Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for St. John's East, for his speech. I have served on committee with him and he is a fine chap who should be the senior minister from Newfoundland.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-50 on political financing, also known as “we got caught with our hands in the cookie jar, but let us pretend that we have changed and not worry about it”. However, that is just the working title of the bill.
The Liberals seem to enjoy making a mockery of their responsibility to this place by pretending to abide by and respect this institution, while acting to undermine our democracy and ethical standards. They claim to be transparent, but then introduce laws that lessen transparency. They claim to go above the spirit of the law, but refuse to follow the letter of the law. When caught, they make excuses, blame others, and accuse critics of mudslinging.
The Prime Minister wrote and signed the mandate letters. I have referred to them often in speeches and I feel like I am plagiarizing my old speeches by repeating what the Prime Minister stated, but it is important to set the stage for how this cynical bill came about. If the Liberals want to raise money, they could copyright that handbook and charge us every time we refer to it in the House to point out how they are breaking their own promises. It would probably surpass the Conservatives in fundraising.
In the mandate letters, the Prime Minister said, “you must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.”
The mandate letters specifically and repeatedly reference the Prime Minister's much-touted “Open and Accountable Government” document, so I will refresh members in the House on exactly what it says. It states, “A public office holder should not participate in a political activity that is, or that may reasonably be seen, to be incompatible with the public office holder’s duties, or reasonably seen to impair his or her ability to discharge his or her public duties in a politically impartial fashion, or would cast doubt on the integrity or impartiality of the office.” The document is clear. In order to act ethically, one must choose to act ethically. There is no law that can prevent any instance of corruption from happening. It comes from behaviour and the tone set by the leader.
Let us see what the Liberals did to honour this pledge. We have the justice minister's exclusive Liberal fundraiser with Bay Street lawyers at over $500 a head. The Liberals tried to excuse this by saying that the minister was not appearing as a justice minister, but rather, just a simple MP from Vancouver. Why a bunch of Bay Street lawyers would want to shell out $500 a head to meet with just a simple MP from Vancouver is beyond me. We all know why the minister was there, and the Liberals know. They just do not care. Their excuse reminds me of the quote by the previous Prime Minister Trudeau about MPs being nobodies 50 yards off the Hill. I am surprised so many Bay Street lawyers would pay $500 for a nobody.
Do not forget about the former immigration minister doing his duty as minister of the crown by attending a Liberal fundraiser at a private residence in Ontario at $400 a ticket. Never fear, the former minister was roundly punished for this completely unethical sale of access to the highest confines of cabinet with a lowly ambassadorship to China. Thank Heaven the Liberal recourse mechanisms for breaking trust, ethics, and crossing boundaries are so severe.
Of course, we have the finance minister, who spent the entire fall dodging and ducking questions about his own lack of ethics. We should have seen this coming. Less than a year after being appointed to be the finance minister, he paid homage to the Liberal Party by selling access to himself for a whopping $1,500 a ticket to an elite group of Halifax business people. Someone across the way can correct me if I am wrong, but I think one of those attendees was later rewarded with a plum patronage appointment. However, it might have been a different one. There have been so many that we cannot keep track.
The law-abiding, rule-following, precedent-setting Prime Minister, to whom all ministers look for ethical guidance, attended a fundraiser with wealthy Chinese billionaires. One was a Chinese businessman linked to the Communist Party in China, who donated over $1 million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. He just happened to be lobbying the Liberal government at the time for a banking licence, and guess what, he got the licence. Here we have it: donate to the Liberals or the Prime Minister's dad's foundation, lobby, and one gets a bank. That is a great deal.
My favourite of all of the cash for access fundraisers is the famous hash for access. The Prime Minister's point person on legalizing recreational pot was the prize guest at a Liberal fundraising party attended by a marijuana lobbying group at a Toronto law office that advises clients in the cannabis business.
Remember the Prime Minister's orders: avoid the appearance of preferential access. However, the person leading the pot charge for the Liberal government was the head draw at a fundraiser at the law firm advising on the pot business, and it was attended by the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, CFBA, which represents dispensary owners and cannabis farmers who want the government to allow storefront pot shops. To avoid the appearance of preferential access, we have pot sellers donating to the Liberal Party and getting face time with the parliamentary secretary in charge of rolling out the pot laws.
In an article in The Globe and Mail, here is the Liberal's response:
The individuals associated with the organization you reference appear to have only registered with the lobbying commissioner on or after the date of the event itself, and therefore the party would not have been aware in advance of their activities.
Therefore, the Liberals did not do anything bad. However, in the same article, here is what a pot lobbyist said:
CFBA organizers Abi Roach and Jon Liedtke, a co-owner of the Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge in Windsor, Ont., lobbied and were photographed with [the parliamentary secretary], a former Toronto police chief, at the $150-per-person fundraiser.
“I got 10 minutes of his time...It was worth it....”
Ms. Roach told The Globe and Mail that she:
“gets e-mails all the time” from the Liberals asking her to come to fundraisers, and no one vetted her for the April 28 event.
“They took our money happily without question,” Ms. Roach said. “If it was easier for people to speak to politicians, to explain their points of views without having to pay—I mean, there was no way to sit at this event, I was on my feet for four hours—I would rather to speak to a politician one-on-one in an office than have to pay.”
Here is a lobbyist saying that if only there was a way she could talk to the Liberal ministers without having to donate to the Liberal Party she would do it. Heavens.
The Liberals further allowed registered lobbyists into fundraisers in Montreal and Vancouver. They blamed this on a clerical error. Perhaps the same person making this clerical error forgot to note the finance minister's massive villa in France as a clerical error.
Who else is to blame for this? The Prime Minister in his year-end interview with CTV News said that all laws were followed and that it was the media and opposition causing concerns. Therefore, they break all ethical standards, accept money from registered lobbyists, but it is the media and the opposition's fault.
This brings me back to Bill C-50. On the heels of the cash for access fundraising scandal, the Liberals promised to make political fundraising more transparent. They came up with a bill that tried to legitimize unethical behaviour. When she introduced the bill, the minister stated, “Our government told Canadians we would set a higher bar on the transparency, accountability, and integrity”.
I read the speech a few times. When I first glanced at it, I thought it was satire, but no, the minister was serious. The only reason Bill C-50 includes provisions on political financing is that the Liberals were plainly unable to keep their hands clean. In fact, they did over 100 cash for access fundraisers in 2016.
The National Post says, quoting The Globe and Mail, that:
A set of emails...show just how blatantly the party sells the opportunities offered by events featuring [the Prime Minister]. A gathering held at the home of a veteran [Liberal] fundraiser was promoted as a chance to “form relationships and open dialogues with our government.”
When one puts a price on attendance, one is, by definition, selling. When one sets the incentive as being the opportunity to hobnob with the Liberal powerful elite, one is, by definition, selling access. The Liberals promised to act above and beyond the spirit of the law, as is their responsibility as leaders of the country. However, last fall's session demonstrated that the Liberals are not even capable of following the letter of the law.
This is a cynical bill merely set up because the government got caught, and more, on ethical behaviour. What is the easiest solution to avoid the implication that one is selling access? Just do not sell access to ministers. The Liberals could just not hold fundraisers with tickets sold to the highest bidders so that they can interact with the Prime Minister or a minister. It is much like not breaking the ethics laws to go to a billionaire's island. We do not need a law to prevent the Prime Minister from breaking the law. Just do not break the law. There is no rule change required to do this. All the Liberals need to do is change their behaviour.