Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise tonight and speak to Bill C-50 or, as I like to refer to it, the “got caught with my hand in the cookie jar so I'm going to blame the cookie jar act”, because that is exactly what the Liberals are trying to do with this legislation. They knew what the rules were. They knew what the rules were all along. Then they just broke them. They continued to break them. Then they got caught. Now they are trying to put up a bit of a cover for that. They did this for months. They went on and on with it. They showed no remorse. They did not seem to have any feelings of guilt. However, when they were caught, they decided that it was the rules' fault and not their fault. That is where we are today.
I guess we could look at it the way my colleague, the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge, put it. He told me this legislation was designed to stop the Liberals from doing what they have been doing. Maybe it would just be easier if they just stopped doing it. What is even worse is this legislation would not even stop them from doing it. It is just a cover. When people forget about the cash for access scandals, they will just quietly start doing it again. This legislation really would not do anything to stop it.
Let me back up a bit and take us to where we started with all of this, or where they started with all of this. In November 2015, very shortly after the Liberals formed government, the Prime Minister issued some directives. These directives were titled, “Open and Accountable Government.” I suspect if anyone is watching tonight, they are probably chuckling a bit at that, because it does sound amusing to hear that title, given what we have seen from the Liberal government in the year and a half to two years it has been in power. However, I do not want us to get too distracted by that because it is a bit amusing. There is no question about that.
However, under “Annex B” of that directive, “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries”, the Prime Minister outlines three general principles that he said must be followed. I will read them:
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
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.
There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments.
When we start thinking about that, they have broken all three of those multiple times.
Of particular note is the second principle that talks about preferential access to government by donors of political parties. Let us look at the Liberal record of upholding that principle as it pertains to the rules laid out in the Conflict of Interest Act.
In April 2016, the Minister of Justice attended a $500-a-ticket fundraiser at Torys LLP offices, in Toronto. Several of the law firm's members were registered to lobby the federal government, including a senior member who was registered to lobby the justice department. How, in any universe, is that not a conflict of interest? The Minister of Justice has a duty, not only to be independent, but also to be perceived as independent, which was very clearly compromised by that fundraiser.
What was discussed at this fundraiser? Did the lawyers who were present lobby the minister to advance their interests? Did the interests of those lawyers go further than the ones who did not contribute to the Liberal Party? At the time this was discovered, the Liberal Party refused to say who was in attendance at the event. That information only became public once it was posted on Elections Canada's website.
It is actually interesting that the Liberals feel the need to change the law to make sure that attendees at ministerial fundraisers remain public, because when given the chance, they refuse to do so themselves. It goes back to the principle that it would be easier to just stop doing what they are doing. They do not have to change the law to stop doing it; they just need to stop doing it. They know it is wrong, so they should not keep doing it.
How about the fundraiser the finance minister attended in Halifax in October, where corporate executives paid $1,500 each to attend? How about when the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, who was the Prime Minister's point person on legalizing marijuana, headlined a private Liberal fundraiser, attended by a marijuana lobbying group, at a law office in Toronto that advises clients in the cannabis business? Seriously, this stuff can not be made up. I know the Liberals eventually returned the donation from the marijuana lobbyist. They acknowledged what was obvious, that it was clearly a conflict of interest, but they only did so when the fundraising event became a media story. In other words, it was when they got caught. Again, they put their hand in the cookie jar, someone caught them, and they were trying to blame the cookie jar.
Because of all of this, we know that Liberal ministers and parliamentary secretaries cannot, or maybe will not, and are not following simple ethical rules when it comes to fundraising.
I am sure the Prime Minister must have been incredibly disappointed when members of his own government not only broke the conflict of interest rules but also the very rules he created himself called “Open and Accountable Government”. Hold on. Was he disappointed? As it turns out, in May of last year, the Prime Minister was a guest star at a $1,500 Liberal Party cash-for-access fundraiser at the mansion of a wealthy Chinese Canadian business executive. One of the guests in attendance was a donor who was seeking approval from the federal government to begin operating a new bank in Canada. Another guest at the event made a sizable donation to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation. It was $50,000 to build a statue of the former prime minister himself just weeks after the event. It was just a pure coincidence, I am sure.
It looks like it was not just his cabinet that was breaking his rules. The Prime Minister himself broke his own rules when it came to political fundraising, which is why I do not know how anyone can take this bill seriously. Again, if they want to stop doing it, they just have to stop doing it.
We all know what it really is. It is just a smoke screen they are putting up to make it seem like they are being accountable. They like to talk, but they do not really like to follow through with action. It is all talk and no action. It is just a smoke and mirrors situation, just like everything else they do.
If they really want to be accountable, they do not need a bill to do so. They could just stop selling access to the government for cash. They could voluntarily provide the list of attendees at their fundraising events. They could ensure that the Prime Minister and other members of cabinet were not in a conflict of interest when they attended partisan events. A new law is not going to make their cash-for-access fundraisers ethical. It just will not do that.
If the Prime Minister wanted to end cash for access, all he ever had to do, and all he still has to do, is stop doing these fundraisers. It is that simple. It does not take legislation.
Bending the rules so the Prime Minister can keep charging $1,500 for wealthy individuals to meet with him and discuss government business is still wrong. It will always be wrong. That is clear. What else is clear are the rules. Why do the Liberals not just start following the rules like everyone else?
Here is the answer. It is because they are not open, they are not transparent, and they definitely have no intention of actually being accountable. They like to talk about it, but they certainly do not want to walk the walk. It seems like this is a pattern with these Liberals. It is a pattern with all Liberals, but certainly with these ones. They do not want to be accountable to Canadians.
Remember just a few months ago when the government House leader introduced her quite ironically titled discussion paper on changes to the Standing Orders. It became obvious very soon after that a discussion was actually the last thing the Liberal Party wanted and they tried to ram those changes through the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, with no discussion, no debate, no questions and answers, and without unanimous consent.
Let us try to remember some of the changes they were trying to force through and I am sure they are going to continue to try to force through. They want to take every Friday off. Canadians work five days a week, at least. Why does the Prime Minister and the Liberal government think that they are more entitled than average Canadians? It is a pattern with them again. They seem to think they are entitled.
Really, I think they want to avoid scrutiny from the opposition parties, the media, and therefore Canadians. Why show up and be held accountable five days a week when they can try to get away with just four? They will try to get away with cash for access. Why not try to get away with fewer days to be held accountable?
Furthermore, the Liberals proposed that the Prime Minister only attend question period once a week. I realize the Prime Minister does not actually answer questions when he comes to question period anyway, but that does not mean he should not show up most days. He should be expected to show up so that people can see him not answering the questions. What would that mean? With the schedule of the House of Commons and his showing up and answering questions one time a week, it boils down to his answering questions for as little as 25 hours in an entire year. That is on the weeks he shows up at all, because last week we did not see him once.
Some of the other changes that were being proposed by the Liberals were designed to limit and handcuff the opposition, essentially to not allow them to do their jobs to full capacity. These changes would have diminished Parliament and they largely would have stripped the opposition of the power to hold the Prime Minister and his government to account. There it is again, the lack of wanting to be accountable.
What is worse than the outrageous changes they tried to make, which I am sure will continue, is the fact that they tried to ram these changes through a Liberal dominated committee without the consent of all political parties. This was an unprecedented move that had not been seen before in Canadian democracy. It had been a long-standing tradition in Parliament that any changes to the way the House of Commons operates must have unanimous consent from all the major parties represented in the House.
That entire standing order debacle made it quite clear that the Prime Minister has absolutely no respect for democracy. The Liberals only backed down after Canadians let them know that they would not stand for it. Again, the Liberals get away with it as long as they can and when they are called out on it, they try to find some way to weasel out of it.
During the procedure and House affairs committee, I had the opportunity to read hundreds of emails from Canadians who were upset and very angry that the Liberals were trying to subvert democracy in such a way. An e-petition that was created on March 23, collected over 30,000 signatures pretty much over a weekend.
I am happy and proud that Canadians became so engaged in our parliamentary process, but it should not have had to come to that. The Liberals should have known better, just like they should know better when it comes to cash for access fundraisers. I know they do know better. They think they can get away with it and that is just plain wrong.
The Liberal government members should be accountable, should be open, and should be transparent on their own, not only when there is public outcry. It should not take public outcry to make them appear to be accountable, open, and transparent. They should just be doing it, but that is not the LIberal way.
There is another parallel I can draw. We have heard it mentioned a couple of times tonight already, but this bill deals with a problem that the Liberals have created themselves, which they could just stop doing. They do not need a bill to stop doing it. There are all kinds of serious matters that are potential threats to our democracy that they could be dealing with. A great example of this is third-party spending during elections. I will take a moment to talk about that glaring issue.
The commissioner of elections told the Senate committee the following:
We have received a significant number of complaints about the involvement of third parties in connection with the 2015 general election. And I would add we received many more complaints than had been filed with respect to the previous election in 2011.
Common to many of these complaints was the perception that third parties, in some ridings, were so significantly involved in the electoral contest that this resulted in unfair electoral outcomes.
I would suggest that third-party engagement in Canada’s electoral process will likely continue to grow. For that reason, it may be time for Parliament to re-examine the third-party regime....
The previous electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, also testified that a registered third party can accept and use foreign money during a Canadian electoral campaign and that, further, there is no limit to the amount it can spend, except on advertising. The current election law only regulates third-party activities that are directly related to advertising. Therefore, Elections Canada does not define things like surveys, election-related websites, calling services, push polls, and other things to communicate with electors as advertising. Once the funds are mingled in with an organization in Canada or from outside of Canada, it is within their funds and they can use those funds in an unlimited amount, the way it is now.
The commissioner further stated:
In Canada, third parties are only regulated with respect to their election advertising activities. Provided they act independently from a candidate or party, they may incur limitless amounts of expenses when carrying out activities such as polling, voter contact services, promotional events, etc. They can also use whatever sources of funding—including foreign funds—to finance these non-election advertising activities.
The level of third party engagement in Canada's electoral process will likely continue to grow in the years to come. For that reason, Parliament should consider whether there is a need to re-examine the third-party regime, with a view to maintaining a level playing field for all participants.
Does no one on the government side find those statements in any way concerning? They should.
The commissioner of Canada elections is saying that Parliament needs to be looking at changing the third-party regime to ensure the integrity of Canadian elections. Instead, the Liberals are introducing legislation to police themselves because the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Instead, they could be dealing with something that would ensure the integrity of elections. That is what we should be doing. In fact, on this one, the Minister of Democratic Institutions is turning a blind eye and pretending that this has not even been flagged as an issue. It was said by the commissioner of Canada elections, nonetheless.
During question period in the Senate recently, the minister testified on foreign funding in third-party spending during elections, and stated:
From the experience we have, we have found that this is not something that is currently present and so significant that it would impact the electoral system or the confidence that Canadians have during a writ period or during an election.
She also said, “there's very little evidence to suggest that foreign money is influencing Canadian elections by third parties.” It seems to be quite different from what the commissioner had to say, quite different. I will point out that just because the minister is turning a blind eye does not mean this is not a glaring issue. As the minister's mandate letter famously put it, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant to concerns about our political process.” Why is she not shining a little light on this issue? Is this issue not in need of a little sunshine? Why do we not deal with that? It is not dealt with in Bill C-33 and it is not dealt with in Bill C-50, which we have before us today.
At the end of the day, Liberal members opposite can use all the platitudes they want. They can claim all they want to be open, transparent, and accountable, but Canadians are certainly growing tired of their games. Canadians are seeing the Liberal government for what it really is: the same party that brought us the sponsorship scandal, only with slightly better hair and maybe some really snappy socks.
The Liberals got caught breaking the rules, and changing the rules does not make them any less guilty. They still broke the rules, and they continue to break the rules. It is time for that to change.