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Senator Plett on Bill C-20: Trudeau’s promises to support persons with disabilities and students during the pandemic have fallen short

July 27, 2020 (Ottawa, ON) - The Honourable Don Plett, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, issued the following statement:

Honourable senators, it will probably not come as any surprise that I will not echo Senator Tannas’s comments about commending the government on this bill. However, I am happy to rise and add my voice to the debate.

I will, of course, give my opinion on the content of the bill, but this is also a good opportunity to measure what has been done so far in the fight against COVID-19 and its economic consequences.

Senator Munson talked about how long it had taken. Colleagues, seven weeks ago, on June 10, the government introduced Bill C-17 in the House of Commons. This bill did four things: One, it made changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy; two, it enacted the Time Limits and Other Periods Act; three, it authorized the Canada Revenue Agency to share information with other government departments in order to facilitate a one-time payment to persons with disabilities; four, it made amendments to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act.

All of these changes were necessary steps forward in order to provide support to Canadian employees and business owners during the recovery from the pandemic. However, the Conservative opposition pointed out at the time that there were serious shortcomings with this legislation.

First of all, while the bill proposed a few improvements to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program, it completely skated around other changes that were critically needed. Business owners and economists had been banging on the Prime Minister’s cottage door — or as some senators like to call it, his bungalow — for a month trying to get him to come out and see that there were serious problems with the program. Instead of listening to their advice, he decided to make a few tweaks here and there while ignoring the most significant shortcomings.

The second issue with Bill C-17 was that the one-time payment to persons with disabilities was going to completely miss hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities.

There are many persons with disabilities in Canada who live on very low incomes or who have no income, who do not qualify for the Disability Tax Credit and therefore would not receive this payment. There are others who receive benefits through the Canada Pension Plan Disability benefit, the Québec Pension Plan disability benefit or through Veterans Affairs. All of these could have been bypassed by the program if it had gone ahead under Bill C-17.

Rather than simply rubber stamping a flawed bill like the government wanted, Andrew Scheer requested that the government take a few more days to debate and possibly amend the bill in order to get it right. The Conservatives, of course, were supported by the Bloc and the NDP in this request. The government flatly refused. Apparently, showing up for two days of work in a row was a bit too much to ask. The Liberals decided that they would act like Parliament was just a nuisance. They decided that they could govern alone, even though they are in a minority situation.

By the next day, the Prime Minister had taken time to meet with his communications advisers, and they had their spin all worked out. Standing in front of his cottage, the Prime Minister spoke haltingly and tried his best to sound sincere. He said:

I want to take a moment to speak to everyone who lives with a disability, or cares for someone with a disability.

We will not give up.

We’re not going to let you be left behind.

And we’ll keep working to get you the help you need and deserve.

Apparently, working to get the help you need and deserve did not include staying at the office for another day or two. It did not include working with the other parties to get the job done. And it did not include being honest about the fact that unless this government gets its way, they will just take their ball and go home. That, colleagues, is exactly what happened. On June 10, the Prime Minister took his bill and went home because he couldn’t be bothered to allow Parliament to do its job properly.

Today, colleagues, is July 27, seven weeks later, and we finally have a bill before us that makes necessary changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and expands the $600 payment to reach more Canadians with disabilities.

On May 19, the Minister of Justice wrote to the critics of the three opposition parties in the House about the Time Limits and Other Periods Act and said:

It is important to act, both to protect the legal rights of Canadians and to ensure that they do not have to choose between protecting their health and meeting inflexible deadlines.

Why the government chose to wait two months before moving with these changes is a mystery. I remind you that no one is objecting to these measures. Bill C-20 is far from perfect, but it is an improvement over Bill C-17. It still misses about 1 million Canadians with disabilities, and it will still give the tax-free payment to rich people who don’t need it. But at least, after having seven weeks to think about it, the Prime Minister came to the realization that there are veterans with disabilities in Canada who should be included as well.

Regrettably, however, because he dithered for so long, it is now going to take more than two months for the payments to persons with disabilities to be completed. That is more than six months from when the pandemic began. This government hasn’t advertised this delay, but the evidence is tucked away in clause 10, Part 2 of the bill, which says:

Any amount payable by the Minister of Employment and Social Development in relation to the administration of a program to provide a one-time payment to persons with disabilities for reasons related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), including any administrative cost, is to be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Bill C-17, which was introduced on June 10, was going to make the payments under the statutory authority of the Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act. Now that spending authority was suddenly being changed and incorporated right into Bill C-20.

When my office inquired about why this change was necessary, we were told that the payments to persons with disabilities:

. . . will not be completed before the September 30th repeal of the Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act. As a result, Bill C-20 has a provision for authority to access funding in the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Colleagues, the Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act is set to be automatically repealed on September 30, but because the Prime Minister decided to take his bill and go home instead of staying at the office to finish the job, the payments to persons with disabilities won’t be completed by then.

This is troubling. Six hundred dollars may not seem like much to the Finance Minister, who took two years to realize that he had an extra $41,000 lying around, but to many Canadians with disabilities, this payment is a lifeline. The payment was announced by the government on June 5, and four months later, some persons with disabilities will still be waiting for their cheque.

Colleagues, if you’re having trouble understanding why it took the government seven weeks to pass this bill when it could have been done in two or three days, you are not alone. On the one hand, the Prime Minister claims to be working to get Canadians the help they need and deserve, but on the other hand, he decides to take a personal day rather than showing up for work last Monday when this legislation was introduced. On the one hand, this government wants to give Canadians the impression that they are not going to let anyone be left behind, but on the other hand, they have to insert clauses into almost every piece of COVID legislation to allow policy to be implemented retroactively because they can’t get their act together on time.

They are constantly making announcements with no clue about how they are going to implement those promises. Individuals and business owners are left scrambling to figure out what they are supposed to do to receive the assistance that was announced.

Just last week the Canadian Federation of Independent Business issued a statement about the changes that this bill makes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and they said:

. . . the new rules are incredibly complicated and small business owners will need significant help in understanding whether they will qualify and how much support they may receive.

This wage subsidy program has been mismanaged from the get-go.

You will remember, colleagues, that at first the subsidy was equal to 10% of an employee’s salary. When Minister Morneau appeared here in front of the Committee of the Whole on March 25, I asked him why it was only 10%. I gave him some examples of what was done elsewhere. I specifically pointed out Denmark, which had a 75% wage subsidy. This is what Minister Morneau answered, showing the arrogance so typical of this government:

. . . if you look at what Denmark is doing, I think you will conclude that, in fact, ours is superior. In Denmark’s case, they are only allowing firms that have a significant reduction in revenue to have access to that wage subsidy.

He added:

When you do the math — I know this will be coming in a couple of days — I think you’ll see and I know that small businesses will see that this provides them with significant support.

Guess what? It was the minister who did the math. He figured out that his program would not attract anyone, and two days later announced a new and improved wage subsidy at the same 75% as Denmark and with the same criteria of revenue reduction. That was the first of the signs of the incompetence of the Liberal government in finding and rolling out practical solutions for Canadian businesses during this pandemic.

The Liberal government waited and waited before unveiling the wage subsidy and making it a reality. But businesses, especially small ones, could not wait while Minister Morneau and his officials were doing their math. They laid off their employees, who turned to CERB, and once that had been done the chances of rehiring people were slim.

That is why, if you look at the projections of costs for CERB and the wage subsidy versus the reality, you will see that the government missed the target. Justin Trudeau and his team thought that the wage subsidy would be the tool used by businesses, but because of their incompetence they pushed people instead to CERB. This created serious distortions on the job market. There are countless businesses looking for manpower and cannot find workers because people prefer to be on CERB. The government knows that. They know that they have to phase out the CERB program, but they cannot figure out how. How do you incentivize people to go back to work while not letting those who truly cannot find work fall without a safety net?

We are one month away from the deadline, and no one knows what to expect. Several people, including Conservatives, have been saying for weeks that the CERB program has to be changed to make sure that people are incentivized to work, but the Trudeau government, showing its usual arrogance, refuses to listen to those voices — probably simply because the idea is not theirs.

So CERB was a good emergency measure, one that should have been the backstop, the safety net, but because they are incompetent the Liberals have turned this program into the frontline lifeline, thereby creating a brake on economic recovery. But the wage subsidy and CERB are not the only programs that the Prime Minister announced on the porch of his cottage, or again, as Senator Moncion wants it to be called, his bungalow.

The Canada Emergency Business Account was announced on March 27. That, colleagues, was four months ago today. There are countless stories about entrepreneurs who cannot qualify for this program for one reason or another. Clearly this was designed by people who do not understand the reality of small business.

Last week, this is what the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said:

CFIB urges the federal government to make quick progress to reform other key business support programs, including proceeding with promised changes to eligibility for the Canada Emergency Business Account, and expanding the size of the loans and the percentage forgiven upon repayment. It is also critical that we make immediate changes to the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program as it is just not working for small business owners.

The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program was announced on April 16. That was 103 days ago. Again, this program is so complex that practically no small business can benefit from it. It was a program designed not for small businesses but for large landlords and their creditors. The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 truly started four and a half months ago, yet business owners are still waiting for the government to fix these programs so that the programs do what the government promised they would.

The Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility, known as LEEFF, is another disaster. You will remember that I asked Minister Morneau, the last time we sat, how many companies had applied to LEEFF. Because he either did not know or because he was unwilling to the tell the truth, the minister asked me to write to his office to get the answer, which I did. Well, today, six weeks later, I still do not have that answer. We can easily predict that the number of applicants to this program will be zero — a program designed for no one. You have to wonder, when designing this program, were the Liberals just incompetent or did they just want a marketing opportunity making the Prime Minister and his ministers look busy, knowing full well that the program is so flawed that no one would be interested.

This government is very good at making grandiose announcements, but it is utterly incompetent when it comes to following through and getting things done in a timely manner for Canadians. We have seen numerous examples of this incompetence in both the government’s preparation for a possible pandemic and in their response when COVID-19 actually arrived.

The Social Affairs Committee and the National Finance Committee pointed some of these out in their recent reports. I want to thank them for their excellent work. The Social Affairs Committee noted that:

. . . the federal National Emergency Strategic Stockpile (NESS) was not well-managed over the years and was not sufficiently and appropriately stocked to provide needed supplies across Canada.

This is regrettable. The Trudeau government has been in power for close to five years now, and it must be held accountable for the state of unpreparedness that Canada was in when the virus attacked.

We heard recently that the Minister of Defence was briefed in January, two months before the crisis really hit Canada, on what was going on in Wuhan, but the government failed to measure the gravity of the crisis and instead relied on Chinese Communist Party propaganda. We learned how the Chinese government was stockpiling PPE, only to sell it later at hyper-inflated prices. But this government refused to close the borders and it refused to stock up on PPE, even sending precious stocks to China. In getting ready to deal with COVID-19 and in its response on the health front, this government was incompetent and it cost Canadian lives.

We can be thankful that health care is provided by the provinces of our federation. The various provinces were able to limit the damage, even if they had to push the Trudeau government to act. We can thank the premiers and the dedicated provincial civil servants and the front-line workers.

The Social Affairs Committee, in its report on COVID-19, states “that Canada is not prepared for a second wave” because this government was so inept in preparing for the first wave, and reacting to it, and because this government is now engulfed in the largest corruption scandal since Adscam. Canadians should be fearful of this second wave, should it come. With this crew at the helm of the ship, Canada may well end up on Gilligan’s Island after the next wave. I recently saw a picture on social media showing Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Justin Trudeau with the warning that the second wave is always worse than the first, and I could not agree more. While it was asleep at the wheel on the health front, the Liberal government was trying to look busy on the economic front, but as I have already started to show, it was incompetent in designing and implementing measures to reduce the economic impact of the pandemic and the shutdown of the economy.

I have spoken at length on the programs for businesses, but what about the programs for individuals? As I said, the CERB program was a good temporary measure; a stopgap. But by refusing to modify it to include incentives to work, the government is hampering our economic recovery. I understand that the government needed to act quickly in mid-March and could not be too fussy about who would get CERB, but four months later we can ask ourselves: Why do students who live with their parents, and who were working for a few hours a week in a store before the pandemic, still receive CERB payments? The Fraser Institute calculated that the CERB program has sent $11.8 billion to young people who live with their parents. Is that good policy? We have story after story of fraud regarding CERB payments.

The Prime Minister himself said there would probably be around a billion dollars’ worth of fraud, yet that does not seem important to the Liberals. After all, what is a billion dollars when your heart is in the right place, as we have learned with the WE scandal? What is even more unacceptable is that the government has numbers about the levels of fraud. As Le Journal de Montreal reported last week, it would not release them to the public. This is certainly not because the estimated level of fraud is less than what the Prime Minister predicted.

Speaking of millions and billions being thrown around, we learned last week that more than a quarter of the federal public servants were granted special paid leave during the pandemic. People sitting at home, not working in the office, not working from home, at a cost of about half a billion dollars. Don’t you think that some of these folks could have helped elsewhere? Businesses across Canada were forced to turn on a dime and reorganize how they work. They figured out how people could work from home, how they could be transferred to another department, but not our federal government. That was too complicated for Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet. When you are busy running around spending billions of dollars, you don’t have time to think about how the border agents, who are no longer needed since the borders are closed, could be deployed elsewhere. Sure, this would have helped, but it is complicated and does not bring votes, so let’s forget it.

As of last week, the government estimated the cost of its response to COVID-19 at over $325 billion. How this mountain of debt is going to be handled remains a mystery. We know that the Bank of Canada is buying a large chunk of the federal government debt. Will it offload it? If so, how and when? We do not know. I have asked Minister Morneau right here in this chamber and he would not answer. How will this affect inflation and interest rates? Canadians will have to guess, because our finance minister will not tell us how he plans to get out of this mess. I guess he is too busy going through old receipts for luxury trips to see if he needs to reimburse something else. While provinces and other countries have fiscal updates and budgets, the Liberal government gives us a snapshot. It’s like expecting a movie and getting a Polaroid instead.

Honourable senators, this government has not shown a great level of competency since 2015. Besides legalizing pot, it cannot show any great achievement. In steering the country through a situation like the pandemic and its economic consequences, you need leadership — good leadership. You need competence, just like Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty showed in 2008, otherwise the damage can be deep and long-lasting. I am fearful for our future because Justin Trudeau and his cabinet are so incompetent that they are starting to cause real damage to our economy and our democratic system. What are they going to do to steer us out of the mess we are finding ourselves in? Will they raise taxes? If they do, they will damage the fragile economy even further. Will they cut spending? This is highly unlikely because Justin Trudeau’s entire legacy rests on not cutting spending, and letting the budget balance itself. If there is one thing that Justin Trudeau showed us over the years, it is he is completely unable to make any difficult decisions. Justin Trudeau is simply not up to the job and will not exercise the leadership necessary to make difficult decisions. If left in charge of the ship of state, Canadians can expect him to lower the sails and drift. Inflation will begin to kick in, which will dilute the weight of our national debt while weakening our economy and making every Canadian poorer.

Honourable senators, the unfortunate reality is that we have a federal government which is incompetent, out of touch with economic reality and refuses to think outside of its ideological framework. We will need to be extra vigilant in the coming months to hold this government to account, because more bad decisions at this time could have a significant and long-lasting impact on the economy and on future generations of Canadians.

Our National Finance Committee made some excellent observation in its latest report, including the following:

The committee is also concerned by the lack of accountability and transparency for government spending. The committee believes that it is time to return to traditional procedures for approval by Parliament of government spending in order to provide appropriate oversight of government expenditures.

Lastly, Canadians and Parliamentarians need to have a clear picture of the state of the government’s finances on a regular basis. The government should release an economic and fiscal update quarterly for the duration of the economic crisis.

It will be interesting to see what the government’s response is to these recommendations. Regardless, one thing is certain: We need Parliament to be back in September. Not on Zoom calls, not hybrid sittings. We need to find ways to meet in our traditional manner while respecting public health guidelines. Let’s not make it a political issue, I agree.

I have spoken at length about the incompetence of Justin Trudeau, Bill Morneau and the rest of the Liberal wrecking crew. Sadly, honourable senators, I have not covered everything. The gold medal of incompetence in reacting to the effects of COVID-19 is the bungling of the Canada Student Service Grant. The Canada Student Service Grant, or CSSG, was announced on April 22. In the government’s words, the CSSG:

. . . will help students gain valuable work experience and skills while they help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. For students who choose to do national service and serve their communities, the new Canada Student Service Grant will provide up to $5,000 for their education in the fall.

Colleagues, today is July 27. There is one month left before students go back to school, and the program hasn’t even started yet. In fact, the government has not even figured out how it will work and who will administer it. It took them two months to announce the official launch and less than three days for the whole thing to start to unravel beneath their feet.

I am not sure if the root problem of this government is arrogance, incompetence or corruption, but I am beginning to think it is all three.

Consider for a moment what has taken place with the CSSG. From what we know, the government began looking at how to help students weather the pandemic financially in early April. On April 5, the finance minister discussed ideas with the Prime Minister and, two days later, WE Charity was contacted by the minister’s department to probe the idea further. Two days after that, on April 9, WE Charity sends an unsolicited proposal for a youth program to Youth Minister Bardish Chagger and Small Business Minister Mary Ng. What a coincidence.

A week later, Minister Chagger met with WE co-founder Craig Kielburger to discuss their proposal. Oddly enough, when Minister Chagger appeared before the House of Commons Finance Committee she failed to mention this meeting.

On April 19, Rachel Wernick, a senior official with ESDC, contacted WE Charity to discuss possibilities for a student service program. It is not clear who pushed Ms. Wernick to call WE. She said it had been mentioned by someone in Minister Morneau’s department.

Three days after that, on April 22, the Prime Minister announces that his government will be launching the Canada Student Service Grant program. The very same day, WE Charity emails Ms. Wernick an updated proposal for a grant, which included details of the proposed program that even Ms. Wernick had not yet been made aware of.

How, colleagues, does that happen? How could WE know in advance what the Prime Minister was about to announce on the steps of his bungalow? WE knew even before the bureaucrat in charge of the program what the program would look like. And the government has the gall to tell us it was bureaucrats who decided that WE would be the beneficiary?

On May 5, Minister Chagger brings a proposal to the COVID-19 cabinet meeting, which recommends the WE Charity as the preferred administrator of the program. And it is approved. On May 22, the whole of cabinet considers and approves the plan.

One month later, on June 25, the government announces that WE Charity has been awarded $19.5 million to run the $912 million program. We would learn later that the program was actually worth $44 million to the organization.

You would think that someone would have taken this month between the decision and the announcement to do some due diligence on WE or see if there were other options. No, either because these people were incompetent or because they knew that the fix was in. It had to be WE, no matter what.

Right after the public announcement, the wheels began to fall off. On June 28th, the Conservatives asked Auditor General Karen Hogan to investigate the arrangement, noting that this was a sole-source, untendered contract with a group that had well-documented connections to the Trudeaus.

In the coming days, the grant to WE Charity was cancelled as the ethics commissioner announced two separate investigations into the matter, and conflicts of interest began surfacing faster than the public could keep up with.

On July 9, WE Charity confirmed that Margaret Trudeau had been paid a total of $312,000 for speaking at 28 WE events between 2016 and 2020. Alexandre Trudeau, the Prime Minister’s brother, was paid $40,000 for eight events in the 2017-18 academic year. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau received $1,400 for a single appearance in 2012. On March 4, both Sophie and her mother-in-law, Margaret Trudeau, were headline speakers at a WE Day in the U.K.

On their website, WE Charity describes Sophie as “. . . more than an ambassador of WE Well-being, she is its mentor, booster and champion.”

Last August, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced $3 million in federal funding to WE for its WE Are Social Entrepreneurs program. The announcement was made in the same month that his daughter began working for the charity and one month before the federal election was called.

In his testimony to the Finance Committee last week, Minister Morneau admitted that the WE Charity had paid expenses for two trips he took with his family to the tune of $41,366. He also said that his family had previously made two donations of $50,000 each to the WE Charity, including one in June of this year. Global News reported that, in total, WE Charity was the recipient of at least $5.5 million in federal government funding from 2015 to 2019.

But the troubling links between the Trudeau government and WE don’t stop there. Gerald Butts, the Prime Minister’s former principal secretary and best friend, who resigned in disgrace, has been listed as an outstanding partner and supporter of the WE Charity. Mélanie Joly, the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, participated in multiple WE events.

Seamus O’Regan, the PM’s Minister of Natural Resources, worked with the WE Charity as the honorary chair of Artbound, a charity that fundraises on behalf of WE. Katie Telford, Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, was a co-founder of the Artbound charity that Minister O’Regan chaired. Between the two of them, they are reported to have been involved in helping to raise $400,000 for the WE Charity in 2010 and 2011.

We don’t know everything about the WE scandal yet. The Ethics Commissioner, the Lobbying Commissioner, the RCMP and at least two House committees will certainly be able to unearth additional information, even if the Liberals are obviously trying desperately to cover their tracks and filibuster the work of the committees.

Beyond the obvious ethical breaches in this affair, the whole program, how it was designed and rolled out raises serious questions. It raises questions about the Liberal Party of Canada. Is it true that it is receiving lists of participants from WE? What are the links between the Liberal Party and WE? Was WE trying to turn young people into brand fanatics for the Trudeau and the Liberal brands, as they promised to other sponsors?

It raises questions about WE Charity. What is the true corporate structure? Why was the real estate division chosen to deliver CSSG? Is WE solvent? Is it true that it spends only 20% or so of its revenues on actual international development? Where is the other 80% going? How did WE plan to deliver the programs? Was it really offering money to other charities and teachers to hunt down volunteers to inflate the numbers? Was it planning to sell personal information of participants to corporations?

When they gave free luxury trips to the Minister of Finance and his family, what were they expecting in return? Were WE and its principals registered lobbyists when they were dealing with government officials? Why did they pay members of the Trudeau family for speaking engagements but not other speakers? Why did so many employees, managers and directors leave WE in the last few months?

It raises serious questions about Minister Morneau. What is the true extent of his relationship with WE? What did he know about WE’s financial difficulties when he designed a program that supposedly only WE could deliver? How can we trust a Finance Minister who forgets villas in France and $41,000 trips?

It raises serious questions about Prime Minister Trudeau. Did his family receive free trips from WE? We know they accepted and received free vacations from the Aga Khan. What did he know about WE’s problems? What was his personal involvement in the design of this program?

It raises serious questions about the government and the public service. Why did the government choose to allocate close to a billion dollars to this program instead of increasing amounts to the Canada Summer Jobs program? Who thought that giving grants to students was better than giving them jobs?

Why did the government favour this scheme that bypasses labour laws, especially minimum-salary provisions? How did the government do the math in this program? It expected 20,000 students would receive this grant. That’s $100 million if every student volunteered for the maximum number of hours. Even with WE’s fee of between $19 and $44 million, you are still close to $800 million short.

Why did the government agree to sign with the real estate arm of WE? Why not do business with the charity itself? What due diligence was done? Why did the government decide to ask only WE to bid on this? How did WE know about the program before even the bureaucrat in charge of implementing it did?

Colleagues, the CSSG was a ridiculous, overly complex program, unless, of course, it was designed not to help students but to help WE. So who are the true masterminds behind this? Were they incompetent or is there something more nefarious? Perhaps when the government announced the CSSG program, we read the Prime Minister’s statement incorrectly. Perhaps the time he said “we,” he actually meant “WE” with the capital letters: “Together, WE will get through this difficult time.”

As you know, I wrote to the Speaker on July 13, asking him to reconvene the Senate so we could try to get to the bottom of this. In my letter, I noted that the Senate is uniquely positioned to get to the bottom of this ordeal. To quote the Prime Minister himself:

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 . . . .

This scandalous affair is exactly the type of situation where the Senate needs to step up and be a check on the extraordinary power of the Prime Minister. Canadians expect us, especially in times of crisis, to hold the government of the day to account.

To my great disappointment, I have not received an answer, not even an acknowledgment of receipt. It seems to me that we have enough talent in this chamber to go deeper into this file to shed additional light on how this program was designed. We are a complementary chamber to the House of Commons. I am sure we could complement their work on this. We will see if the Speaker agrees with me.

One other question that bothers me about WE is why the Prime Minister and the ministers never thought that there could be problems with choosing WE to do this work. It is incredible that there could be these many conflicts of interest converging on one government program and it didn’t raise any red flags with anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office or around the cabinet table.

On the one hand, it’s unbelievable, and yet, on the other hand, if you’ve been following the performance of this government, it’s not surprising. This is, after all, the same Finance Minister who forgot to declare his villa in France in his ethics reporting. This is the same Finance Minister who sponsored Bill C-27, which happened to increase the value of pensions sold by the minister’s company, Morneau Shepell. When the bill was tabled in the House of Commons, the value of Morneau Shepell shares jumped, and Minister Morneau just happened to still be holding $21 million worth of shares.

This is the same Prime Minister who was found guilty of breaking the Conflict of Interest Act 10 times in less than four years. In 2017, former commissioner Mary Dawson ruled on Trudeau and his family accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas. Everyone in Canada knows you cannot accept free holidays from third parties when you are a member of the cabinet. Everyone except the Liberals, who apparently have to relearn this lesson every couple of years.

Then again in 2019, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found that Trudeau had tried to influence then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to overrule a decision not to grant a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin.

Between the two incidents, Justin Trudeau was found guilty of one count of contravening section 5 of the Conflict of Interest Act, four counts of contravening section 9, one count on section 11, two counts on section 12 and two counts on section 21. That, colleagues, is 10 violations of the Conflict of Interest Act.

And now the Prime Minister is under investigation again by the Ethics Commissioner, along with his Finance Minister.

We should not forget the other ethical challenges of the Prime Minister. The SNC-Lavalin affair was more than just breaching the code of ethics; the Prime Minister made a mockery of the separation of power between his office and the Attorney General. He was so incompetent or so corrupt that he pushed aside the Shawcross Principle in order to help friends get away from criminal prosecution. And to get his way, he threw the first Indigenous Justice Minister under the bus.

Speaking of Indigenous women, who can forget the “thank you for your donation” incident where the PM’s elitist and condescending attitude was on full display. Before that, we had “elbowgate,” when Justin Trudeau pushed aside fellow MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau because he was in a hurry to vote. His time was more precious than others, and pushing aside women who get in the way is something our fake feminist Prime Minister will do without hesitation.

That was in line with Justin Trudeau’s behaviour in the “Kokanee grope” incident, where he groped a female journalist. Then he said he would not have done this had he but known that the woman was a national reporter. I guess in his mind, it’s more acceptable if the woman was not a national reporter. We all remember that our Prime Minister decided that this was indeed a lesson not just for him but for all of us. We now know that some “people experience things differently”.

In 2015, we learned that Justin Trudeau was billing charities for speaking engagements, even as an MP. This was a first, colleagues — a sitting politician who charges people to hear him speak. When he got caught, he said he was sorry and wrote a cheque. A few weeks later he was caught again; he had charged the House of Commons for expenses that had also been reimbursed by the organizations to which he spoke. Again, we had the “I’m sorry; here’s a cheque” routine.

And finally, let’s not forget the three, four, five or more incidents where Justin Trudeau wore blackface because he thought it was funny to pretend that he was black. We don’t know how many times he did that because he can’t remember how many times he did it. It seems that it was a classic for Justin Trudeau, the comedian, to wear blackface. Seriously, colleagues — who in their right mind was doing that in the 1980s? What does this show about Justin Trudeau’s true character?

This government has fostered a culture of arrogance, incompetence and corruption to the point that they have become so inoculated to ethical breaches that they no longer even recognize them. They have been dragged, screaming and kicking, over a flaming bed of hot coals that they themselves created before they even admit that something might be wrong. Then, when caught, they would like us to forgive and forget, because they mumble, “I’m sorry,” with a little tear in the corner of their eye. We all know they are not sorry about anything. They are not even good actors.

Look at how they handled the WE scandal. The Prime Minister’s first response to reports that there were problems with how this program was being handled was to try to tell us that the WE Charity was the only organization capable of administering the program. It sounded just like “these allegations are false,” which the Prime Minister told us about The Globe and Mail story and SNC-Lavalin, and they all proved 100% true.

The Prime Minister actually believed that the Canadian public would buy this argument in defence of providing sole-source contracts of almost a billion dollars, for a program that does not make any sense, to an organization that has deep ties to his family, his Finance Minister, his cabinet and his party. There is no explanation for this except that his government is so blinded by the brilliance of their own self-righteousness that they can no longer even recognize an ethical breakdown when it’s glaring them in the face.

That’s why, in the midst of the WE scandal, we see the Prime Minister and his cabinet acting shocked and offering up lukewarm apologies like they had no idea what was going on. You can see it in the annoyed looks that flash across their faces when they are being asked questions by the opposition or sometimes even the Liberal press. It’s like they are offended that anyone would dare question whether their motives are anything less than lily-white. They are so steeped in their own self-righteousness that they actually believe it’s real.

The problem, colleagues, is not that the government wasn’t fully aware of the lines they were crossing; it’s just that, for them, this is nothing more than business as usual.

Bear with me for a few more minutes and I will refresh your memory.

In addition to the ethical breaches and questionable conduct I have already mentioned, let’s not forget about the following: While he was President of the Treasury Board, Scott Brison tried to block approval for the contract for a naval supply ship being built at the Davie shipyard in Quebec because he was lobbied to do so by New Brunswick’s powerful Irving family, owners of a rival Halifax shipyard.

Minister Brison also tried to argue that there was no need for him to set up a conflict of interest screen to prevent him from participating in government decisions involving two of Atlantic Canada’s wealthiest families, even though he used to chair one of their investment firms and his spouse continued to sit on the company’s board of directors.

What about Dominic LeBlanc, who, in spite of connections to the powerful Irving family, was appointed to be Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard? He had to consult with the Ethics Commissioner for weeks in order to figure out how to stickhandle around this obvious conflict of interest.

Then there was the time when Minister LeBlanc flew from Moncton to Montreal and back aboard a jet owned by J.D. Irving, Limited. Nothing to see here. But when the Ethics Commissioner, Mario Dion, found Minister LeBlanc guilty of breaking the Conflict of Interest Act because he awarded a lucrative Arctic surf clam licence to a company linked to his wife’s cousin, he couldn’t wiggle out of that one.

Speaking of Dominic LeBlanc and Scott Brison, we still don’t know their exact role in the Vice-Admiral Norman affair. The Liberals tried to renege on a contract for a supply ship in order to give it back to the Irvings. When they got caught, they decided they would get the head of Vice-Admiral Norman. The Prime Minister even sent him to trial before the police had completed its investigation. Scott Brison and Judy Foote left their positions. Vice-Admiral Norman was paid a sum of money and had to sign a confidentiality agreement. That was a first-class cover-up.

What about Seamus O’Regan? The government spent $180,000 defending him in a defamation case. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller was called on the carpet for hosting a private fundraiser for his election campaign that was held in New York City, and he never did reveal the donor list.

Minister Maryam Monsef had to admit that she was actually not born in Afghanistan, as she had told people and led people to believe for years. Minister Sajjan was found to have lied about his role in Afghanistan. Minister Champagne was discovered to have mortgages with the Bank of China for two apartments in London. John McCallum was fired as ambassador in Beijing for improper comments on Canada’s relationship in China. Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, who were at the time Justin Trudeau’s two top aides, received $207,000 in moving expenses, of which they agreed to repay a significant portion only after the story went public and caught fire.

Then there was Marwan Tabbara. He was allowed to run for the Liberal Party in the 2019 election even though detailed allegations of sexual harassment had already been made against him. After being arrested in April of this year, he remained in caucus for almost two months because the PMO claimed they knew nothing about it.

Let’s not forget Jody Wilson-Raybould, Jane Philpott and Celina Caesar-Chavannes. If I have to remind you about what happened here, then we are really in trouble. Three strong women thrown under the bus because they would dare to stand up to Justin Trudeau.

Darshan Singh Kang had to leave the Liberal caucus over accusations of sexual harassment. Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio didn’t show up for work for a year after he announced his resignation. Then the public found out he didn’t actually resign. Are we supposed to believe that no one in the Liberal government knew about that?

Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal admitted he racked up millions of dollars in debts playing casino blackjack and ended up resigning from the Liberal caucus after the news came to light following an RCMP investigation. But after suddenly announcing he had paid off his seven-figure debts, he stayed on as a member of Parliament for the rest of the parliamentary session. You may recall that Mr. Grewal was already under investigation by the federal Ethics Commissioner at the time and was later found guilty of being in violation of conflict of interest.

Colleagues, I am nowhere near finished detailing the list of ethical breaches and misconduct committed by the Prime Minister, his cabinet and other party MPs. But even if I have unlimited time — and I do — I will stop there because I think you get the point.

This government has lost its moral compass, if ever it had any, and they have lost the moral right to govern. All of these, and many that I did not mention, are tributaries into the stream of polluted water that we find ourselves swimming in today as we are to hold to account a government that has no understanding or appreciation of the concept. No wonder Canada has slipped to twelfth position on the world corruption ranking this year. This is all Justin Trudeau’s work.

Colleagues, it is difficult to see a way forward out of this mess that does not include the resignation of both the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. They have repeatedly violated the trust of the people of Canada and demonstrated ambivalence toward the responsibility of the offices they carry.

Today we are joining with other voices — politicians, media and ordinary citizens — that are calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister to make way for a better tomorrow, for Canada and for all Canadians.

In this chamber, we have a choice to make: Are we going to paper over the serious issues that have arisen with this government or are we going to call for transparency, accountability and a better course of action?

As you all know, colleagues, the Conservative Party of Canada is about to elect a new leader. I will not make any prediction on who will win, but I know this: We will elect a leader that will take this incompetent and corrupt Liberal government to task. We will elect a leader who will unite our party. We will elect a leader who will offer to Canadians an exciting vision for the future of our country.

Colleagues, when we next meet, we will most likely have this new leader, and I can guarantee you that the Conservative Senate caucus will come back here energized like never before. We will demand accountability from this government. We will carry the voice of the more than six million Canadians who voted Conservative in the last election. We will carry the voice of millions more who are now fed up with the Trudeau government. We will carry the voice of all those who are saying Morneau and Trudeau have got to go, should they decide to try to hang on to their jobs.

Today, I will not keep our Deputy Leader of the Government in suspense. She doesn’t have to ask me how we will vote. We will allow this bill to pass on division, but we are not going to give this government a pass. We believe that Canada is at a critical moment that requires real leadership, responsible leadership, courageous leadership, leadership we desperately need but do not have.

 

Senator Plett's speech on this issue can also be found here.

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