Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra.
I rise today in shock and disgust over the way the government is attacking Elections Canada, one of the most respected electoral organizations in the world. Elections Canada has become an international leader in conducting fair, open and accountable elections. Whether it is the creation of the national register of electors or its successful introduction of computers into the administration of an election, our elections serve as a model for countries around the world.
Our honoured international reputation began to take shape in the 1980s when our assistant chief electoral officer was invited to observe elections in several Central American countries. By the 1990s, the trend had exploded as Elections Canada was flooded with requests not only to serve as international monitors but also to conduct assessments for fairness and to advise foreign governments. Over the decade, Elections Canada hosted more than 125 foreign delegations and participated in an amazing 300 missions abroad.
If one reads the official mandate of Elections Canada, it states that the organization is an independent body set up by Parliament. This is a fundamental point to note in light of accusations that the Prime Minister and his officials have been making about Elections Canada since the RCMP raided their party headquarters.
The Conservatives have called the raid “a PR stunt and a tactic of intimidation”. The government House leader has said that Elections Canada had no justification or right to begin such an inquiry, which is a comment that questions its very legitimacy. Other government ministers have accused the Chief Electoral Officer of abusing his powers by launching the investigation as a bargaining chip over a civil lawsuit.
The member for Nepean—Carleton has spoken about Elections Canada, inviting the Liberal Party to watch the raid. Internal documents revealed that the Conservative Party had even ordered its MPs and former candidates to deny knowledge of this issue.
The most ludicrous Conservative attack has been the claim that this raid was the result of a 10-year-old vendetta against the Prime Minister for his criticism of Elections Canada when he was with the National Citizens Coalition. This is absolutely ridiculous, as both the Chief Electoral Officer and the Elections Commissioner were appointed during the Conservatives' time in office. This government has stooped to these tactics to take the focus away from their own actions in the 2006 election.
Under the in and out scheme, the Conservative Party shifted money from its national office into 67 local ridings and immediately demanded the money back, allowing the party to disregard election spending limits and to unfairly spend an extra $1 million on national advertising.
What I find so surprising is how the party leadership completely ignored those local campaigns and candidates, which had a problem with the plot. For example, two ridings initially declined to participate, citing questions about the legality of the actions. How did the Conservatives respond? As always, they expected complete and utter control.
Mike Donison, the Conservative Party president, during the election campaign wrote in an email to Conservative officials, “Why should they be allowed to just outright refuse?” A better question would be: Why should they not be allowed to refuse? Other local officials knew it was wrong and did the right thing.
Barbro Soderberg, the official agent for Toronto candidate Steven Halicki, said she fought back against party officials, stating, “As a bookkeeper, I know that sometimes you have to use creative accounting between two small companies...but I found this move was being a little too creative”.
Andrew Kumpf, an executive with Retail Media, the company that designed the ads, emailed his concerns to the Conservative Party, writing, “While our thinking is that this option would be legal, we are not certain of this beyond all reasonable doubt”.
Douglas Lowry, the official agent for candidate Sam Goldstein in Trinity—Spadina in Toronto, told Elections Canada investigators that “There was no discussion pertaining to the advertising or its benefit to the Goldstein campaign”. There are many others.
As we can see from these statements, many people told the party that the in and out scheme would break rules and the laws of our country. The simple and sad fact of the matter is the Conservative Party chose not to listen.
The RCMP raids at Conservative headquarters would have never happened if the party fully cooperated with investigators. Instead, the Tories first refused to work with a parliamentary committee trying to investigate the scheme and then they declined to provide documents to Elections Canada.
This controversy is about a government that believes it is above the law and beyond reproach. It also demonstrates how arrogant the Prime Minister has become. He is no longer prepared to listen to his own candidates or local party supporters.
I want to conclude with the words of the Prime Minister during the last campaign. “I pledge to you”, he said, “to introduce the most sweeping reforms in Ottawa's history, to create a future environment where governments will have to be accountable”.
My question for the government is: What happened?