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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you very much. In a moment, I do want to add what I hope is a new contribution to the debate.
We've heard that what's at issue is not just a victimless crime. That's why the OECD anti-bribery unit has taken an interest in this. I think it's a serious taint on Canada's reputation and one that we'd like to see corrected as quickly as possible.
We've heard many arguments over the last number of weeks and here today about the importance of the rule of law and what it means to live in a country where top political leaders feel free to interfere in decisions that ought to be independent when we're talking about criminal prosecutions. I think it's something that Canadians don't want to see happening in their own country, and there is serious concern about these allegations that this kind of inappropriate political pressure has been put forth.
I think that simply saying that nothing criminal has gone on in that regard is far too low a bar for Canada. I think what Canadians expect, as the Prime Minister has highlighted in his mandate letters at the beginning of this Parliament and subsequently, is that the standard of ethics for his government and his ministers would go beyond simply meeting legal requirements for ethics, and that ethics to him, as he said, meant going above and beyond those requirements: not only not having done anything wrong, but to be seen as not having done anything wrong.
All of this reinforces the anxiety that I think a lot of Canadians feel, which is that there's one set of rules for wealthy and well-connected folks here in Canada and another set of rules for everyone else. There's certainly enough to feel like that may be happening, and I think that until we get to the bottom of what's happening, Canadians are going to continue to lack confidence that this system they have is working properly for them.
As my colleague said earlier, that's why we think the gold standard for restoring confidence on this is a public inquiry, and not just to ensure that we can hear from all those people who are mentioned in today's motion. I'd say that today's motion is really just a minimum in terms of who the committee can call. It just says that for certain we should be sure to call these people, but of course if the committee wants to call people beyond what's mentioned in the scope of the motion, the committee has every right to do that.
We certainly have some further suggestions about who we might hear from, but it's important that we launch the study. Then we can have those discussions about who else it would be appropriate to include. There's that question in terms of having it led by someone independent.
The other thing that a public inquiry would do would be to provide some findings, presumably, which was not something that we got out of the justice committee hearings so far and which would give Canadians some idea as to what the salient facts are, how to interpret those and what should be the takeaway from what we've learned through all this testimony.
The justice committee process, such as it was, was obviously inadequate. As I say, it didn't produce any findings, at least not yet, although it ought to have. There were clearly more people to hear from and who we didn't hear from, so we're in an attempt to try to make sure that those other things that need to be heard get heard. I won't requote, but we've heard from Ms. Philpott that there's more to the story that needs to be told and that she feels she has something important to contribute. We've heard from Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould that there's more to the story that needs to be told and that she would like to tell.
There are two reasons why they're not able to do that. One is having an appropriate forum. The second, and ultimately the most important, is being released by the Prime Minister and cabinet from cabinet confidence so they can say what it is they have to say without fear of reprisal. There are some arguments out there that I want to take a moment to address, arguments saying that they're already in a position to do so, which I don't believe is the case, not in any real or meaningful way. Those arguments, particularly in recent days, have had to do with parliamentary privilege and a cabinet oath.
The first thing that I think needs to be said about this and where we haven't heard enough in this discussion—and I would query my Liberal colleagues on this—is just this: do we really want it to be the case that the only reason we think people who have served in cabinet would keep their oath of secrecy is on pain of being fired from cabinet, and that if they're already out of cabinet, then what's the point and why would they bother? Surely we have to think that there's a higher threshold for keeping the secrets of Canadian cabinet than the fact that you might get kicked out. That means that anybody who is no longer in cabinet, who has served in cabinet, if we're to believe the Liberal line on this, could get up at any time in the House and the Liberals would have no problem with this, with divulging cabinet secrets or details of what has happened at the cabinet table.
We have other former members of cabinet who are still MPs and who could exercise parliamentary privilege. I'm surprised by this, although it seems to be an implication by the Liberal argument that they could get up any time in the House and, no problem, start talking about details of cabinet meetings and other important issues that have come up at the cabinet table. I think that's incoherent. It certainly doesn't meet the kind of standard that I think Canadians expect of their government.
The reason people want to hear from Ms. Wilson-Raybould and from Ms. Philpott isn't that it's juicy to get information about what happened in cabinet and it doesn't matter what the details are. The reason people want to hear from these particular former ministers is that we're concerned that the Prime Minister's Office was inappropriately interfering in what should be an independent judicial system. We're concerned not just because we're concerned about that, although we are, but we're concerned also because organizations such as the OECD anti-bribery unit have said that they are concerned. We want to clear Canada's reputation, and we want to get to the bottom of what's happening.
This isn't just any circumstance of something that happened under the rubric of cabinet confidentiality that these women are being asked to talk about. It doesn't make sense to say that, oh well, because they have parliamentary privilege, anyone who has cabinet secrets can just get up in the House at any time. I don't think that's a credible argument, and I think we should all be giving more respect to the oath of cabinet.
That's why it was important to get a waiver in the first place. That was something the Prime Minister seemed to recognize when he issued a waiver to Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould in the first place. He might have been thinking of the Treasury Board directives on cabinet confidence, as stated in section 5. I'll quote this because I think it is important for members—particularly Liberal members who are out talking in the media about this—to know what these guidelines state: “There is no discretionary power provided to an individual minister or government institution to make a Cabinet confidence accessible to the public.”
That's pretty clear, and that's a government document. That's not me making that up or coming up with that. That's a document that lays out the expectations around cabinet confidence. That's something the Prime Minister seemed to understand when he issued a waiver in the first place. The only problem with that waiver was that it didn't extend for the full period in question. It stopped when Jody Wilson-Raybould was fired from the position of Attorney General. It doesn't permit her to speak about the things that happened between then and when she resigned from cabinet.
Now, it's perfectly plausible.... Anybody who has ever had somebody in their life who was behaving in a way that they thought was erratic or strange, and then discovered a detail that in hindsight helped make sense of that behaviour, will understand that it's perfectly plausible that something happened after she was fired from the post of Attorney General that made her go: “Oh, that wasn't all a coincidence. That wasn't just a mishmash of meetings with different people who were concerned, but actually that was something quite deliberate, and there was more to it.” She has hinted that there is something more to tell. I think Canadians deserve to hear what that is.
If the Prime Minister doesn't feel that something is incriminating and that he did nothing wrong, I don't understand.... Also, if he is of the view that she could have said it under privilege at any time, well, it raises the question—why did you issue a waiver in the first place? It's a waiver, incidentally, which is confined not just in terms of the period of time but also specifically to the justice committee hearings. Why issue that waiver in the first place? Why wasn't the position in the first place that she could share whatever she wanted to share under the rubric of parliamentary privilege?
It seems to me that the only credible answer I can come up with for this is that the Prime Minister was concerned to limit her ability to speak only to the justice committee study, which we found was then summarily cut short by Liberal members on that committee, and that he was concerned that she be able to talk only about a particular point in time.
So now, outside of that study and outside of speaking about only that period of time that the Prime Minister wants her to be able to speak about, the risk is on her, and it's a risk that she will face legal proceedings. It may be that ultimately a court will decide that parliamentary privilege trumps, but that's only after it potentially gets dragged through the courts for a long time. That's only after there are other career implications, potentially, even outside of politics. We've heard a former law clerk say it's unlikely that she would be prosecuted for breach of trust and other things, but not that it's impossible, and we all know that court cases come with real costs, financial and otherwise. Even if you're vindicated in the end, by the time you get to the end of that process it can be cold comfort that you were ultimately right.
All of this, and the reason she would have to take that risk if she spoke under parliamentary privilege, is happening only because the Prime Minister refuses to give her permission to just tell her story. If the Prime Minister gives that permission, all of these debates go away. She's released to go and talk about this at a press conference, not just within the confines of a parliamentary committee or having to awkwardly find time in the House, when we all know that no member can get up and speak about anything they want at any time, subject to no condition.
We haven't seen an effort from the government to work with the other parties to try to set aside that time. Where there was a space created at the justice committee, that was closed down. We'll find out later today whether or not this becomes a space for that testimony to take place. There hasn't been the kind of co-operation you would expect to make it easier to create that space at this committee, again, only because the government, and particularly the Prime Minister by order in council, isn't making it easy by extending the waiver.
We're trying to create that space. Our amendment today is about making it easier for our Liberal colleagues to create that space. Our amendment takes out some of the more politicized language in paragraph A of this motion. The motion, if this amendment passes, would no longer refer to “corruption”. It defines clearly and relates clearly to the mandate of this very committee to take away all doubt that there is an appropriate way of tackling this issue at this committee that bears upon the proper work of this committee. That's why we refer to the particular standing order.
The other thing this amendment does that isn't so much for our Liberal colleagues.... The first part is, but the second part is for Canadians who want to understand the decision-making on these files and who want to understand why they're getting to hear or not hear the full story. That's by having a public vote. When the justice committee process shut down, that was done in private. Canadians didn't really get to hear the reasons why. They heard the reasons the Liberals gave afterwards in the press conference, but they didn't get to hear the discussion.
This is a discussion we're perfectly comfortable having in public. We think it's a discussion Canadians deserve to hear. They deserve to hear the reasons, the real reasons, the Liberals voted against this motion. It's why I hope we don't proceed to a vote without hearing from any Liberals today. I think it would be a shame if they didn't put anything on the record that indicated why they were voting one way or another. It would be a shameful spectacle to walk out of here and have no indication on the record as to why they would vote against this motion.
All we're asking is that the vote be in public, and I hope we will hear from one of them before we have that vote so that Canadians can understand, if this doesn't go ahead, why it's not going ahead.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
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