Madam Speaker, I will spare members the suspense and announce right away that the Bloc Québécois will support the Conservatives' motion.
However, we will take this opportunity to further discuss ethics and the role of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. We will talk about what the commissioner should have the right to do, the possibility of future amendments and the suggestions that we will make to strengthen the commissioner's power, which is something he himself is asking for.
Before that, I will briefly remind members of the facts. The reason for this debate is the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's November 19 report with regard to the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. In his report, the commissioner found that the member contravened subsection 20(1) of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons by failing to fully disclose his private interests and those of his family members within a reasonable time even after the initial deadline was extended from January 7 to February 7, 2020.
As the first step in the initial compliance process, members must fully disclose those interests to the Commissioner within 60 days after notice of their election is published in the Canada Gazette. That is what we all had to do at the beginning of the year. We had to declare our real and potential interests by January 7.
The member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore submitted his statement, but it was incomplete. He therefore asked for an extension, as did other members, and he was given until February 7 to submit the required information. However, even with this extension and after some information was sent, his file was still incomplete. His initial statement remained incomplete and did not meet the requirements of the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
Ultimately, it was not until September 1, 2020, that the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore provided the last of the missing information, which he had not done until then, despite numerous requests from Commissioner Dion. Mr. Dion did contact the member several times to move the file forward, but without success.
It took the media getting involved and newspapers asking him why his report was incomplete to spur the member to action. As my colleague mentioned, the member used the pandemic as an excuse. However, as many will recall, the House was still sitting on January 7 and February 7, as the pandemic was escalating in other countries. We were not yet facing a health crisis here in Canada.
The hon. member knew his obligations to the Ethics Commissioner because this was not his first election. What is more, the member was a lawyer before entering politics. As lawyers we are required to be diligent and respond quickly when we are asked to do something. That is the minimum that can be done, not to mention simple common courtesy.
The hon. member waited until September 1, 2020. That is no longer a matter of carelessness. It is outright negligence. That is why the commissioner finally recommended a sanction. It is provided for under the code, but this is the first time this has been done in such a context, which illustrates how annoyed the commissioner was by the hon. member's lack of respect and diligence.
In his report, the commissioner reminded members of the importance of obeying the rules, saying that the report should serve as a reminder to all members of the House of the importance of fulfilling their compliance obligations under the code. The compliance rules in the code ensure transparency and accountability to the Canadian public.
No pandemic can be used as a justification for not fulfilling one's obligations to transparency. On the contrary, it should be more important than ever to ensure that hon. members meet these obligations during a pandemic.
That said, this is not the first time that the Ethics Commissioner has made comments about his role. In September 2018, the commissioner mentioned that the intergovernmental affairs minister at the time had violated the ethics rules by granting a fishing permit to a fishing company that stood to make millions of dollars from it. A member of his family was employed by that same company.
It was already an issue at that time and the commissioner wanted more powers, in particular the power to intervene in cases where there was a breach of trust and a breach of ethics.
The comments of the then ethics commissioner are even more relevant today. We need only think of certain ethical breaches that have occurred in recent years. I am thinking in particular of what happened in the Aga Khan file. The Prime Minister and his family had the privilege of a paid vacation, which earned him a reprimand from the Ethics Commissioner.
He received a second reprimand from the Ethics Commissioner for allegations of interference in the SNC-Lavalin case.
More recently, WE Charity paid for a vacation taken by the former finance minister. The whole WE Charity case caused the government to prorogue Parliament this summer in order to deflect attention from the case. Furthermore, some members of Parliament hired family members in their riding offices, which is a breach of ethics.
The Bloc Québécois is therefore suggesting that members further discuss the role of the Ethics Commissioner, as the commissioner himself has requested.
We are suggesting that members look into four ideas based on what the Ethics Commissioner himself wants to be able to enforce.
For example, when the wrongdoing is quantifiable and has a monetary value, it should be reimbursed. This is what we saw with the finance minister. He reimbursed the $41,000 for the trip that had been paid for him, but he was not obligated to do so. If the rule had been enforced on the trip to the Aga Khan's island, the amount of the reimbursement would have exceeded $100,000. That could become an incentive to follow the ethics rules more closely.
Another suggestion could be imposing a more substantial fine on those who violate the code of ethics, since it is currently only around $500. The Ethics Commissioner suggested that it should be more like $10,000, which would serve as more of a deterrent than what we currently have.
In some cases, parliamentary privileges could be suspended outright, thereby ensuring that the higher a person is in the parliamentary hierarchy, the more transparent and accountable they must be. Sanctions could be tougher for those who must exhibit perfect transparency and perfect adherence to the integrity and ethics rules.
Finally, work could be done on the issue of parliamentarians' immediate family members. Perhaps a code of ethics is needed for them, as well. A code of ethics should also be imposed on them, as though they were an extension of the MP's duties. Perhaps that would have been a deterrent in some of the more recent cases that history has brought to light.
In closing, we suggest that the Ethics Commissioner be given increased powers, including the ability to intervene more, as the commissioner himself has suggested. This would avoid the need for us to strike a committee every time there is a breach. It would ensure that the Ethics Commissioner would be given more power so that parliamentarians would no longer feel that they can walk away every time with a simple apology.