Mr. Speaker, I am going to be splitting my time with my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.
It is going to be hard to follow the comedy show that we just witnessed from our friend from Hastings—Lennox and Addington. I know it is a difficult day for the Liberals on the other side. This is a tough one for them to explain to their constituents about the ethical lapses of the finance minister. Let us just get back to the basics. All we are asking for today is for the finance minister to be completely transparent here and that he follow through with the request of the motion that the House will hopefully adopt later today, to table all the documents that he submitted to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner between November 4, 2015, and July 18, 2017.
A lot of people will ask why that is important. We are talking about the second most powerful person in the cabinet of the Government of Canada. This the individual who has all the control over the financial levers of our country. This is the individual who has to have the most trust of Canadians, of investors, and of our financial markets. This is the individual who has to make sure he is working in the best interests of Canadians and not of himself. What we have witnessed so far is that this minister hates transparency, hates accountability, and really has a lapse in judgment in trying to circumvent the rules that have been laid out by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
As a former parliamentary secretary, when I was sworn in, I had to immediately comply with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. There is a complete act called the Conflict of Interest Act for ministers and parliamentary secretaries as well as the book that the Prime Minister himself has updated on the accountable government, a guide for ministers and parliamentary secretaries. We have to look at all the rules that are in there, on which the Minister of Finance himself has refused to follow through. That in itself is something where the minister is really letting down not only his own caucus, but I really feel sorry for all my friends on the other side who have to sit through this miserable situation, listening to the Minister of Finance try to weasel out of this situation and actually have the Prime Minister step in and handle all the questions at a press conference because the minister was not able to do it himself. The Prime Minister was definitely disappointed in his finance minister. I can say that based upon what happened
In the guidelines, there is a section in chapter IV, part 1, called “Ministerial Conduct”. The Prime Minister's own book says:
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.
Looking at the definition of integrity and as it relates to ethics, we see it says in Wikipedia, “In ethics, integrity is regarded by many as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions.” We are not getting that when we look at the Minister of Finance and how he has completely dodged the issue of being transparent, of making sure that he has done things to the letter of the law, that all the is are dotted and the ts are crossed. I do not know whether he was trying to find loopholes in the Ethics Commissioner's guidelines or in the Conflict of Interest Act, because he definitely has broken the law in the way it is defined in the Conflict of Interest Act as it applies to ministers.
I am sure the members of the cabinet have all read the documents and they are all well aware of what needs to be done here, but the thing that struck me the most is that, once they become a public office holder, they have to provide all disclosure to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. In subsection 22(1), the act says:
A reporting public office holder shall, within 60 days after the day on which he or she is appointed as a public office holder, provide a confidential report to the Commissioner.
That is two months, not two years but two months. Let us do the math over there. That never happened, because the French villa was not on that original list. Once they do report it, there is a public declaration, in subsection 25(2), which states, on “certain assets”:
A reporting public office holder shall, within 120 days after the day on which he or she is appointed as a public office holder, make a public declaration of all of his or her assets that are neither controlled assets nor exempt assets.
That is two months beyond the two months that the minister already had, so four months. Let us do the math—it is four months in total—for our Liberal friends.
We heard about the French villa that was reported in July of this year, two full years after the Minister of Finance was sworn in to cabinet. Here is an individual who completely missed the mark, and he is calling it an administrative oversight, which is just unheard of.
It further states, section 26:
(2) The summary statement must contain the following:
(a) for each controlled asset of the reporting public officer holder, and for each asset of the reporting public office holder that the Commissioner has ordered divested under section 30, a description of the asset and the method used to divest it;...
All of his assets would have received direction from the Ethics Commissioner.
It goes on to state that he has to:
(b)...recuse himself or herself under section 30, a description of the matter and information regarding the process to be put in place by the reporting public office holder and others to effect the recusal; and
(c) for any other matter in respect of which the Commissioner has issued an order to the reporting public office holder...
Everyone sitting over there who is a parliamentary secretary or a minister of the crown has had to follow these rules. That is everybody except the Minister of Finance. That is why it is so important that we get the documents from the Ethics Commissioner herself, so that we, as parliamentarians, and Canadians can see whether the integrity of the finance minister is in question. If he said he received direction from the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and somebody in that office said no, he did not need to put his assets in a blind trust or he did not need to disclose that he has a beautiful villa, owned by a private corporation, in France, possibly earning income from rentals to tourists or people who love the Mediterranean, that we need to find out. The only way to do that is if the Minister of Finance is honest and up front, and provides those documents to all of us in Parliament.
The other part of this is the requirement for divestment of assets through that appointment. Through the divestment, a minister has to either sell them, so that they do not influence the person's behaviour as a minister of the crown, or put them into a blind trust. When I was sworn in as parliamentary secretary in the previous government, I had to put my little farm into a blind trust. My wife had to be the manager and I was allowed to work on the farm, but not allowed to provide any input into the day-to-day operations of the farm. I was not allowed to talk to any of our clients, some of whom were my buddies. We could process cattle together, move them from pasture to pasture or vaccinate them, anything like that, as long as we were working, but I could not talk about any of the contracts that existed between them, as clients, and myself, as one of the owners of the blind trust.
Therefore, there are rules to follow. We know for a fact that the Minister of Finance did not put his considerable assets in Morneau Shepell into a blind trust. He was sitting on millions of shares worth over $32 million. As I said, the finance minister is the most important person in cabinet. He handles the finances of this country. He is really the flag-bearer for the most ethical behaviour, and we are not seeing that since he did not put his French villa into a blind trust.
To add insult to injury, we also now find out that Morneau Shepell has a private corporation called Morneau Shepell Bahamas, registered in Barbados, where it gets preferential tax treatment at an income tax rate of 2.5%. Through a tax treaty that Finance Canada negotiated with Barbados, it can repatriate that money back into Morneau Shepell Canada at no Canadian tax level at all. It pays its 2.5% income tax in Barbados, brings the money back here, and redistributes it through dividends to its shareholders, the Minister of Finance being one of the biggest shareholders of the company.
Let us also look at the overall issue of how this has completely hurt the finance minister's credibility. All we are asking is that he finally be honest, show some integrity, and provide parliamentarians and Canadians with the respect we deserve, the respect that the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner deserves, the respect that everyone involved in this issue deserves by being honest and up front, and disclosing all of the information he has relating to his relationship with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.