House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not without significance that the motion that we have brought forward deals with the trust that we, men and women from different political parties as well as the electorate we represent, must have in the institution that is the watchdog of the democratic process, Elections Canada.

What the party in power has been doing for several weeks now is nothing less than launching a concerted attack on the integrity and neutrality of Elections Canada, an independent and above all non-partisan organization whose mission is to make sure that citizens can exercise their democratic right and stand for election.

What are the values that underlie Elections Canada's actions and decisions? Transparency in everything, the public's trust, a staff that is knowledgeable and professional—the Chief Electoral Officer's office here in Ottawa has a staff of more than 330. When a general election is called, returning officers hire more than 160,000 people across the country. In each constituency, the returning officer administers the electoral process by which a member of Parliament is chosen. The values that the governing party are questioning are the cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act.

Since the 2006 election, the Conservative members have essentially been accusing the current Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, the sixth person to hold the position since it was created by the House of Commons in 1920, of showing bias. It is important to point out that, because he is appointed by the House of Commons and reports directly to Parliament, the Chief Electoral Officer is completely independent of government and political parties.

That being said, the facts that have been made public about the Conservative Party's election spending scheme are disturbing. The most recent election campaign came on the heels of the sponsorship scandal, a Liberal scandal that was strongly condemned by the parties in this House. The information brought to light by the Gomery commission about irregularities in the management of the sponsorship program landed the Liberals on the opposition benches. The Conservatives would use this sad situation to make political hay. The party went to the polls determined to be pure as the driven snow. But the allegations and revelations that have been made in recent weeks prove just the opposite.

We can be glad about one thing: thanks to the stubbornness of the Prime Minister and his party, the Chief Electoral Officer had no choice but to act. The Conservatives' refusal to cooperate led to the disclosure of over 500 pages of affidavits last week. The party's offices were raided twice by the Chief Electoral Officer, with the RCMP's help. In spite of everything, the Conservatives are sticking to their guns, even though they are unable to justify the system whereby they transferred money between the party's coffers and those of 67 candidates in order to spend more on advertising than the law allowed.

But there is worse. In addition to this botched scheme, the Commissioner of Canada Elections discovered that invoices had been forged. This was another scheme to enable Conservative candidates to obtain a refund of expenses that were not really theirs.

I am talking about allegations of forgery, an offence under the Criminal Code.

When questioned by the leader of the Bloc Québécois, the government remained evasive. The question is simple, though, and I invite the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to answer it. Can he confirm, from his seat, that no invoices were forged or falsified?

While the party opposite was trying to put off revealing the truth about this issue, Ronald Lamothe, assistant chief investigator with the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, submitted a 68-page affidavit to obtain a search warrant. Mr. Lamothe's allegations stated that Conservative Party officials produced election spending statements that they knew contained false or misleading information, which contravenes section 431(a) of the Elections Act.

As such, the Conservative Party's Quebec lieutenant must answer the question we asked. Can he confirm that there were no false invoices and that no documents were altered?

It would be interesting to hear the minister's response, particularly since Mr. Lamothe claims that Conservative Party officials produced false invoices in December 2006 on letterhead belonging to Retail Media Inc. of Toronto, the agency that was responsible for buying nationwide ad space for the Conservatives during the last election, to justify the election spending of 14 candidates—six of them from Quebec.

These allegations are very, very serious. The Conservative Party's shadowy manoeuvres make all politicians look bad. Regardless of what happens with the motion currently before us, justice will take its course, and a ruling will eventually be made. We are patient. It took a lot of time and patience to bring to light the sponsorship scandal. We will take as much time as we need to bring to light the Conservatives' schemes.

For many long weeks, Conservative members did everything they could to paralyze the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which was trying to study the file that the Chief Electoral Officer took over. Rather than cooperate with parliamentarians and act responsibly and honourably, Conservative members did their utmost to prevent the committee from doing its job. They were determined to paralyze the committee so they could avoid answering questions. It is ironic to hear the Conservative whip complain about the fact that committee work was not moving forward when he and his fellow party members were the ones refusing to work.

There will be another election within the next 18 months. I wonder how the Conservatives, who are in so much trouble, current Conservative members, the candidates targeted by the investigation, could possibly run again. I would not be surprised to see some candidates back out, preferring not to see their name associated with such a scheme. The Liberals have been through it. The Conservatives should have learned from the Liberals' mistakes.

Beyond the current scheme, from now on, every move made by any representative of that political party will be scrutinized and analyzed. We will ask for the Chief Electoral Officer's opinion on any action that draws our attention.

Should we be concerned about certain candidates who have suddenly become very visible in our ridings? It has come to the attention of parliamentarians that Conservative candidates have set up shop in clearly identified offices. It is only natural to wonder if it is all legal. If a party can produce false invoices, which is what the Commissioner of Canada Elections is saying, and maintain that its actions were completely legal, one might easily wonder about the rest of the management practices of that political party.

In short, the Conservative ethic is nothing but smoke and mirrors. It is obvious that the Conservatives tried to circumvent election spending limits and were beat at their own game. Just like the Liberals with their sponsorship scandal, the Conservatives made up false invoices, according to the Chief Electoral Officer's affidavit. Clearly, the tables have turned.

We definitely think the Conservatives must stop undermining the authority of Elections Canada, which is why we are giving them the opportunity to show some degree of repentance, by asking them to vote with us on the Bloc Québécois motion:

That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable
Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis Secretary of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Drummond talked about smoke and mirrors. That is what I would call all the insinuations we are hearing in this place. She knows very well that we are talking about Conservative money that was spent on Conservative advertising. We have reached the point where Elections Canada and the Conservative Party have a difference of opinion.

Elections Canada is an organization that must ensure neutrality between the parties. It is defending a point of view that the Conservative Party does not share. Therefore, we have taken the issue in question to court. That is how things work. We are defending our rights in court and a judge will decide.

The Bloc has been condemning certain actions since this morning. They have taken what we have been hearing and then mixed in the sponsorship scandal, which involved wrongdoing—a completely different matter—to trick and mislead the public. Then they said that some people are guilty and that they will not be able to run. They want us to assume the role of both judge and party. That is not responsible.

That is why we have courts. There are differences of opinion. There are different interpretations of the law and we acted appropriately according to our interpretation. If Elections Canada does not agree, it is our fundamental right to take it to court and that is what we are doing. The other side of this House is making insinuations and condemning us.

What does the member think about the fact that a Liberal Party cameraman was present during the RCMP search? No one is asking questions about this. It is as though it were normal. People are being condemned, but nothing is wrong. That is irresponsible.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of answers to those questions. First, if he what he really means is that the fact that the House will express its will this evening is not smoke and mirrors, then the Conservative Party has to vote in favour of the motion and the House has to express its complete and utter confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections. The Conservatives have cast doubt on the impartiality and neutrality of Elections Canada. They have cast doubt on this institution that is the guardian of our democracy.

If they are not guilty, if they do not feel guilty and have nothing to hide then they should not be using schemes to completely block a committee that wanted to shed light on the activities of the Conservative Party. For seven months, they have used procedure to prevent the work of that committee from moving forward.

Second, since the hon. member is a lawyer, I will remind him that when there is an investigation and the RCMP wants to conduct a search somewhere because it is unable to get any cooperation from people such as the Conservative Party, it must obtain a warrant from a judge. The judge issued the warrant in full knowledge of the facts. Elections Canada and the RCMP were able to enter the Conservative Party offices to get all the receipts and documents they needed.

We have not been investigated because we have always respected the Elections Act. We have always submitted our plans to Elections Canada, before and after. We have always had our strategies approved by Elections Canada. Thus, every Bloc Québécois candidate has received reimbursement from the Chief Electoral Officer because they truly respected the rules and regulations of Elections Canada.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the motion we are debating today is the most recent example—and likely not the last—of the growing befuddlement of the members of the Bloc and, above all, of their leader.

Not too long ago, the leader of the Bloc Québécois was proposing a high speed train between Quebec City and New York, a train largely paid for by the federal government, of course. A couple of weeks ago, there he was in Quebec City inspecting the ruins of the Armoury and advising the government on how many sprinklers should have been installed. Yesterday, the leader of the Bloc wanted to reform the CRTC. Today, with his hand on his heart, he rushes to the defence of Elections Canada.

Tomorrow, where will we see the federalist zeal of the leader of the Bloc and his reformers? Will it be the Royal Canadian Mint, the National Library, Canada Post? Heaven alone knows!

Not too long ago, things were very simple, though not much more logical. The members of the Bloc Québécois, we were told, took their seats here in the House of Commons in order to support the PQ head office in its quest for Quebec independence. The Bloc, we were told, was going to ride off into the sunset on that great evening when the referendum was won and its members would return to their land as conquering heroes. Once upon a time long long ago, Lucien Bouchard, the leader and founding father of the Bloc Québécois, even said that Bloc members had only one single mandate to fulfill. But they are still here.

Eighteen years after they rushed into creating their party, there is no longer a referendum on the horizon, no big events on the calendar. Even the Parti Québécois, the Bloc's big brother, no longer wants to talk about a referendum, for the simple reason that Quebeckers no longer want to hear about one.

It is a cruel dilemma for a sovereignist leader, even one who has been working in Ottawa since 1990, to no longer be able to talk about independence or a referendum. I know that the leader of the Bloc has enough integrity that he has pondered his role and the role of his party in Ottawa. For a few hours, he understandably wanted to move to Quebec City. Much to his surprise, the door was not very open. So he decided to stay here with us and is now a sort of patriarch in this House, having gone grey, as I did at the National Assembly, under the weight of our work.

In fact, the leader of the Bloc is so loyal to federal politics that of the 308 members sitting in this House, only 13 have been here longer than the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, and 20% of the venerable members elected since 1993, or one out of five, are members of the Bloc. The referendum may be a long way away, but the gold watch is not so far off.

The leader of the Bloc is a resourceful man. If he could not put an end to our federal regime, why try to reform it? Is he waiting to launch a new attack one day, with the support and approval of the PQ? That is no doubt how the leader of the Bloc became a railroad engineer, an expert in Canada-U.S. relations, a federal building inspector, a Canadian broadcasting expert and now a protector of Canadian institutions. My goodness, the leader of the Bloc has become a Reformer.

Our party, too, is seeking to reform our institutions. For example, we announced our intention to reform the Senate and eventually make it an elected body. Perhaps that blocks another approach for my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie, but I doubt that we will be hearing an original perspective about the future of the Senate from him anytime soon.

Nobody in Canada is naive enough to believe that the Bloc can really improve Canadian federalism or help make the lives of Canadians any better. Nobody will fall for the motion it has put forward today.

Its goal—its only goal since 1990—is to embarrass the government of the day, to distract from the work of the House, and to undermine federal institutions—all federal institutions. The Bloc wants to cut Quebeckers off from the institutions that have ensured their survival as a nation within Canada and that have contributed to Quebeckers' economic and social development.

Of course the government has confidence in Elections Canada, a basic democratic institution. But the Bloc leader knows very well that we are questioning its recent interpretation of the legitimacy of certain electoral expenses and the extreme treatment that our party received. We have therefore decided to take this difference of interpretation before the courts.

With all due respect to my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie, we can hardly be blamed for believing that our legal system has more credibility than the machinations of a federal separatist party. As such, we are not criticizing Elections Canada's role, mandate or mission, but we have serious reservations about its recent actions with respect to the dispute between us about electoral spending during the last election. We want the courts to consider this issue. I will certainly not give the Bloc leader the satisfaction of hearing me say that we want to eliminate or emasculate Elections Canada.

The Bloc's latest motion gives us an opportunity to reflect not on the validity of our democratic institutions, but on the usefulness of the Bloc. I sincerely and unreservedly recognize that all members of the Bloc who have a seat in this House were democratically elected. They have the same right to express their views as any other member of any other political party.

But if the Bloc members want to pose as supervisors of our federal institutions, perhaps they might take a little advice from a Quebecker who was part of a government—Robert Bourassa—who did a very good job of defending the interests of Quebeckers in Quebec City, and who is now part of a government that has done more for Quebec in fewer than three years than their party has in 18 years.

After the most recent election, my friends opposite admitted that they could not understand why Quebec City—my home town—and the surrounding area had supported our party. I know that they also cannot understand why more and more Quebeckers are putting their trust in us and supporting our policies and the actions of our leader.

Today, I will reveal the key to this mystery. It is the key that will enable us to make gains throughout Quebec and especially in Bloc ridings. The key to the mystery is to keep your word. You have to do what you promise to do.

In less than three years, we have met all our commitments. First, we promised to clean up government and make it more transparent and more accountable. We have done that.

Second, we promised to reduce taxes. We have done that.

We have reduced taxes, starting with two cuts to the GST in two years. We have delivered $60 billion in tax relief that will benefit all Canadians: families, employees, businesspeople, investors and consumers. Taxes are at their lowest level in 60 years.

Third, we promised to toughen up the justice system to keep our communities and our children safe. We have done that.

Fourth, we promised to give parents choice when it comes to child care. We have done that.

Lastly, we promised to correct the fiscal imbalance within the Canadian federation. The Liberals did not want to do it, the Bloc could not do it, but we have done it.

We have done more together in under three years than the federal Liberals did in 13 years in power and more than the Bloc Québécois could do in 113 years.

In other words, we have demonstrated that we keep our word. The Bloc Québécois has not kept its word. It promised to separate Quebec from Canada. It promised to help the PQ win a referendum. Neither of these things has come to pass, and they will not come to pass, because Quebeckers have concerns, interests and needs other than the separatist dreams of the Bloc Québécois.

Comfortably installed in Ottawa, the Bloc Québécois members dream of reigniting the great debates of the 1970s and 1980s on Quebec independence. It is neither the place nor the time for that. Quebeckers do not live with their heads in the clouds; they know full well that the coming years, especially in terms of the economy, will require difficult decisions and action in energy matters. It will not be the time to be represented by members who shirk their responsibilities, who prefer abdication and systematic opposition to action and determination.

The Canadian economy is doing well, very well. However, no economy in the world is immune to what could happen in the United States, for example, especially since we are currently its main trading partner. We must immediately prepare for possible turbulence and that is what we are doing. In times such as these, Quebeckers cannot permit themselves to be represented by members who have no power, no means of taking action, no serious economic program and no voice at the table.

With gas prices soaring, how seriously can we take a party that claims to be able to reduce Quebec's dependence on oil by half within 10 years—without even being in power, no less? Because it has turned its back on all its promises, the Bloc Québécois is attempting to find all manner of reasons to justify its existence and to hide the fact that it has done nothing in this place for 18 years. However, Quebeckers have a long memory. There is a reason why Quebec's motto is “I remember”.

In the next election, we will ask Quebeckers: who solved the fiscal imbalance, the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives?; who gave Quebec a presence at UNESCO, the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

An hon. member

The Conservatives.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Who proposed recognition of Quebeckers forming a nation within a united Canada, the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

The Conservatives.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Who reduced taxes, the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

The Conservatives.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

The difference of opinion between our political party and Elections Canada is a serious matter. That is why we have turned to the courts. I find it very regrettable that the Bloc Québécois has decided to play political games with this controversy and this institution in particular. For this reason, I will vote against this misguided motion.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following public bill, to which the concurrence of the House is desired: Bill S-204, An Act Respecting National Philanthropy Day.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

We are now at the question and comment period.

The hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Although he is an experienced parliamentarian, there were a number of times when he could have been called on relevance. The motion being debated today reads as follows:

That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

That is what this is all about.

My first direct question for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is the following: will he and his party support this motion and thus express the Conservatives' full and complete confidence in Elections Canada?

Second, my colleague, the leader of the Bloc and member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, was not here to hear all the wonderful comments about his achievements and the files he has worked on on behalf of the party. I remind members that when the minister was talking about a high-speed train and all kinds of other things, it had nothing to do with today's debate.

Third, he mentioned that the Prime Minister was someone who kept his word. I would tell him that in 2001, when the Prime Minister was the president of the National Citizens Coalition, he harshly criticized the Chief Electoral Officer, accusing him of being a perfect politician who was able to give answers to questions no one was asking.

In conclusion, I will once again ask the question I asked the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities today during question period, for which he did not even bother to rise. I hope this time he will. Did he see the email that was sent to him by Michael Donison, the organizer of the Conservative Fund Canada, on December 19, 2005?

Tabling of Documents
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Earlier today, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier asked that I table in the House the affidavit of Mr. Geoff Donald. I am rising to seek unanimous consent to table that document right now.