Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister remains silent and refuses to take a stand against the racist comments made by the member for New Brunswick Southwest about a week ago. This is a matter of leadership. The Prime Minister needs to clearly state that those comments were unacceptable and apologize on behalf of his caucus. When will he do that?
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said that the hijab was an indefensible perversion of Canadian values. The hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest said disgraceful things about foreign workers.
Instead of dividing Canadians, this Prime Minister should get his priorities straight and present his economic plan to Canadians.
Again, when will he table his budget?
Mr. Speaker, this weekend, when he thought he was only speaking to Conservatives, the member for New Brunswick Southwest, and a former communications director to the Prime Minister no less, referred to “whities” and “brown people” to divide Canadians. This is unacceptable. Will the Prime Minister denounce these words in no uncertain terms, and will the Prime Minister also request that the member apologize to Canadians, in this House?
Mr. Speaker, this is certainly an interesting bill that we are debating tonight given the fact that we have a government that has consistently said it is about transparency and accountability.
I will quote the Prime Minister, who has said, “...bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison”.
When looking at this bill, we have to take into consideration its intent and how we can best ensure that when we are elected or appointed as parliamentarians or senators, there is protection for the public trust.
This bill is similar to one moved by the NDP in Nova Scotia, as my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest mentioned a while ago. That bill received royal assent on May 10, 2013. There are some differences between the bills. The Nova Scotia law targets MLAs who have been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of no less than five years. It also provides that any entitlement of a former spouse or a court ordered restitution may be deducted from the MLA's pension.
The bill before us was tabled in the middle of the Senate scandal that was subject to raging debate in the House of Commons, a scandal in which many Conservative senators were under scrutiny for claiming expenses they were not entitled to. This has severely tarnished the Conservative Party's claim that it is the most ethical and transparent government Canada has ever seen. Indeed, we look at this, we see that it is an issue of ethical and transparent government. Just to go back a bit, we can look at some of the issues that have come forward from that. We just have to look at Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, the former Conservative spokesperson turned senator, who had to repay inappropriate living expenses. We had Mike Duffy being ordered to pay back more than $90,000 for false living expenses and claiming per diems while on vacation. Pamela Wallin was ordered to pay back more than $100,000 for improper claims. We have also seen Liberal senators who have had to make repayments.
When looking at what has transpired since the Liberal sponsorship scandal, there really is not much difference in terms of transparency and accountability on this side of the House. Therefore, when bills such as this come forward, we think they look great but we have to scour through them to see what the hidden agenda is or how we can work with the Conservatives to make the bill functional
During the analysis of the bill in committee, the Conservative Party changed the provisions that determined when a senator or MP's pension would be revoked by removing any retroactivity in the application of the bill and proposing an exhaustive list of Criminal Code offences that would trigger the removal of the pension instead.
Experts had hesitations regarding this approach, noting that the choice of including some offences and not others did not make sense, particularly the fact that offences under the Elections Act were not included. The Conservatives refused to accept an amendment that would have revoked the pension of the former parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, as mentioned a while ago. We know that the Prime Minister stood in the House and defended that member over and over again until the member was found guilty of breaking the Elections Act.
While the bill clearly aims at punishing the Conservative and Liberal senators who have abused taxpayers' money, Canadians are more and more convinced that the solution to the unelected, unaccountable, and under-investigated Senate is to abolish it, pure and simple.
So much has been going on in the House with respect to accountability and ethics that we really have to look at the whole. We have to look at what happens at committees as well.
We used to see committees as a place where we could count on people doing the heavy lifting for Parliament. It was said that although the chamber could appear to be a partisan mess, the committees were where sleeves were actually rolled up and petty differences were set aside, while some common good was served. That notion and those outcomes have been replaced by sideshow antics and committees are now a place where democracy rarely happens. By using their majority to go in camera, the Conservatives are actually gaining every aspect of committees and then telling Canadians, with a straight face, that this is what they voted for.
There was a comment from one of the committee chairs at the time, the member for Winnipeg Centre. The Conservatives had voted to go in camera and he wanted to ensure we were not. As he was suspending the meeting he said the following. “while we clear the room of the Canadian public and go under the black shroud of secrecy once again”. That is how he ended that session of the committee in order to go in camera. Canadians need to know the truth. Therefore, when we are looking at this bill, it is important to look at all aspects.
Let me reiterate what the bill would do.
Bill C-518 would remove the privileges of retiring allowances or compensation allowances of former members of the Senate or House of Commons if they have been convicted of certain offences under the Criminal Code, and that is a great thing. The member of Parliament or senator convicted then receives an amount equivalent to the contributions he or she paid for his or her pension, as well as the accumulated interest on those contributions. They get what they put into it, but they do not get the rest.
Following an amendment in committee, the member of Parliament or senator must now have committed certain offences in the Criminal Code that are listed in the bill. The Conservatives have also removed the retroactivity of the bill, meaning that Bill C-518 will only apply to senators and MPs that lose their position once the bill becomes law.
Experts have warned against the use of a list of offences because it could be applied in a broad spectrum, for example, if an MP has been a public servant, and also because it does not include many offences to other laws that are relevant to an MP's or senator's function, such as the Canada Elections Act, the Income Tax Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. We found a solution to this problem, but the Conservatives simply chose to ignore it.
We make proposals. We try to work with the Conservatives and the Liberals to try to find that common ground where we can have bills that are functional and that mean something.
The changes that were introduced to the bill by the Conservatives in committee will exclude the offences. That is the part we want to ensure we emphasize. Too many laws that are relevant to the function of the MP or senator will be excluded. They were not able to justify why they refused the amendments brought forward by the NDP. It was a good amendment. By doing this, the Conservatives will allow the former parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Dean Del Mastro, to keep his pension even though he was found guilty of electoral fraud. That is the important piece.
Although the member across had mentioned the fact that it had to do with our duties, when we are running for an election, that is part of our duties as we are moving forward. That is how we get elected.
We can talk about a lot of the misgivings on the Conservative side. Peter Penashue was one of them. He was found to be in contravention of how much money he was allowed to spend during the election. It actually had given him a hand up over other candidates because there was much more money spent on that side. We have a list of those where we have a lot of misgivings on the Conservative side.
At the end of the day, we need to ensure that the laws we put in place will protect the public's interest when it comes to accountability and ethics as we take our positions in the House of Commons or in the Senate.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for New Brunswick Southwest, whose spouse, I note, is a serving member.
Today, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, and a number of parliamentarians, are on the shores of Normandy, joining leaders from around the world, Canadian Forces members, cadets, 1,000 Canadian youth, but, most importantly, 100 Canadian veterans of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, who have triumphantly returned 70 years later.
As Canadians, it is our responsibility and a sacred duty to honour and remember those who served so courageously for our very freedom and democracy that we enjoy today, and that we remember those who continue to defend and protect our great country at home and abroad.
Lest we forget. N'oublions jamais.
The electoral district of New Brunswick Southwest (New Brunswick) has a population of 63,232 with 49,273 registered voters and 147 polling divisions.
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