Mr. Speaker, let me start by saying that I am glad to be speaking to the issue as opposed to asking questions of the House leader.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to address the motion calling on the Liberal government to grant the Ethics Commissioner the authority to enforce and oversee the directives outlined in the Prime Minister's “Open and Accountable Government” document.
Every time I rise in the House, I am reminded of its history, its unique place in Canadian society, and our responsibility to Canadians as their elected representatives. It is this responsibility that means that we, as parliamentarians, are held to a higher standard of acting ethically that goes above and beyond the simple word of law. Our words and our votes, through majority action in the House, are literally the law. This is not a responsibility that should be taken lightly, nor should criticism of bad behaviour be dismissed so easily.
We witnessed in recent weeks a shirking of responsibility by the Prime Minister and the finance minister. Indeed, almost a third of the Prime Minister's cabinet have demonstrated cavalier disregard for their responsibility to be ethical and honest with Canadians. In the mandate letter, written and signed by the Prime Minister, he directed:
As Ministers, you and your staff must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.
This mandate letter specifically and repeatedly references the Prime Minister's much vaunted “Open and Accountable Government” document. I will therefore refresh the memories of members of the House on exactly what that document directed. It states:
a public office holder should not participate in a political activity that is, or that may reasonably be seen to be, incompatible with the public office holder’s duty, or otherwise be seen to impair his or her ability to discharge his or her public duties in a politically impartial fashion, or would cast doubt on the integrity or impartiality of the office.
If it has not been made clear, there is sincere doubt about the integrity or impartiality of their offices due to these political activities, not only among members of this House but among Canadians across the country.
The fact that the government House leader and the Prime Minister are minimizing and dismissing these concerns is not only a slap in the face of the integrity demanded of our elected officials in this place but is a strong example of their entitlement and privilege when interpreting the rules of our democracy to suit their political needs.
We know that the government is fond of big rhetoric and big deficits, and their actions over the past year demonstrate that they are extremely fond of breaking promises. In April of this year, the Minister of Justice was roundly and rightly criticized for attending an exclusive Liberal fundraiser with Bay Street lawyers. When the minister and the government were questioned in the House, the Liberals, led by the Prime Minister, resorted to the old-style tactics of the Liberals of yesterday. Rather than acknowledge that they were ignoring their own rules, the government shamelessly accused the opposition of racism.
The Liberal response was, as The Globe and Mail stated so accurately, “unworthy of parliamentary debate”. After much denial of any problem with such a blatant conflict, the justice minister finally at least apologized. The Prime Minister and the government House leader should take note.
Perhaps we could have hoped that the Liberals had changed their ways, but recent events demonstrate the same pattern we are very used to. When criticized, be arrogant. When criticized more, be opaque, and deflect as much as possible.
Over the past several weeks, the Prime Minister, the finance minister, and the government House leader have attempted to justify their flagrant disregard of ethical standards by stating that they acted within the confines of the law. They try to justify their actions by saying, “It's okay, everybody does that”, notwithstanding the fact that the previous Conservative government did not.
Perhaps the Prime Minister's, the finance minister's, and the government House leader's justifications would be more accurate if they said, “It's okay, because every Liberal government does that”. Either way, that is just not good enough, plain and simple.
The Liberal government, to put it mildly, is demonstrating contempt for Canadians. They promised to act above and beyond what is required by the law, as is our responsibility as leaders of this country, yet they have no shame in playing dumb when it comes to acting in a grey area.
I refuse to believe that the Prime Minister is so blithely unaware of the fact that his and his government's actions demonstrate not only a clear breach of the ethical policies written at the stroke of his own pen but also demonstrate complete disregard for the trust of Canadians. No, the Prime Minister and the members of his government know very well that what they are doing is wrong.
To quote The Globe and Mail, the Prime Minister “prefers to duck behind the camouflage of an inadequate law” rather than tell the truth to Canadians.
It is at times like these that I am reminded why citizens in countries across the globe demonstrate an almost universal disrespect for politicians. This opinion is not always rooted in fiction. When a leader promises to be open and transparent, then refuses to answer questions when he is asked, Canadians lose faith. When a leader attempts to circumvent parliamentary institutions and ram through reforms because he can, then gets angry when opposition members, heaven forbid, oppose, Canadians lose faith. When the Prime Minister mandates specific guidelines on how he expects his ministers to act and then fails to live up to his own words, Canadians lose faith.
This is not a debate. The Prime Minister actually wrote those letters and wrote the guidelines cited in the letters and was confident enough in his guidelines and his mandate that he signed his name at the bottom of every one of those letters. Try as they might, there is no way the members on the other side of this House could get around the fact that the Prime Minister actually wrote those guidelines.
Perhaps members will understand why we, and Canadians, are just a little upset when the government decides that the rules and guidelines apply to everyone except themselves.
Do not take it from just me. Let us see what other Canadians are saying.
Andrew Coyne, of the National Post, says, “If it isn't influence peddling, it looks enough like it to leave people wondering”. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I am pretty sure it is a duck.
The Globe and Mail calls the Prime Minister's actions an indefensible practice.
Former Liberal deputy prime minister Sheila Copps, not exactly a non-partisan, said, in response to the cash for access schemes, that the Prime Minister should ban these elite fundraisers.
Here is a great one. Try to guess who said this about pay to play:
Ministerial responsibility, the issue of fundraising and the people who were targeted by this invitation, all of those three things should not appear on the same piece of paper. Otherwise I think you're asking for trouble. And it obviously looks like a troubling situation
He goes on:
This kind of event clearly crosses the line.... It is improper, and quite frankly the donation should be paid back.
This brilliant passage, in case anyone on the other side is wondering, came from none other than the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
There is no one, except the Prime Minister and his government, who is prepared to defend the indefensible. Yet rather than simply agree to abide by the rules, the government is happy to continue pretending that it has done nothing wrong. However, it did do something wrong.
It has broken yet another promise. It speaks one way in public and another way in the House. It misleads Canadians by promising to be better than the law and acts against the spirit of the law. It breaks the trust Canadians invest in Parliament. It fails to go above and beyond the literal interpretation of the law and set an example of ethical behaviour for Canadians everywhere, as is our responsibility as the elected leaders of the country.
Canadians are right to be disappointed in the Prime Minister. However, we cannot be surprised. It is our own fault for believing that the Liberals could do better than this. It is our own fault for thinking that the Prime Minister was sincere when he wrote up those mandate letters so long ago. It is our own fault for expecting leadership from the government.
When we look at the Liberal government, like the old Liberal governments before, some familiar things keep popping up. When challenged, it hides behind the lowest standard, deflects questions of ethical integrity, and acts like it is better than everyone else.
I will finish off with a quote from The Globe and Mail, again, as it comments on this scandal: “It's all very Liberal indeed”.