House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.

Topics

Privilege

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Privilege

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know that you will ensure that I can speak without these constant interruptions. I have that absolute privilege.

The Bloc Québécois purports to be the great champion of integrity, rigour and Quebec. I think that, on all three fronts, the Bloc Québécois wants to assume power and an image that it does not have. It is easily proved wrong, in substance, on all accounts.

In 2002, we noticed, as did all the political parties, that the Parti Québécois was involved in a scandal. Before that, 11 Conservative government ministers were forced to resign due to a scandal. We had the sponsorship scandal. I say this because, in 2002, the Parti Québécois was affected by what was known as the Oxygène 9 scandal. Some very senior PQ officials, including a minister in the Quebec government as well as Premier Landry's chief of staff and director-general of the PQ, were involved.

At the time, a well-known and very credible journalist, Mr. Lessard, wrote, “Some influential people in Bernard Landry's entourage—with connections throughout government—too many, according to some— managed to spin a huge spider's web, all the ramifications of which we have barely begun to uncover”. A little later, he talks about “revolving doors” and “cronyism”. He said that “in particular, Oxygène 9 received commissions on funding or contracts obtained” and so on.

Why do I speak about that today? It is because I think that if one wants to be the champion of integrity, moral values and rigour, one must apply the same set of principles to similar events. If, at the time, there had been a scandal involving the Parti Québécois, which financed the Bloc's election campaigns of 1997 and 2000, I would have expected to see the leader of the Bloc stand up in his place to ask for a public inquiry on Oxygène 9, as Mario Dumont, from the ADQ, and Quebec's Liberals did. Apparently, when the Parti Québecois is involved, we must forget everything, but when it is the Liberals, that is a different story.

What is remarkable in this instance is that, contrary to what happened in the past with the Conservative Party or the Parti Québécois, which had the implicit agreement or complicit silence of the Bloc Québécois, our Prime Minister declared that enough was enough and that a standard of ethics and integrity was necessary to restore people's confidence in the political system. The situation goes far beyond the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister of Canada made a decision unprecedented in our democracy. He decided to strike an independent commission of public inquiry to formulate conclusions without knowing how far-reaching they might be or what might be revealed. In spite of those risks, the Prime Minister has been honest, frank and visionary and said that the inquiry was in the public interest.

That public inquiry has been held, and produced some conclusions that revealed certain important points. The first: that certain Liberal Party senior managers had brought dishonour to the party. The immediate reaction was to expel those people from our party, and the amounts given in the report were immediately reimbursed.

Another conclusion was that certain agencies had managed to pocket huge amounts of money through manoeuvres that were dubious, to say the least, some of them even leading to allegations or charges of criminal acts. The Prime Minister made the decision to initiate proceedings against these agencies in order to recover the lost funds, the money that had been misappropriated.

There is a third point. Interestingly enough, my colleagues often raise the first two, but not the third. They do not talk about the one that clearly establishes that the Prime Minister, the ministers, and the current MPs are fully exonerated for any acts of omission or commission, whether relating to administration or misappropriation. All have been fully exonerated. They just happen not to talk of that point. All of a sudden they do not know what to say: either one believes Justice Gomery or one does not.

Justice Gomery was on television for months. Everyone knows just what a man of integrity and extreme credibility he is. People respect him to the utmost. If that integrity is accepted, then the integrity of his findings must be accepted as well. There cannot be a double standard; people cannot pick and choose what to believe and what to reject. There must be consistency and integrity. I would humbly submit that this is exactly what we have done. We have adopted, approved, received in their entirety, as presented, all the findings by Justice Gomery, both good and bad

If I am revisiting this question, the reason I really felt the need to speak of this today—although, like many of us here, I was a simple MP at the time—is because the Bloc Québécois has had its scandals as well. It did not bat an eyelid over them nor said a word; it has demanded no independent investigation as it did when the Liberal Party was concerned. Now that is a double standard.

Therefore, I wonder why. What is the ultimate objective of the Bloc Québécois? Is it trying to disparage the Liberal Party because of the misconduct which may have occurred and for which some people should be blamed? No, it is even more important. The objective of the Bloc is to use all available means, including slander, to systematically undermine the credibility of any spokesperson of the federalist cause in Quebec. The ultimate objective of the Bloc is to attempt to muzzle anybody who is at the same time proud to be a Quebecer and a Canadian and who wants to speak up for this country.

The objective of the Bloc is once again to try to destroy the spokespersons of an idea which is not their idea. Its goal is not integrity, nor transparency, nor objectivity, nor the limpidity of the public accounts. The objective of the Bloc is the independence of Quebec, and it does not care at all if it needs to destroy reputations to reach this objective. This is why, in the mailing, very credible spokespersons of the federalist cause are shown as being involved. Be it the member for Bourassa, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Minister of the Environment, the Prime Minister or other persons, we are all devoted, on this side of the House, to defending our country because this is the best solution for Quebec. The Bloc does not like this idea. It does not act for the sake of integrity.

For some time now, and I regret it deeply, a new standard has been used in Quebec, under the influence of the Bloc Québécois and the Parti Québécois. Either we agree with them, and therefore we are very good, very nice and very intelligent, or we do not agree, and then, they try to shoot the messenger.

They did this recently with commissions and political spokespersons. This is a grand scheme that goes way beyond the Gomery case. They do not realize that this is a totally unfair and outrageous tactic to destroy those who been the voice of Canada in Quebec. This is what the Bloc Québécois is doing.

What saddens me is to see how arrogantly they manipulate this House, the debates and public opinion in order to advance a cause that, in the beginning, might have been noble. I do not share it, but it was noble. It is being misrepresented. Is the kind of country that the Bloc Québécois wants to build based on defamation, on rejecting the right of speech, on rejecting debate, on a lack of integrity? Is that the kind of country that Quebec would build under the Bloc Québécois? This is what that party is trying to do now. To build that country of Quebec, it wants to rely on fraudulent tactics. It is intellectual fraud to try to smear in order to destroy spokespersons.

No one anywhere is perfect. We do not have a perfect country. We have had our scandals, as have others. The difference is that we faced them with integrity, while they refused to do the same.

I find something extremely interesting. I understand the objective of the Bloc. I even understand the positioning of the Conservatives. Defending Canada may not be a top priority for the Conservatives. Let me quote something.

In saying this, I am relying not on sensational political allegations, but on direct quotations that I will read. In a speech made during the Colin Brown Memorial Dinner, when he was chair of the National Citizens Coalition in 1994, the current leader of the Conservative Party said:

Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion—

This is a direct quotation. The fact that the Conservatives are joining forces with the Bloc Québécois does not even surprise me. The truth is the Conservatives are placing their own political interests ahead of the national interest of the country that is Canada. This is what the Conservatives are guilty of doing.

I accuse the Conservatives of placing their own political interests, in the short term, above the interests of Canada.

I do not understand why the NDP is playing along. I believe the NDP acts in good faith. And so I would ask it to recognize that, manipulating the House for election purposes in the short term, it is adding both strength and credibility to a movement intended not to protect Canada and Canadians but to protect the sovereignist option, which the Bloc is trying to promote. The NDP cannot align itself with that, because if there is one party here in this House, aside from the Liberal Party, with a tradition of defending the country's interests, it is the NDP. I cannot therefore understand why childish short term strategies for an election we have already promised, in any case, are leading the NDP to support action that has nothing to do with Canada's best interests, but with Quebec's independence. That is what I find deplorable.

I would now like to speak of democracy for one simple reason. In my opinion, it is the ultimate objective of our efforts here. We are elected by our fellow citizens because we want to initiate progressive measures to help the public and in the most democratic manner possible. When we speak of democracy, we must speak of justice and, accordingly, of the fair treatment of similar questions. The Bloc Québécois members, however, have refused. Democracy involves debate. Killing debate by shooting the messenger is what they have just done. It limits debate and therefore one of the most important and fundamental components of our democracy. They are prepared to prevent debate and force an election to be held at a moment particularly inopportune for Canadians to be going to vote because they are prepared to sacrifice public participation in the election on the altar of personal political ambition. It is democracy gone wrong.

I rose today because I have a fundamental belief in our party's integrity, in our country's future and in the need for everyone to come to the defence of beleaguered democracy.

Privilege

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the musings of that member would be funny if it were not so tragic. His accusations against our party are totally unfounded. I know I have to stay within parliamentary rules, so I simply say that he is full of hops.

I will exercise my freedom of expression in saying this. It is very sad that he can stand in the House and somehow defend what happened in the province of Quebec in the last election and over the last number of years. Judge Gomery has put it right on the line. All one has to do is read the first six pages of his report, his executive summary, and it is very clear. All the things that we suspected and that were reported by the Auditor General took place.

The member is somehow trying to deflect what should be a contriteness of heart on the part of the Liberals by blaming us. It is like blaming the policeman who came across a bank robbery and stopped the robbers. What he is doing is complaining about the policeman for breaking up a very good party. This is incredible. I really am ashamed of that member.

Is it possible that none of the 30 members of Parliament from Quebec had no knowledge whatsoever of the fact that money was being shipped to them, cash in brown envelopes? I can hardly believe that.

I would like the member's comments on that. As well, I recommend to him that what he should do is stand up, hang his head in shame and say to Canadians, “Sorry, we blew it”. I would like him to say that.

Privilege

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me to make a suggestion to my colleague. If he had kept reading the report beyond the first six pages and had read the entire thing, perhaps he would have gotten the whole picture, including the fact that the Prime Minister and the current ministers were exonerated.

Again, the statement made by the leader of the Conservative Party during a speech, for which I gave the exact reference, goes entirely against the interest of national unity. My colleague stands there looking shocked. Will he ask his leader to stand up in this House and apologize for his statements that cast doubt on the integrity of our country? Does his leader have the courage to apologize for his statements that go against our national interest?

Short of not paying any attention to what goes on around here, it was hard not to know about the sponsorship program. Everyone knew about it. The Bloc Québécois took advantage of it and applied for sponsorships for some of its ridings. Everyone did. That is not the issue. The issue is whether anyone here knew that some people were using the program to commit any wrongdoing. I say no.

Privilege

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to comment on the statements of the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada and to ask him some questions on the speech he just delivered. To me it sounds like he is in a panic.

When he talks about sadness when we are currently discussing a topic that was presented in this House by his own colleague from Bourassa, he is targeting the person who raised the question of privilege. The debate could have easily been on something else, given the chance.

The minister talks about sadness and wanting to teach others a lesson. I will humbly remind him that he should take a second look at his own work. Just recently he made a long awaited announcement on an initiative for the fisheries, an announcement he even postponed. In this initiative, he forgot—

Privilege

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. member for Bourassa.

Privilege

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I can understand why the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine would feel bad about sending this piece of trash in an attempt to tarnish our reputation. However, I would appreciate it if we stuck to the issue of this debate, which has definitely nothing to do with fisheries.

Privilege

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister does not have any lessons to give to anybody when it comes to economic issues. In fact, he should redo his homework regarding what is going on back home, in the Gaspé and Magdalen Islands region. He really—and literally—missed the boat regarding fisheries, when he excluded part of the Gaspé region from the program that he just announced.

I want to go back to the real sadness that we should feel. This sadness is related to the existence of the sponsorship scandal. Considering that $250 million were spent in a shameful fashion, this situation is indeed a scandal. I refer the minister to the Gomery report, and more specifically to page 329. I would like to get his opinion on this excerpt, which is very clear:

Other politicians less directly involved in the Sponsorship Program did not hesitate to accept Mr. Lafleur’s hospitality.There was, throughout the period when sponsorship funds were being freely handed out by PWGSC, a sort of culture of entitlement—

This “culture of entitlement” is expressly mentioned in the Gomery report. It sounds like a Liberal culture “according to which persons enjoying Mr. Lafleur’s largesse apparently did not feel that there was anything wrong in being entertained by someone who was receiving, and hoped to continue to receive, obviously lucrative federal contracts”. This is clearly spelled out on page 329 of the Gomery report.

Let us hear the minister talk about the Gomery report, instead of trying to teach lessons to others, when he does not really know what he is talking about.

Privilege

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I refuse to respond to my colleague's statement to the effect that I do not know what I am talking about. I think that my reputation speaks for itself.

That said, this is another very clear example of something I just condemned. I am not trying to teach anyone anything, but I am asking that everyone be treated fairly. I ask that we refrain from any defamatory remarks and we respect the very foundation of democracy. I rise to ask for a return to values that are absolutely fundamental to this country.

As for the fisheries, since this very interesting issue has been raised, the only region excluded did not have any groundfish processing plants listed. It is sad nonetheless. In passing, let us use New Richmond as an example. A plant there is closing. We are working with a Quebec minister to ensure rapid intervention within 10 days. The leader of the Bloc Québécois visited the day after we did. He noted that we rapidly intervened with substantial measures. However, the only thing he said, to reassure workers who had lost their jobs, is that they would check to see if the owner had the right to close the plant. This is what they call really helping people. When we do something right, this party systematically says that it was thanks to them. However, if we do something wrong, the members of that party attack us.

Is there not a limit to how little integrity one can have? Should they not recognize that all good things are not necessarily the result of their requests but are also things that we were able to do well? If they paid tribute to things that are done well, they would have more credibility when calling us to account for things we do not do well.

Privilege

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the remarks of my colleague from the Liberal Party in Quebec have reminded me of an analogy I heard that the 1997 and 2000 elections were not unlike the Olympics, where one team would be all doped up on steroids and the other team had to live by the rules and was at a severe disadvantage.

Where I come from the official agent tells a candidate if he or she has spent one dollar more than the spending limits. If the candidate wins, he or she loses the seat and is not allowed to run again; the official agent is led away in handcuffs and everybody associated with the campaign is guilty of election fraud. Many, many ridings in Quebec were in that very situation. They were getting illegal money during the course of the 1997 and 2000 campaigns.

Would the member join me in calling for the Chief Electoral Officer to revisit every one of those ridings and disallow them, make them null and void in the context of the illegal spending that went on?

Privilege

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, all these allegations and declarations were made before Mr. Justice Gomery, who held an inquiry and did not see fit to draw negative conclusions about anyone. I do not want to repeat this inquiry. It has already been held.

The reason I raised this issue is that the Parti Québécois made perfectly clear and legal contributions to the Bloc Québécois's electoral campaigns to the amount of $163,929 in 1997 and of $166,400 in 2000, and that is without taking into account the contributions made by some of the Parti Québécois' provincial associations. I have nothing against that. However, I would have hoped, since there were interrogations about what happened with Oxygène 9, that the facts were checked and that every one treated on an equal footing.

Privilege

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take the floor on the question of privilege which has been submitted to the House and accepted by the Speaker concerning not only our 10 percenters but also our householders. Today the House of Commons is therefore seized of this matter. Although some think it undemocratic to do this, such in fact is democracy.

There is a problem, and we, the hon. members on each side of the House, are in the process of presenting and arguing our points of view.

Earlier, I was listening to the hon. Liberal member saying that he did not understand how the NDP could have joined forces with the Bloc Québécois and the Conservative Party. We have come to the point where the Liberals think only of themselves. A proposal has been made to the Liberals so that the House of Commons might continue to sit. So long as the House is in session, things can be provided for Canadians. Our aim is not in fact to support the Liberals but to work in the interest of Canadians. We want to be here, in the House, to pass bills and budgets that will help Canadians.

This was done last spring, when $1.5 billion was allocated toward reducing student debt. The NDP was proud of this. Similarly, $1.5 billion will be granted for affordable housing. This fall, however, after the tabling of the Gomery report, when the NDP wanted to have a productive Parliament, the Liberals were asked if they were prepared to save our public health care system. It was sad to hear the Prime Minister reply that he was prepared to grant the provinces new money, while preventing private-sector physicians from benefiting from it. But as for the $41 billion that was allocated last spring, given that this is federal money, he was not prepared to require the provinces to spend that money only on the public health care system. It is simple: the Liberals favour a private health care system. When the Liberals say that money from the federal government can be given to the private health care system in Canada, and that they cannot backtrack on the $41 billion, they are telling us they want a private system. They are turning a blind eye to this issue. That is what is really happening, and it is dangerous.

Just recently, the Liberal Party of Quebec announced in the National Assembly that it wants a parallel private health care system. This shows that the Liberals want a private health care system in Canada. They want their friends, the large insurance companies, to be able to sell insurance like companies do in the United States, because people will have to get their own insurance and pay for it.

I gave an example the other week. Imagine that, today, we have two heath care systems in Canada: a private system and a public one. Canadians fought so hard for a public health care system. The NDP is proud to say that, 50 years ago, Tommy Douglas at the time forced the government to establish a public health care system across Canada. We believe that, rich or poor, those who are sick should be able to receive the same services. What kind of idea is that: the rich could be treated the same day, while the poor would have to wait for six months? That is unacceptable here, in Canada, one the most wonderful countries in the world. The Liberals have decided to turn a blind eye on this.

To be productive, while waiting for an election after the second Gomery report was tabled, the Liberal government could have taken position and said that it had an agreement with the NDP. But why should the NDP have to continue supporting a Parliament that is not working, and a government that has been caught red-handed taking money from the taxpayers to give it to its political party in Quebec and would have us believe that it did not know what was going on? As the story goes, the Prime Minister of Canada, who was finance minister at the time, the President of the Treasury Board, who was from Quebec and handled the sponsorships, and the Minister of Public Works, who was a minister from Quebec, none of them knew that money was going into the Liberal coffers.

I am sorry but the people back home do not buy that.

Privilege

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. member for Bourassa on a point of order.

Privilege

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can understand that, being so passionate, the member can get a little carried away, but we should never challenge the integrity and respectability of the members. He is making false accusations and that is not acceptable in this House.

Privilege

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I did not hear the member for Acadie—Bathurst make such accusations. I might have been distracted. I think that the member for Acadie—Bathurst knows the rules of the House of Commons well enough to respect all his colleagues, whether individually or collectively.

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.