Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today.
I just checked the stock market ticker, and there is a run on red Kool-Aid going on right now. The amount being drunk by the other side, believing their own noise, is exceptional. When it comes to fundraising and clearly broken promises to the Canadian people, it is most remarkable that Liberals say this makes it transparent. It makes it more transparent that the Prime Minister is breaking his promise to Canadians and makes it more transparent that people can buy access to the Liberal Party of Canada, directly to the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers.
I have a long list of all the various special access programs and all the various ministers. I hope I have the opportunity to read it.
Of course, it is not only the Prime Minister that people can buy access to—no, no. People can pay to play with virtually any minister on the front bench about an issue that they are engaged in if they have the money to do it.
Here we are with Bill C-50. This is an unusual moment for me, because this may be the most tepid and conditional support for a bill that I have ever given in my parliamentary career. That is because it does so little. In its vagueness and the cloud that it seeks to create, it borders on nothing, and sometimes it is hard to vote against nothing.
There is this bit of noise that says Liberals are going to follow the law. That is basically what the bill says. The law in Canada requires that the names of people who make donations to political parties eventually be made public, along with how much they have donated, so now they are going to follow the law. Wow. It is breathtaking. Oh, are they are going to do it a bit quicker? Congratulations.
It reminds me a bit of asking kids to clean up their rooms, which are total disasters. There are toys and clothes everywhere. They walk in, pick up one sock, put it in the laundry hamper, and say they are done. The Liberals have made an entire mess—of their own creation, by the way—of these cash-for-access events. They were invented, designed, and executed by the Liberal Party once it formed government. Liberals made the mess and then said they were going to fix it.
They even made the great mistake of over-promising and under-delivering, because they leaked this bill to The Globe and Mail before it came out. The Globe and Mail had a breathless headline saying that the Liberals were going to end cash-for-access fundraisers. I thought, “Great. That would be a good thing”, because being able to buy access to the government is not only unseemly but also breaks a bunch of laws if those people happen to have any business with the government, which again, as we will see when I get to the list of all of the cash-for-access fundraisers, is happening with the justice minister, the natural resources minister, the finance minister, and the Prime Minister.
The Liberals were going to end it, said The Globe and Mail, as per a report of a Liberal insider, and then, lo and behold, we get Bill C-50. It is 16 pages that manage to do virtually nothing. Wow.
We are going to go through this exercise today and other days debating this most virtuous act that is all sizzle and no steak, as they say back home, and attempts to do something that I would suggest is quite cynical. As my colleague from Edmonton pointed out earlier, the timing of this bill was most suspicious.
In the wake of breaking yet another promise to Canadians—that 2015 was going to be the last election under first past the post—suddenly the Liberals said they were going to attempt to change the channel over to cash for access, because they did not want us to pay any more attention to the fact that when Liberals campaigned in the last election, they swore hand on heart that 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election and that they would bring in a more fair and equitable voting system.
They were going to move it over. I thought if they were going to change the channel, they would have to change it to a better station. They decided to change the channel over to cash for access, this practice and culture within the Liberal Party that enables people who have a lot of money to speak directly, personally, intimately to ministers of the crown.
Let us clear up one thing. My friend from Saanich—Gulf Islands attempted to get the Liberals to say something about this. Liberals say that all members of Parliament fundraise. They are trying to say apples are oranges and night is day and there is no distinction between someone paying to go to a fundraiser for a minister of the crown, who is, pen in hand, writing laws as we speak, or to the Prime Minister himself, who under the political system we have has extraordinary powers, and a backbench member of the House of Commons holding a fundraiser. The Liberals are trying to say that the expectation of influence is the same for those who participate in those fundraisers.
What planet do the Liberals occupy? They know full well that the access they are selling is influence. People do not pay $1,500 to sit down with the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Natural Resources, or the Minister of Finance with the expectation that their words will have no effect on the laws, bills, or programs that emanate from the government.
There is a great quote by the Prime Minister from December 13 of last year. He admits that lobbyists are showing up to his fundraisers, which probably breaks another law, but okay. Lobbyists are showing up to the Prime Minister's fundraisers. It is a natural question to ask why a lobbyist would pay $1,500 to see the Prime Minister. I wonder what a lobbyist would want to do.
They would probably want to lobby on behalf of their clients, who pay their salaries. Industry, big banks, and pharmaceuticals hire lobbyists. The lobbyists attend the fundraisers, pay the money to the Liberal Party, and then get a little one-on-one time with the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister explains it away this way:
Any time I meet anyone, you know, they will have questions for me or they will take the opportunity to talk to the prime minister about things that are important to them.
I love it when he uses the third person. It so impresses me when someone uses the third person to talk about himself.
He went on:
And I can say that in various Liberal party events, I listen to people as I will in any given situation, but the decisions I take in government are ones based on what is right for Canadians and not on what an individual in a fundraiser might say.
That is weird, because if we talk to these lobbyists about why they attended a certain event, they tell us they were lobbying the government on behalf of their clients, and that it was effective because they got some very good, close, personal time with the Prime Minister or various ministers, and it felt very effective.
Business is in the business of business, of advocating and encouraging the policies that work for it. This is not a charitable exercise for a lobbyist. My friend said earlier, it is “the grandness of democracy”. I got a little wispy there for a moment. When someone who works for an industry drops $1,500 on the table to lobby the Minister of Natural Resources, he or she is participating in the grandness of democracy. “Here is my $1,500, on behalf of the mining companies that I represent, to spend time with the natural resource minister.” The minister had promised the Winnipeg Free Press that he would never attend a cash-for-access event. Where was the Minister of Natural Resources two weeks later? He was at a cash-for-access event with people from the natural resources industry.
These dots are not hard to connect, yet for Liberals it seems that they are, because they just produced a bill that will enshrine the status quo. It will say that cash for access will continue. It even falls short of their promise that these events could not be held in private homes, because the bill allows for that to continue.
They said they were to be held in public spaces. That was in their speaking notes at the press conference, The Liberals said they would ensure that fundraisers would be held in public spaces that the public can attend. First of all, there is that slight little hitch: the public can attend if they happen to have $1,500. When I see a sign for public skating, I know what that means. A public swim at two o'clock would mean it was probably a couple of bucks or $4.00, and I can take my kids swimming or skating. If it says that there is public skating at four o'clock and it is $1,500 to get in, it does not feel so much like a public space anymore. Rather, it feels very much like a private space, a Boulevard Club or Granite Club sort of public space, which is a Liberal interpretation of what a public space is.
The bill also has a convenient loophole that has been deemed the Laurier Club loophole. if someone makes the $1,550 maximum donation at a Liberal convention, this law does not apply. Is that not convenient? Where do many people who attain status at the Laurier Club make their donation? It is at a Liberal convention. In fact, according to Liberal records, a quarter of the Liberal donations came from just 4% of their donors. Twenty-five per cent came from 4%. That is according to Liberal records.
If the Liberals scowl and tut-tut, then it must mean the Liberal Party of Canada is lying, which I would never suggest. That has never happened, even with all that sponsorship scandal. In any case, the Liberal Party has reported that this is where its money comes from.
The list of what the bill does not do is so much longer than what the bill does. It says we are going to report who attends cash for access quicker. We are going to notify the public a few days in advance that the event is happening, and the public is welcome to attend if they have $1,500. There is a special rate for youth, those under 25, because a lot of people I know under 25 have $250 burning a hole in their pockets. I speak with many people in high schools and universities, and I chat with the pages. I am always amazed how they are constantly leaving hundreds of dollars lying around at the coffee shop, the bar, of wherever we are having our chat. It is a funny thing.
Someone just triggered a name, which reminded me that I made an unfortunate comment about a former colleague during question period. Joe Volpe, a former Liberal, served many years in the House. I got a note from his family suggesting that was an unkind comment that caused them some pain. It is only fair for me, certainly because my former colleague is no longer here to defend himself in the way that we do, to apologize for making that comment about Mr. Volpe, and by extension, to his family.
There are two versions of how the Liberals operate. There are the ones who make the promises in the campaign. Sometimes they repeat the promises, even when they form government. Then there is the version of what the Liberals do when they are in government. We need to bring this into some sort of psychological disorder, because Liberals are able to countenance these two alternative realities at the same time.
In November 2015, the Prime Minister said:
There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
That was a promise. He said one does not get access to the Liberal government simply by making a donation, even the appearance of access. That is a very high bar. I thought that was great and I wondered if they could attain it. Then we found out the justice minister, in April 2016, attended a Liberal fundraiser at a Bay Street law firm, Torys LLP, which is registered to lobby the justice minister. There is no problem there, right? We have the justice minister attending a fundraiser by a registered lobbyist with lawyers.
Then the finance minister held a private Liberal Party fundraiser for business executives at the waterfront mansion of a Halifax mining tycoon, and he was pleased to suggest that it was really just a way of holding pre-budget consultations. I have attended pre-budget consultations as part of the finance committee. In my own riding, we held a town hall and welcomed people to come talk to us about what they thought should be in the budget. What did we charge? It was nothing. In fact, I bought the coffee, because I thought that was appropriate. If we want to invite the public to inform how the government should construct the federal budget, which is their money anyway, we should not charge them for the privilege of the conversation.
The finance minister thought that was appropriate. Here is what he said:
I am pleased to say that we have taken on a consultation process for our budget that allows us to listen to all Canadians. ...We have the most open process ever put in place, and we will continue to listen to Canadians as we craft the next budget on their behalf.
He just walked out of a millionaire's mansion, where people paid $1,500 to have that bit of time with him to inform him. That is the “their” he is talking about.
For the middle class, and those struggling to join it, unless people have the $1,500, they do not get to talk to the finance minister the same way.
On October 21, 2016, the finance minister assured us that these events are “open to the public”. Like every member of Parliament, I am actively involved in fundraising activities for my party. Invitations are sent out to hundreds of people, and they are in fact open. Trying to say that access to the finance minister, who is writing the federal budget, is the same as access to any other member of Parliament, muddies the water.
We looked at the email the Liberals sent out inviting people to this event. I do not know a lot about the Internet, but I did learn that when one uses robots.txt that makes the invitation non-searchable.
Why would they send out an invitation that was not searchable? Do they not want people to know about their event? Usually, I do. I would never use a sneaky backdoor way to make sure that nobody could actually find it. Now we find that the government House leader—this is interesting—had a fundraising event held by a pharmaceutical billionaire who has a lawsuit challenging the federal government's ban on importing two of his company's drugs into Canada. He held a fundraiser for the Liberal House leader. She argued that this event is an example of “lawful and ethical fundraising”. That is her quote.
A billionaire pharmaceutical-company owner who is fighting the federal government trying to get his drugs into Canada held an event for the government House leader and she said that it is an example of ethical and lawful fundraising.
A week later, the natural resources minister told his local paper in Winnipeg that he would never attend a cash for access event. He called it a pay for play. Later, he attended a fundraiser by a major law firm that actively lobbies on issues relating to permits regulating the mining and gas sector. Why would they want to talk to the natural resources minister? After attending the event, the minister's spokesperson claimed that these fundraisers were entirely correct because the term, “pay to play” implies a connection to government business and party fundraising. My God, how thick do they have to be? Why would a law firm that lobbies on behalf of mining and natural resources want to have a special fundraiser for the Minister of Natural Resources? This wilful blindness continues, and it goes on and on.
The Prime Minister held a secret Liberal fundraiser, which is what the Liberals are trying to improve, with Chinese Canadian billionaires. This fundraiser was in Canada's national interest, for engaging positively with the world to draw in investment. A headline in The Globe and Mail editorial just this week asked why the current government is doing Beijing's work. This is the radical left-wing newspaper, The Globe and Mail, wondering out loud why the Liberal government is doing Beijing's work. Then we find out that there are fundraisers connected to investors in Canada by Chinese Canadians and others.
The list is too long. I am going to run out of time. This is unfortunate. It is unfortunate that the list is so long. The Prime Minister himself set the bar initially, saying that there was going to be no preferential access. He said this loud and clear, in black and white on Liberal.ca, and repeated it a bunch of times and then set the example for his ministers, which they dutifully followed and held their own fundraisers and special access events with people directly connected to their ministries. It is unfortunate that they see no problem in this. What did they not do?
They did not give Elections Canada the investigative powers that Elections Canada has been asking for to go after illegal fundraising. That is weird, is it not? They were going to try to clean up fundraising in Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada said, “I need this tool over here to do my job properly.” Then when the government introduced its bill to clean up fundraising, they neglected to put it in.
Liberals sit on the ethics committee and recommended proposals to the government. Not a single recommendation from that made its way into Bill C-50. Therefore, we must pull back and look at this smokescreen attempt by the government and ask what pattern the government has when it comes to how it treats Parliament. Chantal Hébert, of all people, wrote a column yesterday wondering out loud again, who this government is because it looks so much like Stephen Harper's approach to Parliament. We see that the Liberals cannot properly name watchdogs of Parliament. When we offer them a solution they say, “We don't like it, change this”, and when we change that one aspect of our proposal, they still vote against us. They have a nominations problem. They have performance anxiety.
When the Prime Minister, eight months ago, promised to clean up nominations and get rid of the backlog, the backlog went up 60% for nominating important positions around this country, including watchdogs of Parliament and judges on the bench. We now have Jordan's law, and cases, maybe thousands of them, are about to be thrown out because the government cannot be competent enough to do its job.
We say to the government with respect to Bill C-50, this is an opportunity to make things better, to give Canadians more confidence not less. This is an opportunity to follow through on the Prime Minister's own promise. Let us not miss this opportunity. We will amend the legislation at committee. We will see where Liberal ethics truly lie.