Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand before you today to speak on this baseless motion put forward by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton. While this motion has no merit, I am excited that after 10 long years of being in the dark, of dealing with one of the most opaque and secretive governments in our history, Canadians finally have a government that they can trust and depend on.
I am proud to rise today to talk about a government that is committed to accountability and transparency, a government that espouses a simple but powerful idea: open government is good government.
Before I get into what our current government has been doing to advance accountability and transparency, I want to take a moment to remind my colleagues across the way of what the former Conservative government was responsible for, in case they have forgotten.
It was the former Conservative government that was behind the in-and-out scheme in 2006 that had them pleading guilty for exceeding election spending limits and submitting fraudulent election records.
The Conservatives transferred money between different levels of their party to obfuscate their election spending and circumvent Elections Canada rules in order to exceed spending limits.
In total, $1.3 million was transferred to 67 riding offices to pay for national advertising for the Conservative Party during the 2006 federal election. These offices included those of several cabinet ministers of the day, such as foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon, Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, natural resources minister Christian Paradis, and intergovernmental affairs minister Josée Verner, as well as the former foreign affairs minister, the current member for Beauce.
It is clear that unethical behaviour is deeply entrenched on that side of the House. Unfortunately, in the end it is Canadians who have to pay. Over a five-year period, investigations to uncover this Conservative scheme cost taxpayers $2.3 million.
The Conservative tactics that hinder our democratic system do not end there.
Let us recall the robocall scandal during the 2011 federal election, when individuals from the Conservative Party sought to suppress voter turnout through misleading calls in Guelph and elsewhere. In that case, a former Conservative staffer was found guilty of using misleading calls to send voters to the wrong polling station on the day of the election.
In ridings across the country, hundreds of voters had reported receiving calls purporting to be from Elections Canada that gave erroneous information on the location of polling stations.
It is also that party whose former minister of human resources was found to have violated the Conflict of Interest Act when in 2011 she awarded federal money to an infrastructure project that was backed by an individual with close ties to the former prime minister.
It was the former Conservative government that believed it could hide unethical behaviour with a $90,000 payout.
Also, how can we forget Dean Del Mastro, who was a Conservative parliamentary secretary to the former prime minister and who has been found guilty for violating the Canada Elections Act during the 2008 election? Now we have corruption in all three elections. Mr. Del Mastro has been convicted of three electoral offences, including failing to report a personal contribution of $21,000 that he made to his own campaign and filing a false report.
However, unethical behaviour is not limited to just the Conservatives. The NDP misappropriated millions of taxpayer dollars when it used its parliamentary office budgets to pay for satellite party offices across the country.
In that case, 68 NDP MPs improperly pooled their House of Commons office budgets to pay for the salaries of 28 staffers to work in satellite offices in Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto. In total, the NDP misappropriated $2.75 million of taxpayer money. The NDP has still not repaid this amount.
This is unacceptable behaviour. Canadians deserve better.
Unfortunately, the list goes on for both parties across the floor. This is just a small window into the type of behaviour from that side of the aisle that Canadians have grown tired of.
Our government knows that Canadians deserve and expect more from their members of Parliament. That is why our government is committed to full accountability to Canadians. We expect ministers and parliamentary secretaries to uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced.
We believe in integrity, honesty, and transparency—all values that are exemplified by our Minister of Justice.
In fact, while the member for St. Albert—Edmonton tries to make claims against the Minister of Justiceabout her conduct, it was the minister who proactively sought the advice of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. She attended a fundraising event—something that all members here have done before and no doubt continue to do—as an MP and engaged with Canadians.
In my opening remarks, I said that this motion was baseless. Let me tell members why.
The member for St. Albert—Edmonton wrote to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and received a response indicating that the Minister of Justice was not in contravention of the act— yet here we are, debating a motion from the member for St. Albert—Edmonton trying to suggest otherwise.
I would ask that the member from across the way again review the response he received from the commissioner. It might, on a second reading, provide him with the answer he is seeking.
To be clear, in case the member for St. Albert—Edmonton and members across the way are not aware, with regard to the specific activity, pursuant to Elections Canada regulations, the Liberal Party will be entirely responsible for all costs associated with the event.
As I said, our government is committed to accountability and transparency. Even before forming government, the Liberal Party has always been raising the bar on transparency.
In 2013 the Liberal Party was the only party to require members to proactively disclose expenses. We believe Canadians deserve to know how their dollars are being spent.
The Liberal Party also introduced motions to advance transparency and accountability in the House. Unfortunately, the NDP did not support this effort to increase transparency and the motions did not pass.
Finally, in 2014, a Liberal motion that called upon the Board of Internal Economy to adopt a more comprehensive disclosure mechanism received all-party support. We are proud to have led the way on this front.
In November 2015, as part of this commitment, the Prime Minister published a ministerial code of conduct entitled “Open and Accountable Government”. This guide is available on the Prime Minister's website for all Canadians to read. It is an important and fundamental document for the government.
I would like to draw the House's attention to some of the main ideas in this document.
Today our government continues to work toward increased transparency and accountability. As part of this commitment, in November the Prime Minister issued “Open and Accountable Government”, a guide for the conduct of his ministry. This is an important and foundational document for the government, and I would like to draw the attention of the House to some of its key themes and topics.
As the Prime Minister states in his message to ministers at the start of “Open and Accountable Government”:
For Canadians to trust our government we must trust Canadians, and we will only be successful in implementing our agenda to the extent that we earn and keep this trust.
I would like to take this moment to again highlight the conduct of the minister, who proactively sought advice from the commissioner. She is someone Canadians can depend on as an individual with utmost integrity. She is someone Canadians can trust to protect our rights and ensure that our legislation continues to meet the highest standards of equity, fairness, and respect for the rule of law.
I am proud to be working in this House alongside such an exemplary individual. I am also proud to be part of a government that understands the importance of integrity and honesty. This importance is highlighted in “Open and Accountable Government”. As the Prime Minister states:
To be worthy of Canadians’ trust, we must always act with integrity. This is not merely a matter of adopting the right rules, or of ensuring technical compliance with those rules. 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.
To assist members in meeting these duties, “Open and Accountable Government” sets out the Prime Minister's expectations for their personal conduct, which includes compliance with statutory obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act, with the ethical guidelines set out in annex A of the guide, and with the guidelines on fundraising set out in annex B.
While I am on the topic of the Lobbying Act, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some key features of this act.
The Lobbying Act requires anyone who lobbies federal public office holders to register as a lobbyist with the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. All lobbyists are obligated under the act to report on lobbying activities, including communication with designated public office holders, on a monthly basis. This information is published on the Internet on the public registry maintained by the Commissioner of Lobbying.
Who is a lobbyist? The Lobbying Act identifies two types of lobbyists.
A consultant lobbyist is an individual who, for payment, communicates with public office holders on behalf of any person or organization. This individual may be a professional lobbyist but can also be any individual who, in the course of his or her work for a client, communicates with or arranges meetings with a public office holder.
An in-house lobbyist is an individual who is an employee of an organization and whose duties are to communicate with public office holders on behalf of his or her employer.
If the employer is a corporation, there are two other ways in which a person can be identified as an in-house lobbyist. The first is if that individual's duties are to communicate with public office holders on behalf of any subsidiary of the employer. The second is if that individual's duties are to communicate with public office holders on behalf of any corporation of which the employer is a subsidiary.
As I said earlier, all lobbyists are obligated under the act to report on lobbying activities, including communications with designated public office holders, on a monthly basis.
What are these activities? The Lobbying Act defines activities that, when carried out for compensation, are considered to be lobbying. Generally speaking, they include communicating with public office holders about changing federal laws, regulations, policies, or programs, obtaining a financial benefit, such as a grant or a contribution, and in certain cases, obtaining a government contract. As well, in the case of the consultant lobbyist, it would include arranging a meeting between a public office holder and another person qualified as lobbying.
The commissioner has provided additional interpretation on what must be reported. In-house and consultant lobbyists must report all oral and arranged communications relating to financial benefits, even when initiated by a public office holder. Likewise, consultant lobbyists must report oral and arranged communications relating to a contract regardless of who initiated the communication.
What are these communications the act refers to? For the purposes of the Lobbying Act, communications include both verbal and written. Examples of verbal communications with a public office holder are arranged meetings, phone calls, informal communication, and grassroots communications. Examples of written communications with a public office holder include hard copy or electronic formats.
Some types of communication do not require registration. These include, for example, inquiries about publicly available information and general inquiries about the terms and conditions of programs and application processes.
Registration is also not required for participation in government initiated activities, such as consultations, hearings, round tables, or like activities where transparency is comparable to that of a parliamentary committee where participants, proceedings, and decisions are readily made public. The same goes for preparation and presentation of briefings to parliamentary committees.
As I mentioned, the Lobbying Act requires anyone who lobbies federal public office holders to register as a lobbyist to the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. Who are these public office holders? Public office holders as defined under the act are any employee or officer of Her Majesty in right of Canada. This includes virtually all persons occupying an elected or appointed position in the federal government, including members of the House of Commons and the other place and their staff.
Now, on a broader level, “Open and Accountable Government” also lays out the fundamental principles of our system of responsible government, including the core tenets of individual and collective ministerial responsibility.
All this to say that the minister did not break any rules. She is completely in compliance with the law. Her actions were consistent with the actions of other members of this place and I defend her actions very strongly. I challenge any member to not fundraise and see how the next election goes.
More important, there has been no violations of any ethics codes by members of the government since October 19, 2015. Prior to that is entirely another story. When will the member for Calgary Heritage, for example, release his donor list from his leadership run of the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party? Members will remember that party. Its first official name was C-CRAP. When will the member for Calgary Heritage release his donor list for his leadership run for the Conservative Party? What does he have to hide? How many members have been taken away in leg irons and from which parties were they?
The Conservatives talk about ethics as if they have some basis for doing so, as if they do not have the longest history of unethical practices.
There are a couple of books I would refer them to. One is called On The Take. Another one is called Blue Trust. These are fascinating books by author Stevie Cameron on the long and colourful history of Conservative ethical standards.
I am looking forward to having this conversation go a little further and hearing more about how the Conservatives believe they understand what ethics are and how they believe they have any moral basis to bring it up.