Mr. Speaker, I will try to bring this debate back to a level closer to our parliamentary standards. I am sure I will be treated as someone who is thin-skinned. I am not embarrassed to admit that this whole matter can exacerbate someone's sensitivity, but at the same time it can toughen up a person quite quickly.
I have just been elected in 2004. I can tell you that my campaign took place with all kinds of innuendoes and allegations in the background.
If the member for York—Simcoe, who spoke before me, thinks that the Liberals are afraid of freedom of expression and do not want to debate the Gomery report, I have news for him. It is a Liberal government who commissioned the Gomery inquiry.
Personally, I think that, since we were able to finally read the report this week, we are now able to speak from facts, instead of being left with uncertainty, gratuitous attacks and reputation being discredited. This does not mean that we are proud of every word written in the report, as Liberals, politicians or public servants.
I hope that this will perhaps give us some forward momentum and help us make sure that some things never again happen.
Some people say that we are afraid to express ourselves, that we are against freedom of expression and the Charter. I think that people forget that freedom of expression has its limitations too. I would remind some of my colleagues in the House of some very important principles stated by the Supreme Court of Canada about this. Freedom of expression does not mean that we can say everything which comes through our minds, any way we please, and that we can attack gratuitously just about anybody.
The member for Bourassa reminded us earlier what basis we were supposed to be discussing on, and the opposition mentioned that we could discuss the Gomery report. It has practically been years since they first started debating issues addressed by the Gomery commission. Now, we are going to talk about real facts and the motion.
I look at what the member for Bourassa has submitted to this Chamber. It was accepted prima facie by the Chair as being a question of privilege. The motion was amended and there was an amendment to the amendment, I will grant you that. In my opinion, the idea was to play with the concept and to make it possible to keep making public innuendoes instead of simply recognizing rights.
When I was elected, I was appointed to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I was flabbergasted by the astounding number of questions of privilege referred to that committee. I have to tell you that I am extremely happy to sit now on the Standing Committee on Finance, as it was quite tiresome to see the kind of games that were being played left and right, by all political parties.
I did not get elected to engage in such petty political games, nor to belittle people. Some questions of privilege were accepted and referred to the House Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, because an insert had been placed in a mailing by a member, or because one member had attacked another member for voting in such and such a way.
What are we being told here? The money trail is being shown with photographs. They can be smart alecks, indulge in chicanery, but doubt remains and impressions stick when people look at things like that. When one reads some of the comments that are made, one cannot play the innocent and stick one's head in the sand. A mere asterisk does not lift all blame from individuals.
The intent behind all this was to say who the crooks were and how the money was funnelled. This affects people's reputations.
Indeed, according to the information that we have obtained in the House, 1.2 million households in Quebec have received this kind of rag, and it is not over. I even have the “pleasure”, in my riding, to receive similar offerings sent by the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, the subject matter of which is again Liberal corruption. No distinction is made: they do not say “certain members of the Liberal Party”, but “the Liberals”.
They have been generalizing and laying it on thick for months and months. Here is one of the phrases we have been hearing most frequently: “We believe in values.” Earlier, I heard the member for Repentigny say that he shared with the Conservatives the values of honesty and integrity. I am not afraid to say in the House that I have the same values, and I hope that the member for Repentigny will admit it. The people who are around us also have the same values of honesty and integrity. However, what we do not share with the members of the opposition, irrespective of which party they belong to, is the propensity to make unfounded attacks on people's reputations.
They use the Gomery report to cite it, but they only cite its summary, which is just that, a summary of the general findings made by the commission. To know what Justice Gomery really thinks, you must read the whole report, which is totally clear.
I will read the passage that probably affected me most because I believe that some members will never read the report. The issue affects me and when I met my voters last night, I told them how difficult this has been. I am convinced that even colleagues from the opposition feel it. Maybe they will say that it serves us right, but I am not going to accept guilt for someone else's wrongdoing. When I make a mistake I am ready to accept the consequences of my acts.
Since the publication of the report and even before, some people have taken great delight in lumping us all together. I thought that that would stop because I had confidence in the intelligence and the rational thinking of members across the way. Unfortunately, people continue spreading messages and misinformation among the population. Maybe I am naive. I probably am since I am a new member here. I am losing my illusions one after the other. However, I still believe that we are here to serve Canadians. For its part, the Bloc is there to break Canada apart.
I will quote the passage that Canadians ought to read. I am not sure that every Canadian will read it. They will certainly judge us without reading it. The government used to say back then: “we must await the conclusions of Justice Gomery”. In the preface of the report, it is stated:
Because of the sensational nature of some of the evidence presented at the Commission's hearings, the publicity given to it, and the political context in which the Inquiry took place, the impression may have been created that in Canada the administration of public affairs by the federal government is generally careless, incompetent, and motivated by improper considerations. People may also be persuaded that the persons involved in Canadian political life [we, the MPs] are inspired by improper motives, and unscrupulous. Let me suggest that the Inquiry proves the contrary. Without diminishing the importance of the findings of impropriety and wrongdoing in the Report, the evidence presented reveals that, in general, the administration of government programs by the federal bureaucracy is competent and praiseworthy, a conclusion that has been emphasized by the Auditor General herself.
Those are Justice Gomery's words. They do not appear in the summary, but in the report. I support each and every one of those findings and recommendations, and the fact that we need to be accountable.
That takes courage. I have heard all sorts of insinuations. A matter of settling a score. A person had to be a real masochist to go through this daily flagellation just to settle a score. The people of Canada are far smarter than that.
This is a government, and a Prime Minister, who have had the courage to make sure that nothing is swept under the rug. The Canadian public was entitled to know what had happened within such a highly charged context as the post-1995 referendum period. In a brief aside, in connection with that 1995 referendum, people have said that we stole the referendum from Quebec. That is the danger, with this sponsorship business: people are mixing apples and oranges. We stole the referendum, we did this, we did that. Come on now. Quebeckers are far smarter than that.
Justice Gomery goes on:
Let me also suggest that a system of government that would impose upon itself a searching inquiry by an independent commissioner,—
I do not think there are any allegations being made in this House that Commissioner Gomery was not independent. It continues:
—armed with the authority to compel the production of incriminating documentation from the public administration and able to subpoena witnesses from every level of society, with a far-reaching mandate to investigate and report on matters that could prove to be embarrassing to the Government itself is proof that our democratic institutions are functioning well and objectively. There are very few countries in the world where an inquiry commissioner has the power to summon the sitting Prime Minister and his predecessor, to be examined under oath concerning their administration of public affairs and their involvement in what is publicly referred to as a scandalous affair. The fact that the Inquiry has been held demonstrates that in this country persons at even the highest levels of government are accountable for their actions, not only to Parliament but also to the citizenry
Those are strong words, but they are not mine, they are Justice Gomery's. He continues:
There is no reason for the public’s confidence in the integrity of our democratic institutions to be shaken. In the administration of the Sponsorship Program, certain government officials failed to meet the high standards of ethical behaviour that our laws and traditions expect, and political interference in the Program and in the advertising activities of the government resulted in deviations from acceptable standards. The persons responsible for these irregularities have been identified and reproached for their errors and misconduct.
We are not talking about everybody, not about every Liberal, not about all the members in the House. Actually, we are not talking about anyone. Is that strong enough? Justice Gomery continues:
The procedure for uncovering wrongdoing is ponderous and expensive, but in the long run it works fairly well. Canadians should not forget that the vast majority of our public officials and politicians [and he is not saying “except the Liberals”] do their work honestly, diligently and effectively, and emerge from this Inquiry free of any blame.
Those are very strong words from Justice Gomery. If Bloc members want to start laying it on thick and sending out rags filled with innuendo, they have to take full responsibility. They have to talk about Gomery, about what happened and to make sure something like that never happens again. The opposition believes that the Liberal Party simply wants to sweep this under the rug. Our constituents, our loyal supporters, want to be assured that no one will ever point fingers at them. Because that is how they felt.
The Bloc would have me believe that Mr. Tremblay of Gréber boulevard is a crook because he is a Liberal? Come on. These are people with ideals, who believe in a political party that has an absolutely extraordinary history. When people ask me if I am a proud Liberal, I say yes. Am I proud that, from 1996 to 2000, some individuals did some vile things that broke our trust and that of Canadians? Absolutely not.
If certain people want to add even more fuel to the Liberal Party fire, they should read page 435 of the Gomery report. I am surprised because there are a number of lawyers here. Perhaps they have been on the Conservative side too long and they have forgotten how the law works. By trying to lay all the blame on the Liberal Party, they are confusing two separate concepts: the Liberal Party and the advertising agencies. We must consider the legal relationship behind all this.
Furthermore, what did Justice Gomery find the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada responsible for? The report states:
The LPCQ as an institution cannot escape responsibility for the misconduct of its officers and representatives.
I have enough legal experience, in my previous career, to know that an organization, be it a company, corporation or association, is responsible and has to answer for misconduct by its members.
However, we are not talking about the sponsorship program from a to z , or about some $40 million. We are talking strictly about kickbacks to the party, people using small scams to send money to the party. So, at some point, we need to stop, once again, adding fuel to the fire.
In my opinion, we have heard enough, in the House; the answer is clear. I am not sure how else to say this. However, the Prime Minister and former and current members of cabinet and the Quebec caucus are completely absolved of any wrongdoing. Nor can it be said that they wilfully turned a blind eye, as some people are implying; they had no idea.
Once again, we have to read the report and not only the summary. In this context, as Justice Gomery did, I urge Canadians to read the report. They will find a copy on the Commission's website at www.gomery.ca. I encourage all Canadians, and especially Quebeckers, to read it.
My heart bleeds for the people of Quebec who have heard nothing but horror stories in the last two years. Why? Because the Bloc Québécois has finally found a bone it can chew on. That party knows full well that, whatever it is claims, aside from the sponsorship scandal, it is not here representing the interests of Quebec, but rather promoting the separation of Quebec.
When everything goes wrong, we like to talk about it. In this regard, Quebeckers deserve a bit more. I would say that they were duped with a certain amount of media collusion, because some people like to get carried away.
I think that, at one point, we will have to turn down the volume of the speech-making, sit down and stop generalizing. This is what is dangerous. We sometimes try to paint everyone with the same brush. The answer is generally negative when we privately ask our friends from the Bloc, “Does this mean that you think I am a crook?”
Besides, as we can recall, one of the Bloc members started questioning in the heat of the moment, during our debates in this place, my election in Gatineau. He talked about dirty money. Except that he was required to withdraw those comments, which he did at the earliest opportunity.
At some point, something has to be done. We must move forward and honestly look at what was done to question our way of doing things. I would add that, when talking about the party, Justice Gomery clearly said, once more:
According to evidence presented on behalf of the LPC(Q) reforms to the party’s management and systems make it less likely that such irregularities will reoccur.
We insist on having a code of ethics. Why? Because our reputations are all at stake, not just mine.
I represent the people from Gatineau. Therefore, I want to ensure that these people, who work with all of their heart and who believe their member of Parliament, stop being attacked. Indeed, they are being attacked when people say that the members of the Liberal Party are all corrupt, when they say that federal Liberals must be punished for their corrupt behaviour in the sponsorship scandal. They do not even admit that there can be exceptions, and that is the problem.
I encourage my colleagues in the House. We were able to refer to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs some issues which were quite a bit more difficult than this one.
The question of privilege raised by the member for Bourassa deserves at least to be examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. However, I do not know how the committee will be able to do it due to the number of its members in a conflict of interest situation. But this is another story.
I will not read to the members the e-mails I am receiving about the rags being distributed in our constituencies.
However, I know that people who write to me also write to the authors of this trash. It is unfortunate, but my time is up. I will continue some other time.
We need to think it over, because it is costing taxpayers money.