Bill C-24 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing)
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.
Don Boudria Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
Fair Elections Act
February 10th, 2014 / 1:20 p.m.
James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take part in this debate. I will not presume to be as eloquent or as passionate as the previous two speakers, but I will do my best to speak on Bill C-23, known as the fair elections act. It is a bill I strongly support.
At the start, I want to commend the minister who has introduced and is shepherding the bill through the House of Commons. I think he has done an outstanding job in presenting the details and facts of the bill, which respond, frankly, to many of the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer and others in addressing the deficiencies of our electoral system in Canada.
However, we should all note on both sides of the House that we have one of the best electoral systems in the world here in Canada. We should be very proud of it, but we should never shy away from making improvements to it. I want to recognize the minister's work in this area as someone who gave one of the most impressive presentations to our caucus that I have seen in years, and I speak here as a member who has been here for over 13 years.
I want to return to the substance of the bill. As I mentioned, there are many issues that do need to be addressed. Frankly, this very comprehensive bill would do and implement 38 of the Chief Electoral Officer's past recommendations. I would like to go through them in detail.
I would caution members on both sides to stick to the substance of the bill. I know there are a lot of charges at Elections Canada, and I emphasize that they are “charges”. We should leave them to be investigated, but as legislators we should stick to the text of the bill itself.
First of all, the bill would protect voters from rogue calls and impersonation with a mandatory public registry for mass calling, prison time for impersonating elections officials, and increased penalties for deceiving people out of their votes. All of these issues, such as impersonating elections officials and voter suppression, are addressed and taken very seriously in this proposed legislation.
I speak as someone who has been a candidate in five elections. My local election officials with Elections Canada have done an outstanding job, with some 90% and more being volunteers. They do an excellent job and need all the help they can get, and this proposed legislation would do that.
This bill deals with the so-called robocalls issue, involving the impersonation of others using these types of technologies. However, it should be noted that these types of technologies can be used legitimately if, obviously, the person calling identifies themself and the purpose of the call. Many members of Parliament on both sides use them to do electronic town halls, as I have done. It is a very good method, but I obviously identify who I am, why I am calling, and engage citizens in that way. The bill would deal with impersonation, the first item I want to emphasize.
Second, the bill would give law enforcement sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand. It would allow the commissioner to seek tougher penalties for existing offences and empower the commissioner with more than a dozen new offences to combat big money, rogue calls, and fraudulent voting. A freer hand means that the commissioner would have full independence with control of his or her staff in investigations and a fixed term of seven years so he or she cannot be fired without cause.
The bill would crack down on voter fraud by prohibiting the use of vouching and voter information cards as replacement for acceptable ID, something one would presume the opposition would strongly support.
Studies commissioned by Elections Canada demonstrate mass irregularities in the use of vouching and high rates of inaccuracy on voter information cards. It is important to note, as the minister just pointed out in response to a question by the member opposite, that voters would still have 39 forms of authorized ID to choose from to prove their identity and residence. In order to ensure that election results are legitimate, especially in ridings where the vote is very close, I think it is entirely reasonable for us to require voters to present ID to show they are in fact eligible voters, as the parliamentary secretary to the House leader pointed out earlier.
Next, the bill would make rules easy to follow for all. Since the last election, the commissioner has had to sign 15 different compliance agreements with those who have breached elections law, some due to honest mistakes. Members of all parties have noted that the rules can be unclear. Complicated rules bring unintentional breaches and intimidate everyday people from taking part in democracy. That is why the fair elections act would make the rules for elections clearer, more predictable, and easier to follow.
Parties would have the right to advance rulings and interpretations from Elections Canada within 45 days of a request, a service similar to one provided by the Canada Revenue Agency. Elections Canada would also be required to keep a registry of interpretations and provide for consultations with notice to parties before changing them.
This is important and here I will point to someone who has been my official agent for a number of elections and the financial agent for the electoral district association in-between elections. He is a very reputable chartered accountant with Deloitte and Touche in Edmonton. He says that one of the things that is challenging as an official agent is that there are some grey areas. When he is not exactly certain what the rules are, he contacts Elections Canada and asks what exactly the rule is, and they always err on the side of caution. However, this is something that this legislation would help improve, by ensuring that all electoral district associations in all ridings across the country have one set of very clear and consistent interpretations.
We all have to recognize as members of Parliament that we may have an office manager, a campaign manager, and some people who may receive compensation. They do not in my campaign's case, as our official agents are typically volunteers. I am very fortunate to have someone who is very qualified, but these people are typically volunteers and need very simple, clear, and consistent rules so they know exactly what they are doing and can be sure they are following all the rules and regulations.
This legislation would also allow small donations and keep big money out. One of the changes we made as a government that I am most proud of was to ensure that corporations and unions and organizations would not control political parties. Individual donations are set to a maximum amount. That is one of the biggest changes that our government has made. Obviously, the previous government made some changes along those lines with Bill C-24, but our government made some further changes to ensure that citizens themselves would be the ones who controlled elections. As we all know, special-interest money can sometimes drown out the voices of everyday citizens. That is why this act would ban the use of loans to evade donation rules. It would also allow parties to better fund democratic outreach, with small and reasonable increases in spending limits while imposing tougher audits and penalties to enforce those limits. It would let small donors contribute more to democracy through the front door in a very transparent way, and block illegal big money from sneaking in the back door. The modest adjustments in the donation limit, up to $1,500 from the current $1,200, and election spending limits of 5% would let parties raise their own funds to reach out to Canadians. A total ban on union and corporate money would remain in place, as I mentioned earlier.
It would also respect democratic results. Members of Parliament and the Chief Electoral Officer sometimes disagree on an MP's election expense. This has happened in the past and will happen in the future for people from all parties. When that happens, the Canada Elections Act provides that the MP can no longer sit or vote in the House of Commons until the expense return is changed to the CEO's satisfaction. However, the removal of a democratically elected MP reverses the decision of tens of thousands of voters. The fair elections act would allow an MP to present the disputed case in the courts and to have judges quickly rule on it before the CEO seeks the MP's suspension. Again, this is a very fair, reasonable change that the minister is seeking to make.
Next, it would uphold free speech. The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the ban on premature transmission of election results infringes on freedom of expression. I can say as a westerner that it is interesting to be in Alberta waiting for the election results when various people are testing that, especially via social media today. The fair elections act would repeal this ban and uphold free speech.
It would provide better customer service for voters by focusing Elections Canada advertising on the basics of voting: where, when, and what ID to bring. Also, the fair elections act would explicitly require Elections Canada to inform disabled voters of the extra help available to them to vote. The act would also establish an extra day of advance polling. The proposed change would give Canadians access to four advance polling days: the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before an election. This is one thing that I have supported very strongly and asked to be included in this legislation, because, depending on when the election is held, in our constituency I have an area where there are a lot of people who are working in and out of the country and in and out of the constituency. I have a very high seasonal population, especially in the Nisku area. So it is important to allow Canadians as much time as possible and as much access to voting as possible. We in Edmonton—Leduc have one of the highest advance polling numbers across the country. This follows along the lines of encouraging more people to vote.
I hear some of the comments and criticisms that the bill may be used in a partisan way. Absolutely not. In fact, I encourage Canadians and parliamentarians to read the bill and see what it is. Expanding the number of hours and days of voting is explicitly designed to increase the percentage of people who vote. Ensuring that we get as much information as possible out to people so that they know when and where they ought to vote is designed explicitly to allow more voters to have more opportunity to vote.
Another thing we would be doing along these lines is reducing congestion at the polls. The fair elections act proposes a number of practical changes that should make the voting process more efficient. It would streamline the process for appointing election officers and providing for additional resources for Elections Canada. It would allow for additional election officers to be appointed to ease the congestion of polling stations, which has been a problem in the past.
My time is up. I look forward to questions from my colleagues.
Retribution on Behalf of Victims of White Collar Crime Act
October 23rd, 2009 / 10:25 a.m.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, to set the record straight, we voted in favour of every piece of legislation he just cited. The only place where we found fault was that lumped into the mandatory minimum sentences, they also included theft over $5,000, which means if that some teenager were to steal a car worth $5,001, that crime would fall under this category for mandatory minimum sentences. Nobody in their right mind would object to sentences for certain heinous violations that he outlined with great sensation.
The second thing is that we do not really need more apologists for the big banks in Ottawa here. They have plenty of champions.
The one thing for which I will give due credit to the former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, is that he opened the door for the legislation that we are seeing today on while-collar crime, which would put white-collar criminals in jail, when he banned political contributions from businesses, unions and corporations under Bill C-24. It was no longer necessary to suckhole to Bay Street. It was no longer necessary to treat bankers with kid gloves, because the bankers used to be the biggest donors to both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. The Liberal Party, to its credit, decided to end that.
Nobody should be able to buy an election. Nobody should be able to buy public policy. Nobody should be able to buy soft sentencing for white-collar criminals.
Now there is nothing stopping us from treating white-collar criminals as what they are, a scourge on society who do far more damage, one could argue, than the kid who steals the hubcaps off a BMW. The guy who drives that BMW might be guilty of far more heinous offences. We should reserve a jail sentence for him, not just for the kid who steals the hubcaps.
Canada Elections Act
June 16th, 2008 / 12:55 p.m.
John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON
Mr. Speaker, I generally enjoy my hon. colleague's speeches, but I would ask him to reflect on a wider issue, which is that this House, by a series of actions, has put itself in such a jam on political financing that it seems we have to keep on doing fixes.
First of all, the House passed Bill C-24, which many people lauded and thought was a wonderful thing, the effect of which is that fundraising on a larger basis is pretty well cut off. That has driven leadership candidates and others into raising funds on a micro basis and a whole new dynamic of political fundraising has been created. That dynamic has its difficulties as well.
In our particular case, the difficulties are in the Liberal Party but are about to happen to the Conservative Party, the NDP or the Bloc. They are also going to run into the same difficulties that the Liberal Party had, which is that there is only a limited pool of money. Therefore, candidates effectively are driven to getting loans, either from backers, or if they are no longer backers--
Canada Elections Act
June 12th, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).
I remind all those who are watching at home that the bill was originally introduced, as my colleague said, as Bill C-54 in the first session of the 39th Parliament.
The bill would create restrictions on the use of loans by political entities governed by the Canada Elections Act, rules that we all respect during elections. We continually strive to ensure that transparency and accountability is within all of our parties.
The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors. Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals could not exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Canada Elections Act. Only financial institutions and other political entities could make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals and only at commercial rates of interest. Unions and corporations would be unable to make loans and financial institutions could not lend money at rates of interest other than the market norm.
Rules for treatment of unpaid loans would be tightened to ensure that candidates could not walk away from unpaid loans. Riding associations would be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.
As I indicated before, my constituents and I welcome initiatives to improve accountability in the federal government, as I believe all would at all levels of government.
Bill C-29 is a continuation of the groundbreaking work done by the previous Liberal government. My government showed great integrity by reviewing the responsibilities and the accountability of ministers, senior officials, public servants and employees of crown corporations.
A wide variety of concrete measures were adopted to increase oversight in crown corporations and audit functions were strengthened across the board. It was time for us to bring in tighter legislation to ensure transparency and accountability. This was not invented two years ago. The Liberal government worked on this for a long period of time to ensure transparency and accountability. Does everybody follow it? Clearly some members did not and still do not.
From his first day in office, our former prime minister reformed government so that everyone in the public service would be held to account. It was the Liberal government that re-established the Office of the Comptroller General of Canada, very important for all of Canada and its citizens.
It was the Liberal government that strengthened the ethical guidelines for ministers and other public office-holders and established an independent Ethics Commissioner. They are extremely important guidelines. It is important to have an Ethics Commissioner who assists and guides members of Parliament to ensure that we do the best job we can and that we do not get into conflicts of interest.
Many of these things were long overdue, and I am pleased the previous Liberal government brought these issues forward.
It was also a Liberal government that introduced a publicly posted recusal process for members of cabinet, including the prime minister.
Much of the legislation that has been brought in with respect to transparency and accountability is modelled after what the Liberal government introduced.
The Liberal government also put forward legislation to encourage whistleblowers and to protect them from reprisal.
In February 2004 our Liberal government put forward an action plan on democratic reform to strengthen the role of parliamentarians. We heard a lot of debate about democratic reform and about allowing people to have more free votes and an opportunity to have more public and free debate and so on. It was clearly followed when the Liberals were the government of the day.
Referring more bills to the House committees before second reading gives all of us an opportunity to make significant changes in those bills. Otherwise, if they go to committee after second reading, which was the norm until those changes were made in February 2004, there was very little we could do. The principle of the bill was there and we could skirt around it but we could not do a whole to change it. That has made a significant difference in the work that we all do in committee. Again, that was work that we did so members of Parliament would have more opportunity to influence and shape legislation.
We also implemented a three line voting system to allow for more free votes. That was quite important because it was not here in the first five years I was a member of Parliament. We all voted as a bloc with our party. Having the three line and two line voting system gave all of us as MPs on our side of the House when we were in government much more freedom to express what we really felt about various issues.
That was important and it is unfortunate that we lost it. We still have a lot of freedom on this side compared to the government party certainly but having the three line voting system was starting to introduce more democracy to the House of Commons.
We have also pushed for the establishment of a committee of parliamentarians on national security. The Liberal government strengthened audit practices in the public sector through a comprehensive initiative that included the policy on internal audit and to strengthen and further professionalize the internal audit function throughout the government through higher professional standards, recruitment of additional skilled professionals, training and assessments.
In 2004, my government delivered on a commitment to proactive disclosure. Since April 2004, all travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, their political staff and other senior government officials have been posted online on a quarterly basis. That is accountability. That is being open and transparent so that anyone can go online to see just how much travel and hospitality expenses were, where they were incurred and who went where. That is opening the door in many ways to what goes on in government.
Government contracts worth more than $10,000 are disclosed publicly and, again, posted online. Those were all initiatives by the Liberal government.
My government embraced transparency in key appointments, which was also very important. Through our action plan for democratic reform, parliamentary committees were empowered to review the appointments of the heads of crown corporations, something that should have been done a long time ago to ensure transparency and accountability to Canadians and taxpayers.
We brought increased transparency to the selection of Supreme Court justices and committed to expanding access to information. The Access to Information Act was extended to 10 key crown corporations that were previously exempt from this. We also presented a discussion paper to Parliament that proposes, among other measures, that the Access to Information Act be expanded to several federal institutions that are currently exempt. However, sadly, the Conservatives' secretive paranoia has led to the demise of access to information in this country, and that is a complaint we continually hear from citizens and the media on just how difficult it is now that has been closed down.
My government was the first to seriously limit both individual and corporate political contributions, as well as third party election spending. As my colleague attempts to take credit for all of the changes that were made, he needs to be reminded to look back because the real serious changes to the Elections Act came from the Liberals, not from the current government.
Our Bill C-24 was enacted in June, 2003 and came into effect on January 1, 2004, representing the most significant reform to Canada's electoral and campaign finance laws since 1974. It was well overdue, it was a good act and it made everything much tighter and more difficult but it was much needed. I am quite proud of the fact that our government did that. I am doubtful that the current government would have ever done it.
The act affected contribution limits, those eligible to make contributions, public funding at political parties, spending limits for nomination contestants and disclosure of financial information by riding associations, nomination contestants and leadership candidates.
The Liberal Party supports efforts to increase transparency and accountability in the electoral process. Our history has shown that and we will continue to support that.
We are the party that initially passed legislation limiting the role of corporations and unions in electoral financing and introduced the most dramatic lowering of contribution limits in Canadian history.
All of the Conservatives' accountability facades just build on the great success of the previous Liberal governments.
Candidates for the leadership of our party went beyond the requirements set out by Elections Canada in reporting loans to their campaigns. In contrast, the current Prime Minister still refuses to disclose the names of those who donated to his leadership campaign in 2002.
For ours, people can go online to see every cent that was donated, every cent that has been paid back, where it came from and what is still outstanding. We are not hiding anything, contrary to him.
Whatever it is, the Conservatives certainly do not want to talk about it so they have decided to spread misconceptions about this bill instead.
The Conservatives are misleading Canadians about the current state of the law concerning political financing. The Conservatives are suggesting that the current law allows loans to be made in secret and that Canadians are kept in the dark. That is not true.
The truth is that under the law that is currently in place, the details of all loans, including the amount of every loan and the name of every lender and every guarantor, must already be publicly disclosed.
In addition, the Conservatives are also suggesting that the current legislation allows for loans to be written off without consequence. Again, this is absolutely false. Under the current law, loans cannot be used to avoid donation limits and they cannot be written off without consequences. The proposed new law simply restates the existing rules.
The Conservatives seem to think that Canadians can be fooled into believing that this somehow constitutes a dramatic change but Canadians can see through their charade.
The government has been playing a game of delay and deflect, perhaps to draw attention from its recent troubles. By talking about political loans, clearly, the Conservatives are trying to make us all forget about their little visit from the RCMP at their own party headquarters, or perhaps they are happy to talk about political loans to distract from their latest disgrace, the former minister of foreign affair's security breach and subsequent resignation, or maybe they are trying to distract from their constant politics of division, in which they specialize, by pitting one province against another.
However, let us get back to the bill that is before us today. The bill was significantly amended following hearings by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. However, now that the bill has been reintroduced in the House and will be debated at report stage, the government has made three motions to effectively strip portions of these amendments from the bill.
I do not have time to get into all of the details of the amendments that we had put forward to strengthen this bill but I can comment on the Conservatives' motions to undo our work at the committee level.
Government Motion No. 1 would delete the Liberal amendment to allow for annual contributions to a leadership candidate.
Government Motion No. 2 would make it necessary for loans to be repaid annually, rather than at the point when the loan becomes due. Effectively, this would prevent candidates from taking extended loan repayments.
Government Motion No. 3 would delete the Bloc amendment that removed liability from registered political parties for loans taken by candidates.
The government, again, is not respecting the committee process, which is a process that we all talk about how important it is and yet, if we turn around and undo the work of committee, it clearly questions what was the value of the time and effort put into that.
In closing, I want to say that Canadians must have faith in the integrity of government and in the people who administer it. My government worked very hard to be accountable to the citizens of this great country and I am committed to supporting measures to enhance our prior work of building accountability, transparency and the public trust.
Canada Elections Act
February 14th, 2008 / 4:25 p.m.
Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).
Certainly the party on this side supports transparency and accountability with respect to election financing and the Canada Elections Act. At committee, I understand, there were amendments made. That is why the caucus on this side will support the bill, with the amendments, but I gather the government will be challenging some of those amendments. That would be unfortunate. We will have to see where that takes us.
The other thing I need to say in regard to the bill is that although it is being presented by the Conservative Party as some new and revolutionary way of proceeding with this type of arrangement with respect to loans to candidates, et cetera, many aspects of the bill are in fact similar to what is already in force and what was in force under the leadership of our Liberal government.
Having said that, I think the bill makes things clearer in some areas. In that sense perhaps it is an improvement, but I do not think Canadians will be deceived by the fact that many of the provisions outlined in the bill are already in the law.
Perhaps I should step back a bit. As I understand it, what the bill is trying to deal with is the fact of a candidate running in a federal election, for example, where the rules are very strict--and so they should be--with respect to how people can accept donations or from whom they can accept donations. Those rules are fairly clear.
The intent, as I understand it, is that this bill tries to deal with people who might try to sidestep those rules by receiving loans from parties from whom they otherwise would not be able to receive loans, or by receiving loans at interest rates that are less than fair market value, which itself would constitute a benefit, et cetera.
Or the loan might be advanced during a campaign and then be forgiven. For example, the candidate who had access to the loan money might find that suddenly a year later the person from whom the candidate received the loan is washing his or her hands of it. The candidate might be told that he or she does not have to repay the loan. That would become a contribution. If the amount of the loan exceeds the amounts currently allowed under the Canada Elections Act, then surely the law would also apply to a loan that is forgiven, and surely a lower interest rate loan at less than fair market value would also constitute a benefit.
I think it is a good thing that people are not able to get around the rules or do things through the back door that they cannot do through the front door. To the extent that this bill clarifies those particular aspects, that is a positive development. However, under the existing act, the loans could not be forgiven without consequence, nor could loans be granted under the current provisions of the law if they exceed the donation limits.
This really goes back to our government's Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing). Our government began that process and that bill was passed into law. It severely restricted the amounts that could be donated to candidates or parties by corporations and unions, and it also restricted the amounts that could be paid by individuals.
The Conservative government, in Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, has made further changes to that, and in fact reduced the personal contributions from $5,000 to $1,100 per year, per party. What has happened, of course, is that it has made it more difficult for political parties to raise money.
The provisions of Bill C-24 and Bill C-2 allow for Elections Canada to reimburse candidates based on how many votes they received in an election, so essentially what has happened is the burden and the cost of election campaigning has been transferred from corporations, unions, and to some extent individuals, to the taxpayers at large.
One can debate that philosophy. I for one think it is unfortunate that corporations and unions are precluded from participating in the political process. I would agree that limits need to be placed on that, but I wonder why it is so horrible for corporate Canada and the unions to not be able to support financially political parties or candidates of their choice within certain limits.
However, I find it strangely ironic that this party brings in this bill, Bill C-29, and argues that it is a whole new regime with respect to loans and elections. As I said earlier, it is not really that new, but at the same time the leader of that party, the Prime Minister, has refused to disclose the names of all the individuals and organizations that donated to his leadership campaign in 2002. That strikes me as being very hypocritical.
Our party went through a leadership campaign a couple of years ago. All the participants made full disclosure of the sources of their funding and it is a matter of public record. However, for some reason the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada refuses to disclose the names of those people who donated to his leadership campaign. By refusing to do that, it raises questions about who was behind his leadership bid.
It may raise questions inappropriately because perhaps everything was totally appropriate, but by virtue of the refusal to disclose, it sort of leaves questions in people's minds of who was actually supporting his leadership bid, and whether they had a particular agenda that they were promoting or advancing.
If we have full transparency and disclosure, I think we take away that kind of ambiguity. I for one am in favour of full transparency and accountability.
Under the old rules, if a corporation wanted to donate to my election campaign, that donation would be fully disclosed by Elections Canada. It would be on my website. It would be everywhere.
If the voters of Etobicoke North did not think it was appropriate for me to accept $500 from BASF Canada because they thought I had a hidden agenda and the company was buying my influence about something, then that is a fair debate. I would be happy to have that debate.
Full transparency and accountability are absolute musts. Members of Parliament should be prepared to defend their actions in an election and in the House.
It has sometimes been said that this place is like living in a fish bowl. If people are interested in what we are doing, they can find out exactly what we are doing. If we travel or someone has sponsored our travel, that information is on the public record. The Office of the Ethics Commissioner has a whole variety of reports that are available publicly. I think that is totally appropriate.
People should not be able to take advantage of loopholes in legislation and stay clear of contribution limits by taking loans from people. That is in the current legislation. If Bill C-29 clarifies that, then that would be a positive development.
Our critic has worked hard on this file. A number of positive amendments were made at committee. I hope the government reflects on those amendments and does not try to reverse them because they would improve the bill. With that caveat, I will be supporting the bill when it comes to the House at a later stage.
Canada Elections Act
February 14th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to address the report stage amendments to the bill that would amend the Canada Elections Act regarding accountability with respect to loans.
As my hon. colleagues have already talked about, this is a moot point because it is very explicit under the law that is currently in place. Details of loans, including the amount of every loan, the name of every lender and every guarantee must already be publicized and disclosed.
What we want to know is the purpose of these changes or regression that the Conservatives want. May I say from the outset that it is in the interest of all Canadians to ensure that the federal government is accountable because we were sent here by the people to be accountable.
I am an accountant by trade. I was elected by the people of Don Valley East as their federal representative because they wanted someone deeply concerned about transparency and accountability. We are wondering about the need of some aspects in the proposed legislation. The committee looked at it and had made recommendations. Some things are very important that we need the committee's democratic process to run with.
When we look at some of the initiatives that were launched by the previous Liberal governments in 1993 and 2006, they were initiatives that made government more accountable and the whole process more transparent. We introduced the office of the Ethics Commissioner. The Ethics Commissioner is an important element that we need because we have to refer matters to him. We fostered the development to make the ethics officer independent from the Prime Minister's Office, which is important because the ethics officer is accountable to Parliament.
It was the Liberal government that also established a separate Senate ethics commissioner and it was the Liberal government that first established clear guidelines for public office holders. Furthermore, it was the Liberal government that restored the comptroller general function at each department and subsequently instituted an internal audit department. Being a person who comes from that environment, I think it is very important that we instituted those checks and balances.
What does the bill attempt to do? The bill attempts to build on the changes that were proposed by the committee. They attempt to build on the reforms that were originally introduced by the Liberal government, for example, electoral reform.
It was under the Liberal government that we introduced Bill C-24, which was a dramatic reform of political financing in Canadian history and it passed the strictest limits on the amounts of money that private companies and trade unions could contribute to a party or a candidate. Through the same bill, it was the Liberal government that first introduced public funding for political parties, an innovation that made political parties far less reliant on corporate or union financing.
Those types of transparencies have been introduced. The barriers that people had, the barriers to transparency were eliminated by bringing in those type of reforms.
We in the Liberal Party support the efforts to increase transparency and accountability in the electoral process and that is why the Liberal leadership candidates of the Liberal Party went beyond the requirements set out by Elections Canada in reporting loans to its campaigns.
In stark contrast, the Prime Minister still refuses to disclose the names of those who donated to his leadership campaign in 2002. How can the Prime Minister and his party sit there and talk about accountability when the Prime Minister himself thumbs his nose at accountability? How does his non-disclosure represent transparency? The Prime Minister has a litany of broken promises.
It is clear that the Prime Minister believed in an elected Senate. What is the first thing he does? He arrives in Ottawa and appoints his campaign manager to the Senate and makes him the Minister of Public Works. That is not transparency. That is deceitfulness and that is not the way transparency works. In fact, he makes a farce of transparency by thumbing his nose to Canadians and telling them to do what he says but then does the opposite of what he says.
Michael Fortier, the minister of the largest department in the federal government, is not accountable to this House. This is the House to which he should be accountable, but he is an unelected minister. Does the Prime Minister have two sets of accountability, one for his friends and himself and the other for the rest of Canadians?
We looked at this issue of loans. If the Conservative coffers are filled and they supply money to their own candidates, women, who will be the least able to go to the banks and get loans, will be the most marginalized. Is that what the Conservatives are looking for or are they looking to ensure that minorities do not come into government? What is their purpose? What is their hidden agenda?
When we look at the election platform of the Conservative government, at page 9 it states:
A Conservative government will:
Ensure that all Officers of Parliament are appointed through consultation with all parties in the House of Commons and...not just named by the Prime Minister.
What is the first thing the Prime Minister does? He turns around and arbitrarily appoints a loyal Reform Party member as head of the federal appointment process with absolutely no consultation with Parliament. That is not the way accountability and transparency works.
We have heard in this House numerous misdeeds that have been done by the Conservatives. We sit here and ask ourselves how anyone can even trust them. Canadians do not believe a word the Conservatives are saying.
It appears that the Prime Minister is standing up for his closest friends. He appoints unelected members as ministers, appoints his close friends and then basically thumbs his nose at every piece of legislation that deals with accountability and transparency. This is precisely the type of behaviour that fuels public mistrust of government institutions.
If the Prime Minister is concerned about accountability and transparency, when will he disclose who donated to his leadership campaign? Would this bill make him do that? We already have a bill that asks for it and he thumbs his nose at us. By changing the bill, what is he trying to? Is he trying to pretend that he has brought about some sort of transparency and accountability?
We have heard of ministers being mired in conflict of interest, in interference and in all sorts of farces. That is the type of accountability we do not need. We do not need a lesson in transparency and accountability from the government.
The Liberal Party is prepared to support a bill that was amended by the committee. This is how democratic systems work. We are living in a democracy, not an autocracy. We need to understand the reasons for the Conservatives being so gung-ho in trying to bring about regressive changes. Is it to their advantage? Do they want no minorities, no women? What is it that they want?
We will be placing this legislation under close scrutiny to salvage genuine reforms. We do not want these nonsensical reforms, this deceitful double-talk that has been coming from the Conservative benches. We want better accountability but it will be done through a democratic process at the committee level, not by bullying tactics.
Motions in Amendment
Canada Elections Act
December 5th, 2007 / 4:55 p.m.
Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this particular issue. I have to indicate that there are concerns out there with regard to issues of transparency and accountability, and certainly our party is all for that.
We also have to be careful that we are not coming up with a cure which is worse than the supposed problem here, particularly for women candidates and the issue of accessing money. We want to ensure that all candidates have the ability to run, to be able to finance a political campaign, and to do it in a manner which of course demonstrates both transparency and accountability.
Currently, it says all donations over $100 must be on the website. Now we will have to declare any contribution over $20 under the new legislation. People will know who has given. I think my colleague from Yukon was very clear with regard to what was happening in the United States with members of Congress. In a two year period they must raise millions of dollars in order to finance a campaign. There are no limits. They go out and raise money. Half of their two year term is simply going on the banquet circuit and dealing with lobbyists.
We do not have those problems. In fact, in this country we have very strict limits in terms of the amount of money that can be spent in any particular riding. I think that is what makes Canada unique.
When we talk with American congressmen and tell them that our limit is $75,000, they say to us, “That's not too bad for one day”. We tell them that is over a 35-day or 40-day period for a campaign and they are absolutely shocked. They ask us what we do with $75,000.
The problem with this bill is that it is a bit of overkill. What we are trying to say is that we want to make sure that moneys are available if candidates need it. In particular, we have seen cases where this particular amendment in this bill would cause a problem for women candidates borrowing money.
I think the issue is that everyone in the House believes in the accountability aspect. The question is that we also want to make it available for people who wish to run. Not everyone is wealthy and that again is another very good thing. Sometimes people do not have all the money in the bank when they decide to run. I think any kind of a restriction which would reduce that could be a problem.
At the moment, we know that Elections Canada is very clear about the reporting of loans for campaigns. We know that a riding association may loan money to the candidate in that riding. Again, this is all declared. It is all very clear. I think that is important.
The Liberal Party of Canada, during the leadership race, went beyond what was required in terms of the candidates being able to declare information.
If the goal of the bill is to achieve more accountability, then it fails in that regard. It builds new roadblocks in terms of people wanting to access the political arena, those people who want to run in an election. We want to encourage people, regardless of their financial background, to be able to run for election in this country. I think it is important that we do not have a House of Commons that only attracts those with money.
On both sides of the House we know, from time to time, how difficult it is when we are running a campaign and initial up front costs. They may be up front for signs, brochures, a campaign office, et cetera.
Obviously, some candidates do not have all that money at the beginning and they have to borrow. Then they have to wait for money to come in during the campaign. Again, I think that we have to try to have a balance in terms of what we are looking for in terms of this situation. Loans are an important part of this as is the declaration of those loans under Elections Canada and this legislation.
It is also important to keep in mind that there is a challenge now to try and secure money. Securing a loan from banks and financial institutions is important. Under these rules it would make it almost virtually impossible for candidates to go to a financial institution to secure the loan that they may need. If that were the case, then we are saying that they would be better off not running for office because they cannot get access to money.
We already have an open and transparent system in this country compared to that of the United States and others. Even under the old rules, before Bill C-24, we had to declare over $100 and it had to be accounted for. I think that shows how wonderful our system was. We had to declare it, there were limits on how much could be spent in a riding, the candidate's chief financial officer had to account for every penny, and statements were audited to make sure.
As members of Parliament, we know that if we do not declare donations, or if we are not able to account for every penny, we cannot take our seat in the House. That is important. We simply do not want that situation to occur. Obviously, financial institutions look at a person's ability to borrow money. This again would be a problem.
I think it is a bit misleading to suggest that the current state of the law regarding financial contributions to campaigns is a problem. In fact, I think it is probably tighter now than it has ever been. It is a bit misleading to suggest that loans are somehow made in secret. I do not see how they could be made in secret, because under the legislation, the Elections Act, if someone borrows money, that money has to be declared. The source has to be declared and the dates have to be declared.
I am sure there are members in the House who have borrowed money or had a line of credit from a bank. That has to be declared, as does the interest on it, et cetera, and that must all be paid. Again, I am not sure what the problem is. Every dollar and the lender have to be declared. We have to say whether the lender was an individual or an institution. That is already in the current legislation. All of it has to be declared. I am not sure what the problem is.
It is important that we have rules in place, but the suggestion in this legislation would restrict this even further. This would in turn disenfranchise people in regard to the ability to run. That is not what our system is about. Our system is about making sure that all candidates have equal access, and one of the sources of money they currently use is loans.
If a loan is not declared, there are consequences. There are stiff penalties. However, this legislation would make it even more restrictive, which I do not think Canadians want to see. They want to see transparency and accountability, but they do not want to see this becoming a rich person's game or, in other words, that in order to get into the House of Commons one has to be independently wealthy. I do not support that. I know our party does not support the change in this amendment.
I think it is important that we continue to say that we are different from other countries where raising money is certainly a preoccupation. As members of Parliament, my colleagues and I have more than enough to do in terms of dealing with the real issues of the day. If we have to go on the circuit of raising money and if we say that we are going to restrict loans to such a degree, I do not think it would be very productive. I am hopeful that members will keep this in mind when considering this amendment.
Again, I think we all want to see people from all backgrounds and all walks of life participating in the political process. We cannot tell them that if they do not have the dollars on hand then they cannot participate. That would not be good. It would be a roadblock to their participation. It would be a stumbling block. In fact, I think it would be a regressive move in terms of legislation.
Canada Elections Act
May 11th, 2007 / 10:20 a.m.
Tina Keeper Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, I apologize. As a new member I am sometimes shaky on the rules of the House.
I would like to add that it was the Liberal Party that brought in Bill C-24, the most sweeping changes on electoral reform. In fact, when we talk about this particular bill, Bill C-54, the core of the issue for many Canadians is access and participation in the democratic process.
Many members seem to use Bill C-54 to focus on the Liberal leadership race. I think there is a desperate attempt to make an issue of something that was not an issue. It is about access to the democratic process and we as parliamentarians have a duty to ensure that all Canadians can access this process.
I represent a large riding with a population that is not as large as many small urban ridings but 65% of my riding are aboriginal people. However, because of systemic policies and some of the laws in this country, the aboriginal people have been marginalized. For instance, in one centre in my riding where mining is booming and the price of minerals is going through the roof, the first nations have not had access to resource benefit sharing. There is inequity and it is through the history and the policies of this country that have created inequity. As parliamentarians it is our job to ensure that we have a process in place where we have equal access.
I represent many people in my riding who do not have the ability to access this type of loan from a bank because they do not have the capital. However, that is not due to not wanting it or not working hard enough. People did work hard but we come from a whole different cultural background where our industry was the land. We did not have financial institutions in the same tradition as western Canadians, or western civilization as we might want to call it. We had our own civilization. Our industry and our economy was based on the land. We did not have these types of institutions so we do not have a history of participating in these types of institutions. We did not have a framework where we built up capital and equity.
Therefore, this whole framework, which is at the core of this bill, is actually alien to people, but not out of choice. Many new Canadians who have come here are working hard and paying their bills but they are living cheque to cheque. We all know people who reflect that reality for many Canadians and in fact we know that probably the majority of Canadians live in a lifestyle where they may not have access--
Canada Elections Act
May 11th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to complete my remarks this morning on Bill C-54.
I should also say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the member for Churchill.
Members of Parliament are honest people. Unfortunately, we have been tarred, I think unjustly at times, by the public. Most people in the chamber would agree that everything should be transparent with respect to where we raise our money or what loans we have backing us. I for one believe that anything I do can be posted on a website, I will be accountable for it, and people can hold me accountable for it because they can elect me or not.
It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister has not been forthcoming. In his 2002 leadership campaign he failed to disclose the sources of the people who donated to his leadership bid. I would like to know that and I think many Canadians would like to know who supported the Prime Minister in his leadership bid in 2002. Was it the coalition for guns? Was it Canadian big business? Who was it? Right now we can only speculate and I think the Prime Minister would do himself a service if he came clean.
I should contrast that to the Liberal Party's last leadership campaign and conference in which the leadership candidates went above and beyond everything that was required by Elections Canada.
We need rules and regulations, but I believe that full transparency is a much more powerful tool.
I recall one incident that had to do with the Ethics Commissioner. I was invited to go to the Grey Cup in Ottawa a few years ago by some big company that I knew about. Everyone knew the name. I do not recall having any dealings with it. I told my staff to phone the Ethics Commissioner's office to find out if this was appropriate and get its blessing.
A member of my staff spoke to someone at the Ethics Commissioner's office and the person said that because the Grey Cup was such a big event I would be sitting with corporate people from that company and there would be no time to talk business. The individual thought it was inappropriate. To me it seemed totally counterintuitive. I would have thought the opposite would have been the case. I did not go to the Grey Cup.
That is the problem when one tries to regulate and micromanage things at that level. Let us be accountable and transparent. We have a very good transparent and accountable system in the Parliament of Canada. People vote frequently, sometimes far too frequently as they see it and certainly as many of us see it, but they have a vote. They can kick us out if they see that we took a donation from a company or individual who they feel is inappropriate.
I recall being the treasurer of the riding association of the former member for Etobicoke North who received a large donation, I would say in the thousands of dollars. That conjures up thoughts of $40,000 or $50,000, but it was not even $10,000. I talked to the member at the time. I was the treasurer, a part time volunteer. We discussed it and decided that it was inappropriate to accept a donation of what I will say was $5,000 at the time because there was clearly an agenda, at least in our judgment, by the company making the donation. We sent back a letter, thanked it profusely, and said we felt it was inappropriate.
I have had donations of $200, $250 from corporations and those are basically the size of any corporate donations. I have had some slightly larger over the years. Is a $250 donation going to buy my position in the House of Commons where I am representing the people of Canada? Of course it would not. If that were the case, I would send the cheque back. No amount is going to change my mind about a position I am going to take. I am going to take a position that is, in my judgment, in the best interests of all Canadians. That can be a judgment call and people would agree to disagree.
However, I think we get so hung up with these rules and regulations. I for one voted against our government's bill, Bill C-24, election financing, and tried to work a compromise out with the then Prime Minister to limit corporate donations but not to the extent that they were then or are today.
I do not think the bill accomplishes that much. It sort of reinforces what is already on the books. We cannot use loans to circumvent the donation limits. That is already there and we have to disclose these loans.
Certainly, I support transparency, accountability, and I am going to ask our critic for his best advice once the bill goes to committee, but at this point I am not sure it adds any value.
Canada Elections Act
May 9th, 2007 / 5:25 p.m.
Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I believe my time is quite limited, but I will try to summarize my views on Bill C-54 in which I am very pleased to participate today.
I guess I come at this particular issue from the point of view of transparency. I think as members of Parliament we should disclose the sources of any funding, the sources of any loans, but I am not particularly excited about the limits.
We introduced in our mandate Bill C-24, the elections financing act. In fact, I was the only member of the Liberal caucus at the time that voted against the bill at report stage. I felt that it was wrong-footed. I understood that the time the need to restrict corporate donations and in fact a group of us tried to work out a compromise and limit corporate donations to $10,000, but that was not to be.
I have in my riding companies that have branch plants and operations across the country. Under the previous regime of Bill C-24, they could donate $1,000 and now they cannot even do that. If they have branch plants they might want to support the political process and give $250 to the MP or the candidate in a certain riding. I think it is unfortunate that we have brought in these limits for unions and business. I do not think it is appropriate.
In 1998 the Canadian banks wanted to merge. They were very anxious to do that. The banks, it is well known, used to provide huge donations to all the political parties and what good did it do them?
I think the idea that corporate donations buy influence is vastly overstated. I totally believe in transparency, but my problem with this particular bill is that it tends to have some unintended consequences in the sense that it might preclude people who do not have access to cash to get involved in the political process and take out a loan.
The current provisions of the legislation already call for them to repay the loans and they have to do it within the context of the loan limits, of the donation limits, so they cannot avoid the donation rules through loans. Therefore, I am not sure what this new bill is all about, other than restating what is already on the books.
The member for Winnipeg Centre talked about the laundering of money. I think that is a pretty strong statement. I know our country has brought in one of the strongest anti-money laundering regimes in the world. If this was a money laundering operation, I would certainly object to it, but I know my colleague from Vancouver Quadra is the expert on this. I know he will be trying to improve the bill at committee.
I certainly hope, when the bill comes back to the House, it will be new and improved and then I will be happy to have a look at it.
Canada Elections Act
May 9th, 2007 / 4:55 p.m.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I should begin my comments on Bill C-54 by recognizing and paying tribute to the former leader of the New Democratic Party who most recently sat in the riding of Ottawa Centre, because it was he who blew the whistle on the fact that the political donation regime in this country left a loophole that was so outrageous it was bound to be exploited and abused.
Mr. Broadbent had the sense to recognize that even though the amounts of money that can be donated to a political campaign or to a political party had been reduced, by allowing these huge loans, which never really have to be paid back, it was obvious that somebody with a lack of ethical standards would take advantage of that loophole and would begin to act as if there were no financial limitations. I recognize Mr. Broadbent for raising this issue for us in his ethics package.
I am gratified that today we are dealing with a bill in the House of Commons that will close this last remaining loophole, one of the most serious loopholes in our election financing laws, because we start with the basic premise that nobody should be able to buy an election in this country, or a politician, for that matter. When we are dealing with such massive amounts of money, the point that was made by the House leader of the government was that a politician or a political party is going to owe somebody a great deal. They are going to owe somebody an obligation, a debt, and it is not healthy for the interests of democracy to have some corporate sponsor pulling the strings of politicians through this enormous debt of gratitude that is owed. That is the fundamental principle here. That is the direction in which we believed we needed to go.
These loans were a loophole that simply had to be plugged. The most egregious example, I suppose, and what really caught the public's imagination, was during the Liberal leadership campaign. Even though businesses and unions were not allowed to donate a single dollar, they could loan tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and individuals could loan far in excess of what they were allowed to donate.
Then, through the very loosey-goosey standards and rules that exist in terms of the repayment of those loans, if the loan was not paid back within 18 months it was deemed to be a donation, albeit an illegal donation. We allowed this contradiction to exist in our election finance regime. Some would say it was by design that the rules put in place by the previous government to put limits on election financing left this convenient loophole there, with it knowing full well their people would stumble upon it, seize on it and use it.
The other example that turned people's heads and simply sounded the alarm that this had to be addressed was the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. Even though a business is not allowed to donate anything and a union is not allowed to donate anything, his business loaned the Mississauga--Streetsville riding association $176,000 in one loan, I believe it was, and another $60,000 in another loan.
How can that be? It is a contradiction that we have allowed to evolve, because if that loan is not paid back within the 18 months, it is deemed to be a donation, and then we will have allowed a business to make a donation, which it is not allowed to at all, and a donation in the amount of a quarter of a million dollars, which is clearly in excess of anything contemplated when we set the donation limits for individuals at $1,100 per year.
This had to be done. I do take some recognition of the fact that we played a role in bringing this about. It was the NDP that moved this as an amendment during the Federal Accountability Act debates, but I also caution that we perhaps have not gone as far as we could. There are two things in the bill that worry me somewhat.
Even though we cannot pass legislation retroactively to give us some satisfaction on the debacle of the Liberal leadership loans or the loan of the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, we can have legislation that is retrospective in nature. We can look at ways to address these loans that drew the public's attention to this issue to make sure there is some compliance with at least the existing regime.
The second thing that we find fault with regarding this legislation is we cannot understand for the life of us why the date of implementation will be six months after the bill receives royal assent. My colleague, the government House leader, suggested that perhaps there is a way we could speak to the Chief Electoral Officer and garner support for the idea of a more rapid implementation date. I would urge the government to do so, because as the bill is currently drafted, it is possible we could have another federal election under the current set of rules which allow these political loans.
Now that it is common knowledge that there is no law against lending someone $100,000, even though the donation limit is only $1,100, a lot more people will be doing it if it is allowed. It would be morally and ethically wrong to allow another federal election to take place under the current set of rules. Therefore, I would urge members when the bill gets to committee, to look favourably on the idea of an amendment, which we would be happy to put forward, that the date of implementation should be when the bill receives royal assent.
This is much in the same spirit that we looked at the Federal Accountability Act. We did not see any reason to delay the implementation of the election financing rules associated with the accountability act, even though the Liberal Party urged us strenuously to delay and delay and delay because the Liberals wanted to get their leadership convention out of the way. That is certainly one of the things we would like to see.
I heard my colleague from the Liberal Party try to make arguments against this bill. Even though I do not take this remark seriously, I do give him credit for at least having the courage to try to be creative to find some reason why this bill is a bad idea.
I do have to counter one of the arguments he made which was completely spurious. He suggested that by banning these loans or putting severe limits on these loans, it would actually act as a barrier to those who do not have access to friends with money from entering into politics. It is like arguing night is day, because that is absolutely 180 degrees the polar opposite of what any cursory reading of the bill would tell us. In actual fact, the idea is to take big money out of politics and to take away the unfair competitive advantage that people who are well connected currently enjoy. The idea is to level the playing field.
That was the purpose of Bill C-24, which the Liberals introduced when they first put limits on donations. The idea was to get big money out of politics so that nobody could buy influence. That was certainly the argument put forward under Bill C-2 when we further reduced the donation limits to $1,100.
It is courageous to argue that this is actually the inverse. It takes a lot of guts to stand there and try to make that argument, but we cannot let that go unchallenged. If anything, this is an enabling measure that does level the playing field so that all of us, if we need to borrow money to get our campaign started, have to go to a recognized lending institution. No single person would be able to underwrite or co-sign a loan to an extent greater than the person would be allowed to donate in that year. It is eminently sensible because if there is a default on that loan and the loan becomes deemed to be a donation later on, then the donation would not be in excess of what the person would have been allowed to donate. It seems common sense to me.
A further innovation and protection here is that we do not want the precedent set by Paul Hellyer and the Canadian Action Party to set the tone. In that case, he simply wrote off the $800,000 debt to the Canadian Action Party. We do not want to see John Rae writing off the debt to Bob Rae. We do not want to see Mr. Mamdouh Stephanos writing off the $200,000 debt which was loaned to the leader of the official opposition. That would be fundamentally wrong because then those guys would have made a $200,000 loan which became a donation which they then forgave. Talk about buying influence in a campaign. What about the $100,000 that Marc de la Bruyere loaned to the leader of the official opposition?
We have every reason to believe that the leader of the official opposition will probably pay back those debts because he will have the ability to fundraise within the $1,000 limit and because he is in a fishbowl and everybody is watching what he is going to do with his campaign debts.
What about the losers in that race? For instance, I used the example of John Rae, a senior executive with Power Corporation, being able to simply write off and forgive the $840,000 that he loaned to his brother, Bob, to run in that campaign. That would be a travesty. That would be an absolute abuse of the election financing laws as we know them today.
With this bill, it is deemed that if the loan is not paid back in an acceptable period of time, or the time frame negotiated between the lender, a bank, and the borrower, or 18 months, whichever comes first, it would be the riding association and the political party of the riding association that would have to assume that debt. That would make sense. In fact it would help from an equity point of view for the person borrowing the money, because the person is actually borrowing the money with the guarantor of the political party that the person belongs to. The financial institution would have some comfort. The person would not have to find a financial backer to co-sign that loan; in fact, the person would not be allowed to.
If, as I have done, one needed to borrow $20,000 to get the campaign started, one would need to find 20 guarantors at $1,000 each. No one person could co-sign the loan. That is the way it should be. If the person cannot find 20 people to sponsor his or her entry into politics, perhaps that person should rethink whether he or she should be going into politics or not because the person is not going to get very far anyway.
I think this is eminently fair. It has covered the three conditions that the NDP raised during the debate on the Federal Accountability Act. I completely reject the Liberals' argument that there could be perverse consequences which would limit entry into politics.
Again my colleague from Vancouver Quadra very cleverly planted the idea that perhaps Equal Voice would be disappointed with this initiative, as if this would somehow be a barrier for more women to enter politics. I would argue that the absolute inverse would be true, because this will level the playing field so that well-connected people with corporate sponsorship, like we saw in the Liberal leadership race, will not have a competitive advantage over a woman without those connections. Again it levels the playing field. We have not had any indication how Equal Voice would react to this bill, but from what I know of the people in that organization, I think they would support this idea.
I wish we would not reform the election financing regime in such a piecemeal fashion. There are a number of other things that the NDP has been calling for. One I will speak to briefly is that now that Bill C-16 has passed very quietly and without fanfare over in the other place, it is now law and we have fixed election dates, I believe we should have year-round spending limits. Now that we know elections will be held every four years on a fixed date in the month of October, there should be some regulation on the amount parties can spend on advertising not just during the writ period but outside the writ period as well. That is a necessary natural consequence of having fixed election dates. I would look forward to some movement from the government in that regard.
I also wish we had done something about the age of political donors. I am very critical of the idea that we can actually launder money through our children's bank accounts in a way to exceed the donation limits allowed by law. That seems to be acceptable in that when it happened in the Liberal leadership race and we filed complaints with the elections commissioner, nothing came of it.
I guess if an 11 year old wants to donate $5,000 to a political candidate, nobody thinks twice. When it is twins and they both decide to donate $5,400 each to the same candidate, nobody thinks twice. Throughout the whole country Canadians shook their heads when they saw that. I would like to see us have the courage to move forward and say that this is simply wrong.
It is wrong to launder money through anybody's bank account if the purpose is to defraud the system and exceed the donation limits allowed by law, whether it is one's mother-in-law or brother. A person is not allowed to donate the maximum himself or herself and then sneak a cheque under the table to his or her buddy and say, “Send this along to the Liberal Party for me too”. It is against the law to conspire to defraud the system. We are silent on that and even when we file complaints on that, the elections commissioner seems to be silent on it.
The NDP tried to move an amendment to Bill C-2 which said that underage people could donate money, but if they did, it would be deducted from the total amount their legal guardian was allowed to donate. In other words, if a 14 year old felt strongly enough about politics and wanted to donate $100 of the money he or she earned at the burger joint, more power to him or her, but that meant the child's parents or legal guardians would donate $100 less that year. If people get a tax advantage from being children's legal guardians, they have to be legal guardians in this era of politics unless and until the children reach legal age as well. That would have been a courageous move and would have cleaned up one of those embarrassing situations that we allow in our system currently.
Let me speak briefly about the outstanding issue that we are all worried about, which is the issue of the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, who is not a Liberal any more, but when the loans took place he was. Now he is a Tory.
I do not know how we are going to address this, but we should remind everybody, and maybe through this speech we will serve notice, that no one's sweetheart can bail out somebody like that. If someone borrows $50,000, as many of the people did in the Liberal leadership campaign, and it is not paid back quickly, the candidate cannot pay it off because he or she would be exceeding the limit. The candidate cannot have a guardian angel donor show up out of nowhere and bail him or her out. The money has to be paid back within the donation limits.
The money was raised within the donation limits of the act, which is $1,100 per year. I do not see how some of these candidates are going to do so. The burden of proof is on them to pay it back in compliance with the law. Some of these failed leadership candidates are now raising money for the next federal election and they are still asking people for money to pay off the debt they incurred.
As I say, it is not that tough for the winner to pay off the debt. It is a lot tougher for the losers, the ones who did not win. It has to be the $1,000 limit. We are watching. These people are in a fishbowl and we will be filing complaints. If they do not pay it back at all and it is deemed to be a donation, then what? I will tell the House what.
Under the current election laws, and this should be fixed too, they can take out another loan to pay off the first loan and buy themselves another 18 months. Then the debt gets lost in the sands of time and we will have been complicit with somebody conspiring to defraud the election system. Those are the people on this list that I have right here.
Some of the people in the Liberal leadership campaign might find themselves in that situation. It would be wrong, but they may be leaning that way and our Elections Act is not tough enough to stop that from happening. I was disappointed, in fact I was shocked to learn that would be allowed, that they could take out a second loan to pay off the first loan and buy themselves another 18 months. Who is going to be around to police whether the second loan gets paid off three or five years down the road? This is really not satisfactory.
If we are serious about levelling the playing field, about taking big money out of politics and about making sure that nobody can buy an election in this country, we have to go all the way. We should put together an election financing regime that we can all be proud of. We could be an international centre of excellence. That would make me proud.
I take some pride, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, that it was the former leader of our party, the hon. Ed Broadbent, who brought this issue to light and said, more or less, that no further federal elections should take place until we clean up the election financing regime in this country. The NDP tried to do it during the debate on the Federal Accountability Act. It seemed to take a little longer than we thought to resonate with the ruling party, but it seemed to have at least accepted the need for this now.
We are critical that there will be a six month wait after the bill receives royal assent. We expect this to get a rough ride from the Liberal Party. I am not trying to state the obvious, but if one cannot raise or borrow money, one is not going to be in any hurry to pass this bill.
We hope the Liberals do not stall it unnecessarily, but I think the government should act quickly to take that six month proviso out of the way, implement it as soon as we can, and get it through the House, so that the next federal election can be run with equal opportunity for everybody and that no unfair competitive advantage go to those who might enjoy a corporate sponsor or guardian angel donor.
Federal Accountability Act
November 20th, 2006 / 5:30 p.m.
Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-2, the so-called accountability act, a bill that was put together with a great deal of haste and one which has returned from the other place with a number of important amendments. I would like to speak to the spirit of this bill and the underlying motivations that seem to have resulted in legislation which, as we have discovered, is technically flawed in many respects and substantively flawed in its objectives.
I appreciate the work of the senators in the other place from both parties, in particular Senator Joe Day who has put forward reasonable amendments to make this legislation better. There were 30 days of hearings in the other place, 150 witnesses and a lot of very positive work.
When Bill C-2 was presented in this House it was done so under the political environment of a recent election and the concern that many Canadians had about ensuring that the taxpayers' money was protected from abuse. From the outset many of us were uncomfortable with the rapid and now we see irresponsible rush in which the President of the Treasury Board proceeded. Liberal members raised these concerns at committee.
In fact, the vast majority of amendments proposed by the Liberal members on the Bill C-2 committee last spring were defeated by the NDP-Conservative coalition. This was done for political and partisan reasons. It was clear then that public relations and scoring cheap political points were more important than bringing forward legislation that would in fact live up to its name.
After hearing more than 140 witnesses through many hours of hearings, the Senate committee under the leadership of Senator Day has placed before us amendments that we should seriously consider. Notwithstanding the constant flow of feigned outrage from the Treasury Board president, it would be totally irresponsible for the government and the House to ignore reasonable amendments that seek to strengthen the legislation thereby ensuring that it is in line with the charter and in the public interest.
In fact, it was the Treasury Board president who suggested in his own appearance before the Senate that the bill had been, to use his exact words, “examined with a microscope”. We now find out that this microscope was more like a periscope: long on rhetoric and narrow in focus.
David Hutton, coordinator of the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, described the drafting process that was employed to craft Bill C-2 as “deeply flawed”. He said that the bill “is complex and is full of loopholes when you dig into it. I feel that the committees have been given an impossible task, namely trying to turn this into effective legislation that meets intent”.
In addition to repairing numerous drafting errors which should have been caught before the bill was introduced, key amendments that came back include political financing. This is an area of particular importance to me, as it is to all members of the House of Commons. Not only am I a member of Parliament but, as many other members have done, I have run campaigns for other candidates and have worked a lot of elections. I was the president of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party sitting on the national executive and got involved in the financing of political parties.
It is important that we ensure that any new political donation regime does not unfairly restrict the participation of political parties in debate. I suggest the proposed change to $2,000 per year, the limit that came back from the other place, is an important change.
In 2003 Bill C-24 was introduced and passed by the Liberal government of former prime minister Jean Chrétien. It radically changed how elections are financed in Canada, notably reducing the amount of allowable donations to political parties. The current President of the Treasury Board acknowledged the usefulness of Bill C-24, which in fact contained a clause for its review, but there has been no review. There has just been introduction in this bill of more political reform, which I do not think makes a lot of sense.
Clearly, the government has failed to produce any evidence that the existing limits are undermining the electoral process at the federal level. Furthermore, political donations play an important role in our democratic system. Limiting them too strictly has the potential to limit participation of smaller political parties, as well as all Canadians who wish to participate in the political system.
Why would the government introduce these strict limits? If we look across Canada at what provinces are doing in their own electoral districts, it is pretty interesting. I would like to take a minute to let people know what those limits are across Canada right now.
In Newfoundland and Labrador there are no contribution limits to political parties.
In Prince Edward Island there are no contribution limits.
In Nova Scotia there have been none. In fact, last week new political financing legislation was brought forward into the House of Assembly in Nova Scotia. I believe the limit there would be $5,000.
In New Brunswick there is a maximum of $6,000 during a calendar year to each registered political party or to a registered district association of that registered political party.
In Quebec contribution limits are a maximum of $3,000 to each party, independent member and independent candidate, collectively, during the same calendar year.
Ontario has contribution limits. The maximum contribution a person, corporation or trade union may make is $7,500 to each party in a calendar year and in any campaign period; $1,000 in any calendar year to each constituency association; an aggregate of $5,000 to the constituency associations of any one party; $1,000 to each candidate in a campaign period; an aggregate of $5,000 to candidates endorsed by any one party.
In Manitoba individuals may contribute a maximum of $3,000 in a calendar year to candidates, constituency associations or registered political parties, or any combination.
In Saskatchewan there are no limits on contributions.
In Alberta the limits are $15,000 to each registered party, $1,000 to any registered constituency association, and $5,000 in the aggregate to constituency associations of each registered party, and then further regulations in any campaign period: $30,000 to each registered party, less any amount contributed to the party in the calendar year.
In British Columbia registered political parties or constituency associations may accept a maximum of $10,000 in permitted anonymous contributions. Candidates, leadership contestants and nomination contestants may accept a maximum of $3,000 in permitted contributions.
In Yukon there are no contribution limits.
The Northwest Territories has what seem to be the strictest limits. An individual or corporation may contribute a maximum of $1,500 to a candidate during a campaign period, but a candidate may contribute a maximum of $30,000 of his or her own funds in his or her own campaign.
These election limits that have been brought in dramatically exceed any other election financing reform that has been brought in across Canada, reforms that have been brought in, in provinces led by a whole series of different types of government, different parties in power.
One witness at the Senate committee, Arthur Kroeger, the chair of the Canadian Policy Research Networks and a former deputy minister in five federal government departments, told the Senate committee:
What problem are we trying to solve? Were there abuses when the level was $5,400? I do not know. I do not remember reading of any such abuses. Were there abuses that merit the reduced levels of contributions that were permitted by business and unions? If you cannot identify the problem that justifies a provision in the bill, then have you lost balance and have you pushed things too far? Those are questions in my mind...Do we truly need to go that far to achieve good governance and are we risking harm? It is possible.
When we look at what provinces across the country have done, that would seem to back that up.
It is certainly not just Liberals who are making the case that these stringent donation limits are unreasonable and unnecessary. Lowell Murray, a Progressive Conservative senator from the great province of Nova Scotia, a highly respected figure and a former close adviser to two Progressive Conservative former prime ministers, the Right Hon. Joe Clark and the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney, said in the Senate recently, I believe on third reading, after the committee hearings, “I would delete from the bill all the provisions respecting political financing”.
There are a lot of very interesting comments, but let me just stick to the political financing piece. He talked about examples of how this legislation is flawed. He went on to say:
Another example is in the creation of a directorate of public prosecutions. This may or may not be necessary--probably not--
To get back to financing, he said:
This bill purports to introduce further reforms to our political financing and elections laws. The committee has recommended amendments to the government's proposals. I am more persuaded by the argument of Professor Peter Aucoin, who told the committee that those proposals have no place in the omnibus Bill C-2 and should be considered as part of an overall examination of elections and political financing law.
He said later in his speech:
The examination of our political financing and election laws that I believe is necessary must go forward, in my view, and my amendment would remove from Bill C-2 the various provisions relating to political financing in the hope of a principled examination of this whole field, a principled examination of our electoral and parliamentary democracy, by people who have relevant experience in it.
That speaks directly to the issue of this bill being too large and too cumbersome, trying to do too many things for political reasons and not being based on evidence nor history.
Increasing the maximum personal contribution to $2,000 from the proposed $1,000 would still be a significant reduction from the current $5,400 that came in under Bill C-24, but I would support the $2,000 limit.
There are many other amendments that involve access to information and technical changes that were necessary because it was rushed legislation. Certainly, the clearest proof of that was the recent attempt to alter the legislation to cover up the practice of the Conservative Party of not counting delegate fees as political donations, which was clearly not the intent of the act. It was never understood by any political party that I know of as being the case, and it has been acknowledged by Canada's Chief Electoral Officer as being the wrong policy.
One of the advantages of the other place looking at this so carefully was that it gave people a chance to make some comments, people who have expertise in this area. I had mentioned before Mr. Kroeger, the chair of the Canadian Policy Research Network. He also said:
If the legislation had been written by a government with more experience in office, it may not have some items in it that it does, which I will explain in a minute.
He went on to explain, and then said:
There is the other problem that some of the contents of legislation were, I think, developed during an election campaign, and there is always a risk of a bit of overkill for the sake of achieving a public effect--
Dr. David Zussman, the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management at the University of Ottawa, indicated, in talking about the new positions in this bill:
In each case, we are creating new positions at considerable cost to the taxpayers of Canada, so we have to ask ourselves simply will these costs produce results that will make a tangible difference or a marginal difference over the information and analysis that we already have.
Alan Leadbeater, deputy information commissioner of the Office of the Information Commissioner, suggested:
--Bill C-2 would authorize new and broad zones of secrecy, which will have the effect of reducing the accountability of government through transparency...Bill C-2 will reduce the amount of information available to the public, will weaken the oversight role of the Information Commissioner, will increase government’s ability to cover up wrongdoing and shield itself from embarrassment.
These are a number of comments that came from the hearings that were held in the other place.
This is a deeply flawed bill. I support accountability and I support some of the measures that are in this bill, but these amendments that have come back from the other place are worthy of everybody's attention and support.
It is obvious to most people, except perhaps those on the government side, that this bill is a blunt instrument to achieve political gains. As is so often the case when politics is the primary motivation, bad law is created, and thankfully we now have an opportunity to correct these flaws. I encourage all parties to support these amendments and to make this legislation live up to its name, the accountability act.
Federal Accountability Act
November 20th, 2006 / 12:30 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, I did not know that. It gives me a sense of false power, perhaps, but I will keep to the time my whip has given me and remind myself of when I need to wrap up.
I was a member of the Bill C-2 legislative committee.
First, I would like to thank the committee's Liberal members, namely our leader on the committee, the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, and the hon. members for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and York West. They worked very hard together, along with the leaders of the other parties, including the members for Nepean—Carleton and Winnipeg South.
I would like to add a special word in memory of the hon. member for Repentigny, who died recently.
We worked together when we could and voiced our opinions with much passion. In many cases, I recall the member for Nepean—Carleton, with exceeding passion in language, which we all remember well.
According to the hon. President of the Treasury Board, this was a project to end the role of big money in politics. How farcical. A year ago, the Conservative Party was campaigning under the slogan, “Stand up for Canada”. Today, 10 months later, its true slogan appears to be, “stand up for Conservative friends only”.
Once again, this Conservative minority government—and I emphasize the word “minority”—is trying to use the House of Commons for partisan purposes. Once again, Conservative partisanship has prevailed over the common good and the interests of all Canadians.
Today we clearly see why the minority government wanted to rush the bill through the House, the committee, then on to the Senate and through its committee. The Conservatives thought no one would see how partisan and biased it actually is in certain respects. The more time we spend on the bill, the more flaws and loopholes we find. That is why there was such a dépêche, quite a rush to get the bill out from the spotlight and the microscope of the committees, which did good work, and to the final passage of the bill in the House.
I see it, therefore, as quite ironic in that the Conservatives' campaigned on the promise of cleaning up government and to play by the rules and how today they are trying to tweak the law to sneak in some self-serving loopholes on political donations.
All this after an Elections Canada investigation targeted the Conservative Party, following a statement by the President of the Treasury Board to the effect that his party had forgotten to declare costs of some $2 million relating to its March 2005 convention.
In the process of the hearings, the President of the Treasury Board admitted, particularly in the case at the Senate level, that the Conservatives forgot to declare convention fees as political donations for their convention of March 2005. They had an opinion, which was almost, in this post-football weekend, an audible from the line, the quarterback at the Bill C-2 legislative committee, a representative of the Conservative Party at that point, merely suggested that the Conservatives did not think that convention fees were donations. That has since been ruled completely out of order and improper by Elections Canada officials and by every party in the House except the Conservatives.
Now we will see, as the theme of the response to the speech by the President of the Treasury Board, that it was really all about cover-up and legitimizing something that is quite possibly illegal. Almost $2 million is no small change. The Conservative minority talks about tightening Canadian laws and yet it cannot even follow the existing laws when it comes to political donations.
As I say, I am not the only one saying this. The people of Canada should know that the Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, repudiated the Conservatives' excuses and ruled that the party violated the rules.
Other complaints have been made against the Conservative Party. The Conservatives are attempting to fix their illegalities with certain portions of this law. Today, with Bill C-2, the minority government is trying to cover up its past mistakes and clean up its mess. The very fact that it is trying to change the rules, in extremis, at the last possible minute, clearly is an admission of guilt.
In addition to the convention attendance fees, les frais d'inscription pour les congrès de partis politiques, the fees paid by every party member attending a convention, in addition to the colouring of those as non-political donations, erroneously and quite possibly illegally, the Conservative Party had the temerity and gall in practice to allow corporate observers.
By way of footnote, we must remember that Bill C-24, the very fine Liberal bill brought in under the Chrétien government, made it law that corporate and union donations would not be acceptable. However, the Conservative Party has charged to this date $1,000 for corporate observer fees which were not reported as political donations.
After 70 meetings of the Bill C-2 legislative committee and following the Senate committee, I now understand what the President of the Treasury Board meant when he said that he wanted to take the big money out of politics. He meant all the big contributions that were made off the radar screen, not under the Canada Elections Act, not reportable and elicited by a Senate hearing in the spring of the year by the committee of which the President of the Treasury Board was a member.
These amounts, totalling probably more than $2 million, were corporate donations that the President of the Treasury Board and the Conservative Party wanted out of politics. They did not want them reported. Unfortunately, hijacking the House agenda to pass partisan legislation is becoming a full time hobby for the minority Conservative government.
Time and again the President of the Treasury Board stated that he wanted to reduce the influence of big money and make the political process more open.
He said it again on May 4, when he testified before the committee that was reviewing Bill C-2. Even his boss, thePrime Minister, said he wanted t o “put an end to the influence of money” in the Canadian government.
We have it at both levels. We have the President of the Treasury Board, who is sometimes given to bombast, and we can understand his enthusiasm, but on the other side we have the cold eye of the Prime Minister on this very subject saying that he wants to finish the role of big money in politics. Now we see what they meant, which is that the corporate observer status fees and the registration fees for conventions as being out of politics and not reportable. However, we did not see it at the time.
Unfortunately, this government is unable to move from talk to action. On the one hand, it boasts about being a champion for transparency, but on the other hand it finds it normal not to have declared costs of close to $2 million relating to its March 2005 convention. Today, the Conservatives want to use Bill C-2 to correct their own mistakes of the past.
Accountability, however, is not a bendable concept that can be adjusted to fit partisan objectives and past illegalities. Contrary to what the Conservatives may think, the Liberals believe accountability should apply to all parties all the time, not only when it is convenient to do so or in their case, when they get caught.
A review of Bill C-2 is necessary because there is more than just the passing illegality and cover up, Watergate-like as it is, by the government with respect to political donations.
There were some accomplishments at the legislative committee with respect to making deputy ministers more accountable to Parliament. This is a good thing, with a tighter lobbyist regime. At first the Conservatives did not want people who were past workers for them in opposition to be able to ratchet up the ladder of influence when the government changed, but there was much debate on that.
There was some discussion of the access to information program and Access to Information Act pertaining to some of the agencies, boards and commissions which it can be argued is good and bad depending on the commission, agency and board. Time does not permit, unlimited as it is, for me to get into all of the agencies, boards and commissions involved.
It bears saying there were also some Liberal accomplishments. The Liberal members, at committee, following on the advice of the legal counsel to this Parliament protected an 1868 constitutional privilege which in their haste the Conservatives tried to roughshod through the House. The Liberal opposition members removed the aspect of the secret ballot and most importantly, despite the words of the minority government, saved aboriginal first nations communities from the overreach of audit principles to be imposed by the government.
However, there were some significant missed opportunities in not properly debating, in the haste that was the aura of both committees frankly, many amendments that were brought forward by all parties with respect to some very key elements which might have made the bill stronger. There was a proposal to eliminate donations from people under 18 years of age. This was ironically proposed and was ironically defeated by the Conservative majority on the committee with the help of the New Democratic Party.
It might also be said that in the haste to put the Bill C-2 legislative committee together there were no opinions from constitutional scholars. There was neither the time nor the inclination of the leading constitutional scholars to give evidence at those committees. One wonders if we had the sage advice, for instance, of Donald Savoie and his thoughts regarding the freeze in public sector and lobbying industries with respect to how government should work, how much different a bill we might have.
Last year the Conservatives campaigned on six key words. We often think they only had five principles, but they are much more imaginative than we give them credit for. They actually used six words in their platform. They used: accountability, opportunity, security, family, community and unity, and those are good words. Now let us take a minute to analyze what the government has done since it came into power.
On the same day the Conservatives announced over $13 billion in surplus, thanks to good Liberal management, they cut funding to some of the most important community programs in the country, including: literacy, aboriginal programs, minority groups support and women's equality issues. This is their vision for community presumably from their election campaign.
They cut many youth programs that aimed at promoting exchanges between young Canadians of different regions such as the summer work student exchange program.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister publicly accused many Liberals of being anti-Israel. This is presumably their vision of promoting unity, a further campaign promise.
Conservatives decided in favour of sending a $100 monthly cheque per child to Canadian families, a sum not good enough to pay for quality day care services and child care services, especially when this measure is taxable, while creating no new child care spaces whatsoever. This must be their concept of family as enunciated in their campaign strategy.
As for security, another key word, the Conservative minority government decided to bring forward a very American “three strikes, you're out” law with Bill C-27. The concept of innocence until proven guilty is out the door. This must be the Conservative vision of justice.
Then there is the theme of accountability which is dealt by this bill. In light of what the Conservatives are proposing to do with Bill C-2, it is clear they believe that accountability should mostly be a tool to help clean their own past mistakes, especially the $2 million in convention registration fees that have not been disclosed, that are the subject of complaints officially filed with Elections Canada, and the untotalled amounts of corporate observer fees given by corporations who were, by Bill C-24, outside the scope and allowability of political contributions before this act.
We have large sums of money that have not been accounted for, so how is it that this government can stand on this bill with respect to political contributions and say that it is truly an accountability act? It cannot.
Finally, the last word in the Conservative's campaign was opportunity. Once again, what the Conservative minority government is trying to do with Bill C-2 is to create a partisan loophole, weakening the access to information laws, and watering down the federal accountability act. Opportunity is probably the word that currently best describes the government's principles and modus operandi. More specifically, it is highly opportunistic and partisan.
Today the government should truly stand up for Canada as it promised to do. It promised to adopt the recommendation of the Information Commissioner's report on access to information. It has already had two chances and yet it continues to break this promise. If the government truly wants more transparency and more accountability, it needs to leave partisanship behind and support these amendments. This is what true accountability is all about.
It is important to underline that we have supported in many instances this bill and its thrust, but it is important to underline that the concept of the bill is nothing new.
Bill C-24, as the hon. President of the Treasury Board has already said, was a very good step. It was a Chrétien government step with respect to political financing and transparency. Would that the Conservative government in its most recent clandestine fundraising activities and would that it would follow its own words of the President of the Treasury Board in the House today and be more accountable. Sadly, it is not going to be. It is going to wait until it is dragged, talk about foot-dragging, before the courts and found to have been part of illegal contribution schemes as indicated by Mr. Kingsley.
In the spirit with which the Liberal government brought in Bill C-24 and with which it promised to implement the recommendations of Justice Gomery's report, we moved forward with the deliberations on Bill C-2 and are happy in the further vein to propose these amendments. I move:
That the motion be amended
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 25, 34 to 54 (a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65, 94
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 25, 34 to 54, 55(a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65 and 94”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendments 25”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 121, 123
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 121 and 123”
3. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendments 120” the letter “s” is the first word, the numbers 121 and 123 and the words “and by removing the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of this Act”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 118, 119
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with” immediately after the number “158”, the following “and 118 and 119”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendment 118” and the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendment 119”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 67
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 67”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Senate amendment 67”
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, do I not have some time to conclude?
October 26th, 2006 / 11:10 a.m.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am pleased to respond to the Committee’s request to discuss its June 2006 report, Improving the Integrity of the Electoral Process: Recommendations for Legislative Change—the name you have given it—and the government’s recent response to that report.
I am accompanied today by Ms. Diane Davidson, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer and Chief Legal Counsel, and Mr. Rennie Molnar, Senior Director of Operations, Register and Geography.
The first half of my presentation will be in French, and the second half in English, obviously.
In preparing its report, the Committee considered the recommendations for amendments to the Canada Elections Act set out in my 2005 report to the Speaker of the House, Completing the Cycle of Electoral Reforms.
Several of these recommendations were endorsed by the Committee and included in its report, some with enhancements. In turn, in its response the Government agreed with many of the Committee’s recommendations and has introduced legislation—Bill C-31 as you just mentioned, Mr. Chairman—to implement them.
A number of areas have been agreed by Committee or by the Government in its response as warranting further consideration. These include a simpler and fairer broadcasting regime; a general review of the Special Voting Rules; a more precise recommendation for an expanded authority for the Chief Electoral Officer to create mobile polls; the distribution of the annual and final lists of electors to all registered and eligible partiers; the development of a simpler administrative process for securing time extensions for the filing of financial returns, and the right to strike by employees of Elections Canada.
I continue to think that these are issues worth pursuing by us all and I would be pleased to make available to the Committee such resources of my Office as it may require, respecting any work upon which it may embark in these areas, and to participate in your deliberations.
There are a number of matters raised in the Committee report or in the Government response that I would like to comment on further.
The 2002 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Sauvé restored the right of prisoners in federal institutions, penitentiaries, to vote, but the Canada Elections Act does not have a mechanism for them to exercise this right. The Government has rejected the recommendations for the expansion to federal institutions of the existing statutory process for voting in provincial correctional institutions. In the absence of the required amendment of the Canada Elections Act, I propose to continue to adapt the Act with each election—to the extent permitted by law—to provide the needed mechanism.
I would like to add a comment that is not found in the text that was tabled: I would like to know if this Committee has any objections to my actions.
I also urge Parliament to continue to consider this issue.
I will now continue in English.
In its report, the committee rejected the wording of my 2005 recommendation respecting a civil examination and inquiry authority for the financial returns required from political entities, particularly political parties, under the Canada Elections Act. I remain convinced of the need for such an authority in light of the importance of the public disclosure requirements of the act and the significant amount of the public reimbursements paid out to registered parties on the basis of those returns. I am willing, obviously, to look at the wording with you to see what wording you would find acceptable.
Following recommendations initiated by the committee, the government's response has proposed a requirement for electors to produce identification in order to vote.
Provision of ID constitutes a major change in the functioning of the polls. Should Parliament wish to proceed with this initiative, it must be very clear as to what is required. This requirement will be implemented by some 65,000 individual deputy returning officers across the land, whose judgment must be consistent: in Canada there's only one definition of a Canadian.
Before implementing this recommendation, it is important to know exactly which entities would be considered government or agencies of government and how many types of government identification have a person's name, residential address, and photograph, and to know what part of the elector universe has such identification. Furthermore, I would want to hear the views of Parliament before authorizing alternative types of identification. This is particularly important as deputy returning officers at the polls will have no flexibility respecting this identification once it is authorized for an election.
At the conclusion of its recommendations, the committee noted that it was awaiting a report from my office respecting the financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act. The committee indicated that upon its receipt it would address seven specific topics noted in the report in the context of a review of overall finance issues. These topics will include such things as membership fees, tax credits, and tax receipts for pre-election contributions.
In response to that request, I am preparing a report for the assistance of the committee that should be available within the next 30 days. That report will deal expressly with those seven issues. It will not go further into other financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act.
Elections Canada has data respecting the operation of the 2004 political financing regime, which it has provided to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in its study of Bill C-2—that relates to the 2005 financial year. If the committee wishes, I will be pleased to make that data available to it.
The data that is available now to Elections Canada does not reflect a normal electoral cycle because of the effect of general elections in each of the three years since the implementation of those initiatives. In other words, that's why I cannot provide you with a report on the full implications and full ramifications of Bill C-24, as it was then known.
I have already provided the committee, under separate cover dated October 5, in a letter that reached you during your committee deliberations on that day, with information respecting the implementation of different systems to assist candidates on polling day to identify electors who have voted. I would be pleased to answer any question the committee may have respecting that information.
I would also like to note that the government response has two recommendations to which it is asking the Chief Electoral Officer to respond. One of them concerns the warning that would be posted in the polls, which would add to the fact that we already post a notice to the effect that one must be a Canadian and one must be 18 years of age before voting. I'm asked to also add that it is against the law—that it is committing a crime—to do otherwise. I intend to start doing that as soon as possible.
The other one concerns providing instructions to electoral officials who are responsible for registration on polling day. We already do that, Mr. Chairman, so if there is anything I'm not understanding about this, I would appreciate further guidance.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That concludes my presentation.
October 30th, 2003 / 3:10 p.m.
Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Joliette, for his well-chosen words on Bill C-32. I am pleased to speak to this bill on behalf of my party.
Today, once again, we are going to cause sorrow among our colleagues opposite by explaining in a very rational way, with reasoned arguments, why we oppose the amendments, the bills and the ideas, that the government party brings before us.
Nevertheless, this time, we are going to support Bill C-32. The Minister of Justice will certainly be pleased to see his friends in the Bloc Quebecois once again supporting a government bill, and I shall explain the four primary reasons.
These are the four themes we think are very important, and I quote:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code by
(a) establishing more serious offences for placing, or knowingly permitting to remain in a place, a trap, device or other thing that is likely to cause death or bodily harm to a person;
(b) permitting the use of as much force as is reasonably necessary on board an aircraft to prevent the commission of an offence that would be likely to cause immediate and serious injury to the aircraft or to any person or property in the aircraft;
(c) modifying the provision dealing with the provision of information on oath in relation to weapons;
In a moment I will explain why we are also supporting this amendment. The final theme, which, in my opinion, may be the most important, is this:
(d) creating an exemption to the offence of intercepting private communications in order to protect computer systems.
It amends the Financial Administration Act in order to authorize the federal government to take necessary measures to protect its computer systems.
In 2003-04 electronic communications and transactions are increasingly numerous. Many citizens make transactions over the Internet using their credit cards. Unfortunately, sometimes—too often—someone steals their credit cards by stealing the personal identification numbers. Later, fraud is committed through illegal use of the information networks.
If, through this bill or other legislation, we can correct this situation and give more protection to electronic transactions and transfers made by our citizens, it seems to me that we must, as parliamentarians, encourage such amendments and make as many of them as we need.
On this particular bill and on other bills—I want to emphasize that for my colleagues on the government side—we could draw on a bill recently passed in the United States dealing with unsollicited e-mails.
If I correctly understood the intent of the legislation in the United States, people can add their name to a national register and ask not to receive any promotional material from all major media and big corporations using telemarketers or computers for this purpose.
The big corporations have to consult the national registry every day and to delete the names of all those who do not want to be on the mass mailing lists anymore. According to the latest data that I have, some 50 million Americans have added their names to the national register to avoid receiving all this correspondence trying to sell products all equally miraculous and claiming to make them rich and famous, to educate them and to solve all of their health or financial problems.
I think that it would be perfectly legitimate to look carefully at this aspect in Bill C-32 or in a similar bill that would draw from this American legislation and to see if we can apply it to Canada in order to allow people to regain control over their computer and their personal lives.
When you are quietly sitting at home and the phone rings constantly with someone trying to sell a heat pump, a vacuum cleaner or a wonderful encyclopedia, it is a form of pollution. It disturbs our privacy and infringes on the leisure time we want to spend with our family. In our bills, we should be sensitive to that and try to improve the situation.
I talked about the four reasons for which we support Bill C-32. The main reason is that this bill creates a more serious offence for those who set traps or other devices in places kept or used for the purpose of committing crimes.
Let me explain why we agree with this principle. The offence of placing a trap already exists in section 247 of the Criminal Code. The proposed amendments would replace that section. We want to make it more specific and then add more offences.
Right now, setting or placing a trap with intent to cause death or bodily harm to a person is an offence punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of five years, wherever the trap or the device is placed. This provision would remain, but with minor changes.
New offences are also being established. First of all, if the trap or the device does cause bodily harm, the term of imprisonment will be 10 years. It will be 5 years for placing a trap, but if it is used and someone is accidentally injured, imprisonment will be for a period of 10 years.
If someone sets a trap in a place kept or used for the purpose of committing a crime, the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years. If the trap is set in a place kept or used for the purpose of committing a crime and that trap causes bodily harm, it will be possible to extend the term to 15 years.
Finally, if a death is caused by a trap, a bear trap or anything of the kind—I will explain that later—the person caught committing the offence of setting the trap or device will be liable to life imprisonment.
This may seem a bit crazy, but I want to explain. This has happened recently in fields in Quebec. My hon. colleague from Joliette talked about people taking over tobacco or other fields belonging to farmers. So as not to get caught cultivating marijuana, members of organized crime rings place bear traps and other traps so that if the farmer gets too close to where the marijuana is being grown, he will get caught in the trap and can get hurt or even die from his injuries.
This is also true when buildings in industrial areas are rented and used to grow illegal plants. Bear traps or other traps are placed to prevent security or police officers from checking, or intruders or others from entering and discovering their stash.
In Quebec, some people have been very seriously injured by this kind of protection used by organized crime rings to protect the proceeds of their crime. It is understandable and legitimate, given the evolution in the use of these kinds of traps, to amend and clarify the scope of section 247 to provide even harsher sentences for those resorting to such abominable tactics to protect the proceeds of their crime.
The Minister of Justice said on Radio-Canada radio last April 13, “Currently, organized crime rings are placing traps in areas used for criminal activities. For example, areas where cannabis is cultivated. The firefighters association had been requesting this for some time”. This is why section 247 needs to be amended.
What happens when there is a fire and firefighters arrive on the scene? They might wind up in a bear trap because they cannot see through the smoke. It is perfectly legitimate to protect the lives of those protecting us and give them the tools they need and a safer environment in which to do their jobs.
I will take advantage of this theme of traps and snares to state that the Bloc Quebecois had asked for certain tools in the antigang legislation to be corrected and changed. Two of these have not yet been acted upon. We feel the bill could have gone further. First of all, with Bill C-24 in the last session, the government refused to criminalize passive membership in a gang. This would have made it possible to fight organized crime more effectively, and that is what we want to do here. Had membership in a gang been recognized as a criminal offence, it would have helped in the battle against organized crime.
The other measure we were calling for was reversal of the burden of proof. In Canadian law it is essential to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused has accumulated wealth by committing a series of specific and identifiable offences. We need only think of the Hell's Angels megatrials. When someone has a job and reports an annual income of $19,000 when filing income tax returns, but is living in a house worth $265,000 with a Jaguar and a Porsche parked out front, I do not know how that person manages his budget, but certainly not like you or I do.
Perhaps we ought to introduce the reverse burden of proof in order to get these people to tell us how to legally manage our affairs so efficiently. But, all joking aside, I think that people who belong to an organized gang ought to be required to show how they amassed their wealth. We would not be the first country to adopt this reversal of the burden of proof for this specific situation. Canada would not be breaking new ground and the world's legal system would not be destroyed.
I would remind hon. members that Australia, Austria, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom have changed their legislation for these very specific cases, reversing the burden of proof.
One of the other reasons we support Bill C-32 is its authorization of the use of reasonable force to prevent criminal activity on board an aircraft in flight that could endanger persons or property—indeed could lead to their death.
Under the current Canadian legislation, the use of reasonable force to prevent the commission of an offence is permitted. The same applies on board an aircraft in Canadian airspace. The bill will amend the Criminal Code to explicitly recognize that any person on board an aircraft in flight is justified in using reasonable force if he or she believes that the use of such force is necessary to prevent the commission of an offence which could endanger the safety of the aircraft or its passengers.
The bill will also clarify that this justification also applies on board any Canadian registered aircraft in flight outside Canadian airspace, and not only in Canadian airspace.
The amendment will ensure the full effect of the Tokyo Convention On Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft.
Canada is signatory to many conventions and belongs to many international institutions such as the ICAO and the UN.
Meetings are held regularly in certain countries. For example, the ICAO deals with aviation safety. Countries are asking themselves how they can contribute to the improvement of aviation safety.
As a sovereignist, I have a lot of respect for the sovereignty of states and their right to independence. However, in this era of globalization, there are decisions that cannot be made strictly within our borders, whether on land, on the sea or in the air. There is a constant flow of people, information and money. Financial transfers abound. Therefore, we must sign more and more international conventions, and this is why the sovereignty of states is important.
When we sign an international convention, if our own legislation is inadequate, incomplete or incorrect, we must amend it. In this part of Bill C-32, we are amending the Criminal Code with regard to the use of force on board aircraft. We are doing this to comply with the Tokyo convention. We must also prevent serious crimes like we saw in the United States in 2001, when terrorists hijacked airplanes and used them as weapons against civilian populations.
We consider it essential that passengers and peace officers on aircraft know that they are covered by legislation if ever they feel it necessary to use force to ensure the safety of both those onboard the aircraft and those who could become the victims of the use of this aircraft for terrorist or criminal purposes, as happened in New York City.
I am therefore convinced that the amendment of section 117.04 of the Criminal Code will ensure greater safety for the crew as well as for people who travel by plane either for business or pleasure.
Our third reason for supporting Bill C-32 is the provision on warrants to search for and seize weapons. Section 117.04 of the Criminal Code deals with that. It sets out the procedure for a peace officer to apply for a warrant to seize weapons, prohibited devices, ammunition, explosives, and so on.
In this respect, one only has to think of family violence situations and the restriction put on police officers to apply for a warrant before entering a home when there are weapons on the premises. Here again, we must make the work of those ensuring our safety easier by allowing us to ensure theirs.
To conclude, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, let me stress again the importance of creating an exemption to the offence of intercepting private communications in order to protect computer systems. A growing number of Canadians are using computer systems to transact business and communicate at all levels. These computer activities must be protected.
As I said earlier, we should take advantage of this window of opportunity to go one step further and develop something based, for once, on what the U.S. is doing. They can do good things in the U.S. A national registry of people could be developed in Canada, and we could tell the big companies which spam us to take our name off their list. This way, our quality of life would be improved.
As you can see, the Bloc Quebecois once again considered with all due diligence this bill before us. For these four main reasons, we will support the bill.