Madam Speaker, you have no idea how pleased I am to be speaking during today's opposition day. It will allow me to put the spotlight on some of the lines that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister has been feeding us during question period for the past two weeks. I believe, as does my party, that the Prime Minister, through the parliamentary secretary, is completely misleading the House, and that is serious.
The Conservatives are trying to make the public and members here believe that the case involving the CEOC and the Conservative Party is simply an administrative dispute. They seem to be saying that they are disliked by the CEOC, that all of the other parties did the same thing and that, really, it is unfair that the CEOC is picking on the Conservative Party. They would even have us believe that the CEOC's actions are politically motivated.
Today's issue is very important. The topic that we are discussing today, the topic that the Liberal Party chose to raise on its opposition day, is the final outcome of the case that is currently before the courts. The Conservative Party will launch an appeal. It is a question of guaranteeing independence and following the established rules when running for election.
This is what the Conservatives did. It is clearly laid out in the ruling, which I took the time to read. The Conservatives deliberately transferred funds—in order to pay for a national ad—to ridings and candidates that had not reached their spending limits, as set out in the Canada Elections Act, or to candidates who were not likely to reach their limit. The member for Beauce, who had nearly reached his spending limit, received an invoice that differed from the others, to ensure that he would not exceed his limit.
Listening to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, we are left with the impression that he is completely shocked and that all these insinuations are futile. However, before proceeding with the investigation, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections already had their suspicions about the documents they had received to justify those expenses.
For the benefit of people watching, I would like to give a little background and explain what happened, so everyone understands. They took some money. They identified which ridings still had some spending room, namely, ridings in which the Conservative Party was unlikely to win, where less money was being spent. The campaign was almost over, they wanted to win and they did not have enough money to complete the national advertising campaign, so they took $1.5 million from 67 ridings. So those 67 Conservative candidates signed an agreement with their party, whereby the money would be given to the candidates, who would then turn around and give it back in order to pay the company that had been hired to create media placements and national advertising.
This is called cheating. The Conservative Party knowingly cheated in order to win. They knew what they were doing. That is serious. We do not encourage the Conservative Party to appeal this case, because it should respect the Federal Court of Appeal decision, acknowledge its offence and pay back what needs to be paid back.
When one is a candidate in a riding with little chance of winning, one might sign a letter because we tend to listen to our parties. It appears that these candidates signed a letter of agreement, but one person refused to sign it: the candidate in Brome—Missisquoi. He sensed that something was not right.
It must be said that this candidate was a knowledgeable lawyer capable of analyzing what he was asked to sign. He refused to sign. He even gave an account that was published in the papers last week, in which he stated that he knew it was a way to circumvent the Elections Act for improper purposes, and to win by cheating.
What is even more alarming is that there are ministers in the House who signed this letter and who went along with the in and out scheme. Today, they are caught up in the scandal. Conservative senators and organizers have also been charged by Elections Canada for breaking the law.
If we find ourselves debating the issue here, it is because, in question period, we are repeatedly given answers that make no sense and, above all, that mislead the House. It is often said the Conservative Party gets bad press abroad. I was really surprised to read what was published in France in Le Figaro about the matter we are examining today. It is worthwhile reading an excerpt to make our audience at home aware of the fact that this article is solely about the Conservative Party and the illegal acts carried out during the 2006 election campaign.
On March 2, 2011, Le Figaro, a major French newspaper, published an article that truly shows the negative image of Canada abroad.
Today the Canadian electoral authority formally charged the Prime Minister's Conservative Party and two senators from the governing party with fraud for allegedly concealing cost overruns during the 2006 election. The charges, laid at a time when many observers expect a spring election to be held, revolve around “a false or misleading statement” about the budget for the campaign that brought [the Conservatives] to power, writes Elections Canada in a press release.
According to this independent agency, the Conservative Party deliberately exceeded election spending limits—set at $18 million—by $1 million through an accounting scheme involving the right-wing party's local committees. The 2006 election is the one that put an end to the Liberal Party's reign and propelled [the Conservatives] into power.
That is what is being written in a newspaper in France. I will stop here because that is enough to see that the opposition parties understand that a scheme was used involving illegal activities. Analysts in France understand that as well. The Chief Electoral Officer understood that, as did the judge of the Federal Court of Appeal. There is only one party that does not understand the seriousness of its actions: the party being accused, in other words, the Conservative Party.
There were a number of indications. The Chief Electoral Officer heads an independent agency. He was selected by the current Prime Minister. The CEOC is serious and recognized for his expertise. This gives Quebeckers and Canadians the assurance that federal elections obey the rules, and it gives people the assurance that our democratic rules are valid and are being followed.
When the Chief Electoral Officer received documents from the Conservative candidates, he began to have his doubts. In the ruling we can see that the local media buys by the candidates were actually made by the national party and the costs transferred to the ridings.
However, he had a nagging suspicion that the interests of the party and those of the candidates engaging in the in and out transfers largely overlapped. Everything was calculated so that no candidate and no riding would exceed their spending limit. Adjustments were even made to ensure that the limits would not be exceeded, and they were such that the Chief Electoral Officer could prove it when he read all of the documents that were handed over.
I say that because the documents were handed over. However, I must point out that, in order for the Chief Electoral Officer to be able to investigate, the RCMP had to search Conservative Party offices and seize documents that the Chief Electoral Officer deemed necessary to carry out his investigation. He had reasonable grounds to suspect that he did not have everything he needed to continue with his investigation. Therefore, he used legal means since the Conservative Party refused to co-operate and answer his questions.
It seems that it was easy to prove from the documents that some very precise adjustments had been made to ensure that candidates were under their spending limit and transferred $1.5 million to pay an invoice for national advertisements.
It was also clear that there was a small problem with the transmission of the invoice. The Chief Electoral Officer asked a number of questions about the invoices, particularly those from the advertising company, because these invoices did not look like standard advertising invoices. So he asked questions and analyzed the invoices. During his investigation he questioned someone whose name escapes me, who was managing media placement for the company. This person said—I read it—that the invoices had been altered and that his company had not decided what to put in or how to present the invoices. Throughout the process, a number of witnesses indicated that the Conservatives knew that what they were doing was not entirely above board and that they had even made an effort to hide their illegal activities. Various witnesses corroborated that point.
When the Prime Minister appointed the Chief Electoral Officer, he surely had good reason to do so and he recognized his abilities. Today, they seem to be saying that the Chief Electoral Officer is not doing such a good job. Furthermore, they are even questioning the amount of taxpayers' money being spent on prosecuting the Conservative Party. That is what bothers me the most. They are challenging the fact that the head of an independent organization—which has the important mandate of guaranteeing that the process is democratic—is conducting an investigation and going to court to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Act. That is being questioned and it is very dangerous. They are beginning to criticize the person who has a very important position. They are insinuating that he has a political bias and that he targeted the Conservative Party outright while leaving the other parties alone. It is a very serious matter to plant such seeds of doubt in the minds of Canadians, and especially to call into question the money spent to prosecute the Conservative Party. The fact remains that a ruling has been handed down and it cannot be refuted. Illegal activities took place. The Conservatives should face the facts and agree to repay the amounts received by candidates.
They should admit that they made a mistake rather than continuing to fight the Chief Electoral Officer.
In our opinion, the Liberal Party of Canada set up some government programs to buy votes. There was the sponsorship program and the HRSDC transitional jobs fund, which allowed the Liberals to spend money in ridings held by political opponents and to sway voter sympathies. As we saw in Justice Gomery's report, which brought to light a complex system of kickbacks, the sponsorship program allowed the Liberals to add hundreds of thousands of dollars to its election spending.
The Conservatives have been caught at a different game. They decided to use what is known as the in and out scheme in order to circumvent the Election Act and spend more than the limit, in other words, to buy votes by cheating.
It is not difficult to see why Canadians do not understand why the Conservative Party is challenging the latest ruling and even trying to make us believe that the Chief Electoral Officer and the judge were off the mark and do not understand what transpired.
I would like to add that they went over their legal national campaign limit by $1.5 million. After two rulings, especially the last one, the Conservatives need to realize that the message could not be clearer. They should not take their appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. It is their right to do so, but the evidence is so clear that I truly hope they do not take that route.
To conclude, I would like to read an excerpt from an article by Ms. Cornellier of Le Devoir:
Phew, that was close! A Conservative victory would have meant a free-for-all in election campaigns. And perhaps as soon as this spring. All the parties could have assigned some of their national expenses to ridings where they already know they will not win and that spend far less than the legal limit. That would allow a party to offload some of its expenses and would give it the flexibility, on a national scale, to basically spend more than the legal limit. The only limit would be the party's bank account. National spending limits would become a joke, which would only hurt parties with less funding. And we all know which is the rich party these days.
We are clearly very happy with the Federal Court of Appeal's ruling. If a different ruling had been handed down, we would have had to question both the strength of our Elections Act and the idea that elections follow the rules and respect the institution.
The Bloc Québécois will support the motion that has been moved in the House today.