Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in the House of Commons in this debate with my Conservative colleagues. Just seeing the degree of animation, vitriol, and concern from the Liberal deputy House leader kind of reminds me of something an old bomber command veteran told me. He said, “You know you're over your target when you're getting heavy fire from the ground.” The desperate machinations of the Liberal Party on this issue show us that this, I believe, is an attempt by the Prime Minister's Office to obstruct Parliament from getting to the answers on the Atwal affair or to cover up the whole situation with Mr. Jean.
To illustrate that, in the time I have, I will start my remarks with a quote. My friend from Winnipeg, the deputy House leader for the Liberals, knows I love reading what people said when they were in opposition and comparing that to their positions in government. I am going to do that right now.
In opposition, with respect to public safety and security issues for Canada in October 2014, someone said, “being able to ask questions is essential in a democracy, even in difficult situations—especially in difficult situations.” The person who said that, when in opposition, was then the MP for Papineau, now the Prime Minister of Canada. I agree with that sentiment. I wonder what has happened to the Prime Minister. Difficult questions in difficult situations need to be asked when it comes to public safety and security. Remember, he said “especially in difficult situations”.
The difficult situation Canada finds itself in vis-à-vis the India Atwal scandal is perhaps the greatest diplomatic scandal Canada has ever witnessed. I do not say that with hyperbole, because India is a close friend to Canada. It is a Commonwealth partner. It is a country that bilateral trade doubled under the Conservative government of which I was a part. Many of us, and many Canadians, remember fondly. It is a Commonwealth partner with which we have enhanced relationships on security, nuclear technology, and bilateral relationships in trade. That has all been put at risk because of the careless and reckless actions of the Prime Minister. The trip was entirely premised on domestic politics. Virtually everyone who was on the trip, including the deputy House leader of the Liberal Party, my friend from Winnipeg, and virtually every event the trip had in its plan was based on currying favour and winning votes here in Canada, and it all backfired.
The denial by the Prime Minister and the public safety minister to allow parliamentarians to ask questions has led to the Atwal India affair and the cover-up I am concerned about, and has brought us here today.
For Canadians watching at home, let us see if we are being unreasonable here. My friend, the deputy House leader, almost foaming at the mouth, suggests we are not bringing in appropriate debate, that we are overstating the scandal with the Prime Minister's trip to India. Let us see what our request is.
All the opposition is asking for is that Daniel Jean, the national security adviser to the Prime Minister of Canada, provide members of Parliament with the same briefing and the same ability to ask questions that Daniel Jean gave to members of the media. Canadians, through the members of Parliament, deserve the same right to hear from Mr. Jean on this wild India conspiracy theory. Suggestions by the public safety minister that this material is somehow confidential is wrong. Why? Because the Liberals' own conduct shows that. By putting forward the national security adviser to select members of the press gallery, who write stories that thousands or millions of Canadians read, the Liberals were directly saying that anything Mr. Jean was saying was not top secret, was not confidential, because he was briefing people who tell things for a living.
That same basic right belongs with each member of Parliament. I have before you, Mr. Speaker, a privilege motion saying that my privilege and my rights, as both a member of Parliament and as the foreign affairs critic to hold the government to account for the most disastrous foreign trip in the history of our country, are being fettered as a member, or hampered, by the Prime Minister's unwillingness to allow the national security adviser, Mr. Jean, to appear before a committee of parliamentarians to give the same briefing and answer the same questions the Prime Minister's Office allowed him to do for the media.
Why did he allow the national security adviser to speak to the media? It was to save face in the midst of the disastrous India trip, where the Prime Minister was being mocked internationally for having no agenda, for having multiple elaborate costumes at events that made even Indian politicians and members of the arts community feel uncomfortable, for not taking the trade minister and the agriculture minister to India when, at the moment, the most pressing bilateral issue was a potential tariff increase to chickpeas and pulse products.
He did not take people to do work. The member for Winnipeg North may have paid his own way, because this was a domestic, political trip. Everyone who went, the schedule, the photos, the agenda was all premised on preening the Prime Minister before his supporters, his fundraisers, and voters in a few ridings. When it backfired, it backfired on him and on all Canadians.
Our request, to quote Mr. Swift, is a modest proposal. Parliamentarians are entitled to the same information that the Prime Minister's adviser gave to members of the media. That is our basic right as parliamentarians, which is why there is a privilege motion in front of you, Mr. Speaker, but also why we have brought this important debate to the House of Commons today.
For those following this debate, they have followed this saga for over a month. I have never seen such negative international headlines about a Canadian prime ministerial visit. One foreign columnist said that it was a moving train wreck. Is that what those members mean by “Canada is back”? Canada has a world-class, stellar reputation around the world, and it has been put at risk because of the Prime Minister and because of the India scandal with Jaspal Atwal.
Let us get to the bottom of the scandal and the two competing stories from the Liberal government.
One story was that the member for Surrey Centre invited Mr. Atwal, admitting afterwards that he should not have, but took sole responsibility and resigned for it. He fell on his sword, saying, “My bad, it was all me.” Then, a few days later, when the Prime Minister allowed his national security adviser to meet with the media, the government floated this sinister and, we would submit, preposterous theory that Mr. Atwal was invited by the India government to embarrass the Prime Minister. Both of those things cannot be true.
When the Prime Minister and the public safety minister deny parliamentarians their right to ask questions about which story is true, they are impeding Parliament and are covering up which story is true from Canadians.
I will show, directly in quotes by all the key figures, what I mean. Jaspal Atwal, himself, in a rather comical at times press conference he held a few weeks said this, “When I asked to consider attending the reception, I had assumed there would be no problem. No one at any point indicated there would be any issue”. He is confirming that he asked the MP for Surrey Centre to go. He did not expect there would be an issue, because the Prime Minister calls him “Jas”. They are friends. We have seen pictures going back several years. Mr. Atwal said that the Prime Minister and him had a nice chat years ago in his Hummer on a visit to British Columbia.
At the press conference, Mr. Atwal also confirmed he had been to India several times. This was not a magical trip where he was first granted entry; he had been there several times.
This is what Mr. Atwal's lawyer said at the same press briefing. He stated, “He basically went to this occasion, put his name in, he assumes he was vetted appropriately, he has not hid who he was, he has not changed his name.” The lawyer for Mr. Atwal confirmed that Mr. Atwal asked an MP to go, and assumed his name would be vetted by both the MP for Surrey Centre and by the Prime Minister's Office. Therefore, we have Atwal to the MP for Surrey Centre. This is the chain of evidence.
What did the MP for Surrey Centre say? He said:
As you know, an individual planning on attending tonight’s reception had his invitation rescinded. Let me be clear--this person should never have been invited in the first place. I alone facilitated his request to attend this important event. I should have exercised better judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions.
I thank the MP for Surrey Centre for admitting that he alone was responsible for the invitation.
Later, the MP for Surrey Centre said this to the Surrey Now-Leader, a paper in his riding:
“Look, I took full responsibility as soon as I found out that this had happened and I, you know, the name came from my office, I should have vetted them before I forwarded them, I should have looked a bit more diligently at it, I am a new, young Member of Parliament, a rookie you can say so obviously I am learning from my mistakes.”
He said, “my mistakes” and “I alone”, yet the Prime Minister of Canada had his national security adviser go to the media and suggest something else. Therefore, we have two conflicting statements from members of Parliament from the Liberal Party. One is from the member of Parliament for Papineau, which he still is, and also the Prime Minister, which means I hold him to a higher standard than I hold the MP for Surrey Centre, because the national security adviser advises him. When he asks the national security adviser to go and say something that is contrary to what his own MP is saying, that is scandalous. All we are asking for is the right to ask Mr. Jean questions like the media did.
Let us go further. Let us go to the Prime Minister's cabinet, and the responsible minister, someone I respect a great deal, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. What did she say on CTV when asked about her meeting with her bilateral partner, the Indian foreign affairs minister? The minister said, “I started off the meeting by saying to her that it had been an honest mistake and that the invitation had been withdrawn.”
We have the lead cabinet minister supporting the story from the MP for Surrey Centre, which is also supported by Mr. Atwal himself, the person at the core of the scandal. However, the Prime Minister has risen in the House repeated times and has hidden behind a conspiracy theory from his national security adviser who he is now blocking parliamentarians from asking questions. That is scandalous. It is a breach of my privilege and the privilege of the whole House.
Therefore, I hope some of the MPs on that side, particularly the ones in areas near me, like Northumberland and Peterborough South, and I will be spending a lot of time there. People in Peterborough and Whitby are concerned about this. A lot of people will be very worried about this scandal. No one believes the Prime Minister's story.
What does the Indian government say? Its spokesman said this:
Let me categorically state that the Government of India, including the security agencies, had nothing to do with the presence of Jaspal Atwal at the event hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner in Mumbai or the invitation issued to him for the Canadian High Commissioner's reception in New Delhi. Any suggestion to the contrary is baseless and unacceptable.
The Indian government is insulted by this, and it should be. It knows where the invitation came from, because the Prime Minister's own MP has admitted to the invitation. Jaspal Atwal, who asked for the invitation, has admitted it was the Liberal government. The foreign affairs minister has admitted it was the Liberal MP, the Liberal government is causing this scandal.
Now let us look at this smokescreen story that came out of the Prime Minister's Office through a civil servant I respect. Mr. Jean has had a great career for Canada and I am upset that officials in the Prime Minister's Office have sullied his reputation by forcing him to go to the media to concoct a story. Here is what CBC wrote after attending this briefing by the national security adviser.
After speaking to Daniel Jean, it wrote, “A senior government official with knowledge of the prime minister's security protocols suggested...rogue political elements in India may have orchestrated [the] embarrassing invitation” of a would-be political assassin to a formal dinner with the Prime Minister “in an attempt to make the Canadian government appear sympathetic to Sikh extremism.”
That CBC story was what the Prime Minister's Office was hoping to get by sending Mr. Jean out to speak. Let someone who advises on top national security issues go out and create an alternate story to the one the MP for Surrey Centre was already accepting responsibility for. I would suggest that is contemptuous of Parliament. That is knowingly sending a senior official to brief the media to create a parallel story to explain the Atwal invitation at a time when their own MP was taking responsibility for it.
Now we have a situation where Mr. Atwal, who asked for the invitation, the MP for Surrey Centre, the foreign affairs minister, and the Indian government are all suggesting the Prime Minister's story of the Indian conspiracy theory is a sham. That should trouble all Canadians because it has not only eroded our relationship with a close friend; it has embarrassed Canadians throughout our country.
As parliamentarians, our role here is to hold the government to account. When we are impeded in doing that, our privileges are fettered, they are obstructed, and Canadians by extension are being kept in the dark. The public safety minister in his famous elevator press conference suggested that it was okay for the national security adviser to brief members of the media and take questions on this conspiracy theory, but that it was also okay for the government not to allow MPs to have that information.
I do not agree. That is a breach of my privileges. It is unethical. It is a cover-up. We deserve to ask Mr. Jean the same questions because we have two stories. They both cannot be true and most people globally believe it was the MP for Surrey Centre. Most Liberal caucus members believe that too. The Prime Minister's preposterous story and the smokescreen, and the human shield he is using his national security adviser as, need to be pierced and we do that here with a vote in the House of Commons.
All we are asking for is the same basic right to receive information and to ask questions of Mr. Jean that the Prime Minister granted media members. Is that unreasonable when there are two versions of a scandal that we have to ask questions about? As shadow minister, I have to ask questions. Our proposal is a modest one. If the Liberal government whips and votes against this motion, I think we will be spending a lot more time with you, Mr. Speaker. The good thing is that I like you a lot, because we will be here a lot.
However, it is a sign that the Liberals hold Canadians and Parliament in contempt and that this is a cover-up. The Prime Minister has the chance of showing it is not a cover-up. Make his official available to the public safety committee. We have Canadians appear all the time. If they are willing to send that person out to the media to deflect attention away from an embarrassing trip, they had better be prepared to give the opposition the same opportunity to ask Mr. Jean those questions.
The government was elected and still uses the phrase “open and accountable”. Today, the Conservatives are going to make the Liberals accountable.