Mr. Speaker, I hope all my colleagues are doing well on this lovely spring day in the province of Ontario and in York region.
I will begin by going back to the heart of what brings us here again today. Why is that important? It is because I want to remind all my dear colleagues of the colossal effort, the incredible work, the collaborative work, as well as the sheer transparency that has already gone into the production of documents for the study of the government's decision to enter into a contribution agreement with the WE organization to administer the Canada student service grant.
Let us review everything the government has done to support the different committees studying this matter.
The ethics committee has held hundreds of hours in meetings on the subject of the Canada student services grant. The Prime Minister testified at the finance committee on this matter. I was there. The Prime Minister's chief of staff testified at the finance committee on this matter. Again, I was there. The Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth testified before the ethics committee as well as at the finance committee. The Clerk of the Privy Council testified before the ethics committee and before the finance committee. Even the Kielburgers testified multiple times at various committees. I believe the time allotted for the Kielburgers has reached almost 10 hours of testimony.
An unprecedented waiver of cabinet confidence was put into place to facilitate the disclosure of documents. Over 5,000 pages of documents were provided to various parliamentary committees. Despite opposition attempts to move privilege and contempt motions, the law clerk of the House of Commons verified that the government abided by the rule of law in providing these documents to the committees.
The Conservatives seem suddenly interested in supports for students, but it is surprising. Sadly, the Conservatives voted against Bill C-14 and the relief from federal interest on loans for students contained within that bill.
Let me make it clear. The heart of what we are doing as a government, and what I believe all of us as members of Parliament should be focused on during this most extraordinary period of time in the world's history, is getting through COVID-19 and ensuring our communities, businesses and our economy are back. We know Canadians have the potential, and we need to stand with them and beside them as our recovery continues.
The motion before us today calls on a number of ministerial staff to appear before committees. I would like state categorically that ministers are directly accountable to Parliament on the administration and duties exercised within their departments and for the actions of the political staff in their political offices.
The concept is not a new one. Allow me to quote the former prime minister in 2006, who stated the following in a document called “Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers”.
Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the exercise of their responsibilities whether they are assigned by statute or otherwise.... Ministers are personally responsible for the conduct and operation of their office.
Ministerial staff, like public servants, are not accountable to Parliament for government policy decisions or operations. Public servants may be called to testify at committee on the implementation of policy decisions, but must defer to ministers to answer questions on policy and decisions. In the case of ministerial staffers, the scope of what information they have is more restricted than public servants since they are not involved in the operations of the department.
As a government, we had sent an exempt staff member to testify at committee, and we saw what happened. The staffer was badgered by the Conservatives, repeatedly interrupted, accused of a cover-up, accused of being untruthful and accused of something that was demonstrably false and easily verified with a simple Google search. It is evident that the Conservatives are grasping at straws, and I would say grasping at air.
All the questions about the issues in today's motion have been asked and answered and all the requested documents have been provided. Multiple ministers, including the Prime Minister, have appeared before committees on this issue. I can understand that the Conservatives are frustrated by the fact that the government has answered every question asked, but at this point, I think we can all see that this is just the Conservative ethics critic and the member for Carleton creating work for themselves.
In fact, back in 2014, the member for Carleton said that the decision on what to reveal is made by non-partisan public servants for whom it has long been a tradition not to reveal cabinet confidences. That has been the case going back to all previous governments of all party stripes.
Our government co-operated and supported the committees in their important work. When documents were requested, they were provided. Public servants acted professionally to do that. When they did not disclose everything, the Conservatives attacked them for doing their job.
The opposition keeps complaining about how the federal government discloses documents, but they recognized one very simple fact when they were in power. I would like to quote Lawrence Cannon, former foreign affairs minister under Stephen Harper, who said, “officials will provide all legally available documents. Officials have done so in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Redactions are done by independent, non-partisan public servants whose only interest is the application of the law”.
By their actions, the Conservatives are showing us that they want to undermine public confidence in our institutions.
I would like to remind the House of the kind of behaviour the opposition has shown Canadians they can expect from it. The deputy leader of the Conservative Party posted the telephone number of a private company on social media and encouraged Canadians to call and demand that the company break Canada's privacy laws and release information. This led to harassment and personal threats that left employees fearing for their personal safety and required the police to get involved. The Conservative ethics critic sent a letter to a private company asking it to break the law. There have been numerous attempts at committee to compel the personal financial information of private citizens.
While the opposition may try to play political games and to create doubt in the public's mind with regard to the independence and the strength of our institutions, on this side of the House, we will stay laser focused on Canadians regardless of the Conservative Party's petty politics.