Mr. Speaker, I have a cold, so I might lose my voice, but that does not mean I am not tremendously interested in the debate we are having today.
I am obviously pleased to rise today to join with some of my colleagues in the Liberal caucus who have spoken previously to explain to the House and to Canadians why we are opposing what we think is a frivolous and gratuitous motion.
We are proud to oppose the motion. We recognize its cynical origins, and we recognize the attempt to distract Canadians and parliamentarians from issues that we think concern the vast majority of Canadians. It is an attempt to fabricate a circumstance around one of our colleagues, which we believe obviously has no merit.
During my speech, I intend to demonstrate to the House that not only has the Minister of Justice acted honourably, ethically, and in a manner beyond reproach, but I will also, I hope, be able to point out that many current and former members of the other parties in this House could in fact learn enormously from her outstanding actions. I will show how in a few short months, Canadians have witnessed how different and improved things can be when they have a government that truly believes in openness and transparency.
Every action that this government has taken is based upon the idea that as an institution, whether it is a government or Parliament, we can and must do better.
Unfortunately, instead of moving ahead with us on this particular approach, the opposition has chosen to spend today debating a motion which, in our view, as I said, has extremely limited merit. It is designed to fabricate an issue where in fact no issue exists.
Conservatives could have decided to debate today one of the numerous issues that continue to worry Canadians, issues which they have ignored in a decade in government. A few examples might be the weak economic growth that the previous government saw, or Canadians' eroding ability to ensure a secure retirement, or a lack of diversification in our economy, or the increasing unfairness in various government programs such as employment insurance, or a failed relationship with indigenous peoples.
Instead, they want to spend today talking about our colleague, the Minister of Justice, so let us do exactly that.
Today, we are talking about integrity, transparency, and honesty. These are character traits that perfectly describe the Minister of Justice. These principles are at the heart of a good government. They form the foundation on which we will continue to rebuild the relationship of trust between elected members and voters. These are the principles that guide the actions of the government and the actions of our colleague, the Minister of Justice.
When we formed government, the Prime Minister made this clear to all members of cabinet as well as our colleagues in the Liberal caucus.
After a decade where Conservatives found themselves repeatedly before the courts, where insiders close to the former prime minister were hiding, for example, in Panama, fighting extradition, and where a $90,000-payoff to a sitting senator was simply seen as business as usual in the Prime Minister's Office, we believed that things needed to change.
Mr. Speaker, you will remember this, as you were in the previous Parliament. When caught, the former government would deny the charges, obfuscate the facts, and sometimes mislead Canadians.
I heard in my constituency, and colleagues on all sides of this House heard it in theirs, in community after community, that the previous government lacked transparency.
I am happy to say, thanks to the Prime Minister, these darks days are over and have given way, as we see outside Parliament today, to a very sunny way. We have an open and transparent government that believes in putting its trust in Canadians as a way to have Canadians better trust their government.
I know that everyone here agrees. We must never give Canadians a reason to distrust their government. They will not always like what we do, and that is understandable. Some will not support every one of the government's decisions. That is okay. Diverging ideas and opinions are what make our democracy great because they encourage people with different points of view to work together to reach a consensus.
However, disagreeing with some decisions is quite different from not trusting the government. Canadians should not think that the government is hiding things from them or not listening to them. Worse yet, they should not think that their elected representatives are playing by a different set of rules than the rest of society. This is a fundamental principle for our government.
As the Prime Minister said, Canadians do not expect us to be perfect. They expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest. That is where the Prime Minister set the bar, and we must accept nothing less.
This is exactly what the Minister of Justice has done. Unlike in the previous government, she proactively sought the advice of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. That is what a responsible government does. The member for St. Albert—Edmonton knows this because when he wrote to that commissioner, she responded to him in writing—it was a three-page letter—and indicated that the justice minister had followed every rule outlined in the applicable legislation.
That is an important difference between how the previous government acted then and how we have chosen to act now. The Conservatives would usually wait until the commissioner found a wrongdoing, then deny and obfuscate the circumstance and, in fact. in some cases try to mislead investigations.
We seek to proactively disclose these concerns to the commissioner. Then we are guided by her advice. That is exactly what the Minister of Justice did, and exactly what the government will continue to do.
Publishing the ministerial mandate letters in November 2015 was a tangible reflection of our commitment. For the first time in Canadian history, a prime minister clearly and publicly articulated exactly what he expected of his ministers. These expectations addressed not only what the ministers should be doing, but also how they should do it. These letters were a blueprint for taking action on a broad scale. They included investing in infrastructure, restoring Canada's constructive leadership in the world, and renewing the nation-to-nation relationship with our indigenous peoples.
However, opposition members know that our economic policy of growing the middle class is extremely popular with Canadians, and exactly the suite of economic policies that Canadians expect. They know that asking the top 1% to do a little more in order to lower taxes on the middle class is more than fair. The Conservatives and the New Democrats, much to our surprise, in the election opposed programs like the Canada child benefit, an economic measure which would help nine out of every ten Canadian families by giving them a more generous tax-free monthly cheque.
They know the importance of investing in crucial infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure. Because the opposition of the Conservatives to these measures is not resonating with Canadians, they find the need to fabricate an issue involving the justice minister.
Unfortunately for the opposition, but thankfully for the justice minister and for Canadians, all of the rules in this circumstance were followed. The minister met the very high expectations of the Prime Minister, as well as her obligations under the code applying to members of Parliament and the Conflict of Interest Act, which applies to public office-holders, ministers being principal among them.
It is a very old method, sadly, that the Conservatives have spent a decade in protecting. When they cannot win an argument with respect to the substance, they turn to personal attacks and fabricate allegations. We do not have to go very far to find such examples. We can easily remember the numerous spokespeople in the former Conservative government, when they would answer a question in the House of Commons time and again by simply indicating a circumstance that had absolutely nothing to do with the question. Uninterested in the substance of the question, the previous government had one responsibility; that was to ignore the questions posed and respond with a series of baseless and fabricated allegations, something we see at the heart of today's motion.
In addition to the mandate letters published by the government, there is another worthwhile document recognized by the House. Some of my colleagues have already mentioned it, and it deserves close consideration.
I am referring to “Open and Accountable Government”, which the Prime Minister released in November 2015. The title says it all. It is an ambitious and comprehensive document.
I regard that document as a ministerial game plan, a game plan that the minister has always followed in a very responsible manner, I would say before the House.
“Open and Accountable Government” describes what is generally expected of ministers and their staff in terms of their conduct. It provides a framework for establishing an ethical government. Nothing is more important to Canadians.
On the subject of public office holders, the document states:
...they have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny.
It also states:
Public office holders, in fulfilling their official duties and functions, shall [as the Minister of Justice did] make decisions in the public interest and with regard to the merits of each case.
This is exactly what the Minister of Justice has done and what she will continue to do. I know my colleagues across the aisle like to fabricate a series of accusations and allegations. Canadians understand that these have no merit. They know that at all times the Minister of Justice followed these rules in a rigorous way and proactively sought the advice of the independent officers of Parliament, who are, in fact, given the responsibility of enforcing those rules and applying them. In the case of a disagreement between an opposition member of the House and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, we will always defer to the judgment of the commissioner in all cases.
Openness and transparency for our government is more than a slogan. One example, which we find rather disturbing, is the opposition's continued request to have a list of who attended a particular event in question. The opposition knows full well that the names will, indeed, be made public. As per the Canada Elections Act, donations of over $200 are disclosed and made public by political parties on the Elections Canada website and this information is shared with all Canadians.
These are rules of which we are very proud. The opposition knows full well that these rules apply to the particular event in question and will always apply to events where members of Parliament raise money for political parties or local riding associations. Canadians deserve to know that politicians keep their best interests in mind at all times and will not be swayed by particular funding from particular groups. That is why this transparency is so important.
Unfortunately, that is a principle that some members of the Conservative Party have had considerable trouble in following. We remember when the former prime minister, the current member for Calgary Heritage, ran for the leadership of the then Reform Party. He kept secret the source of $900,000 he raised in that leadership campaign. When that member ran for the leadership of the new Conservative Party, the biggest donors to his $2 million leadership campaign were quickly hidden by the Conservative Party. If it had nothing to hide, we would have assumed this information should properly have been made public. The fact that it has not done so, has led Canadians to question exactly why. The Conservatives refused to share this information with Canadians and we will never know what kind of funding may have motivated the former prime minister in some of the decisions his government made.
In closing, I am proud to be able to say that our colleague, the Minister of Justice, is also a friend. She is doing a tremendous job as the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada. Her conduct has always been exemplary.
The impressive record of our colleague, the Minister of Justice, of public service, as a lawyer, as a prosecutor, as an elected indigenous leader is something we believe should inspire all Canadians.
The Conservatives who brought this motion forward, in an attempt to distract from other issues that we think are more important to Canadians, have themselves a very difficult laundry list of Elections Act violations and ethical breaches.
In question period in previous weeks, I referred to some of the more shocking examples, where Canadians saw the Conservative Party plead guilty in the in-and-out scheme, for example, and pay a $250,000 fine as a political party for not having respected basic Elections Act provisions, which determine spending limits for a national party and a local campaign. People will remember the Conservatives attacked Elections Canada and they attacked the commissioner. When Parliament adjourned one spring and when nobody was looking, on a Friday, they plead guilty and paid a $250,000 fine as a national party for not having followed the elections rules.
There are other spectacular examples, such as the former prime minister's parliamentary secretary being led out in leg irons and handcuffs to a van, and then taken to jail for problems with election financing. I think that might have acted as a break on the Conservative Party's enthusiasm to fabricate allegations against hon. members of the House and members of the cabinet, who follow the rules and serve Canadians.
This is why when this frivolous motion comes to a vote, we look forward to the House defeating it.