Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate. First, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord on the motion that he tabled in this House and which I had the pleasure of supporting.
I repeat, for the benefit of all those who are watching this debate, that the motion reads as follows:
That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
I am convinced that people who are listening to us today wonder why the Bloc Québécois was compelled to table a motion that states the obvious. Normally, no one—and I am referring to all parliamentarians and the whole population—should question in any way our confidence in Elections Canada, which is the watchdog of our democracy in Quebec and in Canada, and in the Commissioner of Canada Elections, who is responsible for conducting the investigations that the Chief Electoral Officer deems necessary.
I must say, for the benefit of those who are watching us, that, regrettably, we reached a point where we had to table this motion in order to determine that, indeed, all parliamentarians in this House still consider Elections Canada to be a reliable, independent and credible organization.
Over the past few weeks—in fact since Elections Canada has been investigating certain practices of the Conservative Party relating to its use of election funds and its election spending claims—the defence used by the Prime Minister and the Conservative government has sought to undermine Elections Canada's credibility.
The Conservatives would have us believe that Elections Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections are ganging up on them for a motive that has never been explained to us, out of vengeance or for partisan considerations. Of course, that is absolutely false. The Conservatives' stubborn attitude toward Elections Canada, which alleges that they violated the Canada Elections Act, makes it necessary to set the record straight and to ask this House, today, to unanimously restate its confidence in this extremely important actor in the democratic process.
It is somewhat ridiculous that the Conservative Party, now accused of a number of practices that are in violation of the law, should play the victim and try to depict the agency responsible for enforcing the Canada Elections Act as the one who is trying to intimidate the Conservative Party and the government that it forms.
Again yesterday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board said in this House that the behaviour of Elections Canada was very strange, and suggested the agency was using a double standard. They implied not only that Elections Canada would apply special rules for the Conservative Party but also that the other parties in this House, the three opposition parties, used the same kind of tactics in the last election, which is false.
I remind the Conservative Party, the Conservative government and the Prime Minister that it is only Conservative candidates who are currently under investigation by Elections Canada. I also remind the Conservative Party, the Conservative government and the Prime Minister that only the offices of the Conservative Party were searched by the RCMP at the request of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
They should not try to take us for idiots by confusing the issue. It is very clear that this attempt by the Conservatives, the Prime Minister and the Conservative government to confuse the issue by throwing the burden of proof back on to Elections Canada does not fool anyone. Unfortunately, all of that has forced us to introduce this motion today.
What the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board very clearly insinuated—as did other government representatives, including even the Prime Minister—is that Elections Canada, which is an independent agency, had a political agenda and applied different criteria. They insinuated that this office had not only lost its independent character but also its status as an agency that must apply fair and equitable criteria for all the parties.
Yet it is precisely because Elections Canada wants to ensure that the criteria for enforcing the Act are fair and equitable that there is currently an investigation into the practices of the Conservative Party.
It is important to remember that Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports to Parliament and is responsible for organizing elections and administering the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act. It is also the agency that has the important mandate of monitoring political parties' compliance with electoral legislation and enforcing that legislation. The current investigation into the practices of the Conservative Party is entirely within the mandate of Elections Canada.
If there were searches in the offices of the Conservative Party, it is because the Commissioner of Canada Elections considered that the Conservative Party had not disclosed all the information required, or perhaps was preparing to destroy information or falsify documents. It is completely within the rules of the game to ensure that everyone respects the law and the established rules, especially when the democratic process is involved.
Also, under the Canada Elections Act, the Chief Electoral Officer is appointed by resolution of the House of Commons. That is what section 13 states. Once in office, the incumbent reports directly to Parliament, not to the government, let alone to the Conservative Party, thereby acting at arm's length from the government and the political parties. As I indicated, that provision of the Canada Elections Act ensure that kind of independence.
As hon. members know, the age limit for chief electoral officers is 65, and the officer holds office until retirement or resignation. may hold office years of age. He or she may only be removed for cause by the Governor General on address of both the House of Commons and the Senate. It is clear from the process that the intention is to preserve this independence.
Now, we have a governing party which, with a series of totally unfounded insinuations, is trying to undermine that independence. For partisan purposes, it is suggesting that the head of Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections are somehow determined to go after the Conservative Party.
To ensure independence, the Chief Electoral Officer has to perform the duties of the office on a full-time basis and may not hold any other office or engage in any other employment. What is more worrisome about what has been going on for the past several weeks is that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party are trying to undermine the credibility of Elections Canada, casting aspersions on its independence and its non-partisan nature. I should remind those listening, however, that the current Chief Electoral Officer was appointed on February 9, 2007, and that the Prime Minister himself made the recommendation. His appointment was later confirmed by Parliament. It is pretty incredible therefore that, from the moment that he started to perform his duties and act in accordance with Elections Canada's mandate, Chief Electoral Officer Mayrand, in whom the Prime Minister had full confidence, suddenly no longer possessed all the qualifications that had led the Prime Minister to appoint him.
There is nothing new about this though. Over the last two years—because we have already endured two long years of this minority Conservative government—we have come to know the Prime Minister pretty well. We have learned that he considers the government his private domain. In a number of issues, we have seen his wish or his desire—because it is not just a wish in his case and more a firm resolve—to exercise total control over all possible aspects of the federal government and attempt in various ways to minimize the counterbalances that our democratic system provides, beginning with the media, the courts, all democratic institutions in Canada and Quebec, and the fact we live under the rule of law.
The Prime Minister’s desire to control everything and minimize the counterbalances could be seen in his relations with the press. We all remember how surprised the journalists were on Parliament Hill to see the Prime Minister trying not only to avoid them but also to ensure that his ministers and MPs were unable to express the views of the government, their department or their voters to the written and electronic press here in Ottawa.
The Prime Minister also wanted to control the process for selecting judges so that they would interpret the laws in the way in which he wanted. This was all very clear. In addition, his first appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada was criticized by many people in Quebec and Canada because the judge was a unilingual anglophone. This would probably be a problem, both for lawyers and the people who appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Prime Minister wanted to interfere, therefore, in the judge selection process. He also tries to control information, as I said, by refusing to meet the members of the parliamentary press gallery and doing everything in his power to ensure it is very difficult to get information under the Access to Information Act and, if it finally does reach the people who inquired, it is only in extremely censored form.
There was a good example this morning in the Globe and Mail, according to which the Department of National Defence has produced a little guide—or more thick than little, in all senses of the word—telling military personnel how to make sure that access to information requests are either refused, circumvented or censored. This is all very obvious, therefore, and it is despite the recommendations in the Manley report, which said that the government should be more transparent, in particular, about the Afghanistan mission.
What we have instead is a document telling military personnel—despite themselves, I am sure—how to ensure that information is as difficult as possible to get when it has to be produced at all despite the desires of the Prime Minister and his government.
We also see a Prime Minister who wants to control the parliamentary process by telling the chairs of the committees to sabotage their work. This can be seen currently at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
We are concerned about that, and the same attitude was displayed about other issues. Take for example the Chalk River reactor. The head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission gave her advice, but it was not in line with what the Prime Minister and the government wanted. I do not deny that, at the time, we agreed with the government’s proposal to resume production of isotopes for medical uses, but the head of the commission did her job. Parliamentarians could have made a different decision. But her firing by the Minister of Natural Resources was nothing but vengeance.
So, the Conservative government, the Conservative Prime Minister, and the Conservative Party of Canada are launching a systematic attack against Elections Canada. This is part of an overall strategy. It is extremely important for our democracy that opposition parties shed some light on this for the public.
Let us deal now directly with this matter of the contributions that were allegedly transferred between different levels of the party during the 2005-06 election. Since the election was held in 2006, let us call it the 2006 election. Right from the outset, the Prime Minister and all the Conservatives that were involved in this matter claimed that they had followed the law. But we have already seen that in a couple of instances, the Conservative Party “neglected” to report a number of contributions that were not legal under the electoral rules.
As I recall, in December 2006 they forgot to report the receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Chief Election Officer. What was involved were the registration fees of the Conservative delegates at the Conservative party convention in May 2005. That is when they started to claim—and the Prime Minister was the first to do so—that there was no problem. Six months later, the Conservative Party had to admit that it had not reported to the Chief Election Officer the receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars. All in all, the additional amount that had to be reported was $536,915 in unreported contributions, and other revenues of $913,710.
These revenues, which amounted to about $1.45 million, were not declared. As we have all seen, there was nothing novel about the Prime Minister's initial reaction, which was to say that nothing illegal was done regardless of Elections Canada's allegations.
Other members have already pointed this out, but I too must say that the evidence is mounting. Even within the Conservative Party's electoral apparatus, there were serious doubts about the legality of transfers from the national party to certain ridings and back to national headquarters to pay for national advertising. As a result, 60% of the money was reimbursed, which is what happens when candidates in ridings claim reimbursements for elections expenses, as you know.
We have seen at least two emails about this. The first was from a Conservative Party advertising official who expressed serious doubts about the legality of the strategy, of the scheme. The second, which we saw recently, was another email sent to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the Prime Minister's political lieutenant for Quebec. In the email, certain details about implementing the strategy and related problems were discussed. For example, some riding associations wanted to participate in transferring money from national party headquarters to the ridings, money that would then be used to pay for the Conservative Party's national advertising, but there was no Conservative candidate. That made things a little tricky. A candidate had to be found quickly in order to carry out the strategy.
We found out today that right here in the Outaouais, two former candidates had received transfers even though there was little chance they would be elected, as they themselves said. For example, Gilles Poirier, who is the head of the accounting department at the Université du Québec en Outaouais and was the Conservative Party candidate in Hull—Aylmer, said that during the 2006 election:
The person in the Montreal office who was responsible for candidates in the Outaouais called me to announce the good news that the party would be investing money in my campaign—
Three days after the money was deposited in the Hull-Aylmer Conservative riding association account, he learned that the money had to be returned to the Conservative Party and he was told that the party would take care of the advertising. He always thought it was a matter of regional advertising. This is what he said, “I, as a candidate, was lead to believe the money was for regional advertising.”
We know that most of the money transferred by the Outaouais ridings to the national Conservative Party was used to pay for regional ads in the Quebec City area. I do not see how that could have helped Mr. Poirier—although I do not know him personally—who seems to be as surprised as Elections Canada that these transfers were used for national ads during the election campaign.
As I was saying earlier, I do not want to dwell on the investigation that is now in the hands of Elections Canada. Again, I hope that all parliamentarians, all the members of this House, will vote in favour of this motion in order to move on to something else, namely finding out exactly what happened in the Conservative Party during the 2006 election.
We see that the ethic position the Prime Minister was advocating during the election campaign was all for show. Until proven otherwise, the Conservative Party is doing everything in its power to keep the truth under wraps. The truth will come out one day, probably quite quickly, and every day more pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.
If I may, I want to close by saying that this is the same attitude that exists toward the nation of Quebec: the government says it recognizes the nation of Quebec, but in fact, it is not putting its money where its mouth is. This same attitude exists toward the mission in Afghanistan: the government is not being transparent. This same attitude exists toward the environment. This same attitude exists toward the death penalty. This same attitude exists toward abortion. It is the same attitude everywhere. This government is trying to hide its real agenda. Fortunately, the government's true colours are revealed in its way of doing things. Voters, in Quebec in any case, will remember this come election time.