Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to the current motion by my colleague from Timmins—James Bay.
Allow me to read the motion in order to put us back into context. The motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, government planes, and in particular the plane used by the Prime Minister, should only be used for government purposes and should not be used to transport anyone other than those associated with such purposes or those required for the safety and security of the Prime Minister and his family.
Last week, on March 25, iPolitics revealed that the Prime Minister approved the use of Challenger jets not only for the travel of members of his family, but also for the travel of his personal friends and Conservative Party fundraisers.
The Prime Minister is supposed to pay back a part of the costs when he uses those planes for non-official functions, but shortly after coming to power, he changed the reimbursement formula. As a result, from that time on, he has been reimbursing only an amount equivalent to an economy class ticket.
In my opinion, and in the opinion of all my colleagues here today, it is completely unacceptable to change the rules of the game to his advantage in that way, especially since his opponents were the targets of criticism in the past for similar practices.
Last week, we learned that the Prime Minister used a private jet, paid for by taxpayers, for the travel of Conservative Party fundraisers and that he was sticking taxpayers with the bill.
A close friend of the Prime Minister, Mark Kihn, brought in more than $3.5 million for two of the Prime Minister's election campaigns. As a reward, Mr. Kihn was entitled to travel in the government's private jet at taxpayers' expense. This is unacceptable.
If the Prime Minister wants to take a plane trip with his friends and Conservative Party fundraisers, he should not be sticking taxpayers with the bill because it is not their bill to pay.
When I see things like this, I cannot help but think about all the budget cuts that this government has made. The Conservatives are literally taking an axe to our social safety net by making cuts to employment insurance, protection for seniors, environmental protection, health care, the fight against homelessness, care for veterans, care for refugees, and postal services. I could go on and on.
I find it particularly unacceptable to see frivolous spending when the government is cutting essential services to the public. We are talking about a government plane that the Conservatives use for non-government purposes, and the taxpayers are paying for it. Taxpayers are struggling more and more to make ends meet, and they are the ones paying for it all.
Can we remember the times when the Conservatives used to fight against this kind of privilege? Well, they are now worse than the Liberals they replaced. Let me quote the Prime Minister before he came to power. He made one such statement in the House of Commons on November 24, 2005:
We have seen the Prime Minister flying around the country on Challenger jets doing a few hours of government work, then spending the rest of the time campaigning and fundraising, often at exclusive cocktail parties where big Liberal donors pay $5,000 a ticket to discuss public business. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
The Liberal culture of entitlement goes on. The public must be given a chance to put an end to it.
Well, the Prime Minister made that statement in 2005, before he came to power, and now he is doing exactly the same thing. Can we let this slip by? I think not.
In April 2005, he also said that Mr. Martin really wanted to have a 10-month election campaign to fly around the country on a jet at taxpayers' expense in order to throw enough money all over the country to cover up the stench of corruption. In his view, that type of campaign was not in the best interests of the country.
I think we have enough quotes to show that the current government is not walking the talk. We are seeing a double standard, as the government is saying “do as I say, not as I do”.
Does the House want to know how much the government's junkets in the jet are worth—a jet that, by the way, belongs to taxpayers?
That is the equivalent of old age security benefits for 19 seniors, guaranteed income supplement benefits for 20 seniors, the survivor allowance for 13 seniors or the annual average pension of five retired veterans. That is huge.
I would also be curious to know how much public housing that corresponds to. I would like to know how many homeless people could be brought in off the street with that money and how many employment insurance benefits could be provided to people who need them. How many people are being deprived of their rights because of this needless spending?
In 2005, when the Prime Minister sat in opposition, he made a big fuss about the Liberals, who were taking their backers all over Canada in the prime minister's private planes. He was right; it was appalling and the abuse needed to stop. However, he is doing exactly the same thing now and is refusing to change his ways.
Journalist Elizabeth Thompson, who writes for the electronic news service iPolitics, discovered that the Prime Minister took his backers on a trip between Ottawa and Calgary and asked them to pay $260. However, a similar flight in economy class with Air Canada costs between $600 and $800.
I would sure like to provide such perks to my political pals, but I do not because we are not supposed to. I do not have that kind of power anyway. Things like that should not even happen. We should not even have to talk about them today.
According to the rules governing Parliament, only people working for the Prime Minister's Office or the House of Commons are allowed to travel on the Prime Minister's private airplanes. All other individuals must pay full price for the flight. The Prime Minister and his assistants have tried to convince us that a flight from Ottawa to Calgary costs taxpayers just $260 per person, but the truth is that Challenger airplanes cost taxpayers $11,000 per hour.
Imagine how disappointed honest people must be when the government thumbs its nose at them by spending money frivolously on things that are completely foreign to the lives of ordinary Canadians. These are people who pay their taxes, who donate to charity to help the least fortunate, who often have a hard time making ends meet, who hope that nothing happens to them because they know they might not be entitled to employment insurance now that the program has been reformed, and who know they have to work two extra years before they can retire.
I truly hope that all of these scandals will end once and for all in 2015 when an NDP government comes to power.