Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to provide all hon. members with a clear, open and, most important, complete account of the facts surrounding the Elections Canada affair.
I say complete for a reason, for if we view the Elections Canada affair through the lens of that agency versus the Conservative Party alone, then we are taking a much too narrow view of the facts. What I want to lay out on the public record today is that the other parties in the House availed themselves of the exact same methods identified in this dispute and yet Elections Canada chose to scrutinize only Conservative Party candidates in this regard.
I am sure the irony cannot be lost on the members of the House, even as they piously call for truth in answers, that certain opposition members spent their week away from the House presenting Canadians with a storyline that was not in concert with the truth.
There are a lot of questions to be answered for sure but what the opposition parties, like Elections Canada, cannot get away from is that they will be the ones who will be expected to come clean with many of the answers, the most important of which is why they condemn practices that they themselves use.
Before I get into the meat of this issue, I would like to briefly talk about something known as national content as it relates to political advertising.
Here in the House of Commons we are in the business of governance. We are elected by the people of Canada and working for the people of Canada. That is what we do and, whether one is a part of the government or a member of the opposition, it should be the goal of all members in the House.
We all have slightly different approaches as to how this work for the people should be carried out. Some of us believe that Canadians want a government that puts faith in individual families and small businesses. Some in the House instead believe the only good answers can come from the government itself. Some parties in the House are old school centralists, some parties in the House were elected on a separatist platform and some in the House were elected on the sentiment that the centralist versus the separatist debate was accomplishing nothing for Quebec or anyone else. Therefore, we have offered Canadians a different say.
In short, we have a diversity of political opinion in the House, one that reflects the diversity of opinion that makes our country great.
All of us here were elected by our constituents. Some of us are more seasoned, while others have only been elected for less than a month. Regardless of length of service, though, surely all of us remember going door to door in our ridings, and for some us the doors were a little further apart than others, and speaking to our potential constituents about what we were going to do to help the people of our ridings and just as important, about what the party we represented was going to do for Canada.
In short, while local candidates campaign on local issues, they also, to a large degree, rely on national issues of the party they represent. Balancing local, regional and national issues is a healthy part of our democracy. We are all responsible to our constituents but we are also all part of a national team: one party, one leader, one national message. That is the way it works.
That is the way it is supposed to work. Local candidates are going to talk about national issues, which is why they are federal candidates, which is how Canadians know who we are, what we stand for and what we are going to do for them. That is what is known as national content. Whether it is buttons, T-shirts, banners, flyers, pamphlets, TV commercials or radio ads, local federal candidates will work closely with the national campaign on their local campaigns. Every party does this and every party is right to do this.
The fundamental inviolable rule, however, is that local campaigns take full responsibility for local expenses, while the national campaign takes full responsibility for national expenses. On this count, the Conservative Party and our local campaigns are in full compliance with the Canada Elections Act. To say otherwise is false and a gross distortion of the facts.
That is why in May 2007 the Conservative Party took Elections Canada to court. The court case specifically related to Elections Canada's refusal to recognize the expenses claimed by some Conservative candidates for the 2006 election because of some new and novel definition of what it called national content. Elections Canada apparently wanted to send a message that this kind of collaboration was wrong.
This is very thin ice for Elections Canada. It is moving away from serving as an impartial arbiter of the rules toward a highly interventionist approach that actually passes judgment on the content of different campaigns. That has never been the role of the agency and it should concern us all.
Let us look at another way that the national campaign helps local candidates. I am talking about the transfer of money to support local campaigns in order to carry out election related activities. Again, every party does this and every party is right to do this. However, curiously, in this case, it was only the Conservative Party that was singled out by Elections Canada. We were singled out for following, not only the long established rules of elections practice, but also the widely used practice of other major political parties.
I will share some examples with members of this House. Let us take, for example, part of the NDP campaign in British Columbia in 2006 election. According to documentation obtained through Elections Canada, NDP candidates for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Nanaimo—Cowichan, and Victoria all participated in a cooperative media buy with the national party organizers. These NDP cooperative media buys bore a striking resemblance to the matter that is behind the motion we debate today.
We should consider that they involve a number of local campaigns banding together to purchase advertising for their area. The NDP headquarters organized the buy. The invoices were processed by the NDP headquarters. No transactions occurred directly between the local campaigns and the media outlets. The cost of the media buys were allocated entirely to the local campaigns and the content of the advertising was based on the national content of the NDP campaign.
A similar occurrence transpired with NDP candidates, several of whom have gone on to become MPs sitting in this House in the greater Vancouver area. We should consider that there were no less than 12 NDP candidates in that region who participated in a local media buy where, again, Elections Canada did not question the validity of their transactions. I do not know whether our friends in the NDP have been visited by Elections Canada with the CBC and Liberal Party cameramen in tow, but given the events of the past week one would wonder why that is not the case.
When the Conservative Party took Elections Canada to court, examples of Liberal Party election practices were also provided. The Liberal Party also made liberal use of regional media buys. Who do we see named among the Liberals who partook in these regional media buys, surprise, surprise? We see none other than the name of the member for Beauséjour. Oddly, he chose not to focus on this during his press conference last week.
Again, according to Elections Canada documentation the member for Beauséjour participated in a local media buy that apparently was arranged by the national party and contained, with the exception of the local candidate's name, entirely national content.
As with the previous NDP examples, this media buy again involved combined local campaigns banding together to buy regional media advertising, arrangements that were made by national party organizers, invoicing processed at the national level and no prior contact between the local campaigns and the media outlets.
However, in the instance of the campaigns of the member for Beauséjour, Elections Canada documentation contained a Liberal Party memo that notes the local campaign was to pay for the advertising. However, as there is no listing of this purchase within the documentation of the member's Elections Canada return, we are left to guess how those ads were paid for and by whom.
I wonder if the hon. member might clarify to this House whether he has had Elections Canada officials, CBC crew members, RCMP officers and other parties' cameramen knock on the doors of his party's office over this practice. Although the member's finances appear to be non-compliant, again, these New Brunswick regional media buys did not appear to merit questions by Elections Canada.
There is a rather vicious irony to this. The member who is being most vocal about the purported abhorrence of this practice has engaged in it himself and with what appears to be less than compliant methods.
Questions have also been raised about the practice of transferring funds from the national party to local campaigns to assist them with electoral related activities.
First, let us put aside the fact that it is perfectly reasonable for local campaigns to be supported by their national headquarters. As I mentioned earlier, we are all working toward a common goal and despite a lot of noise from our friends opposite to suggest otherwise, they not only think but they also act the same way. According to Elections Canada documentation obtained by Conservative Party lawyers, it is very clear that the Liberal, NDP and Bloc all engage in the same practice as the Conservative Party.
For example, the 2006 election documentation shows many examples of Liberal Party headquarters transferring substantial funds but also invoicing similarly substantial funds as well. Documentation shows that the Liberal Party made $1.7 million in transfers to local candidates in the 2006 election, while invoicing them $1.3 million as well.
The NDP made $884,000 in transfers to NDP local candidates, while invoicing them a total of $545,000 for goods and services provided to them in the election.
The Bloc made $732,000 in monetary transfers to its local candidates in the 2006 election, while invoicing its local candidates $820,000 for goods and services rendered.
It is quite clear that all parties in this House engage, most vigorously I would add, in the practice of transferring money back and forth between headquarters and local ridings during elections.
Additionally, in Elections Canada documentation, it is clear that there are numerous examples where transfers from party headquarters to Liberal, NDP and Bloc candidates exactly or closely matched amounts that candidates were invoiced by the national party.
The member for Don Valley West was invoiced $5,000 by the Liberal Party on June 16, 2004. The Liberal Party also deposited a cheque for $5,000 to the candidate on July 9. On June 28 the candidate paid the Liberal Party invoice with a cheque of $5,000. Then the candidate cashed the Liberal Party cheque on July 15. That is the same amount. That is Liberal campaign spending in and out.
The member for Vancouver East was invoiced $7,003.64 by the NDP on January 13, 2006. On January 31, 2006, a cheque from the NDP to the candidate for $7,003.64 was deposited. On February 1, 2006 a cheque from the candidate to the NDP that pays the invoice for $7,003.64 was written and cashed on March 1. That is the very same amount. That is NDP campaign spending in and out.
Clearly this is a common practice. Should the courts ever rule that a different interpretation of the law is in order, then all parties will have to change their practices. The courts will make that decision, not the Conservative Party, not the Liberal Party, not the Bloc nor the NDP, and not Elections Canada.
All of these examples I have brought up today are clearly laid out in the affidavit submitted by the Conservative Party to the courts over our legal challenge to Elections Canada. We have been very clear. Not only do we feel that we have followed the rules which are laid out by Elections Canada, but it is also clear that we have adhered to a standard no different from any other party's in this House.
As my hon. colleague stated earlier, all of us here have the honour to be elected to this House by the people of Canada and although we have different ideas about the best way to run the country, one hopes that at the end of the day we all have the same goal, which is to run it well. Each of us sitting here worked hard to win this honour. There was a lot of pounding the pavement, long hours and dedication.
Conservative candidates played by the rules, the same rules followed predominantly by candidates from all parties. Our local candidates talked about local issues and they talked about national issues. We supported our local candidates in their efforts to win office, the same way that the other parties in this House supported their local candidates in an effort to win office.
Those are the facts. Everything else is political posturing.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Mr. Speaker, and the hon. members opposite for giving us the opportunity to set the record straight.