House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I simply want to indicate the support of the Liberal Party for this measure, with the proviso that the legislation, together with its companion legislation, SEMA, the Special Economic Measures Act, will be reviewed by the House and the Senate over the next five years.

It seems to me that we are living in times when measures such as this one need to be available to the government. The powers that are given to the government need to be exercised carefully and in strict accordance with the wording of the act. However, we are satisfied that the international situation and the fluidity of the movement of capital are such that it is important for us to take certain measures.

We know that there are changes going on in the world. At the same time, we are seeing greater fluidity in the movement of capital throughout the world. There is also the fact that, in corrupt regimes, some people have used their political power to take money. Therefore, we must give our governments the ability to respond. The Liberal Party will support this measure.

Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act
Government Orders

March 10th, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, we were very pleased to delay our opposition day in order to fast-track Bill C-61. As you know, the Bloc Québécois has been asking for weeks, during question period and in committee, that the government freeze the assets of Ben Ali and his family, who live in Quebec, notably in the Montreal area. Just recently, Ben Ali's brother-in-law was conducting transactions without repercussion.

We believe that the government has for several weeks now had the means to freeze these assets under the Criminal Code of Canada and the UN Convention against Corruption, but passing Bill C-61 means that the government will have to act and freeze the assets of this dictator and his family as well as any others who find themselves in a similar situation in the future.

Let us hope that the Senate moves quickly on Bill C-61. I am anxious to speak to the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher in a few days and see what has been done. The Bloc Québécois is pleased to be supporting Bill C-61.

Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I join with my colleagues in supporting the fast-tracking of this bill. I also want to mention the importance of having this review. From the beginning, it was our party's position that this needed a review. We are talking about significant changes, albeit ones that are needed. When we are moving rapidly to make changes like these, it is important that Parliament have an opportunity for review.

I also want to recognize the public servants who worked on this matter. Often they are not given the accolades they deserve. When these things happen, we all know who does the detailed work. I want to thank the officials at the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs, those who were willing and able to brief us and appear at committee.

There is no doubt this is a phenomenon we will have to deal with in a different way in terms of legislative tools. This is important. We also have to acknowledge that assets exist here from questionable regimes. In particular, we are seeing a kind of strong-arm phenomenon, in that individuals who are using the profits from ill-gotten gains are often supported by companies from the west. These have to be scrutinized more closely. FINTRAC is one means, but we need something that is a lot more precise.

I would note that the government did bring in measures on arms restrictions banning exports to Libya. It is important to note that to date, the government has not brought forward to Parliament, and therefore Canadians, a report on our arms exports as a country. That has to happen.

I would also mention that this bill has to go through the Senate quickly. I would hope that would be done with Bill C-393 as well.

Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order. Pursuant to an order made earlier today, Bill C-61, An Act to provide for the taking of restrictive measures in respect of the property of officials and former officials of foreign states and of their family members, is deemed read a third time and passed.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

moved:

That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology, as it did by justifying the Conservative Party's circumvention of the rules on election spending in the 2005-2006 election campaign, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used public funds to solicit donations to the Conservative Party, when the Party used taxpayers’ money to finance a pre-election campaign under the guise of promoting Canada’s Economic Action Plan, when it changed the wording in government communications to promote itself, when it showed that it is acceptable for a minister to alter a document and make misleading statements to the House, when it refused to provide a parliamentary committee with the costs of its proposals, and when it improperly prorogued Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Québec.

It would be impossible to go over all of the abuses listed in this motion in just 10 minutes. I will not bother rereading the motion, since you just did such a good job.

First of all, I would simply like to remind the House that we think it is very clear that the Conservative government's ideology is harmful to democracy. We see this every day.

Second, it is also very clear that the Conservative Party does not like to abide by democratic rules and that it sees Parliament as an obstacle to be circumvented. In fact, we saw this twice when the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament and once when an election was called, all just so the Conservatives could not be held accountable to the opposition, to parliamentarians.

Third, the government likes to take an autocratic approach. We have seen several examples of its utter disrespect for parliamentarians and democratic institutions. Such examples include its recent refusal to hand over documents needed by the Standing Committee on Finance to carry out its work, its refusal to hand over uncensored documents concerning allegations of torture in Afghanistan, until the Speaker issued a ruling on this in April 2010, and its refusal to allow ministerial staff to testify before committees. These all show a clear lack of respect for parliamentarians and democracy.

Again yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you issued two rulings concerning events listed in the motion. I hope I have time to come back to them later. If I do not have time to revisit them, I am sure my hon. colleague from Québec will have the opportunity to discuss them further.

And fourth, that entire regressive ideology can be seen not only in this contempt for democracy, but also in the government’s desire to advance a hidden agenda. We can sometimes see aspects of that hidden agenda peeking over the horizon, for example when backbench MPs are used to try to reopen the debate about pregnancy choice and when they use backbench MPs to promote the government’s desire to dismantle the firearms registry.

Instead of holding open debates, they prefer to bring changes in through the back door. Here is another example: bills dealing with changes to the Senate, changes that are totally unconstitutional, as virtually all our experts have told us. Because the Conservative government is not able to do what it wants to do directly, it does it indirectly, constantly using half-truths and approximations and never hesitating to misrepresent the facts. Unfortunately, we often see examples of this during question period and statements by members.

What is pretty unbelievable is that during the 2005-2006 election campaign the Conservatives and the Prime Minister portrayed themselves as the ones who wanted to distance themselves from the obfuscation and lack of transparency of the Liberals. They wanted to make themselves the champions of transparency, integrity and accountability.

After the sponsorship scandal, the Conservatives wanted to show that they were an honest alternative to a party that had agreed, for no reason other than to try to buy off Quebeckers after the 1995 referendum, to divert public funds not only for partisan purposes, but also to enhance the federal government’s visibility, in addition to greasing the palms of a number of advertising agencies.

The Conservatives portrayed themselves as the ones who were going to wash whiter than white. The fact is that the Conservative washing machine has been broken for several years, since 2006. Not only is the machine broken and no longer getting things so white, the opposite is in fact true; the works have come apart and there is oil on the clothes. The longer it goes on, the dirtier the clothes in the Conservative washing machine look, and the dirtier they will keep getting. It all started with the 2005-2006 election, when a scheme was put in place to exceed the national limits on advertising spending by using the space left over by 67 candidates who all, to my knowledge, come from Quebec.

So we have transfers made from Conservative Party headquarters to ridings, which in turn paid bills, because of decisions made at the national level. There are no problems transferring funds from the national level to the ridings, or vice versa. We do it all the time. But the law says that those transfers must be made in accordance with the Elections Canada rules. That was not the case in this 2005-2006 situation. So we hope the Conservative Party will pay back the $200,000 it got itself, fraudulently, from Canadian taxpayers, and that it will also drop its legal actions. This is not an administrative dispute, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons say. We are talking about fraud here, I would remind you. The director of public prosecutions has called it fraud and producing fake invoices, and on that point, former Conservative candidates have testified to illegal acts committed to obtain illegal refunds, as I said just now.

There was another misleading statement made, in particular, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. He said that if the Chief Electoral Officer was aware of the Conservatives' scheme, it was because the Conservative Party gave him the information. What does he take us for? We all remember watching the news and seeing the RCMP raid on the Conservative Party's headquarters—clearly at Elections Canada's request—to retrieve the papers and emails necessary to expand upon existing evidence.

The Conservative Party never co-operated with Elections Canada. It did everything it could to try to delay the final decision, particularly through court action. The Conservative Party's failure to co-operate is the most obvious evidence of its guilt. Sooner or later, the Conservatives must be accountable for their actions.

I would like to read several excerpts from the Federal Court of Appeal's recent ruling, which dismissed one of the Conservative Party's cases against Elections Canada. Paragraph 93 reads as follows:

A key concern of the CEOC was the failure of the candidates to submit documentary evidence of the existence or terms of a contract with RMI [Retail Media Inc.] under which the advertisements were purchased by the candidates directly, or by the Party as the agent of the participating candidates. Indeed, the Party conceded that no contractual document between RMI and the candidates or the Party existed.

Hence, the scheme had absolutely no legal basis. I will read two other paragraphs. Unfortunately, I realize that I am going to run out of time. Paragraph 102 states:

The CEOC could reasonably regard the bases on which the costs of the RMB [regional media buys] were allocated as indicative more of a cost-shifting arrangement than an agreement by the participating candidates to purchase advertisements from RMI, either directly or through the Party.

The last two lines of paragraph 103 state:

...when the Party asked candidates to participate in the RMB, it was close to its permitted spending limit, a consideration that would make attractive a scheme to shift to candidates the cost of additional advertising with national themes.

Clearly, this is very serious. It is just as serious as the use of House resources by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to solicit funds in order to target certain ethnocultural communities. I hope that a number of my colleagues will have the opportunity to come back to this over the course of the day.

It is just as serious as the misleading statements by the Minister of International Cooperation, who flip-flopped. On April 23, 2010, in response to a question on the order paper, the minister said that the decision not to fund KAIROS was made by CIDA. On December 9, 2010, in committee, she said the opposite, that it was her decision.

I will conclude with this last point. On December 9, 2010, in committee, she said she did not know who added the word “not” to the document on funding for KAIROS. On February 14, 2011, in this House, she said that the word “not” was added at her direction.

That is the true face of the Conservative Party. The Conservatives have spun a web of deceit just to stay in power. That is unacceptable.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech. I have a question for him. Day after day, we see and hear government MPs accusing opposition MPs of using the same in and out scheme, but not a single MP from any of the three oppositions parties has been charged with doing what the government MPs did.

Could the hon. member from the Bloc Québécois explain to me why only government MPs were charged by Elections Canada?

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member from the New Democratic Party for his question.

I think he raised an indisputable fact. The only party whose expenses were rejected by Elections Canada is the Conservative Party. The only party whose headquarters were raided by the RCMP was, again, the Conservative Party. All the other parties are well aware of the rules and followed them to the letter. Again, these are misleading statements, especially by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, who has been coming up with information on the NDP, the Bloc and the Liberals that has nothing to do with the matter.

They are trying to evade the issue. They committed fraud. Let them return the money and stop going after Elections Canada unnecessarily.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know whether the hon. member from the Bloc Québécois believes that the two ministers recently involved in controversy, the Minister of Immigration and the Minister of International Cooperation who wrote the word “no” on the KAIROS file, should do the honourable thing and step down.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree with the member. The facts are there. Besides, the ruling the Speaker gave yesterday regarding the Minister of International Cooperation is very clear. This whole affair is enormously vague and opaque. I just read the contradictory statements that she made to the committee and to the House. When people engage in this kind of trickery, there is no choice. The British parliamentary system is based on trust, which is no longer there. She does not have the House's trust and so she should resign. The same is true for the Minister of Immigration, and I would even say that, in his case, it is even worse. As Minister of Immigration, he should take care to be above this partisan battle when it comes to all the cultural communities. But we know that the money he raised using the House's resources was to be used for an advertising campaign that targeted certain ethnocultural communities and disregarded others. What message does this send? It was not the Conservative Party, it was the Minister of Immigration who, as a Conservative organizer, decided to focus on four ethnocultural communities because he thinks they are perhaps more open to the Conservative ideology and ideas. The others, he is going to toss aside.

Does this mean that, as Minister of Immigration, he is going to focus on the four communities that the Conservative Party has identified and toss aside the others? Why create two classes of newcomers to Canada? It is completely unworthy of a Minister of Immigration. He should resign for that reason as well.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to address my House leader. The Minister of International Cooperation changed her story a few times, but what really concerns us is the fact that she denied funding to KAIROS against the advice of her officials. So what did she have against KAIROS? What is this organization?

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, it seems that life produces some fairly interesting anecdotes and linkages. The minister initially told us that government employees had advised her to cut the funding for KAIROS. We now know that this is untrue, but we also know why the funding for KAIROS was cut. It was the Minister of Immigration himself who said it in Jerusalem: funding was cut because of the position taken by KAIROS, an organization that unites many churches. The Prime Minister was of the opinion that KAIROS was too close to the concerns of Palestinians and not close enough to the sometimes very questionable decisions of the Israeli government.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this opposition day as my party's democratic reform critic. This motion was made necessary because of the actions the Conservatives have taken since they came into power in 2006.

My colleague from Joliette spoke a lot about the saga involving the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and also the actions of the Conservative Party, in particular the government, with respect to financing for that party, which established a scheme to obtain more money to pay for their advertising. I will come back to this later.

I would like to go over a few examples, because these are not just recent examples. Since they were elected in 2006, the Conservatives have interfered with democracy by manipulating principles as they see fit or even completely disregarding them. This is very worrisome because it creates precedents and we can dare not imagine would what happen with a majority government.

I would like to quote columnist Manon Cornellier, who wrote in the newspaper Le Devoir on September 29, 2010:

[Citizens] are kept in the dark and deprived of fundamental information, which means they are no longer as capable of exercising their primary democratic right of judging the government.

Democracy is always exercised better and more intelligently in a context of transparency, rigour and credible information.

I quoted this columnist because I want to remind the government why it is not currently a majority government and why there is an opposition. The opposition is here to shed light on government decisions and to hold the government accountable to the public.

For example, when I go back to the Quebec City area, many people who voted for me or my colleague in Louis-Hébert say they elected us because they do not want this to be a majority government and do not want its ideology imposed on Quebeckers. That is why the Bloc Québécois is so strong all over Quebec. The government is especially abusive in how it treats democracy here in the House. Today we are debating the reasons why the Conservatives are criticized so much, so often provoke stormy debates, and make a mockery of the opposition’s right to express its views and hold the government to account.

The Conservatives do not want to be accountable to anyone and do not hesitate to resorts to all kinds of tricks, even going so far as to break the most elementary rules by which they should abide in respectable country that is supposed to be democratic. They do not care a fig about democracy and shrink from nothing when it comes to promoting their partisan interests and imposing their reactionary ideology. There are many recent examples, and our motion mentions some of them.

I would like to refresh the memories of certain colleagues, and also of the people watching us, by reviewing a few more examples that are not mentioned in the motion put forward by my colleague from Joliette. For several years now, the Shannon citizens’ coalition and its lawyers have tried repeatedly to obtain documents from the Department of National Defence on the contamination of ground water. However, the government has been delaying the release of documents sought under the Access to Information Act, has been obstructive,and has simply failed to disclose the documents in question.

Last November 25, we managed—because opposition members are in the majority here in the House—to adopt an order to produce the documents. The documents deal with reports analyzing the water supply system at the Valcartier base since 1970. I asked the minister a question because he had promised to table the documents. He said right here in the House, before all the members, that he would table them. So what did he do? Nothing. The government and the Department of National Defence are still hiding behind the class action suit that is now before the courts. But when I asked him,he said it was already headed for the courts. Did he show good faith? No, he misled the House and all citizens about his real intentions.

A similar situation arose regarding the disclosure of documents about the transfer of prisoners in Afghanistan. The government was refusing to release the documents and that is why it prorogued Parliament in December 2009. You had given a ruling, Mr. Speaker, in April 2010 that ordered the government to release the documents, which were not a threat to national security. So what happened?

One year later, a committee has examined the issue but no documents have been made public. If that is not obstruction, I wonder what it is. The government is delaying telling the truth to citizens. It is also delaying bills. It deemed it appropriate to have a majority of senators in the other place to block bills passed by the House. The Senate absolutely refuses to look at all the bills and come to a decision.

The Conservatives seem to have a hard time understanding and applying the basic principles of democracy. One of these principles calls for a separation of powers between the public and political administrations. Yet, how many times have the Conservatives interfered in the public administration since they took office? How many times have they muzzled senior public servants who did not share their views, or did not want to implement a partisan decision? KAIROS, to which the hon. member for Trois-Rivières referred earlier, is one example. The list of victims is a long one, but I will mention a few.

Linda Keen, former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, was fired during the scandal related to the downtime of the Chalk River reactors. Munir Sheikh, the Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada, resigned because he did not support abolishing the mandatory long form census. Rémy Beauregard, whose management of Rights and Democracy was criticized, died of a heart attack after a stormy and tumultuous meeting. Marty Cheliak, former head of the Canadian firearms program, was let go because he was about to table a report supporting gun control. There is also Patrick Stogran, the former Veterans Ombudsman, whose mandate was not renewed because he dared criticize the government's treatment of veterans.

All these individuals were fired or their mandate was not renewed because the government was not pleased. The Senate has blocked legislation such as Bill C-311, which was supported by the Bloc Québécois and a majority of elected members in this House. This bill, dealing with our responsibility regarding global climate change, was contrary to the government's vision on the environment. They rejected it without even looking at it. The Conservatives set a precedent that had not been seen since 1930. They show a blatant disrespect for democratic institutions.

I could list numerous other bills that have been blocked, including the one requiring that Supreme Court judges be bilingual. The Conservatives bought time by constantly stalling the study of the bill until they had a majority in the Senate. The Prime Minister promised to change the rules of the game so that government would be more transparent. But what he has done is worse than what the Liberals did and, in some ways, he has gone even further than they did. The Conservatives' actions of late, coupled with the fact that Conservative senators are getting away with spending money from the Senate budget to promote their partisan ideology, lead us to believe that there is some confusion between the resources of a political party and the resources of the government or the House of Commons.

Taxpayers' money was used for partisan purposes and electioneering. They are always telling the House that public money needs to be respected and that the government is careful about how it spends public money. But what did they do? They used a scam to pay for ads and took $200,000 from taxpayers. They exceeded their election campaign spending limit.

Today we are going to “highlight” everything they have done since they came to power. We will demonstrate that this government is not transparent and that the Prime Minister has not kept his election promises. People wanted to see the Conservatives in power so that there would be more transparency. But that is not what we are seeing these days.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Québec on her excellent presentation on democracy and lack of transparency in the House.

I would like her opinion on the funding of KAIROS. We have seen the Minister of International Cooperation change her mind and not answer questions here in the House, often with the protection of her House Leader. In my colleague's view, what prevented the Minister of International Cooperation from saying from the start that she was rejecting the public servants’ recommendation and from explaining why?

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Indeed, the minister said one thing one day and the opposite the next. She wrote in a “not”, thereby withholding her approval of this recommendation. As was pointed out earlier, the minister obeyed her leader. This came from the top of the pyramid. The Prime Minister disagreed with the position of the agency in question, KAIROS, because it had certain policies which are contrary to the policy on Israel and it was more sensitive to the Palestinian issue, and that displeased the Prime Minister. That is why she was evasive about this. One day she said it was the bureaucrats, and another day she said it was her own doing. That is why this file was a mess.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member from the Bloc Québécois for her opinion on the fraudulent plan of the Conservatives. We know that they used the in and out system, similar to the way that criminals launder money. I am not saying they are criminals. They have not been found guilty yet. Criminals and the mob launder money using an in and out system. Canadian taxpayers are now obliged to pay for what the Conservatives did. Taxpayers’ money was brought back into the constituencies that used the in and out system.

Does our colleague believe that the Conservatives who used in and out schemes in their constituencies should return the money to the taxpayers?