Mr. Speaker, off and on through the day, I have had the opportunity to sit and listen to the debate on this opposition motion introduced by my colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton.
Earlier I heard a member from the government talking about raising the bar and taking pride in the government's transparency and the enhancement of its ethics. All of the government speeches and questions highlighted the conduct of the ministers while taking potshots at the opposition parties, trying to diminish the hot water situation the Liberals are currently in themselves.
However, let us be real here and have a real discussion. We are sitting in the House of Commons, all hiding behind the Lobbying Act and letters from the Ethics Commissioner. For a minute, let us pretend we are sitting at the kitchen table having coffee and cookies—or, for many people in my riding, it would be sitting at the Tim Hortons coffee shop.
What is that Canadians see and what is the appearance of ethics in this particular situation? Is the government truly trying to raise the bar? If it is trying to raise the bar, then let us have an open discussion, stop hiding behind the rules and regulations, and just look through the one lens we need, which is the appearance of conflict.
As many in this House know, I have asked the minister several questions specifically on this situation, at which time I have had no response from that minister. Each and every time, the House leader chooses to rise and answer for the minister.
I have heard several times that the minister has inquired of the Ethics Commissioner, but we all know in this House that was after the fundraiser had become public.
I have heard members of the government ask the opposition members to take this outside and at other times to speak to it publicly without hiding behind members' privilege within this House.
Earlier today my colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, reminded the government that we have already done this by publishing the letters that he had written to the Ethics Commissioner.
I stand here today speaking about ethics, not trying to hide behind anything, speaking as a Canadian. Let us just be honest here and discuss this.
Let us start with the simple facts. The member was a guest speaker at a Toronto law firm. This particular law firm has legal dealings with the federal government. An attendee at the event decided to deregister as a lobbyist the evening before the event—something he had been for five years prior. The member attended the event and indicated that her speech focused upon the path for Canada. This event cost participants $500 a plate to attend.
Now, let us add the following to the situation. The member is the justice minister and Attorney General of Canada.
I am going to read, specifically, this. The Prime Minister has publicly and transparently provided Mandate Letters to all of his Ministers and has indicated to all members that
... political fundraising activities...do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
These are just the facts, and I truly think at this point that I should sit down, because it is obviously clear that there has been a conflict of interest.
We can look at it through the telescope or the lens of “Did this appear?”. Did we see a justice minister at a law firm? If anyone asked that question, they would probably say, “Yes, it seems as though it does appear that way.” We are talking of the Canadian general public. Does this or does this not appear to be a conflict of interest?
The minister should apologize and pay back the money from this fundraiser. That is a nice and simple easy solution.
As any member in this chamber would have experienced, we are all members of Parliament and we must stand, be a pillar in our society, and lead by example, and I think every member does his or her best to do so. Even I, a speedy driver, make sure I set the speedometer now so that I do not speed. It sounds very simple, but we need to be the leaders. We need to set that bar for what Canadians are supposed to be. Just because we are members of Parliament, it does not mean that we have different privileges.
When I am sitting in a restaurant, nobody comes up to me to ask how I my meal is, but they want to know what is happening in Ottawa. They want to know what is going on up there. I believe every other parliamentarian has the exact same thing happen to them. It is not just in Elgin—Middlesex—London.
Specifically, with this member, we are talking about the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Canada at a law firm. I think they have some common ground for discussions. Do we really think they talked about the Raptors game or when they were going to plant their spring gardens? These may be the common discussions at a sports bar or at a horticultural meeting, but we are talking about lawyers in the same room, with one common background, which is justice.
Does this fundraiser the Minister of Justice held at a law firm pass the sniff test?
In other words, we look at the pitcher of milk in the morning and it is curdled and it is lumpy. Then we proceed to smell it, assuming the milk has gone bad, even the date and the package shows that it has expired. If the Minister of Justice already thought it might be an issue with the Ethics Commissioner, why did she have to ask? Because it was obviously potentially a conflict of interest, going back to the appearance of an interest.
Let us go back to some questions. If the Minister of Justice needed to take this to the Ethics Commissioner, would it not appear that there had been a potential conflict of interest? The key question on all of this is, did the political fundraiser activities or considerations affect or appear to affect the exercise of the minister's official duties or the access of individuals or an organization to the minister?
This truly is a simple yes or no answer, but instead we find ourselves debating this on the floor today because the minister and the government refuse to live by their own ethical standards.
I will state, as many others have done from our caucus, that when the Hon. Shelly Glover found out a stakeholder under her portfolio was in attendance at a fundraiser, she took it to the Ethics Commissioner then paid the money back. It is that simple. There is a fix, an easy solution here.
As I indicated throughout this discussion, the government has repeatedly responded to all questions by pointing the finger back at any previous wrong doing, wrong doing in the previous government's case, that resulted in either the money being paid back or the member being removed from the caucus.
I already anticipate the questions coming from the government, asking me to articulate what our previous Conservative government did to rectify this issue. One of the first bills that we brought forward back in 2006 was the Federal Accountability Act. It removed the donations from big business and unions and the idea that an individual could buy a member's vote. Now Canadians can only spend money from their own pockets and pocketbooks to make those donations up to $1,525.
Earlier today, I was advised by Dr. Ted Hewitt, a long time person from the city of London, that I was a positive and forward focused individual. I hope the government today, during this debate, can adopt this type of personality, stop throwing mud at all the opposition parties and just do the right thing.
The Liberals should take the words of the Prime Minister when he campaigned on open and transparent government, let the light shine on this issue and take it for exactly what it is, instead of hiding behind the legal jargon and the code of ethics. They should rise above and do what their Prime Minister asks them to do: be honest to Canadians.
Earlier today when discussing this speech with my staff, Scott attributed this situation to the following. This ethic issue is like the difference between a circus and a zoo. Why do we pay so much to go to the fantastic circus performance and much less to go to a simple zoo? Plainly it is because we know that the animals at the circus can do incredible things. We know that those highly-trained animals can jump, leap and fly, which is much more entertaining than the sleepy lion at the zoo.
We also know these attendees went to the event with the minister because they recognized that she was one of those who could actually make difference in her high profile job. She is a powerful, high profile individual in the Government of Canada. Let us not forget that. We are acting like it is a simple thing.
Finally, the Minister of Justice should not accept the funds from those who have a vested interested in her incredibly important portfolio. Even if she was simply attending the fundraiser as an MP, something is clearly wrong and the appearance of a conflict of interest is definitely evident in this activity.
Many members on the other side have offered the financial statements, showing this fundraiser. I would ask that they come over here and show me why I cannot find it on my iPad. Yes, once in a while I just cannot find it, but I do not believe those records are yet available. If you can find it, please show me. We are telling Canadians that it is available, but I cannot find it. If I cannot find it, many Canadians cannot find it. I invite you to have coffee with me and you can show me where I can find it.