Mr. Speaker, we have obviously been spending a lot of time on this here in the House of Commons. As I said in my opening question to the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, it seems that we have come to a point where the Liberals themselves are in agreement with the fact that their leader is in way over his head.
Last week we were in the House, and the Liberals were accusing the NDP of bringing forward a silly motion that showed how amateur the NDP was and so on and so forth. Now we have the Liberal Party basically admitting to Canadians that the new leader of the Liberal Party will be the member for Avalon. He is the person they trust more than their own leader to get to the bottom of issues.
Where are we with respect to the Senate? It is important that we look back and see where we are and what has happened.
On February 13, as I have said in the House on a number of occasions, Senator Duffy approached the Prime Minister to try to justify his inappropriate expenses. He approached the Prime Minister, who was very clear: if Senator Duffy had inappropriate expenses or expenses that he did not earn, he had to pay those back. The Prime Minister was very clear.
I do not think any of us, at least on this side of the House, would disagree with that statement. If someone has accepted a payment that he or she is not entitled to, it must be paid back.
The Prime Minister made quite clear to all of us, in a caucus meeting with senators and members of Parliament in attendance, the standard he expected from members of Parliament and each of us who is entrusted with taxpayers' money. He told all of us that if members have something inappropriate, they had better make it right. If they do not, they cannot expect their caucus to stand up for them. At the conclusion of that meeting, as I have said, Senator Duffy approached the Prime Minister to try to justify those expenses. The Prime Minister was very clear that he had to repay those expenses.
We then learned, along with all Canadians and all members of the House, that Senator Duffy had taken out a mortgage or a loan from the Royal Bank of Canada on one of his homes, and with that loan, he paid back the expenses. That is what we were told. Obviously, that was not true. There is no disputing the fact that Senator Duffy, at this point, had not paid back a penny of the inappropriate expenses he accepted.
We learned subsequently, when it was reported on May 15, that Nigel Wright had, in fact, repaid Senator Duffy's expenses. Nigel Wright, of course, understands that it was inappropriate. Nigel Wright is prepared to accept the consequences of that decision. Nigel Wright, as far as we understand, is working with the authorities in providing whatever information they ask for. We also subsequently learned that there were other individuals whom Mr. Wright had brought into his confidence with respect to his repayment of Senator Duffy's expenses. That was, of course, addressed by the Prime Minister in the summer.
Let us talk a bit further about what has been happening in the House for a number of months, because that is really at the heart of what this Liberal motion is all about. Since this came out, we have had the audit. Canadians I have spoken to, the ones who are contacting my office, want to learn more about how the Senate operates. They understand that there are two houses of Parliament, but they do not always appreciate the independence the Senate has with respect to the House of Commons. They understand that we have certain rules we follow over here with respect to how we submit and receive our expenses, but they do not understand how this was able to go on in the Senate for so long, and they want accountability.
Canadians also know that one of the ways they can extract accountability from their members of Parliament is by throwing them out of office at the time of the next election. It frustrates them that they do not have that exact same ability with senators. It frustrates them that there is no way to remove a senator from office until that senator reaches the age of 75.
The member opposite, from the NDP caucus, asked a question in which he talked about former Liberal senator Andy Thompson. Canadians remember this. Here was a Liberal senator, the former leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, who I think was appointed in 1967, I suppose by Pierre Trudeau or by Lester Pearson. I assume it was Pierre Trudeau, because it was late 1967.
By 1997 people were wondering who the heck this senator was. People started to look into it. He appeared once or twice a session to collect his paycheque, but then he was gone. We subsequently found that the senator had actually been living in Mexico. However, for years he still collected a paycheque from the people of Canada as a senator. It never dawned on the Liberal Party that that was somehow inappropriate for the taxpayers of Canada to be paying for a senator to live in Mexico, come up to Canada, show his face in the Senate once or twice a session, collect his paycheque, collect credits toward his pension, and in no way participate in any of the debates that were so important to Canadians at that time.
Debates such as those on the GST and free trade were very important, and so was the repatriation of the constitution. This senator did not participate in any of it, because he was busy tanning in Mexico. No one in the Liberal Party ever thought that was a problem and they had better do something about it until members of the Reform Party at the time brought this out and asked how appropriate it was. Then all of a sudden the Liberals decided he needed to be removed from the Senate, his salary stripped, and so on. Thirty years later, they finally got around to it.
Canadians also remember, sadly, Senator Raymond Lavigne. This was brought up by my NDP colleague, the member for Nickel Belt. Senator Lavigne, if I recall correctly, was having one of his assistants clean his cottage and chop down some trees. He was getting paid to do that. Senator Lavigne was on the public payroll for years while he was going to court, where he was subsequently found guilty.
Canadians look at this and say they cannot throw them out through an election. When they abuse their expenses, unlike the case in the private sector, where they would be fired, in the Senate they are told not to show up for work. They keep all of their privileges, continue to get paid, and receive credits toward their pension. Canadians know that is unacceptable and, rightly, it frustrates them.
The same goes for these senators right now, Senators Brazeau, Wallin, and Duffy, and recently retired and disgraced Liberal Senator Mac Harb. Here is another case. Mac Harb is a former Liberal member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre. He lived in Ottawa, became a senator for Ottawa, but then found a way to manipulate the rules so that he could claim a housing allowance by buying a home 120 kilometres away from Ottawa, just outside the area, and then pretending to live there. He collected an allowance, year after year, as someone living away from Ottawa.
We all have the opportunity in this place to decide where our principal residence will be. There are a lot of members who, for travel reasons or because they are cabinet ministers or for whatever reason, choose to declare that their principal residence will be in Ottawa, even though they have a home elsewhere. My principal residence is in Stouffville. I declare that as my principal residence when I am asked. However, other members who are here more often and perhaps have extraordinary flight challenges getting back and forth may decide to make their residence here. We understand what that means in relation to our expenses. It is not a confusion to any of us, so it should not be a confusion to the senators either.
As we have been saying right from the beginning, just because somebody can figure out a way to abuse the system and then try to go back and say, “Well, the rules are the rules, and I was able to figure out a way around them“ does not mean that the person should be protected. As the Prime Minister said, it is not only about following the letter of the law, it is about following the spirit of the law.
The vast majority of us in this place, on both sides of the House, have never violated that trust. We understand it. We get it.
We know that there were some members of the Liberal Party who did not quite get it. I think two of its sitting members abused that trust. I hope that they have subsequently paid the money back. I am not sure. I have never seen any copies of cheques showing they have repaid the hundreds of thousands of dollars in residence claims to which they were not entitled.
However, I will take them at their word. If they say they have paid it back, I guess they did, although I have not seen any copies of the cheques suggesting that they have.
However, that does not make it right. Just because someone can figure out a way around the rules does not make it right.
What are Canadians asking? They are saying they understand there are challenges and they are asking us to make it right, so they want us to look at the Senate and find ways that we can reform it. As a result, we have a package of reforms that we have put forward to the Supreme Court of Canada to find out ways in which we can actually reform the Senate.
Canadians have also been clear that they do not want to get into a big, long-drawn-out constitutional battle. They do not want us fighting with our provincial partners regarding the Senate. One of the things that Canadians have most talked about as well is how well the provinces and the federal government have worked together during the great recession to benefit the Canadian people. They do not want to turn back the pages to a time when the federal government was fighting with the provincial governments on everything. However, they do want change.
We have asked the Supreme Court of Canada to help us, to give us a road map to show us how we can change the Senate so that it better reflects Canadian values of the 21st century in order that Canadians can once again be proud of that institution, but in such a way that Canadians can be consulted so that there are term limits for these senators and so that Canadians' voices with respect to accountability can be heard. We are waiting for the Supreme Court to give us that advice so that we can bring it forward and make some changes.
What we said in our throne speech is that if we cannot change it, then it has to be abolished. I think it is quite clear that Canadians will no longer tolerate a Senate that has zero accountability.
In relation to this motion, I get to answer a lot of questions in question period. I know that often my colleagues on the NDP benches are not happy with how I answer the questions, and that is fine. I get it. I understand. I am not always happy with the way they ask the question and they are not happy with the way I answer the question, but at least they actually ask questions on something that they think is important. Their leader gets up in the House and asks those questions. I might not like it and I might want to talk about other things. I think it is important we talk about other things, such as the economy, and I think it is important we talk about health care, trade, and natural resources, as was already mentioned. I think these are also very important things we should talk about
However, this issue is obviously important to the members of the official opposition. This is a priority for them. They are asking those questions, and we are obliged to answer them.
However, they do it from the floor of the House of Commons, unlike the third party, which has clearly been left leaderless. The Liberals have clearly been left embarrassed by their own leader's inability to do anything of any significance or importance within this House of Commons.
The Liberals could start by having their leader's stage handlers pull out a copy of Hansard from May so that he could be brought back up to speed on what we have been talking about since then, as opposed to turning over the reins to the new or presumptive Liberal leader, the member for Avalon, and telling the member for Avalon that it is now his responsibility to do the job because the Liberal leader has so miserably failed in his duties.
What do they want? This is something that at least one opposition has been seized with. The Liberals have tried in their silly way to gain some traction, but it has been quite clear that when it comes to this issue, the leader of the NDP has taken the spotlight, and it is killing the Liberal leader. It is killing the Liberal leader that somebody has stolen his spotlight. What is more evident is just how irrelevant the Liberals have become on matters of any importance to the Canadian people. They are completely irrelevant.
The Liberal leader was elected in April and was going to bring so much hope to the Liberal Party. Liberals waited and waited and waited. Canadians waited with bated breath. Then, how was his first policy formulated? He was having a dinner party at his house with his friends and maybe his advisers; I do not know. They pulled out a joint and started talking about things, and the idea that maybe they should legalize marijuana came up. Now, there was a good policy.
The member for Richmond Hill told me he has a lot of dinner parties at his house. He said that usually people bring wine and they share a bottle of wine, but nobody has ever pulled out a joint and formulated policy on it. Liberals waited and waited and waited, and is that what he had?
Now he is saying he does not have what it takes in the House of Commons, so he is going to cede everything over to the member for Avalon, three hours in front of a committee is enough, and it will be put to bed.
I know why the Liberals want to do this. As we are learning today, the Liberal leader is actually instructing his senators to abstain from voting on these motions. He is actually telling them to abstain. It is being reported in the media, the same media that the Liberals have believed 100% of the time throughout this controversy. They do not care about any of the facts, but if something is reported by a certain person, it has to be true. That same person is now reporting that the Liberal leader has instructed his senators to abstain from voting on this matter.
As the member for Trinity—Spadina just said, the Liberals have lots of practice in abstaining. They do. It is very rare that Liberals will ever come forward with any options.
We have heard this before. I remember that when I was a bit younger, the Liberals said in 1993 that they were going to get rid of the GST and get rid of free trade. Well, the GST and free trade are still here, and then they tried to take credit for how the economy grew because of free trade.
One of the reasons I got involved in politics was that I remembered the debates between John Turner and Brian Mulroney on the free trade issue. I remember those debates. Former prime minister Turner, who was also the leader of the opposition, was passionate every day in the House about what he believed, and he fought for those beliefs. Ultimately, was he wrong? Yes, he was wrong, but he had a belief and he fought for it day in and day out. He stood in this place and fought for it.
I know all members in the House would agree with me that they cannot even begin to imagine that same level of debate from the current Liberal leader, who thinks it is more important to smile for a camera than to be in this place every single day and debate the issues that are important to Canadians.
No matter where we fall on this issue, we cannot help but see it as a desperate attempt by the Liberals to steal some of the spotlight away from the NDP and to do their best to make sure their leader never has to speak on this issue, because he has nothing to say. Other than protecting the status quo, they are terrified that he might actually speak on any substantive issue, anything of importance, because what he says changes from area to area. Unless his stage handlers have put something right in front of him, Liberals are terrified, so they have now told the member for Avalon that he is the new presumptive leader of the Liberal Party. He is the person Liberals trust on this issue. He has three hours to get it done and not do anything to upset the status quo in the Senate.
I think Canadians understand that. When it comes to fighting the status quo in the Senate, there are some people they can trust, and it is certainly not the Liberal Party of Canada.