Mr. Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, CPC)
Madam Speaker, there is a Yiddish proverb that goes, “When you sweep the house, you find everything”, and it applies here. All the House is asking for is to sweep and find out everything.
You, Madam Speaker, are a servant of the House, just as every single member here in every single seat serves his or her constituents. We ultimately hold this power on behalf of our constituents. There is no commissioner who can replace Parliament. There is no government official who can replace the duties that we assume on behalf of the citizens and the residents of our ridings. What this House is asking for through this motion is a sweep. We want to know what the Minister of Finance holds so that we, as a group, can judge whether he is meeting the ethical requirements we believe are necessary for a minister of the crown to meet, a minister who hold such vast powers over Canada's economy and finances.
With respect to the motion presented by the member for Carleton, he has done laudable work in proving and explaining the deficiencies shown thus far by the Minister of Finance in the conduct of his duties to Canadians in general.
The motion reads:
That the House agree with the Prime Minister’s statement in the House on November 1, 2017, that “sunshine is the best disinfectant”; and call on the Finance Minister to reveal all assets he has bought, sold or held within all his private companies or trust funds since he became Finance Minister, to determine if his financial interests have conflicted with his public duties.
There is only one chamber in Parliament that can attest to whether a minister of the crown is fulfilling those requirements and working in the public interest. That is this House. We can lean on the commissioner, we can lean on officers of Parliament for their opinion, but they cannot substitute or replace the work that we do on behalf of the residents of our ridings. At the end of the day, it is this House that makes the judgment call, and no one else.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford and his contributions, such as the smell test and comparing it to raising his twin daughters. I am glad that everyone is okay since his return to the House. He is an excellent member, who has made great contributions to this debate in the House as well.
We heard the views of the member for Battle River—Crowfoot. He was a former minister of state and brings an interesting perspective to this debate from the other side, the side that works for an executive council. He was a member of a previous cabinet, who understands what it means not only to live up to the letter of the law but also to the expectations of Canadians, of residents, and of prime ministers who set the rules and the tempo.
I previously asked this question of one of the parliamentary secretaries. We heard in the speeches from the Liberal side, and will continue to hear in questions and answers and speeches, justification for what the Minister of Finance has done. It took two years to get to the point where he admitted fault, although I do not believe he understands why he had to admit fault, and he was fined $200 for breaching the code. The specific violations are his failure to include in a confidential report a corporation established in France, an estimate of its value, and his directorship in that corporation. I still do not believe that the Minister of Finance understands what exactly he did wrong. He knows that the Ethics Commissioner fined him, but he does not quite understand why his actions were wrong. Apart from a breach of the law, there is something much higher at stake here relating to ethics and the honourable status that all members here hold. We refer to ourselves as the “hon. member for” the riding that we represent.
It is “moral and procedural blindness”, according to a Globe and Mail editorial describing the conduct of the Minister of Finance thus far in the past few years. I rose to ask this question. Do the speeches of justification justify all the conduct we have seen thus far, the ethical lapse, and the moral blindness to what has been going on? The members on the other side said it is okay. They said the economy is doing great and they have put in place all of these great social programs of theirs, which may or may not turn out to be good programs. Who knows? Probably not. They said it was okay that the Minister of Finance had brushed some of those crumbs off the economic table straight into his pocket, because he was giving it all back.
I think most Canadians would agree that if they earned a few extra million and then gave it away to charity, that it would be a pretty good day, and they would be pretty happy with themselves. However, how much did they lose out of their pockets? It would not save them that much.
This is not to say that this situation has not happened before. We can go back through Canadian history. I will use the example of British Columbia's Social Credit Party, which is an exact situation like we have here, where a minister of the crown resigned. However, we are not asking for that, yet. We are asking to see what exactly is in all the corporations that the minister holds.
My example is Stephen Rogers who sat in the British Columbia assembly. Mr. Rogers was the health minister at the time, and he resigned. He was not necessarily forced to resign, and it took some time to obtain it, but he took the honourable step and resigned due to a personal conflict with the rules. On March 4, 1987, page 6 of The Province, it was reported that he resigned because of a conflict of interest situation involving the family trust, which owned shares in Westmin Resources and stood to benefit from the decision to expand mining in Strathcona Park.
If we switch a couple of the words around and use different corporations, what do we get? We get a very similar situation to what we have here. What did Minister Rogers do at the time? He resigned.
We are not asking for that yet, but we want to see what type of conflicts the minister may or may not have in all the private corporations he holds. Let the sun shine in. We want to see more. We want to be the judges, which is our role on behalf of the residents of our individual ridings. The House, whether by unanimous consent or by a majority vote, can express its will, and that is what we are testing today. We have a will to let the sun shine in. We want to see whether the conduct of the Minister of Finance over the past two years has indeed been honourable. We want to judge on behalf of our residents. We are getting emails and phone calls from residents who want us to judge. We cannot do that without the information, so we are asking for that.
The B.C. situation and the resignation happened in 1986. It was a provincial minister, but it was exactly like this situation. It was a family trust and decisions were made by the minister benefited the private corporation. It is almost similar. Just change the names and we are at the same point. Therefore, the motion presses us to vote in favour of it and pass it in the House.
The headlines in the Leader-Post at the time, and it made it all the way to Regina, was “Former minister pleads guilty to not disclosing finances”. In that case, it went to a court of law. In this case, it was the Ethics Commissioner who fined the minister $200. Some Canadians have said that this is far too little and that he should have been fined a much greater amount, but the act calls for that.
However, beyond just fining ministers, beyond the legalese of the situation, we should be living up to certain things, some sort of ethical standard. The Prime Minister, in mandate letters, has set out the expectation of the conduct of his ministers. The House is here to judge that conduct. The Prime Minister can judge the conduct of his ministers. He can replace or remove them with the consent of the Governor General. Also, the House should be able to judge whether ministers are meeting their ethical standards set by the Prime Minister, and not just the Prime Minister but the ethical standards and expectations of the residents of our ridings.
I want to go back to something I said in the House before, and it applies here. It is this motion that I call House sweeping. Former prime minister John Diefenbaker used to say this. He would end his speeches with this, and he would also sometimes use it as a speech crutch. He would say that he was a “House of Commons man”. This place was the most important institution to him. This was where he set his ethical and moral bar. What the House said, he accepted.
I wonder whether the finance minister will rise today at some point and defend himself and his conduct. Is he a House of Commons man or is he not?
Subtopic: Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic: Opposition Motion—Finance Minister's assets