Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House. It is particularly an honour to rise on a Friday afternoon, when so many of my friends and colleagues have joined us in the House today to listen to my speech. It is always a great honour to have so many people tuning in.
It reminds me a bit of when I was a lecturer at King's University College at the Western University when so many people would turn up for my lectures on Canadian public administration. They were always hanging on every word, until I had to wake them up, and then realized they may not have been paying as much attention as I had thought.
However, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-50. As a member of the procedure and House affairs committee, I am well-acquainted with the legislation, having heard from a number of witnesses and participated in the examination of this bill.
Bill C-50 is really about legitimizing the Liberal cash for access events. So often the Liberals try to tell Canadians that they are different, that they are not like those Liberals of the past anymore. The days of the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery commission, that is not them anymore. Those days are gone. The days of being entitled to their entitlements, those days are gone, as this is a different Liberal Party. The Prime Minister told Canadians, hand over heart, that the Liberal Party was different.
The Prime Minister, when he came to office, told Canadians:
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
However, shortly after the government was elected, that is exactly what happened. We saw a string of cash for access events. High-profile Liberal politicians hosted events where donors gave significant amounts of money to the Liberal Party. In exchange, these donors got private one-on-one access with senior Liberal ministers, senior Liberals ministers who many of those donors could potentially have business with the government and could potentially have business with these same ministers. Most Canadians know this is wrong. Most Canadians know that this is not an appropriate way for ministers of the crown, those who serve our country to operate. However, with the Liberals, old habits die hard.
We should not be too surprised when the Liberals formed government that these types of cash for access events would happen. After all, the Liberals learned from the best. The Ottawa Liberals learned from their Ontario counterparts. The Ottawa Liberals learned from Kathleen Wynne, Dalton McGuinty, and their great success with fundraising through cash for access events.
I want to quote from a Globe and Mail article of July 6, 2016. The title is, “An inside look at cash-for-access Ontario Liberal fundraisers”. The article reads:
On the evening of March 2, 2015, Premier Kathleen Wynne gathered with eight guests who paid $10,000 each for exclusive face-time. Three months earlier, 22 donors spent $5,000 apiece to be entertained by Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Days later, eight people shelled out $5,000 each to attend a reception with then-energy minister Bob Chiarelli.
These were just three of more than 150 intimate cash-for-access fundraisers the Ontario Liberal Party held in Ms. Wynne's first three years in power. At the events, contributors paid thousands of dollars each to bend the ears of the Premier and members of her cabinet privately, typically over cocktails and dinner at five-star hotels or high-end restaurants.
Therefore, the Ottawa Liberals had a great road map from their friends in Ontario.
What happened once the Liberals formed government? They quickly started implementing cash for access events.
Chinese billionaires have been attending Liberal fundraisers, even though they are not allowed to donate because they are not Canadian citizens. One of these individuals, Zhang Bin, who is also a Communist Party apparatchik, attended a May 19, 2016, fundraiser at the Toronto home of Chinese Business Chamber of Canada chairperson Benson Wong, according to the report in The Globe and Mail. A few weeks later, Mr. Zhang and a business partner donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and $50,000 to build a statue of the current Prime Minister's father.
On November 7, 2016, B.C. multi-millionaire Miaofei Pan hosted a fundraiser at his West Vancouver mansion. At this event, which was of course a pay-to-play event, Chinese investment, seniors care, and real estate developments were certainly topics of discussion. This event took place while the federal government was reviewing a $1 billion bid by China's Anbang Insurance Group to buy one of British Columbia's largest retirement and nursing home chains.
In Toronto, another example of cash for access was an event with the justice minister that had a $1,500 paycheque. This was again an event with a minister who could potentially be having dealings with these same donors.
When the Liberal Party promised real change, this was certainly not what Canadians were expecting. Canadians know this is wrong. Canadians know this type of cash for access event is not right. In fact, a 2016 Nanos Research survey showed that more than six in 10 Canadians disapprove of this type of event. They disapprove of political parties holding fundraising events in which access is sold to Canadians.
One has to wonder why the Liberals are so eager to raise money through cash for access events. One reason is that they are failing to raise money through other means. Time and again we see the Conservative Party raising more than the Liberal Party. Why does the Conservative Party raise more than the Liberals? It does so because of hard-working Canadians who feel the Conservative Party reflects their views. It does so because the Conservatives have a leader who is committed to Canadians, average Canadians, and not selling access, as our friends across the way have been doing since the beginning of their time in office.
Let us go back to what this bill is trying to do. It is trying to legitimize what the Liberals have been doing. Rather than simply stopping cash for access, they would rather print new rules just to legitimize what they are doing. However, they did not have to. They already have rules in place in their mandate letters and in the “Open and Accountable Government” document.
I will quote from the Minister of Democratic Institutions' mandate letter, but the words are reflected in all the mandate letters of ministers. The Prime Minister wrote the following to his Minister of Democratic Institutions:
...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 Prime Minister's own letter to his ministers clearly dictates that simply following the letter of the law is not enough. They have to appear to be fully above board. This was not happening with the Liberals' cash for access fundraisers, so they brought in this piece of legislation to try to legitimize them.
The Liberal government introduced its “Open and Accountable Government” document with great fanfare. This would be the road map for a new era of transparency for these Liberals. The opening clearly states, “Open and Accountable Government sets out core principles regarding the roles and responsibilities of Ministers in Canada’s system of responsible parliamentary government.”
What are some of those requirements? What are some of those issues ministers and parliamentary secretaries ought to follow? Annex B, “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries”, states:
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.
The best practices the Prime Minister lays out were not followed by his Liberals. They were not followed by his ministers, who felt the need to raise $1,500 from donors who could have direct dealings with not only the government as whole but also with its individual departments. Under “General Principles” in annex B, it states:
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.
It is not only following the letter of the law. It is the appearance. It is ensuring that all actions are above board and are able to have the closest degree of scrutiny to ensure that those who serve as ministers of the crown, those who serve our country in high office, are not tainted by even the appearance of conflict of interest.
I am reminded of a former minister in the Harper Conservative government. Once she became aware that there was a potential that those who lobbied and who worked with her department could be attending a fundraiser hosted by her riding association, that event was cancelled and all funds raised were immediately returned. Then we fast-forward to this government. Not only is the money not being returned, but the Liberals are doubling down on these events and they have introduced Bill C-50 to do so.
This bill has had great fanfare from pretty much only the Liberal Party. In testimony before the committee, almost all witnesses were very lukewarm in their excitement about this piece of legislation. They were very lukewarm in their response to an underwhelming bill being brought forward. It could be because this bill really does not do much at all.
In fact, the media knows this. Despite the advertising of these events, the way the media is actually treated at the events is far from ideal.
Let me read from an article in The Hill Times from June 21, 2017:
A Hill journalist is calling into question the Liberal Party’s promise to make its fundraising events more open and transparent, after party staff restricted media access at a June 19 Ottawa event for the party’s top donors.
Sure, the media can know about the events. They can even show up, as long as they stay in the corner and do not talk to anyone. The report goes on to state:
Reporters were ushered into one room for an RCMP sweep prior to speeches. They were told they were not allowed to mingle, but could talk to guests registering and entering the event in the foyer of the museum.
Even a Liberal Party candidate expressed concern about how the Liberals were treating journalists:
Allan Thompson, a journalism professor at Carleton University who ran for the Liberals in the riding of Huron–Bruce, Ont. during the 2015 election and attended Monday’s event, said in an interview afterward that he had sympathy for the reporters who weren’t allowed to mingle, especially because of his background as a former Hill reporter with The Toronto Star.
It is one thing to try to legitimize cash for access. It is another thing to blatantly use this as a ploy to keep the media away and to ensure that this is actually not opening up transparency at all, unlike the former Conservative government, which, on taking office in 2006, introduced Bill C-2, the strongest measures of accountability and transparency in our country. It was a bill that banned corporate and union donations, and put hard caps on the amount of money that could be donated to political parties. Unfortunately, the good work that was begun by the Conservative Party is now being used by the Liberals to initiate and to continue their cash for access events.
Of course, there are certain exceptions and exemptions to this bill. One such exemption is what I like to call the Laurier Club loophole. Yes, donor appreciation events are included under this legislation, except for when they occur at a party convention. A perfect example of this is the Liberal Party convention happening later this year. The Liberal Party's own website boasts about the benefits of being a Laurier Club member, which include invitations to “Laurier Club events across the country, hearing from leading voices on our Liberal team” and the “opportunity to meet a strong network of business and community leaders who share your commitment to Liberal values”.
The Liberal Party is selling access through its Laurier Club. In fact, earlier this week, the chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence sent a tweet that said, “if there was a time to join Laurier Club, now is the time”, of course, referring in advance to the Laurier Club event that would be held at the Liberal convention later this year. It is cash for access, but simply another way of doing it.
I find it interesting that when this legislation was tabled, we heard from certain witnesses in committee, and one of them was Canada's acting Chief Electoral Officer. It was interesting because the acting Chief Electoral Officer had a number of suggested amendments to this piece of legislation. Why should the Chief Electoral Officer have to encourage a committee to introduce amendments? Could it be that the Liberal government did not actually consult the Chief Electoral Officer before introducing this piece of legislation, and instead, had to rely on the committee to review to take into account some of his recommendations?
Let us talk about penalties in this act. Clause 11 of the bill states:
Section 500 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):
Punishment — strict liability offences
(1.1) Every person who is guilty of an offence under section 497.01 is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $1,000.
That is one aspect of it. The other aspect is found in proposed section 384.4, which refers to the return of contributions. I find it interesting with these Liberals that if, in this situation, an event is held that does not comply with the new rules they are putting in place, the money has to be repaid, but what about an all-expense paid trip to the Aga Khan's private island? What about a trip in which the Ethics Commissioner found that the Prime Minister had violated the ethics laws on four separate occasions? What about that situation?
No, these Liberals feel there is no need to repay money in that situation. There is no need for the Prime Minister to pay back $200,000-plus that was expensed to Canadian taxpayers for an illegal and ethically challenged trip that the Prime Minister himself took. No, the Prime Minister does not feel the need to pay that back, because what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. This behaviour, by an elected member of the House, let alone the Prime Minister of this country, is unacceptable.
The bill is clear in what it intends to do. It intends to do nothing more than legitimize the cash for access schemes of the Liberal Party of Canada. Old habits die hard and with these Liberals, it is the same old Liberal Party.