Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to rise in the House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay.
I have to say that this is not a happy night because it represents yet another lowering level within the House under the Conservative government in its abuse of the Westminster system that we certainly hold dear.
When I say that it is an honour and a privilege to rise and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay, it is because they choose to have me here and they will choose some day if I am not to be here. I respect that. I understand that I have certain obligations to fulfill while I am here.
There are certain words we use. We use the word “privilege”. It is an interesting word. We have privileges as members of Parliament. For example, we have privileges that protect us from libel so that in certain instances, when a question or comment is heated, within the House we are able to debate that. Sometimes, questions have to be asked that may later turn out to be unfounded, but our role as parliamentarians is to question and to find out whether the people of Canada are being represented. We have to have certain privileges to keep us able to do that job.
However, with privilege comes a clear responsibility. My hon. colleagues on the other side may not realize it, but we are legislators. Our job is to create the laws of Canada. We are part of a larger legislative system, the Westminster tradition. What is decided here, in terms of precedent, is looked at in other parliamentary democracies.
One of our key responsibilities as members of Parliament is to speak truthfully in the House, meaning not to lie. That does not mean to use embellishment, to exaggerate, to zigzag, or to avoid. That all happens within the House, but the obligation to not lie is a fundamental principle because to lie is to mislead the work of parliamentarians.
We have to look at this situation and put it in context. The threshold for finding someone in a prima facie case of contempt is very rare. People apologize in the House for saying all manner of things, all the time. After they make their apology, that is considered the end of it.
I think back to 2006 and Jim Prentice, who was also from Timmins. I think I used colourful language about certain human behaviour in a washroom when I thought of his response. I later said that it was not appropriate and I apologized. That was colourful, but that is different from attempting to mislead the work of Parliament and attempting to undermine it.
If we look up the word “contempt” in the dictionary, parliamentary contempt is interference with the work of Parliament.
The three criteria found against the member for Mississauga—Streetsville are as follows. First, he made a statement that was false. In fact, he did not say it once; he said it twice. Second, he knew that it was misleading. Third, he did it in an attempt to mislead the House.
Let us look at what he did. We are dealing with a bill, this voter suppression act, which is a very disturbing piece of legislation because what the government has decided to do does not deal with the issues that came out of the 2011 election, of widespread issues of voter suppression and voter fraud through robocalls. It was judged in the Canadian court system and it was found that there were numerous cases of interference in the right to vote, traced back to the Conservative database. Elections Canada was not able to identify the actual perpetrators because the Conservative Party interfered by not putting up any witnesses and interfered with Elections Canada's attempt to find witnesses. All we know from that court finding was that across Canada, in key ridings, attempts were made to deny Canadians their right to vote, and the Conservative database was used.
One would think that clearing up the Elections Act would be to ensure that Elections Canada has the power to subpoena witnesses and to go in and examine who had access to the database where actual fraud occurred.
However, the bill does not deal with that at all. What it does is to flip the issue. We are not talking in the House any longer about known cases of voter suppression and voter fraud by unknown Conservative operatives. Now the onus is on average Canadians. The government is telling us is that it is average Canadians who are defrauding the system. There has not been one case brought forward that the Conservatives could point to. That is a problem, because we have numerous instances, and I could name the ridings, where we know that voter fraud happened through robocalls. However, they cannot give one instance of a Canadian citizen interfering, undermining, or voting fraudulently.
This gets to the issue of motivation. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville stood up in the House and claimed to have witnessed a crime. That is an extraordinary thing. My colleagues on the other side are telling us that this is perfectly okay. They say we all torque or embellish, and that is how they are conditioned. I do not know how it is seen as perfectly okay to walk into a legislature, where laws are being decided, and claim to have witnessed a crime that never occurred. That is what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said. He said that he witnessed people picking up voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they supported and handing out the voter cards to other individuals, who then walked into voting stations with no ID and with friends who vouched for them. He said that he personally witnessed this crime.
He then said later that he would relate something that he had actually seen. He claimed to have witnessed a crime. He said he had seen campaign workers pick up a dozen of these cards and walk out. What were they doing? When one stands up and attempts to mislead the House by claiming to have evidence when no evidence exists, claims to have witnessed crimes that never occurred, one has shown absolute contempt for the work of this Parliament and for the people who elect them.
Our Conservative colleagues are saying that we are all conditioned to do that. I do not believe we are all conditioned to do that. They say that we all torque and embellish. I do not believe that we are here to lie to Canadians. I do not believe that lying has any place in the House of Commons, and it certainly does not. This is what the parliamentary tradition tells us. However, the Conservatives are telling us that this is the way things are done and that New Democrats are being mean for having pointed it out.
This is not the first time that they have made up these kinds of claims. The present Minister of Heritage, on May 3, 2012, claimed to have witnessed a crime because she was under the gun for allegations that robofraud had happened in her own riding against the other parties. She claimed, “...Hey, I got a live call and was told to go to another polling station”. That is serious. If she knew voter fraud was occurring it would be incumbent upon her to call the authorities. When she was pressed about where that voter fraud from other parties happened in her riding then she retracted and said she was sorry, that maybe she had misspoken. This is serious. We are talking about whether or not crimes have occurred.
This is about a larger issue of abuse of our parliamentary system. It is about undermining the work of committees, which has gone on since the government received its majority mandate. It is about creating reports based on evidence when there is no evidence. We saw recently, with the conflict of interest study, where the government completely gutted the basic principles of the accountability act and put recommendations into the report that were never heard. Witness after witness said we needed to strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act, and the Conservative government members came to the committee and made up recommendations out of thin air and then passed them at committee. That is what is happening in terms of undermining.
Why is this serious? It is because in the Westminster tradition we do not have all the checks and balances that they have in the U.S. legislative system. There is an understanding that people will act with a certain degree of honour and that it is within committees where we are supposed to work together.
We see now Bill C-520, with which the member for York Centre would bring in power so that Conservatives who were under investigation could demand investigations of the Auditor General and Conservatives who were under investigation for abusing the Lobbying Act could demand investigations of the Lobbying Commissioner.
There is not a Parliament anywhere in the western world where those under investigation get to write laws to allow them to open investigations into the people whose job is to hold parliamentarians and lobbyists to account. However, in this topsy-turvy Conservative world, Conservatives believe that this bill is imperative.
I asked the member for York Centre the other day if he had one example to back up this bill and claims about agents of Parliament such as on the Auditor General, who was investigating his friends in the Senate, or the Ethics Commissioner, who has investigated his friends on the Conservative front bench, or Elections Canada, which is under attack from the Conservative government with the false claim that it is wearing a team jersey. I asked the member if he could give me one example, but he could not.
This is about creating a pattern of governing without evidence. That is a serious breach, because if we do not base the rule of law on evidence, then there is no proper rule of law.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider what happened to the party over there that promised accountability. I think of the minority response from the Canadian Alliance to the case of contempt found against the Liberals. This is what the Canadian Alliance said at the time said. I am holding up a moral mirror for those members to look into, but I do not think any of them want to look up.
This contempt cannot be dismissed as mere forgetfulness that might occur in the heat of questioning. It is instead a deliberate attempt to mislead....
Parliament cannot exercise that vigilance when it is misled or lied to. To mislead Parliament shows contempt for Parliament. It must not be tolerated at any time....
This is what we are talking about today. We are talking about a member who came into the House, not once but twice, and lied about witnessing crimes that never occurred. He then waited 19 days to correct the record. He never apologized. The honourable thing to do when one makes a mistake is to apologize, but he never apologized.
If a member stands in the House and claims to have witnessed crimes and does not follow through, then that member is certainly culpable. I still call my hon. colleague “honourable”, even though what he has done is very dishonourable. If the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville claimed to have witnessed a crime and was emphatic that he saw fraud being committed, then he had a legal responsibility to report it. However, he did not, because he was making it up. He put himself in a very difficult position as a spokesperson for the Conservative government on a bill that would take away basic rights from Canadians to vote, because he did so on the premise that he witnessed crimes that had never occurred.
According to the Westminster tradition, the decision that will be made by the committee will have to look beyond the narrow interests of the Conservative war machine. I am very disturbed about their willingness to do this, because we have seen time and time again that the Conservatives put their narrow interests ahead of the larger obligation that we all have as parliamentarians. We saw it with Bev Oda, a disgraced minister who was found in contempt of Parliament for lying. Were there any consequences? No, there were not.
We found that the Conservative government prorogued Parliament, shut it down, to stop an inquiry into abuse of Afghan detainees. That report has never really been dealt with, and it still remains a black mark on Canada because it was not dealt with. The Conservatives actually shut down the work of Parliament rather than get to the bottom of whether or not this happened.
We remember the other prorogation, when the Conservatives shut down the work of Parliament in order to avoid a non-confidence vote. It is a larger contempt for democratic privileges that we are seeing here.
If we see the Conservative government attempt to shut down debate in this House about whether or not it is okay to come in and lie while a proposed law is being debated, it will set a precedent that will show other countries in the parliamentary system that Canada holds the parliamentary tradition very cheap. I think members would agree with me that we need a higher standard.
I have heard all manner of prevarications from the Conservatives tonight about how we are all supposed to get together and show respect for one another. I would love to believe that, but it is like being invited to a picnic with alligators. I just do not believe it.
I have seen in committee work that every good amendment brought forward is routinely rejected. The basic work of Parliament is always in camera so that the Conservatives can abuse their majority. Conservative members do not show any interest in working with the other parties.
To Conservatives, colourful is the same as lying. It is not. Passion is not the same as misrepresenting the truth. They say that everyone embellishes and everyone torques. That is simply not true.