Mr. Speaker, I am always proud to rise to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay, who put their trust in me, as indeed do all citizens of this country put their trust in all of us, regardless of whatever political party we represent.
We are called to this place to rise above our own personal, pecuniary, or familial interests to represent the people of this country. This institution is a work in progress. It often does not live up to the standard that Canadians expect of it, but it is the democratic House of the people of Canada.
I do not think that this is a debate that any of us engage in tonight with relish. I have worked with the member for Peterborough for a number of years. We have had many memorable drop-down, drag-'em-out scraps that were sometimes like Alli-Frazier. I am not saying that I was like Ali, but we did respect each other and we worked well in committee. We worked well in the heritage committee on a number of issues. We worked sometimes less well in the ethics committee, which was sometimes more of a circus, but thank God the member for Sherbrooke was there to keep order.
We do develop relations across party lines, whether or not we agree with each other, and sometimes we have to call each other to task for not living up to the obligation that is upon all of us in this House. Tonight is one of those nights.
The finding of guilt in a court of law for electoral fraud is a very serious issue. It is a serious issue because it cuts to the heart of the democratic system of our country. The idea that people can game the system and buy elections cuts to the very credibility of whether or not we are a truly democratic institution. We have to take these breaches of the law seriously. We cannot just write them off as mere mistakes.
Unfortunately, we have seen in this last session of Parliament a number of incidents that have certainly raised questions to the Canadian people about ethical lapses within the parliamentary system. We have had the suspensions without pay of Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin, and Mike Duffy, all three of whom are under investigation and going to trial.
We have Mac Harb, the Liberal Senator, who ran an extraordinary scheme to get money from taxpayers. Average Canadians would have to ask themselves why someone would do that. Mac Harb, to get the housing allowance, bought a property 100 kilometres from Ottawa so he could collect $22,000 a year. Then he sold 99.99% of the property to somebody else, so he had a .01% claim, and then defrauded the taxpayers of $22,000 a year. Seeing that kind of deviousness, the average Canadian would say, “What kind of person would think like that?” This is a serious breach of public trust, and we certainly expect that the RCMP will do full due diligence when we see the kind of fraud that has been committed in the Senate.
We see Senator Raymond Lavigne, who was charged and convicted for fraud and breach of trust and sent to jail, again for schemes to use the money that is supposed to be there to serve the parliamentary process and the senatorial process. To use it for personal interests is a breach of the trust of Canadians and cannot be set aside just because they are rich, just because they are powerful or just because they know people.
As parliamentarians, we are put in this House to be the lawmakers of this land. The fascinating thing about the parliamentary tradition is that to be lawmakers, we are appointed by the people who put their trust in us. We may have no background in law. We may be a baker, a cobbler, an accountant, or a bass player in a punk band. If the people believe we should be there to review the laws, then we are entrusted to review the laws.
That is a good process, because it says that the review of law in this country is done, and should be done, by ordinary people who have ordinary life experiences, people who are there to be reasonable in looking at legislation and in ensuring that legislation is done in the right manner.
When people breach the law knowingly, there has to be consequences, and that is what we are here to deal with tonight.
The issue before us is a case of breaching the electoral act, where the member for Peterborough spent $21,000 during his election campaign through Holinshead to do voter outreach. That would have breached the electoral spending limits of his campaign, so he and his official agent, Mr. McCarthy, only claimed $1,575 in services. Issues were then raised with Elections Canada that these documents had been falsified to create a cover-up. Money was spent and services were hired, yet they tried to claim that this was parliamentary and outside the work of the electoral season.
A number of issues of trust were breached at that moment. Number one was exceeding the limits. Number two was falsifying documents. Number three was trying to claim that work, which was clearly within the purview of an election period, was somehow parliamentary and should be claimed.
My colleague, the member for Peterborough, would have been under investigation for some time on this. He did come into the House and plead his case as a matter of privilege. Unfortunately, his argument at the time, I think, was a false and misconstrued argument that his rights as a member of Parliament were somehow breached by the fact that he was under investigation for a crime. Certainly, I do not think that any Canadian would think that people under investigation for a crime have a higher level of privilege to be protected just because they are a member of Parliament.
I say that, again, more out of sadness than anything, because the charges against my colleague were very serious, and the conviction is serious. Justice Lisa Cameron stated, in terms of finding him guilty on all charges, that there were numerous inconsistencies and obfuscations in his testimony and that he simply was not a credible or believable witness, so she found him guilty. That then puts us in a very difficult position. What happens in the House of Commons if the people who are supposed to make the laws actually break the laws of this country?
My friend from Peterborough did himself more damage when he was asked about the judge's ruling, and he said that it was simply a matter of her opinion. To me, that speaks of a larger disrespect for the law. We get a sense that because he is a Conservative insider, it is the judge's opinion that is at stake here, as opposed to reflecting on the breach of trust and faith with his citizens, the voters, and his own party in terms of what he has done.
The need to take responsibility puts more pressure on the House to act. We simply cannot carry on and pretend that nothing happened.
Now, my colleague from Peterborough is saying that he has more evidence and that he wants to reopen the case. The fact is that he was found guilty, end of story. Having been found guilty, the House is forced to act.
It puts us in the situation that we have not really dealt with an issue of this manner within the House. We know that in the Senate, where we have a number of senators under investigation, moves were made earlier this year to suspend without pay the three senators, Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy, while they were under investigation. Mac Harb jumped ship at that point. At that point, none of them had been charged, but it was felt, because of a loss of faith by the Canadian people toward the Senate, they should be suspended without pay.
In a case where a member of the House has been found guilty, the issue of suspension without pay is the first step. It is also a statement that the House takes breaches of the law seriously and that we, as members, regardless of our party, recognize that this is a serious breach.
What is the secondary step from this? The secondary step is that it should then go to the procedure and House affairs committee to review the numerous pieces that are going to have to be figured out with this conviction and the suspension without pay. This is not to protect or to give my colleague from Peterborough any kind of extra privilege that an ordinary citizen would not have. Rather, it is because we are, as parliamentarians, entrusted to make sure that we do due diligence in this. There are issues that need to be addressed.
For example, right now there are constituency staff who work for the member who actually do work for the Canadian people in Peterborough. They answer phones and make sure citizens are able to get that information. Even if the member is suspended, even if he cannot sit, we have to look at what that period is going to be.
The New Democratic Party has said that we have to send a clear message as a Parliament that he needs to be suspended without pay. He cannot come in here. He cannot sit. He cannot vote. We have to send that message. How we move forward from there, I trust all parliamentarians will put their partisan interests aside and make sure that this is done in a manner of due diligence.
There is the issue, for example, of his pension. Are we talking about retroactively stripping someone of their pension? That is a serious question. This is not something I want to stand up in the House and wave my fist on. I want due diligence done. I want it done right. I want this to be done in a manner that passes the test of the Canadian people, so that we can say we did the right thing in this instance.
It is unfortunate that the member for Peterborough has not chosen to resign and spare us all from having to deal with this, but we will deal with it. I think we can deal with it in a manner that is respectful to the traditions of the House. It is also a matter of respect for the voters of Peterborough. We have to approach this with the larger sense that we are entrusted to do the right thing.
We have had a number of tawdry examples of breaches of the law in the last four years that need to be addressed in terms of the lowering ethical standards of the House. We also had the unprecedented situation of Mr. Peter Penashue. He was elected up in Labrador. He was a man who came with a very impressive reputation. He broke the electoral laws of our country and was forced to resign. He lost his position and had to leave in disgrace. He was not here that long.
Again, why are the electoral laws so important? It is because in Canada we have established the principle that one should not be able to buy an election. The fairness of the Elections Act exists so that someone who wants to take on a long-standing incumbent, who has built up their team, their volunteers and has money in the bank, is treated fairly. The democratic process in Canada says there has to be a limit on how much a candidate can spend so that they are not simply able to buy the kind of political exposure that another candidate could not buy.
This is something that is lacking in the United States. I know many people in the United States look to our system and ask how Canada has managed to maintain a more credible electoral system in some areas. A lot of that has to do with the electoral financing laws. Therefore, people who game the system, who believe they can buy those votes, have no business being in this House.
We had the resignation of Mr. Penashue. In 2006, we had the in and out scheme, where senior people in the Conservative Party had to cop a plea. Unfortunately, there was no punishment for them. In fact they were elevated to the Senate, which I think sent a very bad message. We had the robo-fraud case in 2011. The Federal Court found that there were numerous cases of robo-fraud taking place across the country. The judge found that at the heart of it was the phone database that was controlled by the Conservative Party. However, because of the electoral laws, Elections Canada was not able to get the kind of information it required from witnesses, so the case never went any further.
Right now, we have Michael Sona convicted but we do not know who ran the false phone calls, for example into Nipissing—Timiskaming, which was an election that was won by about 17 votes. Someone made those calls. Someone organized that database. We never got those answers. That is a question that reflects on the credibility of the House.
If this kind of electoral fraud is able to happen and there are no consequences then Canadians' faith in politics is going to suffer. It puts us back to the issue before us tonight. I think we can do the right thing. We can do the reasonable thing.
We do need to address the larger issues of accountability that have yet to be addressed from the abuses we have seen in the Senate. I am hoping that when we see the Auditor General's report on the Senate spending, we will get a better sense of how to deal with that very belligerent institution.
The problem on the other side is the refusal to put in some of the checks and balances that were put in on the House side. This is not to say that there are angels sitting in the House of Commons, but there are some fundamental differences between the House of Commons and the Senate. Number one is that people in the House of Commons have a democratic mandate. They were elected by the people; they can be fired by the people. Nobody can be fired in the Senate. They are there until they are 75, whether they show up to work or not. Our famous senator from Mexico used to show up once a year just to show off his tan, and he collected money for years.
There needs to be better accountability on the other side. We know that when the Federal Accountability Act was brought in, in 2006, it was one of the few times New Democrats put our faith in the Conservatives to actually work together with us on improving accountability after the horrific abuses of the Liberal sponsorship years. However, one of the things that interfered with our ability to bring better accountability was that the Senate refused to meet the same standards, which is very problematic.
What we are dealing with here—