February 17, 2004

NDP

Lorne Nystrom

New Democratic Party

Hon. Lorne Nystrom

Mr. Speaker, my good friend from Newfoundland is one of the few progressives left because when the Progressive Conservative Party joined the Alliance, they left the progressives aside. They are no longer progressives. The opposite of progressive happens to be regressive, and what we see is the shadow of Brian Mulroney behind the whole thing. He is the master puppeteer.

My mother said to me many years ago that if we did not learn from the past, we were bound to repeat the same things in the future. It is important to remember what happened in the past.

I happen to come from Saskatchewan where 16 Conservatives convicted criminally of fraud, and that is fact. Many are in jail. I do not think there is no other place in the world where a deputy premier, Eric Berntson, chairman of the caucus, a Conservative, went to jail.

We have to learn from the past so we do not repeat the same things in the future, and the government now is repeating.

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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

New Democratic Party

Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North Centre, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, first, let me say that Canadians are sick to death of scandals in their government. Canadians are sick to death of the energy of this place being diverted and redirected to deal with a very egregious, a very heinous situation no doubt, but a situation that clearly diverts attention away from the issues and concerns that Canadians have to deal with on a day to day basis.

They cannot figure out what happened to their elected representatives who chose to come to this place to speak about health care and the crisis in medicare and to speak about the stress that families are facing in trying to juggle work, community and child care responsibilities. They cannot figure out where their elected representatives are on pollution, on environmental degradation or on weaponization of space.

Canadians are sick to death of this situation, this scandal ridden place, and so are we on this end of the House.

My colleagues in the New Democratic Party have tried very hard to call on the government to deal with this scandal quickly, effectively, with teeth and with clear resolution so we can get back to the main issues of the day. We make that call again. Deal with this horrible chapter in the history of Canadian politics promptly, efficiently, with truth and with resolution so we can get back to the issues that matter.

The real scandals of the day are how the Prime Minister could be underestimating our surplus, lowballing it by $80 billion over 10 years, or how the government could be breaking every promise it ever made in the red book time and time again.

Yesterday a group of women gathered on the Hill from across Canada. These women came to participate in the NDP women's economic summit. They came to talk about serious issues affecting their day to day lives, such as the stress that women face in trying to cope when the government has done nothing but cut the rug out from under them, when the government has hacked and slashed every program that has meant anything to women and working families.

They wanted us to stand up in the House and say that the only thing the finance minister was consulting on was the debt to GDP ratio. Why is he not consulting on the 50,000 day care spaces the government promised 10 years ago? Why is the government not consulting on the 20,000 units of affordable housing that are needed right now to deal with the critical housing situation, and the very serious situation of homelessness at a time of severe winter climate conditions? Why is the government not talking about creating quality jobs for women so they can provide for their families and still keep their mental health intact? Why have issues of importance dropped off the page by the government? Why are we now dealing with another scandal?

It is imperative that we deal with this scandal here and now so we can get back to the issues at hand.

It is interesting that the Conservatives are getting a little defensive in the House today about the fact that we have been trying to suggest that we are not dealing with simply a little individual problem here and there, but a systemic problem, a problem that goes back throughout the last decade of Liberal rule and beyond that to the previous decade of Brian Mulroney Conservative rule.

How can we not deal here and now with the kind of corruption that existed back then, clearly identified, documented and discussed in Parliament over the last two decades?

The irony of the Conservative motion today is that the Conservatives, in their previous manifestation, established the standards on the benefit of patronage appointments and the pouring of public funds into the pockets of their friends.

Did Canadians not throw them out of office on this as their verdict on the issue years ago? Canadians see worse health care, more expensive tuition, and a more polluted environment today than 10 or 20 years ago. Why? Because for 20 years Brian Mulroney and the present Prime Minister said they cared and were concerned, but they did not act on those concerns. Instead, they listened to their corporate friends and geared their decisions in their favour.

It is interesting that the Liberals got elected because of Tory corruption. Now the Tories want to get elected because of Liberal corruption. We are here today to end this cycle. We must get to the systemic root of the problem. What do we do? We call on the government to deal with this horrific scandal, identified by the Auditor General, in an expeditious fashion.

We want to remind Canadians what the Liberals did over their holiday break. What did they do when they heard from the Auditor General about the depth of this scandal, about a sea of money for nothing contracts? We heard about the Liberal scandal. We are talking about public funds going to back Liberal candidates for a Liberal electoral action plan. What did the Liberals do when they heard about this? They tried to rewrite history.

As I said in the House on a couple of occasions, it is interesting how the Liberals are very clear when they are very caught. How can they stand opposite us in the House with straight faces, face to face with Canadians, and expect Canadians to swallow the idea that this was a surprise? How can they look us straight in the face and blame it on the public servants? How can they look us straight in the face and blame it on someone in the past administration and never take full responsibility for what is at hand?

Is it not interesting that the Liberals want to treat Gagliano like an embarrassing relative, but where was the present Prime Minister, that outspoken moralist, when Liberals were out buying elections in Quebec? Who was signing the federal cheques for Mr. Gagliano? It was not Jean Chrétien, was it?

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An hon. member

Paul Martin.

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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

New Democratic Party

Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis

Yes, it was the current Prime Minister who at the time was the finance minister and who in fact should have known where the money was going and should have been following the money.

A newsletter put out by the President of the Treasury Board who, not too long ago, said to his constituents that every line of every government department is scrutinized stated:

As Treasury Board members, we are responsible to know not only where the money is being spent, but also why it is being spent.

Can the Liberals still look us straight in the face and say that the present Prime Minister, the then finance minister, did not know anything? They are trying to tell us that everything is okay now. They are act tough with all this feigned indignation and say they will get to the bottom of this.

However, the same firms that conspired with the Prime Minister to keep polling information out of public view and were previously in his transition team are still playing a key role in the Prime Minister's Office and even got to vet new ministerial staff appointments.

We are dealing with that systemic problem of these corporate ties and people revolving in and out of the Prime Minister's Office. That is the issue we must get our heads around. That is what we must do.

Let me conclude by reading from a constituent's e-mail to me that reflects the concerns of Canadians about what is going on in this place, what is wrong with both Liberal and Conservative governments, their whole connection with the corporate world, and the kind of games they play to get money back into the pockets of their friends and supporters. The constituent writes:

When a party in power stays too long, the occupants appropriate themselves to be gods--obnoxious gods. They turn arrogant, insensitive and appallingly abusive. Arrogance is a powerful argument why the sitting government must not be granted repeat endorsement by the electorate in the coming election.

The same goes for the Conservatives who were taught a lesson when they went down this path.

Let us now take the time to learn from the errors of the past, whether we are talking about the present Liberals or the past Conservatives, to put an end to a government that is riddled with scandal and get on to true, ethical government for this country.

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LIB

Jim Karygiannis

Liberal

Hon. Jim Karygiannis (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I watched my hon. colleague across the way wave her arms and I thought she was going to take flight.

Bringing things into perspective, this party is addressing the issue head on. The Prime Minister, in clear words, has called a public inquiry. He said that we will not stop until everything is open.

I am not sure if my colleague across the way opened her ears and listened when the Prime Minister said that. Usually, NDP members, with wax in their ears, do not want to listen.

I am wondering if the hon. member would like to go down the path of Jack Layton and Olivia Chow living in co-op housing? Did we forget that? No. Did we forget Bob Rae? No, but members of that party are going to keep flapping until they take flight. They should not think they will take flight too fast.

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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

New Democratic Party

Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis

Mr. Speaker, I will not stoop so low as to respond to that kind of insulting comment from the member. I would rather be waving my arms reflecting the disgust and disdain of Canadians than hiding under a bushel as the Liberal member is doing, along with so many of his other colleagues.

The real test of Liberal sincerity is whether or not the government is prepared to direct the Liberal Party to pay back the money it stole from public coffers.

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LIB

Jim Karygiannis

Liberal

Mr. Jim Karygiannis

Jack Layton and co-op housing. Come on, admit it.

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NDP
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order, please. The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre has the floor.

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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

New Democratic Party

Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis

Mr. Speaker, for a government and Liberal members who feel so confident about the direction they are taking on this horrific scandal, we would wonder why they would get that excited and defensive in this chamber.

As I was trying to say, the real test of the government's sincerity is whether or not it will make a commitment to call on the Liberal Party to pay back the money that was identified in the Auditor General's report as money taken from public coffers and put into the Liberal Party.

We are talking about two instances identified by the Auditor General. One is for about $300,000 from firms like Groupaction. After it received lucrative contracts from the Liberal government, money went back as donations to the Liberal Party. That is one instance.

The other is close to $300,000 in public money used for Liberal polling. That is also an abuse of public funds and that money should be paid back.

None of us should be casting widespread aspersions on the public service as the government and the President of the Treasury Board has tended to do by suggesting that there is a group of 14 off in the public service somewhere that have done all this.

We should be reminding the President of the Treasury Board that the first thing this government did when it came into office was to freeze all public service promotions, freeze all public service lateral transfers and freeze all public service reclassifications.

The second thing it did was review all public service jobs from the point of view of privatization. The third thing it did was come into the House on this scandal and suggest that public servants out there somewhere are responsible for the mess.

I suggest that the government take responsibility for its actions and come clean with the fact that we are truly talking about a Liberal scandal.

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CA

Chuck Strahl

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that the member from the NDP spent so much time attacking the Conservatives. I wonder if it is because the poll that came out this morning showed the NDP going down in the polls and the Conservative Party going up in the polls. Perhaps that is why she is so vexed.

However, before she or that party gives us lectures on propriety, perhaps she would consider that she is sitting over there with one guy who did time in jail for contempt of court and another was convicted of shoplifting. She should be a little careful.

There is only thing worse than stealing from the taxpayers and that is what happened in bingogate out in British Columbia where the NDP was convicted of stealing from charities.

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The Chair finds that the words that have just been used are a bit strong. I do not ask for the member to withdraw the statement, but I caution him to be judicious with his choice of words. The hon. member was walking a very find line.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas

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NDP

Svend Robinson

New Democratic Party

Mr. Svend Robinson

Mr. Speaker, I know that the hon. member would want to ensure that the statements he makes in this House are truthful.

The member stated that the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle was convicted of an offence. That is absolutely false, scurrilous and dishonest.

I would call on the member to do the honourable thing, apologize and tell the truth.

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CA

Chuck Strahl

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Chuck Strahl

Mr. Speaker, as has been pointed out, in the heat of the moment, I did suggest that someone who was acquitted of shoplifting was convicted. That was not true. That the member for Burnaby—Douglas spent time in jail was true.

However, I stand corrected and I do apologize for that.

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

That settles the matter.

I am told that there is one minute left in questions or comments. Was the hon. member going to reply? The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre.

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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

New Democratic Party

Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North Centre, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the member has apologized for his outrageous statement. I hope this kind of behaviour does not happen in this House again. We are clearly not talking about individuals. We are debating the motion that the Conservatives have brought in about a culture of corruption. We believe that culture has existed, not only in this Liberal administration, but in the past Conservative administration.

I want to say to the member who has challenged us to talk about our support, which he should know is steadily increasing in the polls, that the Conservative candidate in my constituency who ran against me in the last election is so fed up with the Conservatives that he has decided to join the NDP and join my re-election efforts.

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PC

Elsie Wayne

Progressive Conservative

Mrs. Elsie Wayne (Saint John, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise the House that I will be splitting my time today with my friend from Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam.

It is an unfortunate duty to rise today on this important topic, a topic that has seized the attention of the whole country. The Auditor General's report of last week confirmed something that many of us have long suspected. It proved that the government was engaged in a corrupt practice, possibly criminal in its scope.

I am not the first to be outraged by the most recent scandal and I surely will not be the last.

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you listened to the Rex Murphy show on the weekend, but most people across the nation did and, I have to say, with the Prime Minister there to listen as well.

All across this nation the people are very outraged with this government. As a taxpayer, I was shocked to learn that our money was being used to fund these kinds of corrupt activities. As a member of Parliament, I was livid to learn that the government was undertaking these types of activities.

For the past week we have heard a great deal about this scandal, but there are three areas in particular that I want to highlight for the consideration of the House.

First and foremost, I want to address the suggestions made by the Prime Minister that the officials working with Prime Minister Chrétien were aware of this problem and covered it up.

Second, I want to address the fact that the Prime Minister continues to deny that he knew anything about it.

Finally, I would like to discuss the principle of ministerial accountability in general.

In the past week, the Prime Minister has held a number of press conferences, but none as significant as the one held at the national press gallery last Thursday. At that time, the Prime Minister told reporters that one of the reasons why he was kept in the dark about the scandal was his poor relationship with the previous prime minister, Jean Chrétien, and his staff. The clear message was that if he had a better relationship he would have been told about the scandal and what was taking place. For that to be in any way relevant, we must believe that the Chrétien PMO knew about the scandal in advance.

Now, if the Chrétien government knew about it, then why not tell the people, perhaps even the current Prime Minister? They were clearly engaged in a cover-up, yet the Prime Minister insists that Mr. Chrétien now is a man of integrity.

All this raises very important questions about why the Prime Minister did not know about it himself. Why did he have to rely on the information of others? Was he not the minister of finance? Was he not the senior minister from Quebec? Was he not the second most powerful person in cabinet at the time? How can we believe, given the Prime Minister's resumé, that he was totally in the dark about something as important as this? The truth is that either the Prime Minister did know or he should have known.

The evidence is mounting that Liberals in Quebec were aware that this sponsorship program was becoming an issue. It has been reported that the issue was discussed in the meetings of the Liberals' Quebec caucus. It has been reported that the Prime Minister received a letter from a senior Liberal outlining his concern on this issue.

When we consider the number of different opportunities the Prime Minister had to learn about this scandal, one has to wonder how he avoided it. It is almost as though the official policy at the Department of Finance was “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil”.

The fact is, if the Prime Minister was genuinely unaware of the problem he must have lost control of his department and lost touch with his government. How else can we explain the strange sequence of events that conspired to keep him totally free and clear of trouble?

By his own admission, he did learn of this through the machinery of government, or the civil service.

By his own admission, he did not hear about this in a Quebec caucus meeting, but all the others did.

By his own admission, he does not recall receiving a letter from a senior Liberal Party supporter on the issue, but that person has stated he wrote the letter.

By his own admission, he did not have the type of relationship with those in the Prime Minister's Office that would cause them to bring him into their confidence.

By his own admission, then, he was isolated from the department, his caucus, his party and his leader. That is the story of someone who was totally disconnected from the government of the day.

We can only believe his excuse if we accept that the Prime Minister was ignorant of everything going on around him. Frankly, given his stature in his party and his government, that is simply not credible.

There is a general principle of public law that I want to address at this time. We are all aware of the principle of ministerial accountability. It is a basic pillar of our parliamentary democracy. We have a departmental structure that places the ministers at the top. Ministers are then accountable for their actions in the House of Commons. They are in turn responsible for the actions taken by their departments. It is not necessary that the minister in question was personally involved in the actions of the department. It is not even necessary that ministers are aware of the actions taken by their departments. They are deemed to know.

What is important is the principle that they are responsible for their departments in all aspects of their conduct. As the senior ranking government minister, the Prime Minister is ultimately responsible for the actions of every department in the government.

To his credit, the Prime Minister has acknowledged his responsibility, but as minister of finance at the time when government money was being used for improper and possibly criminal purposes, the Prime Minister had a responsibility for the actions of his department then. He had a duty to know what was being done in his name and on his authority. He had a duty to ensure that the government was not engaging in fiscal mismanagement. He had a duty to know when taxpayers' money was being used for questionable purposes. If he did not, then he failed in his duties.

We know that for the past 14 years the Prime Minister has been fighting to get where he is today. We know that he let nothing and nobody stand between him and the PM's office. He was engaged in a leadership campaign that stretches back to 1990. That kind of campaign takes a lot of time, maybe even too much time. It can be a distraction. We are left to wonder whether the Prime Minister was working so hard to become a prime minister that he did not have time to be the minister of finance.

He cannot have it both ways. The Prime Minister cannot go around the country telling Canadians that he is responsible for bringing down the deficit and keeping the economy strong if in the next breath he tells them that he did not know what was going on in his department.

He cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that it was a small group of people and then launch a full scale public inquiry to find out who did it. Either he knew or he should have known.

Why was the former minister, who is now former Ambassador Gagliano, fired? Does the Prime Minister know he was responsible for all of this? If so, why do we need the inquiry? As I stated, the Prime Minister cannot have it both ways. Either he knew or he should have known.

I have to say that I think now that he is travelling across the country speaking to people and wanting to listen to people, he is finding out how people feel. The people are truly upset.

When I go home to my riding I see the people who are not working anymore and the people who earn $25,000 a year who try to feed, clothe and educate four or five children. Then I think about the $250 million stolen from the taxpayers of this country. There is something wrong. There is something wrong in this House and we have to correct it. We have to take the stance to correct it and we must never let it happen again.

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LIB

John Cannis

Liberal

Mr. John Cannis (Scarborough Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, first of all I am pleased with the tone of this debate, as was occurring with the hon. member, but it is unfortunate that we are losing sight of what we are trying to accomplish here. I am greatly saddened because 90% of the hon. member's comments were focused around a personal attack on one individual.

Let us be very frank. That one individual, and I quote her, said that “this is the truth”. Members can say anything they want in the House but that to me is not the truth and it is unfair to quote.

The member says there is a poor relationship and asks if he will tell the people. The Prime Minister has said, with no ambiguity, “I am going to testify. I want to testify. I want to go to the nation. I want to find out and get to the bottom of this”.

I do not have any time left, but let us calm this down and do what the people want. They want all of us to get to the bottom of what happened.

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PC

Elsie Wayne

Progressive Conservative

Mrs. Elsie Wayne

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member had listened to the people who called Rex Murphy's show, he would know exactly what the people want us to do. I can tell him right now.

I am not pointing fingers at anyone. I am saying that the people in this government either knew what was going on or not, and if they knew what was going on, it should have been corrected. That was a number of years ago. Now they are pointing the finger at one person. They sent him away to be an ambassador and now they are bringing him back and saying it is his fault.

My understanding is that Groupaction in Quebec was given a contract. They were supposed to do a profile of some sort on some action. They submitted it and they got paid substantial funds. Then they copied the identical report three times and got paid thousands and thousands of dollars. Is that what they want? The Prime Minister was the minister of finance and he knew that money was going to Groupaction.

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LIB

R. John Efford

Liberal

Hon. R. John Efford (Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I have been in the House now for several days listening to comments from the opposition, most recently the member for Saint John. On both sides of the House, regardless of what party members are from, we have the right to make a comment, we have the right to give a speech, and we have the right to ask a question. That is how democracy works.

But in making those statements or asking those questions, regardless of what one's position is, the information should be accurate. That is what the people across Canada expect.

I would ask the member this question. Is she not aware that the Prime Minister repeated the Auditor General's report when he said that there were 14 people in the bureaucracy involved? This was not the Prime Minister's statement. It was written in the Auditor General's report, and also--

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February 17, 2004