Madam Speaker, members across the way say that it is about disclosure. They are right. In this aspect of my comments, it is all about disclosure. What did the government of the day, the Harper government, have to say? It said no. It did not believe in telling Canadians how it is members of Parliament were spending their money. The only ones that were worse than the Conservatives back then were the New Democrats.
What happened is that the leader of the Liberal Party, today's Prime Minister, said that even if the Conservatives and the NDP did not support it, the Liberal caucus would go it alone. We took the additional resources, which were scarce because we were the third party at the time, but it was important to the leader of the Liberal Party and we set up an internal system. The leader back then said that Liberal members of Parliament would participate in proactive disclosure.
It was the Conservatives and the NDP who said no, because of their unwillingness to participate if obligated. If the Liberal Party wanted to move forward on it, we had to create our own system. Now, a couple of months went by and we were into the summer. This was three or four years ago. The Conservatives had one of those road to Damascus moments, at least on the aspect of the importance of proactive disclosure. As the leader of the Liberal Party back then tried to explain to this chamber, yes, Canadians have a right to know. It is a fair expectation Canadians have in terms of knowing how members of Parliament are spending the hundreds of thousands of dollars we are individually given as members of Parliament, all of which are tax dollars, and that they have a right to know that. We applauded the Conservatives for changing their minds on it.
Of course, in order to get something done, we needed unanimous support. We still had the New Democrats refusing to give unanimous support to the issue. They fought it tooth and nail. It was not until we brought in an opposition motion, where they were literally embarrassed into supporting the idea and they had to stand up individually, that they changed their opinion. I believe that in the months and months that went by from when they initially said no, they realized, much like the Conservatives, that it was time to have proactive disclosure.
We were glad to have played a very important role in that, believing it provided more accountability and transparency to Canadians. The Prime Minister then said, once he became Prime Minister, that ministerial mandate letters would also become part of the public domain. That was something new. What would happen before was that the former prime minister, Stephen Harper, would say what he thought a department should do, that he would pass that on through a particular minister, and they were known as the mandate letters. Would they become public? It is hard to say, depending on the minister.
Let us think in terms of what the mandate letter is. It kind of captures the essence of what some of those important priorities are that a department should be moving toward. We have a Prime Minister, virtually from taking office, saying that these mandate letters are in fact going to be public. Whether it is from virtual day one of this Liberal cabinet to today, we have seen actions by this Prime Minister, by this cabinet, and by the Liberal caucus, because all my colleagues within the Liberal caucus understand the importance of accountability and transparency. We have strived to deliver that to Canadians.
Now, there is always room for improvement. We can always do better. Maybe that is a good segue into what it is we are debating today through this particular report.
Issues come up. All prime ministers travel. When prime ministers travel, they do not travel alone. There is a security issue. Let us wake up the Conservative Party and talk about Stephen Harper. When Stephen Harper travelled, there was a security detail that went with him. That is part of being a prime minister. There has to be security. Believe it or not, there are individuals around the world who would like to cause harm to the office of the Prime Minister, so there is that need. When the Conservatives talk about the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the costs of security are very real, just like the costs of security for the House of Commons. There is a cost to seeing the RCMP officers and security individuals we have within this chamber. That is just modern-day democracy, and the way our parliamentary system works. To throw around numbers or point out these huge costs in tax dollars because the Prime Minister took a vacation is disingenuous. It is meant to get Canadians upset. That is the real purpose of it. What is it that the opposition members are really trying to do? They do not have anything to talk about.
I will get to some of the things that are important to Canadians which this government will continue to be focused on, but before I do that, I want to pick up on the question I had posed to the opposition House leader. Why do the official opposition in particular, with the support of the unholy alliance the New Democratic Party, want to continue to hit at the personal level?
I was in opposition for over 20 years. Most of my political career has been in opposition. Based on the experience I had in opposition, I can say that yes, at times we need to hold government accountable for some of the things that a minister, a prime minister, a premier, or even non-ministers do. We have independent agencies, such as the Ethics Commissioner, the Lobbying Commissioner, and Elections Canada. We have individuals who are far more independent in their thinking than the opposition parties are.
The current Conservative Party goes out of its way, because it does not have anything to say about the economy. It does not have anything to say with respect to the social programming this government has been introducing since it has been mandated. These are very strong, tangible things that I will go into. However, before I do that, members should recognize that the reason we are debating this report today is that it fits the Conservative agenda of let us not talk about substance or government policy; let us talk about who we can attack in the cabinet of the Liberal government or even at times non-cabinet members. That is what the Conservatives look for all of the time. They are consistent when it comes to that. I will use the words “character assassination”, because that is what it feels like at times.
We have these independent offices so that if opposition members have concerns, they can raise those concerns in addition to raising them on the floor of the House. If we look at the report that was issued by Mary Dawson, the independent commissioner, I think it is a good report. The report is based on a lot of information. I know when the issue first came up, when the Conservatives first raised it, and good for them for raising the issue, right away there were discussions with Mary Dawson, the independent officer of Parliament, and there was an investigation.
From day one, the Prime Minister was very clear. He said that he would work co-operatively with the commissioner and respond to any of her inquiries.
Opposition members continued to push the issue, which they can do so. They called for the report. They demanded the report. However, we did not tell Mary Dawson that she should release the report on such and such date. This is an independent office. If we were to do that, we would then be criticized for telling the independent office to provide the report by such-a-such date.
However, when Mary Dawson came out with report, what took place? Immediately after the commissioner's report was tabled in the House, the Prime Minister took responsibility. He went over and above what was being requested. The Prime Minister said that when he went on a vacation, he would advance that information to the office.
It was not as if there something was intentionally done to try to hide this. No one was trying to hide something. However, when people listen to the Conservatives, they would think there was a mass conspiracy. That is what the Conservatives want Canadians to believe.
The Prime Minister took immediate responsibility and took specific actions to address the situation. However, it was not good enough. The Conservatives saw the report, which we are debating today. Why? Because it does not fit the Conservatives' narrative of who cares about what is happening in our communities with respect to economics or social policy. All they care about is how they can attack the individual. Far too often I see that demonstrated, whether in question period or otherwise.
What were we supposed to debate today? The budget implementation bill. However, instead of debating that bill, we are debating an issue that is not new, that we have spent hours and hours of debate on. Instead of talking about the bill, the Conservatives want to regurgitate the same issue on which there is a report. The Prime Minister has taken responsibility. Therefore, one must question the motivation of the members across the way.
Right now we are not debating the budget implementation bill because of the Conservatives. However, I will give them credit as they have been able to convince the New Democrats that their approach on this issue is the best approach for debate in the House. It is almost as if the enemy of my enemy is my friend is the attitude of the Conservatives and New Democrats.
I have had many years of experience being on the opposition benches. Who knows, it could be four years, 10 years, but I hope to have a balance with the same number of years in government as in opposition. That is a hope, but it will be Canadians who make that determination. For those who are wondering, it was just over 20 years in opposition.
The joint opposition can continue to focus on the personalities. It can continue to focus on personal character assassinations. We, on the government benches, the Liberal caucus, will continue to focus on what really matters: Canada's middle class, those aspiring to be a part of it, and those who need a lifting hand. Those are the individuals we are here to represent, and we will do that day in and day out.
We will ensure there is more openness in government, more transparency, and more accountability. For those who are following the debate, they should not buy into what the joint opposition is saying, because we are moving forward on all fronts.