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House of Commons Hansard #141 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, for Canadians who are watching, there is nothing incorrect about the national campaign and local campaign transferring money back and forth. However, it becomes illegal when the purpose of that transfer is to avoid legal spending limits. The allegation and charges against Conservatives today concern the federal party exceeding its limit nationally and trying to get around that by transferring funds to local campaigns, which were transferred immediately back so they could try to make it look like national advertising was transferred to the local campaigns. In doing so, the party exceeded the national campaign limit of $18 million by $1 million.

The ads that were placed were clearly of a national nature. They were not local ads. This is unlike the New Democrats' situation, where funds were transferred from the national campaign to the local campaign for local ads. That is the key difference and that is why the New Democrats have not been charged.

The Conservatives find themselves charged under the Canada Elections Act for exceeding legal campaign spending limits.

I wonder if that distinction could be commented on by my hon. colleague.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I will respond to the hon. member's question through you as follows. First, a request was made by the Conservative Party. We won our case before the Federal Court, Trial Division. We lost our case before the Federal Court of Appeal. The score is currently one to one. The parties have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court.

I would like to point out that Elections Canada lost the first round. It did not lose the second round; it lost the first. There was a hearing that lasted several days. As a result, it cannot be said today that Elections Canada suddenly changed.

Nevertheless, here is what Elections Canada did, for example. It is another point. Elections Canada filed criminal charges against representatives of the Conservative Party.

I would like to point out that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. I will not hold a trial here since these people are not even here to defend themselves.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Mississauga South.

I am going to read the motion again because I really want it to be understood:

That, in the opinion of House, the Conservative Party of Canada's “in and out” electoral financing scheme was an act of electoral fraud and represents an assault on the democratic principles upon which Parliament and our electoral system are based, and that, further, the House calls upon the Prime Minister to: (a) order the immediate repayment of any and all illegally obtained electoral rebates that were paid out to candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada as a result of the “in and out” fraud; and (b) remove all individuals facing charges for this fraud from any position of responsibility within Government or the Conservative Party of Canada.

Everyone who is responding from the Conservative side of the House say that it is none of the business of this House. Well it is, because all of us when we were elected to this House had to sign that we agreed with the Canada Elections Act. The idea of democracy being put in jeopardy is a good enough reason for the House to discuss this issue.

The Court of Appeal ruled against the Conservative government on February 28, 2011 and charged four senior Conservatives, including two sitting senators with wilfully exceeding spending limits in the 2006 campaign and with providing false and misleading statements.

As the court said, this breaking of the law would “weaken compliance with the limits set by Parliament”, which is where we are now, and “abuses could well proliferate, and the statutory objective of promoting a healthy democracy through levelling the electoral playing field” would be undermined.

That is why we are discussing this issue in the House. It is about democracy and Parliament has a role to play.

We have heard a lot of answers in this House from the Conservatives. I just want to mention very quickly what happened.

According to the Court of Appeal and Elections Canada, everyone is allowed to transfer funds from the national body to a local riding. That money goes to pay for advertising for the local riding, which directly--and the word “directly” is consistently used--benefits the local candidate.

When the other parties did that, they followed the rule of law. However, the Conservative Party did it but did not put forward ads that benefited the local candidates at all. They put forward the same old big national ad.

Why did the Conservatives do it? They did it because they wanted to be able to spend another $1.2 million over the limit, which they had already spent, in what was a very close campaign and in which they knew that advertising would give them the edge.

Not only did they do that knowing that they had contravened the Canada Elections Act by doing exactly that and not directly benefiting the candidates to whom the money was sent, but they also set up an elaborate accounting scheme to make sure that no one could see what they did. It was a shell game. In fact, as the Court of Appeal said, it was a scheme. It was deliberately set up to defraud and fool people into believing that something else had happened. That is the gist of this whole issue.

When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister stands in the House and says that the transfer of advertising money was something that everybody else did, that they moved money back and forth, he is being cute. Actually, he is being very deceitful in what he is saying because that is not true. It is very clear in the act what is meant to happen and what in fact this party did.

Not only that, there were candidates who thought they smelled a rat. I want to quote some Conservative candidates.

Joseph Goudie, the Conservative candidate for Labrador said:

It most certainly did smell to me...for a national party, or any kind of a political party, to benefit in what I perceive to be an underhanded manner, using not just my campaign but many others across the country, left me with a feeling of being used.

Liberato Martelli, the Conservative candidate for Bourassa, said:

I was told it would be deposited and quickly withdrawn....I was told there would be invoices but I never saw them.... When I joined that party, I believed its vision at the time...I came to the realization they don't have as much integrity as they claim.

The third candidate, Cynthia Downey, the Conservative candidate for Random—Burin—St. George's said: “[Harper] gives his word, and he breaks his word. If I--”

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would like to remind all members that the Speaker earlier reminded members that it is not permitted to quote directly verbatim from an article referring to the name of a sitting member.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, she said, “[He] gives his word, and he breaks his word. If I can’t have a leader that I can look up to and respect, I have no need to be part of something that is not honest and above board.”

Even a long-standing member of Parliament many of us respect, who is no longer in Parliament as he resigned his seat last year, who was the member for Dauphin--Swan River, said that his staff was contacted by party officials during the 2006 election campaign. He said the officials asked if they could deposit several thousand dollars in his campaign account and withdraw it later to buy advertising. He wondered why they would given him money and take it back. It did not make sense, so he said, “no thanks”.

There are many people with some integrity who thought that it did not smell right. We know the old saying that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like duck, it has to be a duck. A lot of people thought they saw a duck and did not want to participate in the scheme.

However, there are other issues. We have a sense that the government always, whenever someone asks questions about accountability or asks it to explain certain things, it has a tendency to start blaming everybody.

First and foremost, we have a parliamentary secretary who said, “It was not just us. Everybody else did it”, and started naming the people who did it. In fact, Elections Canada did not accuse any of the political parties or members who were named of anything at all.

The next thing that was said was, “Elections Canada does not like us. Obviously, Elections Canada is out to get us”. So there is the second tranche of people who do not want to take responsibility, who are becoming very paranoid and saying, “They are all doing it because they do not like us”.

Then there is a third piece. The parliamentary secretary said, “We believe that we did not break the law”. So it was immediate denial. Then he said, “I know the Court of Appeal said I broke it, but that's okay. The law has been made by this government and the law should be broken by this government if this government did not particularly like the law."

In all of this we see a government that is defensive and sometimes dismissive with answers in the House with members of Parliament laughing and thinking it is very funny, making it sound as though it is no big deal, that a member does not know what he is talking about and everyone is out to get the Conservatives and that it never really happened. It is beginning to sound like a petulant eight-year-old who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and is now saying, “Don't look at me. It's not my fault." This is not mature behaviour. This is not the kind of behaviour we expect from a government that ran in 2006 saying it was going to be accountable, that it was going to do everything above board, that it was going to bring in a new generation of ethics to this place.

We have seen none of that happen. We have seen some members who were liked by the government but given the back door immediately when they stepped on the wrong foot. We have to remember the former secretary of state for status of women who was kicked out of caucus without anyone finding anything wrong and they still have not found anything wrong. Yet, we see ministers sitting in the House day after day who have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, who have been caught falsifying documents, who have been caught using the office of the minister to do party work and they are still here. We see senators who have been charged with illegal activity, whether they have been found guilty or not, still sitting in the Senate.

What about the double standard? I really would like to understand the double standard that the government likes to use when it talks about anything that it does.

If the government felt and the Conservative Party felt that it was doing no wrong, why did it not co-operate with Elections Canada and give up the documents?

The RCMP had to go into its offices and seize the documents. That is a real indictment on the attitude of the government that feels it does not have to be accountable to anyone at all. I have never heard of political parties and governments not co-operating when they are asked to give information or when they are asked to hand over documents.

It is obvious that the Conservative Party knew that it had done something wrong and documents had to be seized from it by the RCMP.

Finally, it is the party that closed down government and prorogued--

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the member there because it is time for questions and comments.

The hon. member for Oak Ridges—Markham.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is not often that I enjoy the Liberal members' speeches because they usually do not really talk about a lot. But today in particular the Liberals are so upset. They cannot accept the fact that in 2006 their government was thrown out of office as one of the most corrupt governments in the history of this country. It is driving them crazy that they were thrown out, that the people of Canada turned their backs on them. It is driving them crazy that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are donating to the Conservative Party because they know we are a good government.

I have been searching high and low across my riding for just a portion of the $40 million that was stolen by the previous Liberal government. I would ask the member a couple of questions.

First, does she know where we can look to find some of the $40 million that the Liberals stole in buying the 2000 election? Is the reality not that they are talking about this motion today because we are a couple of weeks away from a budget and they have nothing to offer Canadian families? They have nothing to offer the people of Canada. They have nothing to offer the armed forces. They have nothing to offer for the environment. They have nothing to offer for natural resources. The Liberals have nothing to offer the people of Canada, so they are going to do everything in their power to try to avoid talking about the things that matter to Canadians; the economy and jobs. Is that not the bottom line?

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, it always amuses me that while I made a speech in which I quoted the facts from the Court of Appeal and from Elections Canada, and everything that was laid out was factual, but the hon. members across the way, as soon as we put the facts in their faces, they begin to get personal. They begin to be dismissive of other people who are hon. colleagues in the House. It is a trick that they always use. It is something I learned when I was in university and we were learning debating, that when they do not have an argument or a point to make, they begin to get personal and they vilify individuals. I will not bite on that bait--

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

You stole $40 million from us.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

When I am allowed to answer the question, I will.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. member asked a question. I am sure all hon. members would like to listen to the response. I will give the member for Vancouver Centre a few more seconds to wrap up.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, again it is a matter of they shoot everybody down, obfuscate, make a lot of noise just so people will not listen.

Again, it is like that small child who puts his hand over his ears when he is told, “Look at what you did”, and he just says, “Do not tell me, I am not listening”. That tells us the maturity of the government.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the reason the Conservatives have been charged in this particular case is that they were actually spending over the limits. The opposition motion is very reasonable. It asks for the “immediate repayment of any and all illegally obtained electoral rebates that were paid out to candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada as a result of the 'in and out' fraud”.

The question is why not just simply pay it back?

It would not be the first time that parties, without mentioning any names, in other jurisdictions have been in trouble with the elections authority in their jurisdiction and have simply paid back the money. The Conservatives have had five years to do this. They could have done that.

The motion also asks to “remove all individuals facing charges for this fraud from any position of responsibility within Government or the Conservative Party of Canada”. What is wrong with that?

If they used some common sense, they could extricate themselves from a problem that they have developed for themselves. It continues to fester and snowball and it did not have to be this way.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member makes a great point. When people are ethically challenged they believe they can do no wrong and that whatever they do, no matter how wrong it is, that it is right because they did it.

There is a definition for this in the DSM, about people who are terribly ethically challenged and do not believe they can do any wrong. If they did believe they could not do any wrong and if they are waiting to see if they did, the decent and ethical thing to do would be to say “I will remove the persons who have been charged. I will put the money back in a place where it can be retrieved and I will therefore show that I am behaving ethically”.

However, denial has nothing to do with ethics.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate. This is all about the Conservative Party's abuse of power and its belief that it is above the rules and above the law. That is a very serious statement to make, so I want to see if I can explain to the House and to Canadians why.

Four members of the Prime Minister's inner circle, including two Conservative senators, his former campaign director and the chief financial officer, face potential jail time after being charged with what amounts to electoral fraud as part of a $1.2 million scam to exceed national campaign spending limits in the 2006 election. As well, we found out today that the Prime Minister's current chief of staff, Mr. Nigel Wright, has also been associated with this scam. I listened to the debate all day today. The Conservatives have come back with one defence, and that is that everyone does it. That is patently false.

The motion before us encourages the Prime Minister to order the immediate repayment of any and all illegally obtained electoral rebates that were paid out to candidates of the Conservative Party of Canada as a result of this electoral fraud.

With regard to persons who have been charged, the motion urges the removal of all individuals, the two senators in particular who are facing charges for this fraud, from any position of responsibility within the government or the Conservative Party of Canada.

Let me see if I can explain in basic terms what in and out really means. If we really want to confuse people it is pretty easy with this one because parts can be left out. I will try to explain.

There was a transfer of $1.2 million to a large number of Conservative candidates in the 2006 election. That is legal because it is political money that is going to support the different aspects of a campaign. There is no problem with that. Then there was an immediate transfer of the same amount of money, $1.2 million, from those candidates back to the party. There is nothing wrong with that because there are no consequences. No receipting is involved. That money has already been receipted. It is simply within the political party system. No expenses are associated with that. It is basically a wash.

The transfer of the cash in and out has no consequences whatsoever and should not be considered in this debate. What should be considered is that the Conservative Party spent the legal limit of $18.3 million on its national advertising campaign. However, the party had more money and it had to figure out a way to get more of the cash spent during the campaign without getting charged with exceeding the limit for advertising.

The Conservatives came up with the idea that if their national advertiser, Retail Media, made the national ads it could provide an invoice. The Conservatives spent $1.2 million on it. If they had stopped right there they would have exceeded their limit. To get around that, the Conservatives made their own invoices and broke the $1.2 million down into smaller invoices and sent them to Conservative candidates. The overspending of $1.2 million was distributed among various candidates as if they had bought advertising. Although the cash had no impact on anything, the fact that they were able to transfer this expenditure among all of those candidates allowed those candidates to claim the invoice as an election expense.

Because advertising expenses are a legitimate election expense, they were then allowed to claim an election expense as a rebate, which is equal to 60% of the amount spent. Of the $1.2 million of invoices they gave to all the candidates, those candidates collectively charged election expenses of $1.2 million and received a rebate of $800,000.

Where did that 60% come from? It came from the taxpayers of Canada. They footed the bill for $800,000 just because the Conservatives figured out a scheme on how they could ratchet down the access cash they had into ridings and falsely claim them as election expenses.

It went to the courts. The government has said that this is an administrative dispute. The Federal Court of Appeal has looked at everything and, by unanimous decision, has said this constitutes electoral fraud. Four people have been charged. People are facing jail time. Moneys will have to be recovered. It is really a mess. Yet the government continues to be defiant and says that it will fight it in the courts.

The government will not pay for this. The Conservative Party will pay for the court case. However, as I said before, the Conservative Party gets its money from donations from taxpayers. That means this charade of playing it off in the courts will be paid for by the taxpayers of Canada. It is outrageous that Conservatives want to continue this all these years later. That is my breakdown.

If they are absolutely convinced that this is just an administrative disagreement, why did they filibuster the procedure and House affairs committee for six months? The committee tried to examine it and the Conservatives filibustered.

Then it was brought to the ethics committee and it was filibustered there again, but the committee finally got it on the floor. Then there were witnesses. What happened? The Conservative candidates and their official agents told those witnesses not to appear. Then the committee issued subpoenas? What did the Conservative Party do? It told the witnesses who were subpoenaed to ignore the subpoenas, to ignore the law. Then the Conservatives called an election to shut it down.

That brings us up to the 2008 election.

When the House resumed, what did the Conservatives do? It was not the Federal Accountability Act, I can assure everyone of that. The first thing they did was to produce a 200-page binder on how to disrupt committees and the House to make them look totally dysfunctional.

I am not sure of the rationale, but I think it is something like this. If the Conservatives make this entire place look dysfunctional, then everyone is treated the same, everyone is the same down at the bottom rung and nobody wins. They are happy with that because they believe they can beat other parties at the polls simply by the money they have to buy votes. That is my view.

As I have only one minute left, I would seek the unanimous consent of the House for an extra three minutes.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the member have the unanimous consent of the House?

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a defined and un-cooperative government. It prorogues when it gets into hot water. It refuses to respect the rights and privileges of parliamentarians to call for persons, papers or records, Afghan detainee documents, finance committee requests for information. Conservatives are not open, or transparent, or accountable. They are prone to secrecy and they cannot be trusted to tell the truth. They have contempt for Parliament, democracy and the law.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the previous speaker. He used the phrase, “We believe the Conservatives are above the rule of law”.

I would like to remind him that I have with me an 84-page ruling of the Federal Court dated January 18, 2010. I do not have time to read the entire report. I will not ask for unanimous consent for extra time to read it. However, I want to remind our colleagues, “The decisions made by the respondent”, which is Elections Canada, “on or around April 23, 2007 to exclude from the amount of reimbursement calculated under section 465 of the Canada Elections Act”. It goes on, “are set aside and the matter is referred back to the respondent”, which is Elections Canada.

It goes on to say:

With regard to the candidates’ electoral campaign returns submitted under section 451...the cost incurred, or non-monetary contributions received, by said candidates during the 2006 election with respect to their participation in the regional media buy...program, are candidate election expenses within the meaning of sections 406 and 407 of the Act.

At the end it says, “Elections Canada shall recalculate the amount of reimbursement to give the candidates that they had actually” There is clear evidence that the Federal Court has ruled in favour of the Conservative Party—

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, he is reading the wrong document. The Federal Court of Appeal found the Conservatives guilty of electoral fraud.

I have a list of 14 senior civil servants who were pushed out of government because they disagreed with the Conservatives. I wish I could read them in.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons gave a speech and he said, “A slur never created a job”. Let us talk about slurs. Let us talk about advertising that appeared on the Olympics, on the Oscars and on the Super Bowl.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will ask the House, as there are a few minutes left before the vote is taken, to tone it down a little so we can listen to the rest of the response.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

The Super Bowl, the Olympics and the Oscars, Mr. Speaker. Imagine how much it costs to run attack ads and slurs against another parliamentarian? Who paid for that? The taxpayers because the Conservative Party and the other political parties do not have their own money. They collect it from taxpayers who get electoral receipts.

No slur created a job, and the parliamentary secretary is absolutely right.

Opposition Motion—Electoral FinancingBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, even that is being evinced in this debate, but I would like to bring back some rationality. I think all members of the House agree that we should be respecting taxpayers dollars and all members of the House ought to respect the fact that we have laws in the country that govern our electoral financing.

I want to come back again to what I think is a fair characterization of the issue, which is the federal Conservatives, in 2006, came up against their national election spending limit, which was $18 million, or thereabouts. When they came up against that, they transferred funds to local campaigns, which then transferred the money immediately back, effectively diverting an additional $1 million of national campaign ads over and above their national allowed ceiling.

The issue is whether the Conservatives broke the election laws by spending effectively $19 million on election ads. I am struck by the fact that those election ads, when we saw them on television, were not of a local nature. They were identical to the national advertising.

Could we have some comment from my hon. colleague on how they explain exceeding that—