House of Commons Hansard #141 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 8th, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the Conservative Party of Canada's “in and out” electoral financing scheme was an act of electoral fraud and represents an assault on the democratic principles upon which Parliament and our electoral system are based, and that, further, the House calls upon the Prime Minister to: (a) order the immediate repayment of any and all illegally obtained electoral rebates that were paid out to candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada as a result of the “in and out” fraud; and (b) remove all individuals facing charges for this fraud from any position of responsibility within Government or the Conservative Party of Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from St. Paul's, who will be giving a very important speech on the character of the government and what the election spending scandal reveals about the character of the Prime Minister and other Conservative Party leaders.

The motion today does something very important. It allows the House to express itself on a matter which has been known as the in and out election scandal, but it goes further than that.

The motion invites the House to form an opinion that the totality of the evidence around this scheme and this scandal constitute electoral fraud. It calls on the Prime Minister, as head of the government, to order that any taxpayers' moneys obtained illegally as a result of this in and out election scandal be immediately reimbursed to the Receiver General. It calls for any taxpayers' money that was obtained illegally as a result of this scheme be reimbursed to the Canadian people. The motion calls on the Prime Minister to remove the individuals who are facing quasi-criminal charges as a result of a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to remove these individuals from positions of authority within the Conservative Party and within the campaign apparatus of the Prime Minister's party.

Many observers and many commentators have noted that the whole nature of the in and out election scheme is difficult for many Canadians to understand. It is largely a dispute around election spending legislation and the desire of the Conservative Party in the 2006 election to get around those spending limits. I am hoping in the few minutes I have that I might simplify for members of the House the basic essence of this scheme.

In 2006 the Conservative Party decided that it was going to hit the limit for national advertising and campaign spending, the limit set by legislation passed by the House, so it needed to develop a scheme to circumvent that spending limit and therefore attempt to get an unfair advantage over other parties that were following the election spending limits at the time. In essence, the Conservative Party decided at that point to break the law.

The Conservative Party transferred money from the national Conservative Party to 67 Conservative riding associations, the 67 that we know about and that Elections Canada has identified. The party transferred money. That in and out of itself is not the problem. Part of the government's great effort to confuse the public is to say the issue is about the transfers. The issue is not about the transfers. The Conservative Party can legitimately transfer money to those 67 ridings. What was illegal and illegitimate is what then followed.

Those ridings had to immediately transfer the money back to the national party. They had to sign a transfer order before they received the money. The party probably did not have enough confidence in its local riding associations not to try to keep the money. The party wanted it transferred back to the national campaign committee, and that group in Ottawa then had all of the decision-making authority over how that money would be spent. It was spent on advertising in different regional or national markets.

The party tried to pretend that somehow this was a decision of a particular Conservative candidate. For example, the riding of Lac-Saint-Louis in Quebec was one that had received some of this money, transferred it back to the national party, and then effectively lost any decision-making authority over how the money was spent.

After the 2006 election the Chief Electoral Officer refused to approve the use of taxpayers' money for the reimbursement of these expenses. He made this determination after a careful audit and after careful interviews with candidates and official agents of the Conservative Party who admitted they had no idea where the advertising money was going to be spent. They had no say on how that money should be allocated. Based on those interviews and an extensive investigation, the Chief Electoral Officer determined that the Conservative Party should not be allowed to milk $800,000 of taxpayers' money as part of the electoral refund process for expenses which he determined were not legitimate.

The matter was then brought to the court by the Conservatives. In a desperate attempt to delay a finding of guilt, in an attempt to confuse the issue and probably in an attempt to desperately milk that $800,000 that they had promised to their local riding associations, the Conservatives said, “Do not panic. We will go to court”. That was a desperate act to try to cover up a very thorough and extensive investigation and decision by an independent authority of the House with the responsibility to administer the election system.

This is an important point, because the court has ruled that the Conservatives did not have the right to claim—since the election commissioner conducted an investigation—that what they did was legal.

However, last week, a panel of three Federal Court of Appeal judges unequivocally ruled that the Conservatives acted illegally. The only people who believe that the Conservatives did nothing wrong are the Conservatives themselves.

In the meantime, we have seen the Conservatives' true colours. They have repeatedly insulted Elections Canada and that agency's employees whose mandate, which comes from this House under the legislation, is to ensure fair election practices in Canada. Often when people are wrong regarding arguments of substance, they tend to insult others. That is what the Conservatives are doing.

The Conservatives had refused to hand over documents to Elections Canada. That is why the RCMP needed a search warrant, issued by a judge, to go into the Conservative Party headquarters to get the documents.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister rises in this House and says that the Conservatives have disclosed everything to Elections Canada and that the reason Elections Canada is aware of this practice is because the Conservatives came forward. It is odd that Elections Canada needed to ask a judge for a signed search warrant after evidence submitted under oath to that same judge established that the Conservatives had not disclosed certain things. What was found in that search? They found a series of falsified documents that the Conservatives had tried to hide. That is what convinced the Director of Public Prosecutions to lay these quasi-criminal charges against the Conservatives.

The result of this scheme is that the Conservatives tried to cheat in a national election by spending over the legal limit. They attempted to milk almost $1 million from taxpayers by refunds to which they were not entitled. This is not a decision only of Elections Canada, it is a decision of a unanimous three judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeal.

Four top Conservatives are now facing quasi-criminal charges, including the possibility of landing in jail or facing massive fines and the Conservative Party itself is also facing these charges.

The Conservatives pretended to campaign on accountability. It was a joke. In that very election they were engaging in an elaborate scheme to get around the limits.

In closing, the Conservatives inexcusably claim that this is an administrative dispute, an accounting misunderstanding. We could use that same argument to say that the likes of Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones were caught up in an accounting disagreement. The whole Enron affair in the United States was nothing more than an accounting dispute, a financial glitch.

There is no administrative prison. When someone faces quasi-criminal charges, it is because the Director of Public Prosecutions has determined that there is a great deal of evidence. That is the case for the Conservatives. There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that there was a strategy to get around the Canada Elections Act and steal an election.

One day, the government's lame excuses will be heard in court and these people will be judged.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I want to expand further on the point of order I raised that the motion is completely out of order and should be ruled accordingly. I find it curious that the Liberal Party of Canada, which has among its several members one from the riding of Papineau, whose father was, frankly, the architect of what we know as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would actually have the temerity to stand in the House and bring forward this motion. Section 11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms speaks of the rights of individuals to have their day in court and the presumption of innocence before the courts. Yet the motion before us today basically encourages the House, through a vote in this place, to find guilty those who have not yet been through due process in the court of law. In other words, the Liberal Party is purporting that this place has more authority than the court of law in this country.

There are many lawyers in the House. I wonder how they feel about the motion. Does my colleague, who is a lawyer, agree that Parliament should have the authority over a court of law when determining guilt or innocence?

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, it is always a bit rich to see Conservatives, former members of the Reform Party and the Alliance, talk about their respect for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those of us on this side of the House for a long time have thought that those members simply find the Charter of Rights and Freedoms an inconvenience. We saw that when the member for Vaughan in his byelection campaign admitted that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was a nuisance when he was a senior police officer in Ontario. The irony never seeks to escape me.

My colleague pointed out to the House that I am a lawyer by training. Am I uncomfortable with the House pronouncing itself on something as fundamental as the ethical standards of the government? The answer is no. Am I uncomfortable with this motion that somehow the House should substitute its opinion for the decision of the courts? Of course that is not the case. No one other than the parliamentary secretary has suggested something so ridiculous.

We are saying that the House has an obligation to hold the Conservative Party and the Conservative government to account for a massive electoral fraud. At the end of the day, members will also be held to account in a court of law and may face jail time as a result of their behaviour.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the government continuously pronounces its innocence based on the fact that, according to the government, everybody does this, that what is going on is just ordinary politics, the usual way campaigns are run. Government members think there is some personal vendetta against them. I am not quite sure where they get the argument that there is motivation to single them out, because any government agency that would be stupid enough to attack the sitting government of the day on anything but a rock solid legal case would be crazy, especially with that crowd.

Could the hon. member help members in the House and the public who are watching understand the difference between what the Conservatives are charged with and the regular things that parties do during campaigns?

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, the member for Hamilton Centre is absolutely right. One of the great big falsehoods the government has been propagating is that every other party does it. Its members have repeated it over and over again, as if by repeating the falsehood that somehow it becomes true.

The Conservative Party is the only party facing quasi-criminal charges. Four senior Conservative operators, including two who sit in the other place, are facing quasi-criminal charges. No other party has that proud record.

The Conservatives' headquarters was the only party's headquarters raided by the police following a court signed mandate, a search warrant. Again, no other party has that ignominy.

The Conservative Party is the only one that has been found by the Director of Public Prosecutions to have voluminous evidence of wrongdoing and a paper trail of fake invoices. That is its record, nobody else's.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague provided a good explanation of the in and out financing scandal. I will show that this is a perfect example of the abuse of power by the Prime Minister, who believes he is above the law.

Government expects citizens to obey the law. Citizens should be able to expect government to obey the law as well. They should also expect political parties who want to form the government to obey the law, particularly in an election based on the need to increase transparency and accountability. I believe this goes right to the character and integrity of the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party of Canada.

Integrity means that one acts with principles. Accountability means that somebody is watching and that one will try to do one's best. However, this comes to an almost sociopathic or psychopathic end in that what is right is regarded as what one gets away with and what is wrong is what one is caught doing, and that when one gets caught doing something wrong, one says that everyone else is doing it.

Spending limits matter in the democracy in our country. The restrictions on party spending were put in place to limit the influence of money on the outcome of elections and to level the playing field. It was viewed as undemocratic that a party with the most money would win because of the money it was able to spend.

We are also concerned that throughout the Conservative's defence, the truth has been a serious victim. Even the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister had said that the Conservatives alerted Elections Canada to the in and out scheme. That is not true. An Elections Canada auditor noticed the unusual pattern of wire transfers and then a Conservative candidate and several campaign workers explained how the national party had instructed them in the in and out scheme. One of them called the transactions, “in and out”, and that is where this scandal got its name.

It is also extraordinary that when they were caught doing this, the Conservatives had the audacity to go to court to get their ill-gotten dollars back in spite of what we now understand. For example, in the books of the riding of Hull—Aylmer, it had $12,000 in its account at the beginning of the election, but after a transfer from the national party of $50,000 or so, it ended up with $36,000 at the end of the campaign. Clearly it was $24,000 better off with taxpayer dollars from a falsely obtained rebate.

It is also not true that other parties did the same thing. As my colleague said, there is only one party being charged with this. There was only one headquarters raided. There is a very big difference between this and the legitimate transfers to or from a riding association to central headquarters. That is fundamentally different from what happened here, where a party ended up being able to exceed a spending limit and ended up with taxpayer dollars in Conservative riding associations.

This is a party and Prime Minister for whom the end always justifies the means. If you or I were asked by the Canada Revenue Agency to show our books, then we would show our books. This party had to have its headquarters raided, from which sloppily forged invoices were found. The company in question, Retail Media, was able to say that those were not their invoices and that they were indeed forged.

I would like to set the context. This is a Prime Minister who never liked election spending limits and actually went as far as the Supreme Court as the president of the National Citizens Coalition to try to fight against limits on third party advertising in an election. I think this Prime Minister never really liked Elections Canada and saw them as a certain irritant in the way. Of course, he comes from a province where there are no spending limits.

Let us go back in time to November 28, 2005 when there was a vote of non-confidence in the House. From November 25 to January 23, there was a writ of 55 days long. That is 20 days longer than most writs. It seems that at that time the Liberals had a five to ten point lead in the polls and were in strong minority territory.

In mid-December, someone in Conservative Party noticed that they were actually close to the spending limit and thought, “Oh my word, what are we going to do?” Here, I want to take members to some dimly lit office here on the Hill with a Blofeld-like character, the evil genius and arch enemy of goodness, fairness and democratic principles, who came up with a big idea.

The idea was that the campaign would use and in and out scheme. Moreover, what if there were a big bonus of an extraordinary media buy and another big bonus of money actually ending up in poor riding associations? That was is in a campaign whose platform talked about standing up for accountability and banning secret donations to political candidates.

As the Ottawa Citizen said in its editorial on March 4:

Campaign spending rules are in place for a reason: to ensure a reasonably level "playing field" during a campaign. Because one candidate may not reach his or her limit doesn't mean the party should be able to overspend on the national campaign as a result.

....the Appeal Court ruled that “the Respondents' interpretation could weaken compliance with the limits set by Parliament on the amount of money that candidates can spend on their election and can recover by way of reimbursement of public funds. Abuses could well proliferate, and the statutory objective of promoting a healthy democracy through levelling the electoral playing field undermined.”

We know that the party and the Prime Minister must have known that not everyone thought this was in the rules. In fact, its previous candidate, David Marler, a lawyer who ran for the party in 2006, turned party officials down when asked to deposit money in his campaign account and almost immediately remove it for national advertising. About 66 other candidates agreed to the request, but not David Marler. As he stated:

It always seemed to me that the in-and-out was irregular and illegal.... It is gratifying to note that the Federal Court (of Appeal) has come to the same opinion, which always seemed to me to be obvious. I think they’re doing the right thing by prosecuting the alleged offenders.

Tom Flanagan has talked about the alleged ad laundering scheme, and many have indeed called this money laundering. In the Brandon Sun, Mia Rabson reported that:

Former Manitoba Conservative MP Inky Mark said his party was wrong to claim $1.3 million in national advertising expenses paid for by its local candidates in the 2006 election.

Mark spoke out immediately afterwards and said that “It smelled”. He recalled:

I asked what was the point.... It just didn't make any sense.

Mark said that he believes they asked him to accept about $8,000 but that:

From my point of view, if I took the money and pretended I spent it and then made a claim for it with Elections Canada, that's wrong.

I guess Conservatives thought it was a brilliant scheme and that Elections Canada was stupid, but they had the audacity to ask for the rebates back, which is evident when we see the books of the Conservative riding association in Hull—Aylmer.

The Conservatives would like Canadians to believe that it is just an accounting dispute. That is not true. Accountants are not usually accused of forging invoices or fleecing taxpayers of $800,000 by having Conservative ridings apply for rebates of inflated election expenses.

The Conservatives would like us to believe that this is a standard practice. That is not true. The Conservative Party is the only party facing such charges, the only party whose headquarters was searched by the RCMP, and the only party that left a trail of forged invoices that it must now explain.

What is also very telling in terms of character is to see the intimidation that took place, with the leadership calling people who had refused “idiots” and “turds”. There were emails between these riding associations, particularly the one in Oxford, where the campaign manager, a former police officer, felt uncomfortable doing this.

Liberals think that is an extraordinary testimony to the lack of character and it seems a little suspicious that one of the accused was tweeting last week that:

Anyone who thinks PMSH was that deeply involved in campaign is an idiot. Campaigns make millions of decisions in 35 days.

I think there are at least two “not”s missing in that. To go around calling people idiots just seems part of the game.

Parties—

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member's time has elapsed. Perhaps she will have an opportunity to complete her comments in questions and comments.

The hon. member for Oshawa.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I do want to thank my colleague for her speech. I know she was speaking quite passionately. I have worked with her in the past and I know she does hold herself in the highest ethical regard, as well as this entire House.

The member wanted to go back in time, and I was wondering if I could remind her of an historical fact. There was something called adscam or scandale des commandites and something called the Gomery inquiry. It was an ongoing inquiry into the misappropriation of funds. There were some results that came about after that inquiry. I believe the Liberal Party had to return $1 million to the Canadian taxpayers.

My question to the member is, can she outline in detail what the Liberal Party has done to recover the other $40 million? Has she done anything personally to encourage her leader to recover this money that was lost to Canadian taxpayers because of a scandal that occurred under a previous government's watch?

I think we would just like to have an update to see how that is coming along.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. member that Justice Gomery had a number of recommendations that the Conservative Party put into its platform but has pretty well carried out none. It was very important that the appointments commission do a number of things that Gomery said must be done. However, the Conservative Party was more than happy to pick that up and put it into their platform and then carry forward.

This is the most secretive government in the history of Canada. We have gone from being first under the Liberals to last under the government in terms of secrecy and redacted documents. Frankly, no sitting Liberal in either chamber has ever had these kinds of charges laid against them.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from St. Paul's for her remarks.

I find it passing strange that the government members, in their first response to the co-lead off speech of the official opposition on the day of the latter's motion, slam the Conservative scandal with a Liberal scandal. The best argument they have to defend their own scandal is to raise the previous scandal.

My question directly for the member, however, is about her saying that the government had the “audacity” to ask for dollars back and her reference to “forged invoices”. I would like to ask the member if she would expand a little bit on the linkage between the alleged forged invoices and the audacity of the government not only to overspend by $1 million but to claim the rebates too.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, it seems that the Conservative Party had one invoice for the big media buy that election.

What seems to have happened is that they took that one invoice and in order to back up the in and out scheme, they forged the invoice and made, I would assume, 66 copies of it, or however many copies, in which they could not even spell “invoice” correctly. They left the “i” out of invoice and made the same mistake in all 66 of them. Then there was a little handwriting about the GST.

This was the sloppiest job. However, the idea that after that had been done and the invoices had been falsified that they would then go to court and ask for the money back without waiting for due process and whether they would be charged by the director of public prosecutions in the courts was audacious. In fact, the director of public prosecutions was instituted by the government so that there would not be any frivolous or vexatious suits by the Government of Canada. That director knew of the voluminous evidence, including these falsified invoices, and has now taken the matter to court.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the welcome extended to me by my honourable Liberal colleague.

I rise today and am going to begin my remarks by addressing the issues that matter to Canadians. It is unfortunate that the Liberal motion fails to do that.

The motion says nothing about jobs. Why is that? It is because the government, through its economic action plan, has created 460,000 new jobs since the valley of the recession.

It says nothing about unemployment, and that is because our unemployment rate is two—

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This morning I had an opportunity to review the minutes of the procedure and House affairs committee from January 31 through March 28, all of which led to a filibuster. The filibuster dealt with totally irrelevant information.

I want to stop it right at the beginning. If the member will not address the motion before the floor, then he should yield the floor. Talking about jobs and the economy is outside the scope of the motion now before the House.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I think all members realize that their comments must be pertinent to the motion and I am sure the hon. member will tie his comments to the motion.