Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise on behalf of my constituents.
The way this place works oftentimes is that the Canadian public decides who is going to be in government and who is going to be in opposition and they do so because they want to provide contrast. Today, Her Majesty's loyal opposition I am proud to report will be offering some contrast to the bromides we have heard from the government.
When I was first elected to this place one of the very first things I did was to read the member's handbook. We all know that is a lengthy read. One of the first things it impressed upon me was the great number of rules that have accumulated over the years. Some are extremely specific and others are quite obscure. With others, we question if it really needs to be said. We all know why we have such a variety of rules. Over time, someone invariably did something that he or she should not have done, and that individual was caught. Typically, when that situation occurs the excuse is that there is nothing specific in the rules which says it could not be done so therefore nothing wrong was done. Does that sound familiar? Let us look at this case.
We do not have a rule that specifically says a minister must place his or her assets into a blind trust. We do have a rule that says that a minister may not hold publicly traded securities directly and if those securities are not sold, they must be held in a blind trust. We know about this loophole and I imagine others will explore the loophole as the government has said no to closing said loophole. When we have a situation where the rules are not explicitly clear, one could say I am following the rules.
According to our rules, I have to ask permission to share time with the MP for Edmonton West. I hope that will be accommodated.
We know that the finance minister told his former firm that he expected he would put his assets into a blind trust. This has been said publicly. Why do we think the minister said that to his former firm? I would submit to this place that the minister is an intelligent man and he knew full well that placing his assets into a blind trust was the correct thing to do, which is why at that time he made that comment.
Despite having made the comment and clearly knowing the importance of blind trusts to our system of ensuring that those who lead the country do not personally profit from activities of their own office, the minister ultimately refused to do so. I will leave it up to this place to speculate on the reasons why.
Unfortunately, things only get worse from here.
We also know that at the same time, the finance minister continued to knowingly hold shares indirectly in a company that would significantly benefit from Bill C-27. At no time did the minister recuse himself from that legislation and that is deeply troubling.
Lest we not forget, we only learned of these details as they slowly leaked out. At first the minister claimed he was not in any conflict. Then, under pressure, the minister finally sold all of the shares that he accumulated, dividends most likely that he profited from. Then in question period this week, he told us that he is no longer in a conflict position because he has sold the shares in question. The problem with that is if not owning the shares means he is not in conflict, what did it mean when the Minister of Finance did own the shares? Once again I will leave it up to this place to contemplate that.
More troubling is that when the Prime Minister was asked when he first learned that his finance minister had not placed his assets into a blind trust, as many believe he had, the Prime Minister refused to answer this question.
One thing we have learned about this particular Prime Minister is that the only time we get a clear answer is when the answer is not politically damaging. Let us not forget the Prime Minister tells this place very little about his own ethics investigation.
Now we have this problem. Canadians thought they had a finance minister who had placed his assets into a blind trust and by extension when he failed to do this, he introduced a bill that caused those shares to increase in value.
Yes, he may well have since sold those shares, after the fact I might add, and donated those profits away, but that does not change the fact that this was all after the fact, once someone else leaked that information. When we learned that the finance minister did not recuse himself from Bill C-27 and that there was no ethics screen, I asked this question: What would happen had no one leaked that these shares were not in a blind trust? I will leave it to those in this place to contemplate that.
However, one thing that is clear is this. When all of these things occurred on the part of the finance minister, it created a serious credibility problem. Of course, that is why we are here today, because we know that the finance minister has other numbered companies. What we do not know is what assets are in those companies. If the finance minister truly has nothing to hide, then surely he would just disclose those assets. The finance minister is an intelligent person and would know this. However, despite knowing this, he continues to refuse to provide the necessary transparency, and he now has the gall to question this as somehow being an attack on his character.
I can assure the finance minister and this place that there is no such thing. Instead, it is an opportunity for transparency to help restore badly needed confidence. After all, why do we have conflict of interest guidelines? Why do we have a Conflict of Interest Act? It is to ensure that public office holders, and in particular ministers of the crown, do not personally profit from the decisions they make that are meant to be for the public benefit. It is a matter of trust. This is not a new thing. Why were blind trusts first created? Why did the Prime Minister publicly disclose he was using a blind trust? Why are other members of the cabinet using blind trusts? Why have previous ministers of the crown used blind trusts? We all know the answer to these questions. I do not have to leave it up to this place to contemplate that. It is all about transparency and how ministers of the crown honourably conduct themselves.
Before I close, I would like to leave members with this one question. There is no doubt that they will hear many times throughout the discussion today that the Prime Minister, as we all know, came into this place and said, “sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Why do we think the Prime Minister said that? Did he say it because it was politically convenient to do so at the time? Did he say it because the principle should only apply to everyone else but a Liberal finance minister, or because it happens to be true? At the end of this debate, when we vote on this motion, the Prime Minister will have an opportunity to show his commitment to his own words of wisdom, as will all members of this place. Will we vote for transparency or will some choose to vote for the continued cloak of darkness and secrecy?
I look forward to hearing the good questions that members have for me today.