House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was gomery.

Topics

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the basic principles of the rule of law, where there are grounds to believe that a crime has been committed then a criminal prosecution can be launched. As I indicated, in respect of that, four criminal prosecutions have already been launched. As well civil liability suits have also been initiated.

The crucial point is that within its powers, the Gomery commission cannot initiate a criminal prosecution, recommend a criminal prosecution or initiate civil liability or engage in any assignments of criminal or civil liability. That only a court of law can do.

What the Gomery commission can do is draw findings of fact. With respect to those findings of fact, it can also arrive at certain determinations of misconduct. With respect to those determinations of misconduct, it can name individuals. It can make recommendations with respect to the overall objectives and terms of reference of the inquiry. However, it has to be left to the ordinary processes of prosecution and judgment in the country to do its work. The Gomery commission cannot initiate a prosecution. The Gomery commission can only arrive at determinations of misconduct. If prosecutions are initiated, they can only be initiated in accordance with the ordinary criminal process.

What the Gomery commission will do is shine the sunlight of truth on all that has happened with respect to the sponsorship issue and allow us to finally appreciate what took place, the facts and circumstances, the context and the like and allow the rule of law to run its course.

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1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Edmonton--Spruce Grove.

I listened with interest to the comments made by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and I intend to take full umbrage with his comments.

As I begin my remarks, let me point out that I have been a commissioner of the federal government. I have conducted personally over 25 public inquiries as a commissioner of the Government of Canada in the context of aboriginal land claims, so I am familiar with the statutory framework which applies to commissioners.

I would say to members of this House and to Canadians today that what we are seeing in the Gomery commission is a very clear attempt by the Government of Canada to abrogate the rules that apply normally to public inquiries and to commissioners to tie the hands of Justice Gomery so that he cannot fulfill his responsibility and name names and assign responsibility.

I intend to make that case and I intend to refer to some of the case authorities which the Minister of Justice referred to.

If I may, I would like to begin with what is specifically before the House today. The motion before the House states quite specifically:

That this House call on the Government to amend section (k) of the Gomery Commission's terms of reference to allow the Commissioner to name names and assign responsibility.

Section (k) at this point of the Gomery terms of reference reads as follows:

--the Commissioner be directed to perform his duties without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization and to ensure that the conduct of the inquiry does not jeopardize any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal proceedings;....

How is this to be reconciled with the statements that the Prime Minister has made? The Prime Minister of Canada said on March 13, 2004, as reported the Windsor Star :

--I want to get to the bottom of this [sponsorship scandal]. I want every single fact to come out and I want every person who has been involved in this to pay the consequences for it...

How are the Prime Minister's statements and his much discussed telecast of several weeks ago to be reconciled with what has been implemented in section (k) of the Gomery commission mandate? They are irreconcilable. The truth of the matter is that this is a Liberal scandal and this Liberal government does not want to get to the bottom of it.

According to these proposed mandates, Justice Gomery can deliver a report but he cannot specifically name individuals. That is a very unusual mandate for a public inquiry. The point I would make is that one only need go as far as the federal Inquiries Act.

The federal Inquiries Act, chapter I-11 of the Statutes of Canada, deals very specifically with the powers of an inquiry officer: the power to subpoena witnesses; the power to subpoena documents; the power to conduct an inquiry; the power to direct others to assist him; and the power to deal with witnesses.

Nowhere in the federal Inquiries Act is there any sort of circumscription such as this one on the powers of an inquiry officer. It is unheard of. It is not part of the federal Inquiries Act.

The federal Inquiries Act says simply this in section 2:

The Governor in Council may, whenever the Governor in Council deems it expedient, cause inquiry to be made into and concerning any matter connected with the good government of Canada or the conduct of any part of the public business thereof.

This is unrestricted. There are no limitations on naming individuals. There are no limitations on assigning responsibility. There are no limitations on who a public inquiry officer operating in Canada may name.

Only one inquiry officer in Canada is limited and that is Mr. Justice Gomery. We have to ask ourselves, why is that? It is because the Liberals do not want to get to the bottom of it.

Why do they not want to get to the bottom of it? They do not want to get to the bottom of it because the basic fundamental of this is that $250 million was funnelled into Quebec through the sponsorship program, often with little or no paperwork. One hundred million dollars of that ended up directly in the hands of Liberal communications firms, many of whom did nothing more than pass on documents and cream off a percentage of the money.

Multiple witnesses have testified before Gomery with respect not to their allegations but their confessions. We have people confessing who gave the money. We have people confessing who received the money. In some cases, these are senior people in the Liberal Party confessing to corruption.

To put this in context, the type of corruption we are talking about involves theft of public money, the commission of fraud against the Government of Canada, public money laundering and conspiracy in respect of all of those items. This is the most serious scandal in Canadian political history. We have an inquiry which has been struck but which does not have the statutory authority to get to the bottom of that.

As I have said, I have conducted over 25 inquiries for the Government of Canada as a commissioner in the same sense that Mr. Justice Gomery is a commissioner. Not once did I face something such as section (k) which limited my capacity to make findings, not once. I am aware of no other federal commissioner who has been in that circumstance.

I was disappointed to listen to the comments of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General in this House, because I believe and I say with all due respect that he has been selective in the comments he made and the case authorities he referred to. The leading authority in Canada on commissions of inquiry is in fact the Krever decision of 1997, which is a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. It deals very specifically with what an inquiry officer can do, what a commissioner of inquiry can do, what he or she may not do, how the rule of law is protected and the importance of a commission of inquiry having the capacity to get to the bottom of things without impeding either civil or criminal liability.

If I might return to the motion that has been put forward today, it in no way suggests that Mr. Justice Gomery would make findings of civil or criminal liability, but rather that he may be allowed to “name names and assign responsibility”. The law of Canada is very clear that this is quite appropriate.

First I will quote from the summary of the Krever case, where it is stated as follows:

A commissioner has the power to make all relevant findings of fact necessary to explain or support the recommendations, even if those findings reflect adversely upon individuals. Further, a commissioner may make findings of misconduct based on the factual findings, provided they are necessary to fulfill the purpose of the inquiry as it is described in the terms of reference.

There is no problem in law here. There is no reason in law why an inquiry officer cannot name names and assign responsibility.

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1:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Whose?

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

As an hon. member has said, Whose?

Moreover, and I have full respect for Justice Gomery, it would seem to me that a commission of inquiry that cannot name names and assign responsibility is somewhat pointless. Odd, is it not, that this is what the case authorities say and this is what the Supreme Court of Canada has said. Again I will quote the Krever decision at paragraph 38:

--the commissioners have the power to make findings of misconduct. In order to do so, commissioners must also have the necessary authority to set out the facts upon which the findings of misconduct are based, even if those facts reflect adversely on...parties. If this were not so, the inquiry process would be...pointless.

Further, at paragraph 39 of the Krever decision, and this is the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997 that I am referring to, it is stated:

These findings of fact may well indicate those individuals and organizations which were at fault.

Summarizing further in paragraph 39 of the same decision:

--a public inquiry into a tragedy would be quite pointless if it did not lead to the identification of the causes and players for fear of harming reputations...

The law of Canada is quite clear. I believe it is something which I hope the Minister of Justice will take the time to review.

There is no irreconcilable conflict between Justice Gomery having the capacity to name names and do his job on the one hand, and the civil and criminal process taking its natural course on the other. To suggest otherwise is to take this House in a direction that does not reflect the law of Canada.

Let us get to the bottom of this. Let us amend Justice Gomery's inquiry powers so that he can name names and assign responsibility.

The final point I will make is that my friend across the House of Commons, the Minister of Justice, said, “Let us respect the process”. I say, let us respect Canadians. Canadians want to get to the bottom of this. They want to know who is responsible. The way the Gomery inquiry has been set up does not let Canadians get the answers they need.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, today there has been some interesting information brought forward, even with regard to the Krever inquiry. The wisdom coming out of the Supreme Court on the Krever inquiry also included that the inquiry is not to make a finding of criminal culpability or criminal or civil liability, and that if the findings were to lead to the public perception that there was criminal culpability or civil liability, the inquiry should not do so.

The member is a lawyer. He is familiar with the rules of evidence, the rules of cross-examination and the rules of legal representation, all of which would be necessary for a criminal proceeding or a civil liability proceeding. What has happened here, it appears, is that the member is trying to suggest that in getting to the bottom of the thing and having what the member has referred to as naming names and finding responsibility, somehow who is responsible is equal to being criminal and that is where we have to go.

Would he not agree that before we can ultimately get to the bottom of the matter at hand, the Gomery commission must report findings of fact, identify those who were involved and the accountability that they have, but that before it can get to the last step it has to go through criminal or civil proceedings which will respect the rule of law and ultimately determine whether or not there is any guilt?

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1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member opposite is an individual for whom I have the highest regard. I think he has perhaps clarified some of the comments of the Minister of Justice.

If I may just return to Krever, the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Krever summarizes very clearly what the authority of an inquiry officer is, and it summarizes the entire body of Canadian law. I will just refer members to paragraph 57 and the following three matters which are the law of Canada as summarized by the Supreme Court of Canada. This responds to my friend's question. The first item states:

A commissioner has the power to make all relevant findings of fact necessary to explain or support the recommendations, even if those findings reflect adversely upon individuals.

The second item states:

Further, a commissioner may make findings of misconduct based on the factual findings, provided that they are necessary to fulfill the purpose of the inquiry as it is described in the terms of reference.

The third and very important item states:

--a commissioner may make a finding that there has been a failure to comply with a certain standard of conduct, so long as it is clear that the standard is not a legally binding one such that the finding amounts to a conclusion of law pertaining to criminal or civil liability.

Therefore, it is as simple as this. Justice Gomery needs to have the flexibility to go about his important work and to make whatever factual findings he needs to make. He is not there to adjudicate either criminal liability or civil liability. That much is very clear. Nothing which has been proposed for the terms of reference today suggests that Justice Gomery would become a person empowered to assess criminal liability. That is not the suggestion which has been made, but rather that in fulfilling his requirements he can make findings of fact, name specific individuals, judge their standard of conduct and say they are responsible. Then the criminal process will take its course from there. I think the law is very clear.

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1:30 p.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca
B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member's comments. Obviously he has the same interest in making sure that whoever the people were who stole money will be prosecuted, that the moneys stolen by individuals will be returned and that interventions will be put in place to make sure that public moneys are being spent wisely and effectively.

It is interesting that the Conservative Party members want a comptroller system put into place to make sure that public moneys are being used properly. They want to make sure that the RCMP will be called in and that people will be prosecuted. The fact is that all of those things have been done. We have put in a comptroller system. We have called in the RCMP. People have been prosecuted and more people will be prosecuted.

Does the hon. member not think that the federal government has done the right thing by doing all of what the Conservative Party asked for before it even asked for it?

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, as briefly as possible I will say no, I do not agree with that.

The Liberal government has played for time from the very beginning. Going right back to 1995, the Liberals were warned that the procurement program was not working. In 1999 the Treasury Board Secretariat warned the then minister. In 2000 a public works audit was brought forward saying that there were problems. In 2002 Paul Martin received a letter from a senior official in the Liberal Party warning him there were problems.

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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

May I remind the hon. member to use titles, please.

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister received a letter from the national policy chair for the Liberal Party in 2002 warning him that there were persistent problems and growing rumours. In 2002, three years ago, the opposition in the House of Commons called for a public inquiry for the first time into the sponsorship program. The Minister of Finance at that time indicated that he did not think that was an appropriate way to deal with the issue and that the Auditor General should deal with the issue.

The Auditor General's report followed in 2004. It was not until then, five years after the facts were brought to the attention of the government, that it embraced the concept of a public inquiry. Only then was it prepared to buy into an inquiry that has the significant restrictions of the Gomery inquiry.

Do I believe that the Liberal government has made a serious attempt to get to the bottom of this quickly? Absolutely not. Everything it has done has been done reluctantly. At the end of the day, that speaks to the fact that this is not a national scandal; it is a Liberal scandal.

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of a motion put forward by the Conservative Party of Canada to amend section (k) of the terms of reference for the Gomery commission.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to an opposition supply day motion. I am pleased because this institutionalized democratic right has not taken place in quite some time. This democratic voice was stifled by a government that is fearful of opposition, that is fearful of being held accountable for its actions, and most sadly, by a government that is fearful of the very voters who entrusted its members with the responsibility of governing.

By amending the terms of reference to the mandate of Justice John Gomery, we can take the first step to restoring the faith of the disheartened populace.

Canada is currently being run by a government under investigation. To find out what happened to our money, we have to wait for the verdict of the Auditor General, Justice Gomery, the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec.

This is a sad state of affairs and because of it, we are here today to discuss an important opportunity to make sure that this never happens again. By not allowing Gomery to name names or assign responsibility for the largest scandal in Canadian history, his hands have been tied by the same political party that committed the egregious act that he has been commissioned to investigate. This cannot be seen as anything but a deliberate attempt to evade accountability and to avoid responsibility.

Recent public opinion polls have placed Canadians' confidence in their elected officials at abysmal levels. I strongly believe this is something that we must work tirelessly to repair. No longer can we sit idly by while the confidence of the electorate slowly slips away from us here in the House of Commons. The historic democratic institutions of Canada must be free of taint and that is why we are here today.

In fact, it was the Prime Minister himself who stated, “I want to get to the bottom of this. I want every single fact to come out and I want every person who has been involved in this to pay the consequences”. We on the opposition side of the House of Commons could not agree more. By empowering Justice Gomery with the ability to get to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal, we will be fulfilling a promise made by our very own Prime Minister.

Many Canadians have long suspected that the Liberal sponsorship program in Quebec was created to finance the Liberal Party with taxpayer funds. When the Gomery inquiry, which is investigating allegations of corruption in the sponsorship program, recently lifted the publication ban restrictions on testimony by an advertising executive, the revelations shocked Canada from coast to coast to coast. It was discovered that an advertising executive used his firm to launder large sums of taxpayer money to fill Liberal Party coffers.

Jean Brault, the former president of Montreal advertising firm Groupaction, provided detailed evidence that he paid $1 million in kickbacks to the Liberal Party in exchange for receiving multiple contracts for advertising firms in Quebec. Mr. Brault also claimed he was asked to put Liberal Party loyalists on his payroll.

This is a Liberal Party scandal that has touched every Canadian who has seen his or her hard-earned tax dollars allegedly used to perpetrate fraud on fellow Canadians. Instead of bringing the country together, the Liberals have pitted province against province and Canadian against Canadian. The Liberal Party does not represent Canada today, nor does it represent Canadian values.

The Conservative Party believes that the testimony heard at the Gomery inquiry was not an isolated event that can be easily explained away. It was not the work of a few misguided people. This was a systematic and deliberate attempt to divert public dollars to a partisan political purpose and to do so in a way that would subvert election laws and other laws to the benefit of the Liberal Party of Canada.

We are all aware of the systematic misuse of federal tax money by the Liberals: the cost of the gun registry; the HRDC boondoggle, where $1 billion that was supposed to be spent on job creation went missing; the purchase of two Challenger jets for $100 million through an untendered contract without providing a need for jets; and the list goes on. This is not just a matter of misguided policy and wasted tax money. This is a scandal of a much greater and serious proportion.

The sworn testimony to date has indicated that through the sponsorship program, taxpayers' money was being funnelled to Liberal friendly advertising agencies and then directed right back to the Liberal Party of Canada. The past few weeks have seen numerous extraordinary measures taken by the Liberal government to distract the Canadian public from its record of scandal, waste and mismanagement. The past few weeks have seen a remarkable $25 billion in new spending. Beginning with a backroom deal with the NDP, the government has said anything and pledged allegiance to anyone in its quest to remain in government. Even cabinet posts have become the reward for those individuals who agree to support the government's corruption.

The most serious implication of this scandal has without a doubt been national unity. The irony is that where this advertising program was supposed to bolster national unity, it has in fact seriously harmed the cause of federalism in Quebec. It has also increased the chances of the separatist Bloc Québécois party sweeping all Quebec seats in the next federal election. The state of affairs has become very troubled and the only federalist alternative in the province of Quebec is the Conservative Party of Canada.

Even the NDP has agreed to turn a blind eye to Liberal corruption for a few billion dollars in additional government spending.

What is happening in Quebec is symptomatic of a greater problem the government is facing. Whether it is on the equalization file or by neglecting the fiscal imbalance, the government simply lacks a national vision. While the sponsorship program has damaged federalist fortunes in Quebec, other actions by the government have only fueled the flames. By agreeing to one-off equalization deals, the government has pitted province against province. By treating Quebec as a financial tool in its re-election campaigns, it has only increased the support for separation.

We must not let the Liberal government through the scandal weaken our public institutions, our reputation in the world, or the unity of our nation. The future of our country will not be bright if there is no accountability in government. There cannot be good management of public funds by misleading Parliament and Canadians about how contracts are tendered.

One cannot claim to represent Canadian values if one is not telling Canadians the truth. Canadians today are rightfully demanding politicians accept greater personal responsibility for their actions. In time, the Canadian people will also decide what fate awaits the government.

When the Canadian people do pass judgment on the government, they will be doing so confident that the Conservative Party of Canada will get to the bottom of the scandal and confident that this will never happen again.

I was extremely proud to be at our party's founding policy convention in Montreal this past March where we discussed how our positive vision for Canada can return ethics and integrity back to government.

A Conservative government would not hesitate to strengthen internal audit functions and comptrollership functions of government so that program delivery matched the intent of the program. This would also allow spending to be measured against objectives. Cost overruns would immediately be brought to the attention of Parliament.

A Conservative government would also make sure that the comptroller general operated in an independent office that reported to Parliament. This would ensure that the highest standards and practices of expenditure management were enforced in all federal departments, crown corporations, agencies and foundations.

A Conservative government would also allow the Auditor General to table reports with the Clerk of the House of Commons when Parliament was not sitting. This policy would have been especially valuable since the Liberal government prorogued Parliament last year to avoid the public receiving notice of the Auditor General's report on the sponsorship program as soon as the injustice was revealed.

The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville commented, “I've never met anyone in Quebec who has told me that because he saw a sponsorship he has changed his mind” on separatism. This is a powerful statement coming from someone who was active during the aftermath of the 1995 referendum.

This program has become a complete failure from the start. If we are to save something from this, it must be to make sure that it never happens again. After hearing testimony that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's aide Jean Carle hid details of a $125,000 sponsorship deal with phony invoices, Justice Gomery made an extraordinary comment. He mentioned, “If this were a drug deal, it would be called money laundering”.

This is a scandal involving determined individuals and a corrupt political party. Justice Gomery must be allowed to name names and assign responsibility for this disastrous happening. Canadians simply cannot stomach that individuals who launder money can just walk away.

The backdrop of this Parliament has without a doubt been the Gomery commission. It has dominated every aspect and overshadowed every happening. Veteran political commentator Rex Murphy noted, “The history books will show this as the Gomery parliament”.

By amending section (k) of the terms of reference to the Gomery commission, we can end this. I look forward to all hon. members supporting the motion so that the victims of this scandal, the Canadian taxpayers, can feel relieved that those responsible will have been rooted out.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the first thing I thought of while listening to the member's speech was the reference to Liberal friendly ad firms. It reminded me of the statement made at the Gomery commission that there were two kinds of ad firms in Quebec: separatist ad firms and all others. It also reminded me of evidence given at the Gomery commission that the advertising program under the Conservative government was handled even worse than it is now. That was also part of the testimony at the Gomery commission.

If we are going to deal with this issue by citing Gomery statements, then we should have to take them all. The most important statements are the opening remarks of Justice Gomery himself who referred to his understanding, under the Canada Evidence Act, as to what he could do. It is clearly to find fact and make recommendations.

All other speakers, including the member's colleague who spoke before her, said clearly that statements coming out of the Supreme Court decision with regard to the Krever inquiry stated that it was improper for the inquiry to find civil liability or criminal responsibility or to in fact create a public impression that such a criminal responsibility or civil liability existed.

If the inquiry is not permitted to find criminal responsibility or civil liability, would she agree that this inquiry can only go so far as to find fact with regard to the evidence, and that to respect the rule of law and due process subsequent criminal or civil proceedings will have to take place pursuant to Gomery's findings in order to bring this matter to the bottom line conclusion that she seeks?

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Mr. Speaker, in response to the hon. member's point about any advertising agencies of any political stripe that have been named in the Gomery commission, I do not support any type of corruption at any time.

The Conservative Party of Canada is a different party. It stands on its own merits today and will vehemently oppose any kind of program that does not have proper oversight and that would in any way lead to any type of expenditure and waste of taxpayers' money.

As I said before, it is important to note some of the positive things the Conservative Party of Canada has been speaking about and pushing for, which I hope the government would take into consideration. Conservatives would like to see the government strengthen internal audit and comptroller functions of the government, so that program delivery actually matches the intent of the program, which is exactly how this particular program failed in the beginning.

This would also allow us to measure spending against objectives and ensure that any cost overruns would be immediately brought to Parliament. Perhaps, if that had been done in the past, this never would have resulted in the dire consequences we are facing now.

As Conservatives, we have also said we want to ensure the comptroller general operates in an independent office and reports directly to Parliament. This would ensure that the highest standards and practices of expenditure management are enforced in all federal departments, as well as in crown corporations, agencies and foundations. I suggest to my hon. colleague that this is something I am sure he would like to see his own government do as well.

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1:45 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Liberal

Walt Lastewka Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I respect the hon. member's comments regarding the comptroller general. If I remember correctly, it was a previous Conservative government that did away with that office in early 1993 and in fact this government reinstated it. I hope she was not trying to mislead.

We had much discussion earlier about people being charged and so forth. The people of Canada have been asking whether people are going to be charged or sentenced. Mr. Paul Coffin, the first person charged in the federal sponsorship program, pleaded guilty today to 15 fraud charges. I wonder if she would agree that is proof positive that people are going to be charged. This was as a result of the forensic audit done by special counsel Gauthier. The person was charged, has now pleaded guilty, and sentencing is going forward. Is that proof positive to the member that people will be charged or does she still question that?

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not recall saying anything pertinent to the question the hon. member just asked. I will return again to the point that if some of the things that we suggested were followed, we would have never ended up in this situation. That is why taxpayers can be assured that after the next election a Conservative government would ensure that the proper processes are in place so that this would never happen again.

One of the things that I raised in my speech, and I will raise again because I think it is very important, is that a Conservative government would allow the Auditor General to table reports directly with the Clerk of the House of Commons even when Parliament is not sitting in the event of an election. This policy would have been obviously valuable since it was this Liberal government that prorogued Parliament last year to avoid the Auditor General's report on the sponsorship program being made public and not allowing the public to receive the damaging information before going to an election.