. Any other individual that the Committee deems relevant
that pursuant to Section 10(3) of the Parliament of Canada Act, the witnesses are to be sworn in;
that each witness appear individually on a panel, for no less than one hour; and
that all witnesses appear no later than August 15, 2019.
Now, Mr. Chair, I'd like to speak to the motion.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2019-07-30 13:03
Please continue, Ms. Alleslev.
View Leona Alleslev Profile
CPC (ON)
Excellent.
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.
Thank you.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2019-07-30 13:15
Thank you, MP Alleslev.
We will now move to MP Caron.
View Guy Caron Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you.
All this is necessary because David Mulroney, the former Canadian ambassador to China, received a call, not from a regular employee of Global Affairs Canada, but from the assistant deputy minister for Asia-Pacific at the department. The assistant deputy minister asked him the following:
“In this time of high tension and in an election environment, we all need to be very, very careful.”
He said that he made the call at the behest of the Prime Minister's Office. At this time, the PMO and the Prime Minister deny making the request. Someone is lying in this case, and the consequences are quite serious for our parliamentary system.
Is Mr. Mulroney lying? I don't think so.
Did Mr. Thoppil lie when he said that the Prime Minister's Office asked him to contact Mr. Mulroney? In addition, someone else in the Prime Minister's Office reportedly contacted Guy Saint-Jacques, another former Canadian ambassador to China.
I don't think that Mr. Thoppil lied. He had no reason to do so.
As assistant deputy minister, he is experienced enough to distinguish between partisan meddling and a request from the Prime Minister's Office. At this point, I believe that, to get to the bottom of the matter and find out the truth, we must hear from the witnesses named in the motion. Ms. Alleslev provided the rationale for our request. However, I believe that we must determine to what extent, in terms of public comments, the Prime Minister's Office can ask its public service to work with private citizens who have expertise in the matter.
These people have the right to make public comments, and they do so by drawing on their expertise. Asking them to speak carefully and to understand that they and Canada are acting in the best interests of the country by speaking with one voice constitutes an excessive and deliberate violation. If the Prime Minister's Office did indeed contact these former ambassadors, I think that this raises serious issues in terms of how we deal with the relationship between the Prime Minister's Office and the public service and how the Prime Minister's Office deals with private citizens.
To this end, I urge my Liberal colleagues on the committee to call this meeting and the aforementioned witnesses so that we can understand the entire situation and find out who is and who isn't telling the truth in this case. Based on the current information, if I consider the simplest explanation, I'd say that Mr. Mulroney and Mr. Saint-Jacques felt pressured to align their views with the government's perspective.
When he reported that he made the phone call at the behest of the Prime Minister's Office, the assistant deputy minister in question had no reason to lie. If the request did indeed come from the Prime Minister's Office, we must know who made the request and why, and we must ensure that this type of action won't be taken again. Only transparency and a public review by the committee will make this possible.
I urge the Liberal members of the committee to accept and adopt this motion. We want to get to the bottom of the matter, not only for the sake of democracy and freedom of expression, but also to know the full story.
Thank you.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2019-07-30 13:19
Thank you.
We'll now have MP Oliphant, please.
View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all the committee members on both sides for being here and for exercising both their privilege and their responsibility as parliamentarians. It really is a tremendous privilege to be a member of Parliament. It allows us to engage in issues and engage in conversation and engage in matters that are on the minds of Canadians every day. It is also a tremendous responsibility, and we bear that responsibility, I think, because our privilege is so great.
When I received the notice of this meeting and the request that had been made, I welcomed that. It's part of our privilege as members of Parliament that if any four of us request a meeting like this, it is incumbent upon us to give full and due consideration to that request. That's what we are doing, but that also comes with tremendous responsibility. Dispassionately, when I saw the notice of motion, I prepared my remarks, but I'm actually leaving them for a moment because I think that the responsibility we have is far greater than to score political points.
I am very distressed—actually more distressed than I was when I simply read the notice of motion—at the tone, at the idea and at the allegations that are being cast about by members of the opposition. I say that advisedly, because I've been on the opposition side and I've been on the government side and I know what opposition members do, because I have done it myself. But there are times in politics, there are times in public policy, there are times in our Canadian shared life when we let some of that go and we actually think primarily, as the government has been doing since December, about two Canadians who are wrongfully and arbitrarily held in detention in China in conditions that have been horrendous and belittling and that have demanded tremendous courage from both Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. I have talked to their family members, and we've had consular visits, and there should be nothing more on our minds right now than ensuring their safety and considering their well-being.
We have lives in the balance and we also have livelihoods in the balance, and those have to do with farmers and exporters of Canadian goods that are also being arbitrarily detained. That means we put aside trying to gain political points and trying to make specious arguments for the sake of some gain. I am well known for not having always been in favour of things that our government has done, and I have been quite free to vote against our government. There are times, whether you are in opposition or in government, when you rally together and offer constructive, important conversation and ideas to make sure that we are doing the right thing.
This government consults. This government engages. On every issue we do those things. On an issue like our current very tense and fragile relationship with China, particularly when lives are hanging in the balance, we consult with everybody. We would open the door. This government—I am speaking as a parliamentary secretary now—would open the door to all opposition parties and independent members to offer constructive, helpful ways to negotiate in a very, very difficult situation. We've been doing that with patience. We've been doing that with firmness. I think our foreign affairs minister has a spine of steel as she engages with all these partners in what is a very complex situation. Part of that is ensuring that our professional public servants are also engaged not only with the government but also with civil society, engaged with everyone who is an opinion leader, to make sure that we have an informed public discussion about key foreign issues.
The issue around China—and there are several issues around China—is no exception. Our very professional foreign service has regular meetings with the key people in government responsible for public policy with respect to China. That obviously engages elected officials from time to time. It obviously engages their staff from time to time, including the Prime Minister's Office. Those are important conversations that happen inside the government, and then we go outside the government to engage civil society, too, to ensure that we are not speaking with one voice but speaking with an informed voice. That's what this government is committed to doing.
Global Affairs Canada engages with people outside government all the time. They do that to ensure there is an informed discussion—not one voice but an informed discussion.
The public service issued a statement last week and I want to quote it so that it is on record. The media has already paid attention to it. This comes from Global Affairs Canada and I will just add my own comment. This is a very distinguished public servant, continuing in an extremely important position in Toronto. He said:
The call with Mr. Mulroney was made with this intention....
We welcome the views and advice of informed Canadians such as Mr. Mulroney on these complex issues and regret that this message was not clearly communicated. There was no intention, nor was there any instruction from anyone, including the PMO, that Mr. Mulroney clear his public comments with the government.
Let me be very clear. He said there was no instruction from anyone, including the Prime Minister's Office, that Mr. Mulroney clear his public comments with the government. The public service in Canada is an extremely professional and distinguished public service. They've been clear that the current assistant deputy minister was not acting under the direction of anyone when he made these phone calls.
Our government has the utmost respect for these two former ambassadors to China. We would never attempt to limit their right to speak freely. That doesn't mean we won't engage with them to ensure that we have a Canadian constructive discussion about important issues when lives are at stake.
For me, personally, it is absolutely our responsibility to come here to deal with a motion that is in order, and it is our responsibility to ensure that politics do not get in the way of doing the important work of being government. Whether it's the legislative branch or the executive branch, we share that responsibility together and it's given to us and we hold it in an earthen vessel and we do it the best we can. We should not be wasting public resources to drive down avenues that simply will not help save lives and there is no story there.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2019-07-30 13:28
Thank you.
Next I have MP Wrzesnewskyj, please.
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