Mr. Speaker, I appreciate being recognized in the House today in support of this Liberal motion.
I would like to, at this point, start my speech by talking about the narrative that is talked about not only here but when it comes to public discourse, public discussions. I speak of politics, of course, but I speak about politics in the general sense of what we do here, which is to enable the discussion to be centred right here, at this focal point, because this is what Canadians are talking about.
A lot of people would say the issue we are debating today is not germane to everyday goings-on, the machinations of how we live and how we operate as a society. The economy, yes, jobs, yes, as we have talked about, and crime are all important products of this place.
However, I will say this. We also compel our politicians to strive to be the utmost in ethical behaviour.
We have heard it. Many people in this House have either been accused or have been brought to a court and found guilty over the years. Many have admitted their guilt. Many of them have been found guilty. Some of them have been found innocent of all accusations.
However, this is the type of discourse we have here. This is the type of conversation we need to have to get to the bottom of the matter as to what behaviour took place in the office, funded by taxpayers, the office we put trust in every four years, via a ballot box, being the democracy that we are—the greatest democracy, I might add, in the whole world.
Let me go back to the narrative. The narrative of the story is that we expect public officials to strive to be the most ethical individuals and, also, to be the caretakers of our finances, of our taxes, to exercise authority in this office to ensure they are doing it at the utmost level of the ethical standards and, of course, to do it as any reasonable person in this country would expect them to.
Let me go back. Let me flash back for a just moment to when I first arrived here in the House of Commons. It was 2004 when I arrived here in the fall, for the first time. I sat on the other side of the House, in the Liberal Party, which was government at the time.
What I faced was an absolute barrage of angst, hatred and accusations, some true, some not, but the hatred and the vitriol that was in this House was palpable and was incredibly thick.
Flash forward a few years and we found ourselves overturned in an election. We then, at that time, sat in the opposition.
I heard it on the doorstep during that 2004 period, but a lot of this vitriol and a lot of this hatred was put forward by the opposition parties of the day, including, I might add, the current government. Many of those people are in this House today.
However, a lot of the people who are in this House today, I would even say the majority of the people in the government in this House today, were not here at that time.
I hear the argument, every time we lay out what has happened and we say to Canadians and we say in this House, in public discourse, “Look. Here is the situation that happened within the Prime Minister's Office. It is something that is substandard. It is something that does not measure up to the ethical expectations of this country”, and we get back, “Well, the Liberals did this back then” and “But back then, you did this”, without answering the question.
My response to this is always that if the government can only say to us what was done in the past, as opposed to what we are dealing with in the present, then it proves that the government has become everything it said it would not be.
There we have it, the narrative that goes from then to now.
The problem with many politicians today, sometimes me included, is that we need to own up to what was done wrong. We need to tell ourselves that there has to be a time when we reflect upon what we say, what we do and the actions we take, and ask if they are up to the standard of what a reasonable taxpayer and citizen of this country would expect. I would say that in many cases we do not and turn a blind eye.
What bothers me the most is that when we turn the blind eye by avoiding the topic and talking about something else, we have to make one base assumption, which is that the citizens watching this today did not notice or that the citizens watching today do not care enough to listen to the specific questions. What a sad mistake that is when we campaign, do television commercials, tweet the nasty stuff and simply say, “If you think what we did is bad, look at what you did”, and the argument goes back and forth—to use the vernacular, “I know you are, but what am I”, as said by many four and five year olds. We pretend Canadians do not even notice, but they do. We do not give the average citizen in this country enough credit for being intelligent enough to read between the lines.
Yes, by the way, before the question comes, I will follow my own advice and try to measure up to a standard that was given to us to be sitting here in the House of Commons. Can anyone imagine how many citizens in this country would dream some day of standing or sitting in this place where we are today, my friends? Let us make this debate about an ethical standard that we feel is not up to par. Let us make this debate about an ethical standard that we strive to be. However, in doing that, we have to point out that there are people among us—and I am including all parties—who do not measure up to this, given the trust of the public. There are people who are given the trust of the public who need to be looked at. We need to shine a spotlight on their actions and come up with answers. We talk about judicial inquiries. They are expensive and they take time. Sometimes they are necessary. The problem is that many times we have to realize that this is a forum that taxpayers pay for and their voices need to be heard.
The motion today was brought forward by my hon. colleague from Beauséjour, in New Brunswick. We talk about the recent sworn statements by the RCMP, Corporal Greg Horton. They reveal that in many cases the ethical standard was not reached, which is putting it mildly, and some cases that ethical standard appears to have been subverted.
On February 21, the Prime Minister's Office had agreed, with regard to Mike Duffy's controversial expenses, that the Conservative Party of Canada would keep him whole on the repayment. This is the type of conversation that took place. What exactly does that mean? We try to pontificate as to what exactly that means, and I am sure the average Canadian does. In other words, how do we protect an individual who has—pardon the vernacular again—fallen off the rails when it comes to ethical standards?
On February 22, the Prime Minister's chief of staff wanted “to speak to the PM before everything is considered final”. Later the same day, February 22, the Prime Minister's chief of staff confirmed, “We are good to go from the PM once Ben has his confirmation from Payne”.
My hon. colleagues have already discussed the details, names and faces, colleagues like the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. What I want to focus on again is the narrative, and the narrative is about how these actions do not measure up to the ethical standard, which was not met.
Agreement was reached between Benjamin Perrin and Janice Payne, counsels for the Prime Minister and Mike Duffy. The amount to keep Mike Duffy whole was calculated to be higher than first determined, requiring a changed source of funds from Conservative Party funds to Nigel Wright's personal funds, after which the arrangement proceeded and Duffy's expenses were repaid.
Let us go back for a moment. As citizens, we have the right, thank goodness, because we are the best democracy in the world, to not only vote for a particular party, its beliefs, ideals, ideology, but we also have the right to donate money to help them communicate that message to the masses.
As a Conservative Party fundraiser, certainly as a donor, if I were, imagine my dismay and shock to realize that my money went to Mike Duffy to say this is something for him to walk out and look good while doing it. It is particularly galling, to say the least. It got to a certain level where even Senator Gerstein could not handle it anymore. That threshold was gone. He had a certain threshold and a certain amount of money, but he just could not go any further.
Certainly when it climbed close to $100,000 and the personal cheque was written, I ask the people watching this at home or in the gallery to imagine that someone we barely know has done something wrong so we are going to reimburse them with a cheque close to $100,000 and by the way, that is from our account. Imagine that. We might do it for our children, but certainly not for someone we barely know. The narrative goes to the fact that there is not just one person in on this. There is a network of people involved in keeping this from the spotlight. That is the narrative that fails Canadians.
I know the Conservatives are going to talk about the past and about certain things that happened in my party in the past, but the point is that we go through the process of getting to the answers, which is what in 2004 we did to find the answers to make sure it did not happen again.
This morning I attended a briefing with the Auditor General, a fantastic exercise, highlighting the inefficiencies of government, even though it had the best of intentions. For example, we talked about issues of meat inspection. We talked about examples of border guards. We talked about the example of online services that need to be centralized and more accessible to people of all walks of life from everywhere in the country, whether it is urban, rural, east, west or north. However, these are inefficiencies in the system that start out with the best of intentions.
We want to engage citizens across this country by using online resources. Yes, it saves money and allows people to do it any time of the day. We know people are busy travelling back and forth to work, not just from a small geographical area, but many people in my riding travel from Newfoundland and Labrador to Alberta on a bi-weekly basis, or around the world to Russia, to Africa. They want their services to be online.
I bring this up by way of example because the inefficiencies that we have right now started out with the best of intentions. Is that germane to this debate? Yes, it is because this situation we are dealing with today did not start with the best of intentions and it got worse and worse. It pulled more and more people in. It became a situation of not just inefficiencies but of some substandard ethical actions taking place.
I certainly believe that the motion today not only highlights that, but also looks at ways that we can fix it.
Let us have a look at some of the other details in this. The Prime Minister has given contradictory responses to the House of Commons, that we know. To the people out there watching today, we know exactly what it is we are talking about. Did he quit? Was he fired? Originally he quit. He is a nice guy, a good guy, means well. A few months later it was, he was fired.
There is a word we use in Newfoundland, called “sleveen”. It is someone of sub-ethical standards, and I am being kind. They are usually described in a much harsher way. They basically sleeveened the guy. If nothing, I hope we have learned a new word today from the Newfoundland dictionary: sleveen, someone of substandard ethical values.
Basically they have pointed out that this man is the sleveen of the most sleveen nature. I do not even know if that makes sense. I am trying to illustrate the point by saying that everybody in this country is talking about it. Everybody wants to know what is happened here, because they do not want to see it happen again.
The RCMP court filing also paints a disturbing picture of the entire PMO senior staff. The “fraud squad” engaged in the whitewash of a Senate report. Now we are going back to the other side with the whitewashing of a report that looks at this and says that there are people involved here, calls made from people on the board of the internal economy to the senator involved in the actions.
The conversation went like this, and this is why everybody is talking about it, because everybody understands this part. I am not a lawyer and when we look at some of this stuff, the vernacular of what is written down in legalize, sometimes it is hard to understand. Here is what is easy to understand. They wanted to get rid of the part or fix the part that shows that Senator Mike Duffy claimed per diems, claiming money because he was working in Ottawa on the very same day he was in Florida.
Now that I get, any Canadian can get that, anybody watching today can get that. Someone claimed money for doing their job in Canada while finding themselves in Florida. I doubt if anyone would even consider Florida the 11th province.