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House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was care.

Topics

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the fact that the official opposition can bring forth any debate for a motion. After a week of being in my riding, an awful lot of people spoke to me about issues other than Gomery. They spoke to issues about the trouble seniors are having in this country, the difficulty farmers and forestry products people are having. They spoke about our fishery people, our people in the mining industry and about workers who are unable to write off their expenses for going across the country.

Although I have respect for what opposition members do and they are correct, the fact is that the Liberals will be judged on the Gomery inquiry eventually and people will have their day.

However, of all the issues facing Canadians, from farmers to students to seniors and to everyone else, I am wondering why members of that party thought that this was the most important issue to discuss, even though the inquiry is still ongoing, and all the other issues facing Canadians seem to fall by the wayside for now. I would like the hon. member to answer that question.

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10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, the NDP has a supply day coming up too and I am sure its members will address that hodge-podge of issues he is talking about.

Certainly, there are other issues out there. There is no doubt about it. However, this is basic public trust. The Liberals no longer consider the House relevant and until we get to the bottom of it, clean it up, and begin to rebuild that foundation of public trust, it will not happen.

Let me speak to the NDP wish list for a minute. Let us talk about the magic beans budget that it attached to the other one. There is nothing in that budget about the funding problems in the equalization formula. That speaks to all of the provinces across this country, other than the Atlantic accord, especially to Saskatchewan, my home province. It did not say anything about agriculture, coast to coast. There is nothing in that budget that the NDP attached about agriculture. I take no lessons from that member on what is a priority in the House.

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10:45 a.m.

Kings—Hants Nova Scotia

Liberal

Scott Brison LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the opposition day motion about the Gomery commission.

First, the Gomery commission is doing very important work. I know the hon. member opposite just said that the Prime Minister deserved credit for having established the Gomery commission, and that is true.

I am proud of our Prime Minister for having the guts to establish the commission and give it the resources necessary to get at the truth.

Frankly, it seems the Conservatives are now trying to tarnish the reputation of the work that Justice Gomery is doing by trying to discredit the very strong and significant mandate that Justice Gomery has been given.

The opposition day motion suggests that the Gomery commission should have, in the final days of testimony, its mandate changed such that the Gomery commission would have the ability to name names and assign responsibility.

The Gomery commission and Justice Gomery already has the authority to name names and assign responsibility.

It would seem that the motion is either redundant or mischievous. I am tempted by the notion that it could be mischievous. It either speaks to the Conservatives' ongoing contempt for the court system and the judicial process or to their desire to tarnish the work that Justice Gomery is doing in anticipation of a report that will be balanced and that will judge our Prime Minister fairly and reasonably as someone who has conducted himself honourably.

On February 19, 2004, by order in council, the sponsorship inquiry was created under part I of the Inquiries Act with Justice John Gomery appointed as the commissioner. He was asked to make a factual inquiry, investigate and report on questions raised directly or indirectly by chapters 3 and 4 of the November 2003 report of the Auditor General.

The Conservative Party misunderstands clause (k), a clause that says the following:

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 and to ensure that the conduct of the inquiry does not jeopardize any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal proceedings;

Let us consider that.

For a start, clause k is also consistent with many examples from other inquiries.

The same wording is present in the Arar inquiry under Justice O'Connor. It is the number three term of reference for the Ipperwash inquiry set up by the Conservative government in Ontario. It was there as well in the Walkerton commission set up by the Conservative government in Ontario. It was part of the terms of reference for the Stonechild inquiry set up set up by the NDP government in Saskatchewan.

Clause (k) is also consistent with what the courts say about inquiries and the criminal justice system. For example, here is what the Federal Court of Canada said about the Somalia inquiry, “A public inquiry is not equivalent to a civil or criminal trial”.

The Supreme Court ruling in the case of the Attorney General versus the commission of inquiry on the blood system ruled that several basic principles were applicable to inquiries. It stated the following:

A commission of inquiry is not a court or tribunal and has no authority to determine legal liability...A commissioner accordingly should endeavour to avoid setting out conclusions that are couched in the specific language of criminal culpability or civil liability.

Again it would seem that the Conservatives lack an understanding or perhaps a respect for the judicial process and the court system.

There is obvious difference between inquiries and criminal prosecutions. Still, let us be clear. Justice Gomery can indeed name names and draw conclusions as to responsibility and as to whether there has been misconduct on behalf of any individual or organization.

Let us look at what Justice Gomery himself said in his opening statement for his inquiry, and I quote Justice Gomery directly:

According to s.13 of the Inquiries Act, which will be discussed in more detail later, I am entitled to draw conclusions as to whether there has been misconduct and who may be responsible for it.

Later Justice Gomery elaborates on how he will determine accountability and the extent to which specific individuals failed to carry out their responsibilities, and again I quote directly from Justice Gomery:

--whether there was political influence involved in the activities and, if so, by whom, to what purpose, and to what effect...whether any person or organization in the Government of Canada gained an advantage financially, politically or otherwise from the activities and, if so who, to what purpose, and to what effect;

It is curious that the mandate is sufficient for Justice Gomery to say emphatically that he has the right and intends to exercise that right to name names and assign responsibilities. It is good enough for Justice Gomery but it does not seem good enough for the Conservatives.

Let me again quote from what the Supreme Court said in the Krever case:

A commissioner has the power to make all relevant findings of fact necessary to explain or support the recommendations, even if these findings reflect adversely upon individuals. Further, a commissioner may make findings of misconduct based on the factual findings...

Inquiries are designed as a tool to help us get to the truth about wrongdoing or misconduct in the administration of a government.

There is a further reason why there must be a difference between a criminal trial and a public inquiry. Individuals cannot participate freely, openly and honestly in a public inquiry if they fear that the inquiry itself will name them as being criminally responsible with the threat of criminal prosecution to follow.

Clause (k) simply ensures and protects individuals testifying in a public inquiry from this type of self-incrimination, something that is a legal right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Then again, we know where the Conservative Party stands on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I believe this is an example of a misunderstanding and/or contempt for the independence of the judiciary, the court system and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Remember that is the party where the member of Parliament for Abbotsford said last year “The heck with the courts. Serious flaws exist in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. Any party that seeks to govern our country needs to at least understand the laws of the land.

The key point is that public inquiries by design are not aimed at replacing or superceding the criminal or civil justice system. Again, they cannot find anyone guilty of a criminal offence or make a finding of civil liability. Besides, there is already parallel processes in place currently that are working well to do exactly that.

There are criminal investigations. Charges have been laid against several individuals who are now awaiting trial. There are nineteen charges against Paul Coffin, six charges against both Jean Brault and Chuck Guité, one against Jacques Paradis. In fact, I believe Paul Coffin earlier today pled guilty. We do not want to interfere with those criminal proceedings and we ought not to do that.

The hon. member for Central Nova, who has in the past been a crown prosecutor, ought to understand how troublesome it would be if, as a crown prosecutor, a case against an individual was jeopardized by an inquiry that was seeking to involve itself in assigning criminal or civil liabilities.

At least a few months ago he understood that principle. This is what the hon. member for Central Nova said to the Toronto Star last year about the terms of reference for Gomery. He said:

Well, they're certainly broad. There's no denying that the early indications are that the terms of reference will allow people to go where they have to go.

The member for Central Nova was right then and that is why the Conservative Party is wrong today.

Also a civil action was filed in the Quebec Superior Court by our government on March 11. This action is aimed at recovering $41 million from 19 firms and individuals. All along we have said that this can be amended to reflect new claims and defendants if supporting evidence is found or comes out of the hearings before the sponsorship inquiry.

We are reviewing the forensic reports from Kroll Lindquist. Not only do they affirm the validity of our claim against these firms and individuals, but they also allow us to seriously consider amending and augmenting that claim in the near future.

There is another important reason why we should not change the terms of reference for the Gomery commission—a reason that touches on basic fairness as well as justice.

To suddenly change the rules, to change the terms of reference of an independent judicial inquiry could mean in fact starting over from scratch and redoing the entire hearings. After all, every single witness has appeared before Gomery under specific rules exempting him or her from being named as criminally responsible or being threatened with criminal prosecution as a result of the person's testimony.

In fact, any change to the terms of reference whatsoever would allow individuals who have appeared and have provided testimony in good faith before Gomery to say their testimony is null and void because the rules have changed in the final days of testimony. It is a fact that both the inquiry and the government would be exposed to legitimate legal action by individuals who, in good faith, appeared before Justice Gomery according to the terms of reference of the Gomery inquiry and the mandate of that inquiry.

It is ludicrous to think of redefining the mandate in the final weeks of Gomery testimony. To take action that would jeopardize the good work that Justice Gomery has done would mean delaying justice. Justice delayed is justice denied. It would also mean spending more hard-earned taxpayers' money when in fact Canadians have confidence in Justice Gomery and in the mandate he has.

Canadians understand that Justice Gomery has the right to name names and assign responsibilities. In fact we as a government affirm and support that right and look forward to him doing exactly that. We have criminal actions and civil actions to recover funds, and we have Justice Gomery who can indeed make findings of misconduct against individuals. More important, he can recommend actions to make certain that this kind of unacceptable behaviour cannot happen again.

It is a matter of finding facts but most important, it is about lessons learned and recommendations on how to avoid a repeat of the same unfortunate situation in the future. We intend to use the recommendations of Justice Gomery, his prescriptives, to strengthen the governance of this country and to benefit taxpayers for generations.

I would like to quote Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, who said, “Public inquiries play an important role by helping us see the social, political, economic and organizational factors that play a role in wrongdoing and which must be changed if wrongs are to be prevented”. That is exactly the point. Justice Gomery is going to give us a blueprint to prevent this type of activity from ever happening again.

This attempt to amend clause (k) is redundant and frivolous, or simply mischievous. It is all about making a concerted attempt, in the final days of the Gomery inquiry, to try to cast some seeds of doubt about the work of Justice Gomery, to cast a pall over the important work that he is doing. It is obvious that the Conservatives have now realized that in fact Justice Gomery could present a balanced, fair and tough report but one that will not provide the kind of blanket recriminations that the Conservatives would like to see. The fact is the Gomery report will identify individual wrongdoing, and we are confident he will conclude that our Prime Minister acted honourably.

The Globe and Mail said recently in an editorial, “Despite the opposition's attempts to tar the Prime Minister with the sponsorship brush, there is nothing so far to suggest that he himself did anything wrong”. The National Post said, “The Prime Minister's relationship to the sponsorship program appears tangential at best”.

The Conservatives want to discredit Justice Gomery and discredit his report before it even comes out.

The Conservatives want to cast a pall over the work of this commission. The fact is that if they have an understanding of the laws of the land, they will realize that Justice Gomery already has the right to name names and assign responsibilities. In fact, by the time Justice Gomery reports, the criminal courts may have already passed judgment on the criminal liability of some of the players involved in this situation.

I say let Justice Gomery do his work. Let him finish the important work he is doing on behalf of Canadians. I would like to present a motion we are tabling today to underscore our confidence in Justice Gomery's mandate. The motion reads, “The House confirms that with reference to the Gomery inquiry, the commissioner has the authority under the Inquiries Act rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada and his existing terms of reference to name names and assign responsibility”.

The fact is if the Conservatives simply want to ensure that Justice Gomery has the right to name names and assign responsibility, but at the same time to avoid changing the terms of reference that could disable the work that he is doing, it would be appropriate for them to work constructively with us to support this motion and to affirm once again that Justice Gomery has the authority to name names and to assign responsibility.

Canadians want us to make this Parliament work. This is a constructive motion that seeks to affirm the intent of the Conservative motion and at the same time not jeopardize the work of the Gomery commission.

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11 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

During his remarks the minister mentioned that he would like to propose a motion, but we are already debating a motion and it is not within the rules to propose another motion. He could propose an amendment if he had the consent of the member for Saanich--Gulf Islands, but it was not worded in the form of an amendment and so it is not receivable at this time. Perhaps the minister would like to talk to members opposite.

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11 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am going to mention a few names. They may disagree on details, but these individuals have confessed to serious wrongdoings: Corriveau, Béliveau, Corbeil, Boulay, Lafleur, Gagliano, Renaud, and many others.

People in the province of Quebec who have been following this very intensely know two things. Those individuals have confessed to serious wrongdoings, a massive conspiracy to defraud taxpayers of this country. More individuals have confessed. They may disagree on detail, but they have confessed to that. This is not testimony; it is their confessions. The second thing people in Quebec understand is that every one of those individuals is a Liberal. They include three executive directors of the Liberal Party of Quebec.

The minister should know that he is totally wrong in saying that Justice Gomery has a free hand to say what has happened is a massive criminal fraud against the taxpayers of Canada. The terms of reference do not allow Justice Gomery to make that finding. He is talking about the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin with his technical arguments. I know the minister has no legal training, but he is trying to make people believe that he has some great legal mind.

There is a big difference between what he is saying and what Justice Gomery can say. When Justice Gomery is finished he should have the freedom to say that a massive criminal fraud was perpetrated against the Canadian public by the Liberal Party of Canada. The terms of reference do not give him that power. I am quite sure that if he even tried to move in that area, people in the party opposite would be the first ones to go to court to file injunctions to try to restrict his ability to do so.

Will the minister tell me whether Justice Gomery has a free hand to determine whether the Liberal Party was involved in a massive criminal and civil fraud conspiracy against Canadian taxpayers? It is a straightforward question.

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right that I am not a lawyer. He said that I do not have a legal mind. I would question with that kind of rhetoric whether he has a mind.

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11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, come on.

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11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

You're crap.

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11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

That's a low blow.

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would urge some level of decorum opposite to listen to what Justice Gomery says about his own mandate. I think Justice Gomery, a learned jurist is probably almost as smart as the hon. member. Justice Gomery said:

I am entitled to draw conclusions as to whether there has been misconduct and who may be responsible for it.... [For example,] whether there was political influence involved in the activities and, if so, by whom, to what purpose, and to what effect; whether any person or organization in the Government of Canada gained an advantage financially, politically or otherwise from the activities and, if so who, to what purpose, and to what effect.

Those are Justice Gomery's words. The hon. member is saying that Justice Gomery is wrong. The hon. member is saying he is in the know and Justice Gomery does not understand the laws of the land. I believe Canadians will trust Justice Gomery's judgment on this more so than they would trust the hon. member's.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Lunn Conservative Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on some of the minister's comments when he stated that the Conservative Party is trying to cast doubt over Justice Gomery's work. It is very important that we put on the record that nothing could be further from truth, absolutely nothing. I would ask the minister to temper his remarks as we just heard in his reply to the other hon. member. If he wants civility and decorum in the House, we should stay respectful and factual.

Also, he stated that Justice Gomery is going to come up with recommendations to prevent this from ever happening again. I respect Justice Gomery and all the work that he is doing. He can make all sorts of rules and recommendations, and I suspect he is going to come up with quite a few, but the bottom line is that the only people who can prevent this from ever happening again are the members who sit in the House.

It is very important to remember that this is a Liberal Party scandal, the current government in power. Millions of dollars were funnelled into the Liberal Party. There is a litany of testimony. There is irrefutable evidence before the commission where cash was sprinkled throughout ridings in Quebec. It comes back to our own honesty and integrity in this place as members. That is what we have to get to the bottom of.

The minister said that this motion is redundant or frivolous. Our motion simply says that Gomery should have the ability to name names and assign responsibility, full stop. That is all we are saying, that he should have the ability to name names and assign responsibility. The minister stated that he believes that Gomery has that now. If Gomery has that now, then the minister should just support the motion, even if it is redundant. We are just trying to clear up any ambiguity and it is a very legitimate, genuine motion.

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, first of all, our House leader has given notice of the motion which in fact will be on tomorrow's order paper. Our motion simply states that the House confirms that with reference to the Gomery inquiry, the commissioner has the authority under the Inquiries Act rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada and his existing terms of reference to name names and assign responsibility.

If the intent of the Conservatives is simply to ensure that Justice Gomery has the right to name names and assign responsibility, they ought to recognize that the government's motion makes far more sense because it does not seek to change the terms of reference and in doing so jeopardize the entire work of the Gomery commission. The Conservatives know that changing the terms of reference in the final days of testimony would jeopardize and disable the judicial inquiry. If they do not know that, then they are certainly demonstrating to Canadians a lack of understanding.

Once again, I will go to Justice Gomery's own words when he said, “I am entitled to draw conclusions as to whether there has been misconduct and who may be responsible for it”. Justice Gomery has earned the respect over decades as a learned jurist in Canada. He is earning respect from Canadians for his work in leading this important inquiry. I trust Justice Gomery when he says that he has the right currently under his terms of reference, under his mandate, to name names and assign responsibility.

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May 31st, 2005 / 11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Paul Forseth Conservative New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have heard the minister very clearly. He has been quoting Justice Gomery. From what I heard, Justice Gomery was staking out new ground and enlarging the envelope to ensure that he did have the freedom, in spite of clause (k).

I would like the minister to state in this House that when the tough time comes, the Liberals are going to support the wording that he has just quoted and not back down, that Justice Gomery is looking for a larger horizon and that the government is not going to hold him to the limits of clause (k), which reads, “directed to perform his duties without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability”.

First, Justice Gomery has enlarged that and the minister has quoted that. Therefore, I am expecting the minister is going to make a commitment on behalf of the Liberals that they are going to defend the Gomery interpretation rather than the (k) interpretation.

Second, rather than the cabinet sitting on it or holding it or having discussions or whatever, the report by Justice Gomery will be tabled in the news media for everybody to know.

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11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, once again I will quote from Justice Gomery. Justice Gomery is not seeking to expand his mandate, as the hon. member is trying to nefariously infer. Justice Gomery recognizes, because he understands the laws of the land and his mandate, that he already has that right. That is why Justice Gomery says:

According to s.13 of the Inquiries Act, which will be discussed in more detail later, I am entitled to draw conclusions as to whether there has been misconduct and who may be responsible for it.

Again, Justice Gomery is referring specifically to section 13 of the Inquiries Act, that he is entitled to draw conclusions.

The government and the Prime Minister have demonstrated tremendous intestinal fortitude by supporting Justice Gomery during what has been not an easy time for this party. He is doing the right thing and putting country before party, putting principle before partisan strategy, standing up for Canadians and doing the right thing by getting to the truth in this issue.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties regarding the course of this evening's debate on the main estimates in committee of the whole and I believe you would find consent for the following motion. Having been in the Chair for the committee of the whole, you will remember that this is a similar motion to the one passed a few weeks ago with respect to the order of proceedings this evening.

I move:

That notwithstanding Standing Order 81(4)(a), within each 15 minute period, each party may allocate time to one or more of its members for speeches or for questions and answers, provided that, in the case of questions and answers, the minister's answer approximately reflect the time taken by the question, and provided that, in the case of speeches, members of the party to which the period is allocated may speak one after the other.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister who just replied to one of our questioners on the Conservative side of the House made some extremely derogatory remarks and I would ask that he withdraw them. He talks about civility in the House and at the same time he has made some extremely derogatory charges to the effect the people over here do not have a mind. I would ask him to withdraw that. It is totally unacceptable that this kind of language is used in the House.

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11:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We do want to keep it civil, but I just took it as part of the debate. It will probably come up again later on in the debate perhaps.

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11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to this motion introduced by our friends in the Conservative party. I must disappoint my Conservative colleagues, however, and inform them that the Bloc cannot support this motion as currently worded.

I should say, at the outset, that the intent is good. At the end of the work of the Gomery commission, Quebeckers and Canadians and all the members of this House without exception, especially the opposition members, have been keeping a close eye on this Liberal government as the evidence coming out of the Gomery commission makes it increasingly clear that this is a corrupt party and that this government in any case no longer has the moral authority to govern.

All one needs to do is look at what went on about ten days ago, with all the deals leading to the non-confidence vote on the budget. This vote went down to a tie-breaker in the House of Commons. We saw the NDP literally being bought for $4.6 billion. Certain people could also be seen trying to buy Quebec and Canadian taxpayers with election promises coming out at a cost of a billion dollars a day. Finally, the cherry on the cake, the crowning achievement, was when they bought the ambitions and loyalty of the current member for Newmarket—Aurora, who was made a minister. They bought her loyalty for a position as minister.

We also saw the Prime Minister's attempts—successful in one case—to buy the vote of the independent member for North Surrey by means of very anti-Quebec remarks to the effect that it did not make any sense to associate oneself with the separatists and the Bloc Québécois to bring down the government. This argument had already been used to persuade the member for Newmarket—Aurora to join the ranks of the Conservative party.

I must say once again to my friends in the Conservative party that, basically, we agree with the principle that when Justice Gomery reaches the end of his inquiry, he should be able to state or make public the names of the people at fault and assign blame. However, we must also say that there is a problem with the wording of this motion.

We tried in good faith through informal negotiations to get the wording changed because to support this motion as introduced before the House would amount to rewriting the mandate of the Gomery commission. That could compromise the testimony that has already been given before Justice Gomery.

I am a lawyer. Anyone with a basic understanding of law will quickly realize that the rules of evidence, examination and cross-examination are not the same for civil and criminal proceedings. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois cannot support this motion.

The Bloc Québécois did not become interested in the work of the Gomery commission just last week or during the somewhat juicier testimony in Montreal. From May 2000 until now—that is, until yesterday—over 700 questions on the sponsorship scandal have been asked in the House.

This is further proof that, had it not been for the efforts of the Bloc Québécois members who have dogged this government, perhaps the sponsorship scandal might have gone in a completely different direction. It also provides my 53 Bloc colleagues with answers, during the next—hopefully very soon—election campaign, for anyone wondering what the Bloc Québécois does. The Bloc Québécois shook things up with regard to the sponsorship scandal. We were the ones who questioned the three Groupaction reports, each photocopy of which cost $550,000, and the outdoor shows where cronies received commissions. Since May 2000, the Bloc Québécois has been here with its questions. We did not wait for the Gomery commission to be established.

So we need to put things into context. It is important to know that the Gomery commission was created under the Inquiries Act, section 2 of which states that, “The Governor in Council may, whenever the Governor in Council deems it expedient, cause inquiry to be made into and concerning any matter connected with the good government of Canada or the conduct of any part of the public business thereof”.

So if Parliament wanted to amend the Gomery commission's terms of reference to allow the commissioner to name names and assign responsibility, an amendment would have to be made to the Inquiries Act, which dates back to 1985. As I said, we feel that acting on this Conservative Party motion, and changing the terms at this stage of the inquiry, would be tantamount to compromising its work.

If anyone needs convincing of that, they need only recall that I spoke on behalf of my party about how pleased we were with Justice Gomery's appointment. This is a man whom we have always considered to be a man of integrity, professionalism and attention to detail, and we still do. He seeks to find out the truth, what really happened in the sponsorship scandal. Justice Gomery is not far from his 73rd birthday and is not looking for any political appointment from the Liberal Party. He is doggedly continuing his work. One need only see him in action at the inquiry to realize the extent of his integrity.

I thought it was funny yesterday to see on the news that former Prime Minister Chrétien was thinking of deferring his call for Justice Gomery to step down. A good thing. One might well wonder who would be served by gagging the commissioner. His credibility is beyond question. If, however, his terms of reference were changed in mid-inquiry, someone could go back to the federal court and vitiate the entire process. That is not what we want. We want to know his conclusions as quickly as possible.

Commissioner Gomery has not held this inquiry in order to lay charges. That was not his mandate, in fact. We realize that the testimony heard will certainly be insufficient to enable the commissioner to name names. I want to make it perfectly clear that the Bloc Québécois' opposition to this motion must not be interpreted as a lack of interest in finding out which individuals committed illegal acts.

We hope that the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec and the other police forces involved will lay charges over the course of proceedings.

This morning, Paul Coffin pleaded guilty to 15 charges of fraud against him. There will be an opportunity to identify the links between him and the Liberal Party of Canada.

The work of the Gomery Commission is based, to some extent, on a commitment. The witnesses are invited to reveal all in exchange for a promise that the judge will make no recommendations as to their civil or criminal liability. So, to alter this principle along the way would be to break the promise or fail to honour the commitment.

We also contend that the work of the Gomery commission would have been conducted very differently had the commissioner had the option of making recommendations on individuals' civil or criminal liability.

We in the Bloc believe that the Gomery commission's current mandate, albeit imperfect—its mandate could have been worded differently—is broad enough to provide an idea of the facts of the sponsorship scandal. The Bloc's priority is to have the judge submit his report as early as possible and be given all the latitude and calm he needs to do his work in peace.

Then, as I mentioned, the RCMP and the Chief Electoral Officer can intervene. If tainted money was used to finance the election campaign of Liberal candidates in 2000—Marc-Yvan Côté admits he disbursed some $120,000 of dirty money to Liberal candidates in eastern Quebec, which means they campaigned against us, against me, the member from the Québec City area—I hope that the Chief Electoral Officer will investigate. That does not mean no charges will be laid. The Department of National Revenue could also lay charges.

In the end, the Bloc believes it is up to the public to punish the politicians responsible for this scandal, on that side of the House—the past and current leaders of the Liberal Party. We must not forget there are still people involved on that side of the House—ministers, even. Even chiefs of staff of current ministers have been suspended, because they dipped into the sponsorship scandal.

It is a very partial gain, but because of pressure by the Bloc, we got the Liberal Party to set up a trust fund for tainted money. We still maintain that $750,000 in it is totally unacceptable and inadequate.

According to our calculations, the Liberal Party should put at least $5.3 million into the dirty money trust fund. So far no one has disputed that. We can provide a detailed calculation to the penny. It is not a number made up from our wishful thinking. We are proposing this number because the amount of $5.3 million was not just plucked out of thin air. This figure comes directly from the admissions and testimony at the Gomery commission. The government need not think we are satisfied with the $750,000 deposited in the dirty money trust fund.

Under the current conditions, not only does Justice Gomery not have the authority to initiate proceedings against the people involved, but, technically, he cannot name any guilty parties. Let us remember that the Gomery commission is a commission of inquiry, which means it can only make recommendations and does not have any real legal authority.

Indeed, section (k) of the terms of reference specified by the Privy Council under Part I of the Inquiries Act, stipulates that:

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 and to ensure that the conduct of the inquiry does not jeopardize any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal proceedings.

I know that my colleagues from the Conservative Party could retort by saying that the wording of their motion stipulates that they want to amend section (k) of the terms of reference. I acknowledge that, but at this point it is far too late. We do not have a machine to travel back in time. A series of witnesses have already been heard. What do we do about that? Think about Joe Morselli, who appeared last week without a lawyer. If the terms of reference had been different, he might have made a different decision.

Think of the work by the commission prosecutors, Bernard Roy, Guy Cournoyer, Neil Finkelstein and Marie Cossette. The questions were at times very suggestive. I am not laying blame so much as making an observation. A Crown prosecutor questioning a witness with the intent to lay criminal charges does not use the same approach as a prosecutor in a commission of inquiry. There is a big difference.

The commission's work is based on a promise: witnesses are invited to make full disclosure, and in exchange the judge will make no recommendations on civil or criminal responsibility. Accepting the Conservative Party recommendation would be tantamount to compromising that promise in mid-inquiry.

On May 30, 2005, Justice Gomery stated the following: “—we are not in a court of justice and I must accept all manner of testimony for all possible sources—”. The rules on examination and cross-examination, on testimony, and on representation by counsel, are not the same as in a criminal hearing.

Since my time is just about up, I will conclude on this note: we in the Bloc Québécois consider that only the public can judge political responsibility. It has been made clear that there was political direction in the sponsorship scandal.

We have found that the present terms of the Gomery Commission are sufficiently broad to give some notion of the facts. We in the Bloc Québécois want to see Commissioner Gomery submit his report as quickly as possible, particularly since that report will surely be followed by an election. In fact, in his solemn address to the nation, the Prime Minister, virtually on the verge of tears, acknowledged that he had lacked firmness and control. He made a promise that, if it were proven that even $1 of dirty money had gone to help the Liberal Party, it would be paid back immediately. That is why we are telling him that a $750,000 trust is insufficient; it should be $5.3 million. The PM also made a solemn promise to call an election within 30 days of the date the Gomery Commission report is tabled, which is supposed to be December 15. Thirty days later, that is, on January 15, the Prime Minister should be calling an election to be held in February.

In the end, it is the public, the people of Quebec and of Canada, who will be the judges of political responsibility. I am certain that the people of Quebec, who were prepared a week or so ago and will be equally prepared this fall or next January, will know how to punish this Liberal government which no longer has the moral authority to govern.

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11:35 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank the chief whip of the Bloc Québécois for a number of his comments. Clearly, we may not share the same opinion on all points, but I am quite sensitive to a number of the remarks he made. His speech was well thought out and he did his research.

I want to ask him if he could clarify the comment he made early in his speech that an individual testifies before a commission of inquiry under certain conditions, or in accordance with certain terms of reference under the Inquiries Act.

For example, an individual agrees to testify under oath before a commission of inquiry and then later, after 90% of the witnesses have been heard, the terms of reference are changed, as the Conservatives' motion is calling for today. In the member's opinion, what is the risk of changing the terms of reference after the fact, after proceedings have been underway for some time? What impact might this have on the rights of witnesses who agreed to testify and did so in good faith before the commission?

It is possible that an appeal might be made to the federal court—as was mentioned, I believe—which would invalidate the work done to date. We agree, I think, that it would be unfortunate if that were to happen.

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11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised by the question. I hope no one watching us thinks this is a planted question to allow me to get more mileage out of this issue, especially since it comes from my Liberal colleague. I can assure you we have no intention of praising the Liberal Party for what happened in the sponsorship scandal. Nonetheless, I feel I should explain.

Our interpretation is that a witness could abort or at least suspend the work of Justice Gomery and prevent the quick publication of his report. I gave you the example of Joe Morselli. He could come and say that he would have prepared differently if Justice Gomery had been able to lay criminal charges against him.

Nothing says that the police forces listening to the evidence, and those who will analyze it, cannot lay charges. Some witnesses are already being tried criminally. I mentioned Coffin, who pleaded guilty this morning. Nonetheless, criminal charges will not come from Justice Gomery.

A witness could appear and say he would have testified differently, that his degree of preparation and presentation of his evidence would have been different, that his lawyer would have cross-examined him differently. A witness who appeared without a lawyer could say he would have had one.

If the commission proceedings are not actually aborted, then there is a possibility that its work might be suspended because of these legal proceedings. We cannot agree with that. We want the truth as soon as possible.

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11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was actually quite taken aback that in a matter of about a minute the member outlined the case of why this was an improper motion by saying that it violates the rules under the Canada Evidence Act and the whole argument that he laid out.

It is clear to the member, to his party, to the minister and I think to others that, based on the legal opinion, this motion could have the consequences of disrupting or in fact totally destroying the work of the Gomery commission today.

The minister suggested that this might be just a redundant motion or mischievous. I am beginning to wonder whether this is an incompetent motion because the Conservatives do not seem to recognize or understand the laws of the land. They may just be reckless and irresponsible because should the motion pass, and it is a possibility in this place when it comes to a vote, this could actually terminate the Gomery commission and have people go to the Federal Court saying that all of their evidence has been outside of the context.

I would like to ask the member's opinion. Is this a dangerous motion for the Conservative Party to have posed to the House?

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11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would say to my friend across the aisle that it is not up to him to judge whether the motion introduced by the Conservative party is redundant, useful or useless. Through you, I would like to ask the member just who he thinks he is to decide that the motion is redundant.

This Liberal government has become so arrogant that it has taken to attacking opposition days. In addition to having unilaterally cut the opposition days—when the government was literally trembling in its boots that it would be defeated on a non-confidence motion—it decided at 5:59 p.m. to cut the opposition days of the Conservatives and the NDP. In this way it blocked all the opposition days. That is the first proof of an arrogant government.

Now they are taking their arrogance even further by giving back the first opposition day but saying that the motion is redundant. Let the Liberal party vote as it wants.

The member emphasized that the Minister of Public Works and Government Services said that the motion was redundant. I definitely do not want to associate myself with this Minister of Public Works and Government Services. The Bloc is against this motion. We made this decision together and thought it through together. I have nothing to do with what this minister thinks, whose answers are a perfect demonstration of his arrogance. In fact, he gives us beautiful responses on the Gomery Commission all typed up by the war room, paid for to the tune of $1 million and at the service of the Liberal party. This amount was revealed last week by Jack Aubry in the Ottawa Citizen. The million dollars that the war room costs has been paid by taxpayers to steer what ministers do and the answers that they give in the House in regard to the Gomery Commission.

I have nothing to do with this Minister of Public Works and Government Services. We determined our own opinion and decided—without describing the motion as redundant or useless—that we as a party could not support it as currently worded. We will therefore vote against it. We remain convinced, however, and in agreement with the basic truth that the people who stole the taxpayers' money must be unmasked.