Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that before we began this discussion today, you pointed out that the member who was the subject of this report is no longer in the House. If we are going to look at these issues as parliamentarians, we have to look at the larger implications rather than the individual behaviour of a member who, as you quite rightly pointed out, is no longer here to defend herself. That is something we should be reminded of.
All members of the House are very aware of the issues with the former member for Simcoe-Grey and her husband, Mr. Jaffer, in connection with the question of lobbying improprieties. That was ruled upon by the Ethics Commissioner. Once again, the Ethics Commissioner has given us an excellent report, and we greatly value the work of the Ethics Commissioner.
This matter should be moved to committee for study now because it is important to make sure that we learn the lessons from it, because as you will hear, Mr. Speaker, as I speak today, there are a number of questions about the inconsistencies, the gaps in testimony, the difficulty that the Ethics Commissioner stated she had in receiving evidence. This issue is larger than the behaviour of an individual member. If the Ethics Commissioner is charged to examine an issue, we have to ensure that he or she has the full resources and the ability to open the necessary doors. That is the reason we believe it should be moved on to committee to be examined.
A couple of key elements are germane to this discussion. One is that at the very beginning of her report, the Ethics Commissioner talks about how she was contacted by the Prime Minister's Office, which advised her to seek advice from a private investigator who would provide more information to the Ethics Commissioner on the allegations against Ms. Guergis and her husband. The Ethics Commissioner writes that she did contact the private investigator and was told that he had no allegations to present. At the time, this move by the Prime Minister attracted a great deal of media attention and perhaps may have prejudiced the case against Ms. Guergis somewhat. There is the question of why the Prime Minister intervened, sent the letter and told the Ethics Commissioner to speak with a private investigator, and then the private investigator clearly said that he had nothing to offer.
This is not the first time that the Ethics Commissioner has been led down the garden path by government members looking to deal perhaps more with partisan protection of their own party than with the larger issue at hand. We know that just a few weeks ago the Ethics Commissioner had to speak out on the role of the ethics committee and on the allegations made by the member for Peterborough against the New Democratic Party in a letter, thus creating a whole committee hearing based on allegations. The Ethics Commissioner had to come and say she was never presented with any evidence. She wanted to know how she could be expected to do her job if a member on the government side--the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, in this case--made wild, unfounded accusations against an individual or against a political party and then refused to back them up. The impact in the media is that something terrible has occurred.
The Ethics Commissioner's job is to go through the evidence. She had obviously asked the member for Peterborough to present the evidence to back up the allegations. He did not bother to do that. He actually took it to committee, where he made further, and in some cases, wild, hairy, outrageously bizarre accusations. However, not one of these accusations was backed up with any evidence. I think the Ethics Commissioner felt she was being used politically in a stunt, so the question of why the Prime Minister asked the Ethics Commissioner to speak with a private investigator who was not able to provide any evidence is certainly among the first questions that need to be asked.
As well, numerous inconsistencies and gaps in witness testimony were raised in the report. In particular, the Ethics Commissioner points out that Ms. Guergis and Mr. Jaffer, the husband and wife couple, both former members of Parliament, appeared to have difficulty remembering details around the events of August and September of 2009, including the letter that she wrote, the details surrounding that letter and the business dealings Mr. Jaffer had with the companies of Mr. Wright. She was unable to get a clear answer from them.
This is the central issue of the investigation. What was that business relationship? How did Mr. Jaffer play his role as an amateur lobbyist, while his wife was a cabinet minister? We should have been able to get clear answers, but none of those answers were given in a clear or straightforward manner. The Ethics Commissioner reported on this. Ms. Guergis and Mr. Jaffer are not here to explain their roles.
We need to look at this in terms of parliamentary procedure. We have to ensure that when the Ethics Commissioner is tasked with examining serious allegations of conflict of interest, that she is able to get the answers.
The other element that the commissioner raised in her report was the difficulty in obtaining documentary evidence. This again is key for us in order to ensure that the rules were followed.
I think members will agree with me that the case of Mr. Jaffer offering to help friends of his by opening doors to the Prime Minister's Office and the Conservative Party represents the new face of lobbying that we are seeing. Former members, former people with ties to the Conservative Party, are using their role to offer influence, but are not necessarily coming forward as lobbyists. They are flying under the radar.
There is a larger question of Mr. Jaffer and his role with Green Power Generation. Under the Lobbying Act, are we ensuring that the way this system is set up is actually working? We know the vast majority of the 5,000 or some lobbyists who troll various parts of the Hill at given times follow the rules. They write down with whom they meet. Some of them represent small volunteer organizations, while some represent very large powerful interests. The fact is free floaters like Mr. Jaffer come in and set up meetings. He was under the radar. This could have serious implications on the credibility of our system.
The difficulty faced by the Ethics Commissioner in getting documentary evidence on such a case needs to be examined.
Mr. Jaffer told the Ethics Commissioner that he did not engage in work with Green Power Generation between his arrest on September 11, 2009, and mid to late October 2009, yet the Ethics Commissioner found that he was involved with Green Power Generation. He had discussions with Mr. Gillani's lawyer on September 16, 2009, about a contract. Emails were going back and forth. There were several discussions and at least one meeting with Mr. Wright in late September and ongoing 2009 about continuing work with them. Clearly the evidence that he gave contradicted the evidence the commissioner found.
What was used in their defence was the fact that they were not compensated. My friend from Winnipeg has often said, “Just because you're a bad lobbyist doesn't mean you are not a lobbyist. Just because you didn't end up making any money, doesn't mean you didn't contravene the act”.
The fact that they did not end up making money out of this might be indicative of a couple of things. First, fortunately the light was shone on those corners fairly quickly and we saw them scurry off. Second, we understand that they were not doing this because it was seen as a benevolent society. There was clearly an understanding that if they were not compensated now, there would be compensation down the road. This is exactly the findings of the Ethics Commissioner. She states:
Even if Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud did not expect to be compensated specifically for their work...it would be reasonable to conclude that the prospect of a longer term relationship with International Strategic Investments or Wright Tech and Green Rite would depend on Green Power Generation’s ability to add value to the business projects related to these companies....I therefore conclude that the work of Mr. Jaffer and Green Power Generation...was carried out with the expectation of future financial reward.
This is something that any average Canadian is going to understand. Obviously, if they were opening doors for a company to get contracts, they were doing it for the sense of financial benefit not just for the betterment of the human race. The fact that Mr. Jaffer was using his position as a former parliamentarian and as the husband of a key cabinet minister was obviously a question of conflict of interest.
This then relates to the other part of the marriage partnership. It was Ms. Guergis who said that she distanced herself and yet she wrote letters on behalf of interests. It was clearly found for the purposes of this inquiry that she had acted to further a private interest or had attempted to do so.
The findings of the Ethics Commissioner stand. They are not surprising to anyone who followed the case.
The issue is how often is this happening behind the scenes? How many other former parliamentarians are opening doors to friends? How many people are making financial arrangements based on the fact that it is who one knows in the PMO?
That is why the document does need to be examined. Even though it relates to an event that happened before the last election, the issues are still germane now.
I am more than willing to take any questions from my good friends and colleagues in the House.