Speech on Abuse of Government Aircraft and Misplaced Priorities

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of the NDP motion before us about the misuse of taxpayers' dollars.

It seems that the Prime Minister and his friends have been wracking up flights on government Challenger aircraft as if these jets are their own personal planes. Access to Information documents reveal that the Prime Minister is increasingly using Challenger jets, not only for his own family's travel, but for personal friends and Conservative Party fundraisers.

Furthermore, the government has changed the rules so that it only has to reimburse taxpayers an amount equivalent to economy class airfare. Those jets cost nearly $4,000 an hour to fly, yet the Conservatives, after changing the rules in their favour, only reimbursed taxpayers an average of $260 a flight. Wow. No wonder they are using these jets so frequently for personal and partisan reasons; they get to travel like rock stars but pay seat sale rates.

When average Canadians are looking to book a flight, they tend to go online, compare prices and schedules, then choose the best deal. They wait for seats to go on sale because they have a budget to worry about. However, not the Conservatives. They have devised quite the scheme to get taxpayers to subsidize their non-government-related travel.

iPolitics, through an access to information request for documents, found that the Conservative Party has reimbursed the Department of National Defence 17 times, for a total cost of over $37,000, but the actual cost of the flights in question is about $118,000. Let us not forget that taxpayers were also on the hook last year for about $50,000 for a paint job for one of these jets, after the Conservatives decided to paint it Conservative colours.

I speak on behalf of the majority of British Columbians when I say that the Conservative Party is unrecognizable from the party that people once hoped would come to Ottawa to clean up the Liberal legacy of corruption and entitlement. The Conservatives said they would make changes once in Ottawa, but instead Ottawa has changed them. I have three examples to illustrate this point.

The first example is with respect to the Senate. The Conservatives promised not to nominate new senators but went ahead and appointed 59 of their closest friends, including Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, and Patrick Brazeau. The Senate is under investigation. A Senate expense scandal showed a complete disregard for ethics and transparency. The NDP says that it is time to roll up that red carpet. The record of the Conservatives on the Senate shows they are no different from the Liberals when it comes to a sense of entitlement.

The second example is with respect to the Conservatives abuse of Parliament, specifically time allocation. The Conservatives have shut down debate more than 50 times over the past two years. That is more than any other government in Canadian history. There is a constant use of in-camera proceedings in committees, thereby shutting Canadians out of the proceedings. That severely restricts studies. The Conservatives also pick pro-government witnesses.

When it comes to contempt, the 2011 election was triggered after the Conservatives were found to be in contempt of Parliament for misleading parliamentarians and refusing to provide key details on proposed bills and their cost estimates. The Conservatives record of abusing Parliament as a democratic institution shows they are no different from the Liberals when it comes to transparency and accountability.

The third example is with respect to the Conservatives unfair elections act. The bill would remove powers from the Chief Electoral Officer. That individual would be stripped of investigative powers as well as the power to engage in public education. The bill would make voting much harder for vulnerable Canadians. It would end the practice of vouching, and voter ID cards would no longer be accepted to confirm identification. The unfair elections bill would change political financing rules in favour of the Conservatives. It would increase allowable levels for individuals to contribute, from $1,200 to $1,500, and it would give an advantage to wealthy Canadians by allowing—

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):

Order. The hon. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs is rising on a point of order.

Hon. Lynne Yelich:

Mr. Speaker, I have to check what the debate is about. I thought we did the elections debate yesterday. If we are on the debate that I thought we were on, I think the member is being very irrelevant.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):

I thank the hon. minister of state for her intervention. Members know that there are rules with respect to relevance to the question before the House. I know there have been points raised on this matter earlier in the day during this debate. I recognize that the member is about halfway into his time and I am sure that he will be presenting arguments that bring his commentary around to the question that is before the House.

It is always instructive to all hon. members to be aware that while they have great liberty to provide arguments around the question before us, we encourage them to make comments relevant, either in the early part of their remarks or certainly toward the end of their remarks so that it will be understood how their particular arguments all connect together.

The hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Mr. Fin Donnelly:

Mr. Speaker, I think I did link the topic of ethics. I also talked about transparency and accountability. I am going to finish with priorities, in terms of where we should be spending the money that is being wasted by the government.

Hopefully the member is paying attention to this intervention and does make the link to my points. I spent a lot of time in preparing my comments and I hope members do take note.

As I was saying, this does give an advantage to wealthy candidates. They can contribute up to $5,000 to their own campaign and $25,000 to their own leadership campaign. It exempts fundraising calls made during elections from counting as electoral expenses.

The NDP has fundamental concerns with the bill. We join with journalists, academics, and other Canadians speaking up for democracy, who are now saying that if the bill is not amended, we should kill it.

When it comes to improving our democracy, Canadians cannot rely on the Conservative Party. Its record is one scandal after another. Once again, Conservatives cannot be trusted.

What should we be talking about? What should we be focused on in terms of spending? When it comes to transparency and accountability, Canadians deserve better leadership than what the Conservative government has been offering.

I would like to expand on what this means. Last month I held my annual series of town hall meetings as part of my community consultations. I asked constituents to rank by importance a variety of public policy issues and economic concerns. As was the case in every year I have held these consultations, health care was the highest-ranked issue.

Since coming to power, the government has made little to no progress on reducing wait times, increasing home care, ensuring better access to primary care, or implementing a cost-saving pharmacare plan.

Yesterday the 2004 health care accord officially expired, with no new accord to replace it. Instead of negotiating a new deal, the Conservatives unilaterally imposed a new funding formula on the provinces and have walked away from the commitments to setting standards on wait times, home care, and prescription drugs. The government's record on health care is clear. It is failing to show leadership on this crucial file and is opening the door to increased disparities across our country.

As official opposition, the NDP is listening to Canadians and is holding the government to account for its failed record on health care.

Today we are holding Conservatives to account for their abuse of taxpayers' money and the culture of corruption and entitlement that seems to have overtaken the leadership of the Conservative Party. The public purse is out $118,000 because the government has been treating government jets as personal and partisan taxis. That $118,000 equals old age security for 19 seniors, GIS allowance for 20 seniors, or the average annual pension for five retired veterans.

The Conservative government has done little to address the challenges facing Canada's aging population or to provide adequate services to our Canadian veterans. I find this appalling.

Instead, Conservatives have made it harder for seniors to retire with dignity. OAS changes mean many are forced to work an additional two years before they are allowed to retire.

This is unacceptable. We need change. The NDP is focused on change, and we will bring that change in 2015.

...

Mr. Fin Donnelly:

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments and his observation of my speech and intervention. I was trying to point out some relevant priorities that we could be looking at for the use of those dollars, and that Canadians want to see a better use of taxpayer dollars.

To add to the list that I have, the truth is the government does not care about the growing inequality in our country. It does not care that child care is wildly unaffordable or that poverty among seniors is on the rise or that British Columbia has the highest child poverty rate in the country. In fact, the government does not think it has a responsibility to feed our neighbour's child. It simply does not care.

For the government, it is business as usual, whether it is bringing friends on the Challenger jets or trying to find loopholes and ways that are not fair. The average Canadian would not have that opportunity.

That is what I am trying to point out to the House as what we do not want to see. We want to change that situation. The NDP is bringing forward motions that address this kind of waste and inequity.