Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister took taxpayers' money to the tune of $200,000 to be exact. He took this money and used it in order to help pay for his illegal vacation to a Caribbean island. Today, believe it or not, we are debating whether or not the Prime Minister should now accept responsibility for his illegal conduct and pay back the money that he stole from Canadians. It seems ridiculous, does it not? We are spending an entire day debating whether or not the leader of our country should function with integrity, accept responsibility for his illegitimate actions, and pay back money that he wrongfully took from Canadians. How has it come to this?
In 2016, the Prime Minister accepted an illegal gift of an all expenses paid vacation to a private tropical island from the Aga Khan, who I might add, is someone who receives millions of dollars in government grants and contributions from the government. I should also mention that he is a registered lobbyist.
The Prime Minister was caught and the Ethics Commissioner conducted an investigation. For the first time in Canadian history, a Prime Minister was found guilty of having broken the Conflict of Interest Act, not once but four times. He is guilty of accepting gifts that could influence decision-making. He is guilty of not recusing himself from discussions that could further private interests. He is guilty of failing to arrange his private affairs to avoid the situation. He is guilty of accepting travel on a non-commercial aircraft. To date, the Prime Minister has refused to accept full responsibility for his actions. I acknowledge that he offered a half-hearted verbal apology, but to make amends, the $200,000 that he wrongfully took from taxpayers in this country to help cover the cost of his vacation must be paid back if he is truly sorry.
If the Prime Minister had simply followed the very clear rules set out in the Conflict of Interest Act, taxpayers would not have been stuck with the bill to begin with. Not once did we see even a hint of entitlement in the former prime minister. Stephen Harper paid back the Canadian taxpayer every single month for the food bill that was incurred at 24 Sussex, something that he did not need to do, but he chose to do because of his level of integrity. Stephen Harper paid for his family's child care costs out of his own pocket, again something he did not need to do, but he chose to do it because he felt that it was the right thing to do. Stephen Harper took his winter vacations at his family home in Calgary, which he paid for with his money, and his summer vacation at the Prime Minister's residence in Harrington Lake, which meant the lowest price possible for taxpayers. This is true leadership.
Today, MPs will choose to stand with the Canadian public or against the Canadian public. They will choose to support and condone the Prime Minister's unethical behaviour, which reeks of elitism and entitlement, or they will choose to support Canadians who expect their hard-earned tax dollars to go toward paying for things like infrastructure and services that they have invested in.
Will the Liberal MPs obediently do what the Prime Minister has demanded of them and defend his inexcusable actions, or will they stand up today for Canadian taxpayers and agree that the money does in fact need to be paid back? I am sure their constituents will take note of the decisions made today when it comes time to vote.
It has become increasingly obvious that the Prime Minister believes that there is one set of rules for him and there is one set of rules for everyone else. It was the Liberal Prime Minister who put his signature on a document called the “Open and Accountable Government” guide for public office holders. In this guide the Prime Minister instructs:
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must not accept sponsored travel, i.e. travel whose costs are not wholly paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, or by the individual personally, or his or her political party, or an inter-parliamentary association or friendship group recognized by the House of Commons. This includes all travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose except in exceptional circumstances....
It must have been a really exceptional circumstance to take that private vacation to the Caribbean. He continues:
...and only with the prior approval of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and public disclosure of the use of such aircraft.
Mr. Speaker, I kid you not, these are the words of the Prime Minister himself. These are his instructions to his members on that side of the House. Does he live up to them? No.
The Prime Minister ignored his very own requirements. He took a private helicopter to a private Caribbean island, on which he took a private all-expense paid vacation. Did he check with the Ethics Commissioner? No. Did he disclose it to the public? No. Could it be deemed an exceptional circumstance? No. He got caught.
If the Prime Minister cannot follow his own guidebook, can we reasonably expect him to follow the laws of Canada? Can we reasonably expect him to lead our country well, to create rules and regulations, and policies and initiatives that will serve everyday Canadians day in, day out? Can we count on him for that? No.
According to the Ethics Commissioner, she does question his integrity and whether he is ready and able to do the job.
I would imagine this is fairly frustrating for the Liberal cabinet ministers, who watch as their boss tells them to do one thing but then goes off and does another thing on his own. The Prime Minister's chief of staff and his principal secretary repaid $65,000 they had claimed for moving expenses that were deemed to be inappropriate. They paid it back.
The former minister of health paid back $3,700 to taxpayers when it was discovered she was using the limousine services of a Liberal Party supporter instead of taking a taxi. Why does the Prime Minister have no problem forcing his staff and the ministers to pay back questionable expenses, but exempts himself from the same level of expectation?
When the Prime Minister was first called to account, he declared that the individual taking him on the all-expenses paid trip, the Aga Khan, was a close family friend and therefore it should be totally acceptable. Not a problem, right? However, when the Ethics Commissioner did the necessary research, when she investigated further, she concluded that the Aga Khan could not in any way be deemed a family friend because the Prime Minister had not spoken with him in 30 years. I sincerely feel bad for the Prime Minister if this is, in fact, what he deems a close friendship.
It is clear the Prime Minister has tried very hard to cover his illegal actions, but the fact is this. He has been found guilty, guilty of accepting a gift he should have said no to; guilty of meeting with the Aga Khan, who has received millions of dollars from the Canadian government, and could have undue influence on the PM's decision; guilty of failing to arrange his private affairs to avoid this opportunity; and guilty of accepting travel on a non-commercial aircraft.
Now that the Ethics Commissioner has reached the conclusion that the Prime Minister's trip was illegal, he needs to pay the $200,000 back that was expensed to Canadians. If the trip was illegal, then so were the expenses billed to taxpayers.
The situation before the House today is not about $200,000 being paid back, though the money should be. It absolutely should be. Today's dialogue is about so much more. It is about the integrity of a man who has been entrusted with the responsibility of leading a nation. It is about a man who chose to break that trust for the sake of selfish gain. It is about a man who, though found guilty, refuses to take responsibility for his actions. It is about a man who is able to say that he is sorry with his lips, because words are cheap, but when it comes to actually making amends for his actions and returning the money to the Canadian public, he says no.
This debate today did not need to take place. It was avoidable. The Prime Minister knew better than to accept this illegal gift that clearly put him in a conflict of interest. Sadly, the Prime Minister's inability to live up to his own standards means that for the first time in Canadian history, Canada's head of state has now been found guilty of breaking the Conflict of Interest Act.
The Prime Minister seems to think taxpayers should pay for his boyish dream of being a jet-setting celebrity, but he could not be more wrong. On behalf of Canadians, we call on the Prime Minister to function with integrity, show leadership, accept responsibility, and to make restitution. We call on the Prime Minister to pay it back.