That a Humble Address be presented to His Excellency praying that he will cause to be laid before this House copies of all documents, reports, minutes of meetings, notes, memos, polls and correspondence relating to the Calgary Declaration.
Mr. Speaker, Motion P-22 requests the government to put forward all documents relating to the Calgary Declaration.
A wise man, a man of biblical note, King Solomon, said “What has been will be again and what has been will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun”. Unfortunately I have to report that I think that is the case today.
Previously we in the Reform Party, as well as others, made access to information requests with regard to documents relating to the Charlottetown accord. There was some delay and scuttlebutt with regard to the delay of those documents, some secrecy, and we all know how pernicious secrecy is.
My prediction is that the government will vote down this motion and not produce the documents with regard to the Calgary Declaration. I think that is somewhat hypocritical. On the one hand the government was talking about how open it wanted the process concerning the declaration to be. It said it did not want to do things the way Mulroney did with the Charlottetown accord. It wanted this to be a very open process, but we have secrecy.
It is worse than that. It is not just the case of secrecy, that the government is hiding something, but it is using taxpayers' money to do it. That is what I find objectionable. Polls are done to find out how taxpayers feel on certain issues, for example, the credibility of political leaders in negotiating these types of deals.
Even though it is taxpayer money that is used to find out what the taxpayers feel about particular situations, they are not being told. They are not being given the information. We have some serious problems with that.
This is very reminiscent of what happened with Brian Mulroney in 1992 when the Tories refused to release the taxpayer-funded polls on Charlottetown. It begs the question of why this taxpayer money is being spent. Why are these polls being held back? Why are we not being apprised of the situation?
It boils down to a few reasons. One of the things the government likes to say is that somehow this will taint federal-provincial relations. That was decided in court by Judge Rothstein. I will get into the quotes in a minute. In that case there was a determination that the government did not have a legitimate case to deprive the public of these documents.
I will go into some of these things that I think need to be touched on because previous information commissioners and others have made determinations with regard to this.
Government members, when in opposition and even while running in the last election in 1997, made promises which were contained in the red book. Indeed there was a violation of one of the sacred red book promises. We do not like to see that happen. There are probably others, but I will point out one which is glaring.
Information Commissioner Grace wrote that it is “passing bizarre that the public should be denied knowing what the public thinks when the public pays for collecting information about itself”.
It is passing bizarre. But it is something that is not so bizarre that I would put the Liberal government past it because that is exactly the case today.
I am going to revisit some of the comments made by government members when they were in opposition, the criticisms they levelled against the Tory administration of Brian Mulroney on secrecy.
The government House leader has in his riding the lovely town of Prescott which I have been to several times. At that time he said that the government must justify why taxpayer dollars were spent gathering information that could have benefited the party in power, the government of the day. That is exactly the same question we raise today. Why is this Liberal government refusing to allow access to documents that could benefit it in terms of its strategy and what it is doing?
If it does not benefit in terms of the strategy and what it is doing and if it is not being used for partisan purposes, then let us see the documents. The taxpayers have paid for them. It is only fair to give taxpayers access to the documents.
If the Calgary Declaration was supposed to be an open process, then let us open up these documents. Basically that is what this motion asks today.
The justice who had some serious problems with the rationale used by governments previously to withhold documents just like these was Justice Marshall Rothstein. He said that he did not see a harm to relations with the provinces, that basically those types of arguments were unfounded. He thought that disclosing public opinion surveys was indeed important.
It is not as though this is a cheap endeavour. It is not as though these are piddly sums of money. The principle is of course that the government, because it is using taxpayer dollars, should make these types of studies, these types of surveys, these types of polls available to the public which is paying for them. The government is violating that principle in terms of what it is doing with these secret deals.
More than that, it is also a case of money. We have seen this administration continually increase the amount of money it is spending on these polls. Indeed government advertising alone, used in conjunction with these polls, is over $100 million a year.
The strategic polling that we are talking about here that was done with regard to the declaration, which the government is withholding, amounted to millions of dollars. It is unacceptable.
These types of polls are also used for political or partisan purposes when they probe views on people like the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and various premiers who were involved in some of the negotiations. If the government is going to be using public dollars, then everybody should be made aware of them, including those people across the way who are the subject of some of those polls.
It is important that we include some precedents in this debate. Polling results on the Charlottetown accord amounted to 700 pages. That is a lot of polling. When we look at what it contained, the idea that the government withheld it from the Canadian public who paid for it is heinous.
Once again we have the government marching down the path to a deal with regard to the Constitution, or at least putting forward a declaration with regard to it. We know it has had some determinations on it. Certainly it has done polling. It has told me that it has done polling. I have been contacted by people who are involved with intergovernmental affairs. I have been contacted by people who are involved in the Privy Council Office. They have told me that they have these documents, but they said they do not want to release them. They said that instead I should go through an access to information request or something like that.
If the government has the documents, if it has located the documents, surely, for the taxpayers who paid for the documents, there should not be a problem producing the documents in the House.
When the government released the 700 pages of documents relating to the Charlottetown accord, it did so in an attempt to pre-empt a court ruling and avoid setting a legal precedent. If that legal precedent had been set of course we would be looking at using it today. It only released those documents to avoid setting a precedent with regard to the release of these types of documents. That is wrong.
If in principle it should be releasing these documents, as it should because taxpayer dollars have paid for them, then we should not have to wait. The government should not be hiding behind the skirts of a legal decision, trying to avoid it. It should be forthright and release these documents.
The bills that Decima and Créatec had with respect to the Charlottetown accord amounted to $306,000. I am sure these types of things are going on today, but because the government is being secretive in terms of what it is doing with these documents we are not going to know the actual figures and what polls were done until it actually comes forth and releases them.
I also note that it is not just the official opposition which is concerned about things like this, it is also people whose job it is to inform the Canadian public, namely the Canadian press.
Once again with regard to precedents, because I am laying the groundwork which is very important in this argument, the last time the journalists from the Canadian Press, Southam News, the Globe and Mail and other researchers asked the Privy Council Office to disclose public opinion research on constitutional proposals the government refused to do so.
It is not just a case of the official opposition or opposition parties in the House requesting the information. It is a case of journalists in the country who under the freedom of the press have their responsibilities to report to the public on the goings-on of the government. With secrecy like this it is very difficult for them to do their job. It is difficult for us to do our job as the official opposition, and the taxpayers are being denied the information. That is very unfair.
This points to the ideas in government circles on something like this. At the time when this was being debated sources in the government indicated that they did not want to release the polling data because they would fall into the hands of the enemies of the state. Those are the types of comments that have been used by governments with regard to secrecy. It did not want the polling results made available to the public because it worried they would get into the hands of enemies of the state.
Who are those enemies? Is it the official opposition? I do not think so. We have the best interest of Canada at heart, as does the government. As a matter of fact in this case I think it is more so because we are not the ones promoting secrecy and hidden agendas. We are not an enemy of the state. Surely it is not the people who are viewed as an enemy of the state by the government. It should not be the people. They are the ones the government is supposed serve. They are the ones the opposition serves. Certainly the people should not be viewed as enemies of the state in this type of matter. The documents should be made available.
I also touch on the fact that there are good people on the other side and I appeal to them today, those in government. Some may be backbenchers. Some may even be in cabinet but usually they are not the veterans who have a vested interest in some of these things to make sure contracts go out to long time friends of theirs. Certainly some are rookies, those who are a little more fresh to the process or a little more accountable and a little more responsible, a little more in touch with the people who elected them.
Those people have argued in the past that they want polling and advertising done by the bureaucrats and not decided by some people in cabinet and not decided by some people who have vested interests on the other side to keep the whole process secret. As a result they should be following through on that. They should be ringing true some of those words and making good on that pledge. Instead we have veteran cabinet ministers who in the past have told bureaucrats who should be included on bidders' lists. They do not want everybody to fairly bid on the process and they want to keep it secretive. There are examples of that.
We have a cabinet minister from the city of Winnipeg where I was born who awards very lucrative contracts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to a long time friend of his, Angus Reid, who also resides in the same city.
Once again I implore members of the government that these things do not stay secret forever. When they finally come out the egg is on their face and it makes them look secretive, like they are hiding and manipulative, and all these things are seen for the fair value of what they are. They might as well come clean early and allow Canadians access to the documents because it will come out eventually; it always does. We have to end the whole practice of some would say payola, patronage, kickbacks or backroom dealing. Anyway we want to phrase it, it is wrong and we should end these types of things.
Where are the credible standards of political behaviour? I will get to the red book because it addresses some things about political behaviour and the government should be coming clean on them.
Unfortunately when the secrecy ends the government goes into damage control mode, and we have seen that. It touches on the whole controversy of the use of pepper spray at APEC. We have seen the government go into damage control mode because eventually the secrecy will not hold. Eventually it breaks. Eventually somebody talks. Whether it is a bureaucrat, a disgruntled cabinet minister or a backbencher who is underappreciated, somebody breaks. Maybe it is a new government that takes the positions of control and is able to go ahead and expose some things to shed some light on some of the evil dealings, the secretive dealings that have gone on.
Then it is very unfortunate because that party is in damage control mode and it is too late. They could rectify these positions early but they rarely save themselves that way.
Before going to the red book—I am holding the best till last—I will talk about some of the research firms that I expect will be profiting from some of these polls, these secretive deals, the ones that are not being disclosed today.
In the last couple of years they have benefited to a hefty sum from the government. Maybe somebody in those organizations will be willing to talk about the polls that have been done and the results that are not being released by the government. Ekos Research, Coopers & Lybrand, Angus Reid, Pollara, Environics, Compas, Sage, Price Waterhouse, Phase 5, Créatic and DJC Research have had very lucrative contracts from the government. Maybe somebody in those firms knows about these secret polls, these polls the government is trying to conceal and will not release with a declaration.
I will get to the red book, another red book broken promise. I think back to the red book of 1997. If we flip open that red book and look at page 6, “Securing our Future Together”, we see that the Liberals are making a promise: “We will ensure that any future debate which calls into question the continuing existence or unity of Canada will be characterized by clarity and frankness”. That is the promise the Liberal Party made when it went to the polls in 1997 after having governed the country since 1993.
Today we want some clarity. Today we want some frankness. We have put forward the motion for the production of papers with regard to the Calgary declaration. I am imploring the government for some clarity, for some frankness, and to make available those documents.
I have had phone calls from the Privy Council Office and from the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs. They have all told me that they have the documents. If they have them, why will they not release them? In its handwriting it is saying that it wants to see clarity and frankness with regard to the continuing existence or unity of the country. Certainly the Calgary declaration falls within the mould.
They, by their own words, should produce those documents. It is the taxpayers money. The taxpayers have paid for these polls. They have paid for these surveys. It was their money. They are owed. They deserve to have access to these things. In order to do its job the official opposition deserves access to them. Because of the right to free speech the press has a right to access to them. It should be able to do its job. It is not fair when the government does not live up to its words, conceals documents and lives by secrecy.
I will wrap up with the general pattern we have seen in this regard which I hope we do not see continued today. It is the pattern of depriving the public of the documents and the wherewithal as to what went on.
With regard to the protesters at APEC summit in Vancouver, we have seen secrecy, concealment and a disdain for democracy. A number of times we saw closure in the House of Commons. We are seeing a concealing of taxpayer funded documents. It is wrong. We have nothing new under the sun. They should come forward with these things.