That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, to participate in the discussion about this very important motion.
This motion is grounded first and foremost in democracy. Although this may seem quite ironic, the purpose of this motion is for the House of Commons to spend today reiterating its confidence in an independent, impartial organization whose neutrality is above reproach. That may indeed seem ironic.
Why will we be talking about a motion that asks the House to express its full confidence in Elections Canada and the elections commissioner? Because the party currently leading a minority government, the Conservative Party, has given us reason to believe that it does not have faith in Elections Canada.
We know that free and fair elections are the basis for any democracy. In some countries, the people do not have opportunities to choose their elected officials democratically. Here in Quebec and Canada, we do have that opportunity. Regardless of the party elected or the member or candidate in whom the people place their trust, that person is elected democratically. Nobody in this House was elected by citizens who went to the polls at gunpoint. We are legitimate.
All the same, the democratic process that takes place during our elections has to be overseen by an organization. We cannot let the government or the party in power, regardless of who they are, decide how things are going to happen. We are responsible for keeping a close eye on the electoral process.
We know that the right to vote is not enough on its own. We need rules in order to hold free, democratic elections. For example—and this is with reference to the case currently before the courts—we need rules that govern contributions to political parties and that make it possible to prevent the electoral process from becoming hijacked by the money game. That means that parties have to play by rules enforced by an independent organization.
Here is another example that is more directly linked to the motion today. The rules that set limits on election spending are intended to make sure that the candidate with the best chances of being elected is the one who is most in tune with the wishes of the public, not the one who spends the most money to flood the country with partisan advertisements. In the Bloc Québécois, we feel that, in a democratic society, elections must not be bought.
I went onto the Elections Canada website, which lists the organization's values: a knowledgeable and professional workforce, transparency, responsiveness to the needs of Canadians involved in the electoral process, cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act, earning the public's trust, and finally, stewardship and accountability in how the democratic process is managed.
The position of Chief Electoral Officer was created in 1920. Marc Mayrand, the current Chief Electoral Officer, is the sixth person to hold the position. I sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am vice-chair, and, when Mr. Mayrand was appointed, even the Conservatives recognized his skills and professionalism. Now that Elections Canada, as an impartial referee, makes a decision that does not suit the Conservatives, all of a sudden, they start to discredit the individual and the institution.
Elections Canada has shown us time and time again that the concern for transparency is clear in everything they do. If the Conservatives had acted in a transparent way and had cooperated with Elections Canada in what is now called the "in and out affair", when the Conservatives shuffled money back and forth during the January 2006 election campaign, the police raid that we witnessed some ten days ago would not have been necessary.
Is it customary, is it normal that Elections Canada had to get a warrant from a neutral judge and use the services of a neutral police force like the RCMP? Is it normal for a police force to have to search the headquarters of a political party, the Conservative Party in this case? Does this happen all the time, or is this an exceptional case? This shows that Elections Canada was completely fed up with the Conservatives' unwillingness to cooperate regarding this scheme, which supposedly allowed the Conservatives to exceed the $18 million national spending limit by transferring $1.2 million in advertising expenses to local ridings.
The Prime Minister tells us that everything was legitimate, that everything was done according to the rules. If everything was done properly, why did the Conservatives refuse to cooperate with Elections Canada? Why did they not sit down with them and explain what they did and how they applied the rules? No, they preferred to use a strategy that was against the law, with the result that it is being challenged by Elections Canada, thus explaining the police raid.
The Conservatives made some grand promises of transparency. I am sure we all remember the 2006 election. People really doubted Liberal management and attacked their credibility. People took a hard look at the sponsorship scandal and said the Liberals ran their campaign with dirty money. The Conservatives, however, were going to be squeaky clean, irreproachable and transparent. I am sure everyone remembers the Conservative ads during the election campaign in 2006, not all that long ago. They said these ads were paid for with clean money. But would Elections Canada be challenging this if everything had been done legitimately?
A lot of Conservatives, including, yesterday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, have defended themselves by saying that all the parties do it. So I would like you to explain for me, Mr. Speaker, why there are only 67 election reports by candidates, some of whom were elected as members and some of whom have apparently been appointed as ministers. Why are 67 Conservative election reports being challenged by Elections Canada?
I would point out that the election expense reports filed by the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP after the 2006 elections have resulted in refunds. We got our refunds. That is too handy a defence. Saying that everybody does it so we do it too is just blowing smoke. I am sorry, but there is a dispute with Elections Canada, an independent, neutral and transparent body that oversees the democratic process and deserves to have our confidence. I am persuaded that in the vote tonight all parties will reiterate their confidence in Elections Canada.
Quebeckers and Canadians do not want to have an electoral system here like we can see in other countries. By their attitude, the Conservatives flaunt the election laws that are not to their liking. When Elections Canada’s decision does not suit the government, they attack Elections Canada. They complain about inappropriate treatment. I am sorry, but it is nothing of the kind.
Another thing we find on the Elections Canada site relates to cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act. If we want elections to be conducted as a democratic process, it is important that all candidates and all parties, without exception, have equal opportunities. There can be no elasticity: the fact that someone does not like the sovereignists in the Bloc wanting to break up Canada and establish their own country does not mean they can be treated differently. No! Behaving like the Conservatives are asking would mean having an asymmetrical democracy. The rules of the game have to be clear and they have to be the same for everyone.
The Conservatives can feign indignance about this all they like, but the public’s confidence has been seriously undermined. Speaking ill of an impartial body like Elections Canada is not how to do things in a democracy and makes the public skeptical about politicians, but particularly about the attitude of this Conservative Party. It is too handy to claim unfair treatment. The sole purpose of that attitude, intentionally criticizing and attacking credibility, is to conceal fraudulent activities.
I could tell you about the seven months of repeated filibusters we had at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Conservative candidates went on and on about genuinely examining this issue. Well before the Elections Canada prosecution and the police raid, the Liberal whip had introduced a motion at the Committee on Procedure to bring this whole in-and-out scheme by the Conservative Party in the last campaign into the open. The Committee on Procedure has been paralyzed since September 10 and has really been unable to do its work.
Obviously, the Conservatives are trying to sweep the dust under the rug. Understandably, they are uncomfortable with what they did. Not only did the Conservatives knowingly set up a fraudulent scheme to claim rebates to which they were not entitled, but now, instead of apologizing, they attack the credibility of Elections Canada for blatantly partisan purposes.
Yesterday, during question period, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board told us: “Conservative candidates spent Conservative money on Conservative advertising”. He forgot to say that inflating the election spending limit for local candidates shortchanged citizens because the Conservatives received a 60% rebate when their expenses return was approved.
As a defence they say that Conservative advertising was paid for with Conservative money. We say that it was used to inflate the spending limit, hence the notion of dirty money in this case, because taxpayers, who are fed up with paying taxes, were shortchanged by 60% with these artificially inflated expenses.
In conclusion, I want the Conservatives to know that we have seen where they are going with this scheme. Instead of cooperating with Elections Canada, they have opted for confrontation. This stance forced Elections Canada to use an extraordinary remedy to have access to incriminating documents, which explains the police raid at the headquarters of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The Bloc Québécois reiterates it full and complete confidence in Elections Canada as an impartial, independent and transparent referee necessary to ensure democratic elections.