Madam Speaker, my colleague provided a good explanation of the in and out financing scandal. I will show that this is a perfect example of the abuse of power by the Prime Minister, who believes he is above the law.
Government expects citizens to obey the law. Citizens should be able to expect government to obey the law as well. They should also expect political parties who want to form the government to obey the law, particularly in an election based on the need to increase transparency and accountability. I believe this goes right to the character and integrity of the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party of Canada.
Integrity means that one acts with principles. Accountability means that somebody is watching and that one will try to do one's best. However, this comes to an almost sociopathic or psychopathic end in that what is right is regarded as what one gets away with and what is wrong is what one is caught doing, and that when one gets caught doing something wrong, one says that everyone else is doing it.
Spending limits matter in the democracy in our country. The restrictions on party spending were put in place to limit the influence of money on the outcome of elections and to level the playing field. It was viewed as undemocratic that a party with the most money would win because of the money it was able to spend.
We are also concerned that throughout the Conservative's defence, the truth has been a serious victim. Even the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister had said that the Conservatives alerted Elections Canada to the in and out scheme. That is not true. An Elections Canada auditor noticed the unusual pattern of wire transfers and then a Conservative candidate and several campaign workers explained how the national party had instructed them in the in and out scheme. One of them called the transactions, “in and out”, and that is where this scandal got its name.
It is also extraordinary that when they were caught doing this, the Conservatives had the audacity to go to court to get their ill-gotten dollars back in spite of what we now understand. For example, in the books of the riding of Hull—Aylmer, it had $12,000 in its account at the beginning of the election, but after a transfer from the national party of $50,000 or so, it ended up with $36,000 at the end of the campaign. Clearly it was $24,000 better off with taxpayer dollars from a falsely obtained rebate.
It is also not true that other parties did the same thing. As my colleague said, there is only one party being charged with this. There was only one headquarters raided. There is a very big difference between this and the legitimate transfers to or from a riding association to central headquarters. That is fundamentally different from what happened here, where a party ended up being able to exceed a spending limit and ended up with taxpayer dollars in Conservative riding associations.
This is a party and Prime Minister for whom the end always justifies the means. If you or I were asked by the Canada Revenue Agency to show our books, then we would show our books. This party had to have its headquarters raided, from which sloppily forged invoices were found. The company in question, Retail Media, was able to say that those were not their invoices and that they were indeed forged.
I would like to set the context. This is a Prime Minister who never liked election spending limits and actually went as far as the Supreme Court as the president of the National Citizens Coalition to try to fight against limits on third party advertising in an election. I think this Prime Minister never really liked Elections Canada and saw them as a certain irritant in the way. Of course, he comes from a province where there are no spending limits.
Let us go back in time to November 28, 2005 when there was a vote of non-confidence in the House. From November 25 to January 23, there was a writ of 55 days long. That is 20 days longer than most writs. It seems that at that time the Liberals had a five to ten point lead in the polls and were in strong minority territory.
In mid-December, someone in Conservative Party noticed that they were actually close to the spending limit and thought, “Oh my word, what are we going to do?” Here, I want to take members to some dimly lit office here on the Hill with a Blofeld-like character, the evil genius and arch enemy of goodness, fairness and democratic principles, who came up with a big idea.
The idea was that the campaign would use and in and out scheme. Moreover, what if there were a big bonus of an extraordinary media buy and another big bonus of money actually ending up in poor riding associations? That was is in a campaign whose platform talked about standing up for accountability and banning secret donations to political candidates.
As the Ottawa Citizen said in its editorial on March 4:
Campaign spending rules are in place for a reason: to ensure a reasonably level "playing field" during a campaign. Because one candidate may not reach his or her limit doesn't mean the party should be able to overspend on the national campaign as a result.
....the Appeal Court ruled that “the Respondents' interpretation could weaken compliance with the limits set by Parliament on the amount of money that candidates can spend on their election and can recover by way of reimbursement of public funds. Abuses could well proliferate, and the statutory objective of promoting a healthy democracy through levelling the electoral playing field undermined.”
We know that the party and the Prime Minister must have known that not everyone thought this was in the rules. In fact, its previous candidate, David Marler, a lawyer who ran for the party in 2006, turned party officials down when asked to deposit money in his campaign account and almost immediately remove it for national advertising. About 66 other candidates agreed to the request, but not David Marler. As he stated:
It always seemed to me that the in-and-out was irregular and illegal.... It is gratifying to note that the Federal Court (of Appeal) has come to the same opinion, which always seemed to me to be obvious. I think they’re doing the right thing by prosecuting the alleged offenders.
Tom Flanagan has talked about the alleged ad laundering scheme, and many have indeed called this money laundering. In the Brandon Sun, Mia Rabson reported that:
Former Manitoba Conservative MP Inky Mark said his party was wrong to claim $1.3 million in national advertising expenses paid for by its local candidates in the 2006 election.
Mark spoke out immediately afterwards and said that “It smelled”. He recalled:
I asked what was the point.... It just didn't make any sense.
Mark said that he believes they asked him to accept about $8,000 but that:
From my point of view, if I took the money and pretended I spent it and then made a claim for it with Elections Canada, that's wrong.
I guess Conservatives thought it was a brilliant scheme and that Elections Canada was stupid, but they had the audacity to ask for the rebates back, which is evident when we see the books of the Conservative riding association in Hull—Aylmer.
The Conservatives would like Canadians to believe that it is just an accounting dispute. That is not true. Accountants are not usually accused of forging invoices or fleecing taxpayers of $800,000 by having Conservative ridings apply for rebates of inflated election expenses.
The Conservatives would like us to believe that this is a standard practice. That is not true. The Conservative Party is the only party facing such charges, the only party whose headquarters was searched by the RCMP, and the only party that left a trail of forged invoices that it must now explain.
What is also very telling in terms of character is to see the intimidation that took place, with the leadership calling people who had refused “idiots” and “turds”. There were emails between these riding associations, particularly the one in Oxford, where the campaign manager, a former police officer, felt uncomfortable doing this.
Liberals think that is an extraordinary testimony to the lack of character and it seems a little suspicious that one of the accused was tweeting last week that:
Anyone who thinks PMSH was that deeply involved in campaign is an idiot. Campaigns make millions of decisions in 35 days.
I think there are at least two “not”s missing in that. To go around calling people idiots just seems part of the game.