Debates of Feb. 20th, 2003
House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.
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Canada Elections Act
Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-24 on behalf of all my constituents of Saanich--Gulf Islands.
I have to admit that I am absolutely puzzled and greatly amazed at how the Prime Minister, after spending close to 40 years in this place, all of a sudden has decided that he wants the taxpayers to fund political parties, although I agree that there were problems with how political parties received contributions in the past.
It absolutely boggles the mind when we get into the details of what the government, the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party is promoting in the bill. I will get into some of those details. After being here for almost six years, I am actually stunned that the government would even present a bill such as this.
I will go over a few of the details of exactly what Bill C-24 proposes. First, the Prime Minister has stated that the government is trying to limit union and political donations to political parties. This is something that I do not think is all that bad of an idea. It is something I could actually go along with.
However the Prime Minister tries to hide behind that veil, that this is about restricting corporate and union donations. That is the furthest thing from the truth in the bill as far as I read it. This is about taking $100 million of taxpayer money and forcing taxpayers to give that to political parties. I will get into some of the details of exactly how that is done.
Right now there is a tax credit of up to 75% for political donations to political candidates. The government would be doubling that limit to $400 from $200 for individuals. I will get into the impact of that in a minute.
Election expenses for political parties during an election now receive a 22.5% rebate on allowable expenses, which I say is questionable. If the government actually wanted to fix that it could have talked about eliminating all these rebates. What is worse, the government has now more than doubled that rebate up to 50%.
What would happen if someone in my riding wanted to donate $400 to any candidate in a political election? Let us say that the person wanted to donate $400 to my campaign. At the end of that campaign it would cost the taxpayer $300 immediately because that person would get a 75% cash rebate on his or her income tax.
When I spend that $400 during the election, I get a 50% rebate, another $200 when I spend that $400. What would that cost the taxpayer? When someone donates $400 to my campaign it would cost the taxpayer $500 right off the top, not to mention all the bureaucracy and all the cost of processing it which would add more.
That is unconscionable and wrong. Political parties would be in much the same boat. People would receive receipts and then receive a tax credit on their income tax when they donated to political parties. Those political parties would have their election expenses increased to 50% when they were at 22.5%, which would be more than double.
The other thing is that in order to be eligible for those rebates, which again would go mostly to major political parties, the parties would need to receive at least 15% of the vote. The government decided that was not enough so it has lowered that to 10%.
This is the frustrating part of the bill. The government is hiding behind the veil that it is about limiting or regulating corporate and union donations. We have heard a number of ministers say that they have undue influence and put pressure on the government. They place pressure on the government and obviously the cabinet, the executive branch of the government. We cannot legislate integrity. We cannot legislate honesty.
It is mind boggling what the Prime Minister has come up with after 40 years in this place. I do not know if he has a scorched earth policy. He knows he is leaving in a year. Perhaps he is trying to blow up everything behind him as he leaves this place and make it the most miserable place he can as he expects the member for LaSalle—Émard will be his successor. I have no idea what his motives are.
When we follow his rationale, it boggles the mind. The Prime Minister, the member from Shawinigan, would argue that it is unfair to have the money of shareholders and unionized workers contributed without their consent. There is a rationale that it is not right if unions donate money to political parties without their members' consent. Imagine, it is not right if corporations donate money to political parties without their shareholders' consent.
Who in heck does he think the taxpayers are? They are the shareholders of the public purse. Is it okay to donate their money, to give their money, $100 million in an electoral cycle, to political parties without their consent?
It is ridiculous that this bill is even before the House. We wonder why there is so much cynicism politics. The government spends $400 million to $450 million a day. That is the amount of the federal budget. There is $164.5 billion for this year. Divide that by 365. I have not done the math but it is around $450 million a day.
And this is how the government chooses to spend it after we have witnessed a billion dollar fiasco in the gun registry, after we have witnessed the Groupaction advertising contracts, after we have witnessed the Department of Human Resources Development Canada billion dollar boondoggle. The members across the way laugh and make jokes. It is not a laughing matter when they fritter away billions and billions of dollars in one department after another, from the justice department to HRDC to public works with the advertising contracts. Of course, all of the departments are trying to funnel money into the Prime Minister's riding.
It is wrong. It is absolutely unconscionable that the government even has the courage to bring this bill forward and have its members stand up in the House and suggest that it is okay.
The frustrating part is that the government is trying to hide behind the veil that it does not want to have undue influence from unions and corporations. That is a joke. If we look at the money and follow some of the donations to the Liberal Party and then look at the contracts that are awarded and the grants that are given out, of course the public is cynical about what is going on.
I am absolutely appalled by this legislation. I think it is wrong even though the biggest beneficiary would be the Canadian Alliance.
I will conclude by saying this is about $100 million of taxpayers' money. The government has forced it on the political parties and increased the rebate and it is dead wrong. The government should be looking at eliminating the rebates.
Again I am at a loss for words on how bad this is. It is nothing short of stealing money, taking it from the pockets of Canadian taxpayers. It is wrong. I am opposed to it. I urge every member not to follow in the Prime Minister's wake.
Canada Elections Act
Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today. As we know, this is an important bill, which seeks to democratize political party financing. Contrary to the assertions of the hon. Canadian Alliance members, the government's efforts must be encouraged, although the bill does not go as far as the Bloc Quebecois would have liked. However, it is a step in the right direction. I will come back to the reservations that we have with regard to the bill and any amendments.
Since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois has demanded legislation that better defines contributions to political parties. This is the purpose of this bill.
This bill raises an important debate since it also has implications for the credibility of the political class. We are all concerned by the government's initiative to change the rules of the party financing game.
Currently, at the federal level, political parties can get astronomical sums from banks, big unions, businesses or large corporations. In this respect, we know quite well what is going on. A party can find itself in an awkward situation if a law threatens the interests of these major donors or large corporations.
That is why we must at least support the principle of this bill. We all recognize the different lobbies that exist in order to pressure influential ministers in their decisions regarding the passage of certain regulations and bills.
I do not believe that contributions of $200,000 are made to a political party or a minister because he or she has lovely eyes or is awfully nice. You would have to be terribly naive to think such a thing.
The Prime Minister wanted to take a page from the book of the former late Premier of Quebec, René Levesque, who wanted to democratize political financing and exclude all these lobbies of powerful large associations from the circles of power. He wanted to prevent them from controlling the decisions made within the government. He also wanted to give citizens a more important place and the same power enjoyed by major corporations, that is, the power to influence governments in their decision-making.
We could also mention the whole sponsorship scandal. This is a concrete example of the government's lack of integrity. It awarded contracts to companies that gave generously to the Liberal Party's coffers. Most of them were caught with their hands in the cookie jar and were charged.
I think this bill can do something about companies that help parties get elected. Once elected, the government is obliged to return the favour, and often has to listen to them when setting policy.
Financing is something so significant that the measures relating to it need to be beefed up, so that these major corporations do not get all manner of privileges because of their contributions.
We are aware, for instance, that big business often helps with political party advertising and does such things as pay staff and provide some compensation for volunteers. Major corporations lend staff to help get political parties elected. They also pay for material or equipment, and I could go on with more examples.
Often, not all these expenses are included in the accounting, but we all know how an election campaign is run and how certain services rendered can be paid for under the table.
With the support of major corporations, a party's campaign coffers are really full, and thus a better party image can be projected, with more and better advertising, the right staff and so on.
This bill is a step in the right direction, because its intent is to put an end to this way of doing things. We all suffer the fallout of all these scandals. Often all politicians are tarred with the same brush. I am pleased that this bill offers us the opportunity to debate this matter.
We know that some large corporations use their influence to make the government change its mind when the time comes to implement certain policies. In Quebec, similar legislation was adopted 25 years ago, and we should certainly be pleased that former Premier René Lévesque took concrete action to put an end to these practices.
There is also the whole issue of fairness. We are well aware that, during an election campaign, some political figures—I am tempted to say male political figures—often benefit more than others from financing. Women often tell us that they have some problems with financing, with getting funds. They often do not have the same connections with large corporations.
So, this greater fairness will allow ordinary people, including people who are involved in areas other than the economic sector, to have access to financing. Creating a level playing field will ensure that financing is similar for everyone, as opposed to having some benefit from donations made by large corporations.
As we know, when a person was a minister in a government, that person benefits from it, because large corporations are attracted to these people and they give lots of money to the party.
Still, we have some reservations about this bill. It does not go far enough and we hope that the government will take these reservations into consideration.
The limit for contributions made by individuals to political parties is $10,000. The Bloc Quebecois feels that the limit set in the bill is much too high. We think that it should be set at $5,000, which is the limit set in the bylaws of the Bloc Quebecois.
In Quebec, the most recent data shows that the $3,000 ceiling is enough to meet public financing objectives. Indeed, in 2001, only 1.2% of the contributions made to political parties in Quebec were in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. We also feel that a $5,000 limit would be enough to meet the same objectives at the federal level.
Another problem with the bill before us is that a corporation will be allowed to donate to riding associations, candidates or nomination contestants, up to a maximum of $1,000 per year for all of these entities.
In terms of the principles, we do not understand this exception. Indeed, we fully support the principle of public financing and this part does not respect that principle. In other words, there should be a complete ban on corporate donations, as is the case in Quebec's legislation.
We believe that in practice the new rules will be difficult to enforce, both for political parties and for companies themselves. The legislation will be hard to enforce.
For example, company X in Montreal may give a party's candidate $1,000. In that same year, a subsidiary company, located in Vancouver—and owned indirectly by the first company—may give another $1,000 to a local riding association of the same party. This situation would only be discovered after long and careful research, by comparing the financial reports of the national party with those of the riding association. Also, the person doing the research would have to know that company Y is a subsidiary, owned indirectly by company X.
As a result, given that we support a complete ban on corporate donations, we think that in practice, the $1,000 contribution limit is unacceptable.
Another provision of this new bill deals with the responsibility to produce financial reports, which applies to all of the political actors: candidates, political parties, riding associations, leadership candidates and nomination candidates.
Also, I hope that the Liberal Party will be open when it comes to considering the reservations that we have regarding this bill. Our suggestions could improve it and help the bill to meet its objective, a better democratization of the financing of political parties.
We hope that the government will be open to this and demonstrate its good faith. If the government wants to meet this objective, it can do so with the amendments that will be introduced by the opposition parties.
Points of Order
February 20th, 2003 / 3:30 p.m.
Before proceeding with debate, I wish to answer the question raised earlier by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville in respect of the figures used by the Speaker in his ruling on the matter of the gun registry earlier this week.
First I would point out that the estimates of the Department of Justice for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2003, indicated that there were two votes, one for operating expenditures and one for grants and contributions: operating expenditures, $325,464,000, and grants and contributions, $398,715,000.
Tabled with the estimates were part III of the estimates, the “Report on Plans and Priorities” of the Department of Justice. Within that report, the plans, priorities and strategic outcomes listed in section III on page 11 indicate that planned spending for the firearms control program was $113.5 million.
If the figure that is stated in the part IIIs is not the correct figure, that in fact the amount contained in the main estimates was less than $113.5 million, there is no way that the Speaker could be aware of the fact that it was not so contained. We rely on the documents that are tabled in this House.
As hon. members know, the Auditor General of Canada has made comments about transparency in respect of figures used by this particular department in relation to this particular program. If there is a discrepancy between the figures that I have quoted and what the department says was in fact intended to be included in the main estimates and what was intended to be in the supplementary estimates, I can only suggest that the matter be resolved in the committee.
I point out the following in regard to the standing committees of the House, and I will be selective in my quote from Standing Order 108, which states in part that:
The standing committees...shall, in addition to the powers granted to them pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order...be empowered to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management and operation of the department or departments of government which are assigned to them from time to time by the House. In general, the committees shall be severally empowered to review and report on...the immediate, medium and long-term expenditure plans and the effectiveness of implementation of same by the department;...[and] other matters, relating to the mandate, management, organization or operation of the department, as the committee deems fit.
So I would suggest to the hon. member that if the statements that he has obtained or has seen quoted in the media indicate there is a discrepancy in the figures upon which the Speaker is relying in giving his ruling based on the documents that have been tabled in the House and what the actual figures may or may not be, and he has some justification for thinking that, I think, in light of the statements made and in light of the comments of the Auditor General, I would suggest he take the matter up with the committee at the earliest opportunity.
The House resumed 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 and of the amendment to the amendment.
Canada Elections Act
Ted White North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise to say a few words about Bill C-24. Incidentally it is a very thick bill, about half an inch thick, and I know you are a busy man, Mr. Speaker, so you probably have not had the time to glance through it yet, but I have read it from cover to cover. Whilst it is half an inch thick, a lot of it is repetitive, repeating the same clauses over and over for nomination meetings, for registration of electoral district associations or for leadership races. Much of it is repeated.
In speaking to Bill C-24, I would like to reference Bill C-2, which was the bill on the major changes to the Canada Elections Act, which took place a couple of years ago, a bill for which I was critic and moved it through the House over about a three month period.
When Bill C-2 was going through the House, I proposed on behalf of the Canadian Alliance that we put an end to the patronage appointments of Elections Canada whereby the government appoints all of the returning officers and most of the field staff for Elections Canada. The Chief Electoral Officer had begged us to allow him to select and appoint his own staff, because it is completely inappropriate for the governing party to be appointing key personnel in what is supposed to be an independent body. The minister at the time argued that this was a ridiculous suggestion because it would cost too much and increase the bureaucracy at Elections Canada, and therefore we should not waste our money on it.
However, when we look at Bill C-24, what do we find? An enormous bureaucracy being set up to register and track the reports of electoral district associations. I have already spoken with the Ontario chief electoral officer because Ontario does have exactly this type of system, and it is very intensely administrative in nature. It requires enormous amounts of paperwork. It requires elections people to follow up constantly with riding associations or electoral districts to get the paperwork done. This is going to cost much more and be much more complicated than anything that was proposed to get rid of patronage in Bill C-2, so I really think the minister was playing politics at the time.
In Bill C-24, the government is also setting up a very complicated process for nominations. The government has argued that what it is trying to do is level the playing field to make it easier for disadvantaged people to take advantage of the possibility of becoming candidates for political parties.
I am convinced that most of the government members have not bothered to read the bill. They probably took a look at the half inch thickness and decide not to attempt it. However, if we really read the bill we will see that there are at least 15 pages of requirements for people getting involved in a nomination meeting. Now if we are talking about people who are traditionally disadvantaged, for example, as they would argue, women in the community who may not have the business contacts to help them get big donations to start a nomination meeting, those same people will not have the contacts who have the accounting skills or the management skills to run the sort of paperwork that is required for a nomination race.
So I would argue that the government is very misguided in what it has done in this bill and I think again it is playing politics. What it is actually trying to do, while it pretends to be arguing in favour of the disadvantaged, is creating a situation whereby those people will be excluded. It will be restricted to people who have the business contacts, the skills and the ability to manage a very complicated nomination race procedure.
The bill also perpetuates the unfair 50 candidate rule, which requires parties, in order to be registered and to have registered riding associations, to run 50 candidates in an election. The courts have struck down that provision. They have said that it is unfair and that it is inappropriate. In discussions in this House and in committee, all of the parties except the Liberal Party agreed that number 12 would be appropriate, which is the number that is recognized in the House as being appropriate for recognition of party status. So again the government is perpetuating unfair, anti-democratic practices while it still argues out of the other side of its mouth that the bill is an improvement.
It has also continued to maintain the gag law in the bill. That is the part of the Canada Elections Act that prevents third parties from arguing their perspective during election campaigns. The gag law has been struck down three times in the courts, yet the minister, even as late as yesterday, was still arguing that it was appropriate to keep that gag law in the Elections Act.
He has wasted tens of millions of dollars fighting it in the courts. It gets struck down every time. He argues that the basis for putting the gag law back into the Elections Act is that there was a court ruling in Quebec which justified the use of a gag law and restrictions on spending of third parties.
What he fails to say every time he quotes that Quebec court judgment is that the judgment was about referenda, not elections. Referenda, Mr. Speaker, as I am sure you know, are about either a yes or a no answer. They are about one issue and the answer is either yes or no. It seems perfectly reasonable that we might put limits on who can argue for a yes and who can argue for a no in order to have a level playing field with both groups having access to the same amount of resources and money, but an election is a multi-faceted event with numerous issues, some of which are local and some of which are national, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of different issues that need to be argued.
To try to transpose a court ruling in Quebec to do with referenda into a general election status in this bill is completely inappropriate. The minister knows it. I have begged him to stop wasting taxpayers' money on these court cases and he continues to do it. In fact, he is a disgrace because he has wasted money on the gag law and he is now going to waste enormous amounts of money on a complicated process for nomination meetings. During all of that time he accuses us of trying to waste money by putting real democracy into the act, by getting rid of the patronage appointments that the Prime Minister does for Elections Canada.
Incidentally, there are returning officers who do not turn up to work at Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer is unable to do anything about it. Unless he can convince the governor in council, which means the Prime Minister, to cancel the appointment of one of his cronies to the returning officer position, there is nothing that can be done. The end result is that incompetent party hacks get appointed to the positions in Elections Canada that should be filled by skilled people who are non-partisan.
I would like to urge the government to be open to considering changes in the bill. Perhaps I am being a little naive, because the bill is going to be rammed through and we all know that. We are going get this public funding whether we agree with it or not. But I would hope that the government might be open to taking a look at a fairer way of allocating the public funding. The way that it is set up at the moment, the funding is given on the basis of the number of votes that were achieved by a party in the past election. Really, that rewards past electoral success and not necessarily the popularity of the party as it stands at the present time.
I heard a very creative suggestion, for example, and I am not putting this forward as CA policy at this time, it is just a creative suggestion that I heard, which was that maybe it would be fairer to base the funding on the number of registered electoral districts that a party has.
For example, for every registered electoral district that a party could maintain across the country, it would receive a certain allocation of funds. That would make it fair because it would reward parties that were trying to become national in scope. It certainly would not be a disadvantage to the ruling Liberal Party because it maintains riding associations, or electoral districts, in every riding in the country so its allocation would be exactly the same. Parties like the Canadian Alliance, which is gradually establishing riding associations across the country, would also gain benefits as it established these, and it would really make a judgment about how serious a party was at being a national player. For parties like the Bloc that tend to be restricted to one region, it would not penalize them either, because it would be running electoral districts or associations in every riding in that province and so it would still get its allocation.
That seems to me, just on the surface of it, perhaps a fairer way of doing it. If we really must have public money put into this, I would hope the government might be open to suggestions like that from outside interests.
In closing, I will say that I think the bill is pretty badly flawed. There has not been much chance in 10 minutes to get into the real meat of it, but I will repeat my hope that the government would be open to some further suggestions in committee as to how we might improve the bill.
Canada Elections Act
Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill C-24, the purpose of which is to change political party financing.
From the outset, I want to say that the Liberal government has finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Quebec adopted similar legislation over 25 years ago.
So, before I go into the substance of my remarks, I would like to inform the hon. member of the Canadian Alliance who just spoke, as well as the hon. member who preceded him, that we heard the same thing in Quebec in 1976 and 1977 from the opposition parties. They objected to the financing system that Quebec has had in place for over 25 years now.
I would invite the hon. member to come to Quebec. He says that this bill will create paperwork, but this is not true. There is never too high a price to pay for democracy and transparency. Why do people criticize our governments so much these days, be it Liberal or otherwise? The whole sponsorship scandal was an example of a lack of transparency. The government's cronies had contributed to a slush fund.
After 25 years, Mr. Blanchet, the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec, said that the legislation in Quebec had an extraordinarily positive impact. Looking back on 25 years, he said that although it is wonderful, there is still room for improvement. It is still a work in progress.
It is time for this government to say to Canadian voters, “The time has come to turn the machine off, to stop having secret slush funds and to start being accountable to the Canadian public who finances us”.
In 1997, my colleague, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, the current leader of the Bloc Quebecois, introduced a motion in this House saying that the Liberal Party of Canada should establish a public financing system. I will read the wording of the motion introduced on October 9, 1997:
That this House condemns the attitude of the Government, which refuses to introduce in-depth reform of the legislation on the financing of federal political parties even though the existing legislation allows for a wide range of abuses.
In 1994, my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour introduced a motion in this House that said:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should bring in legislation limiting solely to individuals the right to donate to a federal political party, and restricting such donations to a maximum of $5,000 a year.
This means that nine years later, the government, through the Prime Minister, finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I give credit to the Prime Minister of Canada, who gave credit to a great visionary, the former Premier of Quebec, the late René Lévesque. He was indeed a visionary. He believed that all political parties should be financed through the sale of $5 membership cards. This way, every taxpayer could say, “No one is more influential than I am”. This is another way of saying, “My hands are not tied”.
It is regrettable that the legislation will not apply to the Liberal leadership race. Imagine the amount of money that must be pouring into the Liberal coffers right now. This legislation should have been made retroactive to January 1, 2003. That is the amendment I would like to see made to the bill, to show that the Prime Minister wants to be transparent to the very end. I commend his political courage.
Over the holiday season, people in Jonquière were asking me, “Jocelyne, what will you say about the bill the Prime Minister will be introducing?” I told them that I would congratulate him, because it was high time that similar legislation was introduced. He may have looked at the bigger picture because he is about to leave and wants to leave a positive legacy. It is never too late to do a good thing. He may have acted late, but he acted, and that is worth pointing out.
I think we can never raises objections about what this might cost. And there is democracy to think about. There has been a lot of talk about democracy, lately. Reference has been made to the popularity of politicians. I have heard that we politicians are less popular than car salesmen. Imagine that.
If this bill enhances our credibility with our voters, that is great; I applaud that. I would like the Alliance members to visit Quebec—I will gladly go with them—to see how we have been doing things for the past 26 years, and how great and transparent our democratic system is.
Our system is not perfect, you know. The other day, I met the government House leader in the elevator, and he told me, “I have checked in Quebec. We have drawn great inspiration from the Quebec legislation”. I say way to go.
We are not all bad, we have some good points as well. But there are some irritants in this bill, for instance the appointment of returning officers. I have always found the way this is done very disturbing. In Quebec they are selected by competition. This is all part of a democratic election.
On the federal level, returning officers for a riding have a political affiliation. I find that reprehensible. I hope that this government will accept these amendments relating to partisan appointments. If the Election Act is revised, it must be done thoroughly so that the credibility of returning officers is improved.
I have always been active in Quebec elections and have always been very close to the returning officers because I knew they were apolitical. They could of course vote as their conscience dictated, but at least I knew they had been appointed by a democratic process.
I feel that this part of the bill is serious and that the government House leader must, if he wishes to show good faith, revise the part relating to these appointments.
Then there are the contribution ceilings. We in the Bloc Quebecois, like the Parti Quebecois, feel these should not exceed $3,000 per individual.
This is a great victory. Today we can say it is a victory for a sovereignist party serving in Ottawa, which has told the federal government and federal politicians that it is high time political parties got their funding from individuals and were not held hostage by large corporations.
I congratulate the government once again. The Bloc Quebecois will be there to help improve this bill. I do, however, feel this is an excellent step forward. I congratulate the Bloc Quebecois members who were part of it.
Canada Elections Act
Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say just a few words. I do not intend to use up all my time, but I did not want to let this opportunity go by.
There have been many references to René Lévesque and the Quebec legislation, which was a model for this bill. This brings back fond memories. When that legislation was passed, I was an MNA in Quebec, and I had the opportunity to discuss the reform of political parties and electoral reform.
My colleague from Jonquière reminded us that the Act to govern the financing of political parties gave rise to strong feelings when it was introduced. Clearly, opposition parties thought it was a senseless revolution. They raised the spectre of the administrative costs of implementing this legislation. A moment ago, a member said just about the same thing. As if there could be too high a price to pay for democracy.
Patronage comes at a terrible price. And we never even know just how terrible it is. The sponsorship scandal is a good example. Just imagine what we could find out. This is just the tip of the patronage iceberg.
Of course, there will be administrative costs associated with legislation on political party financing, but that is the price of democracy. It is wrong to say that this act is an expensive one to administer in Quebec. It has saved taxpayers lots of money.
The advantage is that, since then, Quebec taxpayers can say that they own their government. This is what democracy is all about. Individuals led by the government they elected know what that government is going to do, or at least should do according to their wishes.
However, the current anarchistic financing system means that big business, major unions and powerful people with the money to invest are the ones contributing to political parties. If they give money to political parties, you know that it is because it pays, because they get back ten times or more what they gave.
When I hear people argue that this kind of legislation is costly to administer, I think that this is a short-sighted. I am convinced, if we think logically, that the cost of democracy, the cost of democratizing political parties, is infinitely cheaper than the cost of political patronage.
I heard a minister of this government defend the bill during a radio interview. She gave examples to explain just how much, at times, the government is connected to those contributing to its campaign fund.
I think that this bill is a step forward. It is 25 years behind Quebec, but it is a step forward that must be noted.
As a member of the Bloc Quebecois and former member of the Parti Quebecois in Quebec City who voted 25 years ago on Quebec's law, I must congratulate the government for taking this position. It is taking it a bit late, but better late than never. It is high time that this were done.
It is high time too that people in this country know that, as voters, we are now capable of owning the political parties that represent us and that the big corporations are not the owners of this political party and, finally, of the government.
We could have been more congratulatory but, unfortunately, the door to patronage has been left open for a little longer, until 2004.
I can just imagine the companies that are used to getting favours. My guess is that it must be pretty easy to fill up the coffers of the Liberal Party when there is a leadership race going on.
I think that if we wanted to go all the way in cleaning up political parties, we should have moved up the bill's coming into force. We should even have made the bill effective as soon as it was introduced in Parliament, in order to stop the abuse right now. Had we done so, the Liberal leadership race would have taken place under the principles set out in the bill, principles that will only apply much later.
I find it too bad that there is such a lengthy delay before the bill comes into force. We still have the opportunity to amend the bill so that it will be more than a wish list show that we are capable of walking the talk, and cleaning up our political and electoral practices.
There have been examples of patronage, such as the sponsorship scandal. I am sure that there are other examples we could give. They have cost this country quite a bit. As we are now making the effort to clean up our political parties, we should have started the process right away.
I would have liked the bill to come into effect much sooner. I also think that a $10,000 contribution to a political party is a lot of money. Most ordinary taxpayers cannot give a political party $10,000. In Quebec, the limit was set at $3,000. This would have been a good limit for this bill too.
I must recognize that this is a positive step. I hope the government will be generous enough to allow us to make amendments to this bill to make it even better in order to reassure voters that from now on, they will own their government even more.
It will not only be large corporations that will be able to exercise influence, but the voters will also be able to do so. By providing the funding themselves for political parties through taxes and contributions, they will have their say and there will be less risk of patronage.
Again, I applaud the government for this bill. I will give it my full support, as I did in Quebec's National Assembly when the legislation was passed there. However, give us the chance to improve it.
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Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to say a few words on the bill. It is one that I suppose a lot of us look at with mixed feelings. Most people in the House and all people outside of it have been looking forward for some time to cleaning up election financing. However we have to ask this question. Does the bill do anything about that or does it make it worse? There will certainly be arguments on both sides.
When people outside the House analyze the bill itself, they will note that they are being asked to finance political parties which are in existence. No provision is made for parties that are non-existent. It comes at a tremendous price. We are looking at roughly $20 million a year in contributions to the parties. No wonder the governing party is so interested in the bill because it would get the large share of the contribution.
Contributions will be based upon the amount of votes received in the last election. For a party that has a heavy debt, as does the Liberal Party, it will help pay off its debt and put it in very good shape. Other parties will not fare so well, although that part of it should not be the determining factor.
We should look at one thing. Why do we want to change the financing of elections? The first thing most people would say would be to make it transparent and clean it up. A lot of people think politicians and political parties are bought by big corporations, unions and, in some cases, perhaps individually bought by individuals who have significant dollars. That cleaning up and transparency has to be brought in.
I think most people would find it would be few and far between that large donations would be given to anybody except the governing party. Who can buy favours from our party, the NDP, the Bloc or even the Alliance? People might want to ingratiate themselves and make healthy contributions. However, if people looked at the contributors to most of our parties, I do not think they would be very concerned with influence peddling, regardless of what stripe the governing party was. It could be a different colour. That is the kind of stuff we need to clean up.
There is no doubt about the fact that there should be a limit on donations. However what that limit should be is a good question.
When I discussed the bill openly with people in my province, they asked me what the limits would be on donations. I told them that it would be $10,000 on a personal donation and $1,000 from corporations. They said to me that I had it mixed up, that surely it had to be $10,000 from corporations and perhaps $1,000 from an individual. I told them that was not the way the bill had been written.
To me it does not make a lot of sense to set a $10,000 limit from individuals and have a $1,000 limit from corporations. That is not reasonable. Certainly that amount could be significantly higher without people feeling the corporation is trying to buy favours.
We have to realize, as a lot of us do, that the majority of the companies do not try to buy favours. They are clean-cut, honest corporations and individuals. They contribute to political parties because they think those parties or individuals within parties are doing a good job. They want to ensure we continue to do our work. The only way to do that is to be re-elected, and to be re-elected costs money.
Reasonable donations made for the right reasons have always been a part of our system. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people, individually or collectively through their companies or unions, contributing to political parties, if it is within reason and it is done in a transparent manner so everybody knows where the money has comes from.
On the other hand, we also realize that the majority of politicians are honest individuals. They do not want to be bribed or bought and will reject any offers to try to influence their decisions.
That is not what a lot of people think. Just a couple of days ago I saw a poll on what people thought about different professions across the country and who was honest and who was not. Politicians of course came out on the bottom of the poll. People have a perception that politicians are there to get what they can out of it and to help the buddies who buy them.
That perception has to be cleaned up. The legislation does nothing to help out in that regard. Trust funds are not counted. Any contributions made before announcements have been made are not counted. Any specific individual, whether it be a leadership candidate or a party candidate, has all kinds of under the table ways of accumulating large sums of money that he or she can use. That will not be affected by the legislation.
I am not sure what the present legislation will do to help correct the problems that have to be corrected. The only thing of real significance is that it asks Canadians, who really finance everything that goes on in government anyway, to finance the election of members. Maybe people will say that by this they could ensure we were not being influenced by outside events, individuals or corporations. I do not think that is what they will to say. I think they will say that if a MP wants to be elected then go get elected and find any assistance that is needed. However in doing so, ensure that it is done properly, that is above board, that is transparent and that it is an honest process. The legislation does absolutely nothing to assure this.
I have absolutely no problem with the general idea that we have to make election financing accountable and transparent. The process in election financing and the financing of leadership races or anything else that is involved with those types of activities is what must be addressed and be addressed in a way that is right, proper, open and transparent.
If we do that, people will look at all of us here and say that we are here for the right reasons and that we have been elected through the right process. They will be able to say that they are proud to make a reasonable contribution and do not mind doing it openly. Then a lot of the misconceptions about politicians could be corrected. Maybe it is time we got down to doing it, instead of complicating the process which the legislation as it exists will do.
Hopefully through the House and through the committee these changes will be made. Then we will have a piece of legislation which we can all support by the time we finish.
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Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to debate Bill C-24 that we support, obviously, in principle. In this bill, there are numerous provisions that are light years away from the current political financing legislation.
Of course, substantial improvements could be made. I will give examples shortly. Nevertheless, I must first tip my hat to the government party for finally seeing the light on the road to Damascus and introducing some amendments to the federal electoral legislation, so that parliamentarians and political parties will no longer come under undue pressure from major contributors or, at least, so that parliamentarians and political parties will no longer appear to come under undue pressure from major contributors.
Nonetheless, I must say that it is easy to make amendments when they do not commit you to anything. I will come back to this later. The Prime Minister was careful to propose this amendment to the existing federal electoral legislation at the very end of his career, ensuring of course that the new provisions would not apply to the current Liberal leadership race that will decide his own successor.
It is interesting that the Prime Minister waited more than 35 years after his political career began to suddenly become the advocate for such an amendment to the Canada Elections Act.
Need I point out that since it was first elected in 1993—if we exclude the by-election in 1990—the Bloc Quebecois has not stopped pushing for the electoral legislation to be amended to include the principles of public financing in effect in Quebec.
Let us remember that public financing has two key components: first, contribution ceilings and second, a formal ban on anyone other than voters contributing financially to political parties.
The government has taken up a few provisions in these two pillars, but has vehemently opposed any kind of amendment that might have come from the pressure, proposals, amendments and motions by the Bloc Quebecois. The government has also been very careful to wait a few years before making these proposals, so that people might forget that these provisions had been moved by an opposition party.
That would be unthinkable. How could the government publicly admit that is way introducing legislation initially suggested by an oppossition party? The government saw to it that people would forget that the idea came from an opposition party and, all of a sudden, it takes it out of our hat and says, “We have just made an extraordinary discovery; we are proposing a legislative change that will be absolutely revolutionary and will ensure that, suddenly, our citizens trust our political institutions more”.
Some discovery. Perhaps it would have been a good idea if the government had discovered it before. I guess that, on the Liberal side, it takes a few years before they finally take action.
Must I remind the House that the Bloc Quebecois made a number of proposals to this effect. In 1994, my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, who was then the member for Richelieu, moved a motion to this effect in the House. Of course, it was defeated, thanks to our colleagues in the governing party.
A little later on, in 1997, the present leader of the Bloc Quebecois, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, also made a proposal along the same lines. When we debated Bill C-2 in the House and in committee, the Bloc Quebecois came back with a number of proposed amendments, which the government wasted no time rejecting.
Eloquent speeches were made in this House and in committee, in particular by the government House leader, as he was then also. He had a brief stint as Minister of Public Works and Government Services, but was not there long, for reasons known to us all. I will read some excerpts from the very wise comments made by the government House leader at that time.
In the House Procedure and Affairs Committee, the Government House Leader stated:
The Lortie commission has recommended neither that only individuals be allowed to make contributions nor that a maximum be established for contributions. Moreover, where such rules do exist, two individuals sometimes make equivalent contributions right up to the limit in order to get around these constraints.
He subsequently answer a question by our colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, who had a different political allegiance at the time, and was then in favour of public financing—and still must be—and perhaps may have made a modest contribution to this change in attitude on the government side.
His answer to our colleague for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord was as follows.
Corporations and individuals have virtually identical rights under the law. What a company can do legally as far as contributions are concerned, an individual can do also. The law does not treat them differently. It does not set higher ceilings for individuals than for unions or companies. Limits are the same for everyone. In other words, there is no ceiling in either category in terms of tax deductions. It is the same thing, provided it involves a taxpayer.
He said that there was equality between corporate and individual entities, as far as their ability to contribute to political parties was concerned.
Still in his answer, the government House leader said:
The system is transparent. I think that it is also accountable—
—as for banning contributions do not come from individuals that, this would be of very little benefit. Lortie said that it was so easy circumvent such a provision that it would not make sense. He may not have said it in those terms, but this is more or less what he meant.
We know what is happening today. Instead of the corporation paying $1,000, the president contributes $500, the vice-president $300 and the secretary $200, which means that the end result is the same. The only difference is that the system is less transparent instead of being more transparent. We no longer know from whom the money is really coming. It is coming from obscure individuals, instead of coming from GM, Ford, or some other corporation.
The government House leader went on to say:
Lortie also said that we would quickly use up the funds of political parties if we did that.
What caused this sudden about-face on the part of the government House leader? Why has he suddenly become the promoter of a limit, of a ceiling for corporate contributions? Will, all of a sudden, a corporation that would like to contribute $150,000 to the election fund of the Liberal Party of Canada, give $10,000 to its president, $10,000 to its vice-president, $10,000 to its secretary, and so on until the amount of $150,000 is reached? At least this is the possibility to which the government House leader alluded.
I guess that the government House leader was suddenly hit by the invaluable virtues of public financing, since he spoke so eloquently about it in this House.
My time is running out, but I will have the opportunity to address this issue again at the later stages of the bill, and I will examine more closely its various provisions and explain why these provisions seem satisfactory in some cases, but clearly unsatisfactory in others. In the meantime, we will have the opportunity to move a number of amendments.
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The Deputy Speaker
Is the House ready for the question?
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Some hon. members
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The Deputy Speaker
The question is on the amendment to the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment to the amendment?
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Some hon. members
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Some hon. members
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The Deputy Speaker
All those in favour of the amendment to the amendment will please say yea.