Sure, Mr. Speaker, maybe they are Facebook friends. Maybe what we lack is a definition.
This speaks volumes about the arrogance of the Liberals and the Prime Minister. Once again, he gives the impression that he thinks he is above the law, that this is of no concern to him, and that it is normal, in his universe, to accept such gifts and invitations. He talks a lot about the middle class, but he has never been part of it. He has no idea what the middle class is.
Most of our constituents would not think it is normal for a billionaire to offer them a free trip to his private island. That may be part of the everyday lives of the rich and famous, but unfortunately for the Prime Minister, it ended up being more of a Gilligan's Island for him.
When journalists and opposition parties started asking questions, we really did not know what the Prime Minister's agenda was. He did not explain where he had been or why right away. The Liberals tried to bury and cover up this whole affair, knowing very well that it would not go over well with Canadians.
When the government was forced to admit that the Prime Minister had received a gift in the form of the trip in question, the excuse was that it was a family vacation and that the Prime Minister had the right to take family vacations like anyone else. That makes sense. Most ministers and members of the House also vacation with their children and spouse. That is fine.
However, an interesting little detail was left out. In fact, this family trip was spent in the company of an MP from the Liberal Party of Canada and the president of the Liberal Party of Canada. I have to say that, as much as I like my colleagues, I am not going to bring the hon. member for Essex or the president of the NDP with me on my family vacations. That is family time.
We then learned that he had accepted to travel on his billionaire friend's private helicopter. Guess what? That is against the rules. Ministers and prime ministers are not allowed to do that especially when there are other, more conventional means of getting to the island.
The funny thing is that, at a certain point, the contention was that the only way to get to the island was by private helicopter, but a technician accompanying the Prime Minister travelled aboard a regular airplane. They could not get their story straight there, either.
It is a rare occurrence in family vacations that the host has business and government relations with the state his guest represents.
In light of all the secrecy, half-truths and all-out illegal acts, the Ethics Commissioner conducted an investigation and, for the first time in the history of Canada, a sitting Prime Minister was found guilty of contravening the Conflict of Interest Act, not only once, but four times. Sections 5, 11, 12 and 21 of the Conflict of Interest Act were violated. This is of great concern.
The Prime Minister also seems to think that apologizing, saying sorry and promising not to do it again should be the end of it. The fact is that people see a lack of judgment on the Prime Minister’s part, a disregard for his promise to do politics differently and not to place himself in conflicts of interest.
I agree that the Prime Minister should reimburse Canadian taxpayers for what he owes them. We in the NDP want to take it one step further because, without changes to the law, this type of behaviour could repeat itself. There must be more serious consequences than the small slap on the wrist we saw. We in the NDP believe that, when an investigation reveals that any section of the act has been violated, the commissioner should have the authority to impose financial penalties. The penalty could be a fine, dismissal or suspension.
We should start by taking the problem seriously. Legislative changes should be proposed to ensure that the consequences of such contraventions of the Conflict of Interest Act consist of more than a minor moral or public sanction. We should reinforce the commissioner’s investigative powers and allow him or her to impose fines and financial or economic sanctions. The Prime Minister would have deserved no less in the case at hand.