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House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, Oh!

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

I hear him yapping. Perhaps he could rise in his place and provide appropriate answers to this House.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

There are one and a half minutes left. The hon. member for Peace River has 30 seconds to ask his question.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, in 30 seconds we cannot get to the root of this issue. The Bloc Québécois wants us to say that we have full and complete confidence in Elections Canada, and yet continually we have seen a litany of problems within Elections Canada. I take members back to the 2004 election campaign. That was the election campaign when Paul Martin's face was on every single Liberal candidate's election sign from coast to coast--

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The hon. member is not allowed to mention a sitting member's full name. The one that he just mentioned, from LaSalle—Émard, is a sitting member.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

If I can have order for one moment, there is only one member standing here and it is this member. The hon. member for Peace River will sit for a moment.

I have, on a number of occasions, over the last two years invited all members not to name members of this House by their name but rather by title or by the name of their constituency. I am sure that the hon. member for Peace River, although he is a rookie like I am, will follow that rule. He has 10 seconds left of his 30 seconds.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will take 10 seconds to apologize to the Liberal members over there for having selected that member as their leader. Obviously, their fortunes failed as--

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The Minister of Transport has the floor for 30 seconds.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Quite quickly, Mr. Speaker, for 30 seconds let me give the House another example of what I am talking about when I talk about the Bloc Québécois.

Christine Émond Lapointe was my opponent in the Pontiac riding for the Bloc Québécois. A total of $17,700 was sent to the candidate in invoices on January 1, 2006. A cheque from the Bloc Québécois to the candidate for $17,800 was deposited on May 17, 2006. A cheque from the candidate to the Bloc to pay for the invoices dated May 4, 2006 was cashed May 25, 10 days after the Bloc--

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Sherbrooke, Serge Cardin.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to the Bloc Québécois motion inviting the House of Commons to express “its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections”. The motion introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, has proven necessary because the Elections Canada investigation shows that this government has very little in the way of morals and ethics.

Indeed, while the Conservatives were campaigning vigorously on the need to clean up the government, it appears that they deliberately violated election laws in the hopes of convincing voters to place their trust in them.

As you can see, I will address the motion, unlike the member who spoke previously. I would say that the motion we are debating here today is especially necessary because, ever since this government has been under investigation, the Conservatives have been trying to undermine the credibility and integrity of Elections Canada using attacks that are dishonest and misguided.

These attacks are very serious and demonstrate this government's lack of transparency on the issue. They are serious because they are an attack on the very principle of democracy. In any democracy, the concept of free and honest elections is a fundamental principle. I am not referring only to the right to vote, but also to the rules that establish and enable free, democratic and honest elections.

There are many of these rules; for example, they govern contributions to political parties, in order to avoid having wealthy people and corporations fund a candidate's election campaign, thereby buying an MP who will look out for their individual or corporate interests instead of the interests of all citizens.

There also are rules setting election spending limits. These rules exist to prevent giving one candidate an advantage because he is able to spend more than his opponents and plaster his riding with his party advertisements.

In democratic societies, an election cannot be bought. There are rules, and they must be followed. This government did not do so during the last election. For these rules to work, they must be enforced by an organization that operates independently of the government. In Quebec, the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec is responsible for this. For federal elections, it is Elections Canada.

In a democracy, the government does not interpret and enforce election legislation. The organization that oversees elections must remain absolutely independent of the government. What the Conservative Party is trying to do now is to control this institution. Elections Canada reports directly to Parliament so that it is protected from any pressure from the government.

Confidence in Elections Canada, the independent organization that oversees federal elections, is completely indispensable. But in response to the overwhelming arguments made by Elections Canada, the Conservatives want to hide all these allegations. We saw that in the remarks of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who completely avoided discussing this motion.

We can understand that the Conservatives are embarrassed about their actions. Not only did they come up with a fraudulent scheme in order to claim rebates to which they were not entitled, but now instead of admitting guilt and cooperating with Elections Canada representatives, they have decided to attack the credibility of Elections Canada for blatantly partisan purposes.

They have chosen confrontation, which has forced Elections Canada to take extraordinary action in asking the RCMP to go to Conservative Party headquarters to access incriminating documents.

In these irregularities under the Canada Elections Act—an unfortunate matter for parliamentary democracy—we now know that the Conservative Party, during the 2006 election campaign, transferred funds and invoices from the party to some candidates in order to get around spending limits. In return, the candidates having agreed to take part in this scheme became eligible for up to a 60% rebate from Elections Canada. This scheme likely allowed the party to exceed the limit for that election by more than $1 million.

The Conservatives are now claiming that they are being unfairly attacked by Elections Canada. They are going so far as to talk about retaliation by Elections Canada, saying that the organization is seeking revenge for the Conservative Party's lawsuit on behalf of the dozens of candidates who were denied rebates for election expenses.

This argument does not hold water for anyone who is informed. In fact, let us admit that the Elections Canada investigation is revealing in a number of ways.

During the election campaign this party declared the importance of and need for cleaning up government, but we have just heard a speech by a minister who is quite simply denying that there is any form of retaliation against Elections Canada.

The Conservatives got elected in 2006 by maintaining that they would be the best party to change the culture of patronage criticized by Justice Gomery. We all remember that. Now, two years later, that same Justice Gomery is criticizing the actions of the Conservatives.

In addition to the irregularities under the Canada Elections Act, we could also talk about the contracts awarded to cronies. For example, the Minister of Finance has acknowledged granting—without calling for tenders—a $122,000 contract to Hugh MacPhie, a former Mike Harris aide. We could list many other cases of political interference in favour of cronies or for partisan appointments.

As we saw in the Flaherty and Cadman cases—

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I regret that I must interrupt the hon. member, but I have already had to call out a government member for naming other members. This is the second time that the hon. member has done this in a short speech. I raised this point not even ten minutes ago.

I would therefore ask the hon. member that he be so kind as to not do so again, at least not for the rest of today.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, your comment is noted.

I will close by stating that we in the Bloc Québécois, along with all members here in this House I hope, cannot accept the government's attacks on Elections Canada. Such attacks are a blot on democracy.

So, in the name of democracy, I call upon all members to vote in favour of this motion in order to reiterate our full and complete confidence in Elections Canada as an impartial, neutral and essential arbiter of the rules to ensure that the election process is democratic.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague. I would like to inform him that, in his speech, he has misinformed the House because it has been demonstrated very clearly that the Conservative Party has cooperated fully and entirely with Elections Canada in order to clarify the interpretation of the legislation on election expenses.

It is very clear to those on this side that the Conservative Party is an open book, and if that information had been wanted, all they had to do was come and get it — there was no need of strong-arm tactics.

We are an open book, but is the Bloc Québécois prepared to open up its books? A parliamentary committee wanted to address this, and we said that there was no problem, that we were opening our books, that we wanted to be transparent and accountable.

Who was it that refused? The colleagues in the Bloc Québécois are refusing to open their books. Do they have something to hide? The Bloc Québécois transferred $1.5 million to candidates. It even invoiced its candidates.

My question for my colleague is very clear: does the Bloc Québécois have something to hide from its constituents and from the Canadian taxpayer? On this side of the floor, we are an open book, and proud of the results we have achieved for Quebeckers since we were elected.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to my colleague's comments. However, I am somewhat disappointed because he knows very well that at present—it has been said several times—the election expenses of all Liberal, Bloc and NDP members have been reimbursed in full by the Chief Electoral Officer.

The only remaining problem concerns some members of the Conservative Party who have not been reimbursed. I imagine that their expenses were not in accordance with the rules and as required by Elections Canada. The Bloc Québécois and the members present were reimbursed for 2004 and 2006 election expenses, which is quite simply not the case for the Conservative Party.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The member for Chambly—Borduas has the floor. I would like to simply point out that he has two minutes remaining; if he takes one minute for the question, there will be one minute for the answer.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

It is very kind of you, Mr. Speaker to provide this information. Thank you for that.

First, I would like to congratulate my colleague on the clarity of his remarks. We know that the opposition parties that form the majority in this House are not being investigated by Elections Canada.

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities asked a number of questions in this House that had nothing to do with today's motion. I will ask my colleague some questions about this motion.

Can he tell us who is presently being investigated by Elections Canada? Who is being accused of using the in and out scheme? Who is being accused of submitting false invoices? Who was and is still being investigated by the RCMP? Who did not receive Elections Canada approval for the reimbursement of their campaign expenses?

Does my colleague believe that, in ridings such as Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Louis-Hébert and Beauport—Limoilou, where the Conservatives won by a few hundred votes, money was spent improperly on the election and that this may have influenced the result of the vote such that, today, these members are in this House?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The member for Berthier—Maskinongé has 30 seconds to reply to a question that took a minute and a half.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for all of his questions. I will answer the first one: who are the people Elections Canada is after? The party that campaigned in Quebec in 2006 and said that it was clean. It promised to be very transparent in managing affairs of state—

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Sherbrooke.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the following motion: “That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections”. Not only do I support this motion, I personally champion it. I am championing this motion because I audited various candidates' election reports many times over the years.

I also did several stints as official agent for candidates for many years. That gave me opportunities to deal with and talk to auditors from the Chief Electoral Officer's office. I found them to be competent, professional and independent.

It seems that all of these dealings were very discreet. However, when I found out about it through the media, and through the actions of the Chief Electoral Officer, of course, I wanted to make up my own mind. I wanted my opinion to be well structured and based on facts.

In all honestly and sincerity, I am saying that the Chief Electoral Officer is right to ask these questions. Furthermore, of course he needed documentation to confirm any doubts that could remain after the Conservatives' reports had been examined. What is more, Mr. Caldwell's remarks led me to go and look deeper. Mr. Caldwell, remember, was a candidate in Compton—Stanstead against a colleague of mine who was elected without manipulating the elections laws. Mr. Caldwell claims that he trusted the party leadership when he agreed to funds being deposited into the local organization's account. He said "The money was intended for local advertising, but it was not used that way."

Clearly, that was certainly not done everywhere. I felt obliged to check two candidates at least: I looked into one in more depth, and the investigation on the other is on-going. The first is the Conservative candidate in the riding of Sherbrooke. I can mention his name because, obviously, he was not elected. He is Marc Nadeau. There is also the person who, at the time, was the Conservative candidate in Mégantic—L'Érable, now a member of this House. We can see that some large transfers were made.

In the case of Marc Nadeau, the candidate in Sherbrooke, we see a transfer of $57,531.46 that came from the Conservative Fund Canada. When we look at the financial report of the 2006 election campaign, under the heading “media advertising”, we see $51,566.46 in advertising expenses.

We know full well that when we pay election expenses—this case gets worse—we normally make a cheque out to the person or organization to whom the money is to go. There is then a confirmation and a returned cheque and documents are available. In this case, it is worse because we clearly have the invoices. The first one was paid. In response to my colleague, our party whip, who spoke previously and who addressed the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, there is an invoice from the Conservative Fund Canada for Candidate share of media buy. There is one invoice for $10,000 and a second invoice for $41,566.46. However, when we read the bank statement that provides us with the information, we see that no cheque was issued.

There were, however, cash withdrawals. It appears that another Conservative candidate did a Mulroney and carried a briefcase containing $51,000. We might ask ourselves all kinds of questions. Did the money make it to its destination? What happened? Did the party issue instructions to the effect that, whenever possible, people were supposed to make cash withdrawals and carry around the cash? What would anyone do today with $51,000 in cash to pay bills? It was to pay the Conservative Fund Canada invoices. The money had to be given to it directly. Does one ask for a receipt?

Now the Conservatives are upset that we are presenting a motion calling on the House to reaffirm its confidence. I definitely have confidence in Elections Canada officials. I am convinced they will get to the bottom of this. It is clear that the Conservative Party did not want to hand over things like that. The RCMP had to go into their offices.

I am anxious to see how the matter plays out regarding the Conservative candidate in Sherbrooke. I still wonder if it was a Conservative Party directive.

The second part of my audit, although it is unfortunately not yet complete, nevertheless raised some interesting points. We were talking about $51,000 in the first case. In that case, there were transfers from the Conservative Fund for $40,000. There was a transfer from the riding to the Conservative Fund for $23,000, an amount that was included in the advertising expenses. What could this possibly correspond to? Upon checking the other expenses, we see that there were silkscreening expenses. That was probably for signs, at least those that were paid for. It is impossible to know exactly what is going on.

We do know one thing, though: the populations of the two ridings are similar. Let us start from the following premise: one person, one vote, one expense, that expense being the national spending limit for the Conservative Party. But the Conservatives exceeded that limit. They decided to divide their spending among specific ridings. The proof is that the expenses are different in two potentially identical ridings. For one, it is $51,000, while for the other, it is $23,000. The money was therefore not allocated according to the number of voters. Even worse, that gave the Conservative Party even more flexibility, because it had reached the limit.

If the Conservative Party had wanted to make the ridings pay for national expenses, it would have acted properly and divided the expense among all 308 ridings, according to the number of voters. It did not do this. All the Conservatives wanted to do was use their surplus and keep on paying the expenses they had incurred. It is obvious.

I repeat that I have the utmost confidence in the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, the auditors and the investigators. I cannot wait to see what will come out of the investigation. I am especially anxious to find out what happened to the briefcase containing $51,000 in cash. Was it a party directive? These are likely some of the things we will learn.

Moreover, candidates can claim a rebate of 60% on these amounts spent over and above the election spending limit. The Conservative Party hoped to receive 60% of these expenses. What is happening to democracy?

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities mentioned that he was going to vote against the motion. Is it because he has no confidence? No, it is because the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer does not want to accept the incorrect interpretation made by the Conservative Party. It is easy to discuss interpretations, but in this case, the supporting documents will clearly show that the Conservative Party issued a directive in order to exceed the election spending limit, in addition to being reimbursed with taxpayers' money.

We must not forget this principle: one person, one vote, one expense—not two.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East, Foreign Affairs; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Fisheries.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Sherbrooke for the clarity of his remarks. From start to finish, he stuck to today's subject, unlike the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I congratulate him.

I would like to know if the hon. member for Sherbrooke is aware of the fact that a Conservative candidate in my riding refused $30,000 from the Conservatives' national office in the last election. I am not making it up; it is in all the papers this week.

The candidate was Mr. Marler. I can say his name because he was not elected. I was pleased that I beat him. He is a lawyer. He knows the law and he is a man of integrity. He refused the $30,000 and because of this was thrown out of the Conservative Party. He did not even attend the most recent nomination meeting.

I would like to know if my colleague is aware of other unfortunate candidates like him who were honest enough to refuse such money. If they were honest and were thrown out, does my colleague believe that there is a plot to force candidates to accept money from the Conservatives' national office?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. I have not toured all the ridings in the region and in Quebec, but Mr. Caldwell was clear. It would seem—and I have no reason to doubt him—that the directive was that money would be sent for local expenses. What candidate could refuse substantial help from the party? Nonetheless, he realized this was not the case, that it was not for local expenses, but for national expenses. The Conservatives could not assign those expenses nationally because they had reached and exceeded the spending limit.

Mr. Caldwell says that is when he filed his report. In the end he paid back the money. If it was not for local expenses then it was for national expenses in a context where it was impossible to accept because that was not allowed. The Conservative Party did indirectly what it could not do directly. It went through the back door.

If the auditors had not paid particular attention to this matter, we would never have known. This insults the Conservatives to no end. They are not in control. They call it a matter of interpretation. They are going to battle against the Chief Electoral Officer because they think there was a misinterpretation.

In light of the few little invoices I referred to earlier, this makes sense. Obviously those invoices correspond to money that was spent. They do not correspond to local advertising expenses. They do not correspond to the allocation per constituent. I have said it before and I will say it again, this may be a hobby horse but in my view, it is one person, one elector, one vote, one expense. Nonetheless, in some regions, the Conservatives tried to multiply the expenses by two for the national level because they were unable to cut the expenses they had incurred. The expenses had been incurred well in advance and once they are incurred there needs to be a scheme to get out of that situation in order to save face. Were they aware of what would happen? I believe that someone somewhere knew. They tried this scheme and then it was made public.

Again, I am reaffirming my confidence in the Chief Electoral Officer.