Mr. Speaker, it is not without significance that the motion that we have brought forward deals with the trust that we, men and women from different political parties as well as the electorate we represent, must have in the institution that is the watchdog of the democratic process, Elections Canada.
What the party in power has been doing for several weeks now is nothing less than launching a concerted attack on the integrity and neutrality of Elections Canada, an independent and above all non-partisan organization whose mission is to make sure that citizens can exercise their democratic right and stand for election.
What are the values that underlie Elections Canada's actions and decisions? Transparency in everything, the public's trust, a staff that is knowledgeable and professional—the Chief Electoral Officer's office here in Ottawa has a staff of more than 330. When a general election is called, returning officers hire more than 160,000 people across the country. In each constituency, the returning officer administers the electoral process by which a member of Parliament is chosen. The values that the governing party are questioning are the cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act.
Since the 2006 election, the Conservative members have essentially been accusing the current Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, the sixth person to hold the position since it was created by the House of Commons in 1920, of showing bias. It is important to point out that, because he is appointed by the House of Commons and reports directly to Parliament, the Chief Electoral Officer is completely independent of government and political parties.
That being said, the facts that have been made public about the Conservative Party's election spending scheme are disturbing. The most recent election campaign came on the heels of the sponsorship scandal, a Liberal scandal that was strongly condemned by the parties in this House. The information brought to light by the Gomery commission about irregularities in the management of the sponsorship program landed the Liberals on the opposition benches. The Conservatives would use this sad situation to make political hay. The party went to the polls determined to be pure as the driven snow. But the allegations and revelations that have been made in recent weeks prove just the opposite.
We can be glad about one thing: thanks to the stubbornness of the Prime Minister and his party, the Chief Electoral Officer had no choice but to act. The Conservatives' refusal to cooperate led to the disclosure of over 500 pages of affidavits last week. The party's offices were raided twice by the Chief Electoral Officer, with the RCMP's help. In spite of everything, the Conservatives are sticking to their guns, even though they are unable to justify the system whereby they transferred money between the party's coffers and those of 67 candidates in order to spend more on advertising than the law allowed.
But there is worse. In addition to this botched scheme, the Commissioner of Canada Elections discovered that invoices had been forged. This was another scheme to enable Conservative candidates to obtain a refund of expenses that were not really theirs.
I am talking about allegations of forgery, an offence under the Criminal Code.
When questioned by the leader of the Bloc Québécois, the government remained evasive. The question is simple, though, and I invite the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to answer it. Can he confirm, from his seat, that no invoices were forged or falsified?
While the party opposite was trying to put off revealing the truth about this issue, Ronald Lamothe, assistant chief investigator with the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, submitted a 68-page affidavit to obtain a search warrant. Mr. Lamothe's allegations stated that Conservative Party officials produced election spending statements that they knew contained false or misleading information, which contravenes section 431(a) of the Elections Act.
As such, the Conservative Party's Quebec lieutenant must answer the question we asked. Can he confirm that there were no false invoices and that no documents were altered?
It would be interesting to hear the minister's response, particularly since Mr. Lamothe claims that Conservative Party officials produced false invoices in December 2006 on letterhead belonging to Retail Media Inc. of Toronto, the agency that was responsible for buying nationwide ad space for the Conservatives during the last election, to justify the election spending of 14 candidates—six of them from Quebec.
These allegations are very, very serious. The Conservative Party's shadowy manoeuvres make all politicians look bad. Regardless of what happens with the motion currently before us, justice will take its course, and a ruling will eventually be made. We are patient. It took a lot of time and patience to bring to light the sponsorship scandal. We will take as much time as we need to bring to light the Conservatives' schemes.
For many long weeks, Conservative members did everything they could to paralyze the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which was trying to study the file that the Chief Electoral Officer took over. Rather than cooperate with parliamentarians and act responsibly and honourably, Conservative members did their utmost to prevent the committee from doing its job. They were determined to paralyze the committee so they could avoid answering questions. It is ironic to hear the Conservative whip complain about the fact that committee work was not moving forward when he and his fellow party members were the ones refusing to work.
There will be another election within the next 18 months. I wonder how the Conservatives, who are in so much trouble, current Conservative members, the candidates targeted by the investigation, could possibly run again. I would not be surprised to see some candidates back out, preferring not to see their name associated with such a scheme. The Liberals have been through it. The Conservatives should have learned from the Liberals' mistakes.
Beyond the current scheme, from now on, every move made by any representative of that political party will be scrutinized and analyzed. We will ask for the Chief Electoral Officer's opinion on any action that draws our attention.
Should we be concerned about certain candidates who have suddenly become very visible in our ridings? It has come to the attention of parliamentarians that Conservative candidates have set up shop in clearly identified offices. It is only natural to wonder if it is all legal. If a party can produce false invoices, which is what the Commissioner of Canada Elections is saying, and maintain that its actions were completely legal, one might easily wonder about the rest of the management practices of that political party.
In short, the Conservative ethic is nothing but smoke and mirrors. It is obvious that the Conservatives tried to circumvent election spending limits and were beat at their own game. Just like the Liberals with their sponsorship scandal, the Conservatives made up false invoices, according to the Chief Electoral Officer's affidavit. Clearly, the tables have turned.
We definitely think the Conservatives must stop undermining the authority of Elections Canada, which is why we are giving them the opportunity to show some degree of repentance, by asking them to vote with us on the Bloc Québécois motion:
That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.