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 / 12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for that partisan attack. In fact, the Gomery inquiry, after extensive investigation, exonerated all members and all parliamentarians of the Liberal Party from any involvement in that situation. That is the opposite of what we have here when we have a minister of immigration whose own department appears to be complicit in partisan electoral analysis and fundraising, and when we have a party that has perpetrated partisan attacks through potential electoral fraud to gain more funds for its ridings and to overspend the budget in order to buy more partisan attack ads and steal the 2006 election.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, nothing is more fundamental to democracy than the independence of parliamentary institutions, having oversight and ensuring that our system has rules that are followed and adhered to.

In the time I have allotted I will talk about the in and out scandal and why it is such a concern, but moreover, why we as parliamentarians have to be deeply concerned about the trajectory, not just of this issue but of others, and its implications on democracy.

The in and out scandal is, at its base, an attempt to break election laws, laws that were put in place to ensure during a campaign every party was on equal footing, every party had limits and every party was allowed to spend a certain amount.

For one party to be able to break those rules to the tune of $1.2 million and to be able to go out and buy all kinds of additional ads and have resources that other parties are not afforded is not just wrong but, frankly, it amounts to electoral fraud, which means that the electoral process we had was uneven because one party was conferred an unfair advantage.

If we were to allow that to stand, if we accept the Conservative argument that this is just an administrative issue and we should not worry about it, what precedent would that establish? What message does that send?

If the people who make the laws flaunt the laws and if the people who make the laws say that no one really needs to follow the laws if they can find clever ways around them, how can we possibly have a strong democracy?

The Conservatives say that this is an issue faced by everybody. Only one party had its national campaign headquarters raided by the RCMP. Only one party had charges brought against senior organizers and senators in its party. Only one party has a paper trail of doctored documents to try break election laws. That party is the Conservative Party of Canada. Therefore, to suggest that everybody does it does not pass as anything more than empty rhetoric.

More than that, even after being caught, charged, taken to court by Elections Canada and the court tossing out the Conservatives' arguments saying that they were bogus and ridiculous, the Conservatives still stand in defiance. They still refuse to own up to what they have done or to acknowledge that what they did in the past was wrong. They refuse to own up to their error and to say that they never should have done it. Instead, they try to brush it off as unimportant.

I think it sends a terrible message and establishes an awful precedent. However, it is part of a bigger trend.

Recently a minister was charged with allegedly doctoring documents to make it look as though department officials were the ones who made the decision to cut funding to KAIROS when, in fact, those bureaucrats had done exactly the opposite. That minister was in committee and in the House and made comments that she did not know who altered the documents. She clearly misled Parliament because later she came back and said that she did know. For that, we are told that the minister is courageous and that the minister is a strong minister who we should all applaud for the work she is doing, even though the Prime Minister will not even allow her to respond to the questions that we pose.

Much bigger than that, though, is the trend that the government has of going after independent voices, voices that speak out and demand change. It started with Linda Keen. Linda Keen was the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission who stood and said that the government was wrong in how it was handling radioactive isotopes that are critical in diagnosing cancer. However, because she spoke out and took an opinion, she was fired.

It continued with Paul Kennedy, the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner who said that what was happening in the RCMP was wrong, that it needed to change, that there were important recommendations, from Iacobucci to O'Connor to the public safety committee, that were left unimplemented and that, without those changes, we would have other problems, either with tasers or with people who suffered like Maher Arar and Mr. El Maati, Mr. Nureddin or Mr. Almalki.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville is rising on a point of order.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to this debate since it began and note that the member for Mississauga South has risen three times on a point of order complaining about the relevance of speeches. I could say the same thing about the Liberal speeches at the present time. This is a soap box that the Liberals have set up for themselves to talk about every issue and, I appeal to you to ensure that they stick to the issue at hand, which they are not doing.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. member for his intervention.

I would urge the member for Ajax—Pickering that while he may stray into other areas, the bulk of his remarks should address the substance of the motion before the House.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would argue that what I am talking about is fundamental to the motion we are dealing with today. Let us consider the fact that this is not an isolated, one-off instance. If it were to be held out as a mistake, a one-off occasion that could easily be explained as one error, that would be one thing. However, it is part of a broader trend.

At stake in the House are the very institutions that ensure that our democracy is kept viable and strong, that we have strong independent oversight, that agencies like Elections Canada are able to set and enforce rules to make sure that fairness is maintained and that our system of democracy is kept healthy. There could be nothing more germane than going over examples of the government attacking those institutions as part of a broader pattern.

Mr. Kennedy, for talking about the changes needed at the RCMP, was let go. He did not want to go but was let go. We have not heard a word from his replacement in over a year, someone who has disappeared into the ether, a former Conservative fundraiser with no experience with the national police force and who is doing his job by not saying a thing or demanding changes.

Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada, who refused to have words put into his mouth to the effect that he supported the idea of ending the long form census when he had thought no such thing, was effectively forced out of his job because he would not buy the government's talking lines.

And the following were fired as well: Colonel Pat Stogran, the Veterans Ombudsman; Peter Tinsley, the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission; Richard Colvin; and Steve Sullivan, who said that the government's plan for victims was unbalanced and would not work. Marty Cheliak, head of the Canadian firearms program, was also fired. And there is Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Consider the pattern. When looking at Elections Canada and the way the rules are being flaunted, not followed and essentially waived off as insignificant, we see that it is part of a trend and pattern that must be arrested and expunged.

Here are the fundamental questions. What if we let this stand? What if we allowed these attacks on the independent institutions that oversee Parliament to stand? What if we put a stamp of approval on them? What if Canadians do not stand up and challenge them? What is to stop a future prime minister from going the next steps and eliminating all of the lights that shine in dark corners and give us insight into what is happening, that ensure that when Canadians are making decisions in elections they are doing so with facts, and that when Parliament is making a decision in the House, it is doing so with accurate and viable information?

If we do not fight to protect the laws that are put in place by agencies like Elections Canada, then we will watch everything fall like a row of dominos. When we stand in the House and are forced to vote on bills that have no costing and no information provided, we are already seeing those dominos falling. When we see the independent officers of Parliament, one after the other, being knocked out and replaced with people who refuse to speak out, who refuse to do anything but carry the government talking points, we are walking into a situation that we cannot get back from.

This motion is about the in and out scandal, but it is about much more. It is about protecting the institutions that maintain strong and healthy democracies, and we have to take a stand.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the theme is expanding a little but I know that members are not going to waste the House's time.

Speaking about wasting the House's time, from January 2008 until March 2008, this matter was before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is supposed to look at electoral issues; it is in its purview. That committee was filibustered by the Conservatives, who did not want to deal with the issue. In fact, that committee did not meet after March. For six months it did no work because the government did not want an examination done of what actually happened.

The issue then went to the ethics committee and witnesses were called. The Conservatives told witnesses not to appear. Witnesses were subpoenaed and the Conservatives told them to ignore the subpoenas.

The question for the member is this: If the Conservative Party believes this is just an administrative dispute, why has it not co-operated fully with Parliament, with its committees, with Elections Canada and the prosecutor to make sure that all of the facts are there so that we can resolve this issue and get on with the business of the House? That is what we should be doing.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises an excellent point. If this is such a minor issue and the Conservatives have nothing to hide, why are they blocking all of the processes that would provide us with the answers that we need to get to the bottom of it?

I would also point out that people do not get charged and do not get threatened with jail time on administrative issues. It is no longer an administrative issue when someone faces the possibility of going to jail.

The Conservatives have talked about this as just an accounting issue. Similarly, accountants are not in the practice of falsifying documents to break rules; and when they are, they are charged. We would no more accept an accountant who tries to cook the books to get a particular outcome to deceive shareholders than we would a political party trying to break the rules and move around the numbers to try to garner an unfair, illicit advantage in a campaign.

I think the following is an extremely important point and it blows me away that the government will not acknowledge it: the idea that we have fair, balanced and equal elections should be a fundamental precept of our democracy.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier today in this discussion the parliamentary secretary stood up and gave a lengthy list of activities that have taken place on the part of all parties in this House, similar and/or identical activities to those alleged by the opposition right now.

I am not sure if the public is aware that committees are controlled by the opposition. It has the numbers in committee, so it can basically dictate what it wishes to do. A suggestion was put forward by the government to have the committee evaluate each party identically so that members could judge the way to go to deal with the issue. The opposition parties said no. They just wanted the Conservative approach to be investigated, but as far as their activities were concerned, no, they did not want an investigation.

I just say that what is right is right, what is wrong is wrong, and what is fair is fair. We are all in this together. We are all parliamentarians and we should be subject to the same rules and obligations. I do agree with that.

However, why would we be afraid to have an open book policy for each and every party in this place? It is a bit hypocritical to condemn one particular party for doing the same thing that another does itself, and for that other party not to admit this or to open its books.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is not me who is making these accusations. It is the RCMP that raided the Conservative Party headquarters. It is the law enforcement officials who laid charges against senior Conservative organizers and senators. There is also the fact that only one party has a demonstrated paper trail of doing this. Therefore, the notion that we should investigate everyone and use committee time to go after them when there is no evidence that anyone but the Conservative Party did this is to distract Parliament and to waste time.

We need to look at the independent agencies that are responsible for overseeing these matters, which have determined that the Conservatives have broken the rules. For having done so, the Conservatives are now facing charges and potential jail time. And because they have done so, we need to investigate this matter.

However, the Conservative Party would like to waste as much time as possible, searching out every possible corner so that it delays this matter for as long as possible.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.

Hon. colleagues of mine on this side of the House have spoken previously about the fact this motion is regrettable in several important ways. It is clearly a partisan attempt to play politics and games and to mislead with mistruths. It prejudices the outcome of a long-standing dispute and honest difference of opinion between the Conservative Party and Elections Canada officials. I would like to speak to the actions of those officials and to the strong laws that govern election financing in this country.

The Canada Elections Act outlines the clear rules of the game, so to speak. These are the envy of other countries, as they help protect the integrity of our system.

When our government took office in 2006, we introduced the Federal Accountability Act, which further strengthened the rules surrounding the financing of political entities. These changes took big money out of federal politics. They are what Canadians expect and deserve.

What is at issue in the matter currently before us, and soon, we hope, back in court, is whether certain expenses should be counted as local or national. On this point there is an honest difference of opinion. The Canada Elections Act restricts the sources of money that political parties and candidates can use. The main source of revenue of registered parties and candidates is usually the contributions they receive from their supporters. Other sources of revenue include the partial reimbursement of electoral expenses that political parties and candidates receive following an election; the quarterly allowances that are given to political parties, which are calculated on the basis of the number of votes the parties received in the last election; and strictly regulated transfers received from entities of the same political family.

Since the coming into force of the Federal Accountability Act, unions and corporations have not been allowed to contribute to political parties and candidates any more. And certainly, someone cannot make contributions in any calendar year in excess of $1,100 to a registered political party. The same amount can be given in any calendar year to a registered association or to a candidate supported by a registered party.

Elections Canada publishes on its website all of the returns it receives from registered parties and candidates. This is a bid to make the system transparent and fair. We support that. We have said so repeatedly, and our actions in that regard speak volumes, which make the actions of certain Elections Canada officials in their treatment of this matter all the more curious.

It would appear that Elections Canada told the media details of the investigation into this matter, something that is highly unusual for any federal agency. Emails obtained under access to information showed that Elections Canada officials were totally preoccupied with the leak.

However, at committee, Mr. Marc Mayrand of Elections Canada was less than forthcoming about who conducted the internal review into this alleged leak. He later admitted that he had been mainly responsible for conducting the review, and he had to correct the record when he was asked how many people knew in advance that the police investigation was entering a new phase. At first he said three. Later he said five. The fact is that Elections Canada conducted an investigation of itself in connection with this alleged leak.

Elections Canada has been very vigorous in investigating our party. Elections Canada certainly should not let the Conservative Party investigate itself, but why would Elections Canada and Mr. Mayrand think that it is appropriate that they personally investigate themselves? In the interests of time, I will leave that question before the House, except to say there are questions in parliamentarians' purview that have never been answered clearly to this day.

To quote the Ottawa Citizen columnist, John Robson:

The more I watch this stuff...the more convinced I am that if there's a scandal here, it doesn't involve the Tories.

Canada is a country where the rule of law prevails and where the presumption of innocence is guaranteed. People have the right to fair and equitable processes and will make the appropriate representations before the court, not before the House. It would not be appropriate to discuss the facts of this case further. The House cannot substitute itself for the judicial system in making the determination the motion seeks to make.

I therefore urge all hon. members of the House to oppose the motion.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Conservatives around precedents.

There was a member of the cabinet in the House of Commons who was alleged to have done something wrong. She now sits as an independent. The Prime Minister removed her from cabinet and then quickly thereafter removed her from the party. Conservative senators who will be in the Conservative caucus meeting tomorrow had the public prosecutor and the RCMP banging on their door. They have been charged. Of course they have to go before a court and the charges have to be proved. Does it not seem to my hon. colleague somewhat strange, if not hypocritical, for the Conservatives to kick out some people who were under allegations and were never charged with anything, as in the case of the member who is now an independent, whereas they are comfortable having in the caucus other folks who have been charged by the public prosecutor who is an arm's-length non-partisan public official? They are being charged with defrauding the Canadian people in the midst of an election. That is pretty serious for those of us who are concerned with democracy.

Is my friend not concerned with his party's seemingly hypocritical stance on one person being alleged to have done something wrong and tossed out of caucus but two Conservative senators, who are bagmen, are being allowed to stay and advise the Prime Minister?

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister recently said in the House that the Conservative Party acted under the law as it saw it and understood it at the time. When it was clear that Elections Canada had changed the interpretation of the law, the Conservative Party adjusted its practices in the 2008 election. We have followed practices since that time to ensure that our party maintains the law of the land. We respect the law and we will continue to respect the law of the land.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to hear that the member has indicated his party wants to respect the law and will fully co-operate with the police agencies which have charged four people in this regard.

During the hearings before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Marc Mayrand, appeared before us and he was asked if anyone in the Conservative Party, in its fundraising wing, in its electoral campaign offices, ever contacted Elections Canada to ask whether the party's proposed scheme was legal under the Canada Elections Act. His response was “no”. All communications, voice as well as written, were checked, but there was no evidence whatsoever that the Conservative Party had even asked whether or not its scheme was going to be within the law of the land.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if the Liberal Party at the time of the ad scam asked for permission to take the funds and redirect that money to the party. We know that the Liberal Party had to pay back $1 million. Canadians know that there are still $40 million missing that the Liberal Party funnelled into the party. It was Canadian taxpayers' money. I do not understand why the Liberal Party thinks it has the audacious right to be the most righteous party in the land when in fact it is the only party that actually stole money from Canadian taxpayers who want their $40 million back.