That, in the opinion of the House, when any Member violates the Conflict of Interest Act, including accepting gifts or hospitality (section 11), furthering private interests (section 21), being in a conflict of interest (section 5), and accepting travel (section 12), or violates the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, and, in so doing, incurs a cost upon the taxpayer, that Member must repay those costs to the taxpayer.
Mr. Speaker, the official opposition moved a very important motion in the House today. This morning, I would like to make sure we give this situation the serious consideration it deserves.
Before I go on, Mr. Speaker, I want to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar.
It is shameful that this motion is required, but we are in an unprecedented situation. A sitting Prime Minister has broken the law. He spent $200,000 of taxpayer money on personal travel that turned out to be illegal. These are serious violations of the public trust.
As members of Parliament, we all come here bearing the trust of those who elected us. No matter our political stripe, we were all elected by hard-working Canadians from Regina to Rimouski, from Hamilton to Halifax, and from Montreal to Maple Ridge.
These Canadians, citizens and taxpayers, gave us their confidence. It is a fundamental trust, one every member must always bear in mind as we go about our work as parliamentarians.
Codes and rules have their place, but most importantly, we must all strive to do our work to the best of our ability. As MPs, we have rules and codes of conduct that define what is appropriate and what is not.
The code for members is very clear. It reads:
Given that service in Parliament is a public trust, the House of Commons recognizes and declares that Members are expected
(a) to serve the public interest and represent constituents to the best of their abilities;
(b) to fulfill their public duties with honesty and uphold the highest standards so as to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interests, and maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of each Member and in the House of Commons;
(c) to perform their official duties and functions and arrange their private affairs in a manner that bears the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that may not be fully discharged by simply acting within the law;
(d) to arrange their private affairs so that foreseeable real or apparent conflicts of interest may be prevented from arising, but if such a conflict does arise, to resolve it in a way that protects the public interest; and
(e) not to accept any gift or benefit connected with their position that might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity except in accordance with the provisions of this Code.
We ought to live up to these standards without being told to simply because we understand the public trust we bear. We should not agree to these parts of the code because the Ethics Commissioner has to tell us. That is the shameful situation we are in today because of the actions of the Prime Minister.
The code, along with the Conflict of Interest Act, makes it clear when any of us has failed in these responsibilities, and in the case of the Conflict of Interest Act, it is a violation of federal law.
On December 20, the Ethics Commissioner reported that the Prime Minister of Canada had contravened four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act when he agreed to spend his personal vacation on the Aga Khan's private island. This is the first time in the history of Canada that a sitting prime minister has broken the law.
The details of the Prime Minister's situation demonstrate further how he broke the trust given to him by the people of Canada. The Aga Khan is a prominent religious and political figure respected around the world. He has admirers on all sides of this House. Indeed, the previous Conservative government had a very positive and constructive relationship with him.
His charitable organizations do important work to support people in need in many countries.
However, because of his relationship with the government, he is also a registered lobbyist here. His organizations often seek funds from the Government of Canada. These are facts that we must be mindful of when any of us have dealings with him, and these are facts that the Prime Minister himself was aware of when he accepted these illegal gifts. On this count, the Prime Minister has failed in his duties.
In fact, the Prime Minister has made a victim of the Aga Khan. The Aga Khan has been put into this situation because of the negligence and shameful actions of the Prime Minister, and our sympathies certainly go to the Aga Khan for any grief that the Prime Minister has caused him.
Though describing him as a friend, the facts of the Ethics Commissioner's report show that the two had almost no relationship until the Prime Minister took over the leadership of the Liberal Party, and ultimately became Prime Minister. In that light, the travel the Prime Minister took to his private island was clearly a gift.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister never recused himself from any official dealings relating to the Aga Khan or his business with the Government of Canada. The Prime Minister's account of this relationship showed either extreme naïveté or disingenuousness. Neither is acceptable for someone in his position.
More than any other public figure, the Prime Minister of Canada must be transparent and accountable for his actions. Not only did he break the law, but his actions cost Canadian taxpayers $200,000. The illegal gift he accepted was very costly. This is what it costs taxpayers when the Prime Minister travels abroad.
No one should begrudge the Prime Minister the costs associated with official travel, but he has to be respectful of the fact that taxpayer money is not his to spend as he sees fit. The more complex his travels, such as a trip to a private island, the more taxpayers have to cover to ensure that the Prime Minister is safe and secure, in contact with the government, and able to carry out his duties.
Those expenses add up quickly. They are now 70% higher than the initial estimates provided to the public. To a prime minister who plans to rack up billions of dollars in deficits for decades, $200,000 may not sound like very much.
I think every member of this House can readily imagine needs at home that could be met with $200,000. That is the backdrop against which we are discussing this motion today.
On the weekend, the Prime Minister did something unbelievable. On the weekend, the Prime Minister told a wounded Canadian vet, a Canadian hero, that he was asking too much of this Liberal government, that veterans in Canada were asking more than the government could give.
That is the backdrop of what we are discussing today. The Prime Minister sees no problem in sticking Canadian taxpayers with the bill for his illegal travel, and then has the audacity to look a wounded war hero in the face and say that he is asking for too much.
Conservatives reject that, and Conservatives demand that this Prime Minister apologize for that shameful remark.
Let us backtrack a little to December, when this report was first publicized. The Prime Minister claimed that he accepted responsibility. He claimed that he accepted the findings of the Ethics Commissioner's report. He claimed to offer an apology.
It turns out, weeks later, that the apology was completely phony. An apology is meaningless if it does not also accept the consequences. This Prime Minister is trying to avoid any consequences for breaking the law. That does not meet the bar that he has set for himself. It does not meet the bar that Canadians expect public officials to hold themselves accountable to.
If the Prime Minister is truly sorry, if the Prime Minister truly accepts the findings of the report and accepts the conclusion, then he will make amends, just as any of us do in our lives. When any other Canadian, in a workplace, in a family environment, in an interaction with friends or neighbours, offers an apology, he or she offers a solution to make it right.
To make it right, the Prime Minister has to pay back taxpayers the $200,000 that he cost them for his illegal trip.