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House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2005 / 10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

moved

That the House call on the government to immediately establish a trust account into which the Liberal Party of Canada can deposit all funds received from companies and individuals tied to the sponsorship scandal and identified in testimony before the Gomery commission

Madam Speaker, today we are going to debate the worst scandal in contemporary Canadian political history. It involves the Liberal Party, which currently forms the government.

The Liberal Party ran its last three election campaigns with dirty money, tainted by corruption, the misappropriation of public funds, bogus invoices, tactics just short of money laundering and—there is no denying—what were at the very least questionable practices.

This culture of corruption was born from the desire of the Liberal Party leadership to fight the Bloc Québécois and sovereignists. It was not about democratically debating the future of Quebec and Canada. All the senior Liberal Party officials said, “It was about winning the war”; and they are still saying this today.

This government spent millions and millions of dollars during the 1995 referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec, money that was then laundered and which even the then Auditor General was unable to trace. It was about operation Option Canada, by which public funds were used in violation of Quebec legislation to intervene in the referendum debate.

From that point on, the Liberal government chose to break all the rules, supposedly to fight sovereignty. The current Prime Minister was finance minister at that time. So he took part, by secretly allocating funds, in this first serious violation of the most fundamental rules of democracy.

The current President of the Privy Council, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, was personally responsible for these operations. The president of Option Canada was Claude Dauphin who, one year later, became the right-hand man of the current Premier of Quebec.

A little later, in 1996, the government held a special cabinet meeting on Canadian unity where it was agreed that the Quebec Liberal Party needed help—not the federal government, not federalism and not Canada, but the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister was there and not once have we heard him condemn this failure to stay on course. He has preferred to hold his tongue and be an accessory.

The Liberal Party of Canada started using dirty money in 1997. The Prime Minister himself, as candidate for LaSalle—Émard, did not hesitate to campaign with this dirty money, and all the Liberal Party candidates used this Liberal Party money.

Quebec was bombarded with flags, ads and sponsorships. We never heard a single complaint from the Prime Minister.

In 2000, the Bloc Québécois repeatedly asked very pointed questions about the sponsorship program. The Prime Minister and all the Liberal members were seated in this House and they heard every question, unless they plugged their ears so as not to hear them.

In 2000, five years ago already, the Bloc Québécois platform stated:

The Liberal government's propensity to award contracts for advertising, communications or for organizing ministerial tours brings sizeable profits to the Liberal Party of Canada.

That is what we wrote and that is what we campaigned on, among other things. The list of agencies followed, including Groupe Everest, Groupaction and Lafleur Communications, to name a few.

In 2000, we repeatedly urged the Liberal government to call an inquiry. The government always refused.

Despite all these questions, despite all the newspaper articles, the Prime Minister told us he knew nothing about any of this. In 2000, the Prime Minister and all the Liberal candidates in Quebec again campaigned with dirty money from the corruption.

Between 2000 and 2004, things became much clearer. We asked hundreds of questions, 440 questions to be precise, but the Liberals—including the Prime Minister—refused to take action.

In 2004, the Prime Minister had an opportunity to not campaign with dirty money, but he refused to take responsibility. He went against the promise made by his lieutenant, to never campaign with tainted money.

As a result, the Liberal Party of Canada campaigned in 2004 using dirty money, for the third consecutive time. The Prime Minister was the triumphant leader of the Liberal Party of Canada at that time. He accepted no responsibility, but today claims the moral authority to lead this government, which is corrupt to the core.

If the Liberal Party of Canada today finds itself up to its neck in mud, that is because it has refused to follow the rules of democracy. The Liberal Party of Canada has not respected the rules of democracy, and when a political party breaks the rules to such an extent, it must be sanctioned. And those who must shoulder the responsibility and face the sanction are the Liberals, and first and foremost their leader, the member for LaSalle—Émard.

The Liberal Party of Canada and its leader have used four defences so far. Their first argument: they were the ones who took action, for example setting up the inquiry and firing Gagliano, Pelletier, Ouellet and LeFrançois. The second: the Prime Minister states that he knew nothing, that he did not do it, that someone else did the deed. The third: the Prime Minister and his lieutenant talk about a parallel group. The fourth: they confirm that the dirty money does not show up in the books of the Liberal Party of Canada. Each of these arguments shows that this Prime Minister and his party are refusing to accept responsibility.

I would like begin with the first argument, the creation of the inquiry and the firings. The Prime Minister stresses the point that the Liberal government took action. He repeats the litany of creating the inquiry, firing Gagliano, Pelletier, Ouellet and LeFrançois, and recovering the stolen money, which incidentally he has not done. What the PM does not say is that each and every time, the Liberal government had to be backed into a corner first.

As for the commission of inquiry, for example, on October 10, 2002—over three years ago—the Bloc was calling for that commission. The present Minister of Finance refused, insisting that it would be much better to let the RCMP take care of everything. I have here the actual words of the present Minister of Finance:

Mr. Speaker, I gather that the hon. members have some difficulty with the work of the Auditor General. They must have some difficulty with the work of the RCMP.

Quite frankly, if members are interested in getting to the root of this matter, they would be best advised to rely upon the official and authoritative investigations that are already underway, on the one hand by the Auditor General, and on the other hand by the RCMP.

That is what he said when we were calling for a commission of inquiry. And here are the same people today boasting of having set it up, without being urged to do so. On June 13, 2003, in this House, that is what the present Minister of Finance said in response to a question on the creation of such a commission of inquiry.

As for the recall of Ambassador Gagliano, the hon. member for Mercier, from the Bloc Québécois, had previously asked the government not to appoint him ambassador. Later we demanded that he be recalled on numerous occasions, for example, on December 13, 2003, when the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard had already become Prime Minister. We had to wait a long time before our wish was granted. The Bloc Québécois and the opposition had to call for the dismissal of Jean Pelletier before the Prime Minister would agree to take action.

As for recovering the stolen money, that is the least we could expect, and once again enormous pressure had to be placed on the Prime Minister before he finally took action. Since August 6, 2002, the Bloc has demanded the recovery of the public money embezzled by the cronies of the Liberal Party of Canada. Furthermore, the Bloc Québécois first called for the abolition of the sponsorship program in 2002, one year before this government acted. On every occasion, pressure from the opposition, the media and public indignation has had to be brought to bear before the Liberal government and the Prime Minister would take action.

Next, the Prime Minister said that it wasn't him, that he knew nothing. The Prime Minister and his faithful lieutenant the hon. member for Outremont have tried and are still trying to distance themselves from Jean Chrétien and the Liberal cronies. “It wasn't me,” the Prime Minister tells us.

He says that he was outraged by Jean Brault's revelations. The Prime Minister defends himself by saying that it was he who dismissed Ambassador Gagliano. He did not know anything, but he fired an ambassador. Now that is really something. It really is a first in the history of humanity. The ambassador was appointed because of the sponsorships and then he was fired for the same reason.

I dare say that if the Prime Minister dismissed Mr. Gagliano, it was because he knew something that justified the decision. In a letter sent to Liberals, the Prime Minister emphasized that he had fired Messrs. Pelletier, LeFrançois and Ouellet because of their involvement in the sponsorship scandal. That is what he said. How, in that case, was he able to go to the polls saying that he did not know anything?

He tells us that he did not know anything. But the Prime Minister was there all those years, at the very heart of the Liberal government and the Liberal Party. It was the Prime Minister, when he was finance minister, who controlled the purse strings. It was he who was primarily responsible for the public finances used in the sponsorship scandal. He was the vice-president of the Treasury Board and as such he was responsible for reviewing programs and their effectiveness.

The Prime Minister was and still is a member of Parliament under the Liberal banner in Quebec. In November 1999, at the height of the corrupt activities of senior officials in his party in Quebec, he attended a little party held to mark the 15th anniversary of Alfonso Gagliano's entry into politics. He paid tribute to him in a video. In 1999, the Prime Minister was very much an admirer of Mr. Gagliano.

By 2000 he had heard—or maybe he preferred to cover his ears and hold his nose—the hundreds of questions asked by the Bloc Québécois about the sponsorship scandal. The member for LaSalle—Émard knew at that time that he was going to campaign with dirty money. Did he himself not buy campaign signs from Mr. Corriveau during the 1997 and 2000 campaigns?

In 1997, the Prime Minister received $15,935 from the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada to use in his campaign. Did he campaign in 1997 with dirty money? Everything leads to that conclusion.

During the last campaign, the Prime Minister had a chance to reply to the many unanswered questions about the sponsorship scandal. During the leaders' debate, I asked him at least three times who was part of the political leadership he talked about when creating the Gomery commission. He refused to reply. So far, he has not denied any of the facts or testimony heard before the Gomery commission.

So the Prime Minister campaigned in 1997 with this money. He had an opportunity to answer these questions, and did not. He refused to answer. He knew. He had to know or he was hugely incompetent. He turned his back on his duties. He refused to see, to hear and to smell the stench rising from the activities of his dear Liberal Party of Canada. The Prime Minister did not have the moral authority to put a stop to it while there was still time. How can he claim today that he has the moral authority to govern? I am convinced the Prime Minister knew very well what was going on.

His third line of defence was that a parallel group was involved. No parallel group behaved improperly; it was the leaders of the Liberal Party of Canada. There is no parallel group, as the Prime Minister would have us believe. There is only the Liberal Party of Canada. This is his party, and he is its leader. The Quebec wing of this party is his wing. He has always belonged to it.

He has been a member of it since 1988. For 17 years, he has been one of the gang, but he refuses to assume his responsibilities.

The Prime Minister's final argument is that the dirty money does not appear in the Liberal Party's books. In addition to denying his responsibility as the leader of the Liberal Party, the Prime Minister is refusing to face reality. His faithful lieutenant and his Minister of Public Works and Government Services state that the money does not appear in the books of the Liberal Party of Canada. Is anybody surprised? That was the whole point of the exercise: false invoices, cash, paybacks and money laundering. This is the very essence of corruption.

Dirty money must not appear on the books. This is the allegation against the Liberal Party of Canada under the leadership of the Prime Minister. The dirty money went to the Liberal Party of Canada in an effort to buy elections in Quebec.

This Prime Minister has a responsibility to act, to establish a trust account and to deposit in it an amount equivalent to the dirty money used by the Liberal Party of Canada. So far, this means more than $2 million, based on a single testimony. Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Prime Minister must do that to ensure the public that the Liberal Party of Canada will not once again use dirty money to campaign in the next election.

He would be well-advised to act quickly, because I can promise him one thing: if the Liberal Party does not put that money in trust before the next election, we will remind the public every day that the Liberal Party of Canada is campaigning with sponsorship money.

As a Quebec Liberal member who himself campaigned with dirty money, and as the former Vice-President of the Treasury Board responsible for examining the sponsorship program, the member for LaSalle—Émard did not do his job properly. As the former finance minister, who was responsible for allocating the sponsorship funds, he also campaigned with dirty money. As the second in command in the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien, as the one responsible for all the actions of this government, and as the current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada who has been actively involved in the party's Quebec wing for 17 years, this Prime Minister is responsible for everything that has occurred and he must face the consequences.

The Prime Minister must assume responsibility for the worst scandal in Canada's recent history. He must apologize to Canadians, and particularly to the Quebec nation, whose reputation has been unfairly tarnished by the actions of the Liberal Party of Canada. The Prime Minister must admit that it is not the members of a parallel group who were involved in this corruption, but the party itself, the Liberal Party of Canada that he leads.

Those individuals who committed criminal offences will have to answer to the courts. The government officials who squandered public funds, and I am talking about senior officials, will be answerable as well.

The Gomery commission will provide details of what happened with the sponsorships and make recommendations. In addition, the Liberal Party of Canada should be punished for having violated the rules of democracy. It is not for the Gomery commission to do so; that is not what it has been mandated to do. Its terms of reference specifically state that, and I quote:

the Commissioner be directed to perform his duties without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization—

That is what the terms of reference state. The House of Commons is not a court, and the opposition cannot punish the Liberal Party of Canada. And the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada is certainly not going to punish his own party. The only ones who can and must punish the Liberal Party are the voters in Quebec and Canada in a general election.

In the meantime, the Prime Minister should establish a trust fund and require the Liberal Party of Canada to put all the dirty money in it. Naturally, doing so will not erase the shame the Prime Minister must be feeling right now, and it will never erase from our memories the corruption, cronyism and trickery that will be attached from now on to the image of the Liberal Party of Canada, which he runs, but he will at least have done the minimum that decency requires.

I therefore move the following motion, seconded by the hon. member for Roberval, which reads:

That the House call on the government to immediately establish a trust account into which the Liberal Party of Canada can deposit all funds received from companies and individuals tied to the sponsorship scandal and identified in testimony before the Gomery commission.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the sponsorship file is an extremely important file and it is important to all Canadians. I understand why the Bloc has brought forward this matter but I think the member has misled the House and Canadians with his facts and his rhetoric.

He gave some excuse as to why the Auditor General could not do her job but the fact remains that the Auditor General did review the $250 million program. She opined on $150 million of it but, on the other $100 million which went to advertising firms, she had no jurisdiction and that was why the Gomery commission was set up.

He also misled Canadians, this House and Quebecers about the participation of the finance minister. He suggested that somehow since the Prime Minister was finance minister at the time that he doled out the money. That is not the way it works. The finance minister does not write cheques. That is operated by the departments.

He says that somehow there has to be accountability and responsibility. What did the Prime Minister do? It is pretty clear that he cancelled the sponsorship program; introduced ethical guidelines for ministers, senior staff and crown appointees; established an independent ethics officer; overhauled the government advertising; established the Gomery inquiry; appointed special counsel to recover any lost funds; eliminated the unity reserve fund; acted to replace the heads of crown corporations; recalled Ambassador Gagliano; and committed to a voluntary appearance before the commission, which he has done.

The Prime Minister has made it very clear that all the allegations will be properly investigated and, where any funds were used for a purpose for which they were not intended, that investigations will be completed and, if necessary, charges laid. That is more important to Canadians than any partisan interest. The Prime Minister is committed to doing the right thing and ensuring justice be seen.

Why does the hon. member come to this place and make a speech in which he says that someone is guilty until proven innocent?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Madam Speaker, with regard to the first part of his remarks on the Auditor General's responsibilities, I do not know if he misunderstood or if the interpretation was lacking, but his remarks prove exactly my point. I am not the one saying that the Auditor General, and not Justice Gomery, should proceed; his Minister of Finance is. I thank him for sharing my opinion.

Second, when he says that the Prime Minister is in no way responsible, he is failing to consider the evidence and answer some very simple questions. He said, “There is political direction”. So I am asking him, since he knows, who is providing this political direction. He says there was a parallel group. Who then is in this group, since he says there is one?

He says that he dismissed the three heads of crown corporations because they were involved in the sponsorship scandal, but he refuses to admit this in the House. He says that he dismissed Mr. Gagliano. These are not allegations. The Prime Minister is the one writing that they were connected to the sponsorship scandal. The member is not reading the letters from the Prime Minister, his leader, who wrote to his supporters, “I have dismissed individuals who were tied to the sponsorship scandal”. He refuses to say this now. Even his MP believes that these are allegations. However, the Prime Minister is the one making these allegations. That means something.

The third argument, and the best, is that we do not understand how government works. No, we do not understand, if this is how it works; that is clear. We are being told that he is not responsible and that he does not sign the cheques. This is the same former finance minister who went around boasting that he had given so much to the environment and to health. When it is about allocating money, the finance minister is the one responsible, but when it is about talking about a secret Canadian unity fund and the money given to the sponsorship scandal, he no longer knows anything, he is gone, he is not there.

Frankly, a finance minister cannot just take credit for the good stuff, he has to take credit for the bad stuff too. He has to take all the credit. One of the worst things he did for Canadian federalism and democracy is the sponsorship scandal, and he is responsible for it.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Madam Speaker, I salute the hon. leader of the Bloc Québécois for bringing this motion forward. It is an important one that we debate today.

I can say personally that I am very enraged at the scandal before us. It is a deliberate attempt to take taxpayer dollars and funnel them to the benefit of buying elections in Quebec. This is a scandal of epic proportions and the height of arrogance in government.

I want to get to the heart of the matter and not just the specifics of the matter. My heart grieves when I think that money was taken from Quebecers and used to buy their allegiance, as if that could be done. That is equivalent to throwing sand in their eyes.

This is a time in our country when the government should be trying to heal divisions in our country, divisions between our regions, with our first nations and between anglophones and francophones. Would the hon. leader of Bloc care to elaborate on how Quebecers are feeling right now? Are they feeling betrayed at the hands of an arrogant Liberal government?

SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Indeed, Madam Speaker, Quebecers are offended. They are angry and shocked with the way the Liberals behaved in Quebec. They are also offended to have heard the former prime minister say that he was at war against the big bad separatists and that the disappearance of $4 million was not that serious.

They are also offended with almost the same statements that were made by the current Minister of Public Works and Government Services. They are offended that the Prime Minister, who says today that it was not him but the others, loudly applauded and made his members applaud the former Prime Minister of Canada after his testimony at the Gomery Commission, during a caucus meeting.

I want to say to all Canadians and federalists, whether they are in Quebec or in the rest of Canada, that we, the Bloc, do not consider that all Canadians and all federalists are like the Liberals.

I deeply respect those who are proposing federalism to Quebec. I disagree with them but this is a democratic debate and we are ready to have that debate. We are not judging Canadians and federalists as we are judging those who have tried to buy votes in Quebec in the name of federalism. Those people are a shame to Canadian democracy, period.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from the Bloc, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, for bringing this motion forward today.

I have one observation. I know the members opposite will try to paint the picture that the Conservative Party and the Bloc are in bed together on this, but it is important to realize that what the member has stated is understated. He said that he feels this is probably the biggest political scandal in Canadian history. I think this will go down as the biggest political scandal in the history of democracy.

I would appreciate the leader of the Bloc's comments on this. This is clearly in my view one of the most egregious violations of election law that I have ever seen.

I would like to know whether the leader of the Bloc agrees that we should have Elections Canada do an immediate investigation on what has happened. More important, talking about the money that is to be paid into a trust account, does he agree that the Liberal Party itself should repay this money but not to take this money from its rebate that it will receive from Elections Canada, money that all parties receive, because in effect that is taxpayer dollars? This money was stolen from taxpayers and should be repaid by the Liberal Party through its own donations, not through Elections Canada rebates.

Would the minister please comment on that?

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Madam Speaker, I am sure my colleague did not want to insult me by comparing me with one of the ministers who sit in this House.

That being said—some are new, but not for long—I will not say that this is the worst scandal in the history of democracy, but I would certainly say that it is not very noble for the Liberals to go into history in the same column as the Nixons of this world. If they are happy with that, too bad for them.

However, I was hearing them yell, “The Parti Québécois!” There are two major differences. First, the Parti Québécois has denied the facts, which the Liberals did not do. Second, the Parti Québécois has established a trust account and put some money into it, confident that it will get it back, because it did not hand out any contract and this was clearly proven by current Liberal members, who said that the PQ had never done that.

However, like the Parti Québécois—I know that the Liberals are not even in the same league—they should immediately establish a trust account. If they want to compare themselves with the Parti Québécois, they will have to prove their worth.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Kings—Hants Nova Scotia

Liberal

Scott Brison LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I rise this morning to speak to the opposition day motion that relates to the sponsorship program.

There is no doubt that in recent weeks we have heard disturbing charges and very serious allegations at the Gomery commission. These allegations disgust me, if they prove to be factual. I and all Liberals demand that those responsible, the guilty parties, be punished to the full extent of Canadian law.

I have no intention, nor does our government have any intention, of defending the indefensible.

We want Justice Gomery's report and we want to know the truth.

Our government, our party and, most important, our Prime Minister and leader are singularly determined to get to the bottom of this issue. This may not be the most politically expedient approach. However it is the right thing to do.

I am opposing this motion from the separatist Bloc Québécois today, a party that continues to play politics with a very important issue for Canadians. The Conservatives and the Bloc want to get to the polls but Canadians want to get to the truth. Our Prime Minister and our party stand with Canadians to get to the truth, the truth that Canadians deserve.

Let me explain why I will offer an amendment to the motion today. Our Prime Minister has taken, and continues to take, vigorous, bold and courageous action to address this terrible situation. I personally commend the Prime Minister for his strong hand and decisive leadership on this issue.

He deserves our respect for having made the right decisions.

He has put country before party, principle before strategy and courage before opportunism.

When the Prime Minister took office he immediately cancelled the sponsorship program. Then, when the Auditor General tabled her report last February, the Prime Minister responded forcefully. He set up an independent commission of inquiry into the sponsorship program and appointed Justice John Gomery of the Quebec Superior Court as its head. The Gomery commission has been given a broad mandate and the necessary resources to get to the bottom of this matter.

The Prime Minister took the remarkable step of providing cabinet confidences to the commission dating back 10 years and, in fact, more than 12 million pages of documents have been provided by the Government of Canada to Justice Gomery's commission.

He also appointed a special counsel for financial recovery to pursue all possible avenues to recover funds that were improperly received by certain parties involved in the delivery of the sponsorship program. This effort, in fact, when launched several weeks ago, was attacked by the leader of the Conservative Party.

However, as we know, last month, despite the attacks and the criticism for this action, the government filed claims in the Quebec Superior Court for $41 million against 19 companies and individuals. This includes a claim of $34 million against Jean Brault and Groupaction. We reserve the right to file further claims as further evidence and information presents itself.

There is much more. It was the Prime Minister who established the new, independent Ethics Commissioners, one for the House of Commons and one for the Senate. There are new conflict of interest codes for ministers and members of Parliament, and all the travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, their political staff and senior public servants are now posted on the Internet, as are the details of all government contracts over $10,000.

The Prime Minister has re-established the Office of the Comptroller General and made sure that there are now comptrollers to sign off on new spending initiatives in every government department.

The Prime Minister has brought in whistleblower protection to protect public servants who in good faith disclose wrongdoing. The Prime Minister also recalled Alfonso Gagliano.

Our Prime Minister has extended the Access to Information Act to many crown corporations. We are in the process of changing the governance of crown corporations to the Financial Administration Act and the accountabilities of ministers and public servants. It was our Prime Minister who overhauled government advertising and brought in a more rigorous and competitive process.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister asked the RCMP to investigate all allegations of criminal wrongdoing and criminal charges have been laid, including fraud charges against Jean Brault.

Numerous changes have been made at Public Works and Government Services Canada. I would like to point them out to Canadians.

We have overhauled our contracting processes and our management of government advertising. In fact, the new ethics program of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada has been judged a best practice model in both the public and private sectors by the Conference Board of Canada. At the same time we are transforming the way our department does business to show respect for taxpayers and their hard earned dollars.

I am tremendously proud of our department and of the changes we are making both in our procurement practices and in our office building portfolio. Those savings will amount to over $3.5 billion over the next five years.

I want to take a moment to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary for Minister of Public Works and Government Services, the member of Parliament for St. Catharines, for the visionary and important work he performed in the procurement processes of the Government of Canada.

Quite simply, the department is working to deliver better services for Canadians at better value for Canadian taxpayers.

Let us get back to the task at hand and some of the testimony coming out of the Gomery inquiry. Let us be clear. If there were profiteers who took advantage of the unity crisis to achieve inappropriate gain, we want to make sure that justice is done and we want the guilty to be punished. If there were profiteers who took advantage of that battle against separatism to benefit personally or financially, we want to see justice meted out.

The separatists and their collaborators in the Conservative-Alliance Party continue to hide behind the privileges of this great House of Commons, to make a steady stream of slanderous statements, comments that they would not dare make outside of the House.

Let me quote from yesterday's Ottawa Citizen :

What is going on here is hysteria, a lynch-mob mentality...and political opportunism that threatens to derail the...pursuit of justice in the whole truth.

Reputations are being casually smeared, the self-serving claims of accused fraud artists...are accepted as gospel and incendiary fragments of testimony are flung across the Commons aisle everyday...

I want to remind members that it was the Prime Minister who set up the Gomery commission and who appeared before it. We know that there are political consequences to setting up the inquiry, but it is the right thing to do.

The Prime Minister has said that the true test of character is where one does the right thing when it is difficult, not just when it is easy. Canadians look to their political leaders to take responsibility and to demonstrate character.

Our Prime Minister did take that responsibility.

Establishing the Gomery commission has cost our party and our Prime Minister political support, but it was and is the right thing to do on behalf of Canadians. It is needed in order to defend and protect the integrity of our political process, and that matters a great deal more than the ambitions of any one political leader. Therefore, we must let Justice Gomery do his work and get to the bottom of this issue.

Even the chair of the public accounts committee agrees. Last week, he said, “There's no point in going to the polls with rumours and innuendoes. There's all kinds of rumours and innuendoes flying around about what is being said at Gomery. Why don't we wait until we get all the facts about what has been said at the Gomery commission before we think about an election”. I could not agree more, and most Canadians agree as well.

The Halifax Daily News editorial has said, “A snap election is not a good idea”.

On the other coast, the Vancouver Province says, “We strongly advise that they remain patient until the fall when Justice Gomery files his report”.

The Globe and Mail also says, “There is no sensible reason to go to the polls at that point and every reason not to rush to judgment”.

Even the National Post is counselling patience. It said, “Opposition MPs want an election which would have Canadians essentially put the government on trial without having all the evidence at hand”.

The Chronicle Herald has said:

The case [the Prime Minister] laid out in his own defence is stronger than any case mounted against him. He is the one who cancelled the sponsorship program on Day 1 of his tenure. He is the one who set up the Gomery inquiry, who fired those whose fingerprints were on this fiasco, and who is taking steps to recover misspent money. What more could the opposition reasonably expect him to do that he has not already done?

The Globe and Mail describes some of the testimony as shocking stuff. According to the Globe and Mail editorial, “What is the commission's report on the testimony, an assessment of who was to blame and what blame attaches to those still in power”.

When talking about forcing an election, the Globe and Mail says,“It should be for a better reason than the calculation of the opposition parties, like the polls and their desire to trigger an election before voters tune out for the summer. Wait for the Gomery report”.

This morning, Hugh Segal, former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney, said, “It makes no sense to call an election. I would urge everyone in the Ottawa bubble to take a Valium”. I am not necessarily recommending the Valium, but certainly I would commend the rest of his advice.

Yet the Bloc and its new bedmates, the Conservatives, are coming together in a truly unholy alliance to try to force a snap election. In their book, political opportunism always trumps the best interests of Canadians.

Look at what the Leader of the Opposition said in January and contrast it to his sabre rattling today. In January, he said, “We will not tolerate any attempt by the government to see this inquiry fail before it reaches its conclusions”. He said, “Frankly, I think the one thing that the Canadian public expects from the Prime Minister is that he get to the truth of this”. That is exactly what the Prime Minister is doing. He wants to let Justice Gomery do his work because he wants Canadians to have the truth they deserve.

A resounding 87% of Canadians agree that an election should not take place until Justice Gomery has completed his work and submitted his report.

Why is the opposition so dismissive of the public's desires? If it wants an election, it can have an election. However, forcing an election would kill key measures, such as billions of dollars for child care, for cities, for health care, for the environment and for the Canadian military. It would endanger the payment of $2 billion for Newfoundland and Labrador and $830 million for Nova Scotia, as pledged in the offshore accords. A premature trip to the polls would wipe all this out. It is clearly not in the best interests of the Canadian people to have an election without the facts, without the Gomery report.

That is why I will be proposing an amendment to the Bloc motion in a few minutes.

The Bloc wants a referendum on separation and the Leader of the Opposition could not care less. He wants to open the door to the separatists who want to destroy Canada.

The Bloc believes in separatism, and the leader of the Conservative Party does not care.

It is important to recognize that in 1994, just months before a 1995 referendum, when Canada was teetering on the edge of the abyss, the leader of the Conservative Party said in one of his speeches that he did not care whether a post-referendum Canada had one national capital, or two national capitals, or three or four national capitals.

The Bloc believes in a divided Canada and a separatist agenda, and the Conservative leader does not care. The Liberal Party believes in standing up for Canada, and standing up for Canada does not mean lying down with separatists.

I am opposing the motion of the Bloc. According to Treasury Board policy, the government simply does not have the authority to set up the trust fund. That is why I am proposing an amendment to the motion because the Liberal Party has made a complete commitment to return any funds received by virtue of any illegal or improper transaction from any source convicted of wrongdoing related to the sponsorship program.

Let me quote the president of the Liberal Party:

Every single dollar received in this manner will be returned. This is the Prime Minister’s commitment and it is ours. It is imperative that we hear from Justice Gomery in order to reconcile the amounts using testimony he has heard.

We cannot be more clear. Yes, we will act to ensure that this money is returned. Yes, we will hold accountable any profiteer or any guilty party involved in any illegal or improper activities. They will be punished.

If the party received any inappropriate funds, it will reimburse the taxpayers.

This can only be done if we allow Justice Gomery to complete his work.

I would like to seek unanimous consent from the House to propose the following amendment to the motion before us. I move: that all the words after the word “House” be deleted and replaced with the following: “affirms its support for the work of the Gomery commission; and that in the opinion of the House the Liberal Party of Canada should return any contributions determined to be inappropriate once the commissioner has drawn conclusions from the evidence and published his phase one report on fact finding; and that the House agrees with the April 7th statement of the hon. member for Edmonton--St. Albert to the effect that there is no point of going to the polls with rumours and innuendoes and that an election should not occur until all the facts are in hand from the Gomery commission; and that the House affirms its support for the core values of the Canadian justice system such as due process, the independence of the judiciary and the presumption of innocence”.

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11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Does the hon. minister have the unanimous consent of the House to move the amendment?

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11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, let it be recorded that the hon. members who declined to provide consent to this motion do not support due process, do not support the independence of the judiciary and the presumption of innocence, and believe that Canadians do not deserve to have all the truth before being asked to make important decisions.

I continue to be proud of our Prime Minister and his actions, the actions of our government and of our party in response to this important issue. We will continue to do the right thing, not simply the politically expedient thing, because Canadians deserve real leadership at difficult times. We recognize that this is exactly that kind of time and we are doing the right thing and will continue to do that. While the opposition wants to play partisan politics, we will continue to do the right thing for all Canadians.

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11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

I rise on a point of order, Madam Speaker, although the point may be rather moot now. I would like to bring to your attention that once an amendment has been moved, the debate is concluded, and any further comments should be made in the comment and question period.

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11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bill Casey Conservative North Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to raise an issue that has bothered me from the very beginning of the debate about sponsorship programs.

Most of the focus is on Quebec, but in Nova Scotia, there were sponsorship programs awarded as well. On three occasions, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services said in the House, “The Prime Minister was aware of the sponsorship program. All members of Parliament were aware of the sponsorship program”. He said exactly the same line three times.

I must have failed to check my mail from the public works department because I did not know about the sponsorship program. I felt that I had let my constituents down because I did not know about it.

I did an access to information request to find out what I missed. I asked for all the letters and notes to members of Parliament from the Minister of Public Works and Government Services who administered the program regarding applying for funds from the federal sponsorship program, including the steps, process and criteria that members of Parliament were to take and follow. I asked for everything for all members of Parliament and I specifically asked for mine and for the member for West Nova. However, the access request came back saying no such documents exist.

How were all of us opposition members supposed to know about it if there was no information and no communication? The member for West Nova in Nova Scotia got 13 grants. He was a Liberal. The member for Central Nova got zero. He was a Conservative. The member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore got zero grants. He was NDP. It seems that only the Liberals were able to find this, except for the minister who did access some part of it.

I know the minister will give us a quick answer, a smart one-liner. He is very good at it. However, I want the answer. How did Public Works communicate with members of Parliament in the opposition about this national program which involved hundreds of millions of dollars?

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11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, members of Parliament were aware, and I can provide the hon. member with documents, letters and representations made by many of his colleagues seeking funds from Public Works from the sponsorship program.

The constituents in my riding of Kings Hants, and I was not a Liberal member of Parliament, received grants for the apple blossom festival. The pumpkin race in Windsor received funds from the sponsorship program. We have representations from Bloc members of Parliament seeking support from the sponsorship program.

It is very obvious that all members of Parliament ought to have been aware because many of them, regardless of political party, were working to attain funding from the program.

Let us be clear. The intent of a program aimed at strengthening the presence of the Government of Canada in the regions of the country and helping laudable community based organizations succeed and have events is a reasonable one.

The issue with the sponsorship program was one of implementation, management and administration. We will never say that it was wrong to have programs that enable organizations in the hon. member's riding or any other member's riding to achieve a level of federal government support and funding, and to strengthen the presence of the Government of Canada in the regions of the country.

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11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I could use the term the Minister of Public Works and Government Services attributes to his mother to describe his amendment, but I do not think I would dare. If I did, I would say “This is utter hogwash”. But I will not.

Because the hon. member says that we must put the presumption of innocence before all else, I would like to ask the Minister of Public Works and Government Services the following question. Why were André Ouellet, Marc LeFrançois and Jean Pelletier fired on the basis of allegations and rumours? Were they not entitled to be presumed innocent? Why was an ambassador recalled on the basis of allegations and rumours? Was he not entitled to be presumed innocent? Why file a lawsuit against 19 companies and individuals solely on the basis of allegations and rumours? Were they not entitled to be presumed innocent?

What the Bloc Québécois motion is saying, and it is important to point this out, is that because we respect the presumption of innocence, we are asking the Liberal party to put the dirty money into a trust account until such time as we have the truth. We are not saying it must be paid back, deposited, or returned, we are saying that it needs to go into a trust account.

Is the Minister of Public Works and Government Services telling us he would like to eventually carry out another campaign funded by dirty money?

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11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, first of all, in terms of individuals, and the member mentioned specifically Mr. Gagliano, they were in positions representing important organizations, and in Mr. Gagliano's case, representing the country in the international fora. It is not appropriate, was not appropriate, to have somebody with that level of reputational issues, due to the allegations at that time, representing the country.

It is up to the government, and more specifically the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to make decisions as to who can best represent the country, in this case, in Denmark. Ultimately, I do not know why the hon. member would be critical of a decision that his party and other opposition parties in fact urged and called for at that time.

Further, the special counsel to recover funds, that was successful in recently launching a $41 million action against 19 firms and agencies, was always a parallel process that was announced at the time of the establishment of the Gomery commission. It was an action taken by the Prime Minister to gather evidence and to build cases against these individuals.

While we have cases, we do not have verdicts. It is important that we cannot act based on these cases in terms of the party until there is actually some verdict in hand that can make it possible to move forward on firmer ground.

The party has been clear. If the party received inappropriate funding, it will reimburse the taxpayers.

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11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Madam Speaker, the minister is very slick and very smooth, but he is simply not telling the whole truth here.

For one thing, the minister knows very well that Judge Gomery is not going to bring down a verdict. The job of the inquiry is to put together information. We have had corroborating evidence from several witnesses now that makes it very clear that these are not allegations, this is factual information that we have coming forth.

Judge Gomery is not going to bring down a verdict. That is a fact and the minister has to know that. He may refer cases that, as a result of the information that is gathered, probably will and no doubt will lead to people facing courts of law and serious charges. We will let that happen as it might, but he should not try to mislead the public about the purpose of this inquiry.

It is performing its duty very well and we are not going to call an election until more information has come forward because it is certainly good for us politically to let that happen, and because Canadians have a right to know.

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11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The member is an experienced member and I am sure he knows that he came very close to using unparliamentary language.

The Minister of Public Works.

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11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, in response to an earlier question from the member for Cumberland—Colchester, I would like to table in the House letters from the member from South Shore and the former member for Saint John, my friend Elsie Wayne, who was writing seeking support from the sponsorship program. We also have letters from the member from Kamouraska, Bloc members, and there are more.

There is also a letter from the member for Québec.

The point is that I cannot necessarily understand the lapse for the member for Cumberland—Colchester in not knowing this program, but he ought to have been talking to his colleagues who certainly were aware and working hard to achieve funding on behalf of worthy organizations in their ridings.

It is important to recognize that there were two separate mandates given Justice Gomery. One was on fact finding, the phase one report, and the second was in prescriptives, to prevent this from happening again. The fact finding report is a very important one and it represents exactly that, facts.

Facts and the truth are what Canadians desire and deserve. There is a big difference between facts and allegations. It is very important to recognize that a lot of the allegations we have heard are, in some cases, from people who have been and are subject to criminal and civil action. A lot of these allegations have been contradicted by other allegations on an ongoing basis.

We have seen in the House members of Parliament opposite accuse the Prime Minister of perjury. They take the words of an individual who is facing criminal fraud charges as carte blanche. It is sacrosanct.

It is pretty clear what they are doing with the work of Justice Gomery. They do not respect the independence of the judicial inquiry and that is why they are trying to kneecap Justice Gomery's work as opposed to letting Justice Gomery do his work and allowing Canadians to have the truth they deserve.

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11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Medicine Hat.

In my own name and that of the official opposition, I would today like to declare my support for the Bloc Québécois motion, which reads as follows:

That the House call on the government to immediately establish a trust account into which the Liberal Party of Canada can deposit all funds received from companies and individuals tied to the sponsorship scandal and identified in testimony before the Gomery Commission.

The Bloc's motion urges the Liberal Party of Canada to deposit immediately into a trust account all money diverted from public funds by the party through the generous sponsorship program.

I therefore support this motion, as it is based on the principles of transparency, integrity and moral legitimacy. These principles, which must guide all good government, were unfortunately compromised with impunity by the Liberal Party. The Liberals for a number of years chose not to see the diversion of public funds and thus ignored the election act's provisions on the funding of political parties, to the benefit of the Liberal Party and its cronies.

This government, which advocates transparency, also refused to provide secret cabinet documents to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, despite the request for them by the opposition parties. Although unstated, the intentions of the Liberal Party were clear: it wanted to call an election before some of its cronies, such as Jean Brault, testified. In addition, testimony that might have shed some light on the dubious activities of the Liberal Party, including that of Jean Brault, could not be heard in the public accounts committee, because a majority of Liberal members voted against it.

I know that for a fact, because I was there and sat on that committee. The Liberal Party's record of integrity is no more convincing. This party betrayed the principles of honesty, loyalty and respect for the rule of law by using illicit methods to divert public funds for partisan purposes. The party also dishonestly financed three election campaigns at taxpayers' expense by shamelessly using tainted money from the sponsorship program.

Upon the release of the Auditor General's report, the Liberal Party, having just been caught red-handed, at first tried to deny the facts. The Prime Minister himself tried many times, unsuccessfully, to dissociate his government from this scandal. It was only after being pressured by the opposition parties that the Prime Minister finally agreed to set up the Gomery inquiry.

Despite all the testimony heard thus far, this party continued to deny the facts, to wrap up the sponsorship scandal in the Canadian flag and even claim to have been the victim of a coup. Even the Prime Minister, who was finance minister at the time and number two in the Chrétien government, claimed to have been in the dark about this shocking misappropriation of public funds. Maybe he knew but does not want to remember?

The Liberals can no longer deny the evidence. It is now clear that the most senior party officials are at the very heart of this scandal. Testimony by Jean Brault, and other friends of the Liberal Party who profited from the generous sponsorship program, have stated clearly what everyone already knew but the Liberal Party continues to deny.

A Liberal organizer and close friend of the Prime Minister admitted that the only parallel system of funding within the Liberal Party was set up by supporters of the Prime Minister. However, the Prime Minister does not want to face the facts, and now the legitimacy of his party is in serious doubt.

In response to strong criticism from the opposition, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Transport have promised that the dirty sponsorship money would be put into a trust account in order to reimburse Canadian taxpayers for the public funds that were shamefully diverted by the party.

Canadians are still waiting. This government has still not taken any concrete action. As for the Liberals, this is once more a promise made and a promise broken.

It is about time that the Liberals take responsibility. They have misappropriated public funds. They must now do something about it and take concrete steps that will show their commitment to reimburse Canadian taxpayers as proposed in today's motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois.

During the last election, the Liberals used their line of credit to pay back the $1.5 million that mysteriously disappeared from their local associations trust account. This time, the Liberals will have to use their line of credit to put in trust the dirty money that they have to reimburse Canadian taxpayers.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister and his transport minister have already committed to a trust account, but by now we all know what a Liberal promise is worth. What is keeping the government from acting in a responsible way and showing good will?

Canadians want this government to reimburse them the dirty sponsorship money now. They also want to be sure that the Liberal Party will not be conducting a fourth election campaign with dirty money.

This government is now up against the wall and cannot deny the obvious. In the name of transparency, integrity and moral legitimacy, we believe that this government has to stop ignoring the will of the House and of Canadians and adopt this motion today.

I would like to point out furthermore that the former paint salesman, the current Minister of Public Works, and his colleague the Minister of Transport have repeatedly referred to audits supposedly having been done by the Liberal Party into its own financing scandal. As revealed by the Leader of the Opposition this week, in fact no such audits were ever conducted. It is complete and total fabrication to claim that audits were done.

Is it not interesting that for weeks and months we heard the government claim that it had taken an important step by launching independent audits of its own books filled with dirty money, but when the Leader of the Opposition challenged the Liberals on this point on Tuesday and pointed out that the accountants referred to an informational review rather than a forensic audit, suddenly the language coming from the Liberals changed and they admitted that it was merely a review all along.

I would like to cite an article appearing in the CanWest newspapers today which cites forensic auditor, Al Rosen, a chartered accountant and certified fraud examiner who said that the Liberal Party is “pulling the wool over taxpayers' eyes” by pointing to reports done by accounting firms as evidence that the party never received inappropriate cash donations from Quebec ad firms. He has said, “The engagements by the two auditing firms are not comprehensive enough to detect any scams or any form of dirty money transactions”.

Al Rosen further said, “Trying to use these reports to claim that everything is fine within the party is completely inappropriate. That is not what the reports say and what is missing from it is the cash transactions that don't get recorded in the books”. He said that if they use the word “review”, which is indeed what was used by the accountants, “this is wishy-washy useless”.

This begs the question, why would the government try to mislead Canadians in this respect? Why would the Liberals not tell the truth? Just as the Prime Minister, after having had more than a dozen opportunities has refused to clarify whether or not he had a lunch date with Mr. Claude Boulay of Groupe Everest, why is he not forthcoming? Why the prevarication? Why the fudging of the truth? Why is there not a forthcoming statement of what actually happened?

I propose it is because the Liberals know the truth and they want to keep it from Canadians and they want to go into a fourth campaign with dirty money. This motion would create a system whereby they would be forced to reimburse that to taxpayers rightfully, justly and immediately.

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11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I greatly appreciated the remarks from my Conservative colleague who, I might add, speaks French very well.

During the speech made by the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, we heard the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine who was yelling and screaming that we must respect the presumption of innocence.

I would like to ask this to the Conservative member who just spoke. The motion asks that the money described as dirty by the member for Outremont be deposited into a trust account until the truth is known about where this money came from. Does the member think that putting aside the so-called dirty money is a violation of the presumption of innocence, as the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine was claiming it was?

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11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I totally agree with the member. Establishing a trust account for the so-called dirty money the Liberal Party received is not at all a violation of the presumption of innocence.

Such a trust account would allow the Liberal Party to put aside funds which I believe belong to the Canadian taxpayers. The Liberal Party can set that money aside while the legal and judicial process is ongoing, until the Gomery commission finishes its work and until all investigations have been concluded.

The motion brought forward today by the Bloc Quebecois does not suggest that the money received by the Liberal Party be returned to the taxpayers or to the government immediately, but rather that it be deposited into a trust account. In my opinion, this is totally consistent with our legal principles and the presumption of innocence.