Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the opposition motion calling on the finance minister to finally act in the interests of full disclosure.
There is a well-regarded book called The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David Hand. According to the author, there are five laws contributing to the improbability principle. There is the law of inevitability, the law of truly large numbers, the law of selection, the law of the probability lever, and the law of near enough.
What is the improbability principle? Mr. Hand states it as follows: extremely improbable events are commonplace. Mr. Hand's theory has been proven by the actions of the Liberal government, and if by some miraculous coincidence Mr. Hand is watching CPAC at this exact moment, he is welcome for the book plug and for proving him right. How? Well, however improbable it would seem that the Prime Minister would go on a record promise-making spree so soon after being elected, Hand argues that it was always possible and indeed probable. For example, this is the very first time in Canadian history that both the Prime Minister and the finance minister are both being investigated by the Ethics Commissioner at the same time. Now, before Mr. Hand gets too big an ego, I think every Canadian knew that the Liberals' ethical lapses were inevitable long before he noted the first law of inevitability.
I suppose it was also inevitable that, in response to questions from the opposition about the finance minister's scandals, the Prime Minister would deflect by chalking up our questions to mudslinging and petty politics. Well, if it is mudslinging and petty to point out that the government is acting unethically for its members' personal gain, then I proudly wear those labels. However, dismissing our concerns as matters not to be discussed in the House is shameful.
Just because the Liberals do not like talking about their unethical actions, it does not mean they have any right to dismiss legitimate concerns as distractions. It does not mean the finance minister has the right to run away from journalists' questions saying that he does not report to journalists. It does not mean the Prime Minister has the right to dismiss questions as mudslinging, and neglect to provide an answer. In doing so, the Prime Minister and the entire Liberal government show complete disrespect and contempt for this institution, for accountability, for the opposition, and fundamentally for Canadians themselves by dismissing questions about their ethics as mere distractions, mudslinging, or petty politics.
This arrogance is typical of the Liberal government. Its members believe they are above the law. They believe that it is not wrong as long as they smile. However, by dismissing ethics and conduct as irrelevant, the Liberals forget that they are accountable to Canadians through their responsibility to the House, and they must answer for their unethical and law-breaking decisions, whether they like it or not.
The government seems tired of deflecting questions about the finance minister's ethics, but there is a simple solution. If the finance minister does not want to answer questions about his financial holdings and whether he benefits from government legislation that he actually creates, then he should just not own stock in companies impacted by his decisions. He should fully disclose the assets he owns and controls.
What is in the numbered companies that he is trying so hard to hide? Is he voting for legalizing pot because he has shares in a pot company? Is he handing out millions of taxpayers' dollars in bonuses for Bombardier because he is a shareholder? How about some engineering companies or others that stand to gain from the new infrastructure bank? With his distain for ethics displayed so far, Canadians have every right to second guess his every move.
This solution applies to the entire government caucus. If the Prime Minister does not want to answer questions about using enormous amounts of taxpayers' money to fund his vacations to billionaire island, then he should not take expensive vacations on the taxpayers' dime. If the Liberals do not want to talk about broken promises, they should just stop breaking promises. However, that is the problem with the government. The Liberals promise to act ethically, openly, and with an eye to accountability, but as with so many promises to date, they cast aside any casual nod to openness and transparency the moment it becomes inconvenient to be honest.
It has been apparent from day one that “open by default” is just another promise to be broken once in power, but let us let the Liberal record speak for itself.
A year ago we were talking about the cash-for-access fundraisers. The Liberals were selling government access for donations but bowed under political pressure once they realized they could no longer pretend they were not wrong, promised to do better, and then went right back to selling access. The Liberals were forced to back down from expensing limousine travel to the taxpayer. If it were not for the “petty” opposition, the Liberals would still be charging Canadians absurd amounts for limo rentals. Last Christmas, the Prime Minister took a private helicopter to billionaire island for a vacation, compliments of a registered lobbyist, and then he failed to disclose the true cost to taxpayers.
If it were not for the mudslinging of the opposition and pressure from the media, we would not have any idea that the Prime Minister broke the law by flying in a private helicopter and accepting a gift from a registered lobbyist.
Earlier this year, the President of the Treasury Board introduced reforms to the Access to Information Act, which the Information Commissioner herself deemed regressive. The minister was supposedly open to amendments, cue the smile, but then summarily dismissed the majority of our substantial amendments to the act.
Recently the government operations and estimates committee tabled a unanimous report recommending a substantial overhaul of the whistle-blower act. The Treasury Board president promptly blew off the proposed overhaul, instead opting to limit any reforms to minor tweaks, the type of reform that every expert warned was insufficient to protect whistle-blowers.
I want to quote one witness who was at OGGO to provide a human aspect to the government's broken promise. David Yazbeck, a whistle-blower advocate, stated in committee:
...if I can be a little strong and almost emotional here...whistle-blowers are heroes. They risk their families, they risk their careers, and they risk financial stability in order to make the operation of government better and therefore improve the lives of Canadians.
The system....doesn't work. It needs to be fixed. This committee has a golden opportunity to do that. I would urge you to listen to people like us and do that. This is not only better for whistle-blowers. This is also better for Canadians.
In response to a motion I tabled asking the Treasury Board president to appear in committee to detail the concrete actions the government plans on taking to protect whistle-blowers, the Liberal committee members voted it down.
The Liberal record of closed-by-default and broken promises continues with the finance minister's recent troubles. After having been fined $200 for breaking the law, the minister is trying to pretend that he has done nothing wrong. Given that there were actual punitive actions taken against him, he is deliberately misleading the House and Canadians as a whole when he says that he has always acted according to the law.
The Liberals promised to do better. They promised to go above the spirit of the law, but the fine from the Ethics Commissioner shows that the government is not even willing to follow the letter of the law. There is no one, save for this government, that would defend its actions, yet every day, the Liberals continue their charade and pretend that they are on the side of the angels. They make promises they have no intention of keeping, accuse the opposition of being petty for, heaven forbid, opposing their agenda, and dismiss any legitimate questions about their lack of ethics as distractions not worthy of this place.
Canadians deserve better. The finance minister will not even apologize for breaking the law, let alone for misleading the House about his actions and hiding his assets. He spent months attacking small business owners as tax cheats for trying to escape the death grip of taxes being imposed by the government, when it turns out that he is doing the exact thing he has accused others of. Again, he refuses to apologize.
The finance minister claimed that now that he has divested his ownership of Morneau Shepell, he can act freely and without conflict. He does not seem to realize that he has implicitly admitted to being in conflict for the past two years of his mandate. Since September, it has been surprising revelation after revelation for the minister. Hand's law of inevitability has proved true.
Again, it is a simple solution. He could prevent any future surprises just by fully disclosing his assets, as promised by the Liberals and demanded by the Prime Minister of his entire cabinet. Looking at the Liberal's mandate letter tracker, under “don't break conflict of interest laws and make millions on a company you legislate”, we can consider this one “under way with challenges”.
This is why we work to demand accountability from the government, why we hold its feet to the fire every day in question period, and why we will not back down from making the Liberals answer for their betrayal of the trust of Canadians.
The mandate letter tracker is a shining example of Orwellian doublespeak, Liberal spin, and the government's inability to police itself. Therefore, we will continue to keep asking the finance minister what else he is hiding in his numbered companies.
When we look at the Liberal government, like all Liberal governments we all know, some familiar themes keep popping up. When challenged, they hide behind the lowest standard. They deflect questions of integrity and ethics and act like rules are for the little people and not themselves. That is all very Liberal and all very inevitable indeed.