Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in response to the speeches by Senator Harder and Senator Pratte on our motion that the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs be authorized to examine and report on the allegations that persons in the Office of the Prime Minister attempted to exert pressure on the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
These very serious allegations raise concerns about interference with the office and functions of the Attorney General of Canada that could have a negative impact on the administration of justice in our country.
Therefore, colleagues, based on the serious evidence presented to date, the Canadian government is faced by a scandal — a scandal that has Canadians wondering what is going on in the country’s highest-ranking offices.
Prime Minister Trudeau has been credibly accused by his own Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, of politically interfering in the criminal prosecution of a well-connected engineering firm. Jody Wilson-Raybould was threatened and bullied in an attempt to get her to interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and to cut a special deal.
It is beyond dispute that there was a sustained and coordinated political effort that took place in an attempt to get her to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook. In addition, it is most relevant that we be reminded that SNC-Lavalin was caught by Elections Canada funnelling illegal donations in excess of $100,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada. This is beginning to look more and more like a case of one set of special rules for the Liberals and their friends and another set of rules for everyone else. This is not the Canada that our grandparents fought for, and that’s not the Canada I want for my grandchildren.
The issue, therefore, strikes at the very heart of our democracy and system of government, namely, the rule of law, which is our oldest and most fundamental constitutional principle. This simply means that all persons are equally subject to the law regardless of their wealth, position in society or connections to the governing party of the day.
The protection of our fundamental constitutional principles is clearly a matter that has traditionally been of particular concern and responsibility of the Senate. Senator Harder, representing the government in this chamber, as well as some of the ISG senators may disagree with me and my Conservative colleagues over the proper role and function of the Senate, but surely not on this role.
In light of the fundamental constitutional importance of the matters raised in the wake of this growing scandal, I must admit, honourable senators, that I am very troubled by what I have heard people say here during the previous debates on this motion.
It is one thing for Senator Harder, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, to say that he does not believe the Senate should play a role in looking into the Prime Minister’s scandal, as he is the member of the Senate of Canada who chiefly is responsible for introducing, promoting and defending the government’s bills, along with defending the government. I kind of expected that, although I could have hoped for something better from him. As one of my colleagues said to me, “He would have to say that, wouldn’t he?”
But to witness other senators, including ISG senators, following suit in also opposing an inquiry to get to the bottom of this scandal, given what is at stake, is very puzzling to me. Why would they not want to get to the bottom of this matter, given that the government is doing all it can to prevent that from happening and not providing any detailed nor cogent arguments rebutting the most serious allegations and evidence we have heard from the former Attorney General?
Because average Canadians want answers. The Conservatives, NDP and Green Party have been trying to get answers in the House of Commons. Reporters have been trying to get answers. There is in fact now a united front of Canadians through those institutions trying to get satisfactory and complete answers and wanting to get to the bottom of this scandal. The press and the House of Commons so far have been unable to do so. In the case of the House of Commons, it is due to stonewalling by the government and by government Liberal members in the Justice Committee, more of which I will refer to shortly.
For the last five weeks or so, we’ve seen a relentless effort from the Prime Minister to change the narrative on this scandal in the hopes that we never get to the bottom of it. The Liberal members in the House of Commons, particularly in the Justice Committee, have blocked efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal. They have voted against the swearing in of witnesses, voted against recalling Jody Wilson-Raybould, while at the same time allowing the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, to reappear.
The Liberal members of Parliament have used their majority to protect Justin Trudeau by not allowing for other necessary witnesses to appear at committee, and just last week they shut down the emergency meeting of the committee probing the SNC-Lavalin affair. I will have more to say about this.
Both the Prime Minister and, therefore, the executive, along with their accomplices in the house committee are engaged in what can only be called a cover-up — I use that term advisedly but sincerely — to prevent more damaging information coming out about the inner workings of Prime Minister Trudeau’s office and cabinet.
Senators, allow me to repeat what Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said in 2014:
If the Senate serves a purpose at all, it is to act as a check on the extraordinary power of the Prime Minister and his office, especially in a majority government.
Colleagues, Prime Minister Trudeau has been campaigning and telling Canadians that he and his government will “restore a sense of trust in our democracy” and provide “greater openness and transparency.”
In the face of these damaging accusations by the former Attorney General, the Prime Minister continues to maintain there was no wrongdoing.
Therefore, this reinforces the need for all the facts to come out. There needs to be another body to look into this scandal.
These arguments alone should provide independent senators a clear mandate and a desire for a fulsome Senate inquiry in order to get answers about this scandal that has left the Trudeau government focused on damage control and virtually nothing else for weeks now.
Senators, I wish to address what Senator Harder, the Prime Minister’s senator in this chamber, has brought forward as arguments for why he opposes this motion and the opportunity for this Senate to get to the bottom of this most serious matter that has resulted in scandal for the government and a virtual crisis for them.
Senator Harder has raised concerns that the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee should focus on studying the government’s legislative business, such as Bill C-75 and Bill C-78. Senator Harder, I understand your responsibilities in ensuring the government’s legislative agenda. I have no doubt that the committee, under the chairmanship of Senator Joyal, has the ability to ensure a proper, thorough and nonpartisan inquiry into this most serious matter in addition to its other responsibilities.
Above all else, let’s not forget the severity of what is being alleged here: that the Prime Minister of this country and his associates have attempted to subvert the rule of law for party political advantage to benefit friends of the government and, in turn, the Prime Minister’s perceived party and political advantage.
Senators, we have a unique duty, obligation and opportunity to protect and defend the integrity of our democratic and legal institutions, especially when they are faced with potential corruption. I would go so far as to say that the Senate is tailor-made to conduct such a proper and complete inquiry into this scandal and get to the bottom of it.
I also wish to refute the argument also made by the government leader, that the Senate should just stand still and do nothing since a fair and impartial process is already under way by the Ethics Commissioner. We’ve all heard those talking points by the Liberals before.
The Ethics Commissioner’s investigation is very limited in what it can examine regarding the relationships between the Prime Minister, the former Attorney General and their respective staffs. Therefore, the Ethics Commissioner is not going to be able to provide sufficient answers to Canadians on this matter.
Just as a side note, unfortunately the Ethics Commissioner is sick and is not going to be available to be able to be fully active for at least 30 to 45 days, which also delays completion. It’s great to say that the office can do the work, but there’s one person who has to do the final reporting, and that is the Ethics Commissioner.
I would also like to raise the paradox that Senator Harder has raised, the point that the Ethics Commissioner is credible and trustworthy, and he is an independent and non-partisan officer. Is that not precisely what the government and ISG senators claim to be the main feature of the Senate, or is it another instance of words not reflecting the actions by the government? Does the Prime Minister and his Senate government leader simply fear the outcome of any inquiry conducted under the ultimate majority control of the ISG senators? Is it not a fact that the government, and through its spokesman here, concerned that given the power, scope and so-called independence of this body, we might actually get to the bottom of this scandal?
Another argument the Leader of the Government in the Senate raised is that the decree waiving solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence for Ms. Wilson-Raybould does not apply to the Senate. It applies only to the House of Commons Justice Committee and the Ethics Commissioner.
The answer to solving that problem is in the hands and powers of the Prime Minister. He can and should simply have the order-in-council extended to apply to hearings conducted here. Therefore, the refusal by the government to do this is no argument for us not investigating this matter.
As I have said, Prime Minister Trudeau has been doing everything in his power to prevent the former Attorney General from providing what she has called “my truth” and thus her full story. However, after weeks of pressure, the Prime Minister finally realized this scandal wasn’t going away and allowed Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould to speak, but to speak on his terms. She could only speak to matters arising up to the time she was demoted as AG and eventually shuffled to Veterans Affairs.
After she spoke to the house Justice Committee, the Prime Minister also got the Clerk of the Privy Council to again appear at the committee, and he also had his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, attempt to put his spin on the scandal.
It is obvious that the house Justice Committee has been controlled by the PMO by way of its Liberal majority. I find this seriously problematic. That, obviously, would not be a problem if the Senate, as an independent body, looked into this matter. I will have more to say about this.
Colleagues, the bottom line that arises from the arguments raised by Senator Harder in an attempt to convince you not to do your duty in this case is: Are you willing to be part of the problem, or do you want to be part of the solution?
I’d now like to address the questions that Senator Pratte raised in his response to the motion for a Senate inquiry. I respect his experience and his knowledge, but with all due respect, I think he is wrong. His comments show that he has carefully considered this matter, and I thank him for that.
Senator Pratte asked whether this matter should be the subject of a parliamentary investigation.
Arguably, everyone believes that an investigation is required in order to get answers to the many questions that Canadians want to know and have not been answered. Unfortunately, what everyone has been witnessing is that the House of Commons committee will not suffice, as many protagonists have not been given a chance to provide their version of the facts. Why is that?
First of all, on the basis of straight partisan lines, the Liberal majority in the house committee has never allowed the former Attorney General to reappear to answer the testimony given to the committee by the Clerk of the Privy Council and Gerald Butts, the PM’s former principal secretary. They have just this week taken a furthermost gross partisan action in this regard, which I will make specific mention to in a moment.
In addition, the house committee has not allowed for the other relevant witnesses, including the Prime Minister, to appear before them. At the same time, however, the committee has allowed the Clerk of the Privy Council, an unelected official, to actually reappear, but again not affording the former AG the same opportunity.
I wish to make the case that the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, chaired by Liberal Senator Joyal, with a majority of ISG senators, would be able to act in a strictly non-partisan and thorough way.
I believe the numbers are, if I stand corrected, six, one, four, the breakdown, which puts the ISG members in a majority position. Just so we understand each other, this is not a case of who has more power. This is a case of real opportunity for representation.
The Senate committee is best equipped, as an independent body, to conduct such an inquiry.
The Senate committee would also, as we know, do a proper investigation and would surely both afford the former Attorney General the opportunity to be able to provide both her full story and rebuttal to what Mr. Butts and the clerk have said, as well as to call and summon all relevant witnesses to appear before it without fear or favour, based on partisan concerns or otherwise.
The second question raised by the senator: Is it the Senate’s role to investigate this matter?
In other words, should the Senate not be allowed to conduct a more adequate inquiry than what we are witnessing being conducted in the House of Commons on this matter? The Senate should be provided a chance to complete the work of the House of Commons, if we are of the view that their inquiry is less than adequate and thorough and/or the house committee is displaying a clear determination not to be so thorough and complete.
Senator Harder has on many occasions argued that it is very much the proper role of the Senate to complete inadequate work and inquiry conducted by the House.
As previously mentioned, to date, the House of Commons committee Liberal majority approach has been to limit testimony in an attempt to end their inquiry as quickly as possible. In light of their approach, we should adopt this motion now, as this will be a statement of our determination to perform our proper role, and, in fact, by such passage give an incentive to the house committee majority and the government that we are serious, and if they do not perform and complete the job properly, we are determined to do so ourselves.
Senator Pratte’s third question related to timing. Is this the right time for the Senate to examine this matter, or should we wait on the House of Commons to complete its work?
I agree with Senator Pratte that the Senate cannot wait for the report from the Ethics Commissioner, as it may come far too late for us to then conduct our own inquiry. The life of this current Parliament will come to an end soon, followed by the general election. It would be a travesty if we deny ourselves the opportunity to get to the facts in this matter, whatever the full facts reveal. We should ensure that this government and the Prime Minister will be ultimately accountable to all Canadians.
The Senate must prepare itself to deal with this question as soon as necessary, well before the end of this Parliament. This is why we must pass this motion right now.
The last question raised by Senator Pratte is the following: Given the wording of our motion, is our Senate committee the appropriate tool?
I would argue that the Senate committee is the most appropriate tool. What better parliamentary body would there be to ensure a proper, thorough and non-partisan inquiry?
This motion is necessarily anticipatory in light of the very serious constitutional nature of the issues at stake and the performance and attitude to date taken by the Justice Committee of the House of Commons . Our committee can be given the necessary discretion when to actually commence its proceedings on this matter.
Adopting this motion now will provide an incentive. If you will, it will be like the sword of Damocles on those who attempt to prevent Parliament from getting to the bottom of this matter and to, in fact, encourager les autres, as we might say. This matter either gets handled properly and completed by others, or it will need to be dealt with by us in the Senate.
Senator Pratte stated that he thought that this motion was partisan motivated. If it was, why would we be proposing that this matter be studied by one of our committees chaired by a Liberal senator with an ISG majority? What could be more non-partisan than that?
To quote Senator Pratte:
. . . our duty as independent legislators is not towards the opposition or towards the government. Our duty is to serve the truth. And by serving the truth, we serve Canadians.
Those duties and aspirations referred to by Senator Pratte will be fulfilled by the adoption of this motion.
I hope I have refuted the concerns raised by Senator Pratte.
I want to end these remarks by bringing us all up-to-date on recent developments.
I have received a note that says: And tonight we are learning that the Liberal members of Parliament on the Justice Committee have sent a letter basically claiming that they have finished their study in this matter. Furthermore, they claim to achieve their objective.
As honourable senators will know, we have now been met by the spectacle of the Liberal government majority on the Justice Committee of the House of Commons refusing to consider allowing the former Attorney General to come back to them in order to enable her to give further evidence and in rebuttal to remarks made by both the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister’s former principal secretary.
I want to read this one more time because I just saw it: And tonight we are learning that the Liberal members of Parliament on the Justice Committee have sent a letter basically claiming they have finished their duties with this study. Furthermore, they claim they have achieved their objective.
It is therefore now clear that the Prime Minister and the Liberals in the house do not intend to allow the house committee to do a complete and thorough job of getting to the bottom of the serious matter.
This, therefore, simply reinforces our argument that having this matter for inquiry now taken up by our Senate committee is imperative and the only way now for us to get to the bottom of this matter. Our tradition of less partisanship and thorough committee studies is tailor-made to now complete the work of the house committee due to their and the government’s determination to shut this whole matter down before allowing Canadians the right to hear the full story.
This motion provides both an opportunity and a challenge, especially to the ISG senators in this place, to walk the walk of the independence that they talk so much and so proudly about.
If this motion is defeated, it will be defeated by the votes of our ISG senators, who will be seen as not prepared to display the independence they claim they have from the political executive and, in this case, especially the Prime Minister himself.
This is the moment of truth for my friends and colleagues across the aisle. How they proceed will be one for the history books.
I need a rest. Thanks.