Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the Conservative Party's motion. The NDP will support this motion because it addresses a problem that clearly raises doubts in some people's minds about the role of partisan political fundraising when combined with the role of a minister in the performance of his or her duties.
We must look at this matter from a broader perspective with respect to the role of an institution such as the House of Commons in a system of representative democracy. Our system essentially operates on the trust that people place in the individuals they send to the House of Commons to discuss and pass legislation and budgets for the country. As a result of that trust, people expect that the work of the elected representatives will be impartial and as objective as possible, without being influenced by money.
The big problem with scandals, whether they involve Liberals or Conservatives, is that they keep fuelling the cynicism that people feel about our democratic system. This undermines our representative institutions and even has an impact on voter turnout. The general perception is Liberal, Tory, same old story.
We are always mired in some scandal or other involving either the Grits or the Tories. There is mudslinging, and the sin of one is less egregious than that of the other. There is reference to the previous scandal. I will talk about this, but I want to take a moment to say that finger pointing may not be the best use of parliamentarians' time.
That said, in order to maintain Canadians' trust in the system, the conduct of parliamentarians, the government, and its ministers has to be beyond reproach and there must be no perception of potential conflicts of interest. That is a more noble objective, in the medium and long term, and much more important than the scandal of the day.
I would like to quote the Prime Minister, who spoke about this very trust when he introduced his new government and referred to the guide governing his ministers' conduct:
In order for Canadians to trust their government, they need a government that trusts them. We will be open and honest with Canadians, and we will uphold the highest standards of integrity and impartiality both in our public and private affairs.
We would like that to be the case at all times.
The documents we are releasing today provide guidance on how we must go about our responsibilities as Ministers, and I encourage Canadians to read them and to hold us accountable for delivering these commitments.
I will get back to the fact that the Minister of Justice's actions quite obviously did not meet these highest standards of integrity and impartiality. We all agree that she made a mistake, that she should apologize, and that, like a previous Conservative minister, she should probably reimburse the money she collected at this fundraising event, organized by a Toronto law firm.
Before I get to the heart of the matter, I want to say that the leader of the Green Party's speech earlier was more or less in line with my introduction. There are many things we should be discussing today, but the Conservatives' motion is forcing us to once again talk about scandals and point fingers at each other. This is what we will spend our day doing. We know very well how it will look at the end of the day. It has already started. Someone did something worse before, the others are not nice, someone else was involved in such and such scandal, the police visited this person, and so on. This is true, but the Conservative Party is hijacking our parliamentary business.
This issue is already out there. Conservative members have already spoken. I also gave interviews. There is pressure on the minister. She is being asked to be accountable. However, the Conservatives are essentially wasting our day here, when we could have been talking about issues that affect people's day-to-day lives.
The people of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and, I believe, most people in every riding send us here to solve their problems and improve their living conditions, their working conditions, their retirement situation, and the quality of care they receive. Today, I would have liked to be able to take the time to talk with my colleagues, to discuss, debate, and exchange ideas with them about things that change people's lives in a real and tangible way.
Take, for example, public day care spaces. We saw in Quebec how making affordable and accessible day care spaces available to everyone changed families' lives. The Liberal government has not done anything on that file since it took office, even though something like that could quickly change people's lives. People in Ontario and western Canada pay between $60 and $80 a day for day care. As a result, one parent usually ends up staying at home because it costs too much to send the child to private day care. Unfortunately, it is usually women who assume that role.
A study conducted in Quebec by economist Pierre Fortin very clearly showed the effect that the provincial program had on women. Approximately 70,000 women went back to work and were able to begin contributing to the overall productivity of society again and enhancing their own financial self-sufficiency within the couple or family.
We could have talked about that, but the Conservatives did not want to. We also could have talked about health care, which is still the number one priority of Quebeckers and Canadians. For example, it is important for people to be able to get treatment when they are sick, to not have to wait in the emergency room for 14 hours, and to have access to specialists.
The Liberal Minister of Health has a mandate to enforce the Canada Health Act. I have called on her a number of times to explain what she is doing about the fact that the governments of Saskatchewan and Quebec are introducing and legalizing ancillary fees in private clinics and thereby restricting access to care. This has a direct impact on people. When they are being forced to pay $80 for eye drops that cost $4 at the pharmacy and $300 to $500 for procedures such as colonoscopies, that is restricting access to care and it is against Canadian law.
The federal government has a role to play here, and we are calling on it to take action. Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not want us to talk about that today. The clock is ticking: it is time to renew the agreement on provincial transfers that will be expiring soon. We know that the Conservative Party wanted to cut those transfers and take $36 billion away from the provinces over the next 10 years.
What is the Liberal plan regarding the new agreement for health transfers to the provinces? We have no idea. It is still vague. We are told that we will debate it, that negotiations are under way, and then it is put off to a later date. These are issues that matter to our constituents, and once again, the Conservatives are wasting an entire day to talk about something else.
Obviously, the behaviour of the Minister of Justice must be singled out. Yes, it was less than impressive, but as I said a little earlier in the debate, in my questions to my Conservative colleague, the irony of the situation is lost on the Conservatives. They are in no position to bring up any issues of ethics. They are looking for trouble, to some extent.
Need I remind the House that the RCMP raided the Conservative Party office, seized documents, and had to investigate because the Conservatives violated the Canada Elections Act? Need I remind everyone that the Conservative Party was found guilty in the in-and-out scandal, whereby the Conservatives used local riding associations to hide federal, Canada-wide election spending? That scheme enabled them to exceed the legal election spending limits allowed by Elections Canada. The Conservatives were caught red-handed and found guilty.
I do not really understand the point of stirring all this up again six months after a new government was elected. Let us not forget that Dean Del Mastro personally committed fraud and broke the election law. It is rather mind-boggling. He wrote a $20,000 cheque to his own election campaign.
We know that the cap is $1,500. The hon. member was the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, in other words, the person who speaks in the House on behalf of the Prime Minister when he is absent. Today, that same member has to serve a prison sentence for breaching the Canada Elections Act. Furthermore, he keeps insisting he did nothing wrong. This motion and this debate might backfire on the Conservatives.
I could also say a few words about our friends in the red chamber at the other place in the Centre Block. The former Conservative prime minister promised, hand on his heart, that he would never appoint senators that were not duly elected. If memory serves me correctly, he appointed 58 senators in order to have a majority in the upper chamber.
Those appointments were not always successful. For example, there was Mike Duffy. It has been a while since we mentioned his name. Mr. Duffy had his potentially fraudulent expenses for his secondary residence reimbursed directly by Nigel Wright, who was the Conservative prime minister's chief of staff. Mr. Wright wrote a personal cheque for $90,000 to Mike Duffy. In my opinion, the Conservatives are in no position to lecture us on ethics today.
I could also talk about Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau, and many friends of the former Conservative prime minister. These people undermined Canadians' trust in our institutions. Taxpayers were outraged by the actions of the previous Conservative government, which did not respect them or obey the rules.
That said, the Minister of Justice's conduct recently was strange. She attended a private fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Canada, organized by the Toronto law firm Torys LLP. Tickets were $500 each. The invitation indicated that those attending would have the privilege of having the Minister of Justice as the guest of honour. Unlike several other Liberal Party fundraisers, this one was not listed on the party's website. It was kept somewhat secret, but we learned about it from a media outlet that broke the news.
In the quote I read earlier, the Prime Minister refers to the new Liberal government's guide. I will now read excerpts from annex B of this much-touted guide that the Liberals are so proud of, entitled “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries”. It states:
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.
The following is a summary of best practices that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are expected to follow to maintain appropriate boundaries between their official duties and political fundraising activities. It is important that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries familiarize themselves with these practices and apply them in all appropriate circumstances. In addition, they must ensure that their staffs are well acquainted with the practices and that adequate processes are in place in their offices to ensure compliance.
The practices complement, and do not replace, other rules that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must observe, including the Conflict of Interest Act, the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons and the Lobbying Act. [That is too bad because the guide is not legally binding, which is a serious problem.] Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should communicate with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner if they have any questions...
That is what the minister did, but that poses another problem. We believe that, if the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner said that the minister's actions did not pose a problem, it is because the rules she is applying are not strict enough.
Let us move on to the general principles set out in the guide.
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
That is where the problem lies. It continues:
There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
The fundraising event was organized by a Toronto law firm and it was explicitly said that a $500 donation to the Liberal Party would give donors access to a minister. This seems to be a clear violation of the Liberals' guidelines, which they claim to be so proud of.
I would like to hear their thoughts on this, because there was preferential access. Everyone agrees that this appears to be preferential access. This has raised some eyebrows in the NDP. A former Conservative minister was caught up in the same kind of mess. She participated in a fundraising event attended by people directly connected to her portfolio and her position as minister. At the time, these included people from the arts and culture community. The minister reimbursed the money that had been collected at this event. I think that it would be appropriate for the Minister of Justice to do the same. The Liberal Party's defence is that she was not there in her capacity as minister, but rather as an MP. First of all, that is not what the invitation said, and second of all, I would like to know how she was able to remove her minister's hat when she walked into the room, especially since she was at a law firm in Toronto and she is a member of Parliament from British Columbia.
The question I am asking my Liberal colleagues is therefore very clear. If she really was there as the member for Vancouver Granville, I would like to know what concerns and demands she conveyed to the lawyers of Torys LLP, a Toronto law firm, on behalf of the people of Vancouver Granville. It seems to me that that was a long way to go to talk about the concerns of her constituents. I think it is more likely that the event violated the best practices guide that has been so highly touted by the Liberal Party of Canada.
We were looking forward to a fresh approach and new beginnings, after 10 years under the Conservatives. More and more, we see that the Liberal Party is reverting to its bad habit of circumventing the law. That is the party responsible for the sponsorship scandal and partisan appointments. Not much has been said about it, but the first ambassadors appointed by the new government, specifically to the United States and the United Nations, were people with direct ties to the Liberal machine. That is exactly the kind of partisan appointment that the Liberals denounced in the past when they were in opposition, and yet they are doing the same thing today.
There was also a contest on the Liberal Party website. The prize? Join the Prime Minister on a trip to Washington. People had to provide their email address, which would be added to the Liberal Party database. There have also been contests for access to certain ministers on certain occasions.
Once again, there is some risk of blurring the line between official government and parliamentary business and partisan activities. Since coming to power, the new Liberal Party has been making mistakes and falling short of the very high standards of integrity it espoused during the election campaign.
I call on the new government to listen to the concerns of the people and the opposition members and to change course in order to honour its promises and commitments, which it has not yet done.
Although it is important to talk about respect for the law and the scandals that could affect the new Liberal government or the old Conservative government, because of the Conservative motion, we will spend all day speaking to those kinds of issues, rather than the issues that are of real concern to the people from my riding, and I think from most ridings. People want to hear about jobs, child care, health care, and good pensions. The NDP would like to talk about that.