Mr. Speaker, I would like to state right from the outset that the NDP is in favour of Bill S-14. We would have liked the legislation to go further and move faster, but it is a good start.
The key thing to understand in combating corruption is the importance of being vigilant. The primary purpose of this bill is to guarantee that corruption is never considered an acceptable modus operandi. Not only do we want to stop Canada from getting a reputation abroad as a corrupting nation, we also want to prevent this corruption from having a damaging effect at a local level. We do not want to be complicit in the misfortunes of people who have never done anything to us.
An Italian judge, Giovanni Falcone, when speaking out against the Mafia, stated that politicians can be divided into three groups: those who are fighting the Mafia, those who are working alongside the Mafia and, lastly, the most dangerous of all, those who let the Mafia go about their business unfettered. That last category may include any of us, hard-working people who work long hours and take part in fundraising activities where we meet all kinds of people, including lobbyists. That is part of our daily work as members of Parliament, and it can be difficult and trying. It is easy to overlook certain things. All that is needed is a moment of inattention. Nobody in the House is immune to that. Unfortunately, dishonest people take advantage of our weaknesses. The huge majority of honest people are convinced—and rightly so—that other people is just as honest as they are. That is what allows swindlers and corrupters to abuse our trust.
Bill S-14 would punish Canadians who attempt to corrupt foreign public officials. Canada must engage fully in the joint effort by the family of nations to put an end to this scourge. This corruption, in far too many countries, is a source of human rights violations. A corrupt officer in his own country breaks the law of the land at home. When a journalist writing an article on an allegedly corrupt minister challenges this officer, is he really going to incriminate himself or will he be tempted to have the journalist killed?
Corruption goes hand in hand with the destruction of the values of freedom, justice and democracy. The more corruption is tolerated, the more perilous it will be for democracy in these countries. We ask countries to engage in good governance, but in the same breath, we turn a blind eye to Canadians offering bribes. That has got to stop. This legislation is the House’s response, across party lines, to this problem. It is also important to us. If we do not do this, our credibility as advocates for human rights and freedoms will be in tatters.
Canada missed out on the opportunity to obtain a seat on the United Nations Security Council. This is directly attributable to the fact that our foreign policy has, at times, fallen short of what is expected in terms of our reputation on the world stage. We have allowed our reputation to be tarnished, and it has sunk to new lows. The time has come to rectify this.
We remain saddled with the problem of tyrants and dictators. Both tend to be corrupt, which is why they hold on so tightly to the reins of power.
They are continuing to get rich off the backs of their own people. Corruption, misappropriation of funds, nothing is beyond these people. We are now openly declaring that we will no longer be complicit in this.
Libya is a hugely embarrassing problem. Mr. Gadhafi was no boy scout; he did not respect the laws and freedoms of his own people. Unfortunately, the bungling of some of our officers at the Canadian embassy in Libya, combined with the dishonesty of certain engineering firms and a number of Canadian construction and natural resources development companies, meant that a small portion of the Gadhafi family's income came from Canada. This is not something to be proud of. It is important to be aware of it and to address the situation.
Our response to the incident is Bill S-14. The legislation will punish Canadians who seek to corrupt foreign public officials. It was high time legislation like this was introduced.
Let us not complain. For once, all the parties in the House will support the bill. We support the fact that an individual found guilty of corrupting a foreign public official is liable to be sentenced to up to 14 years behind bars. There will no longer be an exception in the case of facilitation payments. This was a handout to officials not because they agreed to take on a case, but to have the case processed more quickly. Building permits, for example, were requested. People were entitled to these permits, they were legal, but the public official would claim to have a lot of work. Now, if he were enticed, the official might say that he could look after the case the following week rather than two months down the road. These facilitation payments will no longer be permitted. There will be a zero-tolerance policy.
Cooking, or concealing, the books to hide corruption will not be allowed, either. It will not be possible to tell Canadian shareholders to look at the company’s terrific bottom line when it hides the fact that $60 million or $80 million has ended up lining the pockets of corrupt foreign officials. Sometimes, the money finds its way into the pockets of top Canadian executives, who receive what is commonly called a kickback. For example, a person might hand over $50 million and get a kickback in the form of $10 million deposited into a Swiss bank account. That, too, will no longer be tolerated. It was high time. Canadian shareholders were getting the wool pulled over their eyes, and this had to stop.
The bill applies to all Canadians. Regardless of where the crime is committed, Canadian citizens will be accountable under Bill S-14. Often Canadians have several citizenships and do business in all corners of the globe, and now, extraterritoriality will no longer be grounds for immunity.
Turning a blind eye to Canadians offering bribes abroad is dangerous because once they are back in Canada, the very same Canadians end up bribing Canadian officials. That is the problem: corruption knows no borders. Corrupt people in Libya or in Latin America will be just as corrupt in Canada. Unfortunately, that is a fact. That much is obvious when it comes time to foot the bill, and the bill is steep. Canadian taxpayers have contributed to the tax-haven-sheltered bank accounts of far too many corrupt people and corrupters.
This is why the NDP strongly supports this bill. We stand by our position. The NDP is unequivocally opposed to corruption, which is a source of embarrassment for our country. It ruins our reputation and has an adverse impact on Canada’s financial and economic opportunities.
Mining, gas, oil and manufacturing companies, the pulp and paper industry, and equipment and service suppliers will think that it is dangerous to do business with a Canadian company because they are corrupt. This kind of thinking has to stop. People need to know that if they do business with a Canadian company, that company is accountable under the law. It is not true that Canada tolerates corruption. Canada will not have that kind of reputation.
Corruption is a cancer that does not stop at our borders. It insinuates itself into our politics. Recently, cases of corruption have surfaced among our political parties. This morning, I researched the ideological path taken by one individual. My goodness, he was involved in every municipal political party, every single one. He did them all in Montreal, bar none. Provincially, he was close to the Quebec Liberal Party and the Action démocratique du Québec, Mr. Dumont’s party. He toyed with the PQ, having the occasional flirtation here and there. Then, federally, he was a member of the Liberal Party of Canada, even seeking to run for the Liberal Party of Canada. It now turns out that he was a candidate for the Conservative Party. He wore every political stripe. He was always very close to power and always played the corrupt card when it came to power, always.
I can guarantee that, if he had not been caught and arrested, he probably would have tried to join the ranks of the NDP when it takes the reins of power in 2015. He is that kind of person.
No political party is immune to that kind of person. People cut from that cloth are dishonest and use how busy we are to take advantage of us. They aim to profit from the money Canada has. Indeed, if Canada were as poor as Job, they would not be like bees to honey. They seek, above all, to satisfy their personal interests, and they generally succeed. That is why we all, collectively, have a duty to be vigilant. From a purely non-partisan perspective, I can say that nobody is safe. This is happening right now. It is all well and good to say that a Conservative got caught. He was never a Conservative, but he was, and has always been, a thief. That is the take-home message.
In the past, our laws were weak. Not only did this give Canada a bad reputation, it led to some pretty poor outcomes. There have only been three convictions since 1999, and those convictions were not particularly impressive. The major players were not really caught in the net. A $10 million fine was issued, which is nothing to be sneezed at. However, the contracts were worth billions of dollars. The penalties in other countries for corruption are significant, and those found guilty see their wealth go up in smoke.
Canada had such a bad reputation that international agencies were saying that Canada ranked fourth or fifth among the most corrupting countries. It is embarrassing.
Thanks to Bill S-14, we are collectively correcting our past mistakes. No one is infallible. Only those who never do anything never fail. It is because we collectively realized our mistakes that we were able to correct them. That is the difference between a mistake and a fault. Anyone can make a mistake. It becomes a fault when you keep making the same mistake over and over, without correcting it. Thanks to this bill, Canada does not have this problem.
We also need to talk about other problems, such as money laundering. Imagine a corrupt government official in an African country who finds himself with $400 million or $500 million, as we have seen. Nigeria once had a president who died of a heart attack and was later found to have had $6 billion in Swiss bank accounts. When people are corrupt in their own country, they want to buy things for themselves in that country, but above all, they want to ensure that if they lose power, they will not lose their money, so they transfer it to tax havens. We need to tackle this problem.
Bill S-14 does not tackle it. However, we will tackle it through other bills. In the future, it will be impossible to divert money like that. In terms of international co-operation, we will have better regulations. It will be easier to exchange information and easier for countries that have lost money like this to recover it. That is an important element.
We have a significant banking sector. Our banking institutions play a major international role, and that is good. We cannot complain about having a solid banking system that plays an important role internationally. That is why we have to be careful. These institutions must not be left open to criticism or become a way to launder dirty money, corruption money. We will also be introducing crime bills to correct this situation.
There was also discussion about Canadian officials who represent us in embassies. They have a role to play. They must not encourage or tolerate this corruption. From an ethical standpoint, they must also avoid becoming corrupt by being so close to power.
Far too often, we have seen the children of a foreign president, minister or senator obtain bursaries to study in Canada or have their Canadian citizenship process fast-tracked. We have seen that sort of thing quite often, even in Syria. For example, in one case, the daughter of the immigration minister was working on the immigration portfolio at the Canadian embassy. That was not very smart.
The last few minutes of my speech will be on the Mafia and organized crime. Organized crime knows no borders. Corruption attracts corrupt people, and there is nothing more corrupt than organized crime on a global scale. It has interests in anything and everything. It knows no borders. In that sense, Bill S-14 could be improved in future when we deem it necessary. Bill S-14 is a first step, but not the last. We all think it is a good one.