Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this important debate. We are debating Bill C-50, a government bill, which in my judgment aims to whitewash the government's record when it comes to what we have been calling cash for access fundraising, and to put in place a system that sort of regularizes and normalizes this process.
Obviously we in the opposition are very concerned about that. We are very opposed to the government's record on cash for access fundraising and the continuing inclination that it has to do this. I am proud of our team for repeatedly raising this in question period and for helping to drive the public discussion on it. The public has responded with significant concerns, which is why we now see this legislative effort on the part of the government to whitewash its record.
The idea of cash for access is quite simple to understand. It is the idea that people who do business with the government or who have specific interest in lobbying the government would pay to attend a party fundraiser in order to gain access to a minister or the prime minister, whom they are directly involved in lobbying.
It is important that we make clear distinctions here. Fundraising is a part of our political process, but in principle the expectation is that people donate to political parties or political candidates because they believe in what those parties or candidates stand for. They wish to support the activities of those parties or those candidates, and they are doing so out of conviction aligned with the objectives of the party, not out of a calculation of personal interest that involves their private lobbying activities and involves their getting access to a minister or a prime minister, so that they can lobby with the implication that they are going to have a greater influence than a member of the public would.
When Conservatives were in government, we did fundraise. We had ministers involved in fundraising, but we were very clear about the fact that ministers should not have fundraisers that include those who are directly involved in lobbying them. That was a distinction that we made, and we were consistent. There was one case, and I want to actually talk about this case because I think it is quite revealing. There was one case in which there was a problem with a Conservative fundraiser. I will read some of the article. This is from CBC, published on January 18, 2014. It involved Shelley Glover, the then-heritage minister. Here is what happened:
The federal Heritage Minister attended an event in her Saint Boniface riding on Thursday evening.
But when she got there, she learned that many of the attendees were members of Winnipeg's arts community, who have dealt with her department.
Everyone at the event made a $50 donation to attend, and one person made a $500 donation.
The problem is, under federal conflict of interest rules, cabinet ministers cannot solicit donations from anyone who has asked for money or who may ask for money from her department.
In a statement released late Friday, Mike Storeshaw, Glover's director of communications, said the minister wasn't personally involved in organizing the event.
Storeshaw said Glover has refunded the money and has written the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
He said she's instructed her electoral district association which organized the fundraiser not to hold similar events.
Here is what happened. Accidentally, somebody else organized a fundraiser for the then-heritage minister in which there ended up being members of the arts community who had lobbied her department. It was $50 to get in, and immediately the minister acknowledged the problem and refunded every single dollar. These were $50 donations. This is the one time that this happened, and immediately the error was recognized and the money was refunded.
Contrast that with the Liberal Party approach: consistent $1,500 events with people who are involved in lobbying the government, and no apologies, no refund. In fact there is consistent defence of those activities.
If we compare the record when it comes to the nature of the fundraising activities undertaken under the previous government and under the current government, there really is no comparison. In 10 years, there was one case where a mistake was made. The minister was not involved in organizing the event, and the money was refunded. It was a $50 price of admission. With the Liberal government, there are consistently $1,500 events, where people are buying access to the Prime Minister and to the ministers.
What is striking is that these are always defended. It is not a matter of something happening and people saying they recognize that this should not have happened, they will pay the money back, and they will not do it again. No, these things are being defended. That is what cash for access is, that is what the government is trying to do, and Conservatives take the position that it is not acceptable. The government should go back to something that existed under the Conservatives, which was a real clarity in the guidelines. Yes, parties can fundraise. Yes, ministers and prime ministers can attend fundraising events for which people pay to attend, but those people cannot be lobbyists or people who receive money from the government, who are paying for access to a minister whom they directly lobby. That is a very clear and easy distinction to make, and it is not one being made by this legislation.
Interestingly, this legislation completely excludes, even from reporting, events where the cost is less than $200. That would completely cut out the one event under the Conservative government, about which members of the then opposition were absolutely apoplectic and called it the end of the world as we know it.
Having explained the context, what cash for access is all about, I want to delve a little into what I think is an underlying philosophical problem with how we often approach these questions of ethics in politics. We are talking about the questions of corruption, ethics, and morality in politics. Very often we approach these discussions from the assumption of what I would call a sort of rule-based moral framework, the idea that we have to define rules that deal with every possible contingency and that is the solution, that it comes down to the rules. This bill, purportedly, was introduced because people were upset about what the Liberals did, so they have to twist and tighten the rules a bit.
This comes out of a rule-based assumption about the way morality works, and I want to posit that there is a better alternative. I think that generally a virtue-based framework for thinking about ethics is a better one and would give us the tool kit we need to effectively address some of these issues. I will provide some definition and context for this.
This idea of rule-based morality is most often associated with the enlightenment philosophical project, which is the idea that, although we recognize that we may have certain aspects of ethics and morality that are part of our culture that may come from different kinds of texts and authority, actually we need to come up with a way to codify and specifically rationalize in a narrow sense of pure reason, disconnected from authority or sentiment, come up with the basis for morality and the rules we have. This was the precursor of various moral philosophers who came out of that period, who were trying to define these very specific, narrowly reason-based concepts of moral. The big debate one will often encounter in philosophical discussions that come out of this tradition is a debate between a utilitarian school, which is all about adding up the impacts on people, and a more deontological approach to ethics or morality, which says that it is more about certain lines that we cannot cross and things we cannot do, explained in whatever way. It is not about just adding up to good or bad effects, but saying there are certain things one ought never do or ought to do in general.
In any event, these distinctions all exist within a larger framework, which is that basically it is all about the rules. Through that discussion, finer and finer distinctions are made, asking what one philosophical lens tells us about a situation. Very often, for those who have studied philosophy, we get into what are often called hard cases, the frequent discussion of a narrowing set of hard cases. It is the idea that if we do not have a clear rule to answer a hard case, then we have to invent new rules that help us explain it. One of the classic ways in which these are adjudicated are so-called trolley problems. If there is a trolley coming down a hill that could go on one of two tracks and we have to decide whether to flip the switch, knowing it would impact different people depending on where it goes, how do we make that decision, depending on the situation?
Through all of this, it is this idea that the sum total of ethical and moral conduct can and should be defined in rule form, and it can be done by anyone looking at the details in a purely rational sense without reference to sentiment or authority and then following the rules, as defined.
There are a number of problems that I think are evident with a purely rule-based approach to ethics or morality.
Fairly obvious is that if the rules are the sole basis of morals or ethics, then what is the basis for the rules? If following the rules is all that matters, then what justifies the rules as they exist? Also, a purely rule-based morality does not provide a sufficient basis for understanding the roots of moral motivation or for a discussion of moral competency—