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.
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.