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House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.

Topics

Official languagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Gatineau for his comments on the court challenges program.

And I would be remiss if I did not thank Mr. Michaud and Mr. Doucet in New Brunswick for the volunteer work they have done for the Acadians. They fought a battery of government lawyers. I tip my hat to them. Thank you on behalf of the Acadians and all the francophones and minorities in the country.

Bill S-3, which was passed by Parliament, was Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier's cause. He fought for it for years and presented the bill in the House of Commons three times. The bill was rejected the first two times, but the third time it passed. I remember that because, at the time, I had a lot of discussions with Conservative MPs, who were then in opposition, to find out whether they were going to support the bill. In the end, they did support it and they said they were proud to do so.

I would like the hon. member for Gatineau to give me his opinion on the following text:

This enactment amends the Official Languages Act to enhance the enforceability of the Government of Canada's obligations under Part VII of the Act.

Part VII of the Act is now enforceable. What does “enforceable” mean? I would like the hon. member's opinion on that. Part VII of the Official Languages Act clearly states, in section 43(2):

The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall take such measures as that Minister considers appropriate to ensure public consultation in the development of policies and review of programs relating to the advancement and the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society.

Bill S-3 was intended to protect and enhance the law.

In its defence, the government clearly said that Bill S-3 did not change anything and that the court should not get involved in the government's decisions. That is outrageous and unacceptable. The government does not even respect the very legislation that was passed in this Parliament. The Conservatives, who were in opposition at the time, voted for a bill, but said that the bill did not mean anything. I would like the opinion of the hon. member for Gatineau on this.

Official languagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, a proud Acadian, whom I very much respect.

One thing is certain: the current situation regarding the elimination of the court challenges program, as I said earlier, violates five aspects or provisions of the Constitution. Part VII is one of those aspects. The federal government, before making a decision, must consult the interested parties, the minorities affected. We know full well, and this has been shown in committee, that the Conservative government did not consult anyone before shamefully eliminating a program that had proven effective in helping minorities, in every sense of that word.

This situation must be denounced, and that is what we are doing here today. The binding constitutional aspect has been violated by the Conservatives' decision not to comply with the Official Languages Act.

Official languagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, once again, we see the hypocrisy of the Bloc Québécois.

In August, the Bloc member for Ahuntsic asked that all immigrants to Quebec choose French, because Quebec is the only place in North America where French is spoken. If you prefer English, you can go to Canada or the United States. This is a remarkable thing to say. I would like to remind my hon. colleague that the minority official language in Quebec is English. I would like to know if my colleague and the members of the Bloc Québécois will protect the rights and heritage of anglophones in Quebec.

Official languagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who just spoke, represents the riding where I was born and used to live, like my colleague from Hull—Aylmer. It is a riding where the francophones, the Franco-Ontarians, are very proud of their heritage.

My father, who is now 89, saw the abolition of French-language schools in Ontario by regulation 17. My sisters could not go to French high school because by 1968 they had finished their schooling. Prior to that, there were no French-language secondary schools.

As a Franco-Saskatchewaner and a Franco-Ontarian, I always dreamed of having the same rights and the same protection in Quebec as my anglophone brothers and sisters. Bill 101 protects anglophones in Quebec better than all the legislation for minorities introduced by the Conservatives in this government and the Mulroney government, which was the first government to abolish this program.

The word “hypocrite” aptly describes this government, because that is exactly what it is. It is taking rights away from people. Yet in Quebec, the government has never abolished any English-language schools. In 1977, René Lévesque even allowed 11 first nations to have schools in their own language wherever their communities were located. The Conservatives have never done that.

In Saskatchewan, the Conservatives abolished French-language schools. In 1988, the government of Grant Devine even abolished all French-language services in Saskatchewan. I am not talking about ancient history. In Quebec, no party—not the Parti Québécois or the Liberal Party or the party of Lesage or the party of Lévesque—ever abolished anything or took away any rights from anglophone Quebeckers.

The member should bone up on his history, because it is shameful for him to ask such a question.

Official languagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. It being 7:30 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today the question is deemed put and a recorded division is deemed demanded. Pursuant to Standing Order 66 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 5 at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise here today to ask the government to stop obstructing the work of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. That committee is trying to shed some light on the Conservative Party's so-called in and out scam during the last election.

I am quite certain that the members across the floor would much rather sweep this problem under the rug, but Canadians have a right to know how the Conservatives tried to hoodwink them. They want to know how they maliciously manipulated the system in order to stay within the election spending limits required by law.

During the last election, the Conservative Party transferred large sums of money into the bank accounts of several local candidates. The same party then took back the money to invest it in national advertising. It knew that it had spent the maximum allowed by law, but it decided, quite deliberately, to exceed the legal limits. The other parties, however, obeyed the law as noted by Elections Canada.

Many defeated and elected candidates as well as several official agents were involved in the Conservative Party's scheme. They allegedly asked for a refund from Elections Canada and included amounts that artificially inflated their expenses. That is fraud. A defeated candidate who spent just $3,000 more than the approximate amount of $24,000 received from the in and out scheme claimed 60% from Elections Canada. The latter rightly refused to reimburse them. The Associate Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Janice Vézina, explained the refusal in a written affidavit to the Federal Court.

The list of candidates who apparently participated in this scheme included several ministers, such as the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages and theMinister of Foreign Affairs as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women, the Secretary of State (Agriculture) , the Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip, and the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles. A daily newspaper also mentioned the name of the Minister of Public Safety who, of all the candidates, should be above suspicion. Closer to me, the Conservative candidate for Hull-Aylmer reportedly participated in this scheme. The ads were placed in Quebec.

The office of the chief electoral officer revealed that official representatives of Conservative candidates had said that the discrepancies were simply an in-and-out scheme designed to enable the federal party to fund more advertising. Elections Canada's affidavit points out examples of striking differences between amounts booked by Conservative candidates and those booked by the Conservative Party for the same ads.

The minority Conservative government tried to impede the work of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Conservatives denied accusations of cheating during the last election, then they attacked and blocked everyone who was trying to shed light on the issue. Over the past two years, they loudly proclaimed their zeal for transparency, but now the party is all about covering things up.

Will the government cease its machinations to prevent these allegations from being examined in the light of day? Will the government acknowledge its wrongdoing and allow the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to go about its business as usual?

7:35 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, before I begin to rebut all of the arguments made by my hon. colleague, I would be remiss if I did not thank my hon. colleague and all of his colleagues in the Liberal Party for their unwavering support of this government over the course of the last few days, particularly in terms of the budget. Of course, before that there was the Afghanistan motion to extend the mission until 2011. Most recently was their support of Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.

I can honestly say that without the continued support of the Liberal Party on government initiatives, we really would not be able to make as much progress as we have seen over the course of the last two weeks or so. Again, I thank the hon. member. I urge him to continue that level of support we have seen because this is what makes Parliament work, a strong government abided and abetted by an opposition party that wants to see Canadians of all political levels benefit. I thank my colleague so much for all of the invaluable support we have seen.

I would love to see that same level of support when it comes to the motion we have presented in the procedure and House affairs committee. The motion is that we would voluntarily open up our books to examine all of our advertising practices for the last several years. I must add, we are the only party that has voluntarily offered that type of examination. Of course, there is only one caveat that we place upon that, which is that all parties, not just the Conservative Party, but all parties do the same and open up their books. However, we have found time and time again in the procedure and House affairs committee that the opposition members, particularly the member opposite and his party, have refused to accommodate such a motion.

I have consistently stated, at great lengths I must add, that I do not believe that any other party in this House has ever done anything wrong when it comes to the advertising practices in elections past. I have also taken great pains to point out that the advertising practices employed by the Conservatives are exactly the same as those employed by members of the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc.

I am suggesting if they were able to examine all of our books in the light of day, we would certainly find that in our opinion Elections Canada has erred in its ruling that there was perhaps something wrong with the so-called in and out scheme. As I pointed out at committee, everything the Conservative Party has done is in complete compliance with electoral law.

I believe that my hon. colleague knows that and that is the reason he and his colleagues are refusing an examination of their own books. I can think of no other reason, other than the fact that they may have something to hide and I would hope that not be the case.

Once again, I thank my hon. colleagues for all of their support on the budget and other initiatives this government has brought forward. I look forward to continued support over the upcoming weeks, months and perhaps even years as they sit in opposition. I hope my hon. colleague will have second thoughts about supporting us on our motion we brought forward to the procedure and House affairs committee.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, as you have just heard, instead of admitting that what they did was wrong, the Conservatives have decided to take the matter to court to prevent us from uncovering the truth, the whole truth, before the next election. Moreover, the Conservative Party will force Canadians to pay the legal costs of this pointless case against Elections Canada.

How many times has the Prime Minister said that Canadians deserve accountability? Now it is his turn to demonstrate transparency and to open his party's books. He must say whether the “in and out” money exceeded the limits set by the Canada Elections Act. He must say whether the “in and out” scheme gave the Conservative Party and some of its candidates access to reimbursements they were not entitled to.

When will this government stop its stalling tactics? When will this government allow the committee to examine the allegations against the Conservatives?

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, let me just say that we also believe in complete transparency and that is why we brought forward the court action. What better forum to examine in totality the advertising practices and the advertising books of the Conservative Party than in a court of law.

The member opposite does not want that kind of approach to ever take place. The Liberals do not want the truth, perhaps not because they cannot handle the truth, but because they want to alter the truth. They want a kangaroo court rather than a true court. That is why they are trying to attempt through the procedure and House affairs committee an examination of only one party. Not only is that not fair, as the opposition leader was fond of saying in years past, but it is not believable when we hear the words coming from the member opposite that they want complete transparency. If they truly wanted transparency, they would accommodate our motion and allow all parties' books to be examined.

7:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:41 p.m.)