Mr. Speaker, before I begin to speak to this motion, I would like to read the text.
This motion is not about what is going on in the Senate in terms of the Senate committee and due process. This motion is not about abolition of the Senate or reform of the Senate. This motion is very simple. It states:
That the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics be instructed to examine the conduct of the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the repayment of Senator Mike Duffy's expenses; that the Prime Minister be ordered to appear under oath as a witness before the Committee for a period of 3 hours, before December 10, 2013; and that the proceedings be televised.
Why is this motion being brought to the floor? The motion is being brought to the floor because ever since the story began in May of this year, the story has changed. The Prime Minister stands up in the House, answers questions in Parliament, and his story continues to change. He says that nobody knew, and then we find out that all kinds of people knew, except the Prime Minister.
This motion pursues precisely what the Prime Minister said when he first ran for prime minister of this country. It is precisely what he said when he became leader of his political party. We are following through on what the Prime Minister promised when he came here, which was openness, ethics, and transparency.
This motion should never have had to come before the House. The Prime Minister should have done exactly what he always promised he would do. He should have said, “Here is the truth. Here is exactly what happened. I am going to go over this, I am going to be open, and I am going to produce whatever documents I have. I am going to let the people of Canada, Parliament, and everybody else decide, based on everything I have tabled in the House, because I am open, I am transparent, and I am committed to ethics.” If he had done that, he would not have had to see this motion come forward now.
Let us look at what led to this whole thing and how we got here.
We are asking some important questions: What did the Prime Minister know, how much did he know, when did he know about the $90,000 payment from former chief of staff Nigel Wright, who else knew, and how did it come about? Why did this whole issue of the payment of Mr. Duffy's expenses come about? How did this happen? That is what we want to find out. It is very simple stuff. The Prime Minister should answer the questions and let Parliament and the public decide.
As a result of all the changes to the story and digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole every time he stands to speak, only two out of 10 Canadians now believe the Prime Minister. It is not a very good thing for the Prime Minister of a “majority” government in the House that only two out of 10 Canadians believe him. That is just 20% of the public. That is pretty serious stuff.
Let us go down the road with this thing. On May 15 to May 19, the story broke. The issue is not about whether the senators tried to defraud or put in wrongful expense claims; that is not the issue. I do not think there is anybody in the House who does not believe that if somebody did something that was illegal, wrong, or fraudulent, that person should pay it back, come clean, and take the consequences. I do not think I have ever heard anybody say anything else on either side of the House on this issue. That is not the issue; the issue is how the Prime Minister got involved in the first place.
On May 15 when the story broke about the $90,000 for Mr. Duffy and that the Prime Minister's chief of staff wrote the $90,000 cheque to help Mr. Duffy pay off his expenses, the Prime Minister said he had full confidence in Nigel Wright as chief of staff. He lauded him for acting in the public interest. That was between May 15 and May 19. For five full days the Prime Minister stood in the House and said that same thing over and over.
After the five days, the Prime Minister changed his tune. We would like to know what caused the Prime Minister to suddenly change his tune. It is a simple question. Did he get information he never had before? Did he suddenly decide that perhaps this was something he did not intend it to be? I do not know. We need to get the answers from the Prime Minister, not the sort of rhetoric that just tries to beat up on everybody else in the House without answering the question.
On May 16, the Prime Minister said, “Mr. Wright will not be resigning. Mr. Wright has the full support of the Prime Minister.”
On May 19, three days later, the Prime Minister put out a statement from the PMO, which said:
It is with great regret that I have accepted the resignation of Nigel Wright as my Chief of Staff. I accept that Nigel believed he was acting in the public interest, but I understand the decision he has taken to resign. I want to thank him for his tremendous contribution to our Government over the past two and a half years.
All of the other people who stood up and answered questions over the course of that time lauded Mr. Wright as a man of integrity, et cetera.
I am not finding fault with anybody; I am laying out what went on.
On June 5, the Prime Minister stated the following in the House of Commons:
...it was Mr. Wright who made the decision to take his personal funds and give those to Mr. Duffy so that Mr. Duffy could reimburse the taxpayers. Those were his decisions. They were not communicated to me or to members of my office.
Since then, of course, we have heard that there was a list of people in the Prime Minister's Office who knew what went on, so the Prime Minister on that day was not telling the truth at all.
We saw that he had Nigel Wright. We heard that he had Benjamin Perrin, formerly the Prime Minister's lawyer in the PMO. We heard that Chris Woodcock, director of issues management in the Prime Minister's Office, also was in on this. David van Hemmen, formerly Nigel Wright's assistant, was in on it. We had Benjamin Perrin, formerly the Prime Minister's personal lawyer in the PMO, who knew all about it. Patrick Rogers, legislative assistant to the Prime Minister at the time, knew about it. Jenni Byrne, former director of political operations for the Conservative Party and former deputy chief of staff to the Prime Minister, obviously knew about it. The late Senator Doug Finley, former campaign director for the Conservative Party, seemed to know about it. Then, this weekend at the Conservative convention, we found out that Senator Gerstein, who heads up the Conservative fund, also was in on this.
I am not asking anyone to impugn anyone else. I am just asking how everybody around the Prime Minister—his personal lawyer and everybody who worked for him—knew about it, but the Prime Minister did not know.
I mean, everybody on that list was, what, trying to trick the Prime Minister? Did they not tell their boss what they knew and not watch his back to say, “Gee whiz, boss, this is going on. I know how you feel about these things, and I know that once you know, you will put an end to it.”
Is that what I am being told of the Prime Minister, who insists that every word that comes out of his cabinet ministers' and backbenchers' mouths is vetted?
Inky Mark, a former member of Parliament with the Conservative Party, said that he was not allowed to put out a press release as a backbencher unless the Prime Minister okayed it.
Here is a Prime Minister who wants to keep his finger on everything, takes the pulse of everything, knows everything, and does not let anything go by him, yet there are 13 or 14 people, and tomorrow it may be 20 people, in his inner office, his inner circle, who knew, but the Prime Minister did not know.
I ask members to think about that. I think Canadians are thinking about it. Two out of 10 are saying that this does not ring true. It does not make sense. It does not compute at all when we look at it.
These are the questions that we want to get to the front. We want the Prime Minister, under oath, to tell us exactly what happened, because this is becoming more and more unbelievable. This is a fable. Most people think, “Good grief, I do not understand where this thing came from.” We want to know what the Prime Minister knew and when he knew it.
Mr. Duffy, at his press conference—and his lawyer was there—said that he had every piece of paper, had a paper trail, had everything right there in front of him, and that he would disclose what he wanted to do and would tell us what he knew. His story is different.
Mr. Duffy says that he has paper to back up his story. The Prime Minister should also be saying that he has paper to back up his story and that he will give it to us if Mr. Duffy is saying all these things. He should say that he will disclose because he has nothing to hide.
If he has nothing to hide, then he should disclose. What is the problem here, especially for someone who talks about openness, transparency, and ethics?
Now today we stand here debating a motion in Parliament, where we have three political parties. The members of one political party have decided they will not even speak. They will not even defend themselves. They will not even stand up to say anything at all about the issue.
How does that work? How do the members of the Conservative Party not have one word to say? How is it that the Conservatives feel that they are going to blackball this motion, blackball the debate in the House? That is not only proving they have been muzzled and that they have something to hide, but it is also disrespectful to Parliament itself and to what is going on in Parliament.
They are parliamentarians. They were elected by their constituents to come here and participate in Parliament and in the debates, and they are not doing it. The Conservatives are sitting there mute, blackballing a debate. This is something to be noted, and Canadians will note it, because now this issue is at the front of every Canadian's mind. Canadians want to know.
People who voted for the Prime Minister, people who like him and believe in him, are all wondering what is going on here. The Prime Minister owes it to them, even if he does not think he owes it to any other Canadian or could not care less about other Canadians. However, he does owe it to his own people, who supported him, believed in him, and trusted him, to say, “Look, I am going to tell people what went on. I have nothing to hide. I said I would run on ethics and transparency, so here I am. I am going to be ethical, I am going to be transparent, I am going to be open. I'm going to disclose because I have nothing to hide.”
Even if the Prime Minister did not want to stand up and speak, he could have some of his own backbenchers or people from his cabinet stand up and speak for him. Table staff could say they have a list and get it out in the open. It is about getting it out in the open, but that is not happening.
We hear some people speaking out, muttering in corridors. We hear people saying certain things. We hear past members of the Conservative Party, such as Inky Mark, speaking out and saying how controlling everything was, and that was why he left. We have heard this from other people across the House who are now independent members. They left because they could not stand what was going on anymore, could not stand the control, the rigidity, yet amid all of that control and rigidity that caused people to walk away from the party, we have a Prime Minister who did not know what went on in his inner circle.
If I were writing a plot for a television show, that would never get off the ground unless I were writing science fiction. It would be unbelievable.
What we are asking for here in this House is simple. We are not saying Senator Duffy or any senator or MP who has defrauded should be able to stand up. We are not supporting that. I do not think I ever heard anybody in this House supporting that. We are saying to let the chips fall where they may, to let the RCMP investigate them, and if they have defrauded, let the consequences be heaped onto them and let them accept those consequences.
The Prime Minister is not immune from this issue. At the end of the day the Prime Minister, as the chief executive officer of this country, has to take responsibility for what went on around him.
First, the Prime Minister nominated these same senators.
Second—and I could be corrected—I do not believe that in the history of the Senate there have ever been senators appointed by any party to represent a province that everyone knew, because of their public celebrity status, they had not lived in for about 25 to 30 years. Is that an accident waiting to happen? Is that something that is going to make people suddenly rush off to find a way to prove that they lived somewhere else? Hence everything starts happening faster and faster, and suddenly all of the expenses have to be accounted for.
The Prime Minister therefore perhaps knew what he was doing with this little subterfuge of saying that although they did not live in that province and had never lived there, he was going to appoint them as senators for that province that they did not live in.
That was the first thing that the Prime Minister did. We could call it an error in judgment or call it what we want. We could be kind, or we could say it was a calculated thing that the Prime Minister did. I am not saying. I do not know, because the Prime Minister will not tell, and there is a problem when one does not talk or speak out or tell: people form rumours. People suppose and people presume, because the truth is not coming out and the facts are not coming out.
That is the first thing. First and foremost, we have a Prime Minister who showed very poor judgment in the very instance. He, as the CEO of a country, has to take responsibility for his lack of judgment.
The second piece is that all the people around him, the 13 or 14 people in his trusted inner circle, went ahead and created this great big plot and the Prime Minister, in the middle of it, did not know. Come on. A CEO does not know what is going on around him. What kind of CEO is that, who does not know what is happening, who has 15 or 16 people around him deceiving him, not telling him, keeping him in the dark? That is not a good CEO. In corporate Canada that is not going to pass muster either.
Even if the Prime Minister did not know, and he continues to say he did not, the question then is what kind of CEO he is, who did not know what is going on. Then when he did know and he found out that all of the people around him in his trusted circle were deceiving him, what would he do? Would he not fire them all? No, many of them have gone on to be chiefs of staff to his cabinet ministers. This is the third strike against the CEO who does not know how to take the right steps to deal with whatever is going on around him. These are the questions we are asking and that Canadians are asking.
First the Prime Minister said he thought Mr. Wright was great. Then he said he accepted his resignation very reluctantly. Then all of a sudden about a week ago, the Prime Minister said this man had two horns and 12 tails and he was the worst possible thing and so on. How do we get from “I trust this man, he is a good guy, he made a mistake, I am reluctantly accepting his resignation”, to where he said this guy was obviously the devil in disguise? None of these things make sense.
I am trying to talk common sense here. I have been trying to answer questions I get asked in my constituency: how come, why, why not? Canadians are asking it of their CEO who owes them an explanation. Even if he believes that Parliament does not count and he does not owe us any explanation, he owes it to them, if only for one reason: he promised them openness, transparency and ethics, and that has not happened.
We are just telling him to be as good as his word, to tell us he has ethics, to tell us he is transparent. CEOs in corporate Canada today suddenly get kicked out because of this kind of stuff going on, with a less onerous burden of proof than the current Prime Minister has, and yet they get moved out. No one in corporate Canada would allow for this. The buck stops with the CEO. The CEO is responsible for what goes on in the company, the management and the staff.
Even if the Prime Minister were absolutely blameless, really did not know, he has to answer for that incompetence. If the Prime Minister did know, he has to answer for the deception and subterfuge.
At the end of the day we see him refusing to be open, refusing to be transparent, refusing to table and having had Parliament force him to come and do so under oath. That is not pretty to have to force someone to come and fess up under oath because we do not believe he would fess up if he were not under oath.
This is not good. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark and we just want to get to the bottom of it.
Finally, we are seeing how true it all was when Sir Walter Scott said, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive”.