House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was political.

Topics

Referendum Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Referendum Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Referendum Act
Private Members' Business

12:35 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion negatived.

The House resumed from February 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing), be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of Bill C-24. The proposed legislation would improve the transparency and fairness of Canada's electoral system and address the perception that corporations, unions and the wealthy exercise a disproportionate influence in our political system.

Canada's electoral system already is the envy of many countries. As Canadians we have participated in election observation missions right around the world. As a former Minister of International Cooperation, which I was a number of years ago, it was always such a pleasure to see a number of our fellow citizens under Elections Canada, sometimes under UN mandate, participate in election observation in many countries of the world. We have done so through the Commonwealth and through la Francophonie and each time have earned the respect of other countries.

The amendments we have before us today continue the modernization of our electoral system that began with the enactment of the new Canada Elections Act in 1970 and the 1974 Election Expenses Act.

I had the pleasure of sponsoring Bill C-2 during the last Parliament. This is a bill intended to consolidate all Canadian electoral legislation and it has done so for a good number of measures. This being a democracy, however, there is no limit to how far we can go in improving certain legislation.

Today we have before us a new bill which builds on what we have done in the past, improving our electoral legislation still further.

The bill follows the Prime Minister's commitment of last June, in his excellent eight point action plan, to bring forward new legislation for political financing. This commitment was reiterated in the Speech from the Throne.

I hear our colleagues across the way expressing enthusiasm at the initiative. Perhaps later they can express that enthusiasm in their debate.

It also reflects the consultations that I have had with political participants and it builds upon existing political financial measures that exist both in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

Hon. members already are familiar with the key elements of the proposed legislation. The Prime Minister presented it to us in the excellent speech that he gave to the House last week. As such, I would like to take the opportunity to focus on the public financing provisions of the bill, which have received considerable praise from the general public but which have also drawn criticism, undeserved criticism of course but criticism nonetheless, from the hon. leader of the opposition.

On the key public financing measures, 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, arguably, to some extent, on candidates as well. For that reason the bill would build on existing financial measures already provided for to political parties to maintain the viability of our electoral system.

The measures contained in Bill C-24 are the following: the rate of reimbursement of electoral expenses for parties is increased from 22.5% to 50%; the definition of expenses eligible for reimbursement is broadened to include a portion of polls during election campaigns, and the ceiling for reimbursement to political parties is raised correspondingly; the percentage of votes candidates must obtain in their ridings in order to qualify for reimbursement of electoral expenses is lowered to 10% from the current 15%.

On this point it is to be noted that almost all candidates in the last election who would have received this funding, virtually all of them, 115 out of the 120 or so, are for parties represented on the opposition side of the House. Therefore, that particular measure favours almost exclusively opposition political parties. Almost no defeated Liberal candidate would have qualified for the particular measure I just described.

There would also be an allowance for registered parties of $1.50 for each vote they received in the previous election, to be paid on a quarterly basis.

Also, we are proposing amendments to the Income Tax Act to double the amount of an individual political contribution that is eligible for the 75% tax credit from $200 to $400, with of course the adjustments for each other bracket of credit accordingly. This would make it easier for candidates to receive smaller donations at the same time as the larger ones would no longer be possible.

As the Prime Minister noted in his opening remarks, public funding of the federal electoral process has been a longstanding tradition in Canada. Just in case members across the way are pretending that we as Canadians invented something here, we have not. Everyone knows of the U.S. primary system for the president and how a particular presidential candidate is awaiting, having won a certain number of votes, in order to qualify for the famous matching funds coming from the public treasury in the United States. So in fact--

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

It's voluntary.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

The hon. member says it is voluntary. No one forces him or anyone else to accept taxpayers' dollars in the electoral process, but I note that in the last election I reviewed carefully the public accounts in terms of the candidate reimbursement, and of all the Alliance MPs sitting across the way in the House of Commons, how many sent their money back because they did not want it? Some people here insist that I reveal the amount, so let us do so. Zero. Not one of them gave the money back. Remember, these are people of principle. They cannot accept taxpayer funded election campaigns, except of course when they get the money themselves.

As we can see, those are the principles we have in front of us. No, this has nothing to do with principle at all on the part of members across the way. It has to do with something else. They in fact think that they have found one clause in the bill on which to launch an objection. Not only that, we know what they did. They put a reasoned amendment to the bill. This is an amendment, the same that exists for Bill C-10A by the way, which we will debate another day, which basically says that this bill will never be read a second time in the case of this particular initiative.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

What a great idea.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

That is what they say: what a great idea. They are against debate. They are putting time allocation in reverse. What they are doing is saying that this bill will never pass at all. That would mean that every one of their speakers would speak on the amendment and every one on a subamendment and then start back with the amendment until they introduce a new subamendment. It is time allocation with the time allocation being forever, at least as they see it. That is what they have moved to the bill to amend electoral laws. They do not want it to go to committee. They do not want the debate. They want to stall.

Incidentally, the official opposition has put that measure on every single bill that has come to the House of Commons since last December. We saw the sad spectacle, and I will depart from my text a little here, on the floor of the House of Commons last Friday. I invite everyone to check Hansard and read what the official opposition critic said. I see him standing in front of me, Hansard in hand. The words were something like this, I am in favour of the bill, and he went on to say so, but my House leader told me to move the following reasoned amendment.

Then he moved an amendment that the bill not be read a second time. That is what we have. We have the official opposition blocking every single piece of legislation, even when it speaks in favour of a piece of legislation. That is what we have before us today.

Why? Because opposition members are determined not to work. They do not want to work. They do not want to do the mandate, the mandate given to them by the people of Canada, and the office that they swore to do to the best of their ability to govern this country. Now it is becoming obvious. There was not much sincerity in that.

Let me go back to Bill C-24. In terms of the direct funding, provinces such as Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have measures that are virtually identical to what is in Bill C-24.

The amounts differ, however. It is agreed that the amount of financing that comes from taxpayers in Quebec is less than what is proposed in this bill. That said, however, if we take the 1976 amount and adjust it for today's rate of inflation, it is nearly identical. The amount in P.E.I. is far higher, however, and New Brunswick falls between the two.

Thus there is taxpayer financing of political parties in three Canadian provinces. Quebec, of course, was the one to invent the system. That is a fact, and naturally we must acknowledge that the system of democratization that was inaugurated in Quebec was very much ahead of its time. The Prime Minister himself acknowledged this.

I have met with officials of Élection Québec, as well as with officials in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. There is no doubt at all in my mind that, on most points, but not all, the Quebec legislation is more advanced.

I also borrowed some of the things that existed in Ontario, such as publication of annual audit results for individual electoral ridings. Ontario has, without a doubt, the best system, and it has been in place since 1975 or 1976.

I see the hon. member for Peterborough is in the House. We both served as MPPs for several years at Queen's Park. When I arrived in Ottawa, I found the system to be flawed, when, for an electoral riding that was exactly the same as the one I represented at Queen's Park, my riding association was not required to have an audit, nor to report anything publicly. Nor was the riding association required to provide Elections Canada with a financial accounting. Yet, at the provincial level, the same riding, identical in size and in every other manner, was required to provide this. Why so? What is keeping us from having greater transparency? I think it is in all of our best interests to do so.

We borrowed from the different provinces, or at least from the bigger provinces and elsewhere that I had the opportunity to visit. We learned and we tried to take from the best that we could find everywhere, to come up with a system that, I think, will greatly improve what we have.

However, we will not be able to do so unless we pass the bill at second reading and refer it to committee so that all of our colleagues from around the country can provide their opinions on it in order to improve it.

My parliamentary secretary, who is from the Atlantic region, has important issues to raise about that region and the impact there. We are all looking forward to studying it in committee to see how to improve the bill and to deal with the issues that come under provincial jurisdiction. I have had similar conversations with a member from New Brunswick who also wants the bill before committee so it can be improved.

The other day, some people wondered what had happened to the famous trust funds; I sometimes referred to them as the infamous trust funds, depending on the context. These people wanted to know up to what point a trust fund would be prohibited and, if the act was not sufficiently clear, they wanted it clarified so that if money were withdrawn for political expenses, they would have to be subject to transparency rules. Receipts would have to be issued each time.

That is the objective, and the bill is being sent to committee. However, the first speaker opposite, who was from the official opposition, decided to present a dilatory motion—immediately condemned by the next speaker, who was from the Bloc Quebecois—to prevent the bill from being read a second time.

The bill has the support of four of the five parties in the House of Commons, although in some cases this support is a bit more reserved. But, in principle, four of the five parties like the bill. They say that it should go forward, that certain parts need to be improved, admittedly, but that it must go forward, as quickly as possible in the view of some people, even on the other side of the House.

So what happens the first day? The official opposition blocks it—pardon the pun. The Canadian Alliance blocked the bill, as it has blocked all other bills since December. Everything is at a standstill. According to the Canadian Alliance, Parliament is not working any more, but that is because the Alliance no longer wants to.

That is not how things work. We are here to work, to do our part, to do our job, to send bills to various parliamentary committees to be improved, and then passed.

Today, all that has stopped. Things cannot go on like this. Our parliamentary committees have the solemn duty to meet with Canadians throughout the country. Not a single committee is travelling. Why? Because the Canadian Alliance opposite has decided that there will be no more travelling, that no one will go anywhere any more.

On the other side of the House, they are preaching so-called democracy, a democracy that consists of refusing Canadians the right to speak to parliamentarians. That is the democracy invoked by members of the Alliance.

We see these so-called democrats across from us. Canadians are fed up. There is a reason their popularity is only at 8% in the opinion polls. In my riding, there are more people than that who believe Elvis Presley is still alive.

No, that is not democracy, it is blackmail. Canadians do not want this. We have excellent initiatives before Parliament. Even in cases where some parliamentarians do not entirely agree with the legislation, they still have the right to consider the legislation, they still have the right to express their views on it, to send it to parliamentary committee, to do an in-depth study and lastly, vote against it, if that is their choice.

They have the right to do their work without being held hostage by a small group across the room from the Alliance party, which is not really popular with anyone.

That is the message I want to give this House this morning. Let us move forward with Bill C-24. Send it to committee for improvement. We are open to improvements, but we are not open to that little group in front of us that says, “We no longer create legislation; we continue to receive our paycheques, but we have stopped working”. That has been that party's attitude since before the holidays.

We must continue to do our work. We will do our work on this side of the House. Canadians will see that the government intends to represent their interests. Even if I disagree from time to time with the other parties, I must admit that they too want to continue working; they do not want to be a part of this quasi vacation declared by the other side of the House, for reasons which, in my view, are completely invalid.

I ask all colleagues to support Bill C-24 at second reading and to send it to committee to see how we can improve the bill. I ask that the Canadian Alliance, which enjoys the support of almost nobody across Canada, to stop the stalling tactics on every piece of legislation. If it were not for the votes inside its own caucus, perhaps nobody else would support the party.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the hon. member is trying to relive his rat pack days with some passion. I find it unfortunate because it is passion not founded on reason or facts.

When I raised the voluntary nature of the U.S. presidential matching fund system, what he apparently did not know was that taxpayers could designate on their IRS tax form whether they wished a portion of their taxes to be directed toward public funding for presidential campaigns. It is not mandatory for taxpayers. They are not compelled against their conscience to finance political campaigns which they may find abhorrent.

First, if he is willing to raise the example of the U.S. presidential matching fund system, is he then willing to amend the bill to allow taxpayers voluntarily to designate a portion of their tax dollars to go toward the enormous increase in public funding that he proposes?

Second, the Prime Minister suggested that the purpose of the bill was to avoid the perceived excesses of the American financing of political campaigns. I agree there are excesses there. However is the House leader not aware that his proposed solution in large part adopts the American system? Is he not aware that in the United States corporate and union contributions to political parties have been banned since 1976 and since 1976 there has been a $1,000 per individual limit for contributions to political campaigns?

If he and the Prime Minister are trying to avoid the American system, why then are they adopting it?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, not every system of matching funds works in an identical way. I will be the first to recognize that. However I do not accept the premise of what the hon. member said. We said that in a way people would be forced to make contributions to parties they did not like.

When people vote for the Alliance Party, say there are a few of them left around who want to do that in the next election, they would know when voting that the result of the vote would have a particular formula of financing after the election for the party they were supporting. That is part of the process. That would be known. It would not be a state secret. Therefore that is nonsense. If they do not want money to go to the Alliance Party, which presumably they will not, they will vote for somebody else. They probably will want to do anyway, if that party keeps behaving the way it is right now.

With respect to campaign limits, the hon. member talked about the campaign limits as they exist in the United States. What he has failed to recognize is that in the United States the political action committees largely have taken over. Why? Because effectively there are no third party restrictions in the United States. Those third party entities have developed into these political action committees.

This is a skill-testing question for all colleagues. Who in the House contested, in a previous incarnation, the restrictions on third party spending? There is a case that will go before the Supreme Court shortly. What is it called? It bears the identical name of the leader of the official opposition. They are applauding themselves. Why? This is what the decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal said, and it was applauded by the people across the way.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

An hon. member

Freedom of speech.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Freedom of speech, they invoke. Charlton Heston could contribute toward third parties or people could contribute toward third parties in unrestricted amounts at any time for any campaign.

I saw the campaign in 1997, called the “no more prime ministers from Quebec campaign”, the parallel campaign that was in my riding and elsewhere across the country. That campaign was financed by third parties, the kind that is being applauded right now by people across the way. They are applauding those kind of initiatives, these third parties. I know they are embarrassed. Their reaction is obvious to the embarrassment that this has caused.

What is no doubt more embarrassing than anything else is that the Leader of the Opposition's name is now formally stuck to this thing. He appealed this thing when he was working for the National Citizens' Coalition, which of course is not national and it certainly is not a citizens' coalition. It is the worst misnomer on the face of the earth. That group, which he used to direct, launched the action. What we have before us now is that this terrible decision.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I point out that what the member just said about seeing so many things in the campaign last time, Canadians saw the red book litany of lies in the last campaign as well.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. Respectfully, first and foremost, we are engaging in debate and really not in a point of order. I would caution everyone to be very judicious.