Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.
Last Friday, my office got a call from a constituent who was unhappy about the government's lacklustre action on the TransCanada pipeline expansion. She wondered how she could get hold of the Prime Minister. She had some other things to say as well, such as that members opposite should remember that their sunny ways just are not cutting it for many Canadians. She was not interested in paying $1,500 to meet the Prime Minister, though.
Ralph Klein could have been describing the Liberal government's attitude when he joked, “Edmonton isn't really the end of the world—although you can see it from there.” It might seem like the end of the world from Ottawa, but we in Alberta are hurting, as is Canada, with the resource industry and no pipeline to tidewater. When the energy industry is suffering needlessly, that is Canadian jobs and prosperity out the window. My constituent still wants to know who she can talk to and how she can get to the Prime Minister.
The pipeline not getting to tidewater means that in the U.S., they build a hospital a week and a school every day. It means that in Ontario, they build a car for $30,000, but there is only one market, which takes it for $15,000 then sells it back to us for $30,000. It is why the U.S. can buy cheap oil at a 50% discount, haul it back to New Brunswick, and sell it to us at 100%. However, I digress just a little.
My constituent wanted to know how to get hold of the Prime Minister. We all know that it is a tall order. The leader of a G7 country cannot sit by his phone all day and take calls. However he might want to do that, he cannot. What is the answer? How does she get hold of the Prime Minister or a senior cabinet minister? The answer could be that it might take a while, but she will get a response if she writes a letter or an email. It will come in time, but that is just too long. In Canada, one must get an answer without having to shell out $1,500.
This bill is supposed to make sure that no pay-to-play takes place in this country. That is important. Canadians expect that. Anyone who believes in the integrity of democracy should demand no less.
I have a friend named George who sees the world as black and white, not grey. He understands what right and wrong is, so he has a real problem with politicians. He is a friend of mine, and he has a problem with me. He says, “Don't you guys understand what is right and wrong?” To him, this is a black and white issue, and it is wrong. Making one's case to elected officials is not a privilege only available to those who can afford to do so.
Last year, Maclean's ran a story about what the Prime Minister learned from watching The West Wing growing up. Apparently, the show was a formative influence. Maybe he remembers season one, episode five, when President Bartlet's chief of staff invited various fringe interest groups to meet with senior officials. He called it the “big block of cheese day”. The idea was that everyone has a right to appeal to their government, not just the well connected or the wealthy and not just people who own helicopters and private islands. That is an aspirational example. Maybe the Prime Minister skipped that episode.
Frankly, it is alarming that we even need a bill like this in Canada. Why does the government need legislation to remind itself to act ethically?
I have a friend named Karen who I have worked with for many years. She sees the world as black and white when it comes to ethics. She is a strong, ethical person. She has been involved in politics but cannot understand why we do not get why this is unethical. Can the government not tell right from wrong? It is troubling that it needs Parliament to pass legislation to remind it of such a basic standard, but it seems to think it does.
I have been troubled by some of the headlines on this bill over the last few months. A headline in The Globe and Mail, on May 31, 2017, said, “Liberals’ fundraising bill fails to quell cash-for-access charges”. A headline on iPolitics, on October 3, 2017, said, “Liberals’ fundraising bill needs teeth, says official”. A headline on the CBC, on October 17, 2017, said, “Cash for access fundraising law should be widened, says ethics commissioner”. What, the Ethics Commissioner?
The bill, which should not be necessary in the first place, does not stop cash for access. It is an ethics bill that the Ethics Commissioner has misgivings about. An event needs to be advertised before it is held and then a report on the event has to be submitted afterward. Cash for access could continue; this legislation would not stop it. The bill gives this practice an air of legitimacy. As the member for Calgary Shepard mentioned in his speech on the bill, it is window dressing.
We need more than window dressing; we need a real commitment to ethical behaviour. The Prime Minister is the first Canadian prime minister to break a federal law while in office. He violated multiple sections of the Conflict of Interest Act, and he refuses to pay back the expenses he charged taxpayers for his illegal vacation.
The member for Red Deer—Mountain View made a good point in his speech. The member noted that when the Prime Minister was the member for Papineau, he was forced to repay money that had been inappropriately charged to his member's operational budget. Why is this situation any different? When one breaks the rules, one makes amends. That is what is expected of normal Canadians. The Prime Minister needs to show that he does not think he is above playing by the same rules as the rest of us. He needs to pay that money back.
Needless to say, Canadians expect a higher ethical standard from their prime minister. They expect the standard that the Prime Minister outlined for his cabinet in their mandate letters. Those read, “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 key points here are that a minister's actions are expected to bear the closest public scrutiny, and they need to go above and beyond just following the law. The reasoning should be obvious: following the law is not enough when it comes to ethical behaviour. If one behaves unethically, one cannot just use the law to cover up for one's actions. Therefore, what happened? A few cash for access scandals, an illegal vacation later, and we have new laws being drafted to make up for these ethical lapses.
I have a friend named Sue. I worked with her, a colleague in a leadership position. To her, ethical behaviour was the foremost thing we needed to practice in our professional lives. It was black and white. We had to understand ethics and make our decisions that way. She was very much respected for her leadership.
When I use public transportation, there are signs indicating that some seats are reserved for those who might have trouble standing. What if those signs were not there? It would not suddenly become ethical to remain seated while someone holding an infant struggled to stand. We would not say, “Sorry, but I won't give up my seat to you unless they pass a law forcing me to do so.” However, that is what the government is doing here. Rather than relying on their own integrity to do the right thing, the Liberals are passing a law.
That is why this legislation will not make any difference. Being required to advertise an event and report on it afterwards would not deter those who are determined to practice cash for access. One has to have moral guidelines and principles. It is right or wrong. Cash for access is morally wrong. The best way to stop cash for access is to stop doing it. It is that simple. There is no law that is needed. As with giving up one's seat on the bus, it is basic ethical behaviour.
If we look at rankings of professions in our country, we will see nurses and farmers at the top of that list. They are believed to be acting ethically. Who is at the bottom of that list? Politicians are at the bottom, because the average Canadian does not think we act ethically, and this is an example of why.
I must emphasize again that the issues my colleagues and I are raising today are fundamental to a strong democracy. Canadians are the inheritors of a great democratic tradition, a centuries-old Westminster parliamentary system with its roots in Great Britain. In some respects, we MPs are the guardians of this proud democratic legacy. Canadians trust us to live up to the highest democratic principles. When the government is caught practising cash for access, that trust is broken. It must be regained. I am sorry to say that for the many reasons I have tried to outline today, this legislation is not the way to do that.