Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I move:
|| That the question of privilege related to the statements made in the House of Commons by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the ruling you just delivered to the House of Commons. I will read it in detail later, but I wanted to make some introductory comments based on what I have heard today and the debate that preceded this.
We have just now moved the motion of contempt that has been found in the House against the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. As you noted in your ruling, the criteria or threshold that we use in the House of Commons to find a prima facie case of contempt is a very high one. It is in fact not easy to do. Canadians might be surprised by this, but the rules that govern the House, as pointed out by the Conservatives and you, is to give members the benefit of the doubt. In many instances, and it is in the nature of healthy debate, that there are differences of opinion and differences of interpretation of fact, and if every time a member of Parliament were called out in contempt for a variation of evidence, then we would be here all day.
The three criteria that you have laid down are very specific and very difficult to accomplish, as the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has somehow managed to do. It has to be proven that the statement was in fact misleading; that the person who gave the misleading statement knew at the time that it was misleading; and that in giving that misleading statement, the member of Parliament knowingly attempted to mislead the House of Commons and Canadians. To accomplish all three, as the member did not once, but twice, in referring to so-called evidence that he had personally witnessed with regard to the unfair election act, is quite an accomplishment, not one that anyone in the House should seek to do, and yet he has managed to.
The reason we take time in the House this afternoon, and here I suspect some of my colleagues will do so and I would hope that members from the government side would do so as well, to address this issue is that it is now being referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. As to when that committee will take this up, I would suggest that it will be informed not only by your ruling but also by the contributions that have been made to the debate to this point.
I wanted to point out the following very specifically. I know that the government House leader will be very attuned to this, because in defending the Conservative member for Mississauga—Streetsville, he made a number of points that the committee will have to grapple with in relation to his defence of the member. I will cite this because it has some bearing.
He said the following in response to our question of privilege:
|| As everyone is, I am sure, aware, the presumption in this House is that we are all taken at our word, that the statements we make are truthful and correct. That we are given the benefit of that doubt brings with it a strong obligation on us, in the cases where a member misspeaks, to correct the record....
|| In this particular instance, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, has done exactly that. Having misspoken in this House and having realized his comments were in error, he has come to this House and corrected the record.
||...The fact that we are even discussing this point of privilege, the fact that it has been raised, is only because the hon. member has taken that duty and obligation seriously, has come to this House and corrected the record.
I have two points on this. One is that it seems that the government's frame of reference on this is to congratulate the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for having knowingly misled the House, to say “way to go”, having misspoke, having misled—and here we are not allowed to use the term “lie”—having done these things, he then came back and said that he maybe misspoke, and then tried to move on.
It seems to me that to congratulate members for having done such a thing, and then to stand for 30 seconds and try to dismiss it, would send the absolute wrong signal to all members who participate in debates, that all someone has to do is to make a big speech and show so-called evidence, and not tell the truth, and then come back two weeks later in this case, and say “I misspoke, let us move on”. It does not work. It does not work for the nature of Parliament, for the nature of this House of Commons.
He suggested in his statements that he does not want to encourage any kind of a chilling effect. Here, let us get the three conditions right: if members are proven to have misled the House, if they knew it at the time that they were misleading the House, and that they intended to mislead the House.
If he does not want to create any chilling effect for anyone doing those things, I have an idea. Do not mislead the House in the first place. Do not knowingly go about spreading mistruths about something as fundamental as our Elections Act. Do not say we should congratulate him, well done, for having spoken about something as fundamental as our election laws in an untruthful manner, and then his coming back and having the courage—a word that I will use carefully—to attempt not once, but twice, to correct the record in some off-handed way.
The reason I come back to this is that we will explore how it was that this sudden, new-found love of the truth came to be. I hope the government will encourage this exploration. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, in his intervention in the debate, said that the member should be congratulated, because he had the ability to come back to try to correct the record, saying that he misspoke. Why did he misspeak?
There have been several media reports, which we have to verify at committee. We would hope to call the member for Mississauga—Streetsville so that he can defend his actions. In the accounts we have since had in the media, such as in The Globe and Mail, Elections Canada was notified, because this is a grievous thing he talked about. I have a few citations from the media, if you seek them, Mr. Speaker.
He said that he witnessed electoral fraud. He said that he watched people take the identifications of other Canadians and take them to some party's headquarters, where it had its volunteers take them and vote with that identification, which actually confuses the different kinds of identification that are mailed to Canadians. I believe that my colleague from Toronto—Danforth may explore this a bit.
The member for Mississauga—Streetsville said that he watched all of these things take place. He then used this so-called evidence, which he later admitted was not true, to support the government's unfair elections act. That is the evidence they used.
Perhaps the only reason he came back was that Elections Canada said that a sitting member of Parliament watched electoral fraud take place. It wanted to know more, because it sounded like a problem. Maybe there was a problem with voter ID cards and it should get into this. Maybe it should ask the member to come forward to Elections Canada and to Canadians to explain, first of all, why if he witnessed a crime, he did not report it. That seems to be an interesting thing for a tough-on-crime party.
Second, if he witnessed electoral fraud, why would he not have gone to Elections Canada to say that he saw something terrible happen, that he had watched people being disenfranchised, votes being rigged, and ballots being stuffed into boxes? He did neither of those things. He just used it as evidence in a place we call the House of Commons. One would think he would have used more discretion.
In terms of contempt, it is important to understand that the bar is very high. It has been set by you, Mr. Speaker, and previous Speakers, to guide us as members of Parliament.
There are other instances. You referred to one in your ruling. The former minister of defence, Art Eggleton, was found in contempt after talking about the transfer of Afghan prisoners. He was found in contempt, having knowingly misled the House about something as grievous as that.
Members might remember the infamous memo in which the minister at the time, minister Bev Oda, inserted the word “not” and then later said that it had never happened and was not true, when it was in fact completely true. She denied funding for a group as important as KAIROS. That was the effort there.
We now have the member for Mississauga—Streetsville misleading the House, and knowingly doing so, about something as fundamental as our Elections Act. It is not commendable that the member was forced to come back and admit that what he said was not true. It is serious.
I was somewhat taken aback, as I looked over the government House leader's comments, at how celebratory he was of this moment. We seek the motivation behind this. This is something we will be exploring in the committee. It will be of interest to all members of Parliament and to all Canadians.
The word “contempt” is an interesting notion. It is the frame we use when a member of Parliament goes so far. I thought I would look up the definition, because sometimes we throw these words around somewhat casually. I thought I would seek out the definition. Contempt is:
||a feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration or worthless, or deserving scorn....
What we are talking about is not the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. We are talking about Canada's Parliament. When we say that someone has been found in contempt, it is the feeling that a person or a thing, in this case it is the House of Commons, is beneath consideration. It is worthless or deserving of scorn.
We, on this side, do not believe that. We believe that this is, in fact, a sacred place, where we seek the truth. We seek to hold the government to account on its spending measures, its policies, and its laws. The law we are considering right now goes to the heart of all of our efforts to serve the public. All of us here stand in free and fair elections.
We just heard another plea for an emergency debate and much consideration.
I heard my friend from Halifax commend the government for its work and efforts in Ukraine, where there are people fighting and struggling, in a struggle that has left many people dead, to sustain and support the idea that people can have democratic governance. We are debating that very issue when we are debating the government's unfair election act.
To have a member of Parliament who is duly and fairly elected come forward and claim electoral fraud in defence of and justification for that bill, then to have him caught out not having told the truth, then to have the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, who, as I am, is meant to respect and hold up the fundamental democratic principles of this place, say that the member is not deserving of condemnation but of praise, having been caught somehow and made some half-apology and then had slightly more contrition, is contempt. That is contempt for this place and for all of us as members of Parliament.
The conditions have been met. I will remind the members of the House of where they and their team take this ruling. On page 75 in Erskine May's A treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament, “parliamentary privilege” is defined as the following: “...the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively… and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions,...”
Without these particular rules in place, we cannot do our job. We have found out that this one piece of evidence the government has been using that actual electoral fraud took place, and therefore we need this bill, and therefore members of Parliament should vote for it, is not true. We take members' word as members of Parliament in good faith, and yet we found it not to be true.
Let us take the words directly from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. He said, in his alleged apology:
||...I rise on a point of order with respect to debate that took place on February 6....
|| I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate [and] I just want to reflect...that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox[es]...of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that.
Here is what the member was correcting. He said:
||...I want to talk a bit about this vouching system again.... On mail delivery day when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in apartment buildings, many of them are discarded in the garbage can or the blue box. I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support....
How the member witnessed them going to other campaign offices is a fascinating bit of evidence to me, but so be it. That will be for him to rationalize. He is visiting other campaign offices, I suppose, or maybe he only had access to one. He continued:
|| ....going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.
|| Does the minister not believe this kind of thing will get cleaned up properly with this bill?
There it is right there: “Does the Minister not believe this kind of thing will get cleaned up properly with this bill?” He said that he had cited a problem of voter fraud. He said that he believed that voter fraud was happening, because he watched it happen, so we needed this piece of legislation to clean up that voter fraud, yes? No. It is not true. This is one piece of evidence the government has used.
We have heard the Minister of State (Democratic Reform), a term I use loosely, time and again on questions put by us, to criticisms placed before him by the Chief Electoral Officer, by experts in voting, and by Preston Manning, for goodness' sake. When we have asked this democratic reform minister about these particular problems with his bill, what did he say? He cited evidence of voter fraud. He cited concerns and conspiracy theories that this is a problem, and that is why we need the bill.
This is a solution looking for a problem, and if they cannot find the problem, they invent it. They mislead the House on the so-called fraud they have seen.
Here is the member's other comment. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville said:
|| Earlier this afternoon I asked the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification a question. I think my friend from York South—Weston will appreciate this because, just like the riding I represent, there are a lot of apartment buildings in his riding.
He has had a lot of time to reflect on this. Does he continue down this path? Did he misspeak earlier, or does he double down on this? It is such a good piece of evidence. A sitting member of Parliament actually watched voter fraud go on and people cheat during elections. Well, he doubled down.
|| I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally. That is going to stop.
This would stop with their bill. What is going to stop? It is this thing that did not happen. Why would we have the legislation?
If a is not true and we raise concerns b, c, and d, then suddenly, b, c, and d start making a lot more sense. If there is not actual voter fraud going on, if the problems the minister keeps citing and the member for Mississauga—Streetsville keeps mentioning are not going on, then there is something else.
What we see from Neufeld, who wrote the report the minister likes to cite, from Canadians, when asked, and from experts in the field who actually deal with this is that this is a partisan piece of legislation.
It is unprecedented in Canadian history. When reforming our election laws, it has always been the fact that whatever the party, whatever the historical situation, political preference, or debates of the day, the government has always engaged the opposition and Canadians broadly. Why? It is because it is not about the Conservative Party of Canada. It is not about its chances of holding onto its slim majority.
It is about the Canadian people. It is about the democratic society we have built and fought for over generations. That is what this should be about, and it is not in this case.
What do we have here? What has this debate become? What is the House of Commons if, when debating something so critical as our electoral laws and the very legitimacy of governments to make law and pass budgets, MPs mislead the House? They come back a couple of weeks later and say, “Never mind that. I misspoke. Let us move on”, to try to persuade members of Parliament and people watching and listening. These are people who care, who do not become cynical. Lord knows, they have enough reasons to be cynical. They have watched the government destroy the census, fire and muzzle scientists, and ignore facts time and again. If the facts do not fit the argument, the Conservatives switch it around and twist logic to the point of breaking.
We have it here again. It is not easy to do what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville accomplished. He somehow managed to do something that only a few members of Parliament in the history of our country have been able to do, which is to be found in contempt of Parliament.
I do not know how he goes back to his voters and says that he represents them well. That is for him to answer. I do not know how the government House leader, the Prime Minister, and all the people who support him on that side feel good about this situation or feel that they have not stepped a little too far this time and been caught.
Who knew that what we say in this place actually mattered? Who knew that people were actually listening, like Elections Canada, like people who participated in the election where he said he watched fraud happen. Who knew that they were watching, and when they heard that there was electoral fraud in that campaign, they felt that they had better do something about that, because if that was true, it was a problem?
Lo and behold, it was not true. Lo and behold, our words do matter when Elections Canada or whoever it was from the Conservative Party contacted the member and said, “I know what you said, and we bend the truth all the time in the Conservative Party, but you actually may have misled. You may have lied. You have to get back in there and apologize and try to cover this over”.
That is because what it does is discredit all the rest of the arguments being made by the government, by the democratic reform minister, and by the Prime Minister as to the necessity of this bill.
As to the alleged problems it is looking to correct, and we have to say “allegedly”, because it has now been proven that one of the government's central arguments, which was made in the House not once but twice, was not true. It was rumour. It was invented.
The member for Mississauga—Streetsville has a lot to answer for. He will do so at the procedure and House affairs committee. We will call other witnesses who can shed some light as to how this was found out. Did he have a moment?
We see this as grievous. We see contempt for Parliament as one of the worst things a member of Parliament can do to this place and its reputation. We need to restore it, not bring it further down.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I consider this to be an extremely important motion that has been brought forward. The topic we were discussing this afternoon is the responsibility of members of Parliament to speak truthfully and accurately in this place. In fact, any time an MP speaks, even outside this place, we all hope he would be speaking with a great degree of accuracy. A few things have been said this afternoon that I think have not been accurate, and I want to try to set the record straight.
My friend the opposition House leader has mentioned several times in his intervention that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville was lying. That is simply not true.
The Speaker's ruling, and an earlier ruling by former Speaker Milliken, in the Eggleton case, both stated that the respective Speakers did not find that the member in question had deliberately misled the House, merely that he was referring this issue to committee for further clarification and examination. I take issue with my colleague opposite, who is trying to characterize the comments made by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville as lying, because that simply is not what the Speaker has found.
The other thing I want to point out, and I do not think it really needs to be pointed out to members, particularly any member who has been here for any length of time, as my friend from Saanich—Gulf Islands said, there are opportunities when all members, and I emphasize all members, tend to torque their language a bit, perhaps to embellish or to exaggerate. Is that something we should encourage? Certainly not. Does it happen regularly? Yes, it does.
I would point out that even today in question period, I only noticed one instance, there may have been more, but certainly in one instance, a Liberal member, the member for Markham—Unionville, with a prepared question, when he was questioning the Minister of Finance he misspoke about how many budgets our government has run in deficit.
The Speaker mentioned, as did my hon. colleague, that there are three thresholds to be met to find whether there should be a question of privilege. The member for Markham—Unionville was a former member of cabinet. I believe he was a minister of Revenue Canada. I believe he also has serious bona fides when it comes to economics and finance. I would suggest that the member knew full well what our record was and that we did not run eight consecutive deficit budgets, as he suggested in his question. That is simply not the case, and I suggest that the member for Markham—Unionville knew that.
Second, I believe he knew his statement was wrong when he made it. Third, he was aware that the statement was wrong as he presented it.
My point is, should we then bring down a question of privilege on the member for Markham—Unionville? I do not think that will happen because statements like that are made routinely in this Parliament.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: I am not defending them. I am not suggesting that it was wrong. My friends from the Liberal side are heckling because they do not like it. The truth hurts. If they want to have a serious debate about this, I would encourage my friends to listen.
I am suggesting that this happens perhaps all too routinely in this place, but should it then be considered contempt? My friend opposite continues to make the point that it was contempt. Again, that is simply not accurate. The Speaker has merely referred this to committee for an examination.
There are two or three points that we already know. We know that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville did misspeak. He admits it freely, but he also came back to this House and admitted that what he said on February 6 was not accurate. He has corrected the record. He has apologized, and now all facts are known in this case.
The members opposite think that was a matter of contempt and that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville deliberately misled the House, when in fact the Speaker, in his ruling, suggested that this was simply not the case.
The problem we now have before us is that because the member for Mississauga—Streetsville came back to this place and corrected the record, he is now facing possible sanction. What the consequence or the net result of this may be is that the truth begins to be pushed underground.
I would suggest, and I doubt that I would have any opposition from members across the floor, that had the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said nothing and had he not come back to this place and admitted that he spoke in error, nothing would have been done. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I would point out to you, and I have not heard this yet in debate, that prior to the member coming back to the House, he corrected the record at the procedure and House affairs committee. When the Minister of State for Democratic Reform appeared before the committee, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville stated, on the issue of voter ID cards and vouching, that he had heard many times from people who had worked for him in his prior business that they had seen people would go into blue boxes and garbage bins in apartment buildings to withdraw voter ID cards. However, he said that was anecdotal and that he had not seen it personally. I believe that alone speaks to the fact that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville was not deliberately trying to mislead the House.
I would also point out one other fact. My friend the opposition House leader had spoken of whether the comments from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville were said deliberately in a prepared text. I would point out that they simply were not.
When he made those comments, which were inaccurate—and I will not defend that, as they were certainly inaccurate—they were said when he was making extemporaneous comments. They were not part of his prepared text, which means to me, most certainly, that he was not deliberately trying to mislead the House. Had he done so in a prepared text, then I would probably have to agree that this was indeed a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, but he did so in the heat of debate and speaking extemporaneously.
However, now, if we are to believe members opposite, by correcting the record, he should then be punished with a finding of contempt. I do not know how many times members opposite have also met this threshold of knowingly saying something that was untrue, something that was not accurate, yet contempt rulings have not been brought forward when members opposite torqued the debate, whether in questions in question period or in general debate on a piece of legislation.
Should it happen? Absolutely not. Would I like to see everything said in this place said in a reasoned, sensible manner, devoid of the partisanship that we see all too often? Of course.
Members opposite, particularly the one for Timmins—James Bay, who is laughing and heckling—
Mr. Charlie Angus: Laughing at you.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Mr. Speaker, he is probably a poster boy for people who can torque issues, yet I do not think we have ever seen—
Mr. Matthew Dubé: He's not a liar. That's the thing.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Mr. Speaker, anyone bring forward a question of privilege or try to find that member in contempt.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Because you couldn't.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Mr. Speaker, is it distasteful from time to time? It certainly is. Is it personal? Many times it is. Do the members on our side do the same? Yes, we do.
Since the Chair has not found the member to have lied, even though my colleagues opposite keep trying to tell that tale, they perhaps should stand up and set the record straight, because the Chair did not find the member for Mississauga—Streetsville to have deliberately misled this House; in other words, he did not find that he had lied, merely that the committee should take an examination and try to clarify the comments surrounding his statements of February 6.
While I know the opposition wants to convince Canadians that there is some nefarious reason behind the comments of my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville, I would purport to you and everyone else in this place that he merely did what so many of us have done previously: in the heat of debate, he had simply gone overboard.
There is no excuse for that. We do have a responsibility to speak accurately. However, if there is anyone who can stand in his or her place today and say that in his or her entire career in politics he or she has never torqued a comment, never exaggerated a claim, never perhaps gone a little beyond the pale when it comes to making comments during debate, let that person speak now, because that will be the first person that I have found who could make that claim, and I have been in politics an awfully long time.
That is how we are conditioned. That is what we do. It is not right to do so. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville recognizes that, first and foremost. No one else had brought this forward before my colleague stood in his place in this chamber and admitted to the House that what he said on February 6 was not accurate. He apologized for his comments. He set the record straight.
My friend the opposition House leader said that he should not be congratulated for that. I agree. However, at the very least, he should not be condemned for setting the record straight. He did what every responsible member of Parliament should do, which is that when one misspeaks in this House or says something that is not accurate, the member has an obligation to come back and correct the record. My colleague did that. As I pointed out, he did so earlier at committee, when the Minister of State for Democratic Reform appeared.
How can we talk about motivation? My friend opposite talks about motivation. He wants to explore motivation. It is quite simple. We work, live, act, and react in a hyperpartisan environment. There is certainly enough blame to be thrown around on all sides of the House. The opposition will obviously say that this partisanship, this mean-spirited environment and culture we seem to live in these days, is caused by our government. Arguments can be made to the opposite. Again, the members opposite who seem to be doing most of the heckling seem to be the ones who are most prone to making these personal, vitriolic, sometimes hyperpartisan attacks during question period. That is the environment we live in. It is unfortunate.
As a bit of an aside to this, I recall when Jack Layton, the former leader of the NDP, first came to this place as the official opposition leader. He pledged that his party would bring a new sense of decorum and respect to this place. Unfortunately, that did not last very long. I had great admiration for Mr. Layton, as did most of us in this place, and I wish that spirit of decorum and respect that he talked of was evident today. I think this place would be a better place for debate.
However, on the issue that is before us today, I simply state once again what we know. The member misspoke. He came back to this place and admitted that he had not spoken accurately on February 6. He apologized for his comments and not speaking accurately. All of the facts are now known and before us.
This has happened many times in the past in this place, and there have not been findings of contempt in all of the times that I have been here when a member has stood in this place and apologized.
Apparently that is not sufficient for member of the opposition. I can understand that. Opposition parties are trying to score some political points here, and I do not begrudge them that. It is what opposition parties do. They opposed Bill C-23, the fair elections act. We understand that. We understand that they are trying to do everything in their power to delay, obstruct, or perhaps even kill that piece of legislation. I get that. However, that is what I believe is truly behind the motion we are debating today.
If we want to talk about motivation, let us ask what the motivation is for the question of privilege that was first raised, which is to delay discussion of the fair elections act at committee as long as possible.
Mr. Speaker, as you well know, we have here a debate that is procedurally unlimited. No legislation will be brought forward as long as we are debating this question of privilege.
I was somewhat surprised, frankly, that when the motion was made to refer this matter to committee, the opposition did not put a deadline on it, because that would have perhaps forced this question of privilege to be dealt with immediately at committee, which would then further delay any attempts at examination of Bill C-23. Perhaps they will bring an amendment forward to try and do just that. However, that is the motivation that I see, and that is what is driving this debate today.
In conclusion, I agree, and I believe my colleague the member for Mississauga—Streetsville would also agree, that if one does not speak accurately in this place, records should be corrected. If one does not speak with accuracy on any point, whether it be legislation or during debate, it should not be tolerated. However, when is it right to punish someone for correcting the record? When does one become a victim for speaking what one needed to say, which was to correct the record?
I do not think we will be getting much reasoned debate from members opposite on this point. However, I think it is imperative to at least put on the record what we do know: there was no deliberate misrepresentation in the eyes of Chair; the reference to committee was simply to try to clarify and determine exactly what the member said and why he said it.
On that we agree. However, for anything else to be said or to say that there was a deliberate attempt to misrepresent is simply not the case.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I do believe right from the get-go that it is very important to recognize that to intentionally mislead the House of Commons is against our rules and to do so would be in contempt of Parliament.
It is very important that we make it clear what the member stated. I go back to February 6, and this is what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville stated:
|| Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a bit about this vouching system again. I know the minister represents an urban city. I am from a semi-urban area of Mississauga, where there are many high-rise apartment buildings. On mail delivery day when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in apartment buildings, many of them are discarded in the garbage can or blue box.
I am about to read the important part that needs to be highlighted. This is exactly what he said on February 6:
|| I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.
That is what the member stated. That is not a misspeak. This is during very important legislation, Bill C-23, in which the government speaks right from the Prime Minister's Office, as much as possible. Things coming from the Prime Minster's Office are consistent, and this particular member perhaps fell a little bit outside of the speaking notes, and he gave what was at that time, he believed, an accurate statement.
Let there be no doubt that it would have misled individuals if it turned out not to be true. He said that back in early February. I found it very interesting that a few weeks later he stood up to apologize to the House. That was on February 24. He stated at that point:
||...I rise on a point of order with respect to debate that took place on February 6 in this House regarding the fair elections act.
|| I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate. I just wanted to reflect that fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox areas of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that.
On the following day, a matter of privilege was raised. On behalf of the Liberal Party, I had the opportunity to respond. I will go to exactly what I said when I addressed the issue of the matter of privilege on behalf of the Liberal Party. I said then:
|| We should get more clarification from the member on why he waited so long to apologize. Is it because Elections Canada approached the member after reviewing what he said? It is a very serious allegation. Did the member share his concerns with Elections Canada prior to raising them here in the House?
|| It seems to me that the reason the member stood yesterday is he felt that his statement in the House was going to be looked at seriously by Elections Canada and other stakeholders because the accusation that he made during second reading was serious. There was illegal behaviour within that election which the member would have been aware of, if we believe what he said actually took place.
That is what I said in response to the matter of privilege.
The following day, a story appeared in one of the media outlets. I believe we should give credit where credit is due. I will take this as allegations or concerns raised through a media report. It comes from Stephen Best, the chief agent of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada. He complained to Canada's Chief Electoral Office, Marc Mayrand, about Mr. Butt's claim and was told the case would be referred to the Commissioner of Elections Canada.
I have a quote from that particular article. He said:
|| “I have asked that EC’s records to be searched to see if the matter of possible fraudulent voting had been brought to our attention either here at HQ or at the Returning officer office for Mississauga—Streetsville. I have also forwarded your information to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for his review and independent consideration of any possible action that may be warranted”, Mr. Mayrand replied, according an e-mail provided by Mr. Best.
|| Mr. Best made the complaint on Feb. 7, the day after Mr. Butt spoke in the House of Commons.
I posed the question to the parliamentary secretary. Straight up, did Elections Canada, the commissioner, or anyone from within Elections Canada, contact the member in question? The parliamentary secretary had indicated that he was not aware of it and that he did not talk about it.
The member for Mississauga—Streetsville should come clean on this issue. We should afford him, as much as possible, the opportunity to approach the PROC committee, on which I sit, in an open fashion and come forward. It would be good to have Elections Canada come before the committee as a witness. It might even be appropriate to ask Mr. Best to come before the committee. What we are interested in is getting to the truth of the matter at hand, which is whether the member for Mississauga—Streetsville intentionally misled the House.
When I look over the information provided to me, with the experience that I have acquired over the past number of years as a parliamentarian, I believe that there are grounds for us to have a thorough look at the matter and ultimately come up with some consensus. I want to underline the word “consensus”. We recognize that the government has a majority. We need to achieve consensus in the procedures and House affairs committee in a manner in which we can deal with this in order to come back to the House.
There is so much more that I could talk about. There is the whole issue of the lack of confidence that Canadians have in what we are currently debating at committee today, regarding the fair elections act. That is the legislation that the member was talking about.
We have some very serious issues. We trust and have to have faith that when members stand in their place, they are in fact reporting accurately. I know that, at times, innocent mistakes will be made. I would suggest that this goes far beyond some sort of innocent mistake. That is what it would appear to be. That is why we in the Liberal Party support the motion going to the PROC committee. We would like to ultimately see this issue dealt with as quickly as possible.
Mr. Craig Scott:
Mr. Speaker, I do apologize. I thought the concern was that I was using the rest of the title. I was simply trying to get it on record for the sake of the translators. It was not intentional. I was unfortunately too clear.
I was referencing Mr. Ling in this piece just for accuracy's sake. It basically said the minister has yet to explain why he feels there is a danger of citizen fraud. He said that the minister had not explained, and then he said:
||...[the] MP for Mississauga—Streetsville, made an attempt during the debate. He told the House that he's seen campaign workers scoop up piles of voter identification cards and then hand them out to dummy voters, and then take them all to the polls.
||...unless...[the member for Mississauga—Streetsville] is a superspy, and was stalking those campaign workers (or, unless it was his campaign that was doing it) that's entirely absurd and made up.
|| You still need a second piece of ID to use those voter identification cards.... It has not been, nor can it be, the sole piece of identification for a voter.
|| The government should get props for expanding the list of usable IDs, but they've utterly failed to explain why these two changes are necessary.
It was only in reading this that I realized there were some internal contradictions, because the voter identification cards can be used, and have been in recent times in 2008 and 2011, along with another piece of ID. They are a second piece of ID, and they are there primarily to show the address, but they also have the person's name on them.
Therefore the idea is that all of these cards are coming into some, say, apartment buildings; and people receiving them, living in an apartment where it is addressed to a previous tenant, cannot do anything with it because they would then have to say, “I have just been mailed this. It has Joe Smith's name on it and my name is Jim Brown, and now I'm going to have to go and forge some other piece of identity in order to use that card that I just received randomly in the mail, not addressed to me, and put those two together so I can go vote and commit fraud”. It is just completely implausible. So Mr. Ling has picked up on that.
Then the rest of what my hon. colleague was referring to in a couple of his statements, including later on February 13 in PROC, was speculating, because at that point the hon. member was talking about how this was an anecdote. He had heard this about others. He was no longer referring to it as something he had seen. He was talking about how these people must have been taking the voter ID cards in order to go and vouch.
They are two different things. In fact, the minister in his testimony, in response, maybe to this question or maybe to another person's question, made it clear that there are two different things going on. Voter identification cards would be prohibited by Bill C-23. They need a second piece of ID; they are part of formally identifying oneself. Also, vouching is something that occurs without ID; one person is entitled to vouch for another under certain conditions.
So when our friend from Mississauga—Streetsville was, in both his original statements and later statements, linking voter identification cards to their being used to vouch, it just struck me that none of it was accurate, quite apart from whether the eyewitness part was correct. Therefore, I stopped running around, as I had been doing that afternoon and early evening, trying to figure out how much evidence there was of what our colleague had said. I want to make clear that, in a very real-world way, I was misled because I believed the member.
What I believe is going on is probably best captured by my colleague from Saskatchewan, the parliamentary secretary, when he said something about our all going overboard and then, “That is how we are conditioned”. I have only been here for two years, but I honestly do not believe everybody in this House is conditioned to torque, if that is the verb we are now going to use from our friend from Saskatchewan.
We can make mistakes. We can exaggerate, but when we go to the level of telling an eyewitness tale twice on the same day and not thinking the second time that the first time was not right and asking ourselves why we are saying it the second time, then we are in another universe. The universe we are in is that, one way or the other, the minister sponsoring the bill has a severe deficit of evidence when it comes to his professed concerns about fraud, by way of risk or some actuality, because of the use of voter identification cards and the practice of vouching, he would have us believe. He has not been able to come up with one piece of evidence other than a comedy stunt from Montreal.
Therefore, some of his colleagues came to the rescue and said that we need evidence. What better evidence than anecdotes? If it is not them doing this on their own, it could have well have been that there was some kind of a situation where folks were told that they had been around for a while and if they could not prove it, they should just say it anyway and call it anecdotes. That is what we have been getting. If we go through the record of the very short debate at second reading on Bill C-23, it was not simply my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville who told his anecdote. That is what I am going to call it now. It is an anecdote that he misrepresented initially as an eyewitness account and later at committee indicated was an anecdote.
At some level when we are told to help create an evidentiary basis where there is no evidence, it creates the conditions for someone to step over the line. I went on record before the media a couple times saying I am not prepared to say this was a lie. It was a clear misleading. It was untruthful. I was being fairly harsh, but I said maybe he was just hallucinating, just fantasizing. However, one way or the other he was being stoked by the need somewhere to help the government provide evidence for the fact that it turned Bill C-23 into a bill that makes ordinary citizens a source of fraud in our elections and puts in deep second place organized fraud such as the sort that we do know has happened in our recent history through the activities or databases of at least one political party.
It is indisputable that Bill C-23 has turned everything on its head. The huge focus in it is on somehow cleaning up this problem of irregularities that then get spun as creating the risk of fraud. Initially the minister would have had people believe that irregularities were fraud until he realized that people caught on early that it was not a good connection to make.
My view of the statement that we are all conditioned, from my colleague from Saskatchewan, who I do really respect, is that I will accept that we are conditioned to act in a partisan and sometimes overly partisan way, but I have a very hard time accepting that there is some kind of universal conditioning of us as the elected representatives of Canadians to come anywhere close to uttering the inaccurate words of our friend from Mississauga—Streetsville.
It is very important to know that this is not a minor misleading. I am not here to just talk about the fact that I set off on a path to try to figure out how much truth there was in it. It was partially corrected, 19 days later, because the retraction did not retract everything he said. I will come to that if I have time.
The fact of the matter is that this statement single-handedly would have created the impression, once it was reported, and it was reported among many Canadians paying attention, that there was that kind of problem he presented.
He was an eyewitness, a member of Parliament, to people taking voter cards that had been discarded, probably because they were mis-addressed or someone was so upset with our political system that they had no intention of voting, or something along those lines, and somehow ending up at unnamed campaign offices and handing those out to unnamed individuals. Then, at that point, the eyewitness stuff stops and there is some supposition that they are then used to vote, with the mistaken association between that and using the card for vouching, which I have already explained would be a mistake.
Huge confusion was created by that statement.
I realized this only because I happened to read Mr. Ling's paragraphs that told me that this did not work internally and that it was therefore probably not true. For some 19 days, journalists and Canadians were paying attention to this and wondering how true or not it was. It was serious.
I have to add that it does not make it a whole lot better that two weeks later, 17 days later, our colleague in PROC transformed what had been an eyewitness story into an “I have heard” story. It was really just a matter of saying, “Okay, I'm going to stand my ground. I should have told this as an anecdote. However little evidence there was for it, I am now going to tell it as an anecdote.” He did not just give it a rest and say he had said something extraordinarily inaccurate and step back and not keep digging with his example, especially as a member of PROC, which was considering the bill. He did not.
I think it actually helps to circle back on the fact that, on the government side of House, one way or another, MPs are being encouraged to live in a world of anecdotes to try to give some evidentiary foundations that are not there for a decision by the current government to prohibit the use of voter identification cards and vouching.
It is not a small thing. The figure that everyone in the House probably can recite by heart is that there were 120,000 instances of vouching in 2011.
People may not know there were over 800,000 uses of the voter identification card by seniors and residents of long-term convalescent homes, and by something like 75,000 by aboriginal persons on reserve. Moreover, of the students who were given the opportunity, in a whole series of campus experiments, 62% of them used that opportunity to use the voter identification card as a second piece of ID.
In no instance that I am aware of, and I would love to hear the evidence to the contrary, was there any hint that in any one of those virtually one million there was any fraud. There was not one hint or instance of the one million Canadians using voter identification cards having somehow been involved in fraud.
That goes to what I was saying earlier. Unfortunately, the words of our colleague, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, did have an impact because they made it look as if that enfranchising practice by Elections Canada was subject to fraud. Elections Canada had determined that it would start using, on an experimental basis, in 2008, which it then expanded in 2011, voter identification cards as a second piece of ID because it was the easiest way, in some instances, to show an address.
However, the member, in one fell swoop, undermined that whole system and indirectly created confusion because the average person had no idea that a voter identification card could not be used on its own. He created confusion, as well, when he somehow indicated that the single card had something to do with vouching, which it had nothing to do with.
I will end there by just going back to my original point, which is that the Speaker has made a correct ruling that this does need to go to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We are all owed a more fulsome explanation than we have received.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to rise in the House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay.
I have to say that this is not a happy night because it represents yet another lowering level within the House under the Conservative government in its abuse of the Westminster system that we certainly hold dear.
When I say that it is an honour and a privilege to rise and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay, it is because they choose to have me here and they will choose some day if I am not to be here. I respect that. I understand that I have certain obligations to fulfill while I am here.
There are certain words we use. We use the word “privilege”. It is an interesting word. We have privileges as members of Parliament. For example, we have privileges that protect us from libel so that in certain instances, when a question or comment is heated, within the House we are able to debate that. Sometimes, questions have to be asked that may later turn out to be unfounded, but our role as parliamentarians is to question and to find out whether the people of Canada are being represented. We have to have certain privileges to keep us able to do that job.
However, with privilege comes a clear responsibility. My hon. colleagues on the other side may not realize it, but we are legislators. Our job is to create the laws of Canada. We are part of a larger legislative system, the Westminster tradition. What is decided here, in terms of precedent, is looked at in other parliamentary democracies.
One of our key responsibilities as members of Parliament is to speak truthfully in the House, meaning not to lie. That does not mean to use embellishment, to exaggerate, to zigzag, or to avoid. That all happens within the House, but the obligation to not lie is a fundamental principle because to lie is to mislead the work of parliamentarians.
We have to look at this situation and put it in context. The threshold for finding someone in a prima facie case of contempt is very rare. People apologize in the House for saying all manner of things, all the time. After they make their apology, that is considered the end of it.
I think back to 2006 and Jim Prentice, who was also from Timmins. I think I used colourful language about certain human behaviour in a washroom when I thought of his response. I later said that it was not appropriate and I apologized. That was colourful, but that is different from attempting to mislead the work of Parliament and attempting to undermine it.
If we look up the word “contempt” in the dictionary, parliamentary contempt is interference with the work of Parliament.
The three criteria found against the member for Mississauga—Streetsville are as follows. First, he made a statement that was false. In fact, he did not say it once; he said it twice. Second, he knew that it was misleading. Third, he did it in an attempt to mislead the House.
Let us look at what he did. We are dealing with a bill, this voter suppression act, which is a very disturbing piece of legislation because what the government has decided to do does not deal with the issues that came out of the 2011 election, of widespread issues of voter suppression and voter fraud through robocalls. It was judged in the Canadian court system and it was found that there were numerous cases of interference in the right to vote, traced back to the Conservative database. Elections Canada was not able to identify the actual perpetrators because the Conservative Party interfered by not putting up any witnesses and interfered with Elections Canada's attempt to find witnesses. All we know from that court finding was that across Canada, in key ridings, attempts were made to deny Canadians their right to vote, and the Conservative database was used.
One would think that clearing up the Elections Act would be to ensure that Elections Canada has the power to subpoena witnesses and to go in and examine who had access to the database where actual fraud occurred.
However, the bill does not deal with that at all. What it does is to flip the issue. We are not talking in the House any longer about known cases of voter suppression and voter fraud by unknown Conservative operatives. Now the onus is on average Canadians. The government is telling us is that it is average Canadians who are defrauding the system. There has not been one case brought forward that the Conservatives could point to. That is a problem, because we have numerous instances, and I could name the ridings, where we know that voter fraud happened through robocalls. However, they cannot give one instance of a Canadian citizen interfering, undermining, or voting fraudulently.
This gets to the issue of motivation. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville stood up in the House and claimed to have witnessed a crime. That is an extraordinary thing. My colleagues on the other side are telling us that this is perfectly okay. They say we all torque or embellish, and that is how they are conditioned. I do not know how it is seen as perfectly okay to walk into a legislature, where laws are being decided, and claim to have witnessed a crime that never occurred. That is what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said. He said that he witnessed people picking up voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they supported and handing out the voter cards to other individuals, who then walked into voting stations with no ID and with friends who vouched for them. He said that he personally witnessed this crime.
He then said later that he would relate something that he had actually seen. He claimed to have witnessed a crime. He said he had seen campaign workers pick up a dozen of these cards and walk out. What were they doing? When one stands up and attempts to mislead the House by claiming to have evidence when no evidence exists, claims to have witnessed crimes that never occurred, one has shown absolute contempt for the work of this Parliament and for the people who elect them.
Our Conservative colleagues are saying that we are all conditioned to do that. I do not believe we are all conditioned to do that. They say that we all torque and embellish. I do not believe that we are here to lie to Canadians. I do not believe that lying has any place in the House of Commons, and it certainly does not. This is what the parliamentary tradition tells us. However, the Conservatives are telling us that this is the way things are done and that New Democrats are being mean for having pointed it out.
This is not the first time that they have made up these kinds of claims. The present Minister of Heritage, on May 3, 2012, claimed to have witnessed a crime because she was under the gun for allegations that robofraud had happened in her own riding against the other parties. She claimed, “...Hey, I got a live call and was told to go to another polling station”. That is serious. If she knew voter fraud was occurring it would be incumbent upon her to call the authorities. When she was pressed about where that voter fraud from other parties happened in her riding then she retracted and said she was sorry, that maybe she had misspoken. This is serious. We are talking about whether or not crimes have occurred.
This is about a larger issue of abuse of our parliamentary system. It is about undermining the work of committees, which has gone on since the government received its majority mandate. It is about creating reports based on evidence when there is no evidence. We saw recently, with the conflict of interest study, where the government completely gutted the basic principles of the accountability act and put recommendations into the report that were never heard. Witness after witness said we needed to strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act, and the Conservative government members came to the committee and made up recommendations out of thin air and then passed them at committee. That is what is happening in terms of undermining.
Why is this serious? It is because in the Westminster tradition we do not have all the checks and balances that they have in the U.S. legislative system. There is an understanding that people will act with a certain degree of honour and that it is within committees where we are supposed to work together.
We see now Bill C-520, with which the member for York Centre would bring in power so that Conservatives who were under investigation could demand investigations of the Auditor General and Conservatives who were under investigation for abusing the Lobbying Act could demand investigations of the Lobbying Commissioner.
There is not a Parliament anywhere in the western world where those under investigation get to write laws to allow them to open investigations into the people whose job is to hold parliamentarians and lobbyists to account. However, in this topsy-turvy Conservative world, Conservatives believe that this bill is imperative.
I asked the member for York Centre the other day if he had one example to back up this bill and claims about agents of Parliament such as on the Auditor General, who was investigating his friends in the Senate, or the Ethics Commissioner, who has investigated his friends on the Conservative front bench, or Elections Canada, which is under attack from the Conservative government with the false claim that it is wearing a team jersey. I asked the member if he could give me one example, but he could not.
This is about creating a pattern of governing without evidence. That is a serious breach, because if we do not base the rule of law on evidence, then there is no proper rule of law.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider what happened to the party over there that promised accountability. I think of the minority response from the Canadian Alliance to the case of contempt found against the Liberals. This is what the Canadian Alliance said at the time said. I am holding up a moral mirror for those members to look into, but I do not think any of them want to look up.
|| This contempt cannot be dismissed as mere forgetfulness that might occur in the heat of questioning. It is instead a deliberate attempt to mislead....
|| Parliament cannot exercise that vigilance when it is misled or lied to. To mislead Parliament shows contempt for Parliament. It must not be tolerated at any time....
This is what we are talking about today. We are talking about a member who came into the House, not once but twice, and lied about witnessing crimes that never occurred. He then waited 19 days to correct the record. He never apologized. The honourable thing to do when one makes a mistake is to apologize, but he never apologized.
If a member stands in the House and claims to have witnessed crimes and does not follow through, then that member is certainly culpable. I still call my hon. colleague “honourable”, even though what he has done is very dishonourable. If the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville claimed to have witnessed a crime and was emphatic that he saw fraud being committed, then he had a legal responsibility to report it. However, he did not, because he was making it up. He put himself in a very difficult position as a spokesperson for the Conservative government on a bill that would take away basic rights from Canadians to vote, because he did so on the premise that he witnessed crimes that had never occurred.
According to the Westminster tradition, the decision that will be made by the committee will have to look beyond the narrow interests of the Conservative war machine. I am very disturbed about their willingness to do this, because we have seen time and time again that the Conservatives put their narrow interests ahead of the larger obligation that we all have as parliamentarians. We saw it with Bev Oda, a disgraced minister who was found in contempt of Parliament for lying. Were there any consequences? No, there were not.
We found that the Conservative government prorogued Parliament, shut it down, to stop an inquiry into abuse of Afghan detainees. That report has never really been dealt with, and it still remains a black mark on Canada because it was not dealt with. The Conservatives actually shut down the work of Parliament rather than get to the bottom of whether or not this happened.
We remember the other prorogation, when the Conservatives shut down the work of Parliament in order to avoid a non-confidence vote. It is a larger contempt for democratic privileges that we are seeing here.
If we see the Conservative government attempt to shut down debate in this House about whether or not it is okay to come in and lie while a proposed law is being debated, it will set a precedent that will show other countries in the parliamentary system that Canada holds the parliamentary tradition very cheap. I think members would agree with me that we need a higher standard.
I have heard all manner of prevarications from the Conservatives tonight about how we are all supposed to get together and show respect for one another. I would love to believe that, but it is like being invited to a picnic with alligators. I just do not believe it.
I have seen in committee work that every good amendment brought forward is routinely rejected. The basic work of Parliament is always in camera so that the Conservatives can abuse their majority. Conservative members do not show any interest in working with the other parties.
To Conservatives, colourful is the same as lying. It is not. Passion is not the same as misrepresenting the truth. They say that everyone embellishes and everyone torques. That is simply not true.
Mr. Gerald Keddy: A lie is a lie, Charlie. It does not matter how you say it. A lie is a lie. What are you talking about? If you lie because you have the protection of the House, it is still a lie.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Stand up. Tell me I am a liar.
Some hon. member: Clearly if you are, because you have the protection of the House, it is still a lie.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Are you saying I am a liar?
Mr. Gerald Keddy: I said if you lie because you have the protection of the House, it is still a lie. You want me to stand. I am standing.