Evidence of meeting #86 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was friend.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Mary Dawson  As an Individual

1 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

I would say it was cruel and unusual punishment.

January 10th, 2018 / 1 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

I don't think Hansard will show that I said “cruel”. I hope that our treatment was tough but fair.

Obviously I voted for a similar motion yesterday. I don't need convincing, because I think it's an opportunity for the Prime Minister to come forward and answer some of the questions that Ms. Dawson can't answer because she didn't make the decisions that pertain to the four contraventions of the act. The Prime Minister did.

I saw it in his explanation at that press conference, and there was a question, I think, put to him in his town hall last night. In both cases, if you look at the record, they're non-answers. They are avoiding it. They go back to the “friend” argument, actually. Today I think a very important and incisive thing for me, following Ms. Dawson's report, is that one of the main pieces of the Prime Minister's defence of this particular decision in that same press conference was the utterance of friend, friend, friend, friend, as if that would have made it better.

What I learned today, and I hope my Liberal colleagues learned today, is that the aspect of the friendship would not in fact have made it better. It would have been a different contravention of the ethics act, that's all. He would have broken the rules in a novel and different way, but rules would still have been broken.

Obviously I am in favour of the idea of the Prime Minister coming, based upon on what I learned and what I still don't know. The appeal, similar to yesterday but now enhanced because of Ms. Dawson's testimony, would be to my Liberal colleagues to not vote as a bloc to suggest that the Prime Minister shouldn't testify. Open and accountable government, which I think is the name of the cabinet directive, would mean open and accountable government, which would be right here.

The questions that remain outstanding are whether the Prime Minister still relies on it being a friendship situation, in which it was just a gift. We don't know who asked for the trip. I asked Ms. Dawson this very specifically. It was not important to her, and I respect that, but who asked for the trip is important to me. Was the trip offered, or was the trip requested?

Motivation is important when you're dealing with conflicts of interest. If a member of Parliament—and I don't gesture towards you, Mr. Chair—goes out and solicits a gift, it's very different—maybe not in the final conclusion—from somebody offering a gift. The fact that the gift in this case, whether solicited or offered, would have broken the ethics act is just an additive, not a subtractive.

For me, the other questions that remain and that are in doubt are that the Prime Minister says he learned from this and he's admitted it was a mistake, but I don't know what specific steps his office has taken to not allow for this to happen again. I don't know if there are other circumstances in which a similar or the same thing has taken place.

Lastly, and I'll end on this, Mr. Chair, I heard from Mr. Erskine-Smith in his last question to Ms. Dawson about improvements to the act. All I've heard the Prime Minister say to this point—and his opinion matters on this, clearly, with a majority government—is a firm commitment that this Parliament will fix these loopholes and these problems within our ethics code so that future Prime Ministers, cabinet ministers, MPs—it doesn't matter—cannot attempt to exploit the same loopholes that exist within our ethics law. Until I hear the Prime Minister actually say that—and I'd love to ask him that question—the 35-second exchange in question period has proven to this point insufficient to drawing out the Prime Minister's true feelings about not only this trip but the need to improve our ethics code in this Parliament and the contravention of his own directive to his own cabinet ministers. I assume there are consequences to breaking his rules, but there appear to be no consequences for him if he broke those rules.

These seem to be substantive and real questions. I hope committee members would have seen today that the conversation with Ms. Dawson was both substantive and respectful in the way that we approached these questions. My respect for the Prime Minister's Office is such that having a Prime Minister come before us would merit and guarantee that same level of respect for him and his testimony.

I hope my Liberal friends are not only encouraged but also have questions that are the same as or similar to questions that I have, which can only and ultimately be answered by the Prime Minister, not in 35-second prepared sound bites in question period but in a substantive conversation like the one we've had here today.

1:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Thank you, Mr. Cullen.

Is there any further discussion on the motion today? We'll call the vote.

1:05 p.m.

An hon. member

I'd like a recorded vote, please.

1:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

(Motion negatived: nays 6; yeas 3)

Thanks again, Ms. Dawson, for coming. We are adjourned.