Mr. Speaker, there are new developments in the SNC-Lavalin scandal just breaking today, and I rise today to bring them to the House's attention.
As members will recall, the justice committee decided to convene an investigation into the Prime Minister's interference in the criminal prosecution of the company known as SNC-Lavalin. That investigation, unfortunately, was short-lived. As revelations about the Prime Minister and his team's 20 points of contact with the former attorney general, in which they made veiled threats, in which they interfered, in which they applied inappropriate pressure, came to light in committee, members on the Liberal side, who constitute a majority, voted to shut down the investigation altogether. I was present when that happened, and it was clear that the government had engaged in a cover-up.
That being said, we concluded at the time that there was still hope of getting to the truth, and that hope resided in the ethics committee. As such, numerous members of the House wrote the chairman of that committee, who would confirm that a motion to carry out an investigation into the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal was in order. Roughly a week later, members convened at the ethics committee, under the leadership of that chair, and debated whether the committee should proceed with an investigation.
One Liberal member on the committee had previously voted for a full-scale public inquiry, and thus it was expected that he might be supportive of allowing the ethics committee to proceed in carrying out that investigation right within the parliamentary precinct. When presented with the opportunity to do so and vote in favour of the motion, allowing the investigation to go ahead, he began to speak and said that he was not ruling out a future investigation at committee, that perhaps at some future date an investigation could proceed, but doing so would be premature before the justice committee had received all its written submissions and before the justice committee had decided to conclude its own work.
A second Liberal MP, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, said, in a post-committee scrum with the media, “I believe that today we had a conversation on the fact that the Ethics Commissioner is currently studying, and that's why we are waiting for him to get back to us and report. Also, the justice committee is still working on it, as we know. [The member for Mount Royal], the chair, will receive more information, so it's premature for us to go forward.” I emphasize “premature for us to go forward”.
Two members of the Liberal delegation on the ethics committee expressed an openness to having a full-scale committee investigation into the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal but concluded that it would be premature to do so until such time as the committee received all its written submissions and heard all its testimony and concluded its own work on the file.
In fairness to those two Liberal members, while I disagree with them, it is a reasonable point of view. There is no need to have two committees doing the same thing at one time. In other words, why not wait to find out what the justice committee was going to do with all the testimony it had received and what it would eventually do with the then forthcoming written submissions of text messages that both the former attorney general and Gerald Butts were to provide.
The justice committee has done that now. It has completely terminated the investigation. It has received all the written submissions. Those submissions have now been published for all eyes to see. The justice committee's work is known. As of this morning, according to Liberal members who met in a secret in camera meeting, that committee will do no more work on this file.
The two Liberal members of the ethics committee, who were waiting on the justice committee to wrap up in order to get the final evidence that the committee report would provide, can no longer claim it is premature for the ethics committee to begin its work.
I report to the House of Commons today that next Tuesday would be the appropriate day for the ethics committee to consider whether to proceed with the investigation into the Prime Minister's SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal. I note that he has attempted to shut down two previous investigations, and that might cause pessimism among members of the House. However, I also note that there is reason for hope and optimism in that at least two Liberal members of the ethics committee have now said that their opposition to an investigation was time limited.
In other words, because it was premature at the time the motion for such investigation came before the committee, they may now have changed their mind because all of the information that another committee had to provide has now been provided. The conversation now shifts over to the ethics committee where we will once again debate whether to open an investigation into this file.
The Prime Minister has tried to put this matter to rest by shutting it down. When I use the term “shut down”, I am quoting the Prime Minister's former Treasury Board president. This is not an allegation of an opposition MP; these are the words of a former member of the Prime Minister's inner circle, a doctor, a woman to whom the Prime Minister entrusted one of the most senior cabinet positions any prime minister could offer. She believes the government is trying to shut down the investigation into this scandal.
It is not working. The Prime Minister has been incapable of grabbing this scandal and forcing it underground. Every time he tries, the people of Canada, as well as conscientious members of his own caucus speak up against him.
I believe he will have to conclude, one week from today, that his only recourse is to open the entire matter up for all eyes to see. As he was fond of saying in the last election, “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Let us lift the curtains at the ethics committee and let the sunshine pour in so everyone can see the truth. “Sunny ways my friends, sunny ways” as a prime minister we all know once said.
Mr. Speaker, I put you and the House on notice that next Tuesday, a week from today, we will all be watching carefully as Liberal members join with Conservative and NDP members to determine whether to end the cover-up and open up a full-scale investigation to get to the truth in this matter.
With that notice having been given, I now turn the attention of members to another important legal matter.
We are lawmakers; ergo we must not be lawbreakers. There is an important law, which was passed into effect in the previous Parliament, called the Reform Act. That bill came from the member for Wellington—Halton Hills. He has long been a student of Parliament and an advocate for its supremacy. The member came forward with this bill in the previous Parliament, with the intended purpose of limiting the executive branch's ability to commandeer the House of Commons at the expense of public interest. It was under the previous government that the bill was in fact passed.
The Reform Act did two principal things.
The first change the act made was it took away the legal authority of party leaders to ban candidates from running. It used to be in the Elections Act that one could not be a candidate for a political party unless one had a signature from the leader of that party. That created a bias within the act, in favour of the party leadership against the grassroots. The Reform Act, instead, allowed the party to assign any authority it chose to have the power to accept or reject candidates. In other words, the party could say that a local electoral district association president or some other trusted figure would have the authority to accept or reject candidacies. However, no longer would it be a given under law that such authority would reside exclusively in the hands of the leader. It is possible for a party to craft its own constitution, as any free organization can, in an open, civil society to assign that power to its leader. That decision now rests with a party and not with the law. That was the first change.
The second change the Reform Act made is particularly relevant to today's conversation. It stated that at the first caucus meeting of every party, after an election occurred, there must be a vote on whether to apply a set of rules to determine the expulsion of members of that caucus. In other words, in the past, party leaders had been able to just banish people from the caucus arbitrarily. This law empowered caucuses to create a set of enforceable rules that would be embedded in legislation, whereby no one could be removed from a caucus without a vote of the caucus members.
At the very first Conservative caucus meeting after the last election, we decided to vote in favour of applying that rule to our caucus. The Conservative Party, as it stands now and in this Parliament, cannot remove members from caucus without holding a vote of caucus members. In other words, a party leader cannot simply wake up one day and say that Mr. Smith is no longer a member of the Conservative Party. Instead, caucus members need to vote on the future of Mr. Smith.
That brings us to today's debate. We are now hearing rumours of retaliation against two courageous whistle-blowers in the Liberal ranks. Both the former attorney general and the former treasury board president had the incredible audacity to tell the truth about the Prime Minister's conduct in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
A number of the Prime Minister's top supporters in caucus have gone to media outlets and suggested they should be banished from caucus altogether because they dared speak up and defend that truth. As the argument goes, they should be punished for allowing Canadians to learn that the Prime Minister interfered in a criminal prosecution.
Here is the legal hiccup. It turns out that the Liberal caucus failed to follow the law and hold a vote at its first caucus meeting to determine whether there would be rules for the expulsion of members. In other words, if the caucus decides to expel these members, that expulsion might be illegal.
I want to read members some background. This is a letter that the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills wrote to the current Attorney General. It states:
I would like to congratulate you on your new role as the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada.
In a letter to the previous Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, dated February 29, 2016, I brought to the Minister's attention the possible non-compliance of Section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act by members of the cabinet. I also sent a letter to the Deputy Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, dated May 11, 2016, voicing the same concern. Both the Minister and Deputy Minister did not respond to me directly and as such, I have no idea of what action, if any, was taken. I am now bringing this matter directly to your attention for your consideration and action.
As you are aware, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General is the chief law officer of the Crown, responsible for ensuring that the administration of public affairs is in accordance with the law, and responsible for upholding the rule of law. The Attorney General has a duty to provide objective legal advice in order to ensure that government action complies with the law. Given that the government is bound by the rule of law, as well as the Attorney General's advice on legal affairs, traditionally it must be accepted by Cabinet even if it is an unpopular policy.
As you are also aware, the Reform Act past in the House of Commons on February 25, 2015, passed in the Senate on June 22, 2015, received Royal Assent on June 23, 2015, and subsequently came into force on October 26, 2015. It amended the Parliament of Canada Act.
According to Section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act (appended for ease of reference), at its first meeting following a general election, the caucus of every party in the House of Commons must conduct a separate recorded vote among the caucus members in respect of each of the following questions:
(a) whether sections 49.2 and 49.3 are to apply in respect of the caucus;
(b) whether section 49.4 is to apply in respect of the caucus;
(c) whether subsections 49.5(1) to (3) are to apply in respect of the caucus; and
(d) whether subsection 49.5(4) and section 49.6 are to apply in respect of the caucus.
Furthermore, Section 49.8 stipulates that “as soon as feasible after the conduct of the votes, the chair of the caucus shall inform the Speaker of the House of Commons of the outcome of each vote.”
It has been publicly reported by various news media (one report of which is appended for ease of reference) that the Liberal Members of Parliament, including Ministers, did not comply with Section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act, instead deciding to “defer” the four votes. This appears to be in contravention...of the Parliament of Canada Act.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General is responsible for upholding the rule of law, ensuring that Cabinet acts in accordance with the law, and is ultimately accountable to the House of Commons. I ask that you uphold your constitutional and statutory responsibility and take the necessary steps to ensure that the government complies with Section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act.
While Section 49.8 concerns the conduct of not just Ministers but all Members of Parliament of a recognized party in the House of Commons, it is important to note that according to Open and Accountable Government, Ministers are to be held to the highest standards of conduct for all their actions, including those that are not directly related to their official functions. Ministers are therefore expected to adhere to these standards in circumstances, whether they are acting as a Minister, a member of the House of Commons or private citizen.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
In other words, the member was laying out very clearly that there are laws that determine how a caucus must conduct itself and that those laws determine how members can or cannot be expelled.
So far the Liberal Party is not in respect of those laws. All other caucuses held votes to ensure they were in compliance with the Parliament of Canada Act.
To simplify, this is what it means. Those sitting back home right now wondering whether their member of Parliament works for them or the party leader should ask themselves who can remove a member of Parliament from his or her caucus. If the answer is that the leader simply removes the caucus member, then apparently that caucus member works for the leader. If, on the other hand, as is the case in the Conservative Party, a member of Parliament works in a caucus that is bound by the Parliament of Canada Act to ensure that no one can be removed except by vote of a majority of MPs in that caucus, then that MP works for constituents. That is how simple it is.
It is not that the Liberal caucus decided to give its leader the power to remove members of caucus. It is that the Liberal Party broke the law requiring that the caucus set rules for the expulsion of members. In so doing, the Liberal caucus is now in a legal twilight zone, as it is unable to tell anybody the legal procedure required for two of its senior members to be expelled from caucus.
It has been brought to my attention that Liberal caucus meetings have been going on all day and that Ontario Liberals have gathered to discuss the future of the former attorney general and former Treasury Board president. They are discussing whether those two distinguished parliamentarians should be punted from the Liberal caucus altogether. However, here is the problem. Liberals cannot do it legally until they have addressed the requirement in the Parliament of Canada Act, which stipulates that they must decide whether the leader or the caucus has the power to do that.
The Liberal Party very much risks finding itself in yet another legal crisis in the next day. Tomorrow its caucus will meet, and I understand that there may well be a decision to expel members of the caucus. However, we do not know how that decision will be made, because so far the Liberals are in violation of the Parliament of Canada Act, which stipulates how exactly that procedure is to be carried out.