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View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
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)
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)
No.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Steven MacKinnon: Nor is that a point of order, Mr. Chair.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
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)
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)
Of course he does.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I'm just expressing it through you, Mr. Chair—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
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.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Point of order.
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 Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
A recorded vote.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
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 Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
Please continue, Ms. Alleslev.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, MP Alleslev.
We will now move to MP Caron.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
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)
Thank you.
Next I have MP Wrzesnewskyj, please.
View Borys Wrzesnewskyj Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
Colleagues, we often have different points of view in our legislature. However, I know that I speak on behalf of all of us when I express our united, heartfelt support for the two Michaels—Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor—and their families. The fortitude they've displayed while unjustly incarcerated in harsh circumstances is a testament to their values and courage.
Colleagues, during our last major study in this committee on the threats to liberal democracy, we repeatedly heard from renowned international experts and academics that Canada is a shining example to the world in its steadfastness and conduct. At a time when populists have attacked the fifth estate—the free media—our Prime Minister, in public meetings in Canada, when tough questions are asked and there's been hostility towards the media from members of the public, has come to the defence of the media's right to ask these tough questions. Yesterday in Vancouver, when the media asked about calls made to former Canadian ambassadors to China, the Prime Minister was clear. He confirmed that the PMO did not direct that these experts be pressured, as has been previously confirmed by our foreign minister Chrystia Freeland.
A hallmark of our government is our strong belief in consultations and speaking with experts. In her opening remarks MP Alleslev spoke repeatedly of muzzling. We had a previous government that often attempted to muzzle experts and scientists, because of its ideologically driven denial of climate change. It was the previous Harper government that not only muzzled experts and scientists, but also attempted to prevent our gathering of data on such important issues as the multicultural nature of our society by cancelling the long-form census, by cancelling our very ability to gather information and for the public to access information.
Our government believes in reaching out, in broad consultations, and not just within Canada but also internationally, especially with our allies in countries that share our liberal democratic values. That's why we've had such great international successes on difficult files, landing free trade agreement after free trade agreement—something the previous government attempted and could not achieve. It just couldn't bring these across the finishing line. Today we're the only G7 country with free trade agreements with every other G7 country. Why? It is because of broad consultations and patient negotiations. We're also a respected member in the Americas on the difficult Venezuelan crisis. I'd like to thank the tremendous consultative work and legal research done by human rights champion Irwin Cotler.
Colleagues, we believe that Canadians will be safer and more prosperous if more of the world shared our values. It's foundational to our foreign policy approach. During this time of geopolitical crisis, when the rules-based international order and the principle of the sanctity of international borders is being fundamentally undermined by Russia's military invasion and annexation of Ukraine's territory, we stand steadfast in our support of Ukraine, lifting the previous government's prohibition on the supply of lethal defensive weapons.
We've not only championed an international rules-based order; we've championed individual rights, the rights of women and girls. We've appointed an ambassador for women, peace and security to champion these rights and to help bring about peace and security in difficult places globally.
Let me conclude by thanking all of the experts who've provided us with invaluable insights on difficult global files, and all of our international allies who've stood with us and spoken out against Beijing's unjust incarceration of our two Canadians.
Chair, we will not be supporting this motion. Thank you.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
Next is MP Weir, please.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, MP Weir.
We'll have MP Paul-Hus, please.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
Next is MP Barrett, please.
View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, we know that in the parliamentary rules, it is inappropriate to raise comments about anyone else in the room other than those sitting at this table. I know the member is relatively new, but I would ask the chair to please advise him that it is not an appropriate parliamentary thing to do at a standing committee of the House of Commons.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, MP Oliphant.
MP Barrett, could we contain the observations to people who are actually seated at the table?
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