Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Repentigny.
Just like my colleague, the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord and Bloc Québécois whip, I want to reiterate the Bloc Québécois' opposition to the motion presented today by the Conservative Party.
We all want to know who was responsible for the sponsorship scandal, for their actions to be denounced, and for the systematic abuse of public money to benefit a political party to be punished. We want the money that was obtained illegally by the Liberal Party, the money that came directly out of the government's coffers through the federal sponsorship program, to be returned to the public purse. That is what the Bloc Québécois wanted when it presented its motion to create the dirty money trust fund. The hon. member for Outremont likes the expression “dirty money”.
The Bloc got what it asked for. The Liberal government, worried about an impending election, decided to follow through on the decision of the House by announcing a $750,000 trust on the eve of the confidence vote. The amount in trust is not sufficient. Testimony by Jean Brault, president of Groupaction, alone, led to identification of no less than $2.2 million that apparently was paid to the Liberal Party of Canada through the sponsorship scandal.
All the questions that the Bloc Québécois asked in the House, the smell of wrongdoing and mismanagement evident in the sponsorship program forced the government to set up a commission of inquiry in accordance with the rules of the federal Inquiries Act.
The government asked Justice Gomery to do his job without formulating any conclusions or recommendations regarding the civil or criminal liability of any persons or organizations and to ensure that the inquiry with which he was charged did not compromise any other inquiry or criminal proceedings under way.
That is why some witnesses were heard at first in private before the judge agreed to make some or all of their testimony public.
We hope that the judge's report, which should be handed down by the end of the year, will give us an idea of what misconduct there was and who was responsible so that the government can then institute civil or criminal proceedings, as the case may be.
Our Conservative friends, for their part, would like to change Justice Gomery's mandate. It is as if a referee decided to change the rules in the last minute of a game and thereby change the final result. It is unthinkable.
If Justice Gomery's mandate were changed, the witnesses—all of them—would have to be allowed to return before the commission, well informed about the possible consequences of their testimony, allegations and admissions.
Justice Gomery has not conducted his interrogations with a view to laying charges because that was not his mandate. The testimony that has been heard is therefore certainly not complete enough to enable the commissioner to name the people responsible.
It should be said as well that the Gomery commission's work is based on a promise: the witnesses are encouraged to reveal all in exchange for a promise that the judge will not make any recommendations regarding the civil or criminal liability of individuals. This promise cannot be broken along the way. That is why we oppose the motion now before us.
The Gomery commission's mandate is to cast a wide net so that we learn all there is to know. Individuals like Marc-Yvan Côté, a well-known Liberal and former Liberal minister in Quebec, admitted before the commission that he received $120,000 in cash to help the orphan ridings in eastern Quebec during the 1997 elections with the avowed purpose of beating the Bloc Québécois.
In its edition of May 6, the newspaper Le Devoir said the following and I quote: “This money was poured into solidly Bloc ridings—so-called orphan ridings, in Liberal parlance—during the 1997 election.” Le Devoir also mentioned, “This dirty money is not recorded in the party's financial statements, in violation of the Election Act. 'There is an irregularity, and I admit it. ...Mr. Commissioner, there was no receipt. ...No one knew about it,' said Mr. Béliveau, the first honourable man in the Liberal Party to take the blame for that party's secret funding”.
This admission shook the Liberal organization in my riding. The Liberal executive and the 1997 candidate feel they have to justify themselves by telling the local press that their riding was not one of the ones that received a brown envelope. The fact is that, in 1997, the local Liberal candidate kept a very low profile; instead the Liberal Party hierarchy campaigned against me, headed by Alfonso Gagliano, who travelled through Drummondville on a regular basis.
In 1997, 2000 and last year in 2004, the Liberals bit the dust in Drummond, a sovereignist stronghold. The CJDM radio station conducted a poll recently and asked the following question, “In light of the sponsorship scandal, do you want Quebec to become sovereign?” Survey results showed 69% of respondents saying yes, which is in keeping with the results of the referendums held in Quebec.
That said, Commissioner Gomery must be able to table his report as soon as possible and have all the latitude he needs to get to the bottom of things.
Once the report has been read by us and by the public, the RCMP, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Department of National Revenue will be responsible for laying charges.
Since the Prime Minister, in his official address, made a commitment to voters to call an election within 30 days of the tabling of the report, I believe that it will the ultimately be the public's decision to punish the political operators behind this scandal, as it did in the 2004 election.
We cannot stress often enough that the sponsorship scandal is not a Quebec scandal. It is a Liberal scandal, concocted by individuals working for the Liberal Party. The Gomery commission and even the courts are hearing evidence of this.
This morning, the former head of Coffin Communication, Paul Coffin, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of fraud. Mr. Coffin's advertising agency received approximately $8 million in Public Works sponsorship contracts, from which his income was $2.7 million. When he testified before the Gomery Commission, Mr. Coffin admitted that the bulk of that $2.7 million had been obtained with fake invoices as requested by the senior public servant in charge of the sponsorship program, Charles Guité.
Coffin Communication served as a conduit for a multi-million dollar advertising campaign on health care. In 2002, the Privy Council Office wanted to retain the services of an agency called Gingko, but that Toronto company did not have accreditation. In order to get around the rules for awarding contracts, the Department of Public Works used Coffin Communication as the middleman, which netted the agency close to $160,000 for doing absolutely nothing.
Mr. Coffin's admission of guilt clearly proves the Liberal government's negligence in the way it managed the sponsorship program. It confirms the Auditor General's concerns. She clearly expressed reservations about the way that program was being managed in her 2003 report.
The revelations that moved the Prime Minister to terminate the sponsorship program, to set up the Gomery Commission, to institute legal proceedings in order to recover the money and to dismiss Gagliano and the heads of the crown agencies involved in the scandal ought to be sufficient proof to enable him to pay back all the dirty money, that is the $5.3 million, not just the current $750,000.
As for the Conservative Party's motion, out of respect for those who testified before the commission and in order to avoid causing them harm, the Bloc Québécois will be voting against this motion.