Madam Speaker, today, the Liberal members are proposing debate on a motion that I believe, as I am sure you do, deals with a fundamental issue, namely, respect for the democratic rules that govern our society. It is even more important to ensure respect for these rules given the election rumours that are going around and that seem to be growing every day as March 22, the date for the tabling of the next Conservative budget, approaches.
The Bloc Québécois supports the Liberal motion before the House today and believes it is of the utmost importance that the Conservatives pay back the money they spent illegally during the 2005-06 election campaign. The Bloc Québécois believes that, not only must they repay the money they stole from the citizens of this country, but they must also, as quickly as possible, remove all individuals facing charges for this violation of the Canada Elections Act from any position of responsibility within government or the Conservative Party of Canada. In addition, these individuals must not be allowed to participate in future elections.
Year after year, as we have seen scandals of all kinds since the Conservatives came to power in Ottawa in January 2006, we have no choice but to recognize that the Conservative Party simply cannot and will not abide by democratic rules, and that it sees the Canada Elections Act as an obstacle that it may circumvent as it wishes. It can do anything it wants, anything that helps keep the party in power. Much like the majority of Canadians who care about respecting democratic rules, I believe that the Conservative government's ideology makes it truly incapable of respecting the most basic electoral rules that are common to modern democratic societies.
It is a good thing we have institutions like Elections Canada. This independent, non-partisan organization reports directly to Parliament. It is responsible for organizing elections and administering the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act. Furthermore, its mandate includes monitoring compliance and enforcing electoral legislation, to the great displeasure of those who try to circumvent it. We are truly privileged to live in a society that has such an organization to guarantee a truly healthy democracy. It is thanks to the work of that institution, which is responsible for defending our democratic rules, that the House has become aware of a scandal that dates back to the 2005-06 election campaign, which brought the Conservatives into power following a long Liberal reign, which also ended in a nasty scandal.
Although the Liberals are vehemently condemning the governing party's undemocratic behaviour today, we must not forget that, when it was in power, the Liberal Party of Canada created government programs with the primary but unspoken agenda to buy votes. The sponsorship program and the transitional jobs fund at Human Resources Development Canada enabled the Liberals to invest funds in ridings held by their political adversaries to buy the sympathy of voters. The Gomery inquiry uncovered an elaborate kickback scheme that enabled our Liberal friends to accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars in their election fund.
But let us get back to our Conservative friends who, at the time, wrapped themselves in a cloak of integrity and transparency, but who have since found other equally reprehensible schemes to cheat democracy and abuse the electoral system. It bears saying and repeating that the Conservatives will stop at nothing to gain power, and that is why, in 2007, the Conservative Party had the audacity to sue Elections Canada in Federal Court because it refused to reimburse the election expenses of 67 candidates, including 27 in Quebec.
The dispute was over what we commonly refer to as an in and out system, which the Conservatives implemented and which enabled them, in 2006, to conceal national expenses by passing them off as local election expenses. Strangely, the Federal Court of Canada ruled in favour of the Conservative Party, but Elections Canada had the good sense to appeal, and a ruling was issued on March 1, 2011, by the Federal Court of Appeal, which overruled the earlier decision of the Federal Court. The ruling handed down on March 1 confirms Elections Canada's interpretation that the Conservatives violated the Canada Elections Act by using in and out financing.
The Conservative Party had almost reached its spending limits, so it spread $1.3 million that it spent on national ads among Conservative candidates who had not reached their personal spending limits.
According to Elections Canada, this money, which was purportedly used to fund local Conservative Party ads, was actually used for national ads. In its ruling, the Federal Court of Appeal said that if the Conservative Party were allowed to use that strategy, which the party still claims is legitimate, it would:
--weaken compliance with the limits set by Parliament on the amount of money that candidates may spend on their election and can recover by way of reimbursement from public funds. Abuses could well proliferate, and the statutory objective of promoting a healthy democracy through levelling the electoral playing field undermined.
It should be made clear that, in addition to this ruling, the Conservatives will be in Ontario Provincial Court on March 18, to defend charges laid by William Corbett, the Commissioner of Elections Canada, who began a parallel inquiry into the same transactions that the Chief Electoral Officer was so concerned about.
Mr. Corbett decided to lay charges against the Conservative Party and four high-ranking officials from the party, including two senators. Elections Canada has accused them of election fraud for supposedly having hidden overspending during the 2006 federal elections.
The Conservatives are even saying that everything was done legally. They are claiming to be the victims and they are even claiming that Elections Canada is taking revenge on the Conservative Party for its 2007 lawsuit against Elections Canada for refusing to refund dozens of candidates' election expenses.
But none of that holds water. The documents included in the Elections Canada affidavit and its annexes prove that.
During the 2005-06 election campaign, when they realized that the party was about to exceed its authorized spending limit, high-ranking Conservative Party officials developed a national advertising campaign scheme paid for by local candidates.
There were 67 Conservative candidates involved, and a number of them are cabinet members in the government of the Prime Minister, whose name I cannot say in the House, but whose name the Conservative government uses shamelessly, instead of the “Government of Canada”. I was saying that a good number of the candidates involved in this in and out scheme, deemed illegal by Elections Canada, today are ministers or hold senior positions in the Prime Minister's office. Alarm bells went off at Elections Canada in October 2006 and it has been investigating the Conservative government ever since.
In short, we will not be fooled under the circumstances: the Conservatives' version and their explanations do not hold water. The Prime Minister himself criticized Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, after the 2007 court case seeking reimbursement from Elections Canada. When he was the president of the National Citizens Coalition, he called him the “perfect politician” capable of “providing the wrong answers to questions that no one asks”, and above all “having a public agenda”. These are criticisms that the Conservatives are again trotting out even though Mr. Kingsley is no longer there.
It is obvious that the Conservative leader prefers to blame the messenger rather than dealing with the source of the problem, which is the party itself.