Mr. Speaker, we are here tonight to talk about a serious charge made by the former attorney general at committee yesterday. At committee she said, “For a period of approximately four months, between September and December of 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”
It is a pretty serious charge. At the heart of the charge is a company that employs many people—and we are grateful for good jobs in Canada—but that is not a free pass to do whatever the company would like.
This is a company whose boardroom has a checkered past. For instance, SNC-Lavalin has been banned by the World Bank from bidding on contracts for 10 years, after investigations revealed that it undertook bribery schemes in Bangladesh and Cambodia. As well, a former SNC-Lavalin executive recently pleaded guilty to breaking election laws to funnel tens of thousands of dollars into the coffers of both the Liberal and Conservative parties. It is a company that in 2011 was able to buy Atomic Energy of Canada's commercial operations for only $15 million, including the plans to the CANDU reactor, and at the same time got a guarantee of $75 million worth of contracts for the work, which more than pays for the price it paid for an important Canadian asset, the plans for the CANDU reactor.
Currently, SNC is part of a consortium that stands to benefit from a multi-billion-dollar capital project right here in downtown Ottawa, with the privatization of the operations of the heating and cooling plant that serves many buildings downtown, including the very building we are in right now.
Now we hear of political interference by the Prime Minister on that company's behalf—not for the workers, but to help SNC-Lavalin executives escape these criminal charges. I will have more to say on that further on in my remarks.
In response to the testimony we heard from the former attorney general that there was a sustained effort to pressure her inappropriately into changing her position, the NDP has called for the Prime Minister to waive cabinet confidence for the period after she was fired from the position of Attorney General but was still in cabinet, because that was not waived and she was very clear at committee that there are elements to the story that bear on her ultimate decision to resign from cabinet that she is not able to tell because they continue to be covered under those confidences.
We have also asked that the justice committee hear from the 11 people the MP for Vancouver Granville named as part of the pressure campaign, who include the Prime Minister. Certainly he has details about what went on that Canadians would like to know and that are essential to being able to understand the nature of what transpired, so he ought to appear before committee.
We also called for a full public inquiry when the story broke some time ago, and we renewed our call because there are a lot of moving parts to this story. I do not think that comes as a surprise to anyone here. It seems there are new revelations almost every day. The scope of the current investigations is simply not adequate for the task of understanding the entirety of what is going on. Each investigation may bear important fruit in terms of figuring out a piece of the puzzle, but by no means can any one of the existing investigations tell the whole story. That is why it is important that we have a public inquiry.
Why is it important to get to the bottom of this? Anyone who has ever been pressured or bullied into doing something they thought was a bad idea probably has a sense of what is wrong with this picture, and anyone who has been pressured or bullied by someone in a position of authority over them will have an even better idea. Perhaps it is a supervisor at work who can terminate someone's position and take away their salary or a landlord who governs whether or not one someone can stay in an apartment unit. It could be a parole officer or a team coach. These are people someone in positions of authority. By and large, people who occupy those positions do a good job and are leaders in our community, but when people in those kinds of positions decide to abuse that power and authority, it is an awful feeling to be subject to it. It is ugly and it is wrong.
The allegation is that the Prime Minister, his principal secretary, his chief of staff and the Clerk of the Privy Council, who all have a lot of authority and power, did just such a thing. According to the former attorney general, as I said, they used that power to inappropriately pressure her to reverse a decision of the director of public prosecutions in order to get a corporation charged with bribery of public officials out of facing criminal charges. The Prime Minister wants to chalk that up to a difference in perspectives and he wants to put his word up against hers.
However, I think anyone who watched the testimony yesterday would have seen that the member for Vancouver Granville offered a calm, consistent, well-documented testimony and she embodied everything one would expect in a credible witness. I believe her testimony, and I encourage any Canadians listening at home to watch it for themselves if they have any doubt. While she and I disagree on a number of policy matters, and we have had disagreements in the House, I do respect her integrity. She has set an example for us all in the way she has conducted herself in a very difficult situation, and that example stands for all of us, whatever our political stripe.
The former attorney general was taking decisions that were hers to take. It was a decision not of the Prime Minister but of the former attorney general whether to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement. When she said that she had made up her mind, the decision was taken.
It was not inappropriate initially for the Prime Minister to have some conversation with her about the economic impact of these things. That is part of good policy-making and good decision-making, frankly. However, when she said that she had considered those things and had made up her mind, that ought to have been the end of it.
However, we did not hear in her testimony that when the Prime Minister and various officials at the top levels of government kept coming back at her and her staff to try to convince them to change this decision, that they were presenting any new information. Perhaps if the Prime Minister would like to come to committee and testify, then he could tell us what new information he was offering her, but that is not what we have heard. We have heard that they were coming with similar arguments and veiled threats to get her to change her mind.
She stood up to the Prime Minister and his team for the sake of an important principle, which is the rule of law. Why is that important? The rule of law gives us rights. It is what protects us from egomaniacs and bullies that sometimes make it into positions of power.
As Canadians, we are entitled to a fair hearing and equal treatment before the law. We can contrast that with other places in the world today or in times past where people live or lived in fear of the whims of people at the top. We passed laws over time to build a system that protected Canadians from that kind of arbitrary treatment, but there is no law we can pass that can guarantee that forever. Protecting our rights, just like protecting our democracy, is a job that is never done and it is why moments like this are so important.
The rule of law and democracy also have an important cultural component. We have to build a culture of respect for rules and due process in our institutions if we want to safeguard democracy and the rule of law. The higher up the food chain one goes, the more power one has, the more important it is for democracy and the rule of law that one conducts oneself according to the highest ethical standard and in respect of those rules. The member for Vancouver Granville lived up to her duty in that regard, but based on her testimony yesterday, the Prime Minister and his team fell far short of that mark.
On December 5, in a meeting with the former PMO principal secretary, Gerry Butts, he is alleged by the former attorney general to have talked to her chief of staff about how the statute was set up by Harper and that he did not like the law, as if that were relevant. In a December 18 meeting, Gerry Butts and the PMO chief of staff, Katie Telford, told Jessica Prince in the former attorney general's office that a resolution to the DPA situation was necessary. He stated, “Jess, there is no solution here that does not involve some interference.” Telford stated, “We don't want to debate legalities anymore.” That is from the member for Vancouver Granville's testimony yesterday.
In a December 19 phone call between the former attorney general and the Clerk of the Privy Council, the Clerk stated that “I think he”, the Prime Minister, “is going to find a way to get it done, one way or another. He is in that kind of mood, and I wanted you to be aware of it.” He also told the former attorney general that she did not want to be on a collision course with the Prime Minister.
For some reason, the Prime Minister felt that he could override the independence of the attorney general. Perhaps that should not come as a surprise. He was, after all, the first Canadian prime minister to be found guilty of ethics violations by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
What about when KPMG ran into trouble? The Liberals were willing to cut a secret deal when KPMG was found to have devised a tax-dodging scheme. All KPMG had to was pay the taxes it owed, without penalties. It got amnesty, and there was secrecy around most of the terms of its settlement.
This is the government that made a science out of cash-for-access fundraising, which has a whole world of ethical problems in and of itself, and it is something we have to watch out for, because a culture of entitlement like this can easily slip into habits of corruption.
That is why it is important to be vigilant. It is also why it is important to get to the bottom of what happened. It is why it is so important that the former attorney general be able to tell her full story. It is why it is important that the Prime Minister waive the rules of cabinet confidence not only for the period when she was the Attorney General, which has been done, but also for the period when she was the veterans affairs minister.
She made it clear in her testimony that there are things she cannot say about her ultimate decision to resign from cabinet because of something, presumably, like a conversation or something else, that happened between the time she took the job as veterans affairs minister and the time she resigned from cabinet.
It is also why it is so important that we have a full public inquiry and get to the bottom of what happened.
Having established the importance of the issue, I want to take some time to address some of the arguments I have heard from Liberal members in the chamber today.
They have said that the opposition should not be concerned about this because an investigation is happening at the justice committee. I respect that the justice committee has a job to do. However, I believe the scope of the study it has selected is already too narrow to capture everything that is going on. Within the scope of the study the committee selected, we will not get to the bottom of all the allegations that have come out from the testimony.
As well, it needs to be said that there is a fundamental political conflict of interest in leaving that investigation to a committee that is dominated by Liberals, who have a clear political interest in ensuring that the problem goes away so that it does not ultimately hurt the Prime Minister. The fact that so many Liberals seem to be blind to that fact or do not really see a problem with that or understand why people would have legitimate concerns about the justice committee being the principal forum for getting to the bottom of this is very telling in terms of how the government got into this kind of trouble in the first place. Liberals do not seem able to identify these kinds of obvious, or at the very least apparent, conflicts.
When we pursue the highest ethical standards, as the Prime Minister told his ministers in his mandate letters he wanted to do and as he told Canadians he wanted to do in the 2015 election, apparent conflicts of interest are just as important as actual conflicts of interest. There is certainly an apparent conflict of interest when six Liberal members of Parliament are going to be the final adjudicators on what has happened in this case.
The Liberals have also said that since the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is running an investigation, we should not be concerned. They say we should not have any extra questions, as he is going to decide everything. We are quite aware of that. In fact, it was the NDP Party that requested that investigation.
It is not that we do not have confidence in the commissioner and therefore want a public inquiry and it is not that we do not think there is some value to the investigation that is going on; it is that the commissioner's investigation is also limited in scope. It is limited by the very rules that set up the office of the commissioner and gave him his powers and responsibilities.
As such, there is no way his report is going to get to the bottom of all of what we have heard. These allegations of political interference fall outside the narrow scope given to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, who only looks into conflicts of interest as they pertain to the direct financial interests of a member of the House. We will be interested to hear the conclusion of his investigation, but there is certainly a lot more going on here than that.
The Liberals also say that another reason we should not worry is that the director of public prosecutions has said that she made an independent decision. No one has ever doubted that she made an independent decision. The problem was not that somehow her decision was not independent; the problem was that after that decision was made, political actors, including the Prime Minister and those in his office, sought to reverse that decision. Furthermore, they did not just do it with a one-off conversation with the former attorney general. They coordinated a pressure campaign in order to try to reverse that decision.
That is the problem. Let us not see anyone get up to say that the director of public prosecutions made her decision independently. Of course she did. The question is whether someone else sought to overturn that decision for political reasons.
I have heard the Liberals stand up today and say that the Prime Minister told the former attorney general that it was her decision at the time, so there is nothing to see here and not to worry. I do not doubt that he did. That is a pretty good way to cover his behind. I can believe that she even took him at his word at the time, which is what she said in testimony. When she was fired from the position, that probably changed her point of view about the conversation they had when she was told that it was really her decision and hers alone. When she made the decision the Prime Minister clearly did not want, she lost the job. That cast a whole new light on the conversations they had had up to then, which she reasonably may have thought were sincere.
We have also been told that we should be quiet, because the Prime Minister gave her a waiver on solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality. The thing that leaves out is the fact that the waiver on cabinet confidentiality does not cover the period when she was in cabinet between the time she was fired from her job as attorney general and took the job as the veterans affairs minister and when she chose to resign. She was very clear at committee that there are aspects of the story she is unable to tell. Presumably something happened in that period that made her change her mind. If we are going to get to the bottom of this, we need to know exactly what that was.
My colleague from Victoria presented a motion yesterday at committee simply asking that the justice committee request of the Prime Minister that cabinet confidentiality be waived. It does not have any power to compel the Prime Minister to waive it. I watched as each Liberal member of that committee voted the motion down and refused to at least ask the Prime Minister to take it upon himself to liberate the former attorney general to tell her full story.
I know I only have a few minutes left. I want to talk about the principal argument we have heard in this place in terms of the Liberals' defence, which is jobs, jobs, jobs and that they want to save the jobs. Everyone here has an interest in seeing Canadian employed, but that does not mean anything goes. It cannot be a get-out-of-jail-free card. It cannot be that if a company is big enough and employs enough people, it can bribe public officials and get off the hook. That is completely inappropriate.
Was it about the workers? Was it about the jobs? When we heard from the former attorney general that the Prime Minister was raising political concerns about the fact that he was the MP for Papineau and there was a Quebec election and something had to be done about this, it was not about the workers or their jobs. It was about the political interests of the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party. That is what it was about, and it had very little to do with the workers.
What could have been an option, which is something the Liberals are also pursuing, was reforming the integrity regime with the 10-year ban on contracts. In fact, it is an option they are pursuing. I dare say that this is the appropriate option, not looking at inappropriate pressure to abandon criminal charges but looking at the sanctions regime and maybe changing it. That is where the conversation should have happened. They have prejudiced and sullied that conversation, because no matter what they do now, it is going to look like they are exercising all the options and pulling out all the stops to help get SNC-Lavalin off the hook.
The Minister of Public Services and Procurement was at committee yesterday. I asked her a simple question many times. I asked if she would say that the bribery of public officials is a serious offence and would be treated as a serious offence in the new integrity policy. She told me that the government does not have a position on the hierarchy of offences. That is what she said. As the minister who oversees the largest capital budget in government, she refused to say that she thought the bribery of public officials was a serious offence. I could not believe it. It is a testament to how deep the desire to help out this company goes in the government and how fearful people on the other benches are of doing anything that could undermine the interests of that company.
I hope I get a chance in questions and answers to talk a bit more about workers and the record of the government when it comes to workers. One of the first bills I saw passed in this place was Bill C-10, which was under time allocation and everything else. That was a bill to change the law to allow Air Canada to outsource its maintenance work for the aerospace industry out of the country. I have a few more examples, so hopefully I will have a chance to address them in questions and answers.