Mr. Speaker, I thank my B.C. colleague for reminding us about the respect that we, as parliamentarians, should have for rules and customs. It is not because we are full of ourselves that we want to have a lot of people here listening to the person who has the floor, who just so happens to be me right now.
I want to recognize the outstanding work done by the people who draft bills for Canada's Parliament, because that is an extremely difficult job. It takes years of practice and, above all, dedication to doing things right, down to the last detail. I very much appreciate their work.
In December 2004, if memory serves, I did a story on the legislative specialists working for Quebec's revenue ministry. They are the people who write budget implementation bills, which are extremely intricate. I would just like to pay tribute to the Hon. Lawrence Bergman, Quebec's revenue minister under the Hon. Jean Charest. Mr. Charest was well known here in the House of Commons from 1984 to 1997 as an MP, minister, deputy prime minister, party leader and deputy speaker of the House of Commons.
That said, we think it is important to include those four elements in the legislation, which is exactly what the Liberal government did not do. I mentioned that we Conservatives were particularly concerned about the issue of monikers. In the Norman affair, unfortunately, people with bad intentions—and I can say this with the protection of the House—started a witch hunt. I will prove this over the new few minutes. That is completely unacceptable in our democratic system, especially when we consider the respect that the political branch needs to show for the legal system and the military system. Unfortunately, there were attempts to lump everything all together, without talking about the financial repercussions it could have on Canada's shipping industry.
The people conducting the investigations used code names to cover up their work. In our view, that practice should be harshly condemned. We applauded the fact that the Senate adopted amendment 3, which would put an end to that practice. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board announced, it is their right and their prerogative, and I respect that. I am a parliamentarian first and foremost, and a champion of democracy above all else. However, we believe that the government is wrong to reject that amendment, because it pertains to an abhorrent practice and one of the most direct attacks by political authority on judicial authority and military authority, all for financial gain and dishonourable purposes.
I am going to talk about what happened with the Asterix, since that is what this is all about, as well as Vice-Admiral Norman and the contract awarded by the Government of Canada in 2015 for the construction of that supply ship. The contract was awarded to a shipyard in Lévis called Davie. Meanwhile, pressure was being applied by a competing shipyard, Irving, which interfered in the executive process of our parliamentary system by lobbying some of the most senior cabinet members directly.
We should first talk about Vice-Admiral Norman, one of the most decorated and honourable members of the Canadian military. His dedication, professionalism and sense of duty led him to accomplish great things. He is the son of an army officer and grandson of a First World War veteran; honour runs in his blood. Vice-Admiral Norman studied in Kingston before joining the naval reserve and pursuing a career in the navy. He is a specialist in above water warfare and has held a number of posts, including on the maiden operational deployment of HMCS Halifax, and as executive officer of HMCS Iroquois, commanding officer of the frigate HMCS St. Johns and, more recently, commander of Canadian Fleet Atlantic.
At every step of his career, from his days in the naval reserve to his promotion to one of the highest ranks in the navy, that of vice-admiral, he always acted with a level of honour befitting his rank, never betraying the faith placed in him by his peers.
Sadly, history will show that this government dragged an honourable man through the mud for their own, purely self-serving, financial purposes. The government disgraced itself. Incidentally, let's hope the Canadian public voices its extreme displeasure over this issue on October 21.
Let's not forget that all of this happened because, during the 41st Parliament, the previous government, a Conservative government, contracted the Davie shipyard in Lévis to build a supply ship.
As soon as the Conservative government was defeated and the new Liberal government took over, Irving immediately started pressuring the newly elected government to review the decision. This resulted in a judicial inquiry, which led to the vice-admiral, an honourable man, being dismissed and dragged through the mud by the current government, including the Prime Minister, who made some unfortunate comments. Heads of state need to choose their words carefully. Unfortunately, on two separate occasions, the Prime Minister said that there would be a trial, even though nothing had been announced. This was some utterly unacceptable political interference in the judicial system, not unlike what we saw with the SNC-Lavalin scandal. It is worth remembering all of this.
Since my time is limited, I will be brief, but I do want to remind members about the unfortunate Vice-Admiral Norman affair, which runs deep and which will leave a permanent scar on this government.
Paul Martin's Liberal government looked at the possibility of replacing some supply ships in 2004, but the decision was ultimately made in 2015.
There had been talk of the need for a new supply ship since 2004 and a number of steps were taken. Finally, on November 18, 2014, Vice-Admiral Norman informed the Standing Committee on National Defence that Canada needed new supply ships.
In 2004, Paul Martin's Liberal government announced that Canada would need a new supply ship. Then, on November 18, 2014, in front of a parliamentary committee, Vice-Admiral Norman stated that Canada was indeed in need of a new supply ship. In January 2015, the federal government decided that it needed to follow through on that request. On June 23, 2015, the current Premier of Alberta, the Hon. Jason Kenney, who was the defence minister at the time, announced that the government was in discussions with Davie shipyard in Lévis about a temporary supply ship.
This announcement was made on June 23, on the eve of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, Quebec's national holiday or, as some call it, the summer solstice, but that is another story. This happened just a few hours before Quebec's national holiday.
On June 23, 2015, the defence minister, on behalf of the Conservative government, announced that it was initiating talks with Davie. On August 1, 2015, the Conservative government announced, a few hours before the election was called, that the Government of Canada had signed a letter of intent with Davie shipyard for the construction of a supply ship. Everything was going well up to that point. However, on October 19, 2015, Canadians cast their ballots, and the Liberal Party came to power. We are democrats and we respect the people's decision.
On October 8, 2015, the MV Asterix, which was chosen by Davie to be refitted as a supply ship, arrived at the shipyard in Quebec City.
November 17, 2015, is when the political interference in the entirely appropriate process initiated by the former government began.
I want to remind members that that is no small thing. I represent a riding in Quebec City, where the issue attracts considerable attention. Once again, for the third time, I would remind members, because this does in fact relate to Bill C-58, that in my 20 years as a journalist in Quebec City, I reported on the Davie shipyard between 150 to 200 times.
Of those 150 to 200 news reports, maybe three of them were positive because, unfortunately, as I recall, things were never going well for Davie. Our government granted funding to this shipyard, which was established in 1880. That is no small thing, and this is no small shipyard that we are talking about. It is the biggest shipyard we have with two huge dry docks where these sorts of big jobs can be done.
Some members will likely wonder why the Conservative government did not do anything about that in 2011. I will say two things. First, the government announcement in 2011 was based on the recommendations of a neutral and independent committee. Second, it is important to remember that, sadly, the Davie shipyard was technically bankrupt in 2011. No one takes any joy in that, but facts are facts. I would invite members to ask themselves whether they would be prepared to hire a company that is technically bankrupt to build their house. I am not so sure anyone would. That is what happened in 2011.
However, in 2015, under our government, Canada granted Davie a contract to build a supply ship and we all know now how well that turned out. I can confirm that the ship was indeed delivered on time and on budget. That does not happen very often. Davie workers and managers, the union leaders, and the new head and owner of the Davie shipyard all deserve our warmest congratulations and salutations for delivering this important part of Canada's arsenal, the Asterix, on time and on budget.
I was there on July 20, 2017, when Pauline Théberge, wife of the Hon. Michel Doyon, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, broke a sacrificial bottle on the ship for good luck. We were there. I was very pleased and honoured to attend the ceremony along with a number of MPs and former Conservative ministers. Unfortunately, the current government was conspicuously absent from what was an important, positive and exciting event for Canada. That absence spoke volumes.
Getting back to our story about Mr. Norman and the contract for the Asterix, on November 17, 2015, just a few days after the Liberal government's cabinet was sworn in at Rideau Hall, James Irving, Irving's co-CEO, sent a letter to four Liberal ministers, namely the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Finance, the former minister of public services and procurement, and the former Treasury Board president, Scott Brison. We have heard that name a lot over the past few months, and as we will see, there may be something of a connection with what happened here.
Mr. Irving went to bat for his shipyard, which is basically his job, and communicated directly with four of this government's senior ministers, including the Treasury Board president, the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Finance. They might not be the three aces, but they are pretty close. They are at the top of the federal government hierarchy. Mr. Irving wanted to revisit the contract awarded by the previous government.
Then, as it turns out, on November 19, 2015, during a federal cabinet meeting that Vice-Admiral Norman did not attend, the Treasury Board president shelved the Asterix project for two months to review the contract that had been awarded.
It was not until later that we found out why. Cabinet confidences were leaked to CBC journalist James Cudmore, who, on November 20, 2015, reported that the letter was not signed by November 30 as it should have been.
That is where the problems in this story all began. On November 16, 2016, the RCMP started putting Vice-Admiral Norman under surveillance. There was a police car in front of his house in Orleans, a suburb of Ottawa. As I was saying, he was dragged through the mud, and it was despicable. On January 9, 2017, seven police officers conducted a raid of Vice-Admiral Norman's home.
Let me quote some information. The seven police officers arrived at Vice-Admiral Mark Norman's home. They “stayed [in the house] for six hours, and seized a desktop computer, a laptop, two cell phones and three iPads, one owned by [Norman's wife].”
Norman's defence would later argue that the RCMP, which had a warrant to seize “DND files and related material”, overstepped “by also seizing thousands of pieces of personal effects from the Norman family.”
This is totally unacceptable and outrageous. We are talking about one of the top soldiers in the Canadian Army. We are talking about the number two person in the Canadian Army, and the Liberals did not treat this honourable man as highly as they should treat a man who was so honourable in his career and in his personal life.
Other reprehensible events followed. The vice-admiral was relieved of his duties. On November 20, 2017, the Canadian government refused Vice-Admiral Norman's request for financial assistance for the legal expenses stemming from this crisis.
The Asterix was officially christened by the wife of the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec in July 2017. On December 23, 2017, the supply ship Asterix left Davie shipyard, near Quebec City, to commence operations. Over the past two years, the supply ship Asterix has distinguished itself as one of the best, if not the best, ship of all of Canada's allies. The contract our government awarded to the Davie shipyard was completed impeccably, not only in terms of budgets and deadlines, but also in terms of our military's needs.
Everything was going well until the political interference began. When asked about it, the Prime Minister twice said that Vice-Admiral Norman would be charged with a crime. He said that before any suit was officially filed in court. That is despicable. We are talking about clear interference by the Prime Minister of Canada, who is the head of the government, and therefore the head of the executive branch and, to some extent, the head of the legislative branch, in the judicial process.
This is not the only time he did this. We all remember the terrible SNC-Lavalin scandal, which led to the resignation of two senior government ministers, namely the former justice minister and the former president of the Treasury Board. Such political interference in the justice system is despicable.
The Prime Minister did not have to publicly announce that the Norman case would go to trial. We should let the courts and the justice system do their work. We cannot start predicting that certain cases will go to trial, unless we are talking about a backdoor deal, which we are not, even if it almost seems that way. That is what is despicable here.
What happened next? Vice-Admiral Norman was relieved of his duties under a cloud of deep suspicion. Police searched his home and confiscated his family's personal property. They went through his wife's iPad looking for information. Vice-Admiral Norman eventually requested access to evidence, emails and other records he needed to mount a full and complete defence. The government's lawyers continuously refused to grant him access to this important information, which was vital to mounting a full and complete defence of a man as honourable as the vice-admiral.
When the Canadian military's second-in-command is implicated in a case, we would at least expect the government to remain at arm's length. On the contrary, day after day, this government wanted to ensure that Mr. Norman did not have access to a full and complete defence. It refused to grant the financial assistance that would normally be provided to a man of his rank under such circumstances. Even when the charges were dropped, the government continued to refuse him this financial assistance, even though it had spent almost $15 million prosecuting him. The government steadfastly refused his request for financial assistance.
At the beginning of the court case, a request was made for access to important records, and there again, the government refused. Fortunately, the judicial system worked. A judge gave Mr. Norman access to certain pieces of evidence. Once everyone had access to this information, it suddenly became clear that there was no case and that this man should never have been dragged through the courts and the mud. This case will long be remembered by every Canadian as a shameful incident. Politicians interfered in a court case that was without merit.
Vice-Admiral Norman suffered for months and was left to defend himself alone and unaided. On May 8, the government realized that it might not have a case. It therefore dropped the charges against Mr. Norman and finally decided to pay his legal fees. My goodness, that is the least it could do. The government created this whole problem for nothing.
Once the government was forced by the court to disclose all of the evidence Mr. Norman was entitled to see, and once Canadian legal experts had access to this evidence, suddenly, there was no more story. What did this evidence include? Here is where I will make the connection to Bill C-58 and the Senate's third amendment, which was rejected by this government.
On December 18, 2018, Vice-Admiral Norman's team called two surprise witnesses, who provided evidence proving that Vice-Admiral Norman had the right to see names that had been redacted. The people in power had avoided using his name in their emails, specifically to avoid identifying him. This is a fundamental point. Furthermore, on January 29, 2019, a list was released showing acronyms and other military terms that had been used to refer to Vice-Admiral Norman.
Let me quote this in English because, in the proof, the important element was all written in English. Instead of talking about Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, they referred to him as “the boss,” “N3” and “C34”. The list was compiled by DND. Under questioning, the chief of the defence staff, General Jonathan Vance, said that “unless officials were specifically instructed to use these as search terms, subpoenas from Norman’s defence team may not have turned up documents that used those phrases.”
That is precisely why the Senate's third amendment must be maintained. The use of code names, especially in cases like this one, is completely unacceptable in our view. Mr. Speaker, let me correct something I just said. It is not amendment 3, but rather amendment 12. In my conversations with my colleagues, I have always called it the Norman amendment. This change aims to ensure that no one gets in the bad habit of identifying key people in criminal cases by code names. Incidentally, this was not actually a criminal case.
In the end, they realized that this man was more of a victim of the obnoxious attitude adopted by this government for purposes that I dare not even mention here in the House. The Liberals wanted to please certain friends here and there, rather than all Canadians. In our view, this use of code names should be stopped.
I know this brings up bad memories for the government. If I were a Liberal, I would definitely feel uncomfortable about this situation, the terrible Norman scandal, which has the Liberal government's fingerprints all over it.
This soldier dedicated his professional life to defending Canada with honour and dignity. He came from the humblest naval beginnings to rise through the ranks of the Royal Canadian Navy. At the peak of his career and his art, this man made sure that we could trust Canadian industry and the workers at the Davie shipyard in Lévis. Yes, everything was going well, yes, it was a success, and yes, it could be completed on time and on budget.