House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was iraq.

Topics

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 18 petitions.

Canada Elections Act
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing).

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Political Financing
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the legislation I have just introduced forms part of the eight point action plan on ethics, announced on June 11, 2002, by the Prime Minister of Canada, to improve the fairness and transparency of Canada's electoral system. These changes also build on an overhaul of our electoral legislation, which I introduced in the last Parliament through Bill C-2, to modernize many aspects of the Canada Elections Act.

There has long been a perception, whether founded or not, that certain groups in society--corporations, unions and the wealthy--may exercise undue influence in our political system through the financial contributions they make to political parties and candidates. This legislation addresses this perception and enhances the fairness and transparency of our political system by ensuring that full disclosure of contributions and financial controls would apply to all political participants.

While parties and candidates are already subject to disclosure requirements, other important participants in the political process are not.

According the bill, party riding associations, leadership candidates and nomination contestants would now be required to disclose contributions received as well as expenses incurred to the Chief Electoral Officer.

Furthermore, nomination contestants would be subject to a spending limit equivalent to 50% of the candidates' spending limit in the same riding in the previous election.

A further key element to the bill is a prohibition on contributions from corporations, unions and other associations. As a minor exception to this prohibition, corporations, union and associations would be allowed to contribute a maximum of $1,000 annually to the aggregate of candidates, local associations, and nomination contestants of a registered political party.

The bill would limit the amount that individuals could contribute: the aggregate of a $10,000 annual donation to a registered party, all of its local associations, candidates and nomination contestants combined. Individuals would be allowed to contribute $10,000 to the leadership contestants in a particular leadership campaign.

Together, these reforms would increase confidence of Canadians in our electoral system.

Of course, the virtual elimination of political contributions from corporations and unions, and the new limits on individual contributions, would have a significant financial impact on political parties and, to a lesser extent, on candidates.

For that reason, the bill would also increase the financial assistance already provided to political parties and candidates.

Thus, the percentage of election expenses that can be reimbursed to parties would be increased from 22.5% to 50%—as is already the case for candidates—and the definition of reimbursable election expenses would be broadened to include polling. The ceiling for expenses eligible for reimbursement would be increased correspondingly.

The qualification threshold for reimbursement of candidate expenses would be lowered from 15% to 10% of the number of valid votes cast in the riding.

This will allow more candidates—unsuccessful candidates in this case—to receive reimbursement after elections.

As is already done in three provinces, registered parties will receive an allowance. It will be paid quarterly on the basis of the percentage of votes they obtained in the previous general election.

The measures in the bill reflect consultations that I have had with a wide range of experts and stakeholders, as well as provincial authorities across the country. They also draw on political financing measures that are already in place in several Canadian provinces, and indeed other countries as well.

I look forward to working with all members of this House on these changes to strengthen the connection between Canadians and their political representatives, and to increase public confidence in the integrity of our electoral system, a system that is already recognized as one of the finest in the world.

Political Financing
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Calgary Southwest
Alberta

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important topic. I wish we were dealing with the issue of campaign finance reform and electoral legislation as part of a broader agreement between the parties and, frankly, on the basis of the issue of fairness to all players.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the government is bringing in legislation because of problems in the Liberal Party's image around corruption and scandals, and because of the struggle for power within the Liberal Party itself. Some of the ideas in the bill are half thought out and, as we know, have divided support even within the government caucus.

The central idea proposed is that we replace corporate and union contributions as the basis for financing political parties with forced funding from taxpayers. Our view is that this solution is worse than the problem.

If shareholders and union workers do not want their funds to be used to fund particular political parties, why should they be forced to do so as taxpayers?

If political parties depend on money from corporate CEOs and union bosses, why should they not get the money directly from those individuals and from others who share those points of view? Pointing out a minor flaw in the legislation, why should they not be able to fund parties even if they have firms of their own, their own personal holding companies, why would they not be able to fund parties through those vehicles if we are talking about their own money?

We should point out that a large amount of public money goes into federal political parties. We estimate that about 60% of the funding of federal political parties is already coming from taxpayers. Proposals in the legislation would take that number to at least 80%, if not higher.

I should point out that in opposing the legislation the Canadian Alliance is speaking from a position of principle. Even for us, we are not naive, a lot of what the government proposes would be in the short term interests of the Canadian Alliance. We, like all parties, would stand to gain money from this arrangement. In the long term our party and the system will be better if we get our money freely from the people who do in fact support us.

The worst idea in the legislation is new direct stipends to parties themselves based on previous electoral performance. In this case not only would parties be isolated from the feelings they may have from their own former supporters, but frankly even people who never supported them would be asked to support the party, whether it be the Bloc Québécois or the NDP or ourselves.

Not surprising, with this particular provision, the biggest beneficiary would be the Liberal Party. This is fairly typical in a range of proposals in electoral legislation, particularly broadcasting, where the Liberal Party gives itself more time, both paid and unpaid time, than any other party is entitled to.

I would point out that some of these provisions are probably unconstitutional. However, we know that has never bothered the Liberals in this particular area of legislation.

Another bad idea is enhancing rebates. Rebates would be linked only to spending. Very few taxpayers understand that their donations to political parties are subject to tax credit. However, even after that process, when political parties spend the money, the political parties get rebates in many cases both locally and nationally from that additional spending. This is just an addiction to spending. Once again, our same reservation applies here. It is not linked in any way to whether voters want further support of these parties.

I would point out by just looking at the provisions of this legislation that we are already talking, in addition to things I have mentioned, an additional $30 million to $40 million of more public funding.

There are some good ideas in here however even those are flawed. Disclosure ideas are good for leadership races. I have said we support that. Unfortunately, provisions in here would make it difficult for people to enter nomination fights to challenge incumbents.

We talk about limits but there are no limits on contributions to private trusts of politicians, which is a very serious oversight. And, of course, there are no limits ultimately on the exposure of the taxpayers themselves to any of this funding.

Historically governments have sought consensus on electoral legislation. I hope we will do that in committee. The member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast will be handling this for us at committee. Some ideas here are worthy of acceptance, many should be discarded and some should be improved, but certainly the government cannot count on the support of the Canadian Alliance unless the philosophy behind unlimited taxpayer funding is changed.

Political Financing
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I just want to applaud the government initiative on political financing.

In the context of introducing this bill, we all recall the serious problem of the sponsorship scandal. I think the government really needed to improve its image and do something to make Canadians regain faith in democracy and in the way things are done by federal politicians.

For many years, for nine years, the Bloc Quebecois has been asking for a change in political party financing. For more than 25 years, we have been fortunate in Quebec to have similar legislation to what is being introduced, legislation of openness, legislation that encourages democracy, legislation that assures the public that things are being done to the letter. If one thing is important in politics today, it is to ensure that politicians are above reproach.

The importance of lobbies in the political arena—people who have an ever-growing influence over the governments and politicians in power—cannot be denied. Fortunately, the new political financing legislation will allow the men and women of this House to be independent from the various lobbies and financial donations given in one form or another that allow groups, individuals or companies to have an inordinate influence on political decisions.

I am very pleased to tell the government that we are with it on this bill. Bloc members will support this initiative and we welcome it with great pleasure. We would simply say to people that yes, there is a price, but there is a price for democracy. We can spare no expense to assure the public that democracy will prevail, that anyone who wants to practice politics in Canada will be able to do so as freely as possible with equal opportunity for everyone. That is what we want and that is what the bill will allow us to do.

At first glance, the only problem I see with this bill is with the current leadership races. They are not covered by the rules. I know that this probably would have required specific provisions, but unfortunately, this seems to me to be a serious oversight.

As for the rest, I think I can say that as the members of the Bloc Quebecois have the opportunity to study the bill and review it, they will be very pleased to support it, as we are accustomed to living with similar legislation in Quebec.

I would invite all those who oppose this type of legislation to ask the voters of Quebec, regardless of their political stripes, if they would prefer to do without Quebec's legislation on the financing of political parties. The rate of satisfaction with this legislation—which has existed for more than 25 years now, if memory serves—is extremely high. Voters would not want to go back to the old ways. On the contrary, people are working now to enhance and improve aspects of the legislation that allow for healthy democracy, free of problems and influence.

I applaud the government's initiative. Once again, we will support the bill.

Political Financing
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand and put our thoughts on this important legislation.

Before I begin, I would like to say, through you, Mr. Speaker, to the government House Leader, that the question I asked about 40 minutes ago in this Chamber dealing with the Canada Elections Act, he will note, if he looks at the transcript, had absolutely nothing to do with any technical briefing that was given earlier this day. It was all a matter of public record. Frankly, the answer was not warranted under the circumstances.

With regard to the legislation, it seems to me that the government is endeavouring to have three objectives. First, it says that we need greater transparency and enhanced disclosure. The New Democratic Party agrees with that.

Second, the government wants to promote fairness. Obviously all of us should be in agreement with that.

Third, and finally, the government wants to address the perception of big money having an undue influence in the political process. I will come back to that in just a moment.

This issue has been important for our party and for a number of voters in Canada for many years. As recently as this weekend at our leadership convention, yet another resolution was passed on the matter of donations to political parties. We said that it should be restricted only to individuals. We said that there should be third party limits in place, that public financing needs to be a part of the whole package, including an annual grant, which we note is in the legislation, and that adequate public financing needs to be in place before we can go ahead.

I think Canadians are genuinely concerned when they look at the disclosures on donations, for example, for the member for LaSalle—Émard, and they find that $10,000 have been contributed to that leadership campaign by something called the ABC Group, that 398536 Alberta Ltd. has contributed thousands of dollars, or that 90808353 Quebec Inc. has contributed money. We do not know and the Canadian public does not know.

Therefore it is accurate and proper that the government is moving forward with legislation that would prohibit this kind activity, this kind of funding to political parties and to leadership candidates or nominees for a riding association or for a nomination.

We want to look at the bill in detail. We agree with it in principle but we want to make sure that the funding is fairly allocated. We do support tightening the regulation of third party activities. I have not seen anything in here. The minister--

Political Financing
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

It's in the courts.

Political Financing
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Okay. The minister says that it is coming and we take him at his word.

However I would just observe that we have not had terrific luck in this country in having third party limits enforced by the courts. It may be that with these changes it will make it easier for the courts to rule in favour of restricting third party but that is something that we need to get into.

The individual cap of $10,000 is a worry in this sense. It is $3,000 in Quebec and Manitoba, the other two provinces that have this legislation. As I understand this, it is $10,000 per year to different political parties. It is not $10,000 total. It is $10,000 for the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats and the Liberals. It seems to us that it will be very difficult to have this perception that big money is influencing politics if we can have a big money individual donating $40,000 to $60,000 to political parties. We will want to look very carefully at that.

In conclusion, I want to say that we do support it in principle. We want to look at the details. They say the devil is in the details. We want democracy to be in the details.

Political Financing
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely no doubt that the system of financing political parties in Canada needs to be reformed.

The government's sordid record is testimony to the improper impact of money and influence, from the scandals of Groupaction to the favours for friends which forced ministerial resignations to sending Mr. Gagliano to Denmark. I guess that is the government's version of a witness protection program.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage said it herself, and I quote her, “Obviously, there's a link between corporate donations and government policy...”. The great irony is that the Prime Minister who presided over this systematic abuse now proposes to slam the door after he has left the barn. That may simply be to settle scores within his own party but it is the opposite of leadership.

That said, we strongly support the principle of campaign finance reform and will study carefully the details of this proposal, the details being where the government usually hides the devil.

That is why my party, on the eve of the 1988 election, established the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing.

Through its work, that commission aimed to protect the system against undue influence. Moreover, at our national general meeting in August, my party proposed several more specific reforms.

We have to recognize that our political system has been changed significantly by the growth of narrow and powerful interest groups, many of them with access to large sums of money. It is not healthy to democracy for the party system to be so subject to the powerful and the rich. The appearance of improper influence is a significant source of cynicism about public life, and that too must be changed.

The Prime Minister has told reporters that this will be a question of confidence in his government. Why would he do that? This is a matter of fundamental political morality. Members should not be bound by the power of the party any more than they should be bound by the power of the purse. If the Prime Minister has the courage of his convictions, let him make and win his case on its merits. Let this important matter be subject to a free vote in this Parliament.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

January 29th, 2003 / 3:45 p.m.

Liberal

John O'Reilly Haliburton—Victoria—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association, which represented Canada at the meeting of the 48th annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, held in Istanbul, Turkey from November 15 to 19, 2002.

Canadian Safe Drinking Water Act
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Fundy Royal, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-346, an act to ensure safe drinking water throughout Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to reintroduce this act known as an act to ensure safe drinking water throughout Canada.

Essentially it enshrines into law national drinking water standards as opposed to mere guidelines. Members may be aware that we are one of the few countries in the world that does not have true national standards where there is a public right to know if there is a substance in that water which could have a detrimental effect to human health.

I am only moving forward in this regard because of the motion passed in the House on May 8, 2001, where four of the five political parties endorsed this concept. It has been two years and the government has not moved, so I would like to use this act as a catalyst to spur debate so the government can fulfill the commitment it made to parliamentarians on May 8, 2001.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-347, an act to amend the Criminal Code (eliminating conditional sentencing for violent offenders).

Mr. Speaker, my amendment to the Criminal Code is to remove schedule 1 crimes from the list of things that can be considered for conditional sentencing. Schedule 1 crimes, just for the information of members present, include such things as hijacking, sexual interference, sexual exploitation, indecent assault, attempted rape, rape, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery, hostage taking, and kidnapping.

When conditional sentencing was brought in we found and the public found to their horror that people convicted of such offences as violent rapes were given conditional sentencing, which is an option for a judge when he feels that it is not in the public interest to lock people in jail. They can be given a conditional sentence and serve no jail time.

I wish to remove violent offences from that sentencing option. The former Minister of Justice who is now the Minister of Industry has said that it was never intended that it should include violent offenders. This will correct that error.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)