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

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Madam Speaker, I can see my Manitoba colleague from Winnipeg Centre has had a little chamomile tea since yesterday, when I debated with him. He personally attacked and attacked me. It was shameful and disappointing.

However, let me proceed to what the issue is and what has the opposition parties so angry. The fact is they moved money from their national campaigns to their local campaigns and then moved the money back from the local campaigns to the national campaigns and claimed the 60% rebate on it. They want to say it is not true. The proof is on the Elections Canada website.

We also wonder what Elections Canada is looking at when it sees this information before all of us in the House and indeed all Canadians.

Speaker's Ruling
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 8th, 2011 / 4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before we resume debate, I am prepared to rule on the point of order raised earlier today by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning the applicability of the sub judice convention to the supply day motion proposed by the member for Beauséjour.

I would like to thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for raising this matter, as well as the hon. members for Charlottetown, Skeena—Bulkley Valley and Joliette for their interventions.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that the motion as drafted contravened the sub judice convention and should be ruled out of order on that basis.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 100, makes reference to the Speaker’s discretion in the application of the sub judice convention:

In 1977, the First Report of the Special Committee on the Rights and Immunities of Members recommended that the imposition of the convention should be done with discretion and, when there was any doubt in the mind of the Chair, a presumption should exist in favour of allowing debate and against the application of the convention. Since the presentation of the report, Speakers have followed these guidelines while using discretion.

In addition, as hon. members are aware, over the years the Chair has given considerable latitude in the wording of supply day motions. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 854, states:

The Standing Orders give Members a very wide scope in proposing opposition motions on supply days and, unless the motion is clearly and undoubtedly irregular (i.e., where the procedural aspect is not open to reasonable argument), the Chair does not intervene.

This may explain why there are examples of this kind of motion coming before the House in the past, notably one proposed by the then member for MacLeod, Mr. Grant Hill, on February 16, 2004, and another proposed by the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie on April 14, 2005. Both motions were proposed after the government of the day had established a public inquiry to look into the matters referred to in the motions.

Nevertheless, with these procedural principles in mind, the Chair has carefully reviewed the motion currently being debated, with particular attention to how it relates to court proceedings to determine whether the sub judice convention ought to apply.

There are two kinds of court proceedings at issue. First, in terms of the civil aspect of the matter, a unanimous court decision has been rendered. At this hour, no appeal has been filed. Until further steps are taken on that aspect of the question, there is no possible application of the sub judice convention at this time.

With regard to the reference to criminal charges filed against certain individuals, a close reading of the motion reveals that they are properly referred to as “individuals facing charges”. The motion does not comment on their guilt or innocence. The question of whether persons charged should be able to continue to hold positions in government or a political party, which is the point addressed by the motion, is not covered by the sub judice convention.

That being said, out of an abundance of caution, the ordinary practice of the House in respect of matters which may be sub judice has been for the Speaker not to stop debate, but rather to caution members in their choice of wording. Along with a number of my predecessors, I have frequently advised the House to proceed judiciously when debating matters that are, or might be, sub judice.

In addition, the wording of the motion before us contains the key words “in the opinion of this House”. If adopted, it would serve merely as an expression of the opinion of the House rather than compel the government to take any action. It is also important to note that the motion is general in nature, lacking in specifics about related proceedings.

For these reasons, I have been prepared to allow the debate on the supply day motion to proceed and I rule that it can continue to the expiry of the time provided for the debate, at which time the question can be put.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion on electoral financing and accountability moved by the hon. member for Beauséjour.

Today I would like to explain to Canadians, and to this House, the falsehoods presented in this motion, according to which our democratic principles were allegedly attacked by the current government during the financing of the election campaign.

First, I would like to take a moment to present the facts. There is currently an administrative dispute between the Conservative Party and Elections Canada. The issue is whether expenses should be considered national or local. This type of transfer is common practice among the parties and is entirely legal.

It is in no way an attack against democracy, and this type of unjustified accusation is not only irresponsible, but also a waste of precious time in the House of Commons when Parliament could be debating issues that are truly important to Canadians, like the economy.

On the contrary, the motion moved by the hon. member for Beauséjour has to do with a dispute over the administrative interpretation of the fact that Conservative candidates spent Conservative funds on Conservative advertising. What is more, the false and misleading accusations by the hon. member for Beauséjour are somewhat surprising, coming from the Liberal Party, which still owes $40 million plus interest following the sponsorship scandal. Taxpayers' hard-earned money was redirected to the Liberals' coffers.

In fact, it is this Conservative government that strengthened democracy in Canada by making accountability and transparency a priority. Our actions show Canadians that we are working in their interests.

More specifically, I would like to focus on our accomplishments with regard to electoral administration and financing. I would also like to underscore the major reforms in the Federal Accountability Act, which our government passed to put an end to the long-standing corrupt practices of the previous government.

Among other major improvements, the Federal Accountability Act prohibits political contributions by corporations, unions and associations and reduces the influence of big money within our electoral system by changing the individual contribution limit from $5,000 to $1,100.

By eliminating the anti-democratic influence that the wealthy could potentially exert, these reforms guarantee that our democratic system treats all Canadians equally. We are ensuring that the voices of all Canadians are heard.

Our government is the one that eliminated the influence of big money, not the one that was caught trying to claim some of that big money. The elimination of the influence of money in the government and the substantial amendments made to the lobbying regulations are perhaps the most significant changes that our government has made, and they illustrate our government's priorities and character.

In addition to key reforms to restore the fairness of the political financing system, our government also took measures to reduce the possibility of electoral fraud. Before we made these key changes, an individual could vote, no questions asked, if his or her name was on the voters list. Identification was not required unless an election agent, the candidate or the candidate's representatives had reason to doubt the person's identity or his or her right to vote. In order to address this shortcoming, our government took steps to require voters to present a piece of ID and proof of residence.

Our commitment to a fair election process is perfectly illustrated by the changes we made to protect law-abiding Canadians who work hard to prevent potential voter fraud. These types of measures protect the integrity of our electoral system by ensuring that the person requesting a ballot is actually the person who is entitled to it.

We also took measures to improve the administration of the election process. For example, when we required voters to present ID at the polls, we also made other changes to improve the accuracy of the National Register of Electors.

Clearly our government is committed to an open, transparent and accountable democratic process, and its actions continue to improve Canada's reputation as one of the most respected democracies in the world.

While we have achieved a great deal over the past five years, there is still considerable work to be done to ensure that Canada remains a world leader in democracy. We continue to take action to strengthen the Federal Accountability Act, making the most of our principles of transparency and accountability. While we have taken steps to ensure that politicians are not influenced by those with deep pockets who give too much money, our legislation still allows those people to lend too much money. In order to stop that practice, we introduced the Political Loans Accountability Act to impose new requirements concerning transparency and tighter restrictions on lending practices.

While there are limits on contributions, there are no limits on the amount an individual can lend, and this government wants to fix that. Under the Political Loans Accountability Act, parties and candidates would have to apply for a loan from a financial institution for any amount beyond the annual contribution limit and pay commercial interest rates, just as ordinary citizens must do. This is something the Liberal Party clearly cannot understand.

Lastly, the bill would prevent candidates from walking away from the repayment of the loan, a practice that the Liberals continue to use, which illustrates their contempt for the rules. Some four years after the 2006 Liberal leadership race, six Liberal members still had not paid back their loans, despite an 18-month extension, according to a National Post article on January 5, 2010. What did Elections Canada do?

If the Liberals want to talk about attacks on democracy, I would like to ask the members for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Parkdale—High Park, Willowdale, Vancouver Centre and Eglinton—Lawrence to explain to Canadians why they explicitly violated Elections Canada's financing rules despite the generous extension Elections Canada granted them.

Do they believe they are above the rules? If there was any wrongdoing, it was committed by the Liberal members who did not obey Elections Canada's rules regarding campaign loans. That is an indisputable fact. What did Elections Canada do?

Our government is proud of its unmatched commitment to accountability and transparency. Be it through the Federal Accountability Act, through legislation to improve the electoral process or through tougher rules on political loans, this government is committed to giving Canadians an accountable democratic process. Our record speaks for itself. If the Liberals want to talk about democracy, I would love to join in the debate. The root of the word democracy is “power of the people”. And by people, I mean Canadians—the parents who work hard and whose priorities include the economy, high-quality jobs and the promise of a bright future that is filled with hope for our children.

Instead of using an opposition day to talk about creating jobs for Canadians or about measures to ensure that our economy is stronger than ever, the Liberals are wasting their time making irresponsible, reckless and, most importantly, false allegations about the Canadian government.

The member for Beauséjour should focus on creating jobs in the aerospace industry and supporting the investments made by our government in businesses in his riding instead of acting as a pawn for the Liberal leader, who is pushing his own agenda. We all know that he is not interested in Canadians. He is only thinking about himself.

Even Robin Sears, the former NDP campaign director, told CTV News Channel on February 25, 2011, that it was time to get back to the issues that matter to Canadians. Canadians are worried about the economy, as is our government. It is unfortunate that the Liberals are only worried about themselves.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I find it highly rich that the individual who just made the speech talked about accusing others of only being in it for themselves after the Prime Minister rebranded the government in his own name.

I would also like to point out that in his speech he talked about the measures the government has taken regarding Elections Canada. In my opinion, he described it as being very prescriptive in what it should be doing. However, I believe the nub of the issue here is certainly the behaviour by which the parties either follow these particular rules that it has laid down or try to circumvent them.

In this particular case, what has happened is that the practices of the central party calls into question whether it was following the rules or running up against the wall to find out how far it could go to get around them. Obviously, it did not work out, the party surpassed them and now that is being called into question.

I would like to point out that a lot of people in this situation were called on the carpet and were innocent. My colleague from Labrador spoke of Mr. Goudie and his financial officer who had no idea they were perhaps running against the law that was set down. There was innocence on their part and they got in trouble.

I wonder if the member could comment on that. Has he received comments from others about the fact that they were involved in this and had no idea?

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, through you, I would like to tell my colleague that, first of all, I did not understand his question, and second of all, he spoke about things that did not really have to do with his own motion.

Why did Elections Canada not take action against the six Liberal MPs who missed the 18-month refund deadline? A backbench member of Parliament would get a slap on the wrist. There are six on the Liberal side who did not get a slap on the wrist. That is what he should answer for.

Why did Elections Canada not take action against those six Liberal members and why, now, are they accusing us of making in and out transfers, something that they themselves did? They made just as many. It is still legal and we will prove in court that it is.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, for Canadians who are watching, there is nothing incorrect about the national campaign and local campaign transferring money back and forth. However, it becomes illegal when the purpose of that transfer is to avoid legal spending limits. The allegation and charges against Conservatives today concern the federal party exceeding its limit nationally and trying to get around that by transferring funds to local campaigns, which were transferred immediately back so they could try to make it look like national advertising was transferred to the local campaigns. In doing so, the party exceeded the national campaign limit of $18 million by $1 million.

The ads that were placed were clearly of a national nature. They were not local ads. This is unlike the New Democrats' situation, where funds were transferred from the national campaign to the local campaign for local ads. That is the key difference and that is why the New Democrats have not been charged.

The Conservatives find themselves charged under the Canada Elections Act for exceeding legal campaign spending limits.

I wonder if that distinction could be commented on by my hon. colleague.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I will respond to the hon. member's question through you as follows. First, a request was made by the Conservative Party. We won our case before the Federal Court, Trial Division. We lost our case before the Federal Court of Appeal. The score is currently one to one. The parties have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court.

I would like to point out that Elections Canada lost the first round. It did not lose the second round; it lost the first. There was a hearing that lasted several days. As a result, it cannot be said today that Elections Canada suddenly changed.

Nevertheless, here is what Elections Canada did, for example. It is another point. Elections Canada filed criminal charges against representatives of the Conservative Party.

I would like to point out that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. I will not hold a trial here since these people are not even here to defend themselves.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Mississauga South.

I am going to read the motion again because I really want it to be understood:

That, in the opinion of 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.

Everyone who is responding from the Conservative side of the House say that it is none of the business of this House. Well it is, because all of us when we were elected to this House had to sign that we agreed with the Canada Elections Act. The idea of democracy being put in jeopardy is a good enough reason for the House to discuss this issue.

The Court of Appeal ruled against the Conservative government on February 28, 2011 and charged four senior Conservatives, including two sitting senators with wilfully exceeding spending limits in the 2006 campaign and with providing false and misleading statements.

As the court said, this breaking of the law would “weaken compliance with the limits set by Parliament”, which is where we are now, and “abuses could well proliferate, and the statutory objective of promoting a healthy democracy through levelling the electoral playing field” would be undermined.

That is why we are discussing this issue in the House. It is about democracy and Parliament has a role to play.

We have heard a lot of answers in this House from the Conservatives. I just want to mention very quickly what happened.

According to the Court of Appeal and Elections Canada, everyone is allowed to transfer funds from the national body to a local riding. That money goes to pay for advertising for the local riding, which directly--and the word “directly” is consistently used--benefits the local candidate.

When the other parties did that, they followed the rule of law. However, the Conservative Party did it but did not put forward ads that benefited the local candidates at all. They put forward the same old big national ad.

Why did the Conservatives do it? They did it because they wanted to be able to spend another $1.2 million over the limit, which they had already spent, in what was a very close campaign and in which they knew that advertising would give them the edge.

Not only did they do that knowing that they had contravened the Canada Elections Act by doing exactly that and not directly benefiting the candidates to whom the money was sent, but they also set up an elaborate accounting scheme to make sure that no one could see what they did. It was a shell game. In fact, as the Court of Appeal said, it was a scheme. It was deliberately set up to defraud and fool people into believing that something else had happened. That is the gist of this whole issue.

When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister stands in the House and says that the transfer of advertising money was something that everybody else did, that they moved money back and forth, he is being cute. Actually, he is being very deceitful in what he is saying because that is not true. It is very clear in the act what is meant to happen and what in fact this party did.

Not only that, there were candidates who thought they smelled a rat. I want to quote some Conservative candidates.

Joseph Goudie, the Conservative candidate for Labrador said:

It most certainly did smell to me...for a national party, or any kind of a political party, to benefit in what I perceive to be an underhanded manner, using not just my campaign but many others across the country, left me with a feeling of being used.

Liberato Martelli, the Conservative candidate for Bourassa, said:

I was told it would be deposited and quickly withdrawn....I was told there would be invoices but I never saw them.... When I joined that party, I believed its vision at the time...I came to the realization they don't have as much integrity as they claim.

The third candidate, Cynthia Downey, the Conservative candidate for Random—Burin—St. George's said: “[Harper] gives his word, and he breaks his word. If I--”

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would like to remind all members that the Speaker earlier reminded members that it is not permitted to quote directly verbatim from an article referring to the name of a sitting member.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, she said, “[He] gives his word, and he breaks his word. If I can’t have a leader that I can look up to and respect, I have no need to be part of something that is not honest and above board.”

Even a long-standing member of Parliament many of us respect, who is no longer in Parliament as he resigned his seat last year, who was the member for Dauphin--Swan River, said that his staff was contacted by party officials during the 2006 election campaign. He said the officials asked if they could deposit several thousand dollars in his campaign account and withdraw it later to buy advertising. He wondered why they would given him money and take it back. It did not make sense, so he said, “no thanks”.

There are many people with some integrity who thought that it did not smell right. We know the old saying that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like duck, it has to be a duck. A lot of people thought they saw a duck and did not want to participate in the scheme.

However, there are other issues. We have a sense that the government always, whenever someone asks questions about accountability or asks it to explain certain things, it has a tendency to start blaming everybody.

First and foremost, we have a parliamentary secretary who said, “It was not just us. Everybody else did it”, and started naming the people who did it. In fact, Elections Canada did not accuse any of the political parties or members who were named of anything at all.

The next thing that was said was, “Elections Canada does not like us. Obviously, Elections Canada is out to get us”. So there is the second tranche of people who do not want to take responsibility, who are becoming very paranoid and saying, “They are all doing it because they do not like us”.

Then there is a third piece. The parliamentary secretary said, “We believe that we did not break the law”. So it was immediate denial. Then he said, “I know the Court of Appeal said I broke it, but that's okay. The law has been made by this government and the law should be broken by this government if this government did not particularly like the law."

In all of this we see a government that is defensive and sometimes dismissive with answers in the House with members of Parliament laughing and thinking it is very funny, making it sound as though it is no big deal, that a member does not know what he is talking about and everyone is out to get the Conservatives and that it never really happened. It is beginning to sound like a petulant eight-year-old who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and is now saying, “Don't look at me. It's not my fault." This is not mature behaviour. This is not the kind of behaviour we expect from a government that ran in 2006 saying it was going to be accountable, that it was going to do everything above board, that it was going to bring in a new generation of ethics to this place.

We have seen none of that happen. We have seen some members who were liked by the government but given the back door immediately when they stepped on the wrong foot. We have to remember the former secretary of state for status of women who was kicked out of caucus without anyone finding anything wrong and they still have not found anything wrong. Yet, we see ministers sitting in the House day after day who have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, who have been caught falsifying documents, who have been caught using the office of the minister to do party work and they are still here. We see senators who have been charged with illegal activity, whether they have been found guilty or not, still sitting in the Senate.

What about the double standard? I really would like to understand the double standard that the government likes to use when it talks about anything that it does.

If the government felt and the Conservative Party felt that it was doing no wrong, why did it not co-operate with Elections Canada and give up the documents?

The RCMP had to go into its offices and seize the documents. That is a real indictment on the attitude of the government that feels it does not have to be accountable to anyone at all. I have never heard of political parties and governments not co-operating when they are asked to give information or when they are asked to hand over documents.

It is obvious that the Conservative Party knew that it had done something wrong and documents had to be seized from it by the RCMP.

Finally, it is the party that closed down government and prorogued--

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the member there because it is time for questions and comments.

The hon. member for Oak Ridges—Markham.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is not often that I enjoy the Liberal members' speeches because they usually do not really talk about a lot. But today in particular the Liberals are so upset. They cannot accept the fact that in 2006 their government was thrown out of office as one of the most corrupt governments in the history of this country. It is driving them crazy that they were thrown out, that the people of Canada turned their backs on them. It is driving them crazy that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are donating to the Conservative Party because they know we are a good government.

I have been searching high and low across my riding for just a portion of the $40 million that was stolen by the previous Liberal government. I would ask the member a couple of questions.

First, does she know where we can look to find some of the $40 million that the Liberals stole in buying the 2000 election? Is the reality not that they are talking about this motion today because we are a couple of weeks away from a budget and they have nothing to offer Canadian families? They have nothing to offer the people of Canada. They have nothing to offer the armed forces. They have nothing to offer for the environment. They have nothing to offer for natural resources. The Liberals have nothing to offer the people of Canada, so they are going to do everything in their power to try to avoid talking about the things that matter to Canadians; the economy and jobs. Is that not the bottom line?

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, it always amuses me that while I made a speech in which I quoted the facts from the Court of Appeal and from Elections Canada, and everything that was laid out was factual, but the hon. members across the way, as soon as we put the facts in their faces, they begin to get personal. They begin to be dismissive of other people who are hon. colleagues in the House. It is a trick that they always use. It is something I learned when I was in university and we were learning debating, that when they do not have an argument or a point to make, they begin to get personal and they vilify individuals. I will not bite on that bait--

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

You stole $40 million from us.

Opposition Motion—Electoral Financing
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

When I am allowed to answer the question, I will.