I apologize for that, Mr. Speaker. It seems ironic that the opposition is calling for a quorum call at this particular moment.
Before I was interrupted, I was providing some background as to how we got to this place. The Prime Minister had asked for Professor Johnston to provide a preliminary report but before Professor Johnston could complete his work, the opposition members took it upon themselves to force this matter on to the ethics committee.
The ethics committee had other issues that it was in the process of investigating. In fact, we had put forward some issues related to the Privacy Act that needed to be addressed urgently but all of these matters were set aside because of this matter that had come before the media and Parliament.
Seized with this new opportunity to investigate a 15 year old incident, the committee took upon itself the obligation of requesting witnesses and the first witness, of course, was Mr. Schreiber. We heard from Mr. Schreiber, I think, on four occasions, for a total of eight hours initially. He later came back and provided us additional testimony. Following that, we heard from Mr. Mulroney and then a number of other witnesses.
I want to note that throughout the entire time, at least at the point when we heard from Mr. Schreiber, it was apparent to government members that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, certainly at that point. The member opposite stated just a moment ago that there was substantial evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, he has declared that a number of the witnesses, without naming them, actually lied to the committee. I find that quite a surprising statement coming from the chair when he himself had the opportunity to confront those witnesses, had he chosen to do so, when they were before the committee.
Needless to say, based on the testimony that we heard, we reviewed the Parliament of Canada Act and the code of conduct that applied at the time and, based on the testimony we heard from Mr. Schreiber, there was no evidence of wrongdoing. However, the opposition insisted on inviting, initially I think it was close to 40 witnesses before the committee, but it later pared that down.
I need to note that Conservative members did not ask for any particular witness. We did not think it was appropriate to do so but we listened to the witnesses who were provided by the opposition.
We went through the scenario every Tuesday and Thursday for two hours, and sometimes double appointments in some meetings. We heard from witnesses who came before the committee and offered what they knew about the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. However, in not one instance did anybody offer anything of substance in terms of ethical wrongdoing.
The reason I can say that with such certainty is that with every witness who came before the committee, I or one of my colleagues dutifully asked the question of whether that witness had any evidence of any wrongdoing by any public official related to this matter. Not one of the witnesses provided such evidence and, in fact, not one of them could even refer to such evidence existing, whether the witness knew it or not. Each one of them, given the opportunity to clarify for Canadians whether they were aware of any evidence of wrongdoing, dismissed the question or denied having any evidence.
However, the committee persisted and we continued to listen, at least on my part, with some hesitation. I was always fearful and said from the very beginning that I thought this was going to turn into a political partisan witch hunt, which, at times, it certainly did, and at other times appeared to be a bit of a political circus.
This continued and we heard from all the witnesses. Mr. Schreiber came back after the other witnesses and had nothing new to offer, despite his claims to the media that he had documents that had not been released. We got to the point where we had heard from all the witnesses and the committee had to decide whether it would call more witnesses or call it a day and try to summarize its evidence.
At that point, the committee had a discussion and decided that enough was enough, that it would not call any more witnesses. The opposition admitted that it had dragged this on long enough and the committee notified witnesses and the chamber that no more witnesses were needed and that it would summarize the evidence.
The committee agreed to the third report of the ethics committee. It is very brief so I will take a minute to read it. It states:
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has the honour to present its THIRD REPORT
Your Committee met on Thursday, February 28, 2008 to discuss the Mulroney Airbus settlement and agreed to the following recommendation:
As your Committee has now completed its examination of witnesses in this matter it recommends, as it did in its Second Report to the House; “That the Government immediately initiate a formal public inquiry into the Mulroney—Schreiber affair”.
Then it goes on to give some details of minutes tabled and that sort of thing.
This is the motion that we are now debating before this chamber. I find this quite ironic because concurrence in this motion is simply that. We are simply acknowledging that no more witnesses will be called. The silence behind this motion basically indicates that we will be putting together a report, which is exactly what we are doing right now.
We are taking the time to summarize the testimony that we heard from the witnesses and to compile the thousands of pages of documents that were submitted to our committee. We are putting them together so we can fulfill our responsibilities as members of this committee and provide this chamber with a summary, a conclusion or recommendations of what we heard in the four months of testimony that we had.
Why we are now debating this particular motion is rather ironic and perhaps unique to this chamber. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you might know how often in the history of this chamber such a limited non-motion or non-report has been discussed. However, that is where we find ourselves.
I want to make a few more comments on why I think it is inappropriate for this committee at this point to even pretend that we have a report to discuss.
We are beginning to consider a draft report. It is many pages in length, simply summarizing the issues that we have heard and, as I said earlier, none of it has any evidence of wrongdoing. For the opposition to press this chamber to consider this issue, as it did two weeks ago, is a bit misplaced. I will explain why.
Two weeks ago we had an opposition day motion in this House where we debated whether or not the government should proceed with the public inquiry immediately. At that time I argued very strongly that because this committee had not finished its work it would be improper for us to do so.
Here we are again. This feels a little bit like Groundhog Day, where we are coming back to an issue that was addressed some weeks ago. The bottom line is that Professor Johnston has a mandate to provide recommendations to the Prime Minister as to the scope of a public inquiry. The Prime Minister hired him to do that and he has partially completed his responsibilities by providing an interim report in January. However, he cannot complete his report until he has seen the report that our committee is supposed to provide him.
We are in the process of working on that report but we are nowhere near completion. However, we do hope that in the next couple of weeks we will be able to complete it.
It is a bit nonsensical for the member opposite to suggest that the government proceed immediately to a public inquiry when it does not have the benefit of what our committee has put its hand to for the last four or five months. We have heard 25 to 30 hours of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses. It would be improper for the government or even Professor Johnston to recommend to the government the parameters of a possible public inquiry without the benefit of hearing from our committee.
Again, our job as committee members is not simply to listen to testimony and say, “okay, enough is enough, you guys go off and do the rest of the job for us”. We need to finish our work and for us to finish our work means that we need to compile the testimony and debate whether or not there are recommendations that the committee should make to the House. Perhaps there are some conclusions that we can draw.
Personally, I am quite skeptical as to whether or not there are any recommendations that we can make in light of the fact that there was no evidence of wrongdoing. I am also skeptical of the fact that we may not have any conclusions that we can provide for the very same reason.
Nonetheless, the committee has an obligation to fulfill its responsibilities and finish its work, and, hopefully, that will be done in the very near future.
However, for the party opposite to suggest twice within a two week period of time that it is imperative that the government proceed with this public inquiry before it has had the benefit of a report is a little bit nonsensical.
I would ask the opposition to perhaps put more forethought into its use of the time that this chamber focuses on this in the future. Nonetheless, we are here debating this issue. I think it is a bit hasty to suggest that the government proceed with this without that further information, but that is its purview.
I want to draw attention of the House some points that I made the last time we had this debate, because they are particularly relevant.
I remember telling this chamber about the mandate that was given to the independent adviser, Professor Johnston. The mandate assigned to the independent adviser included four areas: first, to conduct a review of the allegations concerning the financial dealings of Mr. Schreiber and the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney; second, to make recommendations as to the appropriate mandate for a full and public inquiry in these allegations, including the specific issues that warrant examination; third, to determine whether any prima facie evidence existed to suggest that criminal acts had taken place; and fourth, to indicate whether any additional course of action was appropriate.
To fulfill this mandate, the Prime Minister hired Professor Johnston, who is a very reputable individual. He is the president of the University of Waterloo. In fact, he has impeccable credentials, which are widely admired because of his considerable legal experience and expertise.
It should be noted that during the course of his career, Professor Johnston has served on numerous provincial and federal task forces and committees. He is therefore perfectly suited to fulfill this responsibility. However, nevertheless, I think it is improper for us to expect Professor Johnston to fulfill and to complete these responsibilities until he has had a chance to see our final report.
Again, here we have the opposition simply trying to manipulate the process when it is obvious to everybody who has been following this issue that this is not necessary. We are all confident that once our report is complete and Professor Johnston has had a chance to review our ethics report, he will make the recommendations that he chooses to make to the Prime Minister. At that point, the Prime Minister will look at those recommendations and make a wise decision, as he always does.
However, at this time, I have said all that is necessary to be said on this topic.