I am very proud to be here to speak on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay.
We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented economic and health crisis. The pandemic has disrupted our economy. This morning, the Liberal government declared its intent to plunge Canada into an election to avoid questions about the WE Charity scandal and the Prime Minister's family. That is not acceptable. The government must stop shutting down committees and start collaborating with the other parties to explain the WE Charity scandal to Canadians. That is why I am here.
I would like to read a quote:
It has come to this, Mr. Speaker. In order for members of the House to do our jobs and make informed decisions...we need to pry scraps of relevant information out of the Conservatives' clenched fists and drag it out of them as they kick and scream at committee.
Who said that? It was our Prime Minister, in 2011. Remember that man? That man was open by default. He was the man who told the Canadian people that his would be the government of transparency. That was around the time the Prime Minister was the youth critic for the Liberal Party. He fessed up that while he was the youth critic, he had a side gig of charging massive amounts of money to speak to young people for his private business.
It was fascinating when the Prime Minister had to explain how much money he was making running his side business while acting as a member of Parliament. He listed about 28 public speaking events. I thought it was pretty extraordinary to get paid $10,000 to talk to young people when every member of the House does it for free because we believe it is our job. However, we found out yesterday in the release of documents that, no, our Prime Minister did not speak 28 times and get paid for it; it was more like 128 times. We just found that out yesterday because the government was forced to turn over documents.
We are here because of a series of decisions, made at the cabinet level by senior Liberal politicians, that threw off so much of the good work and goodwill in the first wave of the pandemic. I remember those first frightening days in March, when we did not know what was happening and our offices were dealing with Canadians who were trapped all over the world trying to get home. We were trying to answer questions on COVID, and every morning our Prime Minister stood out in front of his house and reassured the Canadian people. Every morning in my home we stopped what we were doing to listen to our Prime Minister speak. I was so proud that in Canada we were showing a unity of spirit.
I remember the press conference on April 8, when the Prime Minister responded to pressure that the New Democrats had been putting on him to deal with the crisis facing university students. Post-secondary students are not only facing massive levels of student debt from years of Liberal and Conservative indifference. They also have huge loans because of the fees they have to pay for university. They knew they had no work coming up this summer, so the ability of post-secondary students to continue their studies was a serious issue.
We heard from some Conservative media people too. They wondered: Are we going to pay students so they can sit in a hammock and smoke pot all summer? What disrespect for students, who are coming out of university with $50,000 or $100,000 of debt.
We pushed the Prime Minister for action, and on April 8 he said very clearly that he would have a plan to help university students. It was a promise, and we are going to get into what happened between April 8 and April 22, when the Prime Minister and his team decided that instead of helping university students across Canada, they would help their friends the Kielburgers. I say this because when the scandal broke and it became clear that the money that should have gone to help university students was being diverted to a group that had close financial ties to the Prime Minister's family, Canadians from coast to coast balked.
What did the Prime Minister do? He pulled that money. None of that money ever flowed. He took that money away from university students, who deserve better.
What we are being told today, after the Liberals prorogued and shut down our committees, after two weeks of blocking our work at the ethics and finance committees, is that the Liberals are ready to plunge this nation into an election. We are in the worst medical and economic crisis in a century. The second wave of this pandemic is already much more serious than the first. We have much more insecurity economically right now, yet this Prime Minister is willing to plunge the nation into the uncertainty of an election when we know that the vectors for the virus could easily be magnified a thousand times by polling and people going door to door, and having to do the jobs of a democratic election, but also leaving Canada without any leadership for the coming three months.
Why is that? It is to avoid giving answers about the WE scandal.
We are here this morning because the Conservatives put their offer on the table. We had gone to the government and said that we needed to get focused. The government cannot continue to avoid questions on the WE scandal and the misspending that happened, and we need to get answers. We cannot have our committees prorogued. We cannot have them filibustered. We asked, in good faith, to set up a committee where we could deal with this so that the finance committee could do its work, House procedures could do its work and ethics could do its work. Boy oh boy, I would love to be sitting at the ethics committee and looking at issues like the importance of getting legislation on facial recognition technology.
We reached out to the Liberals and said, “Let us get a committee in place.” The Liberals said they would get us a committee. It would be chaired by Liberals and dominated by Liberals. The Liberals would then get to do what they do at all the other committees they do not like: They would just monkey-wrench them and shut them down. That is not going to work.
Now the Conservatives have come forward with their anti-corruption motion. As always with the Conservatives, they cannot just come forward with a motion that is something that will pass the nod test with Canadians. Not only was it called the anti-corruption motion, and now they are having to walk that back, but the Conservatives had to start naming a bunch of people who have never actually been charged with corruption. Frank Baylis, a former member of Parliament, sat on the ethics committee with me. I know Frank. I do not know anything about Frank's business, and I do not know if Frank has done anything corrupt. That is something to be found out. However, I find it very uncomfortable when I see people's names being thrown around just because they happen to be Liberals. We can do better than that. The Conservatives have a motion on the table, and it is a very serious motion. We need to get this work done.
Of course, there is actually a third option, which the New Democrats have put forward. It is trying to get, between these two old-line parties, a sense of responsibility in the middle of a pandemic: that we have a committee that has the ability to call for documents. That is unlike the House leader, who said that calling for documents would put thousands of civil servants at risk in the middle of a pandemic. Wow. I have heard a lot of whoppers over the years in the House of Commons, but that is going to rank up there in my top 10 favourites: the right of parliamentarians to get documents is somehow putting not hundreds, but thousands, at risk. We are saying no: that another committee, if it is struck, has the right to get documents.
We agree that perhaps the Conservatives demanding that all the documents be turned over in 12 hours, or 15 or 20, is kind of ridiculous. A committee can decide what is reasonable. We also said that given the fact that we saw, under SNC-Lavalin, how the Liberal chair did such an extraordinary job of shutting it down and squashing it, we cannot trust a Liberal chair.
Now I can see that the Conservatives are very wary of our friend from Carleton who keeps taking over the chair at his own committee. They probably do not want that either. Therefore, let us have an opposition chair and let us vote on it. Let us vote on someone who all parties can agree would be a good, solid opposition chair. That way we would know that we could get the job done. That is about working together. That is the offer that is on the table.
In terms of the documents, we have made a number of suggestions. For example, at the ethics committee I put a motion of an amendment to my hon. colleague from Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. We said we understand the Prime Minister has drawn a line in the sand about his family, and the fact that the WE group was paying Margaret and Sacha Trudeau.
We know they got paid. There is no surprise there. We were told they were not paid. That was false. The WE group asked the Kielburgers if the Trudeau family was being paid and was told they were not being paid. We have to ask ourselves what was going on at WE Charity that the board of directors tried to find out whether Margaret and Sacha were being paid and was falsely told they were not being paid. We went from being told they were not being paid anything to being told they were paid an extraordinary amount of money. That is a key issue in terms of the overall question of the conflict of interest facing the Prime Minister, because my colleagues in the Liberal party have gone out of their way to try and read the Conflict of Interest Act to say that family members, such as a mother or brother, cannot be shown in any way under the laws of Canada to be relatives. That is quite the reading, because it is very clear in section 3, and the definitions of family and relatives, that they are relatives.
Why does that matter? Because under section 5 of the Conflict of Interest Act, it is up to the Prime Minister to keep his personal life in order so that he is not put into a conflict of interest.
I invite my colleagues to read the Trudeau 1 report. It was the family members' relations with the Aga Khan, not the Prime Minister's, that resulted in the Prime Minister being found guilty. The Prime Minister's familial connections to WE are very important.
Does this mean the Prime Minister knew what the family was making? I do not think so. I do not think we can make that leap, but what we could say is there is a very strong prima facie case that, once the Prime Minister became the Prime Minister of this nation, the WE group was extremely adept at insinuating itself within the Liberal ranks by hiring the mother and hiring the brother. The Kielburgers told us they were not being paid to do public speaking: they were being paid to do corporate events, which they call ancillary events. That is a serious issue, in the same way as the Kielburger group insinuated itself by inviting all kinds of key Liberal cabinet ministers to participate, and when the WE group was in trouble it called those same people who had spoken at its WE events and got the all-access pass.
Having said that, we know Margaret Trudeau and Sacha Trudeau were paid. To me, that is not the hill to die on. The government has released a whole bunch of documents about the payments already. We have that. Whether they got paid 27 times or 28 times is not relevant to me. What is relevant is the issue of lobbying, so let us put that aside. We said that at ethics. We were more than willing to say at ethics not to deal with the family, but with the Prime Minister. Then the Liberals talked the clock out, so I really do not know what their strategy is half the time, because we could have gotten this motion through.
The issue of documents is really important. My colleagues in the Conservatives are demanding documents and saying they do not have enough documents. We have 5,000 pages of documents. Our friend from Carleton came in, threw them all over the room and walked out. Five thousand pages of documents was so much that the Conservatives set up a website and asked the public to do crowdsourced reading of the documents for them.
How serious are the Conservatives? Either we are going to read these documents and take them seriously or we are not.
While the Conservatives threw the documents all over and stomped out and then asked for public help reading the documents, we sat down and read the documents. Those documents raised very serious questions, because they clearly contradicted the government line, where it threw the civil service under the bus time and time again. It is still throwing the civil service under the bus. It is trying to claim that it was the idea of the civil service: the non-partisan, professional civil service. The Minister of Youth said 23 times, in one hour at hearing, that the professional, non-partisan civil service came up with the WE idea. The Liberals said it was the professional, non-partisan civil service that blacked out these documents. That is not true. This was done in the PMO.
What do the documents show us? They show that it was not the civil service that came forward with this idea. This happened at an April 17 meeting with the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, the Kielburgers and WE's director of government relations, Ms. Sofia Marquez.
WE is not registered to lobby, but it has a director of government relations. In fact, it had more meetings with government officials than General Motors did. That is pretty wild for two guys who present themselves as young idealists from Thornhill. They were so busy with government relations that, on top of their director of government relations, they were going to hire a manager for government relations, and none of that was registered under the Lobbying Act.
Why is that important? It is because the Lobbying Act allows us to see the key meetings that are being held. It allows us to see where the insiders are moving, but the Kielburger group were such total insiders that they did not bother to register to lobby, because they had the key ministers on speed dial.
They had the Minister for Diversity and Youth, who they had invited to come to one of their WE events, where she got to speak and was treated like royalty. When they were in financial free fall, they called her and had a special meeting on April 17. My Conservative colleague asked the minister at the finance committee, at our very first meeting on the WE scandal, if she had taken any meetings with anyone from WE prior to the decision by the government. She said that she never discussed the youth engagement proposal with anyone from WE. Naively, we thought she was telling the truth. We found out four days later she had held the April 17 meeting, so we brought her to the ethics committee and tried to get a straight answer. She said again that she never discussed the youth engagement proposal. That is because on April 17 the youth engagement proposal did not exist. It did not exist until April 22.
She said that she never talked about any of the issues around it, but that is not what we got from the documents from Craig Kielburger. That is not what we got from Sofia Marquez. Craig Kielburger wrote to the minister and said, “We appreciate your thoughtful offer to connect us with the relevant members of your ministry.... Over the weekend, our team has also been hard at work to adapt your suggestions for a second stream focused on a summer service opportunity.” That minister still has her seat at cabinet after the misrepresentation she made.
On the morning of April 19, two days after that meeting, Rachel Wernick, the civil servant we have been told came up with this idea and who has been blamed again and again by the Liberals, emailed Craig Kielburger for an urgent meeting because she had been told that this was the direction to go.
On April 20, senior policy officials in Bill Morneau's office were involved. There is a man who had one of the most powerful positions in the country. He never bothered to read the Conflict of Interest Act, and he wonders why he does not have a job today. I asked him if he had read the Conflict of Interest Act, as he had been found guilty, and he shrugged and said he was given a lot of documents. It is the failure of the Liberals to take the issue of conflict seriously that has gotten them into trouble.
We are here today as the Liberals have taken yet another step to avoid accountability. We have offered to work with them and have offered to lay out a committee, but this work will continue. This work will get done. If they obstruct us here, we will continue at the committees that we can control and in which we can use our leverage, because Canadians need an answer. What Canadians need, in terms of an answer, is better than the threat of the government to force an election for the Prime Minister to escape taking accountability.