The Chair (Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)):
I call the meeting to order. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vi), this is a resumption of the study of the activities of the Conservative Party of Canada during the 2006 election campaign in relation to certain election campaign expenses and the ethical standards of public office holders.
Our witnesses again today are Mr. Marc Mayrand, who is the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, and Mr. François Bernier, who is the director of legal services for Elections Canada.
We are going to resume questioning by the members. All the presentations have been made. I understand the members still have quite a few questions to ask, and we will continue until the members are at the point where they believe they have exhausted their substantive questions. It is indeterminate when that might be, so we'll just have to work through it.
I want to remind the members that we also have committee business to transact. We will continue this meeting for as long as it takes. Four o'clock may be on the notice, but that's only when the committee wants to adjourn; we have to deal with the future witness names that have been submitted.
A list from each party has been submitted to the clerk. They're being consolidated, and the duplicates will be eliminated. We will circulate to the members, in both official languages, the consolidated list of proposals by the committee for consideration during the rest of the time, until the end of the questioning of Mr. Mayrand. Then we will deal with our approach. Once we excuse Mr. Mayrand, I will suggest possible approaches for us to deal with a very, very large list.
I want to also share with the committee a concern that I have. As you know, in many of the meetings we had, particularly those with the Mulroney-Schreiber hearings, I repeated often that we must always treat all our witnesses with dignity and respect. Those are not just words. They're here at our invitation. I am somewhat concerned that allegations or statements have been made about our witness specifically, and about Elections Canada--characterizing them.
I understand there are some feelings about that, but I think it is getting very close to badgering of witnesses when you make allegations about their motivation or their position. As a member of Parliament, as the chair of this committee, as a colleague, I encourage members to please think twice about the issue of dignity and respect for our witnesses. I would really prefer that those kinds of statements be restricted in this forum and that we deal with the matter before us.
Finally, as I did after yesterday morning, when we started the afternoon session, Mr. Mayrand, I gave you an opportunity to make any statement you felt was necessary to clarify any answers you had given or presentation points you made, or any other information you felt you would like to bring to the attention of the committee. I will give you that opportunity now to address the committee.
Mr. Marc Mayrand (Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada):
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would like to come back to some aspects of what was discussed yesterday and provide some clarifications. In fact, I would like to cover three aspects this morning, if I may.
The first deals with factors that were discussed at length yesterday, and led to my decision, which has been the subject of several discussions at this committee. It seems there is some confusion about those factors. I would first simply like to point out to the committee members that the word "factor" includes the word "fact". Yesterday there was a lot of talk about some of those factors that are not in the Act. I would simply like to point out that the Act requires that the Chief Electoral Officer certify that reimbursement for an expense may legally be made before that happens.
How does the Chief Electoral Officer determine that an expense is eligible? He does this by applying the definitions in the Act that provide that an election expense must be incurred by candidates at fair market value. In this case, it had to be determined whether the expense was actually incurred and whether it was in fact incurred at the commercial value, as the Act requires. I concluded that the expenses as submitted had not been incurred at their fair market value.
The facts that led to that decision are as I stated yesterday. The first fact was the lack of knowledge on the part of the candidates when they were questioned about the nature of the expense. That fact in itself is not sufficient for reaching a conclusion. However, we asked other questions, given the lack of knowledge about the expense. We asked for documentary evidence, for example the existence of contracts or documents that could have established a contractual arrangement between the campaign and the supplier of the service. Once again, the candidates were unable to provide us with that documentary evidence. The absence of sufficient documentary evidence is the second fact I considered.
The third fact was that the Party had made representations stating that all contractual arrangements had been made by the Party and invoices were sent to the Party.
The fourth fact was that the candidates received invoices from the party rather than from the service supplier, and the fact that the money used to pay the expense submitted to us was under the Party's control at all times. And the last fact was that the allocation of costs for the claims submitted to us did not reflect the fair market value.
These facts led me to conclude that, under the Act, the expense had not been incurred by the candidate and in any event did not represent the commercial value. I simply wanted to make these clarifications, in view of what I saw as being confusion yesterday.
The second aspect I would like to raise with the committee today deals with the nature of the questions I was asked yesterday. I tried, in all good faith, to answer the questions put to me as completely as possible. However, I noticed that some of the questions I was asked yesterday had already been asked in Federal Court during the cross-examination of Elections Canada representatives in the court case.
I simply want to point out that Ms. Vézina's testimony in Federal Court represents the position of Elections Canada in this case, that the affidavit of Elections Canada in the case is in the public domain and is part of the Court's record, that Ms. Vézina was cross-examined for nearly four days, and that the transcript of Ms. Vézina's cross-examination is now in the public domain because it has been placed in the Federal Court record.
Once again, I want to assure the committee of my desire to cooperate as fully as possible in its deliberations. However, in view of the fact that there is a case before the Court, I must refuse to answer questions that are now before the Court, out of respect for the courts. I would also not want anyone to accuse me or accuse Elections Canada of using this forum to improve its position in the courts. I would like the committee's assurance that it understands this.
The third aspect I would like to come back to this morning, further to my testimony yesterday, deals with the allegation of a leak in relation to the search that took place in this case. Although I find it hard to see any connection with the committee's terms of reference and the motion before the committee, I confirmed that the allegation made in the media had disturbed me. I also informed the committee that at the time I had quickly done a brief review of the situation and come to the conclusion that, in my opinion, there were no reasonable grounds to believe that there had been any leak originating with Elections Canada.
I understand that there is a motion before the committee that could request me or direct me—it was not entirely clear from what I heard yesterday—to order an independent investigation. Before committing public funds for such an investigation, I would ask, with all due respect, that the committee, if it considers it appropriate, state the considerations that might prompt it to pass such a motion, specify the allegations regarding the leak, and, if possible, specify the sources of the leak. I would also ask that the committee specify as best it can what the ins and outs of the investigation would be, so that the terms of reference for an independent investigator could clearly state the committee's expectations and, if the motion were to be passed, the report could meet the committee's expectations.
Mrs. Carole Lavallée (Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, BQ):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First, Mr. Mayrand, I would like to thank you for the clarifications you provided at the beginning of the meeting, and remind you that on April 29, all parties represented at this table, with the exception of the Conservatives, voted in favour of the Bloc Québécois motion to reaffirm our confidence in Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer. So I wanted to reiterate that expression of confidence.
I would also like to take this opportunity, because we do not often have an opportunity to speak, here, to tell you that the Bloc Québécois will be voting against the Conservatives' motion requesting that you hold a public investigation into the lead that led to television cameras being present at the scene of the search you conducted with the help of the RCMP, because at this point the Conservatives are just feigning indignance.
They are asking you to conduct a public investigation, but they themselves conduct internal investigations. In the Maxime Bernier case, they did a hasty little investigation at Foreign Affairs. On the leak relating to Barack Obama and NAFTA, they did another hasty little internal investigation, and now they are asking you to a public investigation. That makes no sense, and that is why the Bloc Québécois will be voting against the motion.
We know, and we have just seen, that they are doing everything they can to divert attention and stall, as they did for the 10-hour discussion that resulted in you appearing here yesterday and today. They continually stall and raise points of order, each more far-fetched than the one before, to avoid discussing the real issues. Even when they talk about the searches, they change the subject. We get the impression that what shocks them is not the search, it's the fact that it was broadcast on television. In fact, when your position is indefensible, that is the only path to take.
Yesterday, Mr. Mayrand, you told me, me personally, that you did not know whom the advertising expenses should be allocated to. Groups of transactions were formed, and you said that all you knew was that the expenses were not attributable to the candidates. You have just reiterated that the official agents did not know that those expenses had been incurred, that there was no documentation, that the contracts were signed not by the candidates or the official agents but by the Party itself, and that the invoices were produced by the Party. In fact, everything was done under the control of the Party. In addition, the price paid was not the fair value.
Mr. Hiebert just said that the official agents were volunteers, activists. But the official agents, ordinarily, under the Act, and you can confirm this in a moment, it seems to me that they have to sign the documents that makes them accountable for the things they do. This is a very important position in a party. These aren't people checking things off on a list, their job is to be official agents and oversee a party's campaign expenses. That is so important that there are people in my riding who would not want to hold the position because they know that even though it is volunteer work, they are subject to a heavy code of ethics. I would like you to confirm that for me in a moment.
In a nutshell, the expense was not incurred by the candidate, by the official agent. So when we want to know whom to allocate the expense to, we can ask, to put it somewhat simply, who profits from the crime. But we have to ask where the money came from. In your documents, when we look to see who transferred the funds, we see that it was the Conservative fund. So I would like you to talk a bit about where the funds came from, for the official agents to sign cheques to Retail Media with their eyes shut, I suppose.
Mr. Pat Martin:
Just briefly, Mr. Chairman, I don't know if it will generate a great deal of debate, but we've had Mr. Mayrand here for two two-hour sessions yesterday and for one full round today. I think committee members had ample opportunity yesterday to put any points of any real substance that they might have had to Mr. Mayrand. By calling him back here today, they've had an opportunity to get clarification on points they may have wanted to be fleshed out or to give him the opportunity to answer in a more fulsome way issues that were left dangling yesterday, which he did. He used the first few minutes of his presentation to itemize three clear points.
What we don't want to do is to diminish or demean these proceedings by allowing it to become a forum for grandstanding in any way, shape, or form.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Pat Martin: I think you will note, Mr. Chairman, that I've used admirable restraint all through this and have allowed the Conservatives ample time to put forward any points they may have. In fact, they've had very few points of substance, but that's just my opinion. They've had the right to use the time as they see fit. But now we're just getting down to smokescreens. We're getting down to things that deviate from the original mandate of this committee.
It was controversial that we began this study at all, as you well know. It was debated at length for days, in fact, whether or not our committee has a mandate to investigate Elections Canada's investigation into the Conservative Party. In fact, the only way we could get permission from the House to undertake this study was by having a very narrow motion, very narrow terms of reference. Let me read it. It simply says:
||That the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics investigate the actions of the Conservative Party of Canada during the 2006 election, in relation to which Elections Canada has refused to reimburse Conservative candidates for certain election campaign expenses in order to determine if these actions meet the ethical standards expected of public office holders.
To stray from or deviate from that very narrow wording, I think, is out of order and does a disservice to the main content. For us to even delve into the search warrant of the Conservative Party headquarters deviates wildly from the original mandate. To start picking apart whether or not we have confidence in the Chief Electoral Officer deviates from the mandate. We haven't heard enough information about the public office holders, which is the original reason this committee has the mandate to investigate it.
I don't think there is anything to be gained by allowing the Conservatives to further bash and insult an officer of Parliament at this forum. They have their own court battles going and they can make all of those points in other fora. That's not our business; that has nothing to do with the work of this committee. We've heard Mr. Mayrand. We have no further questions for this witness. I hope the other opposition parties feel the same way, that our time would be better spent outlining the rest of our study.
Mr. David Tilson:
Mr. Chairman, I just want to remind members of the committee of the motion that is the reason we're here. The final point in that motion is to determine if the actions of the Conservative Party meet the ethical standards expected of public office holders. It's a very serious motion.
We, on this side, have a number of questions that have remained unanswered. I personally have asked a total of five minutes of questions. I suppose one could say my colleagues have hogged the other time, but I have some questions and I was hoping eventually I would have an opportunity to ask those questions. As some may know, five minutes is not enough time for me personally.
The other issue I raise, and it may not be the intent of Mr. Martin and it may be that I don't understand what he means by “excusing” these witnesses.... I hope he would mean they're excused for this time before us now. But there are a number of witnesses, which we will determine as a committee in due course, and there may be other questions of clarification required of Mr. Mayrand.
I would hope that Mr. Martin is not saying, “Well, that's it, Mr. Mayrand, you're....” It may be that as a result of hearing testimony from other witnesses, we have other questions. I assume that's not his intent, but that the intent of his motion is that Mr. Mayrand would be excused for the time being but should stand by because he could be called again as a result of other testimony or other evidence .
So I'm simply saying to the mover of the motion, Mr. Martin, that we on this side have a number of questions to be asked. I personally have a number of questions to be asked. I have given the courtesy to my colleagues to ask their questions, but I can assure you I require more than five minutes of questions of these witnesses on such an important matter, to determine the standards expected of public office holders. It is a very serious motion, and surely to goodness I'm going to be given more than five minutes to ask questions. And that five minutes includes not just the questions but the answers. I have essentially been shut out if this motion carries, and there are enough votes for the opposition that you can do that. We're here at your pleasure.
Mr. Chairman, I will not be supporting the motion.
Mr. Gary Goodyear:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm going to support the subamendment suggesting that we go eight more rounds. Also, I certainly want to contradict some of the comments.
Monsieur Mayrand, in no way am I attempting to kick sand in your face. What I'm attempting to do is to understand the process to date.
I would like to let the committee know, with all due respect to Mr. Martin's original motion, about some of the comments that Mr. Martin made when he presented the motion. He stated that he had put this motion forward and that we've been stalling it. That's absolutely false. Records will show that many times our party tried to expand this. We were completely willing to open our books, and not just for 2006; we offered to open them up for 2004 as well, because we have absolutely nothing to hide. The caveat was that we felt it should be all parties, because parliamentary committees—this was the logic—don't study one party. That's what the courts do. Parliamentary committees study the Elections Act and the advertising expenses of all parties.
So Mr. Martin, quite respectfully, is absolutely incorrect with that smokescreen. We've tried to expand opening our books completely. They have blocked that. In fact, when we suggested that we open this up, the NDP was one of the first ones to say “No, we don't want anyone to look at our books.” And do you know what else happened? The Liberals just about freaked out, especially when we suggested 2004. That's a funny one. And of course the Bloc voted no.
Now, here's my point: This is not a smokescreen; this could be a smoking gun. Right here, I have in front of me a series of e-mails that I absolutely think the committee would want to see, showing how Monsieur Mayrand's five factors have been applied to this case. That is a significant question for me. I want to know if any red flags were raised in this case. Mr. Martin may want to shut this down quickly because he knows this is an NDP case. But I want to find out if and how these factors that we've just heard about in the last two days, which are not in the act, which are not in handbooks, were applied, and if they were applied, on what grounds they were eliminated.
I don't want to go into it now, but my point is that I need time for the questioning. Eight rounds would probably suffice. The official agent says here, “This is not our invoice.” And do you know what it says? “This is really, really bad. Please check, because it's really, really bad for our ceiling.” And the bookkeeper for the NDP says “Shove it through anyway. Put it through anyway.”
Monsieur Mayrand said a number of times that we can transfer funds back and forth. That's not a problem. But you can't transfer expenses.
Well, Pat, here's your own party dictating that exactly.
So all I'm asking for is a round of questions to ask our expert witness how he applied these invented factors that we've all just heard about this week, whether he did in fact apply these factors, or if he didn't, then why not. These are legitimate questions. They're not partisan. They're not attacking the Chief Electoral Officer. We have great respect for Elections Canada.
An hon. member: Hear! Hear!
Mr. Gary Goodyear: Absolutely. In fact, I remember meeting Monsieur Mayrand a number of times. I have nothing but the greatest respect for this man. But clearly something has gone wrong, and if this is anything besides a Liberal political public stunt, then our members will vote to continue for at least eight more rounds. That is absolutely fair, especially given the parameters of which questions we can ask the witness and which questions the witness can answer or can't answer, all of which was debated at committee.
This is not a surprise to anybody. We said full well...and everybody argued that this should be before the courts, where questions have no restrictions and answers have no restrictions.
Guess what? There's no group of opposition parties who, just by their numbers, can control and dictate the outcome for personal political gain. That would amount to nothing more than political parties using taxpayer dollars, because being here costs a fortune.
And you want to limit debate? You want to cut this down so that we don't meet on Thursday and we don't meet on Friday. The flight for me to come here is the same if I'm here for one day or seven days, but that's not the point. That's not what the opposition is attempting to do. The opposition is clearly doing exactly what they did in the $40 million ad scam, which is to find a creative way to use taxpayer dollars for their own personal political gain.
So I'm totally supportive of going eight more rounds—not fifteen, which I think might be unreasonable. But having only more round is not reasonable and not democratic. I'm going to support the subamendment to go eight more rounds as a reasonable compromise to look for the truth, if in fact that's what you're looking for.
Mr. Scott Reid:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Just as a starting point, I want to correct a factual error in Mr. Martin's initial presentation of his motion. He said the only way we could get permission from the House of Commons was to adopt a certain wording. Actually, no permission was actively given by the House of Commons. What happens is the Speaker will decide, after the fact, whether or not the committee's report is receivable based on a number of considerations, including whether or not the terms of reference were in or out of order. That's just a matter to correct an error that I'm sure was made unintentionally.
Mr. Martin also said, referring to the New Democrats, that we have no other business before this committee, by which I think he meant that we have no further questions for this witness. And I accept that he has no further questions for the witness because he says so; however, it is not the case that none of us have further questions.
As I understand it, the way the round would conclude—I don't have the list in front of me—there's basically one more question, possibly two, from the Conservative Party before the round concludes, if it's done that way. Neither of those spots, if it's two, are taken up by me, so effectively I would have no opportunity to ask any further questions of Mr. Mayrand. I have a number of things that I think are very germane to the subject matter here and, moreover, that do not constitute questioning that goes into the specifics of the court action that has been undertaken by the official agents for the Conservative Party against Mr. Mayrand and Elections Canada. This was a restriction, Mr. Chair, that you had placed upon us.
I mention this because I am here justifying to members, as they choose how they will vote, why I think we should have eight rounds--I would actually prefer more than eight rounds--remembering that in those eight rounds we have, I think, an average of three questions for the government side in those rounds. There are five government members. I could expect to get a round and perhaps part of another one, so I might get four questions in here.
Some of the things I would want to go through that I think members would agree are highly relevant include a further discussion of the five factors. The Chief Electoral Officer has stated to us that he requested that his staff look at the other parties and whether the other parties had in any case triggered the five factors. Under questioning from Mr. Hiebert, my colleague, he indicated he couldn't remember whether this was a request made in writing or one that was done simply verbally. My line of questioning was going to determine whether or not this was a serious investigation or whether it was in fact just a cavalier, pro forma thing in order to essentially allow him to say, “Well, we've looked at everybody”, or whether there was a serious investigation. I was going to try to draw on that a bit. I think that's a highly relevant consideration.
He also stated, and this is actually a quote I wrote down—he uses the word “facts” now—“the facts came up after prosecution had already commenced”. I was going to ask whether he meant that the factors, the five criteria you had to meet, came up after prosecution had already commenced. I'm assuming he's referring, but I have to confirm this with him, to the other parties.
I think you can see the point of this line of questioning. Indeed, if I'm correct in my understanding, it confirms that other parties were subjected to a lesser level of scrutiny than the Conservative Party of Canada in determining whether or not they would get rebates. In fact, there were two standards being applied--I won't suggest by Mr. Mayrand himself--effectively, I'm suggesting, by those who were creating these tests.
I note as well that Mr. Mayrand had made it clear that he did not necessarily come up with these five tests. They were out there. It might have been the investigators. The obvious question is, was it the case that only the investigator looking at or the person coordinating the Conservative Party was applying these standards and that a different, less stringent standard was being applied to other parties? This is another question I would have pursued with the Chief Electoral Officer.
A further question I would pursue, and indeed I will pursue if we agree to have the eight rounds, is that I will bring up the suggestions I made to Mr. Mayrand, and also to Mr. Corbett, our commissioner for Elections Canada, when they appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee as witnesses, as we were looking at them to ask them questions prior to the House making a decision approving them for office.
At that time, I raised the matter with both Mr. Corbett and Mr. Mayrand that the interpretative bulletin system used by Elections Canada is faulty. I raised the point that other agencies such as the Canada Revenue Agency, when they say they are interpreting the law a certain way, are effectively saying—and in fact they do say it, it's written down—that If you follow in good faith the practices as laid out here, you won't be prosecuted. I was going to raise the fact that I had raised this matter with him and with Mr. Corbett and then after the fact Mr. Mayrand appears to have decided to go back to the very course of action I warned him against. I was going to inquire as to whether I was understanding correctly that he deliberately decided not to follow that course of action I recommended when he appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee of effectively saying he wouldn't retroactively apply different rules or interpretations than those he said would be in place—in all fairness, he wasn't the Chief Electoral Officer in the 2006 election—that his agency had applied at that time. If so, I was going to ask for the rationale for that.
Also, I was going to ask him whether I had misunderstood what was going on. Certainly that is a legitimate line of questioning and one that is only possible if Mr. Mayrand is here to answer additional questions beyond.... As I said, I get no questions if we shut down after one round; therefore, he doesn't have to answer these questions.
I think these are very important. I would urge the members of the other parties to remember that just because the answers Mr. Mayrand is giving aren't fulfilling a narrative that they had imagined would come out in these meetings, wherein the Conservative Party would be guilty of extravagant abuses of the system.... We've heard the term “conspiracy” used. We just heard Mr. Hubbard compare this to the Watergate scandal. I've heard the word “criminal” used a number of times, and all of this. Criminal actions aren't actually in Mr. Mayrand's or Mr. Corbett's jurisdictions. But all these things.... Just because that narrative isn't coming out is no reason to dismiss the witness and try to find other witnesses who will give the appropriate narrative, as opposed to simply stating the facts as they exist.
Mr. Chairman, on that basis, I would urge members to vote in favour of the amendment Mr. Poilievre has proposed to Mr. Martin's motion. Thank you.
Mr. Pierre Poilievre:
I'd like the committee to be aware of some of the questions that I would like to pose to Mr. Mayrand, with a view to helping members to decide on my amendment.
First, there are these five factors that he says helped him make his decision. He is unable to point to any documentary evidence to show that he applied these five factors when considering the books of the other parties. He says that he might have sent an e-mail, that he might have made a phone call, that he's not quite sure whom he asked. I would like to know how many people conducted this investigation of the other parties. He hasn't answered any of this.
With respect to the first of the five factors that he lists here, he says that the problem he has with the way the Conservative Party conducted itself is that official agents did not seem to have detailed knowledge of the regional media buy expense. But he refused to show anywhere in the law where it's required that the official agents have detailed knowledge of all of the expenses that are incurred on a campaign.
The only thing that the official agent is required to do is the accounting of the campaign. They don't have to memorize all of the contents of the brochures, nor do they have to know all of the contents of an advertisement. In the cases before us with regard to the Conservative Party, we know that the local campaigns signed off on these advertisements. This is the level of detail that the law requires. I'd like to ask questions about that.
He then says that there was no documentary evidence to establish the existence of a contractual agreement by any of the participating candidates with the supplier Retail Media. There doesn't have to be. It is perfectly allowable for a campaign to purchase services directly from a party. A party can buy $1 million worth of lawn signs and then have local candidates purchase those lawn signs from the party. Those local candidates do not have to have a contractual arrangement with the supplier of those signs; they don't even have to know who that supplier is. All they have to do is make the purchase from the party and then book the expense in their own accounting. That is not only allowed; it is done every day.
Just yesterday, I contacted my campaign manager to find out if that's what we're planning to do. Frankly, I don't even know who we're buying our lawn signs from. It was my plan just to buy them from the central party. That's perfectly normal, perfectly allowable. It happens all the time, and it is expressly legal.
Third, with respect to the representations of the party officials, he says that all arrangements for the purchase were made by the party and the invoices were sent to the party. That's exactly the same as the second point. It is perfectly allowable. This is a question I want to ask him. Is it not perfectly allowable for parties to procure services and then sell those services to their candidates?
Mr. Pierre Poilievre:
All right. The overall point I'm making here, the thesis I am driving at, is that when the possibility of discussing the issue of electoral financing first came before this committee, the first thing the opposition tried to do was prevent their own books from being discussed. “We don't want any discussion of our own activities, because we don't want any of that to be brought into public light. We don't want to show that we did exactly the same thing we are accusing the government of.”
Then, Mr. Chair, we said, okay, we would move ahead with these discussions and we'd have the Chief Electoral Officer here. As soon as we started to ask him questions that demonstrated fatal weaknesses in his legal argument, they said, oh no, we can't have any more questions about that because that's before the courts. We can't have any discussion of the weakness of his case, because that will appear before the courts. So we won't allow that either.
Then I mentioned the example of the Bloc Québécois deliberately transferring expenses to its local campaigns. And now you're saying, no, that can't be discussed, because it was in the year 2000, and everything that happens in a leap year is not allowed to be discussed before the committee.
Now that we're driving home a lot of these weaknesses, more weaknesses, with the questioning of the witness, they say, no, we can't have any more questions, because it's almost noon, and no questions are allowed after noon. There's a rule, an ancient parliamentary tradition, that questions aren't allowed after noon.
So as soon as the opposition starts to find itself in a danger zone, they invent a new rule about why questions about them or Elections Canada cannot be asked.
Mr. Chair, this very motion that Mr. Martin has put forward is proof itself of the very weakness of the opposition's and Elections Canada's position here.
Mrs. Carole Lavallée:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank Mr. Mayrand for being here. He has said enough to make us want to hear more witnesses. He has given us a top-notch explanation of the Canada Elections Act. It was very clear. His entire presentation was extremely clear, but each of us still had a few grey areas. We have asked questions and requested clarification in good faith. Nonetheless, his entire presentation was simply top notch.
The five criteria, contrary to what was said by Mr. Goodyear, who has just learned there are five criteria, were explained to us at the beginning of the presentation, even before we asked questions. Mr. Goodyear, I refer you to the documents containing the presentation that we received. The five criteria are set out there. It is clear for anyone who wants to understand. Those five criteria are based on the Act, that is, that expenses have to be incurred by the official agent. They have to be authorized and paid by the official agent. That is clear. In any event, I understood that when an official agent does not know about an expense, that means that he or she certainly did not authorize it. When there are no documents to prove it, when there is no contract, when there is no invoice from the supplier, and when fair market value was not paid, clearly that does not comply with the Act.
We are talking about paying fair market value, so I would like to remind you that Josée Verner, the minister, paid only $9,300 for an ad she appeared in, while her colleague in the next riding, Sylvie Boucher, who was never seen in the ad, paid $39,000. Clearly there is a difference between what was paid and what it was worth. If I were to pay $39,000 for an ad I did not appear in, I would not be very happy. I am not certain that I would agree to it. I would change official agents.
That being said, the five criteria were explained to us for six hours, maybe one more, and it was very clear. We will see Mr. Mayrand again if necessary.
I would like to make a brief aside regarding Mr. Poilievre's allegations about the differences with the Bloc Québécois. I have explained this several times, but Mr. Poilievre plainly does not understand what he does not wish to understand. First, in 2000, it was legal. The Act has changed since then. Second, in subsequent elections, did our candidates and official agents know about the expenses? Yes, they knew about them. It was decided at the general council, completely democratically. All the candidates and all the official agents knew about the expenses. Were there documents? I refer you to the minutes and transcripts of the general council meetings. Were contracts signed? Yes, they were signed. Did they receive an invoice from the supplier? Yes, they did. Did they pay fair market value? Yes. Everyone paid an equitable share. There's the difference with the Bloc Québécois. In any event, two CEOs have said that we acted properly, because we requested an interpretation from the CEO. A superior court has said we were right, and there have been no searches of our party's offices.
That being said, it would be very nice to see Mr. Mayrand again, if necessary, but we do not want to limit the debate. We do not want to put a stop to the debate; on the contrary, we want to see it continue, progress and expand. We do not want to derail it as the Conservative Party is doing. And that is exactly what you are doing. You are, if I may use the expression, spinning the debate because you don't like what you're hearing. Given that you have already voted against having confidence in the CEO, we can only think that the sole purpose of all of your questions is to derail the debate. There is nothing else we can think. You yourselves, every one of you, rose in the House to vote against having confidence in the CEO. You yourselves said that you had no confidence in the Chief Electoral Officer, who is sitting here. How can we think, in good faith, that you are asking him questions in order to advance the debate and help us understand the situation better? If we keep him any longer, I think this is going to look like an interrogation, for the purpose of torturing him. I would say, in jest, that we are not in Guantanamo.
For all these reasons, I think that one last round will be enough, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Gary Goodyear:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Again, contrary to what Madam Lavallée has said, I actually like what I'm hearing here at this thing, but let's just move off that. I think in fact we're starting to break through some of the facades in trying to understand further how these decisions have come to pass. But as for the issue of having more rounds, I'm going to just stay off that.
The issue, Mr. Chair, is this. We have been handed out a number of documents by the clerks, and I have a document here that we haven't even touched on. It's extremely well researched by the Library of Parliament—Bibliothèque du Parlement—and these folks in the Library of Parliament, I think all members will agree, are outstanding individuals who are experts in researching and getting to the ground of exactly what's before us.
Now, there's a number of things the Library of Parliament has discovered, and I'm not going to go into the questions out of respect for getting to the vote on this amendment. But the Library of Parliament is suggesting here that Elections Canada maintains that the advertising for which reimbursement was sought was not incurred by the local candidate but by the party, because—this is what the research says—the ads promoted the party and its policies and not the candidates or their policies. But you see, yesterday Monsieur Mayrand indicated that, or we at least discovered that, I could buy advertising to promote the party. I like my leader. And it gets me votes, because at the bottom of the day the party gets no votes. It actually comes down to me.
And the promotion of a tag line Elections Canada deemed not to be enough. However, the Elections Act says it's totally enough. So I want to understand this better.
Then of course the Library of Parliament gives its own opinion of this thing. Here's what it says: “The Canada Elections Act permits the largely unfettered transfer of funds, goods, and services.” So we've already established all this.
I understand. I'm not getting to the point here. I'm going to try to get to the point.
I guess the point at the bottom line is this. I'm not going to read all of this again out of respect for time, but I'm just suggesting that I have more questions that were based on information that's been provided by the committee itself. We haven't even been able to get to the documentation we asked for, all members asked for, through the clerks and through the researchers at the parliamentary library.
Now, I'm concerned that members opposite have read this and have already decided how damaging this document is going to be, and they're trying to shut it down. And I just don't think that's what we should be doing here.
It wasn't us, Mr. Chair, who called this meeting. My suspicion is that this was called by the opposition. So now we're here. Taxpayers have already paid for me to be here. They've paid, Mr. Chair, for you to be here. They've paid for all this in two official languages. Why on earth would we want to run through this thing in one, two, three, or four hours? That's ridiculous. Perhaps we shouldn't even have started this but allowed it to be up to the courts. But now that we're down this road, we have to complete the job. Why are you cutting and running when we're almost halfway there? There's only one reason: they know full well that if we continue our line of questioning they're going to be shown for the political partisan opportunists they are. And it will again show taxpayers that this party has not changed, that this party is so creative in finding ways to use taxpayers' dollars to get votes. That's what's going to end up being shown here.
I'm not intending to show that. That's not my intention. I think it's going to be obvious to Canadians that the Liberals, for example, have done the same thing for years, right from the ad scam in Quebec when they stole taxpayers' dollars to win Quebec. And now here we are with another creative way to use taxpayers' dollars.
Pat, I wouldn't talk too loudly, because the example I got is your party. Smoking gun, buddy.
So my thinking is the absolute least thing we can do....
Marlene, you know this to be true. One round of questions is not going to do this. Eight rounds? I don't think even eight rounds is going to do it.
But I'm trying to be a compromising individual here. Let's go for eight rounds, and perhaps the committee could agree that if other issues come up Mr. Mayrand can be recalled as a witness. Either way, the focus is to get to the truth, not the half-truth.
I know you're used to the half-truth, Mr. Dhaliwal; I know you are, but calm down. We're here to get to the full truth. It's a new thing.
I'll end on that note. Thank you, Mr. Chair, but I appeal to the committee to vote in favour of the amendment.
Hon. Marlene Jennings:
Thank you for being here, Mr. Mayrand. I think I can quite confidently speak for my caucus and my party in expressing our appreciation for the quality of the work and the impartiality and objectivity of Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada both here in Canada, in our federal general elections, and abroad and elsewhere in other countries.
Conservative MPs have insinuated that when you refused to answer certain questions put to you at these meetings that necessarily meant that you were afraid of undermining the case that is currently before the court, in the application brought against Elections Canada by the Conservative Party. In my opinion, and the opinion of anyone with in iota of comprehension of the law, that is simply ridiculous.
Other standing committees of the House have heard witnesses on other subjects and where there were proceedings underway in a criminal or civil court, those witnesses have refused to answer certain questions.
I think it is reprehensible on the part of Conservative members of Parliament to insinuate that because the Chief Electoral Officer is refusing to answer certain questions that are sub judice before the Federal Court, he is somehow doing so because he is afraid of weakening his case before the Federal Court. We have had cases where witnesses before other standing committees on the LRT, the light rail transit project.... The Conservatives might remember that, as the environment minister, Mr. Baird, cancelled the whole program. Well, there were witnesses on both sides of that civil litigation who refused to answer questions before the standing committee.
My sense, in trying to be an objective person, is that the Chief Electoral Officer may not want to answer certain questions that the Conservative members of Parliament are asking because he doesn't want to harm the party even further than it has been harmed with its electoral fraud and financing scheme.
I have a question. There was a Conservative candidate in Cardigan, P.E.I., who spent over 90% of his campaign expenses on advertising, according to his campaign election returns. Well, that same riding, Cardigan, is one of the ridings that appeared in the tag line of a TV ad, along with other Conservative candidates. But it's not a riding that Elections Canada has identified as having participated in this scheme which it has found to be in violation of the law, one, and which it is refusing to provide rebates for. And secondly, when the returns were filed, the official agent of the Conservative Party candidate in Cardigan, P.E.I., did not report that ad as an electoral expense, and the national party returns didn't report it as an expense for that particular election campaign by the Conservative candidate in Cardigan.
Is there any way you can explain that? You may not have the information now. If you don't have the information, would you provide it in writing to members of this committee, through the clerk and the chair, as to why no expense was assigned by that campaign for that ad, which it and the Conservative Party media publicly attributed to that riding through a tag line for the official agent of the Conservative Party candidate in Cardigan, P.E.I.? In electoral financing, is it possible for an ad, whether print or electronic, to be attributed to a particular candidate, but that candidate does not have to report its value to Elections Canada? Is that a possibility?
I've gone over my time.
An hon. member: You guys don't like the rules.
An hon. member: You can't get used to the rules.
An hon. member: Could I have the floor?
The Chair: No. No, we're in the middle of something right now.
An hon. member: The witness.
The Chair: Order, order.
An hon. member: Bring in the witnesses.
The Chair: Okay. I'll get there.
I don't think it's humourous to laugh at the orders.
We did pass a resolution that we would hear from the last two speakers in that round and Mr. Poilievre. After Mr. Poilievre had completed his remarks, and then we were ready to excuse Mr. Mayrand, he, as I heard—
An hon. member: It's not true.
The Chair: I didn't say what I heard yet, so how do you know it's not true?
An hon. member: You use that all the time.
The Chair: I have heard about moving the motion by Mr.—
Okay, colleagues, we're now resuming our business.
We have finished with our witnesses. We're now at the second item on our notice of motion. We have completed with Mr. Mayrand and Mr. Bernier. We have a couple of matters of business that we had indicated and that I'd like to proceed with. I'd like to lay out how we will do this.
I put committee business on the notice of meeting, and as we discussed very briefly yesterday, the principal reason is to address future witnesses. We had adopted a process whereby the members from each of the parties would prepare and submit to the clerk their proposed witnesses by the beginning of today's meeting, at 10 a.m. That was done. All the duplicates have been consolidated except two. I noted two, actually, that are still duplicated there, but I'll point them out to you. So we want to deal with that witness list.
We also want to deal with the meeting dates. I have heard some interventions. There is a strong argument from a couple of members, with regard to Quebec, that the last week of July and the first week of August are basically no-go zones. This is a very significant period of time--vacation time and other activity time--for Quebec, and as a consequence, I'm going to suggest....
Also, Mr. Goodyear and a couple of others have mentioned on a couple of occasions that coming for two days, going back home, and then coming back for another two days, the cost of that to fly.... What I'm going to suggest—and you may want to check your calendars now—is that once we deal with our witness list, the committee would next meet on August 11, 12, 13, and maybe 14. It is about a month from now. That will give the committee and the clerks and so on enough time. We have to do a fair bit of work to establish clarification of the relevance of some of these witnesses, to group them, and to find availability and so on. It will take some time. We can't do that before the last week of July. Therefore, the next opportunity really is the week I'm proposing. So depending on the number of witnesses we can actually get, it will be two, three, or four days, but it will be all in that week. That is what I'm proposing to members.
Now, finally, we have one additional item of committee business, and that is the motion of Mr. Reid, which was properly presented to the committee and has been moved. It's debatable. The members are aware of that, and we should discharge that. That will also be dealt with as the last item of business I'm aware of. That's just to give members an idea of where we're going.
We had a very substantial list of proposed witnesses from members. I want to indicate to you that if you all have your copy of this, on the second page.... Do you have a copy of this?
Mr. Pierre Poilievre:
At the top of the witness list I have Mr. John Courtney, Mr. Andrew Heard, and Ms. Heather MacIvor. I note that none of them were involved in the 2006 election; they are being allowed to stay on the list. Why? Because they are prepared--or are at least going to be invited--to offer commentary about that election and the electoral financing of one party during that election even if they weren't part of that election. Logically, if they are being permitted to stay on the list, then so should a whole group of other individuals who might also offer testimony about the 2006 electoral financing practices of the Conservative Party.
So even the pretext, which by itself is unjustifiable, for excluding all of the Conservative-called witnesses--even if it was true--has not been evenly applied, because we are allowing people to stay on the list who had nothing to do with the 2000 election and nothing to do with the Conservative Party practices during that election.
I find it interesting that Mr. Martin wants to have Robin Sears removed. Robin Sears is not being called to comment on past electoral practices. He was being called to comment on the practices of the Conservative Party from the last election on which he has been a commentator. The only reason that Mr. Martin and the opposition want him removed is that he might say something they don't agree with. That is basically the only criterion that is being applied to the admissibility of witnesses here. If the opposition disagrees with the sentiments of or is afraid of the information that a perspective witness might divulge, then that witness is precluded from attending the committee. That is the extent of what we've heard so far.
I can't possibly imagine how that is justifiable.
Let's assume that the opposition was correct, that none of the other parties engaged in the electoral practices in the last election that they accuse us of. If that's the case, then why don't they just let these witnesses appear and prove it? They can come before us; it will only take a few minutes. We'll ask our questions, they'll give their answers, and if the in and out transfers of which we are accused are not applicable to any other party in any other election, then that would become very apparent very, very quickly. Of course, we know at the heart of this that every party has done exactly the same thing as the Conservative Party stands accused of by the opposition. If we are given a fair chance to hear about the practices of the other parties, it'll become patently obvious to all of us that is the case.
Mr. Chair, you have taken your instructions from the Leader of the Opposition's office to banish anyone from the list that they believe would be damaging to the Liberal case. The other parties, in an effort to cover up their own activities and their own electoral hypocrisy, have given you an additional list of people to banish. And interestingly, if you want to look for something consistent in how you have determined the witness list, the only thing consistent here is that every person you have denied the right to testify or removed from the list of testimony is a Conservative submission--every single one of them. Every one that you allowed was an opposition submission. That is the only thing consistent about your ruling. There is no other justification that would apply evenly throughout the list. As such, I will be opposing this list.
In addition, members of Parliament and cabinet ministers are under no obligation to come before this committee, and I doubt very much that they will be participating in your kangaroo court. So you can take that prediction for what it's worth.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Marlene Jennings:
Chair, the committee confirmed your ruling on the basis that the suggested witnesses that you ruled out of order were out of order. Your ruling was confirmed because there was no credible reason to believe that these witnesses would have any knowledge of the activities of the Conservative Party of Canada, in relation to certain election campaign expenses and the ethical standards of public office holders, during the 2006 election campaign.
One of my colleagues on the other side, Mr. Poilievre, raises the issue of the list of experts on election laws, who were ruled in order and relevant. This committee sustained your ruling on them.
I would simply like to make one point. Mr. John Courtney is a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan, Diefenbaker Canada Centre, and an expert on Canada's electoral system. Why? Because he actually does scientific research on it.
Mr. Andrew Heard is an associate professor of political science at Simon Fraser University who also does scientific research on Canada's electoral system.
Heather MacIvor teaches political science at the University of Windsor. She is another political scientist and academic researcher who does scientific research on Canada's electoral system.
Mr. Martin made a motion to amend the list, on which you made a ruling that the committee sustained, in order to remove the name of Mr. Robin Sears. Mr. Robin Sears, to my knowledge, is not an academic and has not made a living doing scientific research on Canada's electoral system. My understanding is that he's a communications adviser to the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney. If he is not in this position now, he was in the past. He is clearly not a non-partisan potential witness, as the academics are. That's the first thing.
Mr. Chair, I would also propose an amendment to Mr. Martin's motion. My amendment would delete the name of Jean Landry and Lise Vallières. We find them on page four, in the middle. The line begins, “Richmond—Arthabaska: Jean Landry (candidat) et Lise Vallières (agent officiel)”, submitted by the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois. I would suggest that we remove them. I think this would probably make the Conservative Party MPs who are members of this committee happy.
An hon. member: Very happy.
Ms. Marlene Jennings: Mr. Landry was actually a Conservative candidate in the 2006 election. I'm proposing, through my amendment, that we remove his name.
I would say that there are plenty of Conservative potential witnesses on this list, so I have a difficult time understanding why Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Tilson, Mr. Reid, and Mr. Goodyear are so upset that a number of their proposed witnesses have been deleted. There are plenty of Conservative members who were candidates in the 2006 election and who remain on the list. There are plenty of examples: Ann Julie Fortier, Liberato Martelli, David Marler, Gary Caldwell, Joe Goudie, Cynthia Downey, Sam Goldstein, Elizabeth Pagtakhan, Louise O'Sullivan, and Steve Halicki.
Mr. Chairman, let me read a couple of others who are on the list and are actual office holders. Where are they? Allow me to name a few: Maxime Bernier, of Beauce; his official agent, Aline Drouin; Madame Josée Verner...
Josée Verner is a public office holder. Her name is still on the list. The Conservatives should be happy. If we look at the witness list, we can see the following names: Christian Paradis, who was just promoted in Mr. Harper's last cabinet shuffle, and his official agent, Manon Blanchette; Stockwell Day, the Minister of Public Safety, and his official agent, Neil Jamieson; Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and Political Lieutenant for Quebec, and Marc Lafrenière, his official agent; and Jay Hill, the government whip, and his official agent, Cecil C. Cranston.
As I said, and I have not named all of them, there are a lot of Conservative members. There are even public office holders who are Conservatives or official agents of Conservatives who are still on the list. I am wondering what the four Conservatives sitting in front of me are crying about.
The purpose of my motion is to remove the name of Jean Landry and his official agent, Lise Vallières.
So I amend it to remove the names of Jean Landry and Lise Vallières from the list of witnesses, and to add to the motion that the chair have the power to issue subpoenas for these witnesses who remain on the list, if necessary.
Mr. Scott Reid:
In that case, I'm going to take the opportunity to address both. I think you would have to find me in order in doing so, because in the history of this committee the practice has been to shut off debate by that particular tactic, and that seems likely to occur again. Certainly it is possible to begin again.
I'll start by noting the obvious thing. The Bloc Québécois submitted 45 proposed witness names, the Liberal Party submitted 43 proposed witness names, the New Democrats proposed 17 witnesses, and the Conservative Party proposed 11 witnesses. Every single witness proposed by the Conservative Party has been disallowed.
We haven't had the opportunity to hear a rationale for the basis on which members of the committee supported the chair. We did hear the chair's rationale. The obvious concern I had with that--this is relevant to the discussion under way as we look at other witnesses--is that these were people whose names were submitted with some information when they were given.
By way of example, there was Libby Davies, MP for Vancouver East; Phyllis Loke was the official agent for Ms. Davies in the 2006 election. These, of course, are not all the attributes these individuals have. They are individuals with many facets to their personalities, their professions, their opinions, and so on, some of which could have been relevant to the matter under way, particularly in a comparison between their practices, which in many cases, and even the cases listed here, were identical to those Elections Canada disallowed in the case of the Conservative candidates. That's the relevance.
At any rate, members might have tried to question them about matters outside the subject matter of the debate. That could have been ruled out of order. Their commentary on the similarities between their practices--or dissimilarities, as the case may be--would have shed some light on the disallowance by Elections Canada of the election expenses of various Conservative candidates. That would have made them very germane indeed.
I notice that you didn't disallow Mr. Sears, who was the only one submitted without some description beside his name. Mr. Martin has done so, I assume because one of the features of Mr. Sears--who, like all the other people on the list, is a person with many aspects to his personality, his professional life, his interests, and so on--is that he has gone on record as regarding these proceedings as being inappropriate. This fits in with a certain pattern of behaviour of the members on the opposite side of this committee, which is to disallow any testimony that is not in favour of the position they want. Mr. Mayrand, for example, was dismissed when he was saying things that were not in accordance with their narrative.
Mr. Sears, I can guarantee, would not have been in accordance with their narrative, and I suspect that Libby Davies or Rick Limoges or Jean-Paul Marchand, a Bloc Québécois candidate in the 2000 general election, also would not have given testimony that fits in with their narrative, but it would have as long as you as chair were able to steer them in the appropriate direction--that is, only focusing on responding to questions that deal with the consistency of the application of the law to their party and their campaigns and the Conservative Party and various Conservative candidates in the 2006 election. It would have been entirely germane. These are pretty significant points.
Three experts on election laws were proposed by the Liberal Party, and Madam Jennings defended their presence. It's not for me to say whether they have germane comments to make. One assumes they probably would. I'm at pains to figure out why they are any more qualified or any less qualified than Mr. Sears, who Mr. Martin's motion would propose removing from the list. All of them are people who deal with the process. There's no distinction that I can determine, other than when I made a comment about Mr. Sears' personality, Mr. Martin said he has a terrible personality. Well, Mr. Martin's personal dislike for Mr. Sears does not constitute a reason not to have him here.
An hon. member: He was Bob Rae's chief of staff.
Mr. Scott Reid: Heaven only knows, if committee membership were based on personality, a number of us might not qualify. I don't think that should be a basis for making that decision. Mr. Sears does have relevant things to say, and he has said them publicly. Bringing those things before the committee would be relevant. I think that's a consideration we should take into account.
Let me talk for a moment about Mr. Jean Landry. I can't comment about Lise Vallières, but she was his official agent in the 2006 campaign. My understanding is that Mr. Landry, who was the candidate for the Conservative Party in the 2006 election, has since left the Conservative Party. He is now either seeking or has won a Liberal nomination; I'm not sure which of the two is correct. At any rate, one assumes his presence would make obvious the conflict--which is not the right term--he is in as someone seeking election as a Liberal candidate and who needs to do what he can to discredit the Conservative Party to assist in winning his campaign. That certainly makes the motivation behind removing him from the list apparent.
But he's the only person of the 105 proposals by the other parties who is being challenged at this point, whereas every single one of the Conservative proposals--every single one--has been dismissed, just as every single one of the questions I would have asked Mr. Mayrand had his testimony continued on for the length of time he was invited was also disallowed. This just speaks to the court of star chamber or kangaroo court nature of these hearings.
There's a further problem, Mr. Chair. I'm now changing directions slightly and speaking to some of the other witnesses that neither Mr. Martin nor Madame Jennings has chosen to exclude from the list. This morning a new rule was adopted: selective interpretation of the sub judice convention. Until now we've had only contempt from the Liberals and the New Democrats for the sub judice convention. I know this because as long ago as last August I was raising questions about the legitimacy of having the procedure and House affairs committee look at this question on the basis that it was before the courts.
Up to this morning, the assumption was, who cares? We have to get on with this, and we're not going to worry about what the sub judice convention actually says. We don't care that it's before the courts; we must carry on with these proceedings--unless, of course, that involves looking at the other parties.
There's basically been a year of opposition from the other parties to dealing with anything that would involve looking at any of their practices, lest one noticed that they and we were doing the very same thing. Indeed, let it be noted that we're doing the very same thing, which the courts have upheld as being legal in dealing with the Bloc Québécois when it undertook this particular action and enforced upon its candidates the requirement to transfer funds to the national campaign. In their case it was done to goose up their rebate from Elections Canada; sub judice convention simply didn't matter.
It didn't even matter yesterday, when before the committee Mr. Mayrand was able to answer us on questions relating to matters that were before the court in relation to the case in which Conservative official agents are challenging the non-rebate of our money. Now it's suddenly sacred, and Mr. Mayrand was unable to answer questions that he himself had raised with us--for example, his five criteria for allowing or disallowing rebates.
The committee having adopted this rule, I cannot help but notice the large number of potential witnesses not challenged by either Mr. Martin or Madam Jennings and who are apparently acceptable to the other side and yet are implicated in this particular court action. Indeed, every single official agent who's on this list—that's not everybody on the list, but every single one who is an official agent—would be implicated. By way of example, in the riding of Beauce, Aline Drouin; in the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, André Laurin; and in the riding of Mégantic—L'Érable, Manon Blanchette, etc., are involved in this court action.
Indeed, anything they would have to say...because these are not people who are academic experts, or people who are seasoned partisans, like Mr. Sears, or people who have tenure at Simon Fraser University or the University of Windsor, as Professor Heard and Professor MacIvor, respectively, do. These are people who would have nothing to offer this committee other than commentary and testimony pertaining to the court action that we have decided--or more correctly, you have decided this morning, Mr. Chair--is outside the bounds of allowable testimony. Therefore, effectively what we're doing is disallowing people who could provide testimony without violating the sub judice convention, such as Lucy Ladouceur, who engaged in actions as the NDP bookkeeper in the 2006 election that were parallel to those undertaken by the Conservative Party, but who is not party to the court action. She actually could provide commentary and testimony that would not violate the sub judice convention. But she is excluded.
Also excluded is Libby Davies and Phyllis Loke, the official agent to Ms. Davies. They were both involved in a transfer of funds that exactly paralleled the practice the Conservative Party engaged in for advertising purposes, and they could provide commentary on what we are contesting is the inconsistent application of the law by Elections Canada. They would be in order; they would not be violating the sub judice convention.
Indeed, almost with the exception of the academic experts—though I should be a little bit cautious here, as there may be the odd person here who also is not directly involved in the relevant court action—and the people who've been excluded, there is no one on this list who won't essentially, in the majority of their testimony, find themselves in the position of violating the sub judice convention if they come before us and answer questions.
Some of them are sophisticated individuals, I grant you that. I think Janice Vézina, the associate deputy chief electoral officer at Elections Canada, is a sophisticated person who would understand and be able to say, look, at this point you're asking me a question that relates to the matter that we're dealing with in the legal proceeding between ourselves and the official agents. But the official agents who are involved have no role in dealing with policy, in dealing with the application of elections law, except in the capacity they were in when they were official agents in an election, the proceedings of which are now the subject of this court action.
In short, the entire list is a violation of the sub judice convention, except those persons who are being slated for deletion. Because you missed a few when you listed them off, Mr. Martin has helpfully suggested another person who could provide useful testimony and removed them.
Now, I grant that Marlene Jennings, in her proposal, actually dealt with somebody who shouldn't be here, because both Mr. Landry and Lise Vallières would presumably also, in their testimony, essentially be dealing only with matters that relate to a dispute between Elections Canada and the official agents, which is before the courts. So that one deletion makes sense—although I think not for the reason.... I don't know her motivation, because she hasn't spoken to it.
I think she's worried that it will be an embarrassment for the Liberal Party. But, my goodness, you can't get on this list unless the sub judice convention is going to be violated, so I must say this is really an extraordinary document to be presented with, and an extraordinary series of proposed amendments to it.
I guess I'm really asking that the members take a step back, think very carefully about the disrepute in which the course of action they are setting us upon will put this committee, and of course the parliamentary process of which it's a part. It's unwise. I would encourage them to withdraw their motions and submotions. Failing that, I would encourage all members to vote against both Madame Jennings' subamendment and Mr. Martin's original motion.
Mr. Gary Goodyear:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to speak to the defeat of this subamendment, as well as the motion itself, on the grounds that Madame Jennings has attempted to pull the wool over the committee's eyes, and the eyes of the Canadians who are watching her, by offering a bone and removing a couple of members that she claims we should be happy about, when Madame Jennings knows full well that her motives are ulterior. Some of these people she wants removed are probably going to run in the next Liberal campaign. So that doesn't fool anybody except probably Madame Jennings.
We cut down the questioning today. We shortened the rounds when we had a legitimate witness before us. Mr. Reid, my colleague, is absolutely correct. The witness was quite forthright yesterday, and then he was not as forthright today when we wanted to, I suppose, ask more questions. Indeed, I had a number of questions to ask, some that would have proven quite thoroughly--if in fact, as I said many times, we were after the truth--that Libby Davis, for example, was under the orders of the federal NDP to contribute to a campaign with money going in and money coming out.
We're not saying there's anything wrong with that. We're saying that's exactly okay. It's just that here we are, and perhaps I can explain.... I know committee members here...or maybe they don't, but certainly the public watching doesn't understand that there are four members on the Conservative side, and although the majority is a great thing for Canadian democracy, here in the committee the majority happens to be the Liberals, the Bloc, and the NDP. That can't possibly be impartial.
Then we have a chair who's been appointed by the Liberals, and is a Liberal himself, and has made a substantial amount of what I would argue are partisan decisions, but--
Hon. Charles Hubbard: [Inaudible--Editor]
Mr. Gary Goodyear: I didn't interrupt you, Mr. Hubbard.
Mr. Gary Goodyear:
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, because you just proved my point. It's a creative interpretation. The fact remains that if you look at the minutes of that meeting, the second the chair was challenged, a vote was taken. The majority rules. It was over. Then you moved on the vote for the motion. That's true.
That's the same thing as happened today, as soon as we challenged on the witness list. This is just a game that's being played. The bottom line here is that there's no reason why these witnesses shouldn't come before this committee, no justifiable reason, Mr. Chair. If you're in charge and a witness is asked a question that you deem to be out of order, or if a witness goes off in a direction you don't like, isn't going toward whatever mandate you've agreed to follow, then you can shut them down.
At this point in time when you shut down our witness list at this point, I'm just wondering. Do you not see the message that's sending to Canadians, by limiting debate, by consulting with witnesses about which questions can be answered and which questions can't be asked, and then to simply come forward and eliminate not just any witness but every single witness the Conservative Party put forward?
Then of course Madame Jennings tried to soften the potential newspaper print tomorrow by saying, well, let's remove these other folks. Canadians know full well that those folks are being removed for a good reason—Libby Davies—as I've already said.
I don't know whether my argument is going to hold any water whatsoever, because I was very convinced back in April, May, and June that members had clearly made up their minds that there's potentially an election coming in the fall and this is a partisan political photo op, if you want to call it that.
I'm just encouraging members, if there's any possible way we can go back to simply allowing the 11 witnesses that the Conservative Party put forward, and Mr. Martin even suggested, which was quite nice—again trying to soften what's actually happening here—we could add witnesses later. Well, all of us know that's not going to happen. All of us know that whatever motion we put forward will be debated out and then voted down. That's a true story. Again, that's why this should be before the courts. In a courtroom there's a judge who actually knows what he's doing who decides which questions are out of order, and then there are witnesses who can be compelled to respond, and there's some laterality that's allowed.
Anyway, having said that, I don't see the reason these witnesses can't be allowed to testify before this committee with you, Mr. Chair, controlling some of the debate. I think they should be allowed to be here. We don't know what they're going to say; we don't know what they can contribute. I think we should move forward and hear these witnesses. If they decide to go somewhere you don't want them to go, Mr. Chair, shut them down then.
Mr. Pierre Poilievre:
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
When committee members first brought this discussion to this committee, the chairman said at the very outset that the discussion would be limited to the conduct of public office holders only; as such, we would only allow discussion of individuals who held the title of public office holder.
Then he was presented with a motion that referred to an investigation of the Conservative Party. He allowed that motion to be in order, even though the Conservative Party is not a public office holder. What he meant was that the discussion would be permitted for public office holders and for one political party.
Obviously we assumed that he meant that former public office holders would be allowed, as has been the case in the past at the ethics committee. But he indicated, no, that this committee only investigates the conduct of current or present-day public office holders—and they have to be in the Conservative Party. That seemed to make little sense, given that Brian Mulroney had been invited to this committee, and he hasn't been a public office holder in about a decade and a half. Clearly a ruling was concocted and designed to draw jagged borders between what was permitted and what was not.
We came here today prepared to undergo the study regardless, and we began questioning the witness. Quickly we found that the questions that the witness found difficult to answer would not be permitted, because the matter was before the courts. Of course, the entire matter is before the courts, but the chair has allowed discussion on it regardless.
Before we move forward, let's examine for a moment the borders that the chairman has drawn. One, you may only ask questions about one political party. Two, for the first time in the history of the committee, you may only ask questions about the conduct of present-day public office holders. Three, if you cannot find problems with the conduct of those public office holders, you are permitted to ask about the conduct of non-public office holders, as long as they are members of the Conservative Party.
So we continued our questioning of the witness, and we found that not only was the content restricted to questions the witness found easy to answer, but also that when things got difficult for the opposition and Elections Canada, the debate was cut short by two hours.
Then we commenced the discussion of the witness list, and we found that every single witness suggested by the Conservative delegates to this committee was disallowed. It is still unclear why they've been disallowed. All we've been told is that their testimony is irrelevant. It's interesting that the chair is able to determine the relevance of testimony that he has not yet heard. He doesn't know if these witnesses, given their prior political experience, might have something to say about the Canada Elections Act. They might have something to say about how it has been applied in the past. And even if they don't talk about the past, perhaps they have something interesting to say about the future.
One thing is for sure: the witness list is not restricted to members of the Conservative Party, nor is it restricted to those who were involved in the electoral campaign of the Conservative Party in 2006, because there are outsiders, regardless of their qualifications, who have been invited here to offer their opinions. I'm sure their opinions will be very interesting. I think all of them should be allowed to testify. We were hoping that others who also have opinions might be permitted to offer testimony, but because they've been part of other political parties and the chair fears they might shed light on the electoral practices of the other political parties, they have been excluded from any inquiry whatsoever.
One gentleman, who according to Mr. Martin is no longer even part of the New Democratic Party but is now a Conservative, was disallowed—that is Mr. Robin Sears—because this gentleman might offer an opinion disagreeable to members of the opposition.
So the sole criterion we now have in place to determine who will be allowed to participate in this discussion is that it should be anyone who would make a good target, who is part of the Conservative Party, and anyone the opposition finds politically advantageous to hear from. Anyone, however, who would shed light on the practices of opposition parties is excluded, and anyone who might express a credible opinion that differs from the opposition's thesis on this dispute is also excluded from any of the discussions.
It really makes one wonder what the opposition has to hide, what the Liberal Party has to hide, or why it is that the Liberal Party felt it so important to twist the chairman's arm and force him to make the statement that he did to exclude so many people from the discussion. If the opposition and the Liberal chair have nothing to hide and are confident in the case that they would make before this committee, then why not just allow all the witnesses to come? And if their testimony is impertinent or irrelevant, then that would quickly become evident to the viewer.
However, they know what we know, which is that these witnesses would show that the Bloc Québécois engaged in the most broad and sweeping in and out program in Canadian history.
That's why everyone calls the leader of the Bloc the Father of In and Out.
They know what we know, which is that the Liberal Party would not want its electoral practices to come under any more scrutiny. They know what we know, which is that even though the biggest electoral fraud in Canadian political history occurred within the last decade and a half—that of course being the Liberal sponsorship scandal—Elections Canada never thought it worthwhile to investigate where all of those millions of dollars were spent and whether or not they might have influenced the outcome of the election or caused overspending to occur.
Imagine, Mr. Chair, if you were at Elections Canada, tasked with ensuring that political candidates make all their filings accurate, that they don't spent more than the limit, and you learned from a commission of public inquiry that one political party funnelled at least $40 million through its campaigns, and that much of that money was in the form of cold, hard, untraceable cash. Can you imagine if you were in that position with Elections Canada and you looked at that and said, “There's nothing here for us to investigate whatsoever; there's no chance that any of that $40 million might have been used as cash election expenses, which may have pushed the party over its spending limit in numerous ridings, which may have evaded reporting requirements”?
All of that stuff was made public, all of it was known, and yet Elections Canada thought nothing of it and chose not to investigate any of it. All that is very interesting and raises a lot of questions about why the agency is conducting itself the way it is right now.
Chair, without further ado, I will be opposing this motion, and I will reiterate my prediction that Conservative MPs and ministers will decide on a very principled basis not to participate in this kangaroo court. Thank you.
Mrs. Carole Lavallée:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First, I support Mr. Martin's motion. I also agree with Ms. Jennings' amendment. I have no objection to removing the two or three names she suggested. I think that we have at last a balanced list, one that contains all of the categories of people we want to meet with, and this will mean we can do something intellectually rigorous, systematic and intelligent, we can continue and advance the discussion, understand what really happened and learn things, in particular what led to the search at the Conservative Party offices.
As stated in the motion, that will allow us to examine the ethics of the conduct of public office holders. That is our objective. In all sincerity, that is what has to be done.
I completely agree with Ms. Jennings' subamendment dealing with the subpoena. That is in fact an excellent idea. We know that the House does not have to be consulted for issuing subpoenas. This was not a subpoena duces tecum, it was a subpoena that people are ordinarily required to answer to with enthusiasm.
Our Conservative friends complain that none of the names they suggested have been accepted. They are laughing at us. This makes no sense. What kind of names did they suggest? We are examining the ethics of the conduct of public office holders. Why would Lawrence Cannon's name not be on their list? Lawrence Cannon holds public office and was the top campaign organizer in Quebec. If they had been acting scrupulously and in good faith, Lawrence Cannon would have been one of the first names they suggested.
We are talking about examining the ethics of the conduct of public office holders. How could they not have suggested Josée Verner's name? She is a minister, and so a public office holder, who paid $9,000 for an advertisement, while her colleague in the next riding, Sylvie Boucher, who was not even in her advertisement, paid $37,000.
We know now that there are senior officials in the Conservative Party who tried to cheat the system. We can see this from all the documents. I think that a Conservative MP has been cheated by her colleague Josée Verner. The fact is that when we want to examine the ethics of the conduct of public office holders, we have to invite these people. Why is it that you did not put them on the list? Why is it that you did not include people from Elections Canada on your list? Why is it that you did not put Retail Media's partners on your list? Why is it that you did no put your public office holders, your Conservative MPs, your defeated candidates and some experts on the Elections Act on your list? Do you really want to do something intelligent and worthwhile, and examine what really happened? That is the question we have to ask. No, you came here with names that were completely unrelated. None of the people you suggested is directly involved or has any expertise in the subject.
You have only yourselves to blame. You are talking about traps because someone calls for a vote or challenges the decisions of the Chair. Those are not traps. The real trap you have been laying for us for hours is obstructing the debate, using stalling tactics. That is the trap that the Conservatives the Conservatives constantly lay, and everyone can see it. You are talking about the search being leaked, and we are talking about public office holders. Those are the real traps.
I don't know how to do it, because I am not an expert in procedural traps like the Conservatives. But I would simply like us to vote. Would it be possible to ask for that, Mr. Chair, that we do it before 4:00? They are obstructing the process.
Mr. David Tilson:
Mr. Chair, I'll briefly speak to both the motion and the amendment. I gather that's your decision.
The history of the motion is that we would hear the guests that we've had for the last day and a half, and then there were some motions, some of which were mine, that were referred to throughout, and we were supposed to deal with those today. Then yesterday it was suggested that we concentrate on the witnesses. If the motions had been made—there were three separate ones—the motions would have been debated and voted on. Maybe they would have failed, but we would have had an opportunity to debate each one of those motions properly.
Then it was pointed out that each party would submit a list. It would be consolidated by the clerk, and then the list would be provided to members. That was done. Then we arrive, and you say that before we start you're striking out some names. Every last one of them was a Conservative. This is especially true of the ones on the motions that I made, which I would ordinarily have had an opportunity to debate. You denied me the right to debate why those names should or should not be on.
I understand. You have more votes than we do, and you can do whatever you like, which is what you've done. That's political life—that's okay.
It's a question of fairness. In all fairness, I withdrew my motions. On your representations, Mr. Chairman, I withdrew them. And then, in all fairness, I assumed that by putting the names on the list we would have an opportunity to look at all the names.
The whole thing has been a charade. The whole thing has been a farce.
Then Mr. Martin comes on and says, “Oh, by the way, there's one more name I'd like take off, and that's Bob Rae's former chief of staff.” I find that incredible. I find this whole process incredible.
So I'm opposing the motion of Mr. Martin. I understand he wants to get on with it. We've been fooling around a lot today, I understand that. But on the issue of fairness, it just isn't here. It's all one-sided. From cutting off the questions we had for the witnesses this morning to this whole process today, it's not fair. And anyone who sees this will realize it's not fair. Yes, the opposition is having its way with the government members, and that's life. It's incredible. But there is no fairness.
With respect to Ms. Jennings' amendment, on the deleting of some of the names, her comment that the Conservatives should be happy with this I found a tad condescending. You say this is all done to develop cooperation. No, it was condescending. So I'm not too pleased about that.
I am going to return to one of the points she made with respect to the chair's having the right to submit a subpoena—or perhaps it was a summons—to everyone. This is rather high-handed for a committee. Even courts, really, are nervous about doing this.
A committee may order a witness when the witness doesn't want to appear or doesn't want to comply. You've challenged me on this, but I would like to go through what I believe is the process. This is another reason I'm not opposing the amendment. I think it's rather high-handed. Only the House can force a witness to comply, provided that it agrees with the committee, and the House may not agree with the committee. This committee cannot assume that the House would agree.
The committee normally and usually invites witnesses to appear. That's normally the process: we invite them. We don't subpoena or summons them; we invite them to appear. Most of the time, that follows through. In the last major hearing we had, we asked some people to appear, and they didn't appear. Well, we went on our way.
When a witness refuses to appear, Mr. Chairman, or when the committee is of the opinion that the witness is stonewalling, it would adopt a motion at the committee ordering the witness to appear. Refusal by the witness at this point is grounds for contempt. That's what I understand the process to be.
A member of the committee would then need to raise the matter at committee. If the chairman is of the opinion that the matter touches on contempt, then he or she would enter debate on a motion to report the matter to the House. The report would then describe the facts and the situation, summarize the events, name the individual involved, indicate that contempt may have occurred, and request that the House of Commons take some action.
The House may or may not take action. There would be a debate and there would be a vote. Once the report is tabled in the House, a member could raise the matter as a question of privilege. The Speaker would then consider the question, and if he finds that a prima facie question of privilege exists, he would invite the member to propose a motion asking the House to take some action.
It's at that point that the action takes place. It's up to you to determine whether the amendment is out of order or not, but I submit that the amendment on that particular point is rather high-handed and is not the way we do things around here.
Thank you, Mr. Tilson. I think it's a very good summary and I'm very familiar....
And I want to reaffirm to you that in my opinion and from my knowledge and consultations, the amendment before us indeed is in order. As you know, even if the chair were to issue a summons, the person for whom that summons was issued could still not appear, at their choice, and that matter then goes to the House. So there is that second step.
But as far as authority to issue a summons is concerned, the committee has that full authority under Standing Order 108. I'm very sure of that, I want to assure you.
Between the two of us, maybe we'll spend a little time together, at some appropriate time, just to review. Maybe there is a suggestion or two we want to make with regard to changes to the Standing Orders.
Now, colleagues, there are no more speakers, and therefore I am going to put all the questions necessary to dispose of the motion now before us. Madame Jennings has moved that the motion be amended by adding, after the words “Robin Sears”, the names Jean Landry and Lise Vallières; and by adding after the words “August 11, 2008”, the following: “and that the chair be authorized, at his discretion, to summons any witness who may be summonsed who refuses the committee's invitation to appear”.
The first vote is on the amendment, which would delete two more names from the list and authorize the chair, at his discretion, to summons if necessary—if necessary, not all. So I want to put the question on the amendment deleting those two names and giving the authorization to summons at the discretion of the chair.
(Amendment agreed to: yeas 6 ; nays 4 )