- MPlibMon 2:15 pm | Ontario, Markham—Unionville
Mr. Speaker, I would just like to clarify one point. I think the hon. member referred to us as, in some sense, substituting the voluntary CPP for the real one. I would remind her that it was the Liberal government, under Lester Pearson, that brought in the CPP in the first place. It was Paul Martin who fixed it and made it sustainable. We are more committed than, or at least as committed as, any other party to the long-run sustainability of the existing Canada pension plan and we are open to moderate increases in the size of it over time.
Regarding the supplemental Canada pension plan, we want to consider that as an addition, not as an alternative. I made reference to the British experience, where because they have auto-enrolment, even though it is voluntary, over 90% of employees decide to stay in it. It is voluntary, but 90% of the people elect to stay in it.
I would ask if the hon. member understands the long-term commitment of the Liberal Party, our definitive commitment to the existing CPP, and the point that our supplemental CPP, while voluntary, is set up in such a way that many people will choose to participate.
- MPlibMon 1:55 pm | Ontario, York West
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating the NDP and my colleagues for having the foresight to put a motion forward to talk about something as important as the pension systems in Canada. We have to find different ways of helping Canadians. People need jobs. Another investment is making sure that we have a viable economy is to ensure that jobs are being produced. At the same time, we have to encourage Canadians to contribute where there are positive vehicles to do that.
The CPP plan was introduced by a previous Liberal government. It has been amazingly successful. I often ask people who hollered and screamed that they did not want the CPP when it came out as to what they would do without it today.
The issue we are now discussing is about finding ways of enhancing and expanding the CPP as an avenue to help people recognize that they need to contribute. This is a great vehicle to do that. The New Democrats are not suggesting how much; the motion talks about how we could better invest and how we would move forward.
How can the hon. member on the other side possibly disagree on having a conversation about helping Canadians retire with a good quality of life and sufficient money?
- MPlibMon 1:15 pm | Ontario, Markham—Unionville
Mr. Speaker, I have a question based on two comments by the member for Toronto—Danforth earlier today, both of which were wrong.
First, he said that my colleague, the member for Kings—Hants, said he was opposed to any increase in the size of the CPP. In fact he told me that he was in favour of a gradual increase, which is the same as what I said and the same as what the Liberal platform said in 2011.
Second, he said that the NDP plan was not to double the CPP, at which point I said, “Okay, then we are not so far apart.” However, I subsequently learned that the NDP platform of 2011 said the following:
We will work with the provinces to bring about increases to your Canada/Quebec Pension Plan benefit, with the eventual goal to double the benefits you receive....
There we have it, right in the NDP platform, saying that the eventual goal is to double the benefits people receive. They do not mention premiums, but presumably those would double too.
Why did the hon. member say that it was not the plan to double the CPP when the NDP's own platform says that is the plan?
- MPlibMon 12:55 pm | Ontario, Markham—Unionville
Mr. Speaker, my question has to do with PRPPs. I do not understand why the hon. member is so keen on them, when The Globe and Mail, in an editorial, just yesterday, asked why we would have yet another voluntary plan, when only one in four Canadians puts one penny into an RRSP. Why would they put more into this? Second, it is a whole lot more costly than the supplementary CPP plan the Liberals have proposed.
If the Liberal plan for supplementary CPP is both a lot cheaper than PRPPs and will get a whole lot more participation through auto-enrolment, why is he favouring PRPPs as opposed to something that is evidently superior with respect to both cost and participation and that does not have any required increase in premiums?
- MPlibMon 10:35 am | Ontario, Markham—Unionville
Mr. Speaker, while we are a party of evidence, I cannot give a precise numerical answer. However, unlike in the Paul Martin period, when they were increasing premiums but not benefits, here they are increasing premiums and benefits. In that sense, the two things wash. When we take into account the investment and the jobs created thereby, that is another positive effect.
In terms of the member's more general point about the Conservative government not providing evidence, the most egregious case, in my mind, and the stupidest thing it has ever done, if not the most evil, was getting rid of the long form census. It affected people across the whole country, and not just politicians, provincial leaders, and municipal leaders but Tim Hortons and McDonald's, which are wanting to know where to set up their organizations. They were all incredibly hamstrung by the failure of the government to provide this basic document, which provides basic information about who we are as a country.
That failure speaks to the government's incredible inability or unwillingness to provide the evidence that so many Canadians want on every conceivable issue.
- MPlibMon 10:35 am | Ontario, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot
Mr. Speaker, I would like to carry on the conversation about the evidence. The evidence is not in front of us, so each and every person who votes on this motion, whether it is tonight or some other night, will be voting blindly. That is the way the government prefers us, a little like mushrooms, kept moist and in the dark.
This is a consistent pattern. When members, whether they are in the House or in committee, ask for real evidence on any matter, which now is on lapses, we and the PBO continue to be shut out.
I thought the hon. member's answer on the cost and the benefits was quite interesting. The other interesting point is that this money does not just disappear; it actually goes into investments. Investments generate jobs. I would be interested in the hon. member's thoughts on how much this investment would, in effect, create more jobs.
- MPlibMon 10:30 am | Ontario, Markham—Unionville
Mr. Speaker, if the member is saying that it is not the policy of the NDP to double the CPP, then perhaps the gap between our two parties is less than I thought it was.
We have traditionally said, and said in the last election, that the Liberal position was open to a moderate increase in the CPP. That is what I am quoting.
We are still a long way from the election. We have not had our policy convention. We have not presented our platform. We will be consulting Canadians more. However, as to the most recent Liberal position, that is our position and that is what I have been citing today. If the member wants to get a more definitive, up-to-date answer, I suggest that he stay tuned for our upcoming policy convention, which will take place in February.
Our leader has said many times that he does not believe in a top-down approach to policy. He believes in listening to grassroots members and listening to Canadians across the country, and that is how we develop our policy.
- MPlibMon 10:30 am | Ontario, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech. I know that he has thought a lot about this issue and has some expertise on it.
I listened to the minister from the Conservative Party prattle on at great length about how this proposal would be killing jobs and killing the fragile economic recovery and that people cannot afford to put money away for retirement, even though it is perfectly obvious that we have not only a demographic crisis but a pension crisis in this country.
I would be interested in the opinion of the hon. member as to whether there is a scintilla of evidence to support the Conservative minister's position on its impact on jobs.
- MPlibMon 10:10 am | Ontario, Markham—Unionville
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the NDP motion.
As I said before, the Liberal Party will be supporting this motion. We feel that the issue of whether pensions are adequate for Canadians now and whether they will be in the future is a huge challenge for Canadians and for the middle class in particular.
Everyone knows that our leader, the member for Papineau, is focusing on issues facing the middle class. Given that this is a huge challenge for the middle class, we are very supportive of the principle of this motion. We will vote in favour of it, although we do not completely agree with the NDP about the details.
I would like to begin my speech by explaining why this is a major challenge and what economic factors suggest that to be the case. Then, I want to talk about the policies of the NDP, the Conservatives and the Liberal Party. I would say that we take a centrist position, which falls in between the other two parties' extremes.
First, let us ask why the pension issue is such a huge challenge for Canadians in general and middle-class Canadians in particular. There are a number of reasons, and many of us have heard them before, so I can be relatively brief.
There was a recent CIBC study saying that the average 35-year-old today saves only half as much as that same 35-year-old would have saved a generation ago. That is fairly dramatic evidence of inadequate savings.
We know as well that only some 25% of Canadians who work in the private sector have access to workplace retirement savings plans. We know as well that the Canadian Institute of Actuaries did a study, and they reported that among middle-class Canadians earning $30,000 to $100,000 who planned to retire within 10 years, only one-third of all of those millions of people will have retirement income sufficient to meet basic needs.
Finally, I will mention a report by CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. CARP surveyed its members to ask whether they felt that they would be comfortable in their retirement. In 2009, 30% of the respondents said they would feel comfortable. That is not a huge number, but 30% said yes.
Over the four years following, from 2009 to 2013, that number fell from 30% to 14%. Only 14% of CARP members today feel that they will be comfortable in their retirement years. Notice that the drop from 30% to 14% occurred during the period when the Conservatives were promoting their pooled retirement pension plan. It also came at a time of economic crisis in this country.
The pension challenge is compounded by record low interest rates, which we have had for many years and which some think will continue into the future. It is compounded by the aging population, by the fact that Canadians are living longer, and for other reasons. The pension issue is more important and more challenging today than it has been in the past, and it is evident from what I am saying that I do not think the Conservatives are providing any answers to this pressing problem.
The Liberal position is that we regard this as a major challenge. Our position is to take what I would call strong but sensible action to address the pension issue. I want to address very briefly what we would do, but I want to have a little bit of a caveat. That is because we have our party policy convention in a couple of months, so what I am about to say is not necessarily the final word. Going forward we will have consultations with Canadians at our convention, but what I am outlining now has been the Liberal position for some time, and as of today it remains so.
First, we will certainly not agree to increase the age for old age security from 65 to 67, and there is no doubt in my mind that position will not change. Second, traditionally we have supported a moderate increase in the regular Canada pension plan, not unlike what is being discussed now by premiers and what has just been rejected by the federal government. Third, we have been on record as supporting a supplementary voluntary Canada pension plan, but subject to what is called “auto-enrolment”, which would supplement the existing Canada pension plan.
I will come back to those positions in more detail, but in broad strokes that is the Liberal position. Let me begin by comparing it with the positions of the NDP and the Conservatives.
The contrast between the New Democrats and the Liberals reminds me a bit of a topic familiar to those in the House. That is the situation involving Senator Gerstein and Senator Mike Duffy. Those two senators turned out to be in agreement with each other on principle, but they differed on the quantum. By that I mean that they both agreed that it was okay to use Conservative Party funds, part of which were paid for by taxpayers, to make Senator Duffy whole. That was okay in principle, but they disagreed on the quantum. For Senator Gerstein, $30,000 was his upper limit, whereas Senator Duffy wanted $90,000 and that is where they disagreed.
The issue we are talking about today is certainly legal and it is perhaps even noble; that is to say it has nothing to do with the Senate but everything to do with the adequacy of Canadians' future pensions. It is fair to say that Liberals and New Democrats agree on the principle, but not necessarily the quantum. We agree that strong action must be taken, that we are facing a huge challenge, but we do not necessarily agree with the NDP proposition that we have to double the Canada pension plan.
We know that originally comes from the Canadian Labour Congress. We are respectful of that idea and we have had discussions with them. However, we think that doubling may be excessive in terms of quantum from the point of view that we know ordinary Canadians are hard-pressed. If they are so hard-pressed with record debt, can they really afford to double their CPP premiums? Second, for companies we know that the job situation is pressing. Can we really afford to ask those companies to pay radically higher premiums?
That is a question of quantum not a question of principle, but we have differences with the NDP on that issue of quantity, if not on issues of principle.
However, where we really differ is with the Conservatives because essentially their policy is to be missing in action on pensions, or if one wants to be charitable, it is a policy of benign neglect. The reason I say I am being charitable is that I am not sure if the word “benign” is appropriate, but certainly “neglect” is appropriate. The position of the Conservatives is well summarized in an editorial in The Globe and Mail that appeared yesterday evening, of which I will read part:
Ottawa’s move last week to flatly reject a provincial pitch to expand the Canada Pension Plan is an unfortunate decision. The federal government is still choosing to back a far less effective retirement savings program.
The Globe and Mail goes on to say:
...PEI Finance Minister Wes Sheridan said last week that the...government could have at the very least countered with a more modest reform as a compromise. Ottawa’s blanket rejection suggests that it never had any serious intention to back the idea.
That is 100% right. I believe that the Minister of Finance is on record as being willing to countenance a moderate increase in CPP pensions, but he was overruled by his boss, the Prime Minister, who as of today, I believe, is still the boss. The Prime Minister is on record over many years as not only opposing CPP moderate hikes today, but opposing the CPP in general.
In one statement, he said that the CPP is a “fictitious obligation that the government can change down the road”. In a second comment, he talked about Mr. Martin's exercise to reform the CPP as “bogus”, to the extent that the investment board fails to function like a private-sector fund manager, it will be inefficient, increasing the likelihood of further CPP premium increases.
Then the Prime Minister stated, “But if [the CPP] succeeds in operating 'just like the private sector'...then there's no real reason for government to run it at all.” In other words, he does not like the Canada pension plan, so I believe that as long as he is the Prime Minister of this country, no time will be the right time for any infinitesimal increase in CPP premiums and benefits. That is precisely the point, which The Globe and Mail attacked yesterday.
The Globe and Mail and others have also attacked the pooled registered pension plans as being entirely inadequate to the job. Let me again quote from The Globe and Mail:
Canada’s experience with RRSPs illustrates why another voluntary savings program is not as appealing an option as an expanded CPP. RRSPs have long provided a tax-effective way to save for retirement, yet three out of four eligible tax filers did not contribute one cent into their RRSPs in 2010. Canadians are already sitting on $633-billion of unused RRSP contribution room, and that figure keeps climbing.
That was in The Globe and Mail. The PRPP is essentially a glorified group RRSP. With only one in four Canadians availing themselves of RRSPs, why do the Conservatives think the take-up will be significant for their new plan?
A second problem is that it is costly. The CPP cost is far lower than the private sector cost and one of Canada's leading pension experts, Keith Ambachtsheer, has done an analysis in which he shows that relatively small differences in the management costs can have enormous differences in the long-run value of the pension, differences on the order of 20% to 40% of the pension. Therefore, one other advantage of the CPP or the supplementary CPP over the government's proposal is cost and that difference in cost can have a major impact on the long-run values of the pensions of middle-class Canadians. I have said in the past, let a thousand flowers bloom, let the private sector offer what it wants, let the supplementary CPP be offered, let Canadians choose, and out of that choice will come the best solution for Canadians.
Another piece of evidence that the government's plan is not working is that there has been very little take up by the provinces. I believe that three provinces have passed the legislation. Only one, Quebec, has so far implemented it, and provinces such as P.E.I. and Ontario would not be proceeding with planned reforms to the CPP if they truly believed that the Conservative government's solutions were adequate.
As I said, if we put all that together, Liberals believe that the government is totally missing in action on the pension issue, or if one wants to be more charitable, this has been a policy of benign neglect by the Conservatives. We believe that the Liberal plan, based on the three points I have mentioned, is the centrist position. These are active but sensible measures to address the pension issue, not the benign neglect of the Conservatives and not the more radical proposals of the NDP.
In my remaining time, I would like to outline very briefly the essence of the Liberal plan. There are three parts. One, as I have mentioned already, we would not—I repeat, not—raise the OAS age from 65 to 70. Actuaries have assured us that the plan is perfectly sustainable the way it is and the way in which the Conservatives are proposing to act would really hit the most vulnerable Canadians, particularly those who have been subject to hard physical work and are unable to work beyond 65. They would lose their OAS and GIS and be thrown onto provincial welfare. This is a totally unacceptable solution for this country.
Second, we want a combination of a moderate increase in the Canada pension plan, the regular plan, and a supplementary plan. We in the Liberal Party have long been proud of the Canada pension plan. It was brought into existence by Lester Pearson. It was radically strengthened by Paul Martin in the 1990s, to the point where it is now recognized as being solvent for 50 years, 75 years. It is one of the few national pension plans in the western world or even the whole world, that is solvent to such a degree. We can be proud of that, but needs have changed so we have to move on.
The needs of 2013 are not the same as they were in the mid-1960s. We have to expand some combination of the regular CPP and the supplementary CPP. We believe that for reasons of cost. CPP is very low cost. As I said earlier, that has a major impact on the value of Canadians' pensions because of the power of compound interest over time, and the supplementary CPP.
I want to talk about the supplementary CPP because it came under attack before the last election by the Conservatives who kind of made stuff up. Recently, a new plan that is being implemented in the United Kingdom called NEST provides further evidence and support to Liberal proposals.
First of all, Conservatives made up numbers saying that the cost of our supplementary plan would be high for various specious reasons, which we said were wrong. We now know, based on the actual implementation of a very similar plan in Britain, that the actual cost of the plan is 50 basis points per year, or half a percentage point, which is a small fraction of the typical private sector costs and which would result in a substantially higher pension than the Conservatives would be providing under their plan. That is now a fact. It is not subject to argument; it is a fact.
The second point that is really important is that I said negative things about voluntary plans and that evidence from RRSPs suggested only a relatively small fraction of people would participate. However, the British have what they call “automatic enrolment” so that employees are automatically enrolled in the British plan called NEST, but they have the option of opting out if they so desire. I suppose there is a certain inertia in human affairs. It turns out that this automatic enrolment has a major impact on participation to the point where so far in the U.K., over 90% of employees remain in the plan and choose to participate. Yes, it is voluntary, but with this auto enrolment, the participation rate is very high.
To conclude, we will support the NDP motion. However, as far as the details are concerned, we feel that pensions are a huge challenge. The government is basically doing nothing, while the NDP is perhaps doing too much by wanting to double the pension plan. We are taking the middle road. Our plan consists of a number of elements. First, the age of eligibility for old age security benefits will remain at 65, not 67. Second, we will expand the Canada pension plan, both the regular plan and the supplementary one.
We think that this strong but sensible approach to addressing the pension challenge is the right way to go. Since the NDP is in principle on the same page, we in the Liberal Party are happy to support the motion.
- MPlibMon 10:00 am | Ontario, Markham—Unionville
Mr. Speaker, I notice the minister did not answer the last question. Maybe I will have better luck.
There was an article in The Globe and Mail this morning in which the minister is said to have promised that he would provide the details of an analysis that his department did in order to talk about the alleged loss of jobs from CPP premium increases. However, according to the article,
The department did not provide its full analysis. Instead, it provided a six-paragraph statement that the department has done modelling “using a range of assumptions and models” to assess the impact of higher CPP premiums.
That is no answer. Anyone can dream up any number. If we do not have the analysis backing it, how do we know what is true and what is not true?
My question for the minister is whether he will provide solid analysis, not just a few short paragraphs, to back up his claims.
Also, I would wonder why he is talking about the impact of a doubling of the CPP. I know the NDP has talked about that, but that is not what is on the table. That is not the provincial motion that the government rejected. Why is he scaremongering by talking about proposals that are not even on the table?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 1:50 pm | British Columbia, Party: Québec solidaire
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question, but I would be presuming as to what I think is going on across the way.
I can only say that it is very strange that the Conservative Party would miss six slots in which they could speak to the issue, lay down the track, talk about what they need to talk about, and rebut some of the things being said here on what the RCMP has obtained from the emails. I don't understand why. The only reason I could think of is that they were told not to speak, that they were muzzled.
The only person who gave any kind of speech in the House was the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary, who obviously knows who gave him the appointment and what he is doing, and he follows the script.
It is really quite sad, because I know a lot of the members across the way and I have a lot of respect for some of them. I thought that they would want to clear the air. I thought that they would want to stand up and speak to this issue.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 1:45 pm | British Columbia, Party: Québec solidaire
Mr. Speaker, I would be delighted to comment on that point.
It really surprises me that the NDP does not seem to care about what went on in the Prime Minister's Office. The NDP members are not the slightest bit interested. Rather, they hype on about this ideological idea that the Senate must go.
The Liberals did not vote for the bill to abolish the Senate because we understand the rule of law. We adhere to the rule of law in this House. It is a constitutional requirement. That question is before the Supreme Court of Canada, and when the Supreme Court of Canada answers the questions, the Liberals will then make a decision based on what the rule of law tells us.
This idea that the NDP can cast aside the rule of law and cast aside process is somewhat intriguing, but I still want an answer to this question: does the NDP not care about what went on in the Prime Minister's Office?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 1:25 pm | British Columbia, Party: Québec solidaire
Mr. Speaker, I guess one has to go over this and explain it very slowly, over and over, before the penny drops across the way with the Conservative caucus.
This Liberal motion has followed the thread of the RCMP investigation, the timelines of that investigation, with emails and affidavits that show that on February 21, 2013, the Prime Minister asked Senator Duffy to repay his expenses. Nobody has a problem with that. Everyone thinks that is fair. That is what the Prime Minister should have asked him and that is what he should have done.
Then the very next day, February 22, the Prime Minister's chief of staff wanted to speak to the Prime Minister before everything was considered final, and he did. He got confirmation from the Prime Minister's Office, according to the RCMP affidavits, that in fact things were good to go once the PM had got confirmation from the lawyers, Benjamin Perrin and Janice Payne. This is an important piece of the thread that we need to talk about.
The PM was aware that his lawyers were looking at this, that there was something going on and discussions were obviously going on between Mr. Duffy to repay his expenses.
Suddenly the amount for Senator Duffy's expenses was larger than everybody thought and then the tactic changed and it was suddenly an arrangement between Nigel Wright and Senator Duffy, when Mr. Wright paid it out of his own personal expenses.
After the $90,000, which was paid by Nigel Wright, it was found, again, according to the RCMP affidavits, that the PMO was engaged in what should be called, and what it calls it, obstruction of the Deloitte audit and the whitewash of the Senate report.
We have two other things in which the Prime Minister's Office seemed to be involved. The question is that the RCMP, looking at these emails and affidavits, concluded that it believed, according to that thread of information, that there was a violation of sections 119, 121 and 122 of the Criminal Code.
This is clear. This is not made up. This is fact. These are affidavits. The questions we are asking, and a lot of people on this of the House are asking, is this. Did the Prime Minister know about this? Is he fully aware? Some of the emails say that up to a particular point, when it comes to whether his lawyers were okay about it, that he seemed to have known and then suddenly the communication stopped. Nobody decided to talk to the Prime Minister after that. Everything just disappeared.
This is really unbelievable. It is illogical, to say the least. I am not a lawyer. It seems to me suddenly strange that the Prime Minister had his lawyers involved and then, kaboom, nobody wanted to talk to the Prime Minister after this. He did not know what was going on. He was absolutely deaf and could not hear or people kept him out of the loop. This is the question we are asking. These things do not make sense, and we want to make sense of them.
If they are simple, if they are explicable, if the Prime Minister can say this is true, why does everybody just say they have a great explanation for why the Prime Minister suddenly, after his lawyers were involved and he said “good to go”, he was shut out of everything.
There should be an explanation. If the Prime Minister is clear about all this, he could stand and say that he could explain it all. However, we are not getting these explanations. We are getting the same kind of pieces of talking points that go on and on which actually do not even answer the questions, but continue to slander everybody else in the House about what they did, whether their mother wore combat boots and whether they were in a pub one night, things that have absolutely nothing to do with the questions.
What is a person supposed to believe? It is obvious that Canadians are asking these same questions, because only two out of ten Canadians are reported as believing the Prime Minister. People are saying, “Oh, come on. We weren't born yesterday. Why can the Prime Minister not answer the questions if they are so easy to answer?”
These again are some of the things that are concerning some of us. Why can he not just answer the question, if it is clear and if the answers are reasonable and fair? Here is another thing. Why did the Prime Minister's Office intervene in the Senate? We not only heard that it intervened in terms of whitewashing a report, we also found out that people from the Prime Minister's Office were in the room when the two co-chairs of the Senate were discussing the report. It is unbelievable that the House of Commons would be there in the room discussing a Senate report with the chairs of the Senate. This House is not supposed to interfere in that place over there.
Here we go, we find this interference going on. Then again we find out that there was a question and an email flow that told us that people were asking Senator Gerstein to try to intervene in the Deloitte report so that it could be modified, moderated, whatever they want to call it. I am trying to be kind here with my language and trying not to be obnoxious with it. I am just saying “moderated” or “modified”.
However, this also is tampering. This is interfering. These are the things that we want to know.
Was there something that people wanted to hide? Why did they want to tamper with the Deloitte report? Did they want to hide something? Why did they tamper with the Senate chairs' report? When the Senate met, the committee had a report. The chairs do not usually tamper with committee reports. There would be heck to pay if our chairs tampered with our committee reports here in the House. Why would that happen there? We have to conclude there is something to hide, that there is something that is irregular and therefore people do not want it to come out.
Those are some of the questions that we are asking in the House. They are simple questions. They should give us simple answers, if everything is above board.
The Prime Minister says he did not know, and everyone in the House has said that is unbelievable, for a Prime Minister who controls every word that comes out of the mouths of his ministers, his parliamentary secretaries and his backbenchers.
We are not making this up. Backbenchers who have walked away from the Conservative Party have subsequently said that they had been muzzled, that they did not like the fact that they were being told what to say, especially some of them who came from the old Reform Party and remain there, who felt that they ran on openness and all the accountability that Preston Manning believed in. They felt in some ways that this did not sit well with them, so some of them left. Some of them refused to run again and they said why. Some of them have left and are now sitting in the House as independent members. As members heard today, they still hold a Conservative card, believe in Conservative values and want to be Conservatives. They just do not like what the Prime Minister's Office is doing, how it has muzzled them and kept everybody quiet, and how the talking points must be exactly as they are told.
This is why I must conclude, in all my innocence, that the only reason we are getting anyone answering questions or anyone standing up and saying anything in the House is that it is the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary, who has been here with his little script. He repeats his script every day and adds to it some insults for everyone else in the House, to change the channel and deflect.
The question here is simply this. Did the Prime Minister know? Most of us around here find it very difficult to understand or to believe that this Prime Minister did not know what was going on, and that suddenly doors slammed shut and communications ended on February 22 when his lawyers became involved and all of that, and he wanted to talk with his lawyers. Suddenly everything went blank or whatever happened. Whether the Prime Minister went to sleep like Rip Van Winkle and only woke up in May when this whole thing broke loose, I do not know. However, we find it hard to believe that the Prime Minister did not know.
The Prime Minister also stood in the House when he was the leader of an opposition party and asked the former prime minister a very simple question. He said that it was unconscionable, and if the former prime minister didn't know, it was incompetent. I apply that same question across the way. Did the Prime Minister know? If he did know, indeed it has to be unconscionable, according to his own words and to his own moral compass. If he did not know then it is incompetence. What CEO of any company would have his top executives, 12 of them in this case, and his right-hand man in this case, especially since he knew about it on February 22 when his lawyers were involved, carry on under his nose and know absolutely nothing about it, and tell us that he absolutely did not know?
If he did not know what was going on under his nose, then he was incompetent. In CEO-speak in most corporations in our country that would mean he would have to take responsibility for whatever the consequences were of his incompetence.
I want to remind everyone of what the Prime Minister said on page 28 of his “Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State”.
Ministers and Ministers of State are personally responsible for the conduct and operation of their offices and the exempt staff in their employ.
Therefore, whether the Prime Minister knew or did not know, he is personally responsible. He has to take the heat for whatever went on. He said so on page 28 of his own memo to ministers and ministers of state. This is his ethical code, so why is he not taking responsibility? Why is he blaming everyone else? I am not making this up. This comes out of the Prime Minister's mouth. Is the Prime Minister going to stand by his own words or is he going to try to weasel out of them somehow, and say, “I saw no evil, I heard no evil and I therefore speak no evil because it's all not about me at all”?
This is incompetence from any CEO, in a small company, a big company or an international corporation. This is clear incompetence. These are some of the questions that we are asking.
What we are asking is for the Prime Minister to be fair to all Canadians, be open and transparent. That is what his party ran on, saying that was what it was going to bring to what it considered a House full of duplicity, et cetera. The Conservatives were coming in. They were going to form government and be open and transparent and accountable.
If I had about an hour I might go down the list of all the times that the Conservatives were not open and not transparent and not accountable, starting with budgets and with the Parliamentary Budget Officer having to take the government to court, or the Privacy Commissioner having to ask them to divulge information. We have seen this. I do not have to go down the list. This is now history, this pattern of behaviour. The modus operandi of the government is to keep as much secrecy as it can.
I might add, it is a pity it cannot keep secrecy for Canadians. When Canadians have medical information and such, it seems to be able to throw that one out, but it sure knows how to keep its little backroom deals secret. I just thought I would throw that in for good measure.
We are asking the Prime Minister to, under oath, stand up and tell Canadians what Mr. Wright, or any member of his staff or other Conservative, told him at any time about the whole Duffy affair and his expenses and what happened. What did they tell him about interference with the Senate report? What did they tell him about trying to water down the Deloitte report, or whatever happened when they talked to the Deloitte people? What did he know about that? When did he know about it? He said he did not know anything about it.
We have this whole confusion from everyone around who says they do not believe him. Two out of 10 Canadians are the only ones who believe him. About 80% of Canadians do not seem to believe what he is saying. This is purely because of this man's behaviour, the fact that he has been very controlling and suddenly, on February 22, he said he was good to go provided his lawyers who were involved were okay with it. Then suddenly everything ended. It was like a chasm opened and the Prime Minister fell into it. There was nothing, a void.
This is just unbelievable. I like watching Twilight Zone with the best of them, but this is just completely and totally unbelievable in terms of this issue.
We have no questions being answered here. No one is standing up to defend the Prime Minister in the House. There are no backbenchers standing up to do that. Why not? I would hope that if they felt this was unjust they would. We are talking about defending the Prime Minister not lobbing grenades over to this side of the House. We are talking about actually defending the Prime Minister and saying, “No, we believe the Prime Minister did this”. No one is doing that. No one is standing up here to defend him, except of course the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.
We have a couple of questions to ask. These questions are very simple. Let us go back, the Prime Minister continues to say that the senators are bad, the senators are all wrong, the Senate is horrible and the Senate is a bad place, but this Prime Minister embraced the Senate when he became Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister came here saying that he was going to reform it, but he did not because he was trying to reform it through the back door and not through Constitutional requirements. He could not get anywhere with that. Now, he embraced it wholeheartedly to the extent that the Prime Minister appointed two senators whom everyone knew, for the last 25 years, did not live in the provinces they were supposed to represent. Is that not going to create a problem? Suddenly these senators were going to have to find a primary residence in those places, and they did, indeed.
My colleague, the member for Malpeque, talked about how Prince Edward Islanders were absolutely embarrassed and appalled, and how the person who owned the house that Senator Duffy bought was ashamed and embarrassed that a picture of their little cottage was being seen all the time.
Somewhere at the beginning the rot began. The Prime Minister put people into the Senate to represent provinces that they had not lived in. Now they have to hurry and go find primary residences and make up stories about primary residences and bill according to primary residence. How did that happen? The Prime Minister obviously either did not know what he was doing when he did it, or he did know and he had a secondary reason for appointing these two senators. We all know what the reason was. These were the two biggest fundraisers for the Prime Minister. They went all over the place. They were celebrities. People flocked to listen to them, blah, blah, blah. We know all of that. That is common knowledge.
Here is a Prime Minister who took advantage of the situation for his own gain and his party's gain. Now all of a sudden, he did not know how all this happened. He could not understand why these wondrous people who did not live in their provinces in the first place could suddenly do such a thing. Again, it defies common sense, simple common sense, people do not have to be lawyers to understand. It defies common sense.
Why did this chain of communication end suddenly? Can someone on the backbench get up during questions and comments and answer why the door shut on communications after February 22, and left this big void. Then all of a sudden the Prime Minister found out, and it was oh, my gosh, shock and surprise, shock and awe, he did not know about it. Suddenly he found out about it and what a wonderful man like Nigel Wright had done, this good deed. The Prime Minister praised him to the skies, and then suddenly he stopped praising him to the skies and said he did not know and it was terrible.
These are some of the questions that we want to ask. The Prime Minister seemed to change his story. That is another thing. In question period, the Prime Minister, over a period of time, moving aside the RCMP affidavits and emails that seemed to implicate the Prime Minister, said he did not know yet, he could not understand how that could happen, when the emails tell a different story.
Suddenly the Prime Minister, as we say colloquially, threw everyone under the bus, including Mr. Wright, whom he had first said he reluctantly took his resignation. Then all of a sudden he had fired him. Then he went back to saying he reluctantly took his resignation. I do not know what to believe anymore. My head is spinning.
Why would the Prime Minister not agree to do this, to just openly report the truth to the citizens of this country? Why not? I do not understand the problem. I do not understand why he would not do this.
The other question I have to ask is this. If all of these people kept the truth from him, “deceived” him that way, why did he promote them to minister's offices? Why? Is this a patting on the back for a job well done? What is this? Is this a shut up and I will give you a better job? What is this? I do not know. We want answers. The motion is seeking to get those answers. I am hoping that the motion will pass, and everyone in the House believes that it is time to tell Canadians the truth.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 12:25 pm | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
Mr. Speaker, my colleague's logic is inescapable. This is a Prime Minister who we know takes an interest in everything going on in his government. I think it is difficult for most Canadians to imagine that he did not know what was going on in his office when there were as many as a dozen senior Conservatives, some in his office and some in the Senate, who knew about and were part of this. How could he not have known, given the way he has his hand into everything? If he did not know that surely indicates incompetence and if he did know it is unconscionable.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 12:25 pm | British Columbia, Party: Québec solidaire
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on an excellent presentation, but I want to ask him a question. My colleague from Malpeque earlier today quoted the Prime Minister as saying during the ad scam that if the prime minister knew about ad scam, it was unconscionable, and if he didn't know, it was incompetent.
I would like my colleague to comment on this aspect. The Prime Minister continues to say he did not know and that everyone around him was deceiving him. Is that incompetence? If he did know, is that unconscionable? It has to be one of the two, and I would like my colleague to answer.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 12:20 pm | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is a little off the topic we have today, although I can see the link that he is making to the topic. That is fine.
He talks about the fact that the Prime Minister, he feels, ordered this cover-up. Whether he ordered it or knew of it, it seems clear that he ought to have known about it, and most Canadians think he probably did know about it.
The member goes from there to our electoral system. That is a bit of a stretch from this topic. We have had a discussion about where we would go, and I am not one of those who favours what his preferred route is for proportional representation.
Yesterday I read an article that talked about the economic situation in France these days. It talked about the inability of government to move and said basically that the government was either in the hands of the far right or the far left, that both of those groups had far too much influence, as I think can happen with that system and the coalitions that result. The government's survival can depend upon a small group with an extreme point of view. The result is that it does not move forward in a way that represents what most people want.
The fact that we are having open nominations in our party will go a long way to making sure people can choose the candidates they want, and I am sure they will.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 12:15 pm | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
Mr. Speaker, I note that my hon. colleague from Peterborough is no longer a member of the Conservative caucus, yet he is certainly defending the Conservatives here today.
Why is he no longer a member of that caucus? It seems to me it is because he has been charged under the Elections Act. I believe strongly in the presumption of innocence, so we are going to presume that he is innocent, and I wish him well with whatever happens with those charges. However, he is no position to be attacking this party about transparency in the way that he has.
What we are really talking about here today is the record of the current government and the way it acted in this event, and that is important.
It is important, in fact, that if an individual is no longer a member of the Conservative caucus, he or she shares the responsibility of holding the government to account. I can recall lots of times when we were in government when Liberal backbenchers took part in that process, especially in committees, where they acted independently and insisted that the government be held to account and that it answer questions. I can recall as a minister being asked some tough questions from my own members, not just the lob-balls we see on the other side all the time.
These are things that my hon. colleague should reflect on.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 12:00 pm | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to this opposition day motion from my colleagues down the way.
I will review a bit, some of what is worth reviewing. It is important for people to understand what we are talking about, especially when there has been a pause for question period in the debate. The motions says:
That, given the recent sworn statements by RCMP Corporal Greg Horton, which revealed that: (i) on February 21, 2013, the Prime Minister’s Office had agreed that, with regard to Mike Duffy's controversial expenses, the Conservative Party of Canada would “keep him whole on the repayment”; (ii) on February 22, 2013, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff wanted to “speak to the PM before everything is considered final”; (iii) later on February 22, 2013, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff confirmed “We are good to go from the PM once Ben has his confirmation from Payne”; (iv) an agreement was reached between Benjamin Perrin and Janice Payne, counsels for the Prime Minister and Mike Duffy; (v) the amount to keep Mike Duffy whole was calculated to be higher than first determined, requiring a changed source of funds from Conservative Party funds to Nigel Wright’s personal funds, after which the arrangement proceeded and Duffy's expenses were re-paid; and (vi) subsequently, the Prime Minister's Office engaged in the obstruction of a Deloitte audit and a whitewash of a Senate report; the House condemn the deeply disappointing actions of the Prime Minister's Office in devising, organizing and participating in an arrangement that the RCMP believes violated sections 119, 121 and 122 of the Criminal Code of Canada...
It reminds the Prime Minister of his own code of conduct for ministers, which surely applies to him. It states on page 28 that “Ministers and Ministers of State are personally responsible for the conduct and operation of their offices and the exempt staff in their employ”.
The Prime Minister is a minister. He is one of the ministers to whom that rule ought to apply, so it is hard to understand how he could think he should not take responsibility for the actions of his own staff if it were the case that we were to believe he did not know what was going on, which is a little hard to believe in his case. Therefore, the cover-up continues.
The Prime Minister's Office fraud squad have really been the authors of a scheme whereby we have seen the bribing of a sitting senator and seen it swept under the rug until the truth leaked out by CTV's Robert Fife.
I see across from me the cowering Conservative caucus members. The silence from that side today has been deafening when only one of them stood to speak to the motion. It is a remarkable thing. Aside from vitriol from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, no one else on that side has deigned to make a speech on this all day long.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 10:45 am | Quebec, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for the best speech I have heard from him since he has been in the House. It was very well-informed and very precise.
He said at the beginning that in the Liberal motion, we asked the Prime Minister to testify under oath, and he made the point that we were under oath in the House. The problem is that we want to have answers under oath, and the Prime Minister is not giving any in the House, so we would like to find a way that the Prime Minister would be obligated to answer very specific questions. For example, who in his office knew about the deal with Mr. Duffy? Why are the people who knew still working with the Prime Minister?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 10:30 am | Prince Edward Island, Malpeque
Mr. Speaker, I certainly do, but only the Prime Minister can tell us for sure, and he is constantly spinning the issue himself, and those around him are trying to spin it as well.
My colleague from Guelph talked about the $32,000. It seemed okay from everything I see. The “good to go” really meant it was okay to spend $32,000 out of the Conservative fund, with the approval of the senator in the Senate. However, when they realized that it was more money than that, then it was not okay to go with the $90,000 that Nigel Wright paid privately. Both are the same principle.
Mr. Speaker, I ask you, when is a bribe a bribe? That is clearly what it was. It was a payoff, auditing of the Senate report, as a result. Now we have a massive cover-up by the whole of the Conservative Party. What we are seeing here today is not just the Prime Minister's Office anymore. It is the whole of the backbench along with it.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 10:25 am | Prince Edward Island, Malpeque
Mr. Speaker, as colleagues are saying here, that is the only line the member has.
I will say that in terms of anybody in the Prime Minister's Office, and in the previous government—
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 10:05 am | Prince Edward Island, Malpeque
Mr. Speaker, I might say at the beginning that I would not be too worried about the accusations from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, because he would not know the truth if it hit him in the eyes.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this opposition day motion. The key point of the motion is that:
...the House call upon the Prime Minister to explain in detail to Canadians, under oath, what Nigel Wright or any other member of his staff or any other Conservative told him at any time about any aspect of any possible arrangement pertaining to Mike Duffy, what he did about it, and when.
That is the context of the motion. That is the important part of the motion. What the opposition motion really does, I believe, is give the Prime Minister an opportunity to clear the record, if he has nothing to hide.
Comments expressed by his parliamentary secretary, however, lead me to believe that the government will continue the cover-up. It is interesting, as my colleague previously said, that in this debate, the only person who is allowed to speak on the government side is the parliamentary secretary himself.
There are a lot of good people on the backbench of the Conservative Party. There are. I have to ask them if they are under orders not to speak. Do they not care about the scandal in the Prime Minister's Office, this group that came to Ottawa on accountability and transparency? Are they fearful of standing in this place and asking the Prime Minister a question? In the Conservative government, have accountability and transparency just gone out the window in what is now clearly not just a cover-up in the Prime Minister's Office, but a cover-up by the whole Conservative Party of Canada and its entire backbench? They are all party to this cover-up in trying to protect the Prime Minister.
It must be difficult for backbench MPs who came to this place on a law and order, tough-on-crime agenda to swallow themselves whole. It really must be difficult. I sympathize with them that they came on here on a law and order agenda and now they are swallowing themselves whole.
Yes, there are laws, and they need to be abided by, but not by those in the Prime Minister's Office, that is for sure. Being tough on crime clearly only applies to others and not themselves when it comes to this particular government under the current Prime Minister's leadership.
If it is a youth from a broken family or a mentally ill person who has got in trouble and broken the law, everything we have seen in the Conservative government is punishment, punishment, punishment, and the harsher the better. The idea is to throw them in jail, practically, and throw away the key.
However, when it comes to government folks, some of their own, it is an entirely different story. In this case, looking at this issue in its simplest terms, it is bribery, fostered by the highest office in this land, the Prime Minister's Office, and that is okay. It is okay to the backbenchers over there. Influencing the buying privileges of senators and sanitizing a Senate report are okay. That bribery is not a crime to Conservative backbenchers, and they do not seem to want any answers.
Let us recall again what I said a moment ago about the Federal Accountability Act. The Conservative government may have had great intentions and it may have passed the Accountability Act, but it sure does not follow it. As far as transparency goes, every Canadian knows, except seemingly those on the backbench over here, that this is the most secretive government in Canadian history.
There are lots of areas where laws do not seem to matter to the Conservative Party. We have the in-and-out scandal, the robocalls, the Duffy-PMO scandal, and the list goes on.
I want to recall the words of this Conservative Prime Minister to a former prime minister and ask members in the governing party if these words apply to this Prime Minister . He said that if the Prime Minister knew about the scam, it was unconscionable, and if he did not, it was incompetence.
Does that statement not apply to this Prime Minister? That statement certainly does.
Let us imagine this: his chief of staff knew, but the Prime Minister did not. About a dozen people, his closest advisers, knew, but the Prime Minister did not. The head of the Conservative Fund knew, and was willing to pay the bribe as long as it was only $32,000. That is the head of the Conservative Fund, a senator appointed by this Prime Minister. He knew, but the Prime Minister did not.
An audit of Duffy was sanitized at the request of close advisers to the PMO, a circle of them, and with the full co-operation of the Prime Minister's leader in the Senate; a second senator, his former communications director; and a third loyal senator. This neat little trifecta of three closest loyal senators knew about the changing of evidence, fostered by a buyout, a bribe in the Senate, but the Prime Minister did not know.
Does that not really stretch reality? I certainly think so. Do Conservative members expect us to believe that the Prime Minister did not know? That is incredible.
Let me come back and re-quote that statement. It was that if the Prime Minister knew about the scam, it was unconscionable, and if he did not, it was incompetence.
I ask members on the government side, those who are sitting there with their lips zipped, which is it? It has to be one or the other.
Let us go back to the real reason the Senate scandal has landed on the Prime Minister's desk. The Prime Minister made the appointment in the first place, in violation of the residency requirements. Why did he do that?
When we think about it, we realize why. Many in the country, many of the legal and constitutional experts, believe what the Prime Minister did in the appointment of Wallin and Duffy was a violation of the Constitution. I certainly believe it was.
Senator Duffy is supposed to be my senator. He lives in my riding. However, he certainly does not represent Prince Edward Island; he represents the Prime Minister's voice in coming back to Prince Edward Island to tell them what they should do.
I have not heard Senator Duffy speak out on EI. I have not seen him in the coffee shops, talking to the people affected by employment insurance. He is a messenger for the Prime Minister in Prince Edward Island. That is not the way it is supposed to be, which is the other way around.
On this issue, as on other issues, the Prime Minister clearly just did not care. He just did not care about violating the Constitution of this country that we in this Parliament are supposed to represent. I can say to all those quiet backbenchers over there who were sent here with an obligation to represent the country that when the Constitution is being violated, they obviously do not care either. They stand and they cheer on the issue as the Prime Minister defends himself in an unconscionable cover-up.
What was the real objective of having two high-profile media types appointed to the Senate? A government member can correct me if I am wrong, but I think it was to have those senators, because they were well known in the media, go out and spin the message. Recall, they were the two key fundraisers within the Conservative Party for awhile. I believe they co-chaired the last Conservative convention before the one just about a month ago. I believe that a year or two ago they co-chaired that convention. They were the high and mighty, but now the Prime Minister is throwing them under the bus to try to cover up his own involvement in terms of the bribery of the Senate and the auditing of a report.
I vividly remember watching the program, and I can recall Senator Duffy sitting on his little stool in the media-type atmosphere, interviewing the Prime Minister, looking him in the eye and asking him tough questions with only invited guests in the audience, all the Conservative lawyers. The whole idea behind the thing was to make it look on TV like this was the Mike Duffy of old asking a Prime Minister tough questions. Really what it was all about was spin, trying to manipulate and manoeuvre Canadians into believing the Prime Minister's message. That is what it was all about. It was spin, and nothing else. That is one of the reasons the Prime Minister appointed Mike Duffy. The Prime Minister violated the Constitution in terms of the residential requirements to appoint these two media-profile people to go out there and really, in effect, abuse the trust of Canadians by providing spin for the Conservative message and the Conservative song.
When these folks were appointed, can members picture the gaggle of advisers, the hangers-on around the Prime Minister's Office as to whom they should appoint and how they should do it? The Prime Minister was probably advised that it could be a violation of the Constitution. However, the Prime Minister probably said not to worry about it, that he did not care about the Constitution and that they needed these people for a purpose, to sell the Conservative message on what the Conservative government was doing, in everything from its cutbacks on services to Canadians to its attack on seasonal workers to whatever we can name, to provide the spin to try to massage the message. Therefore, the Prime Minister went with the appointment.
I would even go a little further. Maybe the parliamentary secretary can tell me if this actually happened. He was not parliamentary secretary then, but he might have been in the meeting. Can members imagine that first meeting of the Prime Minister with Senators Duffy and Wallin? As I said, the parliamentary secretary can tell me if I am right or wrong, but I expect this is what was said: “Pam, Mike, go out there and sell the message. Do the fundraising for the Conservative Party and bill the Senate”. Was that what was said? “Bill the Senate and do it at the taxpayers' expense”.
I know Mike Duffy well. I have known him for years. He is a visitor to the province from time to time. He has a fictional residence in Green Gables, so I know him well. He took his orders well. I will not get into the wording of what Senator Duffy said in the Senate on this issue. He thought he had permission to bill the Senate. He maybe never looked at the rules, but I expect he was told by the Prime Minister to just bill the Senate and everything would be fine. Now we know it was not fine.
Really, only the Prime Minister can tell us if that is what actually happened to get these senators in this kind of trouble. I would think the Prime Minister and his minions on the other side would see this as an opportunity. For the Prime Minister , if he has nothing to hide, it is an opportunity to come forward and clear the record. I think that would be a good thing.
As a member of Parliament from Prince Edward Island, this entire scandal concerning Senator Duffy, the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office has been one that has had a direct impact on residents in my province. It really bothers me when I read in the press or I see in the nightly news, night after night, Prince Edward Island Senator Mike Duffy, then the scandal, then the expenses and all that kind of stuff. Prince Edward Islanders are so embarrassed. I have had people call me from Vancouver asking what is wrong with Prince Edward Islanders. They did not realize that, from our point of view as Islanders, Mike Duffy is not our senator. He is the Prime Minister 's senator.
It is a real problem. As I said, this is the Prime Minister's senator, not Prince Edward Island's.
As for the previous owner of that cottage, seeing the cottage on the news nightly with this kind of scandal, for which the Prime Minister has to accept responsibility, it brought the daughter of the previous owner near to tears in talking to me. She said if her dad saw that cottage held in the light that it was on the nightly news, he would be very saddened. That is as a result of the Prime Minister appointing a senator who is not actually a resident of Prince Edward Island and then abusing that privilege and that trust.
Let me sum up and close by rereading what we are really asking for, and that is that:
...the House call upon the Prime Minister to explain in detail to Canadians, under oath, what Nigel Wright or any other member of his staff or any other Conservative told him at any time about any aspect of any possible arrangement pertaining to Mike Duffy, what he did about it, and when.
I see it as an opportunity to come forward and come clean, to stop the cover-up, to explain to us how a dozen people in his office knew and he did not, how his chief of staff knew and he did not, how senators down the hall knew about the whitewashing of the Senate report and he did not.
Either it is a scam that he knew about or it is absolute incompetence. However, he is the Prime Minister of this country and he does have to accept responsibility for decisions made in his office. That used to be the tradition in this place, and the Prime Minister should accept that responsibility and abide by the motion. I expect the Conservative backbenchers should like to see him have that opportunity, where we could have accountability in this place and those backbenchers could support it, the way they did when they talked about it in the last election. That would be quite a change.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 10:00 am | Quebec, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Mr. Speaker, why are the Conservatives unable to answer any questions about what happened in the Duffy-Wright-Prime Minister saga? Why are they avoiding any question on it and speaking about everything else?
Why is there only one member of the Conservative Party who is willing to speak on that today? Are they in a position where they cannot say anything positive about what the Prime Minister did in this affair? Is it that they do not want to discover the truth? Do they not think it is a responsibility to help Canadians discover the truth? Do they think it is their responsibility to hide the truth? These are the questions I ask of my colleague after his very excellent speech.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 10:00 am | British Columbia, Party: Québec solidaire
I did not break the rules. Read the ruling.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 9:55 am | British Columbia, Party: Québec solidaire
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on an excellent speech. I want to ask him a particular question.
I have noticed, and he has noted, that the Conservatives have now had three slots in which to put forward a speaker. They have not. The only person who seems to stand up to speak or to ask questions or to do anything at all is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.
It is interesting. The only reason people are so tightly scripted and secretive about everything they are going to do is that they are afraid that someone will make a mistake. Does the hon. member think that is so?
Second, the Prime Minister's Office actually gave to many of its ministers a guide, which, on page 28, said:
Ministers and Ministers of State are personally responsible for the conduct and operation of their offices and the exempt staff in their employ.
The Prime Minister has said that, what, 15 of his staff had deceived him. Should he not be responsible for this? Should the buck not stop with him?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 9:35 am | Newfoundland, Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor
Mr. Speaker, sunlight is the best disinfectant out there. I credit the member for the things she did earlier, the same thing we did, on proactive disclosure and that sort of thing which is buried meteorologically.
Again, I am not a real meteorologist but I played one on television.
The mauzy conditions due to the weather of Newfoundland and Labrador always cleared up to be sunny due to one thing: the passage of time. With the passage of time, we, too, will get better answers, or at least we hope to, which is what this debate is all about.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 9:30 am | Newfoundland, Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor
Mr. Speaker, I have to rise to that occasion and see how this goes. There is a word in the Newfoundland dictionary called mauzy, M-A-U-Z-Y. It describes a weather phenomenon. I used to be a TV weatherman so I kind of know what I am talking about.
Anyway, mauzy usually occurs in the morning. It is like a thick grey fog with a bit of rain in the air so it is very obscured and very hard to see. Visibility is reduced dramatically. What I am getting at is that within the Prime Minister's Office it is very mauzy. The visibility has been reduced dramatically. We cannot see a hand in front of our eyes. That is the word mauzy. It is a bit rainy and a bit wet. It is very uncomfortable in the PMO. Therefore, to say that the greyness that surrounds the PMO is mauzy is an understatement.
I enjoy what the member said. I also appreciate the fact that there are so many contradictions involved here.
Let us take a look at Mr. Hamilton, another lawyer. The PM has defended the actions of his party and its lawyer. If he has no problem with what Hamilton has done, he should have no problem testifying before a court where real answers can be given rather than 15-second talking points. That is pretty mauzy as well, if we think about it. There is a greyness around that area. There are so many lawyers involved here who are doing what are considered substandard ethical things, one gets a little awry upstairs. We start to understand exactly what is going on.
There is the mauzy that takes place within the PMO. I want to thank my colleague for bringing that up. Any more words? I am kind of running out of a dictionary.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 9:25 am | Newfoundland, Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor
Mr. Speaker, the member wanted proof of the leader of the Liberal Party doing his job and asking about this. We offered to table it earlier but he said no. Therefore, I am not sure what he wants.
I will say this. At the beginning, the member said “elevate the debate” and I used a term with the word “fraud” in it. My apologies. He is absolutely right. Sometimes what can happen in the course of debate is that we get carried away. However, we have to be a measure above what people expect so that we can say that it is probably not the right terminology to use. If the member was offended, I apologize.
What he did talk about was the lone person involved in that situation, in that office. The recent documents that were tabled were talking about what the RCMP discovered. How can we look at this now and say that only one person was involved? That is just not possible. It is to the extent now where I am flabbergasted to think that somebody was the lone individual in all of this, the fall guy. Nigel Wright started out as the saviour of the Conservative Party. Now he is the biggest sleveen we know within this area.
Does the member who asked the question still believe there is only one person involved in all of this despite all of the evidence we have?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 9:20 am | Newfoundland, Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor
Sure, let us use Mexico. It is the same sort of difference; the person dealt with is gone. That is how malfeasance works, but that is admitted to.
To my hon. colleague who intends to interrupt my speech, I did not mean to interrupt her interruptions of my speech. I apologize.
However, that was the case. The light was shone on that and actions were taken. For this one, where is the spotlight?
Here we have a situation where it is not just one person anymore, it is several. The story unravels, the details come out and the documents come out. Let us just have a look at it for what it is. It is people behaving badly. People not behaving in the way in which Canadians expect them to behave.
I would leave with this thought. In 2006 I was in government. The Conservative candidate at the time put a flyer in the mail to every person in my riding. They said the worst thing one can do is not keep promises. Well, that is a good point.
However, here is a worse one. Since then we have seen this many times by the government. Not only did the Conservatives break the promise they made, but they continue to try to convince Canadians that they kept it when they know that they did not. When will the Conservatives practice what they used to preach?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 9:05 am | Newfoundland, Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate being recognized in the House today in support of this Liberal motion.
I would like to, at this point, start my speech by talking about the narrative that is talked about not only here but when it comes to public discourse, public discussions. I speak of politics, of course, but I speak about politics in the general sense of what we do here, which is to enable the discussion to be centred right here, at this focal point, because this is what Canadians are talking about.
A lot of people would say the issue we are debating today is not germane to everyday goings-on, the machinations of how we live and how we operate as a society. The economy, yes, jobs, yes, as we have talked about, and crime are all important products of this place.
However, I will say this. We also compel our politicians to strive to be the utmost in ethical behaviour.
We have heard it. Many people in this House have either been accused or have been brought to a court and found guilty over the years. Many have admitted their guilt. Many of them have been found guilty. Some of them have been found innocent of all accusations.
However, this is the type of discourse we have here. This is the type of conversation we need to have to get to the bottom of the matter as to what behaviour took place in the office, funded by taxpayers, the office we put trust in every four years, via a ballot box, being the democracy that we are—the greatest democracy, I might add, in the whole world.
Let me go back to the narrative. The narrative of the story is that we expect public officials to strive to be the most ethical individuals and, also, to be the caretakers of our finances, of our taxes, to exercise authority in this office to ensure they are doing it at the utmost level of the ethical standards and, of course, to do it as any reasonable person in this country would expect them to.
Let me go back. Let me flash back for a just moment to when I first arrived here in the House of Commons. It was 2004 when I arrived here in the fall, for the first time. I sat on the other side of the House, in the Liberal Party, which was government at the time.
What I faced was an absolute barrage of angst, hatred and accusations, some true, some not, but the hatred and the vitriol that was in this House was palpable and was incredibly thick.
Flash forward a few years and we found ourselves overturned in an election. We then, at that time, sat in the opposition.
I heard it on the doorstep during that 2004 period, but a lot of this vitriol and a lot of this hatred was put forward by the opposition parties of the day, including, I might add, the current government. Many of those people are in this House today.
However, a lot of the people who are in this House today, I would even say the majority of the people in the government in this House today, were not here at that time.
I hear the argument, every time we lay out what has happened and we say to Canadians and we say in this House, in public discourse, “Look. Here is the situation that happened within the Prime Minister's Office. It is something that is substandard. It is something that does not measure up to the ethical expectations of this country”, and we get back, “Well, the Liberals did this back then” and “But back then, you did this”, without answering the question.
My response to this is always that if the government can only say to us what was done in the past, as opposed to what we are dealing with in the present, then it proves that the government has become everything it said it would not be.
There we have it, the narrative that goes from then to now.
The problem with many politicians today, sometimes me included, is that we need to own up to what was done wrong. We need to tell ourselves that there has to be a time when we reflect upon what we say, what we do and the actions we take, and ask if they are up to the standard of what a reasonable taxpayer and citizen of this country would expect. I would say that in many cases we do not and turn a blind eye.
What bothers me the most is that when we turn the blind eye by avoiding the topic and talking about something else, we have to make one base assumption, which is that the citizens watching this today did not notice or that the citizens watching today do not care enough to listen to the specific questions. What a sad mistake that is when we campaign, do television commercials, tweet the nasty stuff and simply say, “If you think what we did is bad, look at what you did”, and the argument goes back and forth—to use the vernacular, “I know you are, but what am I”, as said by many four and five year olds. We pretend Canadians do not even notice, but they do. We do not give the average citizen in this country enough credit for being intelligent enough to read between the lines.
Yes, by the way, before the question comes, I will follow my own advice and try to measure up to a standard that was given to us to be sitting here in the House of Commons. Can anyone imagine how many citizens in this country would dream some day of standing or sitting in this place where we are today, my friends? Let us make this debate about an ethical standard that we feel is not up to par. Let us make this debate about an ethical standard that we strive to be. However, in doing that, we have to point out that there are people among us—and I am including all parties—who do not measure up to this, given the trust of the public. There are people who are given the trust of the public who need to be looked at. We need to shine a spotlight on their actions and come up with answers. We talk about judicial inquiries. They are expensive and they take time. Sometimes they are necessary. The problem is that many times we have to realize that this is a forum that taxpayers pay for and their voices need to be heard.
The motion today was brought forward by my hon. colleague from Beauséjour, in New Brunswick. We talk about the recent sworn statements by the RCMP, Corporal Greg Horton. They reveal that in many cases the ethical standard was not reached, which is putting it mildly, and some cases that ethical standard appears to have been subverted.
On February 21, the Prime Minister's Office had agreed, with regard to Mike Duffy's controversial expenses, that the Conservative Party of Canada would keep him whole on the repayment. This is the type of conversation that took place. What exactly does that mean? We try to pontificate as to what exactly that means, and I am sure the average Canadian does. In other words, how do we protect an individual who has—pardon the vernacular again—fallen off the rails when it comes to ethical standards?
On February 22, the Prime Minister's chief of staff wanted “to speak to the PM before everything is considered final”. Later the same day, February 22, the Prime Minister's chief of staff confirmed, “We are good to go from the PM once Ben has his confirmation from Payne”.
My hon. colleagues have already discussed the details, names and faces, colleagues like the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. What I want to focus on again is the narrative, and the narrative is about how these actions do not measure up to the ethical standard, which was not met.
Agreement was reached between Benjamin Perrin and Janice Payne, counsels for the Prime Minister and Mike Duffy. The amount to keep Mike Duffy whole was calculated to be higher than first determined, requiring a changed source of funds from Conservative Party funds to Nigel Wright's personal funds, after which the arrangement proceeded and Duffy's expenses were repaid.
Let us go back for a moment. As citizens, we have the right, thank goodness, because we are the best democracy in the world, to not only vote for a particular party, its beliefs, ideals, ideology, but we also have the right to donate money to help them communicate that message to the masses.
As a Conservative Party fundraiser, certainly as a donor, if I were, imagine my dismay and shock to realize that my money went to Mike Duffy to say this is something for him to walk out and look good while doing it. It is particularly galling, to say the least. It got to a certain level where even Senator Gerstein could not handle it anymore. That threshold was gone. He had a certain threshold and a certain amount of money, but he just could not go any further.
Certainly when it climbed close to $100,000 and the personal cheque was written, I ask the people watching this at home or in the gallery to imagine that someone we barely know has done something wrong so we are going to reimburse them with a cheque close to $100,000 and by the way, that is from our account. Imagine that. We might do it for our children, but certainly not for someone we barely know. The narrative goes to the fact that there is not just one person in on this. There is a network of people involved in keeping this from the spotlight. That is the narrative that fails Canadians.
I know the Conservatives are going to talk about the past and about certain things that happened in my party in the past, but the point is that we go through the process of getting to the answers, which is what in 2004 we did to find the answers to make sure it did not happen again.
This morning I attended a briefing with the Auditor General, a fantastic exercise, highlighting the inefficiencies of government, even though it had the best of intentions. For example, we talked about issues of meat inspection. We talked about examples of border guards. We talked about the example of online services that need to be centralized and more accessible to people of all walks of life from everywhere in the country, whether it is urban, rural, east, west or north. However, these are inefficiencies in the system that start out with the best of intentions.
We want to engage citizens across this country by using online resources. Yes, it saves money and allows people to do it any time of the day. We know people are busy travelling back and forth to work, not just from a small geographical area, but many people in my riding travel from Newfoundland and Labrador to Alberta on a bi-weekly basis, or around the world to Russia, to Africa. They want their services to be online.
I bring this up by way of example because the inefficiencies that we have right now started out with the best of intentions. Is that germane to this debate? Yes, it is because this situation we are dealing with today did not start with the best of intentions and it got worse and worse. It pulled more and more people in. It became a situation of not just inefficiencies but of some substandard ethical actions taking place.
I certainly believe that the motion today not only highlights that, but also looks at ways that we can fix it.
Let us have a look at some of the other details in this. The Prime Minister has given contradictory responses to the House of Commons, that we know. To the people out there watching today, we know exactly what it is we are talking about. Did he quit? Was he fired? Originally he quit. He is a nice guy, a good guy, means well. A few months later it was, he was fired.
There is a word we use in Newfoundland, called “sleveen”. It is someone of sub-ethical standards, and I am being kind. They are usually described in a much harsher way. They basically sleeveened the guy. If nothing, I hope we have learned a new word today from the Newfoundland dictionary: sleveen, someone of substandard ethical values.
Basically they have pointed out that this man is the sleveen of the most sleveen nature. I do not even know if that makes sense. I am trying to illustrate the point by saying that everybody in this country is talking about it. Everybody wants to know what is happened here, because they do not want to see it happen again.
The RCMP court filing also paints a disturbing picture of the entire PMO senior staff. The “fraud squad” engaged in the whitewash of a Senate report. Now we are going back to the other side with the whitewashing of a report that looks at this and says that there are people involved here, calls made from people on the board of the internal economy to the senator involved in the actions.
The conversation went like this, and this is why everybody is talking about it, because everybody understands this part. I am not a lawyer and when we look at some of this stuff, the vernacular of what is written down in legalize, sometimes it is hard to understand. Here is what is easy to understand. They wanted to get rid of the part or fix the part that shows that Senator Mike Duffy claimed per diems, claiming money because he was working in Ottawa on the very same day he was in Florida.
Now that I get, any Canadian can get that, anybody watching today can get that. Someone claimed money for doing their job in Canada while finding themselves in Florida. I doubt if anyone would even consider Florida the 11th province.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 9:05 am | Quebec, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Mr. Speaker, it is a shame, because he has no proof against these individuals. They are honourable people.
The member missed an opportunity to answer the question. He tried to deflect to others. Even if he were right that we Liberals are as awful as he is describing, it does not give him the right to be as awful as that. Each time they try to describe others as awful, they do not deflect the fact that they are in trouble.
The trouble is that the Prime Minister is keeping people who, according to this affidavit, lied to him. So whether he knew what was happening and is not saying the truth to Canadians, or whether they lied to him and he is keeping them working with him, which is complete nonsense, we need to have clarification. All the mud my colleague may send to others will not change the fact that he is only dodging question after question.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 9:00 am | Quebec, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Mr. Speaker, everybody knows that is not correct. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister himself knows it is not correct.
He is showing an admirable imagination to not answer questions. However, I do not have admiration for that. I do not think he should sleep very well today and in the coming weeks, because he should do his best to get the truth from his Prime Minister, and he is doing his best to hide the truth in answering nothing except the very basic questions.
I repeat my question, which will have an answer before the end of today: Why are people who were aware of the cheque to Duffy still working for the government? Why?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 8:55 am | Quebec, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Mr. Speaker, I have no problem tabling the attendance list if he has no problem tabling the questions. Why this selective request? It is always the same.
The point is not that questions have not been asked; it is that answers to the questions have not been given. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister once again failed to answer questions.
I asked specific questions in my speech. I asked why David van Hemmen is still working for the government since, according to the Prime Minister, he did not tell the truth. He did not tell the Prime Minister what he knew about the $90,000 cheque. Why are Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock, and Senator Gerstein still working for the government? That is a very simple question, and we do not have an answer. The Conservatives do not want to answer because it is very likely they have something to hide.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 8:40 am | Quebec, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal motion moved by my hon. colleague from Beauséjour calls on the House to do three things.
First of all, it invites us to condemn the unacceptable and irresponsible actions of certain members of the Prime Minister's Office. Second, it reminds the Prime Minister that, according to his own guide entitled “Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State”, he is personally responsible for the actions of his office. Third, it calls on the Prime Minister to testify under oath in a context in which he must stop avoiding the questions, as he always does in the House.
The rationale for the Liberal motion currently before the House is RCMP Corporal Greg Horton's sworn affidavit, which indicates that fraud has been committed by the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and Senator Mike Duffy. It states, “[They] have committed...frauds”.
The first perpetrator, Mr. Wright, secretly gave a $90,000 cheque to the second perpetrator, Mr. Duffy, to pay back his ineligible expense claims. The second perpetrator, Mr. Duffy, accepted the cheque on the condition that he state publicly that he was paying the money back himself. According to the RCMP, they committed fraud. The RCMP seems to be accusing them not only of fraud, but also corruption and breach of trust. This is very serious.
Who else knew about this fraud, besides Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy? Who was involved? Who closed their eyes? Are the accomplices still members of this government? Do they still work for this government? If so, why?
The government refuses to answer these questions. It keeps repeating that only Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy are under investigation and are entirely responsible for this matter.
The government's refusal to answer this simple question—Who knew what?—is very disconcerting. This evasiveness comes from the top, from the Prime Minister himself, and makes us fear the worst.
Some are concerned that the Prime Minister himself was involved and that he did know about it. He is behaving as though he has something to hide and not like someone with a clear conscience. He avoids questions, repeats the same stock phrases and is not being forthright.
At this point in this lurid business, there are only two possible scenarios. In the first, the Prime Minister knows the truth, but is hiding it from Canadians. In the second, the Prime Minister did not know, and members of his staff kept him in the dark. It is either one or the other. Either he knew, and lied, or he did not know and they lied to him. “They” refers to people other than Mr. Wright, if we are to believe Corporal Horton's affidavit.
The Prime Minister claims otherwise: Nigel Wright was the only staff member who hid the truth from him.
On Friday, November 22, when the Prime Minister was in Manitoba, a CBC journalist asked him the following question: “Do you believe that others, besides Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright, kept you in the dark? That was the question. The Prime Minister answered no. That is impossible. The Prime Minister's answer cannot be true. He misled Canadians with that answer. That answer cannot be true because we know that other members of the Prime Minister's office were aware of efforts made so Mike Duffy would not have to pay back what he owed. Some knew that Nigel Wright had written him a $90,000 cheque. If the Prime Minister did not know, a number of his staff members kept him in the dark, not just Nigel Wright.
Let us follow the sequence of events as outlined in the statement given under oath by Corporal Horton, starting with what happened in February 2013.
In an interview with police, Nigel Wright confirmed that he asked the Conservative Fund of Canada chairman, Conservative senator and bagman Irving Gerstein, to repay Senator Duffy's bogus expenses of $32,000.
On February 21 Benjamin Perrin, the Prime Minister's personal lawyer in the PMO, and Senator Duffy's lawyer exchange emails detailing the plan to have the Conservative Party pay Duffy's $32,000 in bogus housing claims as well as his legal fees. The agreement describes this as keeping Duffy “whole on the repayment”.
On February 22 Wright confirms with Gerstein that the party will pay the expenses and the legal fees. Later on February 22, Wright emails Perrin and states, “I do want to speak to the Prime Minister before everything is considered final”. Less than an hour later, Wright sends a follow-up email to Perrin that says, “We are good to go from the PM once Ben has his confirmation from Payne”, Ben being Mr. Perrin, the PMO lawyer, and Madam Payne being Mr. Duffy's lawyer.
The PM's chief of staff and personal lawyer are specifically discussing a plan that is contained in an email from Duffy's lawyer that includes covering Duffy's bogus expenses and legal fees. When Wright says that he has to check with the Prime Minister before everything is final, he can only be talking about the deal that they have negotiated with Duffy's lawyer. When Wright says that the Prime Minister is “good to go once Ben has his confirmation from Payne”, the only thing they had discussed with Payne was the plan to have the Conservative Party repay Duffy's expenses and legal fees.
The email evidence and chronology presented by the RCMP are clear. Nigel Wright sought the approval of the Prime Minister for something. At the exact same time as this approval was sought and received, the PMO was negotiating a deal with Duffy's lawyer to have the Conservative Party repay Duffy's bogus expenses. Given that the emails show that finalizing the points of the deal with Duffy's lawyer was what Wright and Perrin were focused on at the time, what else could they have been seeking approval for from the Prime Minister?
The evidence is so strong that it is simply not believable for the Prime Minister to claim that he was authorizing Duffy to repay his own expenses. Not only is that patently absurd and unbelievable statement, the emails tell a very different story.
For the Prime Minister's version to be credible, Nigel Wright would have had to lie to the Prime Minister and make him believe that Mike Duffy was going to pay back the money himself, and he would have had to lie to all of his accomplices and make them believe that the Prime Minister approved the Conservative Party making the payment. That is rather unbelievable, is it not?
However, even if we accept this version that Nigel Wright is a double liar, we would then have to conclude that the other parties to the scheme also hid the truth from the Prime Minister. They knew that Mike Duffy would not make the payment. They apparently never told the Prime Minister.
If that is the case, why are some of them still working for the government? Why, for example, is Senator Gerstein, who allegedly hid the truth from the Prime Minister, still a member of the Conservative caucus? Why is it impossible to get an answer to this question from the Prime Minister or any member of his caucus? Do our Conservative colleagues have no desire to help Canadians get the truth?
Let us see how this unfolded.
On February 27, Duffy's lawyer emails Perrin and informs him that the amount Duffy owes in bogus expense claims has now risen to $90,000.
Wright also told police that, in addition to Perrin, he informed the following people that he would personally provide Duffy with the $90,000 to repay his bogus expenses: Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein, Chair of the Conservative Fund Canada; Benjamin Perrin, as I said, the Prime Minister's personal lawyer in the PMO; David van Hemmen, formerly Nigel Wright's assistant and now policy adviser to the Minister of Finance; Patrick Rogers, then legislative assistant to the Prime Minister and now director of policy for the Minister of Canadian Heritage; and Chris Woodcock, then director of issues management and now chief of staff for the Minister of Natural Resources.
For example, on March 8 Nigel Wright advised Chris Woodcock by email that he was personally covering Duffy's $90,000. On March 23 Nigel Wright sent an email to David van Hemmen that said “My cheque is in the correspondence folder”. The same day, Wright wrote an email to Benjamin Perrin that said “I will send my cheque on Monday”.
It is true that there is no proof that the Prime Minister was aware of the cheque, but according to Wright, he was aware of something. He wrote in an email, “The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy”. The Prime Minister was aware of that.
Even if we accept the Prime Minister's story that he knew nothing about the financial aid to Mike Duffy, why is he keeping in his government individuals who hid the truth and the fraudulent activities from him? Why is David van Hemmen still a policy advisor to the Minister of State for Finance? Did he not hide the truth from the Prime Minister?
Why is Patrick Rogers still the director of policy for the Minister of Canadian Heritage? Did he not hide the truth from the Prime Minister? Why is Chris Woodcock still the chief of staff for the Minister of Natural Resources? Did he not hide the truth from the Prime Minister? Why is Senator Gerstein still a member of the Conservative caucus and the Conservative Party's bagman? Did he not hide the truth from the Prime Minister? Unless these people did not hide anything at all from the Prime Minister. That would then mean that the Prime Minister was aware of the fraud and is trying to hide that from Canadians.
The Conservatives have to choose between the only two possible scenarios. Either the Prime Minister was aware of the fraud and is trying to hide that from Canadians, or the Prime Minister did not know anything about the fraud and key people around him hid the truth from him. If so, why is he keeping them on staff?
In fact, the Conservatives can do better than choose between these two scenarios. They should tell us which one is the truth. Canadians have a right to the truth. They have the right to know whether their Prime Minister is an honest and straightforward man or a secretive manipulator who thinks that hiding the truth is acceptable conduct in Canadian politics.
Canadians can rely on the Liberal leader and the Liberal opposition not to let up on the Conservatives and the Prime Minister until the truth, the whole truth, has come out into the open.
Canadians are entitled to the truth.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 8:20 am | Nova Scotia, Sydney—Victoria
Mr. Speaker, the member for Timmins—James Bay has hit the nail on the head.
What is interesting is that when the Conservatives first spoke, they asked why this was being brought to the House of Commons today when there are so many other important things happening in this country. I am sure the Republicans said that about Nixon when there was trouble in the Oval Office, with the energy crisis that was happening down there as well as Vietnam.
Why bring it to the House of Commons? It is because that is where the power is centred. I think all Canadians would agree that there is a confidence problem with respect to the Prime Minister's Office.
I would like to ask the member for Timmins—James Bay what he has been hearing in his riding and across the country with respect to the seriousness of the situation. What are his feelings on the attitude of the Conservatives, who are saying that we should not even be bringing it to the floor today?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 8:05 am | Ontario, Markham—Unionville
Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding that last comment by the parliamentary secretary, I must admit I have a bit of sympathy for him because in the lottery of jobs, he has drawn the shortest possible stick at this point. He is left in the position where, out of that vast Conservative caucus, only two members get up to defend the Prime Minister: the Prime Minister and his parliamentary secretary. It is a sad state of affairs for which he is not responsible.
However, my question has to do with income trusts. I cannot believe he would talk about the subject of income trusts, which brings such huge discredit to his leader and his party. The allegations he mentions against two of my colleagues were totally unfounded. It happened some eight years ago. No charges were ever laid, so it is completely baseless.
The reality is that the Prime Minister, during the election campaign of 2005-06, promised repeatedly there would be no tax on income trusts. Then what did he do on that black Halloween day of 2006? He changed his mind. He raised taxes on income trusts to the point where hundreds of thousands of Canadians lost hundreds of millions of dollars overnight, turning many former Conservatives into non-Conservatives. It was a total breaking of a solemn commitment made by the Prime Minister, leading to massive losses by millions of hard-saving Canadians, who have, in many cases, not recovered from that.
I know the member is desperate for defences, but how does he have the nerve to bring up income trusts as a matter of defence against his Prime Minister?
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 7:40 am | New Brunswick, Beauséjour
Mr. Speaker, I would agree with one aspect of what the parliamentary secretary said and disagree with perhaps another aspect.
He said he is not sure that this is a priority of the Canadian people. I think that the very ethics at the centre of the Government of Canada and the truthfulness of the Prime Minister of Canada when facing tough questions about ethical scandals under his watch are very much a priority of the Canadian people.
I would draw to the attention of the parliamentary secretary the results of last night's by-elections and the rather massive decline in the Conservative popular vote. If he does not think that Canadians are concerned about this, I think he read the by-election results last night differently than I did.
We agree that the behaviour of these four senators was clearly inappropriate. In fact, the RCMP believe, and may conclude, that it warrants criminal charges. There has to be and should always be a very robust accountability for persons who are spending taxpayers' dollars. Certainly one of the Conservative senators involved did not think he had to reimburse expenses himself because someone in the Prime Minister's Office would make him whole with a large cheque. Taxpayers may have been reimbursed, but it was certainly not by the offending senator. He was reimbursed by the Prime Minister's senior adviser. We think that, too, was wrong.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 7:35 am | New Brunswick, Beauséjour
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Guelph, who as colleagues will know is a senior lawyer and had a distinguished law practice in that great city for a number of years. Obviously, when we are talking about complicated legal matters and the Criminal Code, the opinion from my colleague from Guelph carries great experience and great weight.
I would agree with him when he correctly focused on section 465(1)(c) of the Criminal Code. You, yourself, Mr. Speaker, were a senior lawyer in the great city of Windsor. I am sure you have reviewed the Criminal Code many times in your law practice. Clients would colloquially refer to that as the aiding and abetting section.
Everyone understands that if two or three people get together to rob a bank and a couple of guys go in with face masks and weapons while the other guy is waiting outside in the car, the guy in the car is as guilty of participating in the criminal act of robbing the bank as the two people who showed up in the bank with the weapons and balaclavas.
In this case, the people wearing the balaclavas were a senior group of operatives in the Prime Minister's Office. They were the ones who were part of what we believe, and the RCMP may ultimately believe, a crown prosecutor may ultimately conclude and a criminal court may ultimately find, to have been a criminal conspiracy.
Under the section correctly identified by the member for Guelph, I think that this dirty dozen, these senior advisers to the Prime Minister and these senior Conservative senators, are very much at risk of finding themselves subject to a criminal prosecution, depending on the evidence that the police uncover in their very thorough and comprehensive review of the evidence they are getting and have asked to be produced by the information to obtain order that was made public.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 7:30 am | New Brunswick, Beauséjour
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and NDP counterpart, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, for his question.
I agree with my colleague that the Conservatives are remaining silent. That is probably because the incessant talking points that are cranked out in the Prime Minister's Office really have nothing to say in the face of RCMP sworn affidavits given to a criminal court judge.
It is increasingly difficult, even for the great talent in the Prime Minister's Office, to fabricate talking points that Conservative members can get up and repeat in the House. I would suspect as the debate unfolds today that there will be very few Conservatives who will want to participate in the debate and very few who will be able to defend the actions of their own leader, as we have seen in media reports.
I agree with my colleague that the characters in this cover-up, whom we have called the “fraud squad” and the “dirty dozen”, the different people who were intimately involved both in the potentially criminal acts and the three Criminal Code violations identified so far by the RCMP, were intimately tied to the Prime Minister. He selected those people. He appointed some of them to the Senate. He has continued to give them immense responsibility in his office. However, when the heat came on, obviously he was unable to fire all of them, maybe because they knew too much, so they were sort of shifted laterally and then up a bit. They probably received pay raises by assuming senior positions in the offices of Conservative cabinet ministers.
I would also agree with my colleague that there needs to be full accountability in the Senate. Ultimately, we may disagree on the disposition of the upper chamber, but I think there is no disagreement whatsoever on the idea that the senators need to be fully accountable and that those who behaved in a way that the RCMP said was less than truthful in interviews with the police should also face consequences. I think that when the police finally get access to those emails and correspondence the list of people potentially charged in this criminal conspiracy will grow and we may very well see Conservative senators facing criminal charges as well.
- MPlibNov 26, 2013 7:10 am | New Brunswick, Beauséjour
That, given the recent sworn statements by RCMP Corporal Greg Horton, which revealed that: (i) on February 21, 2013, the Prime Minister’s Office had agreed that, with regard to Mike Duffy’s controversial expenses, the Conservative Party of Canada would “keep him whole on the repayment”; (ii) on February 22, 2013, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff wanted to “speak to the PM before everything is considered final”; (iii) later on February 22, 2013, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff confirmed “We are good to go from the PM once Ben has his confirmation from Payne”; (iv) an agreement was reached between Benjamin Perrin and Janice Payne, counsels for the Prime Minister and Mike Duffy; (v) the amount to keep Mike Duffy whole was calculated to be higher than first determined, requiring a changed source of funds from Conservative Party funds to Nigel Wright’s personal funds, after which the arrangement proceeded and Duffy’s expenses were re-paid; and (vi) subsequently, the Prime Minister's Office engaged in the obstruction of a Deloitte audit and a whitewash of a Senate report; the House condemn the deeply disappointing actions of the Prime Minister's Office in devising, organizing and participating in an arrangement that the RCMP believes violated sections 119, 121 and 122 of the Criminal Code of Canada, and remind the Prime Minister of his own Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State, which states on page 28 that “Ministers and Ministers of State are personally responsible for the conduct and operation of their offices and the exempt staff in their employ,” and the House call upon the Prime Minister to explain in detail to Canadians, under oath, what Nigel Wright or any other member of his staff or any other Conservative told him at any time about any aspect of any possible arrangement pertaining to Mike Duffy, what he did about it, and when.
Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I want to thank my colleague from Cardigan for seconding this important motion.
Today there are basically two issues we hope Canadians will reflect on in this House and pronounce on later this evening.
The first is the role of the Prime Minister's Office, the senior advisers to the Prime Minister, in a potentially criminal cover-up and a series of events, which the RCMP believes, in fact, have violated three sections of the Criminal Code.
The second issue is the role of senior Conservative operatives and senior Conservative senators in participating in a whitewash of a Senate report in attempting to influence an independent audit being conducted by a national auditing firm.
We think Canadians, increasingly, do not believe the Prime Minister and do not believe his constantly changing version of these events. That is why we think it is important to have this discussion in the House of Commons today. I hope that colleagues will agree with us tonight, in a vote, that the only solution is for the Prime Minister to, in fact, come clean, under oath, and explain to Canadians the exact extent to which he was informed of many of these details.
The real problem here, apart from the fact that the RCMP believes that criminal activity took place in the Prime Minister's Office, is that not only are there multiple versions of the facts in terms of the degree of the Prime Minister's involvement, but the versions put forward by the RCMP and by this government demonstrate that the Prime Minister and his staff acted inappropriately.
It has become clear that Canadians no longer believe the Prime Minister when he tells his changing version of this sordid affair. In fact, the person who is undermining the Prime Minister's credibility the most is the Prime Minister himself, because he has given us so many different versions. His story keeps changing. Every time, new details are made public. We are at the point where people are doubting what the Prime Minister of Canada is saying.
On the one side, we have email correspondence from Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, highlighted in a sworn affidavit from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and presented to a judge. Let us look at the first email.
On February 22, Nigel Wright states that Mike Duffy would be made whole through the use of Conservative Party money, but at the end, Nigel Wright wanted to “speak to the PM before everything is considered final. Less than an hour later, according to an RCMP sworn affidavit, Nigel Wright sent a further email saying, “We are good to go from the PM”.
The inference here is very clear: Nigel Wright confirmed the details of the agreement to pay back Mike Duffy with the Prime Minister.
I would very much like to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt when he claims that Nigel Wright did not tell him the details of the agreement. However, Nigel Wright has been very clear. At that time, the agreement was in fact to use Conservative Party funds to pay back Mike Duffy's inappropriate expense claims.
It is ridiculous to suggest that Mr. Wright needed the Prime Minister's approval to ask Mike Duffy to pay back his fraudulent expense claims with his own money. Quire frankly, this story borders on the ridiculous.
The determining factor in an illegal act such as the ones the RCMP believes took place in the Prime Minister's Office is not only who gave the corrupt money and when but that such a transfer ultimately took place. The Prime Minister's problem here is that all indications, all the circumstantial evidence, point to his knowing and approving of at least a $32,000 payment to Senator Duffy, plus his legal fees. These funds were originally going to come from the Conservative Party through the hands of Senator Irving Gerstein, who was a senior Conservative member of the caucus and chairman of the Conservative fund.
It does not matter, in the end, that the source of funds changed and that the amount increased. The Prime Minister appears to have approved a plan to corrupt a sitting legislator, and that is the essential element of how this whole sordid affair began. That allegation has met with no credible defence from the government spokespersons, and the RCMP, in its sworn affidavit, tells a very compelling story to Canadians.
Indeed, the RCMP affidavit paints a clear and compelling story of a widespread and directed cover-up at the senior levels of the Prime Minister's Office, including senior members of the Conservative caucus in the Senate and a woman who, at the time, was a senior Conservative cabinet minister. The RCMP believes that in the totality of the evidence, these actions and the subsequent attempt to cover up these actions constituted a violation of at least three sections of Canada's Criminal Code.
Even if we believe the Prime Minister when he says that Nigel Wright told him nothing and that he was never informed of the Mike Duffy repayment scheme; of the whitewashing of the Senate report, which was ordered by his own office; or of the involvement of four senators in his inner circle—even if we decide to believe all of the excuses, each more ridiculous than the last—there is still a serious problem. This government chose to protect the individuals who were involved in this possibly criminal scheme instead of adequately disciplining them.
I want to share a few of the most blatant examples. Some of these people are still Conservative senators and others were directly employed by the Prime Minister of Canada before being promoted to the highest echelons of Conservative ministerial offices.
Let us start with the Conservative senators. Four of them, senators LeBreton, Carolyn Stewart Olsen, David Tkachuk and Irving Gerstein, were interviewed by the RCMP in regard to their role in the Conservative scheme to whitewash a Senate report that was supposed to be, originally, critical of Senator Duffy's behaviour.
Indeed the RCMP have found, in sworn affidavits, that these Conservative senators were less than truthful when they were interviewed by Canada's national police force. Senator Marjory LeBreton was a senior member of the Conservative cabinet in the current Prime Minister's government. She was a key architect in the government plan to whitewash the Senate audit and participated actively and directly in an effort to sweep the whole mess under the carpet.
She presided over an effort in the Senate to potentially hide criminal acts, and for that she has been rewarded by remaining on the internal economy committee of the Senate.
Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen really did the heavy lifting in the effort to whitewash the Senate report. She in fact moved to strip sections out of the draft report that were critical of Senator Duffy's spending. She was an architect of the deal to go easy on Senator Duffy, as was negotiated between the Prime Minister's lawyer, Mr. Perrin, and Mr. Duffy's counsel, Ms. Payne. She was found, herself, to have been less than truthful in her discussions, in her interview with the RCMP.
For a government that pretends over and over again that it is co-operating fully with the RCMP in this investigation, maybe it should start by suggesting to the senior members of its caucus, as well as Senator Stewart Olsen, the Prime Minister's former press secretary, that they in fact be truthful when they are interviewed by the RCMP.
Some will remember Senator David Tkachuk as having been involved in the scandal concerning spending in the Saskatchewan legislature. Senator Tkachuk played another critical role. He was chair of the internal economy committee. He subsequently resigned. Canadians will remember that Senator Tkachuk was briefed by Deloitte in a verbal presentation on the progress of its audit.
It was a private meeting. Three senators were present. The auditors came to give a preliminary report on their findings. Deloitte had found that Senator Duffy was claiming per diem allocations from taxpayers in Ottawa at a time when his cellphone records indicated he was in Florida, and what did Senator Tkachuk do? He picked up the phone and called Senator Duffy and told him he had better come up with some explanation as to why he was claiming per diems in Ottawa when in fact he was in Florida.
Ever compliant, their favourite senator, Senator Duffy then sent a phony letter to Senator Tkachuk referring to a conversation they had two evenings previously and saying he had reviewed his records and in fact there was a clerical error in his office as to why taxpayers were paying per diems for his work in Ottawa when he was in Florida.
Senator Tkachuk had an obligation to taxpayers to protect taxpayers' hard-earned dollars, not to call a colleague who is under investigation in a forensic audit and tip him off. That would be like a judge who meets with the police before granting a search warrant, and the minute the police leave his or her office, the judge picks up the phone and says to the target of the search warrant: “Look you'd better get rid of the evidence, because the police are on their way over”. That makes no sense at all. That was what Senator Tkachuk did, and he too has been rewarded for his good work by continuing to serve on the internal economy committee of the senate.
Canadians will know Senator Irving Gerstein as a senior Conservative fundraiser, the chair of the Conservative fund. Surprisingly, he felt it appropriate to pick up the phone, on instructions from the Prime Minister's Office as we have learned from the RCMP affidavit, and call Deloitte, a reputable national auditing firm, to try to put pressure on it to say that if Mike Duffy reimbursed the money they could just sort of call it kiff and forget about Senator Duffy and the audit. He asked how that might work.
Senator Gerstein is not a member of that committee. He was not involved in the audit function in the Senate at all, but presumably he has a relationship with senior officials at the accounting firm. It might be because it has done $50 million worth of work for the Government of Canada in recent years; that could be. I see my colleague, the NDP House leader, may agree with me that it might in fact be one of the reasons Senator Gerstein felt it was appropriate to just pick up the phone and say, “Look, can we just forget about this?”
That constitutes a huge breach of professional ethics on the part of Senator Gerstein. It is inexplicable why the Prime Minister's Office would instruct people to contact an independent audit firm. I am very pleased that the Senate internal economy committee, inspired by an intervention from the Liberal Party, will in fact be calling Deloitte before the Senate committee later this week to explain exactly how and by whom they were contacted, when senior Conservative operators called attempting to whitewash an audit.
Senator Gerstein was also willing to pay $32,000 to reimburse Mike Duffy for his potentially fraudulent expenses. As we know from the RCMP audit, Senator Gerstein certainly did not worry about the propriety of potentially trying to corrupt and bribe a sitting legislator. His concern was with the quantum. His concern was with the amount of money involved, and he was willing to take $32,000 of contributions that Canadians made of their personal money to the Conservative Party and flush it to Mike Duffy to try to make a problem go away for the Prime Minister and for Mr. Wright, but at the end he decided that the amount was too much; and then Nigel Wright entered with a bag of money.
Now let us take a look at the steps taken by the Prime Minister's employees, those who played some sort of role in this sordid affair and who still work for the Conservative Party and the Canadian government, namely Chris Woodcock, David Van Hammen, Patrick Rogers and Ray Novak. I want to look at what they knew, when they knew it, and what the Prime Minister did for his own employees who were responsible for this scheme.
I will start with Mr. Woodcock. He was director of issues management in the PMO. In other words, if there was a fire, it was up to Chris Woodcock to put it out. RCMP documents show that he participated in whitewashing the Senate report and, what is worse, Nigel Wright sent him an email on March 8 to inform him that Mike Duffy would be receiving a $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright's personal bank account.
Rather than informing the police or perhaps even calling a lawyer, what did he do? Clearly, he could not call the Prime Minister's lawyer in the Prime Minister's Office, because we are well aware that Mr. Perrin was also involved. Instead, Mr. Woodcock helped to do more to cover up the scandal. In the private sector, he would have been fired and the police would have been called. As a member of the Conservative Party, he became the chief of staff to the Minister of Natural Resources.
David van Hemmen was Mr. Wright's executive assistant in the Prime Minister's Office. Not only was he aware of the illegal plan to pay back Mr. Duffy, but he also helped to transfer the funds. He took the cheque to the bank of Mr. Duffy's lawyer. He was aware enough of what was going on to be in possession of that cheque, which the RCMP described as key evidence of corruption. Once again, what was his punishment? He was promoted to the position of policy advisor to the Minister of State for Finance.
Patrick Rogers was the director of parliamentary affairs in the PMO. According to the RCMP, he and Senator Gerstein were involved in trying to put an end to the Deloitte audit in order to protect Mike Duffy. Mr. Rogers also had dealings with Senator Tkachuk and Senator Stewart Olsen, who whitewashed the Senate report about Mike Duffy by removing any criticisms of his behaviour. What happened to Mr. Rogers as a result of this unacceptable behaviour? He is now the director of policy for the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Finally, let us talk about Ray Novak, who was the Prime Minister's deputy chief of staff. We know two things about Ray Novak. He knew enough about this sordid affair to call Mike Duffy a serial liar, and he worked on the Senate file with Senator LeBreton. If we are thinking about accepting that the Prime Minister knew nothing about what was happening—and that is a big if—then clearly Ray Novak knew much more and he never shared that information with the Prime Minister. What was his sentence? Ray Novak replaced Nigel Wright as the Prime Minister's chief of staff.
Canadians have the right to wonder how the Prime Minister can trust Ray Novak to be his chief of staff. Why replace a chief of staff who, according to the Prime Minister himself, misled his boss with another person who allegedly did the same thing?
The concept is very simple. At the end of the day, in the private sector, if any chief executive officer presided over such chaotic behaviour from his or her senior staff, or if any board of directors was faced with a chief executive officer who the RCMP, in sworn affidavits, knew presided over an operation that may have violated three very serious sections of Canada's Criminal Code, that chief executive officer would have been shown the door. That chief executive officer would not have then promoted all the incompetent and deceitful staff who participated under his watch in what may in fact be a criminal conspiracy to subvert three important sections of the Criminal Code.
In his own guide for ministers and ministers of state, the Prime Minister outlined what ministerial responsibility allegedly should be. If one hires all the players, then one is responsible ultimately for their behaviour. The current Prime Minister is not living up to his own standard of responsibility, and Canadians are increasingly distrustful and disbelieving of the words of the Prime Minister.
The government's stories and answers make no sense at all: Mr. Wright was a great Canadian; then, all of a sudden, he accepted full responsibility and resigned; then, suddenly, we find out that he was fired.
The idea that he took sole responsibility for a criminal act has no basis at all in law. If a group of people conspire to violate the Criminal Code, it really is not acceptable at the end of the day if one of them says, “You know what, let me take the blame on this one and then you guys will owe me something down the line”.
That basis has absolutely no credibility, and Canadians are increasingly distrustful of a government that has lost its moral compass and simply is unable to tell the truth in the face of this very serious scandal.
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 1:25 pm | Ontario, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot
Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague asked about 15 questions there, so let me just go through them.
On the CETA, we support the Canada-Europe trade agreement. We would like to see a few more details.
I thought I made my point in my speech that Keystone XL does not add, in any significant way, to GHGs as compared to other forms of transportation, so on that point we agree.
I think he missed the core point of my speech. Because we withdrew from the Kyoto protocol, as a consequence, we are not treated seriously with respect to GHG emissions. His party is the one that basically killed the whole idea of pricing carbon. As a consequence, that discussion is dead in this country and the rest of the world has noticed. The only thing that will move the odometer on GHG emissions is pricing carbon. That, unfortunately, because of his party is pretty well dead in the water.
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 1:20 pm | Ontario, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot
Mr. Speaker, if my leader said that, then that is news to me. I think I would know. I would appreciate it if the member could be a little more specific.
The issue is access to capital, which is what this is ultimately all about. I just came back from Fort McMurray, Calgary and Edmonton. I met with some of the people there. I met with the Suncor people. They just committed to a $13-billion investment.
Those investments are massively capital intensive. These are difficult investments. There was a reference earlier to the discount that Alberta bitumen sells for on the market. If members had read the ROB this morning, they will know that it is upwards of $40 on a barrel. Half of that discount is because of jamming in the pipelines.
We have the worst of all possible worlds. We have a government that pays no attention to GHG emissions, and we sell our resource at a massive discount. A file could not be mismanaged more than that.
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 1:10 pm | Ontario, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this debate. As a Liberal participating in the debate, it is kind of amusing to listen to my NDP colleague, who does not seem to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
The issue is that Keystone starts out as a no-brainer. The Prime Minister rightly describes the project as a no-brainer. It has huge economic significance. It is a significant economic driver for both Alberta and the Canadian economy, yet at this point, it has gone from no-brainer to cliffhanger. How did we get from no-brainer to cliffhanger? It was by not paying attention to the environmental impact of oil sands development.
The world has noticed. We did not win those Kyoto fossil awards for nothing. The government worked at it. The world has noticed. The United States, the anti-Keystone folks, and President Obama have noticed. Because Canada, for the last six or seven years, has done nothing about getting control over the ever-escalating emissions from oil sands development out in Alberta, both in intensity and in quantity, we now have a significant issue on our hands.
My colleague has reminded me that I am splitting my time with the member for Kingston and the Islands. I apologize to my friend.
The issue here is gross mismanagement of a fundamental economic issue. Now we have moved it from no-brainer to cliffhanger. Now we see the Prime Minister going down to New York saying that he will not take no for an answer. Well, I am sure President Obama woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Michelle, the Prime Minister will not take no for an answer. My goodness gracious me, what am I going to do?” I am sure Michelle said, “Just go back to sleep, Barak, and stop snoring”.
For goodness' sake, one does not go down to the most powerful country in the world and say to the President of the United States of America, who controls whether or not Keystone proceeds, that we are not going to take no for an answer, then line up with the nutters in the Tea Party, President Obama's most difficult constituency, who brought the United States' government to a situation of near paralysis.
It is quite bizarre that the Prime Minister should actually be flummoxed as to why Keystone has become a cliffhanger. He is flummoxed that this no-brainer is apparently not going to proceed without some pretty significant intervention. It has an enormous economic cost for our country. Not only is it economic mismanagement, it is environmental mismanagement and political mismanagement. We are talking about potentially one of the most significant economic developments this country has seen. Yet we are in a situation now where we have no regulatory environment for those who create GHG emissions, except for the Government of Alberta, which is doing all the heavy lifting in terms of emissions into both the air and the water.
The chickens are coming home to roost. We ignore the environment at our peril, and the Prime Minister has ignored the environment. It is quite clear from actions such as limiting the budget of the ministry of the environment and Bill C-38, which basically gutted many of the environmental protections.
For goodness' sake, all of the new development in the oil sands is in situ.
There are two ways in which they can take the bitumen out of the ground. They either do it in open-pit mining or in situ. The Conservatives, last week, said that the federal government will no longer do environmental reviews on in situ mining. What message did that send to President Obama? Does that reinforce the notion that Canada could do potentially more to mitigate carbon release, or that he has not seen any specific ideas or plans from Canada that would help offset concerns? Or is it just that the Prime Minister has, through his actions and his inept handling of this file, handed a huge two-by-four to those who wish to oppose this pipeline issue so they can whack him over the head with it, but also whack President Obama over the head? President Obama does not appreciate it when a significant ally, an important economic partner, makes it very difficult for him to approve this particular initiative.
Shipping bitumen is not the issue here. Bitumen gets shipped by pipelines and creates no more and no less GHGs than shipping by truck or by rail. In fact, it is arguably safer. The issue is in the production. It is not in the tailpipe, not in getting there, but in the production. In the number of years that the current government has been in office, it has not been able to or willing to regulate emissions. As a consequence, industry has a cheerleader. It does not have a regulator, it has a cheerleader. Therefore, anything that the oil sands industry does is good and anything that a regulator does is bad. The government has absented itself from the regulation of the oil sands, and as I say, left the heavy lifting to the Government of Alberta and to a lesser extent the Government of Saskatchewan.
Hence, we have Premier Redford making regular trips down to Washington to sell the idea of Keystone because it is extremely important to her province. That has led to other issues. When they do not pay attention to environmental issues and legitimate concerns that come up in the shipping of bitumen or “dilbit”, as it is known, they create difficulties for themselves.
A little example is in the neighbourhood where the Speaker and I live, namely Line 9. The City of Toronto submitted some pretty important concerns to the NEB a few weeks ago. Many of them are very reasonable, but people have lost trust in the current government to stand up for them in terms of protecting their environment. Many of the concerns are simple things such as more valves, where the line is located, et cetera. The Government of Canada can issue permits, but it is only the people who can give the social licence to allow these kinds of projects to go ahead.
Hence, my leader is down in Washington. He does not trash-talk what happens in Canada. He tries to promote important projects. When he does that, we are all better off. Indeed we have to recognize that this industry is important.
There is no government, whether Green, NDP, Conservative or Liberal, that is going to leave that multi-trillion-dollar asset in the ground, nobody. The only question here is this. How do we get it out of the ground, minimize GHG emissions and be a leader in regulating this kind of activity, as opposed to a laggard? That is what gets us from here to there. That is what gets us from no-brainer to cliffhanger.
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 12:55 pm | Ontario, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot
Mr. Speaker, it has been a long-standing convention in the House not to point out the presence or absence of other members, directly or indirectly. If the hon. member would proceed with his speech and offer his own commentary, we can ask him questions later. Who is here and who is not is a matter of entire irrelevance to this debate.
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 12:20 pm | Ontario, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot
I've got them right here. I've got it.
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 10:20 am | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
Mr. Speaker, I had the pleasure of visiting my hon. colleague's home town of Calgary two weeks ago, on the weekend before the weekend of the Conservative convention. I dare say that my weekend in Calgary was perhaps more pleasant than theirs, but I will let her debate that if she wishes.
One thing I heard a great deal about from people in Calgary is how there has been softness. We think of the Alberta economy as being very strong. There is a lot of strength to it and a lot of jobs created, but I heard about how there has been softness in the economy in Calgary over the past year or so. There has been a slowdown in the creation of jobs largely because of the lack of market access, the fact that it is getting harder to get the new oil that is produced to market, whether it is refined or upgraded in Alberta or not.
I would like the member to comment on that.
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 9:50 am | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
That was not the question.
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 9:45 am | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
Mr. Speaker, one of the things that my hon. colleague, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, and I have in common, along with our absence of surplus hair, would be the frustration we feel every day in the House of Commons during question period when we in the opposition ask questions and do not get answers from the government. Therefore, I want to give my hon. colleague a really clear, simple question and give him an opportunity to give an answer.
Does the NDP House leader agree with his party's candidate in Toronto Centre when she says about the oil sands, “...we need some kind of moratorium on further development...”?
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 9:30 am | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the speech by my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright today, for the most part.
Similar to what I said earlier, he pointed out that Canada is refining more than it uses already, and we are probably going to be refining and upgrading more in the future. Even if we do that, how does he propose to move it if there are no pipelines? That highlights the illogic of the New Democrats' point of view. They are pretending that they support jobs, but if one listens to anybody who works in the industry, as I did recently when I was in Calgary, they will say that there is already a slowdown. Things are not happening now in terms of job creation in upgrading and so forth, the things that create jobs here in Canada, because of the lack of access to markets. Yes, we need the energy east pipeline, but they also tell me that the Keystone pipeline is very important.
I do not think it helps when the Prime Minister goes to the U.S. and says that we will not take no for an answer. Maybe my colleague could tell me what he thinks the Prime Minister was saying. What will he do if it is a no? Is that some kind of threat? Is that really a logical, rational approach, to tell the U.S. that we will not take no for an answer?
- MPlibNov 07, 2013 9:15 am | Nova Scotia, Halifax West
Mr. Speaker, I do not know if my hon. colleague recognizes that the policy of the Conservative government in failing to enact or bring forward real and serious regulation of greenhouse gases is one of the things that is making it so hard to gain support in the U.S. for the Keystone XL pipeline.
I will ask the member a related question.
In September 2013, Saskatchewan NDP leader Cam Broten soundly rejected his federal party's stance on the Keystone XL pipeline and noted that approval of the Keystone XL project was in the best interests of Saskatchewan.
As we heard earlier in the NDP House leader's twisted logic, does that not mean that the Saskatchewan NDP leader supports the entire Conservative government agenda? I wonder if my colleague agrees.
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