Mr. Speaker, it is time we had an honest discussion of what the bill is actually about. I have heard Liberal speakers talk about chapter and detail of what it is about, and that there was no problem. I just heard from the Liberal ranks saying there was no problem to be solved. If there is no problem to be solved, why are we having a bill? The problem to be solved by the admission of the Liberal Party was a scandal called cash for access fundraising. It was hitting the news. It was making stories, and the Liberals promised to deal with the problem. The bill is said to be the response to that problem.
I thought it very telling that the member for St. John's East said there are rules that the parties set for themselves. That was a description of the bill. This is a bill where the Liberals are setting rules for themselves. This is not solving the problem of cash for access fundraisers. This is not stopping cash for access fundraisers. This is a bill that formalizes the process of cash for access fundraisers. This is a bill that legalizes cash for access fundraisers.
Some know I have been involved in political parties and campaigns for a few years, 42 to be exact. I know a thing or two about fundraising. I know a thing or two about running campaigns. Make no mistake, the bill is about formalizing and instituting a system of cash for access fundraisers. That is what it does. That is what it is all about.
It is not surprising Liberals want to, as the hon. member said, set rules for themselves about fundraising, and that this is what they are doing here. The Liberals have a long history of fundraising problems and scandals. Some of it in very recent history. I recall it was not long ago that the Minister of Justice, keep in mind the justice minister is responsible for appointing every senior judge in this country, held a fundraiser and invited lawyers. They were to be given unprecedented access, and it was even held at a major Toronto law firm.
If an individual is a lawyer and applying to become a judge, and being told to come to a fundraiser, I think the message is loud and clear. That judgeship applicant might want to show up. Not surprisingly, we have seen a raft of appointments recently that happened to coincide with the fact these people were very generous donors to the Liberal Party. Is there any doubt what was going on at that fundraiser by the Minister of Justice targeted to lawyers?
I was part of the Harper government, where as a minister for many years, I was actually, by the ethics rules we thought and by our practice, prohibited from raising money from the stakeholders in my portfolio. Prohibited. The Ethics Commissioner told us those were the rules. We could not do it, and we did not do it. Here, the Liberal Party is making it a formal practice, and having been called out on it, the solution is simple, the Liberals will pass a law, formalize it, and say this is the system. Then, when anyone says there is a problem, tell me if we have heard this in question period, we are following the rules. What rules are we following? These are rules the party is setting for themselves as the hon. member for St. John's East said. These are the rules they are going to follow.
That will be the answer, and when the Ethics Commissioner says she does not like the appearance of undue influence and cash for access, Liberals are going to say they are following the rules. They are setting up a system, and everyone who comes has to show up, be on the list, advertise it publicly, and so on, but having done all that, it is okay for Liberals to raise money from stakeholders, and sell the access of the minister's ear, so that people can whisper their requests. If they are lobbying, the minister is there if they have paid their ticket price to the Liberal Party.
That is what the bill is about, and that is why it is wholly unacceptable. It is unacceptable in a free and democratic society where we pretend that everybody has equal access, because it is not equal access. It is cash for access. Cash for access to the decision-makers who can make a difference in the success or failure of people's ventures, and we have seen that. It was not just the people who want to become judges.
The Prime Minister, we learned, went to a fundraiser or a private home, targeting a particular community. One of those at that fundraiser was somebody named Shenglin Xian. He had an interest, an application to the federal government for a bank. He made the maximum donation to the party, and got a lot of his friends to come to this fundraiser too, to make those maximum donations to the party. They all got to talk to the Prime Minister, got their pictures taken with the Prime Minister, and talked to the Prime Minister about the things in which they had a financial interest, about things from which they would profit by a decision made by the government. What happened? Not long after that fundraiser, Mr. Xian got his approval from the federal government. That is part of the scandal that led to the bill. That is part of the problem that has been solved by the bill.
Let us go back and see what happens. Is there anything in the bill that would stop the exact same thing from happening again? Is there anything that would discourage it, because that maximum donation to the party is publicly disclosed anyhow. No, this is a smoke and mirrors formalization of cash for access fundraising, a legalization and a way to say to the public, to the people in the House, to the media and to the Ethics Commissioner, “It is none of your business. We are following the rules.” The rules that parties set for themselves, as the Liberal member said, and that is what this is.
That is why this is so unacceptable. Mr. Xian was not the only one at that cash for access fundraiser. Another gentleman gave $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation, after attending an exclusive, in a private home, cash for access fundraiser. He did not give money to any other groups. He did not give money to the Manning Centre, no. He went to a fundraiser with the Prime Minister and gave money to the Trudeau Foundation, $1 million. He did not give money to anybody else. He was not having a private cash for access fundraiser with anybody else, he was having it with the Prime Minister, and the money flowed to the Trudeau Foundation.
There were other attendees at that event who acknowledged they raised government business with the Prime Minister. They said they lobbied the Prime Minister about things they cared about, interests that they had with the government. The Prime Minister even admitted it. He acknowledged that he had been lobbied at that event, and this will make it all go away because what? Can anybody point me to one provision in the bill that will stop that fundraiser and those discussions from happening? There is none. All it will do is stop the criticism of that inappropriate, unethical, virtually corrupt form of fundraising, and it is something that is happening, not to solve the problem, it is happening to solve the Liberals' fundraising problem.
Let us ask, where did this came from? Why was it that the media was suddenly interested in Liberal fundraising? No one was standing there for a long time. They had not been. It turns out the Ontario Liberals, some of whom have suddenly migrated to Ottawa, the people who used to run the Premier's office, who used to run the Liberal Party in Ontario, are now running the federal Liberal Party. What did they do when they were in Ontario? They had something that was described by Liberal insiders and Liberal cabinet ministers as a system. It was a system of cash for access fundraising, and this is how the Liberal Party of Ontario was funded. Each minister was assigned targets. If an individual was the minister of finance, somebody like Charles Sousa, the minister would sign an annual target of half a million dollars.
They were given a list of the stakeholders, the people they would be dealing with, the folks they would be making decisions about. They would be told to forget about themselves and their riding associations. Gerald Butts and Katie Telford were in the premier's office. Now they are in the Prime Minister's Office. They would be told to go out for the Liberal Party of Ontario. If a member wanted to remain a minister, he or she would have to raise half a million dollars from stakeholders and turn it over to the Liberal Party caucus. The job was to hold the fundraisers, give the access, collect the cash. That was the system.
It turns out that Eric Hoskins, the health minister, had the exact same target of half a million dollars a year. He had to hold fundraisers at long-term care homes with the Ontario Long Term Care Association and folks like that, and bring in money.
All the folks on the backbench over there think the way to be a minister is to always follow the party whip. This law is about putting in place a new system for them. That is what the Liberals did in Ontario. It is real simple. They should not worry about the whip. They are given a target and are told to bring in money. If they perform, they will get to be in cabinet. That was the system in Ontario. It became a bit of a scandal, understandably.
I know a lot of people are smiling on the Liberal benches because they think this is funny. However, it is not funny; it is corruption. It is what discredits politics in our country. When people think the worst of politics, it is what they think the country is about. It is the system of the Liberal Party, of Gerald Butts, of Katie Telford, and it is the system they are bringing here. It is the system that this bill will legalize, formalize, put in place, and keep rolling, but with much bigger stakes and much bigger dollars. People should think about that.
One of my friends across the way is heckling about one of two cases in a decade of Conservative government, where there was an issue for cash for access. Oddly, both of them happened in that very Conservative sector, the arts sector. One was with a minister, the other with a parliamentary secretary. In both cases, they attended events that they thought were just meetings with folks in the arts sector. Somebody went around the room and collected cheques. All that money was returned of their own initiative. Why? Because that was the Conservative practice: no cash for access.
Those were the only two examples in that arts sector, which was so cozy with the Conservatives. This undermines the fact that these were unsolicited funds that were returned instantly on the initiative of the Conservatives because it was wrong. The hon. member knows it is wrong and that is why he is raising it. However, he will vote for a bill that makes it legal and formal to do that kind of stuff. The hon. member who is heckling me thinks it is wrong, but will vote for a bill that formalizes it.
Should that not trouble everybody? Did Prime Minister Stephen Harper ever hold any? He avoided it by one simple mechanism: he did not hold fundraisers and did not attend fundraisers. In a decade in office, he attended one fundraiser. It was in Montreal, with over 1,000 people. It was not a cash for access intimate event in the kitchen of one of his friends who had an interest; it was one with 1,000 people. Even then he stopped it. Why? There could be no question whatsoever of unethical or corrupt conduct, the kind that would be formalized in this bill.
Let us talk more about the Ontario system.
Energy minister Bob Chiarelli was consistently turning in a quarter to a third of a million dollars a year. That was his target. He held one private dinner with one group of stakeholders in the energy sector. The premier went to it. This little private dinner in a restaurant turned up $100,000 alone. That was the Liberal cash for access system.
Dwight Duncan, a former Liberal finance minister of Ontario, has this to say about the system. He was assigned the target of a million dollars. He said, “One of the reasons I quit...I was so sick of it.” That system is what the people on the government side are proposing we support, formalize, and legalize.
John Gerretsen, the attorney general, father of the Liberal member for Kingston and the Islands, said this about the Liberal system of cash for access. He said he was troubled by the conflict of interest aspects, “If a major issue comes up, and you have been funded by lobbyists on behalf of any kind of industry, you’re going to be affected by that...it’s human nature."
It is human nature to be influenced by it. Unfortunately, it is Liberal nature to do it, to always conduct cash for access fundraising. Now, they have created a system that legalizes it and formalizes it, and somehow in the whole process are pretending they are doing something virtuous.
Of course there was the exposé of what was being done in Ontario, and I credit those Liberal insiders and former ministers who exposed it, because otherwise we would not know today that they literally had a formal system. They identified stakeholders, raised the money from them, and did it. That is why it became an issue when suddenly those folks from Queen's Park came to Ottawa and the same kind of fundraising began to appear here. It had not been here under the previous government, but suddenly, there it was. The Prime Minister was holding intimate gatherings. People were making maximum donations. They were bringing along 10 or 20 of their friends. In the states they call that bundling. They were bundling to make those maximum contributions. They were discussing government business.
Is there anything in the bill that would stop that? Is there anything in the bill that would prevent lobbying at these exclusive cash for access events? No, there is not. We are formalizing and legalizing how it is done. “Come on up, pay your $1,500, and have your say with the minister, and then get your way maybe down the road.” That is what the bill is all about.
The Liberals are back in business. They are back in Ottawa. Some will remember the “Sky Shops” scandal. Some will remember the sponsorship scandal, and I could go on and on through history. It has always been there. It has always been the Liberal way.
We are going to get money based on the principles we stand for, standing for, as Conservatives do, our belief in smaller government. The NDP believes in bigger government. They think that is the solution. People support us for both those reasons. However, for the Liberal Party, there is a challenge. When they do not believe anything, how do they get money? They get money by selling access, by selling favourable decisions, by giving people what they want in exchange for cash. That, simply put, is political corruption. Anywhere I come from, that is what it is.
I am proud to be part of a political party that has avoided those things. I was very proud to be part of a government where it simply did not happen, a government where the money came in small amounts from people all across the country who simply believed in what we cared about. I never attended, held, or saw anything remotely like a cash for access fundraiser in my entire time in government as a member of Parliament on the Conservative Party side, but as soon as the government changed, the Ontario system was here.
What did they do to solve it in Ontario? They actually banned cash for access fundraisers. The Ontario Liberals acknowledged it was wrong and banned it. It was a little awkward. They went overboard and said MPs, candidates, opposition individual MPs cannot be there. It is a little excessive, but it actually solves the problem and bans it. They did not do that with the federal Liberal approach, which is to formalize it, legalize it, and set up a system.
The Liberals want to continue the practice here in Ottawa. The way they are going to continue the practice is by building bulletproof, iron-clad defences: “We addressed the problem. We passed a law. We are following the law. We are doing exactly what the law says one does if collecting cash for access.”
That is not a solution to the problem. That is an increase in the problem. That is an acceleration of the problem. That is the practice of politics the way Liberals have always done it, and the way it seems they want to do it into the future. That is unacceptable to Conservatives. That is unacceptable to Canadians.