Debates of Nov. 4th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.
- Question Period
- The Arctic
- Remembrance Day
- Canada-Israel Friendship Group
- Remembrance Day
- Veterans Week
- Greater Toronto Home Builders' Association
- Liberal Government
- New Brunswick Businesses
- Veterans Affairs
- Yitzhak Rabin
- Sponsorship Program
- Sponsorship Program
- Liberal Party of Canada
- Sponsorship Program
- Government Appointments
- National Defence
- Sponsorship Program
- Public Works and Government Services
- Sponsorship Program
- Election Campaign Financing
- Government Spending
- Job Creation
- Democratic Reform
- Citizenship and Immigration
- Aboriginal Veterans
- Human Resources and Skills Development
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada
- The Environment
- Forest Industry
- Airport Customs Services
- Official Languages
- Points of Order
- Government Response to Petitions
- Nuclear Waste Management Organization Report
- Committees of the House
- Excise Tax Act
- Hazardous Products Act
- Employment Insurance Act
- Criminal Code
- National Appreciation Day Act
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 181
- Question No. 185
- Question No. 190
- Question No. 192
- Question No. 205
- Question No. 211
The House resumed from November 3 consideration of the motion, and of the amendment, and of the amendment to the amendment.
Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on a question of privilege raised by the member for Bourassa.
As the Acting Speaker in the House, I had the honour and the privilege of sitting in the chair for two and a half years. I have the greatest respect for this institution and for my colleagues on both sides of the House.
I want the public to understand the exact nature of the matter before this House and the reason why the member for Bourassa was forced to raise this question here. I will read an excerpt from Marleau and Montpetit, because I know that everyone has not read it. There is a passage on page 121 that perfectly describes the situation before us today:
The House of Commons is certainly the most important secular body in Canada. It is said that each House of Parliament is a "court" with respect to its own privileges and dignity and the privileges of its Members. The purpose of raising matters of "privilege" in either House of Parliament is to maintain the respect and credibility due to and required of each House in respect of these privileges, to uphold its powers, and to enforce the enjoyment of the privileges of its Members. A genuine question of privilege is therefore a serious matter not to be reckoned with lightly and accordingly ought to be rare, and thus rarely raised in the House of Commons.
Any claim that privilege has been infringed or a contempt committed is raised in the House by means of a "question of privilege".
I wanted to quote this passage before commenting.
Once elected to the House of Commons, members have certain rights. One of them is the right to send householders—or ten percenters—to our constituents. We have the right to send these householders. However, rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. It is the responsibility of members on both sides of the House not to send things that besmirch the reputation of other colleagues.
The members on both sides of the House are entitled to mail out householders and 10 percenters. In their mailings, the Liberals try not to sully anyone's reputation but rather to inform our fellow citizens. That is what I have done in the 12 years that I have been an MP.
For 12 years I have respected this institution and the right of each and every member not to have their reputations ruined. That is not the purpose of a householder nor a 10 percenter, and that certainly is not the purpose of anything else we have the right to send to our constituents.
In fact, with that right comes a responsibility. Because there have been abuses of that privilege in the past, I have raised the matter on numerous occasions with the two institutions which I believe should have taken care of that matter and are aligned with the House of Commons, the Board of Internal Economy and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In fact, I wrote to the chair of the standing committee, to the Speaker of the House and to the members of the Board of Internal Economy on two other matters.
In the riding I have the honour of representing in this House, there have been two mailings from the whip of the Bloc Québécois. Indirectly, this was also an attempt to tarnish my reputation as an MP.
As to the two points of privilege raised, I have had only an acknowledgement of receipt—if one could call it that—concerning two letters dated June 20 and 27 sent to the Board of Internal Economy of this House. I expected a bit more than just an acknowledgement of receipt. It appears that the board has not yet addressed the matter.
I can tell you, however, that even in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs our whip attempted to introduce a motion precisely to discuss the 10 percenter issue. I will read that motion:
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs call upon the House of Commons to instruct its Board of Internal Economy to limit the use of 10 percenters as follows:
a) The 10 percenters be restricted to the member's own riding;
b) Collective 10 percenters be abolished;
c) No partisan logo to be allowed on a 10 percenter or householder.
This motion was brought before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is responsible for decisions on householders and 10 percenters. That is precisely why we are here today. We respect that institution. We cannot tarnish the reputation of members with impunity.
We expect the members of other parties who sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the Board of Internal Economy to consider this issue. I can tell you that we, the Liberals, are prepared to comply with the rules and with the decisions of that committee.
It is no small thing to sully a person's reputation. The Bloc finds it to be justified. I really have the impression that it has no respect whatsoever for this House. That is exactly why the member for Bourassa was obliged to take the route of a point of privilege. As I said, this is not the first time. That is clear.
Other 10 percenters and other publications were sent to different ridings, including my own where I am a resident and have the honour to represent in the House.
However, as I said earlier, with that privilege comes responsibility and respect for this institution, to which we all have the privilege and honour of being elected, and an institution that deserves our respect.
As the hon. member for Bourassa and the member from Westmount said, “Our integrity and our name is the one thing that is sacred in this place”. We cannot allow falsehoods to circulate outside of the House and not use the privileges that we have in the House, the rights that we enjoy, that other Canadians outside of the House--
Some hon. members
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
Order, please. The hon. parliamentary secretary has the floor.
Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC
As I said earlier, we on this side of the House respect this institution. We also respect the right of other members to speak and the right of other members to listen to other arguments.
I want to bring to the attention of the Speaker page 106 and 107 of Montpetit and Marleau.
This is about documents with defamatory content. The Parliament of Canada Act stipulates that:
This right is not intended to protect the publication of libels that may be contained in other documents, such as the householder mailings of Members.
I would like you to take this passage from Marleau and Montpetit into account regarding the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Bourassa.
I have been involved in politics for a long time in Quebec. I have never tried, inside or outside this House, to tarnish the reputation of my Bloc opponents. I have never made a personal attack on anyone.
I can assure you that during the last electoral campaign, some utterly nonsensical things happened. Besides that, I would like to thank the constituents of my riding, Ahuntsic, who once again gave me their support. These people can tell the difference between lies and truth.
I hope the question raised by the member for Bourassa will be taken seriously by the authorities of the House and by Bloc members.
Paul Crête Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech made by my colleague. I would to remind her that, in our opinion, the leaflet in question presents a summary of what is called the sponsorship scandal. It presents proven facts.
I am wondering how she can pretend that it is libellous. To back up what I am saying, I will read a few of Mr. Justice Gomery's conclusions that are found in the summary of his inquiry, the first being:
The Commission of Inquiry found:
—clear evidence of political involvement in the administration of the Sponsorship Program;
The publication, in the leaflet, of the picture of the ministers who appeared before the Gomery Commission is quite normal.
The Commission also found:
—insufficient oversight at the very senior levels of the public service which allowed program managers to circumvent proper contracting procedures and reporting lines;
We are saying the same thing about a political agent, Mr. Charles Guité.
The report says further:
—five agencies that received large sponsorship contracts regularly channelling money, via legitimate donations or unrecorded cash gifts, to political fundraising activities in Quebec, with the expectation of receiving lucrative government contracts;
This is the same information we used in our leaflet. We cannot see any libel.
Here is another finding of Mr. Justice Gomery:
—certain agencies carrying on their payrolls individuals who were, in effect, working on Liberal Party matters;
—the existence of a “culture of entitlement” among political officials and bureaucrats involved with the Sponsorship Program, including the receipt of monetary and non-monetary benefits;
The last finding of the Commission of Inquiry is this:
—the refusal of Ministers, senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and public servants to acknowledge their responsibility for the problems of mismanagement that occurred.
The subamendment proposed by the Bloc seeks to indicate that our householder was made after the end of the Gomery commission's hearings. Finally, is the information published in our leaflet not simply the same as the findings of the Gomery commission? In a sense, we are rendering a service to democracy. The leaflet contributes to a better democratic debate in order to clean up the system. We are sending a message to Canada as a whole by saying that the time has come to change the government, to give a lesson to the Liberals and punish them.
November 4th, 2005 / 10:15 a.m.
Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will continue with the highlights. First of all, the pamphlet was sent even before Justice Gomery made his report public. Bloc members showed a great lack of respect by refusing to wait to know the highlights. Now they even maintain their allegations. A lie repeated 1,000 times does not become a truth and they know it very well.
Second, I too read the Gomery report. I am under the impression that they choose the parts that suit them. I personally choose to quote parts concerning the responsibility of other ministers, like this one, on page 430:
On the evidence there is no basis for attributing blame or responsibility for the maladministration of the Sponsorship Program to any other Minister of the Chrétien Cabinet, since they, like all Members of Parliament, were not informed of the initiatives being authorized by Mr. Pelletier, and their funding from the Unity Reserve. Mr. Martin, whose role as Finance Minister did not involve him in the supervision of spending by the PMO or PWGSC, is entitled, like other Ministers in the Quebec caucus, to be exonerated from any blame for carelessness or misconduct.
They can wear themselves out telling the media a different story. They do not want to hear the truth because it does not interest them. They do not respect this House and the electors of my riding and of the ridings of all members on this side of the House. They insist on reading one or two quotes taken out of context from Justice Gomery's report.
The report continues:
—ministers are not responsible for what they do not know about the actions and decisions of the PMO or other Ministers, or about the administration of departments other than their own.
There is no proof in the report. We respect our justice system. We may have different opinions on the future of this country. Indeed, I have been fighting for 35 years against separatists. However, I have the greatest respect for this institution and for the rules that govern it. I do not see the same respect on the other side.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, first I will say that I welcome the invitation made to all parliamentarians in this House to debate without any name calling, without showing disrespect and by getting to the bottom of things.
I am convinced that no one here would want to tarnish the reputation of any of his or her colleagues. That is not what we need to discuss in addressing the motion by our colleague from Bourassa.
How did a question of privilege come to be put before the House? There is a question of privilege because of a fundamental breach of a principle which must guide the entire course of our political activity, and that is the principle of ministerial responsibility. Funds have been used without Parliament having an opportunity to exercise any control and without any means of democratically finding out what these funds were intended for.
Yesterday, I listened to our colleague from Bourassa as he put forward his case. I have no doubt that he was extremely sincere. I would urge him, however, to consider two elements in this debate. The member for Bourassa has called for a substantive debate, and rightly so.
After being elected member of Parliament for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, I never forgot that, in the history of the sovereignist movement, three individuals founded political parties to ensure that the sovereignist option would periodically be put to the greatest test afforded a democracy: popular ballot.
Lucien Bouchard, René Lévesque and Pierre Bourgault each founded a political party to ensure that this option would have democratic legitimacy. Had René Lévesque, Pierre Bourgault or Lucien Bouchard—and I could add to the list Diefenbaker, Saint-Laurent and every Prime Minister who rose in this House to defend the principle of ministerial responsibility—read the Gomery report, I do not think they would be saying any different from what the Bloc Québécois is saying.
Let us focus on what Commissioner Gomery himself said. He said, “At a cabinet meeting, in 1997, on February 1 and 2, the government realized that federalists and the government were having a visibility problem in Quebec”.
He had the right to make that finding. People have the right to be federalists in Quebec, just like they have the right to be sovereignists. But no one is above the law. When we read the Gomery report, it is obvious that there are individuals,I regret to say that some are on the government side, who said that the end justified the means.
For a democrat, the end never justifies the means. When we lost the referendum by 50,000 votes, in 1995, Lucien Bouchard showed up at the Dorval airport and said: "yes means yes, but no means no". No sovereignist questioned the verdict of the people.
The criticism that we can make of the Liberals and the government is that they tried to promote their option without accepting ministerial responsibility and going through the no camp. I am sorry but, with all due respect to the Liberal members from Quebec, who have the right to be federalists, who were elected like us and who can be just as dedicated as we are in defending the interests of Quebec, I must say that we are divided by principles. We believe that in a democracy, there are two sacred principles: ministerial responsibility and the prerogative of the National Assembly.
Therefore, I regret to say that, when we look at the report from the Gomery commission, we see that these two principles were trampled down by the Liberal Party.
There is a basic, implacable and established fact which will go down in history as one of the saddest moments of our democracy, as expressed by Justice Gomery:
From 1994 to 2003, the amount expended by the Government of Canada for special programs and sponsorships totalled $332 million, [and here is the scandal] of which 44.4%, or $147 million, was spent on fees and commissions paid to communication and advertising agencies.
This is where I have a problem. My friend, the member for Bourassa, has the right to campaign promoting federalism, to write in newspapers, to speak on the radio and to appear on television. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs has the right to use all the eloquence we know she is capable of. However, no goal, nor political circumstance can justify greasing the palms of agencies with taxpayer money and violating democratic principles.
It gets worse. There is nothing more important than ministerial accountability. This means that members do three things: they pass legislation, they adopt budgets and they represent people. I am ready to debate the fact that the federal government has the right to promote its option. However, to set aside millions of dollars in the Prime Minister's office to interfere in the referendum campaign, without having obtained authorization to use those funds for that purpose and without a debate in Parliament to that effect, cannot be justified.
Let us look at what Justice Gomery said. Jean Chrétien's deputy minister, Ms. Bourgon, the highest public servant in a position of authority, who is supposed to be above partisan considerations said, on December 18 1996, in a memorandum to the Prime Minister in which she expressed her concerns about the question of ministerial accountability for funds allocated from the unity reserve on the basis of the Prime Minister's signature, that she was concerned to see that the Prime Minister had taken on a very large burden of responsibility. She thought that a review of future projects by the Privy Council Office or a group of ministers would provide better management of the $17 million, that became, as we know, $50 million, allocated to Public Works and Government Services Canada. Mr. Chrétien did not reply to Ms. Bourgon's memorandum. She reiterated her concerns in a second memorandum dated September 30, 1997 concerning access to the reserve.
This is what Commissioner Gomery had to say, not the member for Roberval, the member for Hochelaga or the leader of the Bloc Québécois, but Commissioner Gomery, with whom the Minister of Transport says he agrees.
I am a democrat. The member for Bourassa is a democrat. As a democrat, I say today that I will never get over the discovery that they did not comply with the Referendum Act. If they want to debate the national issue, we can do so. We can go on radio and television, write articles in the paper and debate in all forums. However, the National Assembly has a law. It provided, among other things for the 1995 referendum, 50¢ per voter, $5 million for both the yes and the no camps. Sheila Copps, who would get up at night to do so if she had to, approved $4.8 million in spending in 33 days.
Thus they doubled the amount of money available to the no camp. Is that democracy? Is that debating by the rules? Former Premier René Lévesque, who would not be very proud today if he were to read the Gomery report, said that the best way to oppose an idea in a democracy was to put forward another, instead of calling names and not treating people with respect.
In our opinion, our option is the best one. I personally have been elected four times and hope to be elected a fifth time as a sovereignist member.
When I wanted to take part in a debate on the option I represent, I did so according to the rules of the game. Once again, no one in the sovereignist movement is disputing the federal government's right to take part in the debate. No one is questioning the existence of the Liberal Party. The member for Bourassa and all of his Quebec colleagues are just as legitimate as all of us.
Where opinion is divided, however, is about abiding by the rules. I took part a few weeks ago in a the 10th anniversary of the 1995 referendum. I think there are as many Liberal members from Quebec as Bloc members who agree that Pierre-F. Côté is non partisan. He administered both referendums in Quebec, decided by order in council with a 30 hour debate in the National Assembly. People were able to debate it.
Pierre-F. Côté pointed out how the federal government had not played by the rules. When 150,000 people got together in downtown Montreal to promote the “no” side, they were entitled to do so. However, I object to the fact that, when they chartered buses and planes to come to Quebec, they did not declare the expenses that made this rally possible. It is not true that this is part of the democratic process.
There are lessons to be learned from the Gomery report, and I hope that these lessons will be learned. First, I think that the true redress to which the member for Bourassa alluded is that all parliamentarians in this House should make a commitment, whether they are federalists or sovereignists. The Supreme Court went even further. It ruled that there must be public funds voted by the National Assembly to authorize those who want to take part in a referendum campaign, but who do not want to be registered as being in the “yes” or the “no” camp. This ruling was made in the Libman case.
Again, I never doubted the democratic legitimacy of Quebec federalists and their right to defend their country, Canada. Today, regardless of which side of the House members are sitting, I hope they will take part in this debate to acknowledge the reason why we must comply with the Referendum Act.
Indeed, it is the National Assembly which will make the decision on the right to self-determination. That is why this violation really hurt. In a referendum debate, it is wrong to say that the end justifies the means, that might is right, that one can spend at will, that one can resort to influence peddling, or that one can ignore the rules of the game and turn a blind eye.
Quebeckers will not forget the Gomery report's incubator and matrix, known as the sponsorship scandal, because it is the direct result of the fact that the issue was not debated openly and in the respect of the rules. Instead, the government wanted to resort to influence peddling, once again, without respecting a referendum's democratic process. That is unacceptable.
There will be another referendum soon. I cannot tell the House whether it will be in two, three or four years. However, I hope that the rules will be obeyed. All the members from Quebec, no matter who, can express their vision of the future. There is a national liberation movement in Quebec. It is a movement that is rooted in the political parties. Everyone is quite proud that in Quebec, we have never gone armed into the streets in order to promote our ideas. We use words to express our platform because we are democrats.
It was words and votes that got us elected. The Bloc Québécois currently has 54 members here. It is the number one force in Quebec. It is not because we are nicer, better looking or more intelligent, but because of what happened at the polling stations. It is the will of the Quebec people for the sovereignist platform to reverberate here in the House of Commons.
When we will be asked to give our view of the Gomery report, we will not call anyone any names nor will we be disrespectful to anyone. During the next referendum campaign, we will invite the hon. member for Bourassa and all the hon. members from Quebec to make a commitment to respect the Referendum Act. Lucien Bouchard said if we win, it will be yes. If we lose, it will be no and we will respect the public's wishes. We will respect their choice by respecting the rules of democracy.
It is governmental responsibility that is at issue in the Gomery report. We must be clear on the sequence of events. No one can deny that the ad agencies received 44% of the $303 million. No one can deny that kickbacks were given to the Liberal Party, since there is evidence to prove it. How did this all come about? In 250 pages, the Gomery report describes the genesis. The way the events unfolded is not a tribute to democracy.
I am sorry, but the Bloc Québécois cannot sit idly by on this. It is not disrespectful toward the hon. member for Bourassa or the other members of the House of Commons representing the Liberal Party to say that, unfortunately, there was misuse of funds and a complex system of kickbacks in a known network. Public funds went to ad agencies and to the Liberal Party. It is sad. I am sure that some Liberals are saddened by this as well.
I am not suggesting that some ministers got richer because of that. That is not what I am saying. I find it disturbing that, in a democracy, the following two things occurred: the Prime Minister concentrated millions of dollars in the Treasury Board, in his office, without going through Parliament, and kickbacks went to the Liberal Party. It should not work that way.
It is our duty to bring those issues to the attention of the public. We would not deserve to sit in this House if we were to turn a blind eye to those actions. So we will not.
We need to learn from the Gomery report. I hope that every member in the House agrees. For a democrat, the end does not justify the means. If Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his cabinet had agreed to come to Quebec to discuss the option and allow a real democratic debate, we would not be in the position we are in today.
Somehow, it is comforting to know that this will never happen again. What do Quebeckers say? They say that they will never tolerate such practices again. I hope that the conviction of people like Pierre-F. Côté and of the electorate will get through to the Liberal Party. We are not asking the Liberals to become sovereignists, nor to like the Bloc Québécois, nor to wish a secession, if this is not what they want. In the name of our democratic legitimacy, we urge them to respect the National Assembly and the rules of the game, and to act like democrats. That is what we want, in essence.
Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC
Mr. Speaker, while I totally disagree with some of his interpretations, I sensed a lot of respect in the member for Hochelaga's speech.
That probably explains why he did not send the document in question. That is probably why I sensed regret in his voice, in the way in was talking, because some of his colleagues had sent such a document.
I would not mind, at some point, having a debate on the referendum, in which it would be said that 80,000 ballots disappeared during the referendum. This is what the Chief Electoral Officer reported.
Now, since he is talking so eloquently about respect, could he explain the following and tell me if he agrees with it?
Yesterday, the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel was saying that all they wanted to do was to trace the program's money trail.This document is not, in any way, tracking any dirty money. If the member sees things that I do not see, I would like him to explain them to me.
Could the member for Hochelaga explain to me why the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel sent a document to all his constituents, a document called “La route de l'argent sale”, that is, “Following the Dirty Money Trail”, marked with an arrow? The same kind of arrow as the one used in this table. Would he do that?
Not only did he mislead the House, and this is serious, because no one has ever talked about dirty money, but he says that this document is proving exactly the opposite.
If the ends do not justify the means, and if he really thinks that when you lie often enough, the lie becomes the truth, does he find this acceptable? If he would not do such a thing, could he explain why he has decided not to release that kind of document about me? I am talking about libel and about defamation.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, in all friendship, I invite the member for Bourassa to be very careful. He has risen several times in this House to talk about libel and defamation. First, you yourself, Mr. Speaker, should not tolerate those statements. I am sorry, that is not libel.
I do not like excesses, from any side. However, one cannot say that the information in this householder is false.
What it says is that there were kickbacks in the amount of $250,000. Moreover, it identifies the agencies that received money.
I am sorry, but based on the information contained in the householder that was sent, I think that on a factual basis, all members in this House can refer to elements, either within the Gomery report, or within testimonies before other bodies and which attest to its veracity.
However, I agree with the member for Bourassa when he says that we should not call each other thieves, nor call each others names.
I invite the member for Bourassa to be very careful when he makes accusations. He might get caught at his own game. Yesterday, he kept on talking about libel and defamation. It is just as unparliamentary to call someone a thief as it is to characterize someone's comments as libel and defamation.
I understand the disappointment of the member for Bourassa at finding out that kickbacks were paid by the Liberal Party using public funds. In addition, I am certain that the member for Bourassa himself, as a democrat, condemns those actions. I do not doubt either that all members from Quebec are quite uncomfortable with the whole thing. That being said, we cannot turn a blind eye on a sophisticated and well maintained system. Commissioner Gomery talked about a well-oiled machine.
I am certain that the member for Bourassa shares our disappointment, but as we are democrats, we will not shut up.
Louis Plamondon Richelieu, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Hochelaga for his eloquent and relevant speech.
I listened carefully to my colleague, and I was asking myself a question when he pointed out everything that happened during the referendum and the fact that democratic rules were not respected.
In reading the Gomery report, I learned, for example, that money that went to the Liberal Party as kickbacks was used to pay permanent employees or so-called volunteers doing undeclared work, and even candidates. We have to wonder. I hope none of them is sitting here, since some were from that region.
Nonetheless, the electoral officer, Mr. Kingsley, said that he would implore the government to reinforce the Election Act, because it allowed incredible abuse. Indeed, people were paid under the table and these amounts were never included appear in election expenses.
Thus, during the last election, the previous one and probably the 1997 election, some members opposite were elected by benefiting indirectly from dirty money, since the campaign machine that helped them to defeat their opponents was funded illegally.
Thus, they were illegally benefiting from funds, in total disrespect of the Election Act and regular democratic standards, while the Bloc was campaigning according to the percentage of funds allocated for each voter and by respecting election limits. The Liberals were pretending to do the same, but the big machine in Montreal or Toronto, which was using dirty money, was helping them indirectly.
Do they feel today that they have been elected democratically? Do they feel so honest, as the minister was saying yesterday, for having benefited indirectly from these kickbacks from commissions?
My question is for my colleague. Is he not outraged to see that they may have been elected in this way?
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour. I will never forget that one of his great contributions to public life is to have been among the first members of the Bloc Québécois to introduce a bill on the democratic financing of political parties, and it is probably the reason why he is asking me this question.
Again, I think we need to quote from the Gomery report. We are not impugning motives. We are not being disrespectful to one another. We are not calling each other names. We are just sticking to what the report says. Therefore, I will quote three findings from page 6 of the summary of the Gomery report. The first one says this:
Five agencies that received large sponsorship contracts regularly channelling money, via legitimate donations or unrecorded cash gifts, to political fundraising activities in Quebec, with the expectation of receiving lucrative government contracts.
Therefore, when we talk about a scheme involving public funds, agencies, contracts and kickbacks, it is not a figment of the Bloc Québécois' imagination. The report also talks about:
Certain agencies carrying on their payrolls individuals who were, in effect, working on Liberal Party matters.
This is somewhat troubling from a democratic point of view. I certainly do not want to suggest that members from Quebec agreed on that; perhaps they did not. However, it is impossible that this information did not find its way to Liberal party headquarters.
What should be of concern to us as democrats is the background to these events. The intellectual reality that surrounded Prime Minister Jean Chrétien made him believe that the end justified the means. Heaven knows that a prime minister has a whole bureaucracy to guide him, support him and motivate him. Despite the advice and recommendations of the Clerk of the Privy Council, who told the Prime Minister that having his office administer the funds was a mistake, he chose to brush away democracy and believe that the end justified the means.
When people believe that the end justifies the means, they are more likely than not to put themselves in a deplorable situation. I think it is our duty as parliamentarians to deplore the sad events that went on during all those years, events that are totally unacceptable in a democracy.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
I am speaking to the member for Hochelaga in particular, and also to the other members of the House. Such words as “defamation” and “libel” are not considered unparliamentary. However, terms such as “to lie” or “to mislead” are closer to that notion. Accordingly, I would ask honourable members to be very cautious in selecting their vocabulary. I know that tempers get heated as the day goes on. However, let us be careful.
The honourable Minister of the Environment.
Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment
Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that I rise today to speak to what appears to me, because of the Bloc, to be the darkest aspects of our profession as politicians. The Bloc drags us in the mud and takes us to the seamy side of political life.
The brochure in question certainly is libellous. It is a grab bag of smears. If the Bloc had any sense of honour, it would stop paralyzing the work of the House as it is doing now and would acknowledge having made a mistake and recognize its duty to fix it, since it has compromised reputations in a most unfair fashion.
Let me tell the House from the outset exactly where I stand. If I cannot get justice in this House by means of a rectification that must come from the Bloc, then we will meet in court. As my reputation is at stake, I will go to court.
I want my colleagues to understand the situation I find myself immersed in with my family and friends, every morning. We think about the fact that Quebec households have received this piece of trash and that people figure that the individuals they see mentioned in there are linked to some criminal activity. I cannot let that happen, neither for me, nor for my family, nor for my friends. I will have to get to the bottom of all this.
I just wish the Bloc Québécois would correct its mistake right now and admit that it went too far. I would like to do two things in the time that I have: first, show what the Bloc did; second, try to find an explanation for the unexplainable. Indeed, how could they go so low?
First, what is defamation? It is an attack on a person's reputation that exposes that person to hate or contempt. It can be oral or written. It matters little whether it is direct or indirect, or whether it is the result of a statement, insinuation, innuendo or imputation. In the present case, there is no doubt that the document tarnishes my reputation and that of my colleagues. As our courts indicated repeatedly, what matters is the general impression left by an article, a publication, or a comment. Since these are not comments as such, but, rather, statements or insinuations, it is clear that this is a case of defamation.
This is a very serious case of slandering. The document suggests that I, and others, played a role in the money scheme that allegedly made the Liberal Party benefit from a large sum of money. It goes without saying that this insinuation is a direct attack on my reputation and integrity. Worse still, this accusation is of a criminal nature, since it suggests, among other things, that influence peddling was involved. There is no doubt that Bloc Québécois members went too far.
I tried to explain how they could do such a thing. It is not easy. It is true that they have been making this kind of insinuations in the House for the past two years, under the cover of their parliamentary immunity. This time, they can no longer be protected by their immunity. Perhaps the fact that they made a habit of being unfair in the House led them to also be unfair outside the House. That might explain it.
A case in point is the statement made by the member for Laval, and I will take that example, but I could use many others. Yesterday, during oral question period, she said the following:
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister may say and claim he did not know anything about the sponsorship scandal, he has zero credibility.
Even Jean Chrétien confirmed that the former Minister of Finance was aware, as he himself was aware and as the other ministers were aware.
The member is insinuating that anyone who knew also knew about the misappropriated funds. That is what she is insinuating. Because the sponsorship program was common knowledge. The Bloc members were crossing the floor to ask for assistance in the form of sponsorships. It was common knowledge. It is dishonest to imply that anyone who knew about the sponsorship program also knew about the misappropriated funds and the influence peddling and, therefore, was also complicit. The member cannot say in the House that the former finance minister was complicit with regard to influence peddling, because she knows that she would end up in court if she did. However, she is making the insinuation, and that is dishonest. This dishonesty has become such an integral part of the work of this House over the past two years. In my opinion, that is why the Bloc members stooped so low as to publish this householder.
They have lost their sense of decency. They have no idea of how low they have stooped.
I am trying to show them, clearly, what they are unable to admit in the House. They did it and they need to stop doing it. Such insinuations are libellous. I am trying to rationalize this.
I would like to suggest another explanation. Quite some time ago, the sovereignist movement in Quebec started making personal attacks, because it had failed to find good reasons for Quebeckers to leave Canada. It adopted this strategy. This, ultimately, explains why it has stooped so low.
I do not need to mention the personal attacks on Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Chrétien. We often see such attempts to besmirch the reputation of francophone Quebeckers who support Canadian unity. Their reputations are being smeared by members who want to convince Quebeckers that these people are bad and are working against them and against Quebec. By making it emotional, these MPs hope to reinforce support for Quebec's independence.
I suggest they stop doing this. All of us, as members, are filled with good intentions. We have disagreements. However, no one necessarily wants to undermine anyone else.
We believe that by working together, all Canadians and Quebeckers can reach their full potential.
We are incredibly lucky to work with our friends in other provinces and territories, our fellow citizens, and it would be a serious mistake to turn them into strangers.
We say that in good faith, with valid arguments. There is no point in dragging us through the mud, making personal attacks on us, a habit of some decades now. That is unacceptable.
I think we probably have guessed the reason. What valid arguments could they use to calmly convince Quebeckers, in a rational and respectful debate, to renounce Canada? There is no doubt that they think they have some, so let them reveal them to us. I have never heard any.
Let us look at the kinds of arguments they have been using. For example: the threat of linguistic assimilation. That is not confirmed by facts, figures, or even trends. The French fact in Quebec is more vibrant and diversified than ever in Canada. Canada supports the cause of the francophonie throughout this country and throughout the world. The governments of Canada, Quebec, New Brunswick and other provinces do this also, working together in a good partnership.
Then there is the threat of the disappearance of our culture. The government that invests most in culture is the federal government. For decades, it has been promoting expressions of French culture in Quebec and everywhere else.
We have created great institutions with Mr. Lévesque, and my own father played an influential role as well. The first efforts were via federal institutions, because of course there were very few possibilities under the Duplessis regime.
The Government of Quebec came on side later and we worked together. We have enjoyed great international success recently on behalf of cultural diversity. That is what Canada is, when we all work together.
They have tried using the argument of the Constitution Act of 1982. The procedure by which it was created could be debated endlessly, but the outcome remains the same: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That charter is the envy of others throughout the world. Is there any point in their going into the international arena and claiming we have no charter of rights and that is why they want to separate? There is not a lot of logic in that. Let them find some better arguments.
Another outcome is the strengthening of the rights of French throughout Canada. These are far stronger since 1982 than they were in 1867, there is no denying that. Another: the bolstering of equalization payments. This Canadian constitutional principle is more recognized than ever. So that too is not much of an argument.
They also advanced another argument when Canada was on the verge of bankruptcy. They had to get out to avoid bankruptcy, even though Quebec had the highest level of debt of all the provinces. That was their argument ten years ago. Now they are arguing that we are having surpluses. They have to separate, because the government has surpluses.
There is a very vigorous debate in Canada over the use of these surpluses. As always, our democracy is very vibrant.
Some provinces are saying it should go to the provinces. The federal government does not disagree, since it has increased transfers to the provinces. However, it does have enormous responsibilities. Speaking for my own bailiwick, there is, for example, the Kyoto protocol and health and so on. My colleagues can identify others. We have seen recently that massive investment is required in native matters. Our responsibilities are enormous.
Regardless, in the history of humanity I have never seen a case of adults calling for separation because of surpluses. This is a first.
We have recently seen how much needs to be invested in native issues. We have huge responsibilities. In the history of mankind, adults seeking separation because of a surplus is a new one on me.
Globalization is another argument. They have to separate from the rest of Canada because of globalization. The logic of this argument is obscure. In fact, we help each other more than ever in globalization. The last thing we should do is set up an international border with Ontario. From an environmental perspective, they send us their water.
We are now more familiar with the limits of free trade. While it is beneficial in overall terms, governments are remaining protectionist and causing huge headaches. Please, do not make strangers of Ontarians, the people of the Atlantic and the western provinces, if you have the interests of our children in Quebec at heart. It is ridiculous to do such a thing. We have to draw on mutual help within the federation. As India and China emerge from the wings as economic powers, strengthening the west but creating problems in central and eastern Canada, let us all support one another within Canada.
Statements by Members
Peter Adams Peterborough, ON
Mr. Speaker, sovereignty in the Arctic is about responsibility, not just ownership.
Canada can be proud of its record in the north. The Territory of Nunavut and our agreements with the Inuit of the N.W.T., Nunavik and Labrador are examples to the world.
The fact that we have negotiated claims with virtually all first nations in the territories is a source of pride and a signal that we take our sovereignty responsibilities seriously.
Decades of sensible negotiation of our Arctic pipelines are a positive contrast to damage produced by poorly developed oil fields in other parts of the north.
Canada's acceptance of responsibility for a 200 mile limit in the Arctic Ocean under the Law of the Sea showed that we cared.
Our research in the north is good but still needs work. The new research icebreaker, ArcticNet, the RADARSAT 2 polar orbiter and the Climate Change Foundation are indications that things are getting better.
2007-2008 has been designated as the International Polar Year. I urge that Canada continue to fund that year.