That, in the opinion of the 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.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from St. Paul's, who will be giving a very important speech on the character of the government and what the election spending scandal reveals about the character of the Prime Minister and other Conservative Party leaders.
The motion today does something very important. It allows the House to express itself on a matter which has been known as the in and out election scandal, but it goes further than that.
The motion invites the House to form an opinion that the totality of the evidence around this scheme and this scandal constitute electoral fraud. It calls on the Prime Minister, as head of the government, to order that any taxpayers' moneys obtained illegally as a result of this in and out election scandal be immediately reimbursed to the Receiver General. It calls for any taxpayers' money that was obtained illegally as a result of this scheme be reimbursed to the Canadian people. The motion calls on the Prime Minister to remove the individuals who are facing quasi-criminal charges as a result of a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to remove these individuals from positions of authority within the Conservative Party and within the campaign apparatus of the Prime Minister's party.
Many observers and many commentators have noted that the whole nature of the in and out election scheme is difficult for many Canadians to understand. It is largely a dispute around election spending legislation and the desire of the Conservative Party in the 2006 election to get around those spending limits. I am hoping in the few minutes I have that I might simplify for members of the House the basic essence of this scheme.
In 2006 the Conservative Party decided that it was going to hit the limit for national advertising and campaign spending, the limit set by legislation passed by the House, so it needed to develop a scheme to circumvent that spending limit and therefore attempt to get an unfair advantage over other parties that were following the election spending limits at the time. In essence, the Conservative Party decided at that point to break the law.
The Conservative Party transferred money from the national Conservative Party to 67 Conservative riding associations, the 67 that we know about and that Elections Canada has identified. The party transferred money. That in and out of itself is not the problem. Part of the government's great effort to confuse the public is to say the issue is about the transfers. The issue is not about the transfers. The Conservative Party can legitimately transfer money to those 67 ridings. What was illegal and illegitimate is what then followed.
Those ridings had to immediately transfer the money back to the national party. They had to sign a transfer order before they received the money. The party probably did not have enough confidence in its local riding associations not to try to keep the money. The party wanted it transferred back to the national campaign committee, and that group in Ottawa then had all of the decision-making authority over how that money would be spent. It was spent on advertising in different regional or national markets.
The party tried to pretend that somehow this was a decision of a particular Conservative candidate. For example, the riding of Lac-Saint-Louis in Quebec was one that had received some of this money, transferred it back to the national party, and then effectively lost any decision-making authority over how the money was spent.
After the 2006 election the Chief Electoral Officer refused to approve the use of taxpayers' money for the reimbursement of these expenses. He made this determination after a careful audit and after careful interviews with candidates and official agents of the Conservative Party who admitted they had no idea where the advertising money was going to be spent. They had no say on how that money should be allocated. Based on those interviews and an extensive investigation, the Chief Electoral Officer determined that the Conservative Party should not be allowed to milk $800,000 of taxpayers' money as part of the electoral refund process for expenses which he determined were not legitimate.
The matter was then brought to the court by the Conservatives. In a desperate attempt to delay a finding of guilt, in an attempt to confuse the issue and probably in an attempt to desperately milk that $800,000 that they had promised to their local riding associations, the Conservatives said, “Do not panic. We will go to court”. That was a desperate act to try to cover up a very thorough and extensive investigation and decision by an independent authority of the House with the responsibility to administer the election system.
This is an important point, because the court has ruled that the Conservatives did not have the right to claim—since the election commissioner conducted an investigation—that what they did was legal.
However, last week, a panel of three Federal Court of Appeal judges unequivocally ruled that the Conservatives acted illegally. The only people who believe that the Conservatives did nothing wrong are the Conservatives themselves.
In the meantime, we have seen the Conservatives' true colours. They have repeatedly insulted Elections Canada and that agency's employees whose mandate, which comes from this House under the legislation, is to ensure fair election practices in Canada. Often when people are wrong regarding arguments of substance, they tend to insult others. That is what the Conservatives are doing.
The Conservatives had refused to hand over documents to Elections Canada. That is why the RCMP needed a search warrant, issued by a judge, to go into the Conservative Party headquarters to get the documents.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister rises in this House and says that the Conservatives have disclosed everything to Elections Canada and that the reason Elections Canada is aware of this practice is because the Conservatives came forward. It is odd that Elections Canada needed to ask a judge for a signed search warrant after evidence submitted under oath to that same judge established that the Conservatives had not disclosed certain things. What was found in that search? They found a series of falsified documents that the Conservatives had tried to hide. That is what convinced the Director of Public Prosecutions to lay these quasi-criminal charges against the Conservatives.
The result of this scheme is that the Conservatives tried to cheat in a national election by spending over the legal limit. They attempted to milk almost $1 million from taxpayers by refunds to which they were not entitled. This is not a decision only of Elections Canada, it is a decision of a unanimous three judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeal.
Four top Conservatives are now facing quasi-criminal charges, including the possibility of landing in jail or facing massive fines and the Conservative Party itself is also facing these charges.
The Conservatives pretended to campaign on accountability. It was a joke. In that very election they were engaging in an elaborate scheme to get around the limits.
In closing, the Conservatives inexcusably claim that this is an administrative dispute, an accounting misunderstanding. We could use that same argument to say that the likes of Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones were caught up in an accounting disagreement. The whole Enron affair in the United States was nothing more than an accounting dispute, a financial glitch.
There is no administrative prison. When someone faces quasi-criminal charges, it is because the Director of Public Prosecutions has determined that there is a great deal of evidence. That is the case for the Conservatives. There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that there was a strategy to get around the Canada Elections Act and steal an election.
One day, the government's lame excuses will be heard in court and these people will be judged.