March 10, 2011

BQ

Paule Brunelle

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Paule Brunelle (Trois-Rivières, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my Liberal colleague and thank her for her excellent speech. We appreciate her intellectual analysis of the issues.

She said that Canadian democracy was built brick by brick, but it could also be said that it was built stone by stone. But right now the Conservative government is trying to dismantle it through various means, including by denying democracy to the point where the Conservatives are telling Bloc members that they are not legitimate in the House and that they are useless. When the Conservatives are in opposition, we will return the message.

The Conservatives travelled across Canada and spent $250 million on 80 events during the break week as part of a pre-election campaign. They ignored the fact that the Government of Canada, not the government of the Prime Minister, was footing the bill. What does my colleague think?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
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LIB

Carolyn Bennett

Liberal

Hon. Carolyn Bennett

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be supporting the Bloc motion. I think that the money spent on these trips and on ads served to promote partisan Conservative policies and opinions. I am also very concerned about the television ads.

On the economic action plan, there is an advertisement from the Government of Canada that says “includes tax cuts”. It is not a recruiting poster. This is not telling people to pay their taxes or to buy Canada savings bonds. This is pure partisan government-funded nonsense.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
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CPC

Barry Devolin

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin)

Order. I would remind all hon. members to direct their comments and questions to the Chair.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Huron—Bruce.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
CPC

Ben Lobb

Conservative

Mr. Ben Lobb (Huron—Bruce, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, again, if I go back to the motion where it mentions “advance its partisan interests and oppose its regressive ideology”, perhaps the member may want to get off her high horse. She may remember a ten percenter which she would have signed off on and which she sent into a riding in northern Saskatchewan. There were pictures of body bags on the ten percenter. Perhaps when she is thinking about her speech about truth and ideology and all these highbrow concepts, she may think back to her own actions. Maybe she would have a response to that. We need to see both sides here.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
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LIB

Carolyn Bennett

Liberal

Hon. Carolyn Bennett

Mr. Speaker, I do not think that ten percenter was right. I have already apologized to the aboriginal people.

At that time I was equally passionate about the lack of action on our aboriginal people, the fact that there were 10 to 12 people living in one house with no running water in those communities I went to in northern Manitoba. That situation has not improved at all. I feel as passionate about that now as I did when the ten percenter went out. I agree that was wrong. That is why we, on this side of the House, moved to abolish ten percenters going into other ridings.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
NDP

Jim Maloway

New Democratic Party

Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, there are 65 members who in the 2006 election spent over their limit and were able to claim rebates, illegally. This did not happen with any other party. It did not happen with the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party or the Bloc. It happened only with the Conservative Party. Interestingly enough, it did not replicate itself. It did not happen again in the election in 2008.

Why would a party whose candidates were caught red-handed five years ago continue to deny, sort of in a Nixon style, rather than try to settle? I know that it has been done in other jurisdictions. I am sure Elections Canada would be flexible enough that if a party came clean with its indiscretions, a settlement could be reached. But no, the Conservatives decided to deny, deny, deny. That has been their modus operandi in all aspects of government. At the end of the day, it is going to be their undoing. That is what I firmly believe.

I would like to ask the member whether she agrees with that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
LIB

Carolyn Bennett

Liberal

Hon. Carolyn Bennett

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party of Canada had the audacity to go to court to try to get those rebates, those ill-gotten dollars back.

What was very telling was the riding association of Hull—Aylmer had $12,000 in the bank before it got its transfer from the national party, and after the rebate, it had $36,000 ready to fight another election.

Obviously the Director of Public Prosecutions decided to target those four high-ranking people in the party. Eventually they will have to pay that money back.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
CPC

Dick Harris

Conservative

Mr. Richard Harris (Cariboo—Prince George, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, when the member for Elmwood—Transcona was up asking questions about the government party making good, I thought it would have been appropriate for him to suggest that the Liberal Party which apparently stole $40 million from the taxpayers during the adscam episode might like to make good on the $40 million, plus interest.

Would the member for St. Paul's like to tell the House whether her party is going to pay the $40 million plus interest back to the Canadian people which the Liberal Party stole during the adscam scandal, and which Liberal Party officials were convicted in court for and went to jail?

Is the Liberal Party going to pay back the $40 million or not? I do not need a long speech, just a good yes or no would be fine.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
LIB

Carolyn Bennett

Liberal

Hon. Carolyn Bennett

Mr. Speaker, I think the Liberal Party of Canada paid dearly for that, and we have learned our lesson.

I would like to draw to the member's attention that with respect to the Gomery investigation, it was a public servant, two advertising executives and a low-ranking member of the party who actually ended up being accused. It was not the four top-ranking people, as it is with the Conservative Party of Canada. Also, out of the problems with the advertising problem the Liberal Party endured came the Gomery hearings and his recommendations, which the Conservative Party of Canada campaigned on. If we look at all those recommendations, the Conservative Party has implemented virtually none of them.

In fact, today's motion speaks to the fact of how the Conservatives really are in contempt of this place and of the law.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
NDP

Pat Martin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I want to recognize my colleague's reference in her speech to the late Jim Travers and what he might think if he were here to comment and write an editorial on the erosion of democracy as it is unfolding today under the guidance of the Conservative government. What does she think, as a close personal friend, his reaction would have been?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
LIB

Carolyn Bennett

Liberal

Hon. Carolyn Bennett

Madam Speaker, I think Mr. Travers would have been heartened by the decision of the Speaker yesterday.

We need to ensure that many of us take up the torch to ensure that Canadians understand that their parliamentary democracy is at risk.

I remember one of Mr. Travers' columns crashed the Toronto Star website in terms of the interest. We just have to keep going in his honour.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
NDP

Pat Martin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from St. Paul's for making reference to Jim Travers who recently passed away. I will begin my speech where she left off in her remarks as to what Mr. Travers may think of the state of democracy as it is today.

I will remind members and all Canadians that our democracy is a fragile construct at best. If we are not vigilant in reinforcing it, buttressing it and strengthening it in everything we do, then the inverse is true. It begins to diminish, deteriorate and to be undermined incrementally. These incremental changes are sometimes so subtle that we hardly notice them, but when compiled they create a critical mass that, without overstating things, threatens the integrity of the democracy that we are duty bound to uphold in the House of Commons today.

In a seminal piece of political commentary that Jim Travers wrote on April 4, 2009, for which he won the 2009 National Newspaper Award, he pointed out that, as a foreign correspondent for many years, he witnessed democracy beginning to unfold in many of his postings in Africa and other places he lived. At the same time as he was watching the state of democracy in those underdeveloped nations, he thought of Canada, as he put it, as a cold but shimmering Camelot where ballots, not bullets, changed governments, where men and women in uniform were discreet servants of the state, where our institutions were structurally sound, where corruption was firmly enough in check that scandals were aberrations, demanding public scrutiny and sometimes even justice. He went on to lament that he was witnessing Canadians allowing their democracy slip.

I forgot to mention that I will be splitting my time with my colleague for Hamilton Centre.

My colleague from Hamilton Centre and I both attended Jim Travers' memorial on Tuesday night, along with about 1,000 well-wishers from all walks of life, but notably politicians, journalists and people in those industries, lamenting his loss.

Mr. Travers pointed out that our Camelot was under siege because, as I point out, incrementally, step by step, death by 1,000 cuts, we are witnessing the erosion and the deterioration of the institution that our fathers very proudly built up. He stated what his response would have been in the 1980s, by saying:

I would have rejected out of hand the suggestion that Parliament would become a largely ceremonial body incapable of performing its defining functions of safeguarding public spending and holding ministers to account. I would have treated as ridiculous any forecast that the senior bureaucracy would become politicized, that many of the powers of a monarch would flow from Parliament to the prime minister or that the authority of the Governor General, the de facto head of state, would be openly challenged.

Yet every one has happened and each has chipped away another brick of the democratic foundations underpinning Parliament. Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.

That sets the framework for the debate we are having today on the Bloc Quebecois' opposition day motion that is blowing the whistle, sounding the alarm, sending an alert to Canadians that if we are not careful the very institutions by which we define ourselves as Canadians will be undermined, diminished and, in fact, will disappear.

There were a series of events leading up to the opposition day motion that outlines the threat to democracy. I will frame my remarks by citing the opening of this opposition day motion.

That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology....

I will not go on, but I would say that it is at the expense of putting the best interests of Canadians first and the lofty ideals of accountability and transparency that the Conservatives promised Canadians when they took power five years ago.

I will begin with the in and out scandal itself, which is one of three offences that we are citing here today.

We want our government to fix health care, not elections. It offends the sensibilities of Canadians to see a systematic, deliberate, premeditated and well-orchestrated conspiracy to defraud the spending limits of the Canada Elections Act.

I would mention that the spending limits of the Canada Elections Act is one of the fundamental cornerstones of our democracy and, I believe, it is one of the things that differentiates us from the Americans. We believe big money in the United States has undermined democracy to a great extent. We believe in this country that nobody should be able to buy an election based on having deeper pockets or a fatter chequebook. Yet, that is exactly what the Conservatives have done by willingly and knowingly put in place a scheme to exceed the spending limits and gain an unfair competitive advantage over the other parties.

All we want is a level playing field so that Canadians can decide the merits of a party based on its policies, platform and promises, not based on being carpet bombed and blitzed by advertising campaigns that have little to do with what the government actually intends to do.

I will point out the echo effect of this offence. It is even more egregious that these riding associations that conspired with their party to defraud the Canada Elections Act enjoy an echo effect in that the ill-gotten gains from the first offence went on to bankroll the Conservatives' next election campaign in 2008, compounding the offence.

I point out as well that there is a whole second tier to the in and out scandal, which has been talked about very little. While 67 riding associations conspired to defraud the spending limits for advertising purposes, another 50 riding associations conspired to defraud the spending limits on polling. This is rarely talked about. Sixteen of those 50 riding associations conducted complete in and out transactions, such as the member for Essex I believe, where $20,000 were transferred into their bank accounts and within 24 hours or so that same $20,000 was transferred out. However, this time they said that it was for polling.

What a ludicrous notion. No one would ever conduct a public opinion poll in his or her riding in the middle of an election campaign. It would be a complete waste of money. However, the national party spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on daily national polls throughout an election campaign.

In this case, the second ridiculous thing is that one could not spend $20,000 on a local poll in one riding association. I do not think it can be done. I have had estimates and they range from $2,500 to $4,500 for a 400-person, 20-question survey. This was a way for the federal party to exceed its spending limits and call national expenses local expenses so that it could also get the rebate in its local riding association.

I look forward to the RCMP and the Director of Public Prosecutions expanding the charges laid to include this second polling scheme.

Let us not forget that when the Conservative government says that it is co-operating fully with the investigation, the RCMP had to kick down the doors of the Conservative Party headquarters with a search warrant and seize all of its records and documents. It did not do it co-operatively.

We also must not forget that 31 summons were issued by the ethics committee and the Conservatives advised 31 people to ignore the summons to the ethics committee. That is an erosion of parliamentary democracy.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
NDP

David Christopherson

New Democratic Party

Mr. David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for outlining some of the reasons that we will be pleased to support this motion. It is the second opposition day motion this week that speaks to the falling fortunes of the current government and explains why.

Like my colleague, I want to focus on the initial part of the opposition day motion, which reads:

That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology—

It is really difficult to know where to begin. The government has given us an embarrassment of riches for comment on its the disregard for democracy.

Let me preface my comments by acknowledging that being partisan and engaging in partisan activities are part of this place and part of what we do. It is recognized in the guidelines that the role of an MP, among other things, is also to be a member of a party and to participate in caucus activities that, by their nature, are partisan. That is a given.

However, what is so important to the integrity of our democracy and our parliamentary system is to recognize and, more importantly, respect the parameters of that partisan activity, particularly as they apply to being in government.

We are on a very dangerous slippery slope and are accelerating quickly.

One of the most important things about our parliamentary system is the fundamental starting point that all members are honourable and all members are honest. Now, being human, that does not always hold to the end of the day, but that is an important part of how we start. That is why people are referred to as “the hon. member”. And so to mislead the House in any way, or mislead fellow parliamentarians in committee, and quite frankly, not to tell the truth, is a huge issue. It is a very big deal in our parliamentary system because without respect for those parameters, we are ultimately left with chaos.

If there is not a set of rules accepted and respected by everyone, that means that everyone feels free to work outside the rules, basically becoming outlaws. Yet without laws, we are in chaos.

The government wants it both ways: It wants the rules for the rest of Canadians but to be able itself to do and say what it wants as long as it furthers the business, not of Canada or the “H” government, but the partisan interests of the Conservative Party of Canada.

After talking about misleading members and misrepresenting the truth, let me start with the fact that the government has said for days, weeks, and months now that it does not want an election. I am sure the Conservatives would be quite prepared to jump up on their hind legs right now and say, “We don't want an election. We support what our Prime Minister has said and our government House leader and everyone. We don't want an election.” The Prime Minister says it. The most senior ministers of the government and all the backbenchers all say, “We don't want an election”.

They do not want an election, and yet on March 3, just a few days ago, my colleague from Alberta received a document, which I understand was hand delivered. Our own mistake with the same member of the Conservatives was due to confusion with last names, and someone got a phone call and an email that they should not have. However, my understanding is that this document was hand delivered. But I will leave that aside.

What is interesting about this right now is the way they talk about ethnic groups and ethnicity. It is a pretty sensitive subject in this country. A lot of people feel that some of the language in this document and the way the Conservatives have looked at some things are getting close to the line.

However, I want to focus on the following. Remember that this whole PowerPoint presentation was about urging ridings to get involved and to try to find another $200,000, as if the Conservatives did not have enough money in their war chest. They are squeezing the riding associations to come up with another $200,000 so they can do an advertising buy.

The focus for me, to tie it to what I commented on earlier, is the presentation's reference to “TV Buy Costs—Pre Writ”. It refers to a “Heavy deployment over Two Weeks (Starting March 15)”, with the “Official 'Launch' on March 20 (India Cricket Match)”. This was to be “Pre Writ”, starting on March 15. The letter is dated March 3. The only way to have a pre-writ period is when one knows when that writ period will be. Lest anybody wonder, the writ period is an election. So these are pre-election activities starting on March 15.

The government has not been telling Canadians the truth. It is ready and eager for an election. It does not want to be seen that way, but there is the proof.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
?

An. hon. member

Please, speak up a bit.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
NDP

David Christopherson

New Democratic Party

Mr. David Christopherson

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, the hon. member says he cannot hear me. I will be glad to speak up a bit so that he can hear every single word of these condemnations. If he continues, I will take a moment to wait until he gets his seat so that I can mention this to him personally, if he wants to continue this back and forth.

The presentation refers to pre-writ weeks and March 15. Yet the Prime Minister has been telling people that he does not want an election and that it is the irresponsible coalition that wants the election because it does not care about Canadians. He claims he is telling Canadians the truth that he does not want an election, yet the Conservatives' own documents make it very clear that we are now in the pre pre-writ period and that all of this will culminate in an election. It looks like an election is coming.

I so hope that in this period, when we talk about integrity and honesty, we will get a chance to talk about what has happened with KAIROS. This issue itself is enough for this government to be condemned for denying funding for church groups that are doing excellent humanitarian work. I have not yet heard a criticism of the work KAIROS does other than some false things from the government. That alone is an issue, but let me take it to the next step, to the Minister of International Cooperation.

I have a copy of a document with three signatures. The first one is of the acting vice-president of the Canadian partnership branch of CIDA. Under that signature is the signature of the president, and I am assuming that is the president of the Canadian partnership branch. Just above the signature lines is the recommendation:

—that you [meaning the minister] sign below to indicate you approve a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years to the above program.

Might I also just note that on this page it also says:

Primary local partner—the organization works with 23 well-established local partners trusted by KAIROS.

The benefits this organization shows for that work that it does are just exponential.

Anyway, the two officials who signed the document recommended that funding be approved. After these senior people signed the document recommending the funding to the minister, the minister either personally inserted the word “not” or personally directed that it be inserted.

I want to give KAIROS credit on this. I saw one of its t-shirts that said “KAIROS is going away”, but it had the word “not” in a red circle. The t-shirt was out within 48 hours, which I thought was brilliant.

They changed this after those people signed the document--

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
CPC

Bob Dechert

Conservative

Mr. Bob Dechert (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his remarks, especially the volume of his remarks. It made it easy for me to hear and I did not need to use any amplification. We could probably save some taxpayer dollars on the amplification system.

I want to ask the member if he is familiar with Mr. Robin Sears, the former national campaign director of the New Democratic Party. I had the occasion to speak to Mr. Sears recently in Toronto with respect to the arrangement known as the in and out arrangement. He told me very clearly that the New Democratic Party had in fact been doing exactly that for years, and that all parties did it. He did not understand what the big fuss was all about. He said on the CTV News channel on February 25, 2011:

It's a load of nonsense—the guys at Elections Canada have a few bricks short of a load. Every party plays games with moving money around, have always done, will always do. What's a national ad, what's a local ad? It's nonsense. It's time we got back to things Canadians care about.

This is a direct quote from the former national campaign manager of the New Democratic Party. Perhaps the hon. member could comment on that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
NDP

David Christopherson

New Democratic Party

Mr. David Christopherson

Madam Speaker, I would suggest to my colleague that what matters a heck of a lot more than any one person's opinion is the fact that the federal prosecutor has laid charges. Charges were not laid against the other three parties.

Of course there are transfers—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
NDP

Denise Savoie

New Democratic Party

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie)

Order, please. Order, please. I would ask hon. members to ask questions and make comments after they have been recognized. The hon. member for Hamilton Centre has the floor.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink
NDP

David Christopherson

New Democratic Party

Mr. David Christopherson

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to engage with my colleagues across the way. It is part of the fun of this.

However, my answer to him is that what matters is the fact that the federal prosecutor has laid a charge. It does not matter what the hon. member thinks of me or anyone else, quite frankly. Elections Canada is backing it up. It knows there are constant transfers between federal and local ridings. Yes, these happen all the time. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs has said that all of the actions on the part of the three opposition parties were perfectly legal. What that points to is the fact obviously that there is some question about whether or not the Conservatives' activities are legal, and it looks as if they are not.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Permalink

March 10, 2011