House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was restitution.

Topics

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, there clearly is a double standard here. A half a million dollars is the minimum amount of money that one must put into this Swiss bank, so we are not talking about hundreds of thousands of people here. We should not be giving them the signal that they can have amnesty by walking into any Revenue Canada office in the country, volunteer their information and somehow they will be free and clear. How is that giving anybody the right signal here?

If people are rich, they can simply invest their money in Panama, in Barbados, in Liechtenstein or Switzerland and, if they get caught, they can simply walk in to a Revenue Canada office and they get amnesty. That is a terrible way for the government to be approaching the problem.

The government pretends it is tough on crime. I would like to see some of it because it certainly is not being very tough on crime when it comes to these white collar criminals. I would like to see some changes in the way it operates in this area.

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a relatively easy question for my NDP colleague. I just heard our Conservative and Liberal colleagues act as though it were really important to make some headway in the fight against white collar crime. But we get the impression that both of these parties are dragging their feet on this issue, as they are on others.

Could the member speak to us about that?

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the bottom line here is that we are dealing with the second reading of a bill that was killed because the House prorogued last year. Suffice it to say that if we have taken it this far, we should at least get the bill into committee and see if we can make some changes to it.

I have been very clear in saying that just passing this bill is not the only answer to the problem. It is a much more complicated area that involves re-regulation, having the regulatory authorities stop hiring their friends in the companies for which they used to work. These regulators are regulating their peers. There should be law enforcement type people running the regulatory authorities with the proper authority to proceed against these white collar criminals.

I mentioned that Conrad Black was not prosecuted and jailed in Canada for his crimes. His deal with CanWest of Winnipeg on the non-competition fees was all a Canadian act. The reality was that it took the Americans to prosecute him on those non-competition fees and put him in jail where he belonged, and should have stayed, by the way.

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member has indicated some tentative support for this legislation. I would like to ask him a question about a specific situation.

A few years ago, we had a case of white collar crime involving the Liberal Party and the former Liberal government. It was known as the sponsorship scandal and it was white collar crime. It was fraud. There were some successful prosecutions but very little consequence.

In the member's view, if this legislation had been in place after that crime was committed, would the number of people held accountable and to the extent to which they were held accountable have been more meaningful than actually was the case with the laws that were in place at that time?

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is quite a leading question. I am sure that if we get this bill to committee, the member can ask those questions of the committee members and the experts who will appear at committee as to whether or not, had the law been in place during the sponsorship scandal, the participants would have received harsher sentences than they got at the end of the day.

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-21, the purpose of which is to impose harsher sentences for economic crimes.

Since I will probably be the last speaker to rise on this bill this evening, I will give a brief overview and remind everyone that the bill contains the following measures: two-year minimum sentences for acts of fraud exceeding $1 million, and the addition of aggravating factors including financial and psychological impact on victims; failure to comply with professional or licence-based rules; and, the scope and complexity of the fraud, including the time and level of planning that went into it.

The bill also sets out a broader definition of victims. The court may entertain a written statement outlining any impact on the community including losses resulting from the fraud. The term "victims" may therefore denote more than any one individual, or individuals, directly affected, and may include an entire community or particular group that has suffered at the hands of fraudsters.

Other measures are also included in the bill: an option for the courts to make an order for the restitution of property and, failing this, an obligation on the court to explain its decision; and, lastly, the option for the courts to prohibit fraudsters from certain activities.

We agree with the principle of this bill. The Bloc Québécois would like to improve the bill in committee and address a number of major shortcomings. Over the next few minutes, I will speak to a number of these shortcomings.

It can be a lot better. In September 2009, we called for the implementation of concrete measures to fight fraud. Americans are not the only ones to be affected by major fraud; it is happening the world over. Unfortunately, we have our own examples of this in Quebec.

During today’s debate on Bill C-21, several members have given examples of cases of fraud that have occurred in almost all corners of the world. There have been financial scandals in Quebec including the Cinar affair, Norbourg— a sadly notorious case—and Earl Jones, whose acts have laid bare weaknesses in the current system’s ability to monitor and fight crime. When we broached the subject, instead of rallying behind us, the Conservatives immediately decided to put forward their own measures. We are of course in favour of some of these measures, but we do not understand why it seems as if the job was botched and done in a panic for the purpose of looking after their own interests, while the victims are simply asking the government to act, and to act quickly.

We will probably never be successful in completely eradicating fraud, which never stops. While listening to the news earlier on Radio-Canada, I heard that the Insurance Bureau of Canada just issued a warning about a fresh wave of fraud affecting auto insurers, and that the IBC decided to warn its insurers. An investigation had shown a spike in the number of completely staged car accidents. People are deliberately having car accidents in order to make fraudulent insurance claims. It is probably not brand new, but there is apparently a wave of this hitting the industry right now.

When I was a journalist, I covered an event based on information obtained by the police. In fact, after noticing that the water level of a lake had risen—it was an abandoned pit—cranes regularly went and dragged out cars from the bottom of that lake. People had pushed their cars in there in order to claim insurance. Thus, there is nothing new under the sun.

It will be tough to completely stop these acts of fraud. At least if we manage to put concrete measures in place—and I believe that some of my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois have referred to such measures here over the course of the day—that that will have a dampening effect on these financial scandals.

On September 2, 2009, the Bloc Québécois introduced a series of measures to improve the system and make crimes harder to commit, easier to detect, and subject to tougher penalties. A comprehensive approach is needed in order to understand, and effectively fight, this type of crime. In response, a couple of days later ,on September 16, the government came up with a bill which was supposed to include minimum sentences, aggravating factors and the option for the courts to make an order for the restitution of property. That was Bill C-52, which is now Bill C-21.

This bill contains very few measures and will be only minimally effective. I will speak a bit later about the measures favoured by the Bloc Québécois. In this the bill in its current form, the Conservative’s primary measures include minimum sentences. They have no deterrent effect, just as in other areas. Acts of fraud over $1 million are rare. The Minister was unable to cite a single case of major fraud for which the sentence handed down was less than the suggested two years. In fact, 6- to 7-year sentences were generally handed down in these cases.

The courts already took into account the aggravating circumstances that have been included here. So this addition does not change much. Almost all, if not all, the aggravating circumstances listed in this bill were included in the Vincent Lacroix decision, which sadly is a well-known example. It makes you wonder whether the Conservatives just copied and pasted the decision because they told themselves that was what they needed to do.

Therefore, the judge in this case had the tools at his disposal. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We must improve the situation and put an end to such financial scandals instead of redoing what has already been done. It would not change much. A bill that contains the same measures that judges are already using will not help fraud victims.

Restitution orders already exist. They are broader in scope in Bill C-21, but experts have raised concerns about the feasibility of these measures in practice. I am not an expert, but I know that committee members from all of the parties will be able to question these experts about all of the proposed measures.

The part of the bill that restricts the activities of convicted offenders is interesting. But that, too, is at best an existing practice whose scope has been broadened.

Thus, Bill C-21 is missing the most important measure, that is, abolishing parole after only one-sixth of the sentence has been served. We have been calling for that for quite some time. When I say “we”, I mean that is what the people of Quebec want. I am not deaf and blind to what is happening in the rest of Canada, where people have also been calling for that, but especially in Quebec, because of the cases mentioned earlier—Norbourg, Earl Jones, Cinar—people are particularly aware of and angry about the fact that, although the sentence might appear harsh, someone can be released after serving just one-sixth of the sentence. That is the main source of frustration.

Despite Bill C-21, Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix will be able to benefit from this mechanism to get out of prison before having served a sufficient amount of their sentence. We know that minimum sentences do not solve this problem. We limit any room to manoeuvre for the judge who has to examine all the circumstances of the crime. Just because someone appears before a judge for committing a crime does not mean there are no extenuating circumstances. The judge needs enough room to manoeuvre to give an accused who is eventually found guilty four years in prison for precisely what happened and the role he played. Another person involved in the same crime might end up with 7, 8 or 10 years because the circumstances were not necessarily the same. We have to give the judge this room to manoeuvre so that he or she can use a balanced approach.

When we impose minimum sentences, there is no room for second thoughts. Regardless of the extenuating circumstances, a person who commits a crime and is found guilty will be given two years in prison, while under the current system he might have done a bit better than that. Depending on the case, we might be too strict or not strict enough, especially when minimum sentences are involved.

We are not addressing tax havens either. We heard that a few times in the speech before mine. That is where the fraudsters hide their loot. What point is there in ordering restitution of the hidden money when we are not addressing the issue of tax havens?

The Bloc Québécois has prepared a six-point plan to deal specifically with white-collar crime. They are effective measures. We also want to restore the confidence of victims and citizens in general. This confidence has been clearly undermined for two main reasons. I spoke earlier about release after serving one-sixth of a sentence. There is also the notorious two-for-one credit for time served before sentencing, which makes it possible for someone convicted of a crime to have double the amount of his time spent in preventive custody deducted from his sentence. He will obviously get out more quickly.

On September 2, 2009, to make life difficult for fraudsters and to prevent other investors from losing their life savings, the Bloc Québécois presented a plan to fight white-collar crime. This balanced plan consists of six measures: three of them target crime prevention in particular, two ensure that justice prevails when a guilty verdict is handed down, and one helps victims.

First, we are calling for the complete elimination of release after serving one-sixth of a sentence. If I remember correctly, when this session of parliament began, it was the first thing we asked for because we were right in the middle of the scandal of Vincent Lacroix from Norbourg. We expected all parties in this House to allow us to fast track this legislation. Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not agree.

We are also asking that the Criminal Code provisions on confiscating proceeds of crime be amended to include fraud of more than $5,000.

Next, we are calling for police forces to be reorganized, what concerns us here in the House of Commons and at the federal level being the RCMP, to create multidisciplinary squads specializing in economic crime. At present, the police are extremely competent, but we need to expand the range of skills, including for tax fraud cases, which are now significant and which very often exceed the basic skills of a police force. We have to have experienced accountants and lawyers who are well versed in all the tricks developed by these big fraud artists, particularly given that the fraud is often committed at the international level, using tax havens. The work of a mere investigator is not going to uncover all the ins and outs of these. When fraud artists, criminals, on this scale are discovered, we realize everything they have managed to do with sleight of hand and shell games to defraud thousands of people, often out of millions of dollars. And then we realize that we need to have multidisciplinary squads composed of people with a variety of skills, to be able to explain properly to the investigators exactly how these people have managed to operate. We would not have those people just to uncover things, but also to combat fraud artists who might be tempted to continue in that vein.

We are also calling for banks to have an obligation to report irregularities in trust accounts to the Autorité des marchés financiers and the user’s professional body. We recently had an example of this, and investigators are still trying to wade through this scandal: people used a bank to commit tax fraud, it seems, and to evade taxes, by investing the money in Switzerland. Obviously, we will know more as the investigation progresses.

We are also calling for a review of the amendments that could be made to the Income Tax Act to assist the victims, in particular by introducing a provision to allow victims of fraud to deduct the stolen money from their income, instead of those amounts being considered to be capital losses. Often what we try to do in these situations, as is to be expected, is either to combat the fraud or to arrest the people who committed it. Sometimes, however, we may unfortunately forget the victims. Well, in the measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois, the victims are not being forgotten. And so when we study Bill C-21 in committee, we will ask that we be able to make that amendment to the Income Tax Act.

We are also asking that the Income Tax Act be amended to put an end to the use of tax havens. This practice allows individuals and companies to hide money and avoid paying taxes. Many examples of this have been mentioned here in the House today.

I have a few minutes left to go into detail about my first point. Since 2007, we have been proposing that the chance of parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence be abolished. This idea is not new. It is not that we have just now realized what needs to be fixed. For three years, we have been asking that this measure be abolished as it undermines the credibility of the justice system. Abolishing it would allow us to extend prison sentences for those who commit fraud, even for those who have already been arrested and who are awaiting their criminal trial. It would contribute to restoring—

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

I was just interrupted by one of my colleagues.

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

An hon. member

A Liberal, at that.

Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Excuse me, Mr. Speaker. This element would allow us to restore our justice system's reputation.

All too often, convictions, even serious ones, lead to only a couple of months of jail time. That was the case with Vincent Lacroix. Although he was given the maximum sentence under the Quebec Securities Act, the Court of Appeal recently determined that the maximum sentence that can be imposed under the act is five years less a day. Mr. Lacroix was therefore able to leave prison after having served only one-sixth of his sentence. And that is when the justice system's reputation went out the window.

What is regrettable in the current parole system in Canada is that it undercuts the assessment the judge made in determining the sentence and tends to discredit the administration of justice in the eyes of the general public, which thinks, often quite rightly, that most sentences are not tough enough.

The Bloc Québécois therefore introduced a simple bill on September 14 for this sole purpose and with no surprises in it. The goal was to get it fast-tracked and give us some good tools to work with. Unfortunately, although the victims wanted the bill and there was a consensus around it in Quebec, the government explicitly refused to fast-track it, preferring to announce instead that it would introduce a bill at some unspecified date and to some unspecified end. So it is vague intention, a wish. We will see what comes of it, but as of September 14 we could have already fast-tracked legislation on parole after one-sixth of the sentence has been served.

Since June 2007, the Bloc Québécois has also been proposing amendments to the Criminal Code provisions on confiscating the proceeds of crime in order to include measures covering fraud over $5,000. Fraudsters who had been found guilty would be required to prove that their property was legally acquired, failing which proof, it would be seized. This would amount more or less to a reversal of the burden of proof. A measure like that would make life much more difficult for criminals of all kinds.

Third, there is the reorganization of the police.

We have a lot of measures, therefore, that could easily be implemented and that have been discussed for a long time. I think that when Bill C-21 is studied in committee, it would be good to put these measures back on the table to ensure that we have a bill with a bit more substance.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to debate tonight. We have been instructed and scheduled by the private members' office to follow up on a question this evening asked of the government last spring, and the subject is of great concern for many Canadians.

With the world attention centred on the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which cost billions of dollars in environmental damage over its five month leakage, I asked what specific plans the government had to ensure this devastation did not occur in Canada.

The minister told us that Canada had very strict offshore drilling regulations. However, in a recent follow up exchange I had with the government, it could not explain to me why our regulations did not even meet the stringent levels of regulations in place in Greenland.

The government of Greenland requires proponents applying for exploration licences to accompany their applications with a feasibility study and environmental impact assessment and a strategic impact assessment.

Fortunately the National Energy Board is keeping an eye on what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico to understand the situation better and to improve existing technology in Canada.

The minister forgets, however, that the NEB came within a hair this past summer of having hearings about allowing offshore drilling in the Arctic without relief wells until the pressure from the opposition forced the NEB to halt these hearings and hold hearings in the near future on all aspects of Arctic drilling and to be prepared should a drilling project be hit with a blowout or a spill.

What is also disappointing in the minister's answers is the failure to realize that, while he constantly has harped on Canadian drilling activity regulations in place, which we know are not quite adequate for the Arctic, and that there are no immediate plans for drilling in Canada, the current threat we are not prepared for could come from drilling activities in neighbouring international waters.

As we know, Shell had planned to drill this summer, but because of a moratorium, that is probably put off until next summer. However, drilling in fact occurred adjacent to our waters in Greenland this summer.

Not once did the minister refer to the responsibility of the Canadian Coast Guard to be the lead agency should such an incident cross into our waters. Fortunately for Canadians the Coast Guard knew of its responsibility and actually staged a mock oil spill clean up exercise in Arctic waters this past August.

Once again, Canadians are asking for the 12th time, with the government of Greenland and oil giants excited about preliminary results from offshore drilling this past summer, one could logically expect heighten drilling activity to take place off Canadian waters. How prepared is the government to deal with such a disaster should one happen from an adjacent neighbouring country?

Let me remind the minister that the time for lip service is over. Offshore drilling is happening in neighbouring waters. Our Canadian drilling standards are less stringent and do not match the best practices of some of our neighbours.

When it comes to safety, let me tell the House once again that since 2006 the government has spent no more than $10.25 million on research and development on methods to deal with offshore blowouts and offshore spills. There are no exact figures as to how much of that money was directed to the north and we still do not have the answer to clean up an oil spill.

Millions of Canadians were horrified as they watched the Gulf of Mexico spill, the largest environmental disaster in history. They assumed that our government had a plan to deal with it should such a disaster come from our drilling or drilling near our waters. They were equally horrified when the government was asked nine times last spring and had no answer, no plan, as to what it was planning to do if this happened in Canadian waters, and especially to protect our fragile Arctic.

The private members' office directed us to debate this tonight and we certainly hope that the parliamentary secretary can finally relieve Canadians and provide some information on what the government's plans for such a huge disaster in Canada.

6:30 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the strangest thing about this series of questions the member has asked is that it almost seems as if he is looking for some sort of a disaster so that he can take advantage of it in some kind of political sense.

The member knows full well that our government is committed to the safe, responsible and sustainable development of all of Canada's natural resources. He also knows that we rely on a strict arm's-length regulator to make science-based decisions and who has the responsibility of ensuring the protection of the public and the environment.

The member knows as well that there are currently no active authorizations for drilling of any kind in the Beaufort Sea and that the NEB has been safely regulating that activity for almost 20 years.

I think the real question tonight is one of credibility. The member wants to keep raising these questions and giving the impression that he is representing his people on these issues. On an issue that came up recently, I think 88% of the member's constituents were on one side of this issue. He stepped forward.

The other side is starting to heckle because they know full well what this is. This is an issue of integrity.

When it came to voting, the member opposite abandoned his constituents. He abandoned the north. He walked away from them. This was an issue that was key for Yukoners. It was a key issue for the aboriginal people and for Canadians across the country. Of course we are not talking about drilling. We are talking about the gun registry.

The member comes into the House pretending that he is representing Yukon but on an issue where he had almost 90% of his constituents on one side of the issue, he walked away from them. The reason he walked away is because he is representing Ottawa now more than he is representing Yukon.

I want to say that that will not happen on this side of the House because we do represent the local people. We are standing up for them. When I talk about the National Energy Board announcing a review of the Arctic safety and environmental offshore drilling requirements, we are doing that for the people of Yukon and the people of the north.

For the member opposite, it is a serious issue of abandoning his constituents. Can the member be trusted? I think that is what a lot of people are asking. There are people in here who are saying that he probably cannot be trusted because even in his own province the premier himself is wondering about the member from Yukon. His comment about what the member opposite did was to say that his government does not change its mind like the Liberals did on the long gun registry and that it does not hide from its verbal commitments to Yukoners. It backs it up with action. It is about trust and the Liberals are all in it together. He said that Yukoners cannot trust them.

Certainly if they cannot trust the member opposite on an issue where he had 88% support for his previous position, which he then switched because the Liberal leader told him to, I doubt if Yukoners can rely on him on issues regarding oil drilling, regulations and those kinds of things.

This is not a small thing that he changed. There was a motion introduced in the legislature in Yukon demanding that he return to the territory to explain his actions. The MLA who put that forward said that the Yukon government wanted to know why he chose to follow the dictates of the Liberal Party leader and breach his commitment to Yukoners by voting to save the long gun registry.

How or why would Yukoners trust the member on this oil drilling issue when they certainly could not trust him on the gun registry issue, even when he had 90% support for his previous position?

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for promoting Yukon to a province, but other than that he had a very dismal reply on oil drilling. He has actually failed the government again. The same parliamentary secretary had the option before and once again has failed the government.

The government has had 12 times now to suggest that it actually has a plan for cleanup. He said nothing about ships, harbours, booms, disbursements and nothing about what the Canadian government could do to protect the Canadian Arctic, which is a big fear for Canadians.

He has failed the minister who could not answer nine times. At least he could have come forward and suggested that the minister did have a plan and provide part of that plan.

He certainly failed himself by showing that he does not know anything about that portfolio or anything about what Canada could do to prevent us from being damaged by the greatest environmental accident in North American history.

This is a very sad day for Canadians and their desire to protect the fragile Arctic environment.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, for some strange reason the member has decided to get personal about this.

I can assure the member that I actually do know my portfolio. The energy board actually has announced a review of Arctic safety and environmental regulations. It is open to the public. The public is allowed to come and make its presentations. Last week the energy board released further details of it. He can look them up and find out what they are. We are pleased to point out things, including the issue of relief wells that will be one of the many important aspects of that study.

The member talked about failing people. I think he is the one who needs to acknowledge that he has completely failed his principles and his constituents. This government looks forward to representing and protecting the interests of Yukoners and folks in northern Canada, as we protect this country from sea to sea to sea.

October 4th, 2010 / 6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the question I asked on May 6, last, related to the current government's questionable record on ethics and how it seems to have established its own set of what is ethical. It talks a lot about rules, about law and order, but there are certainly different rules that apply to the government.

This is a Prime Minister who decides to set as an example, for all his caucus to consider, the treatment he meted out to the member for Simcoe—Grey. His ethical standard is simple, “Disappoint me in any way and I will not only remove you from cabinet but I will kick you out of caucus and, in the process, do everything in my power to ruin your reputation in the community”. That is the way the Prime Minister operated. No one, certainly not the current Prime Minister, has had the courage or the decency to explain his actions in regard to the treatment of the member for Simcoe—Grey.

Did the official opposition believe the member should have been removed from cabinet?

Absolutely. We felt she should, and we stated so.

However, did we, on this side of the House, ever demand that the member in question be kicked out of caucus, that the RCMP be manipulated by the Prime Minister personally to undertake an unwarranted investigation, which led nowhere?

Absolutely not. We did not.

These actions came out of the Prime Minister's Office, personally.

Where is the ethical bottom line for the current government and the current Prime Minister? What will the current Prime Minister not do to keep order in his caucus?

We now know that the RCMP found nothing, and although the member wants to come back into caucus, the Prime Minister stands by his position.

I would say to members opposite, the backbenchers of the governing party who jump like trained seals when the Prime Minister speaks, that if it can happen to the member for Simcoe—Grey, it can happen to any member on the government benches. Quite seriously, they have a leader who is prepared to destroy not only their political career but their and their family's reputation in the community if he sees advantage in doing so.

Members opposite should give that some thought, and they no doubt do, although I am certain we will not hear any admission of that on the floor of the House of Commons.

Let me close with the most recent example of a serious lapse in ethical behaviour by the current government.

Here is what the former House leader told this chamber on June 4, 2010:

Our ministers will not only be answering questions, as they do every day, in this chamber but at committee as well. Ultimately, it is they who are responsible for the actions of their staff and for their departments.

But that does not seem to apply to the current Minister of Natural Resources who, while minister of public works, had in his employ Sébastien Togneri. Mr. Togneri, in his testimony before the ethics committee, testimony given under oath, stated two things. One, he acknowledged that he had broken the law with respect to the Access to Information Act prohibiting the interference with an access to information request. Two, he stated that he was given the “informal” authority to be actively involved in the access to information files by his minister, the current Minister of Natural Resources.

Why has that minister not resigned? This government campaigned—

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board.

6:40 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in this House to address the questions of the hon. member opposite. It is a pleasure, but truth be told, today it is also a surprise. Why?

For weeks this past spring the hon. member from Malpeque stood in this House and demanded not just the resignation but the tarring and feathering of the former minister of state for the status of women. No defence was considered reasonable; no need for a hearing was considered warranted. Indeed, the member demanded her resignation on March 5, twice on March 10, on March 11, which is my birthday, on March 12, March 16, March 22, March 30, March 31, and twice on April 1. On April 19, after the former minister of state's resignation, he demanded to know why she had not resigned two years earlier. That is 12 times he demanded her resignation.

I mention this history only to explain my bewilderment at having to stand here today to explain to the member why the former minister of state is no longer a member of the ministry or of the Conservative caucus. After his repeated calls for her pound of flesh, I am puzzled to be here today to explain the ethical principles behind the actions of our Prime Minister.

The Liberals just cannot be consistent on this or on any other issue for that matter. For weeks they demanded the minister's resignation, yet today they demand to know why the minister resigned. We really are getting a full display of the Liberal's hypocrisy tonight. In fact, their blinding hypocrisy could light this chamber.

In contrast, our Prime Minister's record on dealing with matters of ethics is consistent and unblemished. Immediately upon taking office, our Prime Minister brought in the Federal Accountability Act, the toughest anti-corruption legislation in Canadian history. He has ended the revolving door between lobbying and government. He has banned big money from politics. He has expanded lobbyist transparency rules to include parliamentary secretaries, members of Parliament and staff in the official opposition leader's office. He has brought a significant increase in ethical standards to Parliament and this past spring, the Prime Minister again did the right thing in his dealings with the former minister of state.

The record shows that in every circumstance when presented with credible allegations of ethical impropriety, the Prime Minister has acted immediately and appropriately.

In the case of the former minister of state, serious allegations were brought to the Prime Minister's attention. Rather than sweep the issue under the rug, he did the right thing. He referred the matter to an independent third party. That is the high ethical standard our Prime Minister promised and that is the high ethical standard he has lived up to. The Prime Minister has set a high ethical standard for the conduct of his ministers and caucus.

The Liberal Party does not understand the concept of ethical standards for membership in its caucus. One Liberal member is pocketing tens of thousands of dollars for her taxpayer subsidized home. Another one is being charged for refusing to take a breathalyzer test. Now, to talk about ethics, how about the member for Malpeque promising his constituents that he would vote against the gun registry and then he flip-flopped and broke his word. How is that for ethics?

On this side of the House we take ethics seriously. Why can the Liberals not do the same?

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is really interesting how the government member tries to reinvent history. Of course we asked that the minister resign and for valid reasons. It has now been proven that the charges the Prime Minister laid against the member for Simcoe—Grey were not fact but were invented.

The parliamentary secretary talked about the Federal Accountability Act. The fact of the matter is, as we are learning more each and every day, that never in the history of Canada have we seen a government with such a level of secrecy and abuse of information laws as we have seen from the Conservative government. It is unprecedented. The Conservatives talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk.

When it comes to my riding of Malpeque, I have never said that I would vote against the gun registry. I made it clear that I would speak up for constituents. Members on that side of the House should not try to falsify that argument too.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member brought up freedom of information. This government's record speaks for itself. We fought for Canadians' right to know how their government operates and our record is clear.

We made 70 new crown corporations and institutions accountable to Canadians, something the Liberals refused to do. We increased the Information Commissioner's budget by 26%. This government has worked hard to improve transparency since the Liberal years.

Our rules with respect to access requests are clear. Political staff should not attempt to make access to information decisions. The record shows that transgressions in this regard have severe consequences.

The Minister of Natural Resources, like our Prime Minister, acted appropriately with the highest ethical standards by having the issue referred to the Information Commissioner and accepting the former staff member's resignation.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:50 p.m.)