House of Commons Hansard #42 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.


Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick


Serge Cormier LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my colleague.

My NDP colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, mentioned a number of former members and Conservative Party MPs who were in a bit of trouble considering some of their actions in the past. I am not about to go down that rabbit hole, since there are so many examples of this behaviour that I am likely to forget some.

Would my colleague like to tell the House, once again, what the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner said about what the minister was allowed to do, in terms of her presence?

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, the commissioner was very clear. She said that there was no breach of any rules. She could not have been any clearer.

As the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands said, we are wasting an entire day on something that is not a real issue.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I am a father of four, and this conversation that we are having with members opposite reminds me of my kids. It is like, “Well, they started it first,” and “Don't look over here; take a look over there”. It is kind of a diversionary tactic: let us remind people of the past.

Let us talk about today. The fact of the matter is that the minister stood in the House and she was not clear and consistent with the code of conduct. She took part in trying to mislead the House and Canadians. She was not proactive in going to the Ethics Commissioner. She went to the Ethics Commissioner after this event was made public. Then she went to check and make sure that it was above board. The Ethics Commissioner, in response to the letter from our hon. colleague on this side, said that given the information that had been received, there was no conceivable issue or conflict of interest.

However, the actions speak for themselves here. The Minister of Justice stood in the House and said that, indeed, she attended the event, not as the Minister of Justice but as the MP for Vancouver Granville, and her head policymaker attended the event as a volunteer. Then, when everything blew up, she said that, actually, she attended as the Minister of Justice, but everything is okay, and by the way, the Conservatives did this and the NDP did this.

Again, I am in this Parliament. I was not in the previous Parliament. Instead of diversionary tactics, why can we not speak to the issue today and agree that perhaps mistakes happen? There is nothing wrong with standing up in the House and saying that one was wrong and made a mistake.

My question for the hon. colleague across the way is, can those members not see where the vagueness and confusion can come from with the verbal gymnastics and changing of the stories? Again, going back to my being a father, when I talk to my kids, where there is smoke, there is fire. There is a lot of smoke here.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, the member makes a very serious accusation that the minister misled this House. As the member knows, that is not parliamentary language, nor is it true. In fact, he just misled the House.

If the member is not happy with the state of affairs, why not use the opposition day motion to change the rules? Why not say, “This does not work, so why not try that,” instead of what he is saying? I think we can do a lot better.

The minister is working within the current rules, within the current ethical boundaries, and I think she is doing a very good job.

However, if the member wants to change the rules, that is a separate issue, and he is welcome to make a motion to that effect.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

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.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my friend. He gave quite the speech on this issue.

I think that what he said in closing is very important. We talk about very important things here in the House. Last week we spent a lot of time, a whole evening, talking about what is going on in Attawapiskat. That was important.

Today, we will spend the whole day talking about a partisan issue. It is a bit sad that we are spending our valuable time doing that kind of thing here.

I would like to ask my colleague whether he has ideas about how we might redirect this conversation and turn a partisan issue into something meaningful for the people in our ridings.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

We share the same concerns about having topical, constructive debates to help us move forward to resolve certain problems. We can and must improve many things together. I am talking about things that affect our constituents, everything from rail safety, protecting dairy farmers, and public transit, to our aging infrastructure. We can and must do better for our constituents.

As far as the scandals and stories about election financing are concerned, our system is much better than the one in the United States thanks to the limits imposed under the Canada Elections Act, not only on election spending, but also on donations to political parties. Removing the ability of labour groups and corporations to make donations to political parties helped clean up fundraising a bit.

That being said, we could improve things by restoring the public funding for political parties that was abolished by the Conservatives. It used to be there, but the Conservatives cancelled it. This would reduce the pressure on political parties to constantly do fundraising and might prevent such gaffes as the one recently made by the Minister of Justice.

This would put all parties on a level playing field and would improve the quality of our democratic life, which would reduce the pressure to do more fundraising all the time. This would benefit our entire democratic process.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank our colleague for his speech, which was quite interesting.

I would like to ask him a question. Our Liberal colleague spoke about issues that are not important in our society at present. We are debating conflicts of interest and public trust, and we want to address Canadians' cynicism regarding certain actions of politicians. If we want to take meaningful action by creating other bills, Canadians must trust us.

I again heard certain references to the former government. People always look back in time instead of focusing on the present and the future. However, in the past, reprehensible actions were met with sanctions. That was very well said by my colleague. People are now in prison. People have had to pay back sums of money following certain events organized by influential players.

I would like to know what he actually thinks about this situation. Should the minister pay back the money raised by this event?

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska very much for his question and his desire to look to the future and make things better.

Indeed, the conflict of interest code for MPs and ministers could be strengthened. The commissioner should also have powers with more teeth. The guide that the Liberals adopted, which is really a set of recommendations, should be in some way binding so as to force ministers, especially, to conduct themselves according to the highest ethical standards possible and to avoid not just conflicts of interest, but any perceived conflict of interest.

In this specific case, I do believe that the minister made a mistake and that she should pay back the money raised at this $500-a-ticket private fundraiser held at a law firm in Toronto.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his excellent speech. He really covered all the important points.

We are dealing with a major ethical issue that, quite frankly, is of serious concern. It is as just as worrisome as the Nigel Wright affair, when Mr. Wright gave Mike Duffy a cheque for $90,000. That scandal was extremely worrisome and it is not over for the Conservatives.

Just six months after taking office, the Liberal government is already involved in scandals and its ministers have already shown a complete lack of judgment. That is very disappointing.

While the government is dealing with that lack of judgment, it is not dealing with files that all Canadians, including the people in my riding of Drummond, really care about.

For example, the government is not doing anything to advance the development of official languages. In its budget, the Liberal government could have indexed the amounts allocated to the roadmap. It could have indexed the amounts allocated to the Commissioner of Official Languages. The same is true with regard to the environment. The government is not doing anything in this area, which is really disappointing.

The people of the greater Drummond area want the government to invest in green energy and energy efficient retrofits. That could help drive our regions' economies and ease the transition to a low-carbon economy.

I really have more of a comment than a question for my hon. colleague. I would like to congratulate him on his speech and tell him that it is really important to keep working for our constituents, as we are doing, and not as the Liberals and Conservatives are doing. It is really shameful that these sorts of scandals are happening again.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Drummond for his excellent and relevant comments. I am also sad that scandals keep popping up one after the other. We have gone from Tory scandals to Liberal ones.

I also want to congratulate my colleague for his work on the official languages file and for introducing a bill to require Supreme Court judges to be bilingual. This is an important issue to most francophones across Canada, including Quebeckers. This is an initiative that the New Democrats are putting forward.

In the previous Parliament, we managed to require that all officers of Parliament be bilingual. That was a great NDP victory for the French language, and we are continuing this fight. I also share my colleague's concerns about the decisions made by this government that have a real impact on people's lives.

With respect to the environment, the new Liberal government went to the Paris climate change conference with the same plan and the same greenhouse gas reduction targets as the Conservatives. That is disgraceful and it is not enough. We need to do more and better so that we can transition to renewable energies.

Furthermore, I do not understand why the Liberal government blindly signed the trans-Pacific partnership agreement negotiated by the Conservatives, which the Liberals had criticized when they were in opposition. Now they say that it is the best thing that could happen.

However, Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, said that it was likely the worst trade deal ever and that a number of studies had shown that the agreement could lead to the loss of 60,000 good jobs in Canada.

I am calling on the Liberal government to go back to the drawing board and come up with a real job creation plan for the people of Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join in the debate today on what I consider to be a very serious topic. We are talking about the inappropriateness of a fundraiser that was conducted by the Minister of Justice.

Before I get into the specifics of that particular fundraiser and why we are having this discussion today, let me start by saying that I think we all agree in this place that fundraising is both legitimate and necessary for political parties and for politicians to engage in. However, it has to be done within the rules.

There are rules for everything. We all know that. We all know that we need to abide them. I would remind you, Madam Speaker, and other members of this place, that when our Conservative government first took office in 2006, we made some very necessary changes to the method in which all political parties, and, in fact, individual members could fundraise.

We reduced the level of fundraising significantly that one could for ask from an individual. We eliminated corporate and union donations entirely. We did that for a very legitimate and very necessary reason. We did not think it would be appropriate for our government, or in fact any government, to be beholden to an individual, a corporation, or a union simply because they donated money.

In years past, and I am talking many years ago, it was not uncommon to see some corporations donate tens of thousands of dollars to political parties. Why would they do that? I think it is very appropriate to say that many would donate vast sums of money to try to receive some form of benefit down the road.

That is basically what happened years ago, and it continued until a subsequent series of governments started to change the fundraising regime to lower the amount of money that individuals and corporations could actually donate. They did that to get away from the undue influence of big business or wealthy individuals, to the point where we have it now, where all corporate and union donations are outlawed; they are banned. The amount that an individual can donate to a party or to an individual member of Parliament is somewhat less than $1,500.

I should also say, and I should have said at the outset, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Cariboo—Prince George.

That brings us to where we are today. We brought forward a motion basically talking about what we consider to be inappropriate fundraising by the Minister of Justice. Since I talked earlier about the reasons behind changing the fundraising regime to try to get away from any undue influence that individuals or corporations might be able to exact upon a government, what did the Minister of Justice do exactly that was so inappropriate?

She attended a fundraiser hosted by a number of well-heeled Bay Street lawyers at a law firm. These individuals, for the privilege and the right of attending this fundraiser with the Minister of Justice, paid $500 a person to do so.

Why would any individual do that? I can assure this House that, at least in my opinion, it was not because these lawyers wanted to hear the minister spout profundities about the government. No, quite simply, these members spent $500 a piece, shelled out $500 per person, in order to get close to the minister so they perhaps could receive some benefit in the future. Perhaps they might be able to receive a government contract for their law firm, or perhaps they hope to personally receive a government appointment somewhere in the future.

This type of approach is in direct violation and contradiction of the Prime Minister's own code of ethics in which he instructed all of his public office holders, all ministers and parliamentary secretaries, to not engage in fundraising that could be a conflict of interest or even a perceived conflict of interest.

If ministers attending a $500-a-person fundraiser is not considered to be a perceived conflict of interest, then nothing is. Even more damning is the fact that one of the attendees, until the night before the fundraiser occurred, had been registered to lobby the Minister of Justice.

I suspect what happened was that when the individual in question knew that this might be viewed as a conflict of interest, he took steps to deregister himself. It was literally the night before the minister attended the fundraiser. That was to try to make it at least appear that there was no inappropriate lobbying that would occur. That simply does not pass the smell test. It simply does not.

Whether one could technically argue that this was in the rules, from a perception standpoint, it certainly does not pass the smell test. Clearly, if lawyers and stakeholders were paying $500 per person to sidle up to a minister to discuss who knows what, an average Canadian would have to think there was something fishy going on, that perhaps they wanted to curry favour with the minister to some extent. This is, as I said earlier, completely in contradiction and violation with the Prime Minister's own code of conduct.

I also have to say one thing that I frankly find somewhat disturbing, and that is, in the House when we have raised questions to the Minister of Justice, she has steadfastly refused to answer any direct questions about that specific fundraiser. Instead, the government House leader has stood in her defence to answer and deflect any questions.

One of the things that I find, perhaps not disturbing but almost humorous, is the government House leader's contention that every MP does this; this is no big thing. The Ethics Commissioner has cleared the Minister of Justice and we all do it, so why are opposition members complaining?

I would simply say this: Earth to government House leader, backbench MPs do not charge $500 a pop for fundraisers. They might charge it, but no one would show up. Therefore, to contend that at one time the minister said she was only doing it in her role as a member of Parliament, people would not attend fundraisers at $500 a pop for any backbencher in this place, let alone $1,000 a pop, which the Minister of Justice is going to do at a future fundraiser.

The reason that these lawyers spent $500 a person was to get next to a minister who has influence within her department obviously, and who might be able to benefit those individuals attending the fundraiser. That is clearly inappropriate. One does not have to be a political scientist or a political pundit to understand that. It is just common sense. There is a perception that it was a pay-to-play fundraising event in which individuals wanted to curry favour with a minister and were willing to pay large sums of money to do so.

Clearly, it was inappropriate. We are asking the minister to simply admit that she made a mistake, return the money, and do what is right and appropriate.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Madam Speaker, the member stated very clearly at the beginning of his speech that fundraising is legitimate and necessary but it must be done within the rules. On that, we absolutely agree. I do not think anybody disagrees with that.

The interesting thing is that we have rules. We also have an arbiter of those rules, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, who was in fact put in by the previous government. Something was brought up, was adjudicated by the commissioner, and it was found to be completely within the rules.

My question would be this. Obviously, because of this debate, the member made a statement that the commissioner has made an error. Could he explain to us what specifically was the error in her judgment?

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, I hate to correct the member opposite, but I never said that the Ethics Commissioner made a mistake. In fact, what the Ethics Commissioner has said on many occasions is that if members want to make the rules around fundraisers even more stringent than they are now, she would welcome that. In other words, she is basically saying that members of Parliament should get together and tighten up the rules, because she probably thinks they are a little too lax.

I agree that the Ethics Commissioner technically said there was no breach in this case, but I point out, as I did several times in my intervention, that the Prime Minister said there should not be any real or even perceived conflict of interest. If the member opposite cannot see where a bunch of well-heeled lawyers paying $500 a pop to sidle up to the Minister of Justice is not a perceived conflict of interest, he is simply fudging the facts.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, we have heard from members on the opposite side arguing the legalistic aspect of whether the letter of the law or rules were broken. However, as the member on our side has eloquently said, it is a perception of conflict. It is a perception that the public has, and an issue of moral suasion.

I would like to hear the member speak more about the morality and ethics of it. It is not just about hard black-and-white rules. This is in a grey area. This is where the problem is. I would like to hear him comment on it a bit more.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, my colleague is quite correct. We are talking about something that most Canadians would consider to be inappropriate. I point to what I said earlier in my intervention, that one of the members of the law firm hosting the fundraiser, who paid $500 a pop, until the night before the fundraiser had been a registered lobbyist, someone who was registered to lobby the very minister who was coming to the fundraiser. All of a sudden, he deregistered. Why did he do that? It was because he knew that would not just be a perceived conflict, but a real conflict of interest. Therefore, he took the step of deregistering to try to make it look appropriate on a technical basis.

It is not appropriate. Why in the world would he want to lobby the Minister of Justice to begin with? It would be to try to gain benefit on behalf of a client. Just because he deregistered 24 hours before a fundraiser does not mean that he did not still have that intent in mind.

On all levels, any normal individual, any rational-thinking individual, would recognize this for what it was. It was inappropriate fundraising by a bunch of individuals who wanted to use money to gain influence with the minister. That is simply wrong.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to comment on the fact that as I was knocking on doors across my riding, one of the things I heard repeatedly was that people were feeling disillusioned, that there was not the ethics that there should be in the House based on the previous Conservative government. I am wondering if you agree that the Conflict of Interest Act needs to be reviewed.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I assume that you wanted to address that question to the chair. I will allow the member a very brief answer, please.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, yes, I do think it should be reviewed. For nine years, while we were in government, I was on the procedures and House affairs committee. The Ethics Commissioner appeared before us on several occasions, always requesting us to do a review.

It should be reviewed. The code of ethics that we all live by, and some public office holders have a slightly different code than regular members, is a living, breathing document. It should continuously be at least examined, and hopefully improvements made on a continuing and ongoing basis.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House. I would like to thank my hon. colleague for Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan for splitting his time with me today.

The Prime Minister's mandate letter or code of conduct to his ministers regarding ministerial conduct reads as follows:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced. As public office holders, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are subject to the Part I requirements of the Ethical and Political Activity Guidelines for Public Office Holders.

The final line says:

Moreover, they have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law.

I bring that up because, as I said earlier in the debate, I agree with the comments made in the House that we definitely have more important things to debate, but the facts are the facts. The government campaigned on bringing real change to the House and bringing an open and transparent government. Now, all of a sudden, within the last six months of the short term it has been in power, we have seen some questionable activity. The perception is that some things are going on that may not right.

The issue for me is the fact that when this event was discovered, it was not a matter of the Minister of Justice being proactive, as mentioned earlier by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. It was when a media outlet reported this event and made it public. Then and only then did the Minister of Justice report the event and asked if any rules of conduct had been broken. It was then and only then that it was brought to light.

Shortly after the event, it was brought forward in the House. The question was raised by my hon. colleague. At that time, the Minister of Justice stood in the House and said that she attended the event merely as the MP for Vancouver Granville and that her head policymaker or adviser was there merely as a volunteer.

Mistakes happen. We are all human. We all make mistakes, as I tell my kids. I have been married for a long time so I know when to say am sorry and say that I made a mistake. Sometimes we have to do that. We can forgive, but sometimes we cannot forget.

The minister stood in the House and said that she was merely there as the member for Vancouver Granville, and that her head policymaker was there as a volunteer. Therefore, the question off the top of my head would be this. Was the policymaker there merely as a volunteer? Did she claim per diems? Did she take a day off? The actions and fact were not clear and consistent, as brought forth by members of the other side.

I have been married for a long time. I have four kids. I have coached for a very long time. I am very used to diversionary tactics. When the kids say “look over here”, or “they did it first”, it does not make it right.

We are talking about today's Parliament. We are not talking about what has been done in the past.

As my hon. colleague previously mentioned, perhaps Canadians were disillusioned as to how the government was moving forward. With successive governments, everybody sets out with best intentions. However, in the ways of the world, and as we go about our daily lives, sometimes we stumble. However, stumbling is one thing. Standing and saying that one made a mistake is another, which is commendable.

The minister not only attended the event, but was advertised as a $500 a plate event to gain access to the Minister of Justice, held at a law firm that did a considerable amount of work with the federal government. As well, the lawyers who might attend it could be in line for government appointments. I am sure members can see where some of the confusion and concern lies with those of us on this side.

When we talk about an open and transparent government, the story has changed many times. She said that she was just there as a member of Parliament for my riding, or that her head policymaker was there as a volunteer. Oftentimes when we stand in the House, we forget who we really represent and who we should be speaking for, which is all Canadians, and we should speak in common language.

Would this pass the smell test in a family if a family member said one thing and the next day the story changed? The facts are the facts. There is a bit of a smell to this.

While we should be debating and talking about the crisis at Attawapiskat, or the deficiencies in budget 2016, or the reason why it took the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs a week after our emergency debate on the suicides in Attawapiskat to get to that community, we are talking about an issue that is relatively small in the grand scheme of things. However, it speaks volumes to what we have seen over the course of the last six months with the government. It campaigned that it would have a mere $10 billion deficit. On March 22, we saw a $29.4 billion deficit. It campaigned that it would lower the taxes on small business. Instead, it has put a freeze on it, and, from what we have seen, it will likely increase those taxes. It is again another string of confusing and perhaps misleading tactics.

On this side of the House, it is our job to hold the government's feet to the fire, and that is what we are doing, because Canadians have that same question. As our hon. colleague stated earlier on, maybe they were looking for some real change. Instead, they have the same Liberal government making the same promises, breaking them, and perhaps looking after its friends a little too much. Canadians deserve better. They deserve better from all of us.

I would agree that there might be things at which we need to look. Perhaps we need to do better collectively, as a whole, strive to do better, be more accountable, remember who we represent, and to speak the common language of our constituents so they understand what this is and what it really means. We should not be pointing fingers saying things such as, “They did it, so it's okay for us to do it too, so take that” or “You ain't seen nothing here”, the spoken diversionary tactics and shell games that we see.

Let us be honest. If a mistake was made, all the minister had to do was stand and say that she erred in her ways, that she made a mistake, and that it would never happen again. I think the members opposite can agree that if we made a mistake, we would do that. I have made a mistake in the House and I have stood and apologized publicly for that mistake. I think all Canadians are asking for is that the Minister of Justice, and perhaps all of us, be held to a higher level. If we make a mistake, we should stand, apologize, say we are sorry, and ensure we move forward with truth and real change.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Whitby Ontario


Celina Caesar-Chavannes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Madam Speaker, I want to be very clear in the House that the Minister of Justice, as well as members of this caucus, place a premium on honesty, openness, transparency, and accountability. As a member, a minister, or as a parliamentary secretary, the concerns of the people of our riding are in fact the concerns shared by many Canadians.

There are other important issues to the people of Canada. In my riding of Whitby in particular are the issues of jobs, particularly for youth; climate change; and, mental health issues. These are all issues we could be discussing today.

I want to ask the member opposite this. Why are we continuing to make an issue where there is no issue?

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, we should all be discussing the issues that are most important to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

We sit without a softwood lumber agreement. We are 40 days into a 100 day timeline. The Prime Minister and President Obama have said that they would have a solution in some fashion to the softwood lumber irritant. Yet today we have no further information on that.

We are still sitting without a trans-Pacific partnership agreement that would create thousands if not tens of thousands of jobs.

We have an energy crisis in terms of a pipeline that we could approve, which would take Canada's reliance off foreign oil and allow us to maybe take advantage of our own products and employ hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

I agree wholeheartedly with the member opposite. We should be talking about other things, but the facts are the facts. The Minister of Justice made a mistake. Would she stand in the House and apologize, and return the money she received at that fundraiser?

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I am a bit concerned that we are really wasting time in the House today with a lot of back and forth accusations. The past Conservative and Liberal governments have had ample opportunity to address tougher rules. We in the NDP have been calling for that for a number of years. I know from knocking on doors during the election campaign that Canadians, especially those in Windsor—Tecumseh, are astute. They know about the semantics and the smoke and mirrors. They understand how strategy and diversion sometimes just cast aspersions instead of really talking about the crux of the matter, which is the need to revise our rules.

Earlier on I heard a colleague from the official opposition say that perhaps a review of the Conflict of Interest Act would be in keeping with this issue. Is a mere apology enough? Should we be looking at a review?

Could the member give me his opinion on the concept of conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest not really being addressed? That may be the crux of this issue.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, oftentimes we in the House start placing blame when we talk about what was done in the past, what should be done now and what those guys did. I will not even bring up the $3.5 million that the NDP took from Canadian taxpayers and failed to repay. We will go on from that.

I agree with my hon. colleague that we should be talking about other things. However, the core issue we are talking about right now is a matter of trust. In the last six months, the Liberal government has broken the trust of Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Political Fundraising ActivitiesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders


Thunder Bay—Superior North Ontario


Patty Hajdu LiberalMinister of Status of Women

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the motion.

When the government was elected, we committed to work tirelessly to honour the trust Canadians have given us. We committed to bring new leadership and a new tone to government, listening to the needs of Canadians and working collaboratively to tackle the real challenges we face as a country.

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on these real challenges that Canadians across the country face, challenges such as seeking better job opportunities, finding affordable housing, advancing equal rights, or dealing with other pressing issues like climate change, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton felt it was important to discuss this frivolous motion—a motion that I can confidently say is without merit.

However, I am happy to stand here today to speak about the amazing efforts our government has made to increase transparency and accountability, as well as our strong commitment to an open and honest government that Canadians deserve.

We also committed to tracking our progress and relying upon evidence. What does the evidence say about Canadians' trust in government? An EKOS poll this week showed that Canadians' trust in government has skyrocketed to levels not seen since the mid-1970s. Canadians trust us because they know we are serious about openness and accountability.

For the past 10 years, Canadians have witnessed the most secretive government in Canada's history, one that has shut out scientists and closed the door on evidence-based decision making. It was also a government that was riddled with election scandals and unethical misconduct. Under the former Conservative government, Conservative Senator Mike Duffy inappropriately billed taxpayers as he engaged in Conservative Party fundraisers across the country. This happened under the former government's watch.

This unethical behaviour is not just limited to the Conservatives, but the NDP has also misused Canadian taxpayer dollars. From the Conservatives' many instances of overspending on election expenses, to the NDP's misappropriation of millions of taxpayer dollars, which it funnelled to partisan satellite offices, Canadians have had enough of this behaviour. Canadians want a government they can trust, which is why voters chose to elect a Liberal majority to bring real change to Canada. I am very proud to be part of this change and to stand here with a government that is committed to measures for a more open and accountable government.

Our government is committed to taking a different approach from the previous Conservative government. That is why, in November, our Prime Minister issued “Open and Accountable Government”, which sets core principles regarding the roles and responsibilities of ministers in Canada's system of responsible parliamentary government.

At the core of this guide is the understanding that public office-holders must maintain integrity in order to be worthy of Canadians' trust. “Open and Accountable Government” recognizes this importance. It states in its guidelines on ethical standards:

Public office holders shall act with honesty and uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of the government are conserved and enhanced.

I have no doubt, while the member for St. Albert—Edmonton would like to make claims that question the Minister of Justice's conduct, that she is an individual of utmost integrity whom Canadians can trust as the legal advisor to the cabinet and the chief law officer of the crown. It is a tremendous role but one I know the Minister of Justice is well equipped to take on.

In fact, despite what the member for St. Albert—Edmonton's motion seems to imply, the justice minister acted according with the Conflict of Interest Act and proactively sought the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's advice on her fundraising activity.

All members in the House are familiar with, and have likely engaged in, fundraising activities for their party. These are normal, routine activities that members undertake, not only to support their party but also to engage with Canadians. At the fundraising activity that the member for St. Albert—Edmonton is referring to in his motion, the minister appeared as a member of Parliament.

Further to this, her conduct was cleared by the commissioner, and the member for St. Albert—Edmonton knows this very well. He received a response from the commissioner, addressing the baseless claims he had raised in relation to this fundraising activity.

I am not sure why the member has continued to pursue this, in light of the response from the commissioner, but I will take this moment to again reiterate that the Minister of Justice took all the appropriate measures to ensure she was not in contravention of the Conflict of Interest Act and did not transgress section 16 of the act, which pertains to fundraising activities.

Further to this, pursuant to Elections Canada's regulations, the Liberal Party will be entirely responsible for all costs associated with the event. The Liberal Party fully complies with the Canada Elections Act in all of its fundraising activities.

Our government is committed to being open and accountable and ensuring that our ministers discharge their duties with integrity and meet the fundamental principles of our system of responsible government. In meeting these duties, “Open and Accountable Government” sets out the Prime Minister's expectations for ministers' personal conduct, which includes compliance with the statutory obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act.

At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss Canada's conflict of interest regime. Our country has benefited from a robust regime, and Canada continues to rank among the most ethically governed countries in the world. This is due to the fact that the Conflict of Interest Act establishes strict rules for all full-time public office-holders. The act applies to the Prime Minister, ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, and ministers' exempt staff. It also applies to almost all Governor in Council appointees, including deputy and associate deputy ministers, heads of agencies, and the CEOs, chairs, and members of crown corporations, boards, commissions, and tribunals. All of these public office-holders are subject to a set of general conflict of interest rules set out in part 1 of the act. This includes the core rule that public office-holders are to avoid conflicts between private interests and their official duties.

Some public office-holders are also considered to be reporting public office-holders under the act, and this includes ministers, parliamentary secretaries, full-time exempt staff, and full-time Governor in Council appointees. Reporting public office-holders are subject to additional rules and obligations under the act, including a prohibition on engaging in outside employment or other activities; a requirement to make various confidential and public disclosures of assets, liabilities, and other private interests, and to divest through sale or a blind trust certain assets such as publicly trade stocks; and a one- to two-year cooling-off period in which they are prohibited from accepting employment or appointments with organizations with which they had direct or significant dealings during their last year in office.

As I mentioned, the conflict of interest regime in Canada is a robust regime that has evolved over time. Let me give a bit of its historical context. It used to be that the conflict of interest rules that applied to ministers, parliamentary secretaries, other public office-holders, and parliamentarians were found in federal statutes like the Criminal Code and the Parliament of Canada Act. However, starting with former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's guidelines for cabinet ministers in 1973, these statutory rules were replaced or supplemented by conflict of interest rules and guidelines. Today, the Conflict of Interest Act outlines the expectations and requirements for public office-holders. The Senate and the House of Commons have further adopted the parliamentary conflict of interest codes to govern the conduct of their members.

Changes were made to the conflict of interest regime by the Federal Accountability Act, which brought the Conflict of Interest Act into law. It is clear that the conflict of interest regime we have in this country has helped to guarantee the integrity of our public office-holders and our democratic system of government. I believe Canadians are well served by the framework we have in place today. Indeed, despite the claims made by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, the Minister of Justice was not in contravention of the act.

Moving forward, I have every confidence that Canadians will continue to be well served with this framework.

We are committed to an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians and lives up to the highest ethical standards. As detailed in “Open and Accountable Government”, it is critical to the principle of responsible government that all organizations within the executive be the responsibility of a minister who is accountable to Parliament. I can confidently say that the Minister of Justice is an individual of utmost integrity whom Canadians can depend on to be fully accountable to Parliament.

Again, as stated in “Open and Accountable Government”, the minister is accountable to Parliament for the proper functioning of his or her office and department and all other organizations within his or her portfolio. Ministers fulfill this accountability by demonstrating appropriate diligence and competence in the discharge of their responsibilities.

Of course, what constitutes appropriate ministerial oversight will depend on the nature of the organization and the minister's role. Where arm's-length bodies are concerned, the minister's engagement will be at a more systemic level. I am pleased to note that “Open and Accountable Government” includes new guidance to assist ministers in respecting the parameters of their responsibilities with respect to arm's-length organizations.

Ministerial accountability to Parliament does not mean that a minister is presumed to have knowledge of every matter that occurs within his or her department or portfolio, nor that a minister is necessarily required to accept personal responsibility for every matter. Given the size and complexity of government, this would be an impossible standard to meet.

However, the Prime Minister has made clear in “Open and Accountable Government” that his expectation is that ministers will take appropriate corrective action to address any problems that may arise in their portfolios in a manner that is consistent with their role with respect to the organization in question.

He has also indicated that he expects ministers to attend to all matters of Parliament that concern any organizations for which they are responsible, including responding to questions. As the Prime Minister has stated:

Open and transparent government is good government. It strengthens trust in our democracy and ensures the integrity of our public institutions.

Canadians have indicated their support for the progress the government has made so far in this area, and they expect us to continue. We must never cease to earn and to keep their trust.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that the member for St. Albert—Edmonton's motion is baseless in questioning the conduct of the Minister of Justice. Again, as I said before, she attended the event as a member of Parliament and followed all fundraising rules outlined in the Canada Elections Act.

In her correspondence with the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, the commissioner found that the minister was not in contravention of section 16 of the act, and I am proud to call the minister a friend and a colleague. I know that Canadians are being well served by a minister who is committed to upholding the rule of law and protecting the rights of Canadians.

I am also proud to be a part of a government that is committed to being open and transparent with all Canadians.