House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parties.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

On a point of order, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 10th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I believe that if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding Order made on March 25, 2003, a group comprised of five government members and one member of each of the opposition parties of the Standing Committee on Health be authorized to travel to Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, during the week of September 29, 2003, in relation to its study on prescription drugs, and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing), as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motion in Group No. 3.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

The purpose of Bill C-24 is, first, to restrict the amount of contributions allowed to political parties, riding associations, and candidates, including nominations and party leadership; second, to compensate political parties for the anticipated loss in revenue from large corporate and union donations by way of direct public financing; and finally, to extend the regulatory aspect of the Canada Elections Act in terms of registration and financial accounting to riding associations as well as nomination and leadership candidates.

The bill is yet another instance of the Liberals taking a good idea, bungling it, and turning it into a bad law. It represents a massive shift in the sources of contributions to political parties from the voluntary actions of the people and organizations to a mandatory imposition on all taxpayers. The bill would make all political parties more dependent upon the state and less responsive to the society we live in. It would represent a major intrusion by Elections Canada into internal party matters, both in terms of mandatory registration and the financial reporting requirements for riding associations, as well as time-consuming, ineffective paperwork for nominated and leadership candidates.

Political financing in Canada has long been in need of reform. Since the founding of this great country governments have been trading political favours to pay for political costs. Many scandals have come to light since then. We know of the many Liberal government scandals. However, it is the general hint of corruption that most seriously erodes public confidence in the system.

Someone once said that money is the mother's milk of politics. Modern elections are expensive affairs. Spending by candidates in Canada comes nowhere close to the spending in American elections. With advertising, signs, literature, polling, et cetera, it is lots of money. Most candidates running for federal Parliament spend in the range of $40,000 to $70,000 to get elected. Raising this money has undoubtedly contributed to the growing cynicism about political life.

Regulating party and election financing is essential to maintaining public confidence in the democratic process. Canadians suspect that money not only dominates elections but also increasingly corrupts our electoral system. They look at the thousands upon thousands of dollars donated each year by large corporations supposedly because these companies wish to support democracy. They have good reason to be suspicious. Even the Prime Minister said last month in the Toronto Star that, “There is a perception that money can unduly influence the political process”.

A recent study revealed that of the top 25 federal government contractors 17 are major donors to the federal Liberal Party. That is almost 70%. Moreover, these companies donate to the Liberal Party versus all other political parties in the House at a ratio of 6 to 1. At the candidate level, it is dangerous because the ratio is 30 to 1. No wonder the Liberal Party president called the concept “Dumb as a sack full of hammers”.

Major donors are not at all representative of the Canadian economy. Rather, almost uniformly, they tend to be government contractors, regulated industries and companies seeking changes from the government. For example, in 2001 Bombardier made the largest single donation of $142,503 to the Liberals, and Bombardier was also the second largest federal contractor in 2001 with a total of more than $117 million in contracts. Was it a coincidence? I am not sure, but it was a good investment. It invested in the government party and received contracts worth $117 million in this case.

Some time ago, when I used to be the CIDA critic for the official opposition, I analyzed the data and found out that the investment in the form of a political donation to a political party, which was the government in this case, was a very good investment with huge returns.

If the list of donors were truly representative of the Canadian economy we would expect to see some major retailers, software companies or restaurant chains, but they do not show up on the donors list. Donations instead come from financial institutions, transportation companies, communication or media industries. Most of which are federally regulated businesses.

The Prime Minister is determined to pass Bill C-24, even having gone so far as to threaten an election over the bill because of the rebels in his caucus. Why, after 10 years as the head of government, has he finally become so passionate over campaign finance reform? The Prime Minister's sudden conversion probably has everything to do with cleaning up the image of his government, for so long plagued with scandal after scandal, and with every suggestion of corruption, fraud, cronyism, favouritism and helping Liberal friends. That is the sole reason why the Prime Minister is passionate in having Bill C-24 passed. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the idea is good but the government is turning it into a bad law.

A recent poll by the Liberals' own pollster suggested 45% of the public thought them corrupt. The Prime Minister should be restoring transparency and accountability to the political process. This bill is too little, too late.

Currently we are considering Motion No. 12. We will not support Motion No. 12. It deals with riding associations, referred to as electoral districts, and the information they must transfer to the Chief Electoral Officer and the ability of an association to transfer funds et cetera. However, in proposed section 71(1) it states that the riding associations of a political party “may” provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the information. It is an option. Some associations may or may not. The problem is not resolved and therefore, I will be opposing the motion.

The Prime Minister is wrong to rush through this legislation. There should have been a genuine national debate on party financing.

Again, Bill C-24 would fail to stop the awarding of government contracts, especially untendered contracts, loans and grants to supporters of the governing party that is in power. It would only make it difficult to establish a link.

It would not correct the 50 candidate rule. It would not end the practice of making patronage appointments to fill returning officer positions based on the Prime Minister's recommendation and not on merit. And there are many other issues.

This is a good idea. The government is yielding to the pressure from members of the Canadian Alliance who have spoken to this many times, as did they when it was the Reform Party.

I will be oppose Motion No. 12 in the vote

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, then maybe there is no evil.

I was very disappointed to learn that the committee dropped this section from Bill C-24, and I commend the member for Winnipeg Centre for trying to bring it back. What it does is provides an opportunity for the public to see what went on before, in riding associations especially, in terms of funds raised from large donors, particularly possibly corporations or any type of individual donor, and to see indeed inside these riding associations the size of contributions they have received.

This section would apply equally to the Liberals, to the Canadian Alliance, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives. While the vast majority of members in the House, I doubt not for a second, have modest amounts of money in their riding association accounts, they would be prepared not only to have transparency when this bill comes into effect, but to submit to transparency for the last two or three years, going back to the last election.

Why should any one of us in this chamber be afraid to show the public what kind of money we have had in our riding associations since the last election? Could it be that there are some who have large sums of money who would not stand the public scrutiny? The public might be appalled or scandalized to see that they have been receiving donations in the thousands of dollars and perhaps even the tens of thousands of dollars.

What if a riding association, which exists currently on any side of the House, has hundreds of thousands of dollars in its bank account? With this clause as it existed in Bill C-24, the public would have had a chance to see that. Now it is gone. If this motion fails, as indeed it is likely to fail because I do not believe it has the government's support, we will be unable to look into the past.

Some may argue that is a good thing and perhaps it is a good thing. Perhaps we would like to begin with a clean slate in which all MPs begin anew to make sure their riding associations' bank accounts and the moneys that flow in from any source whatever can stand the scrutiny of the public. I think it would have been a more proper thing to test us all, to put us all under the microscope today, not to give us an opportunity to bury the past and not divulge those of us who may be flirting with the rules, although not flirting with the rules so much as amassing money in a way in which the public would not agree and would find fault with.

I heard the comments of the member opposite, from the Canadian Alliance, and I was really surprised that he took the position he did. One would have thought the opposition of all parties ought to want the type of disclosure as was proposed in this motion, and as was proposed in the amendment that was deleted from Bill C-24. However, Mr. Speaker, I do submit to you that the Canadian Alliance is structured in such a way that most of the central party funds come from its riding associations.

Consequently, looking in the past, the Canadian Alliance is the party that is the most opaque. At least on the Liberal side a lot of the money flows directly into the registered party rather than simply into the riding association, although, we on this side have the same problem. Until this bill passes, the public will be unable to see into our riding association financial affairs and they should. People should be able to see. If people go to my website, they can see what is in the riding association bank account of John Bryden.

I regret it is necessary to pass legislation to ensure that all members of the House have the same level of transparency. I also regret we do not have an opportunity to look into the past. Maybe it is just as well.

The reason we need Bill C-24 is it is absolutely essential that we assure the public that the democracy we practise here is not fueled by money and that when individual MPs make their decisions here in the House or in committee or wherever they are, those decisions are based on conscience or listening to their constituents, but not listening to those constituents who have the most money to put into their riding associations or into their pockets as individual candidates.

Unfortunately, this motion and the original clause that was deleted do not address the question of separate trusts that MPs may have acquired, which is a whole other issue. I regret very much that when Bill C-24 passes, as far as I can see or determine, those MPs who have acquired trust accounts will be able to keep that money personally.

I think the only benefit that will come to the general public is that the people who have secret trust accounts, personal trust accounts, will have to collapse them and take them into their personal incomes. The small benefit of that is at least the taxpayer will have a chance to charge them taxes. The fact they will be able to acquire that money and that we will never be able to know they had these trust accounts, I do not think is good enough.

Again, I come back to the point that I think the member for Winnipeg Centre was very right to bring this motion back. I would hope it would pass because it is not such a bad thing to show the confidence of this House in the integrity of the political process is high enough that we are prepared to show the immediate past and to compare the immediate past with what we want to see happen in the future. Well we are not going to see the immediate past, and I think that is too bad. However at least we know that when we go ahead, those few MPs who have been tempted by the amassing of large sums of money either in their riding associations or in trust accounts are in the minority.

After the legislation passes and is implemented on January 1, 2004, as fast as possible, I think then we will begin a new era in this country, an era in which the transparency and the accountability of these members of Parliament, and of the political process federally in the country, will be of the highest order possible. Therefore, I sincerely hope the public will put the trust in this institution of the House of Commons, which I believe the majority of us deserve, although I really regret we have to pass legislation like this to guarantee that trust.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, to be bipartisan, I want to state that I share my colleague's wish that this institution will certainly be worthy of the respect of Canadians. That is why I am very saddened by the fact that we are limited in how much we can debate this very important issue of how we finance political parties in Canada because it is a very crucial issue.

After a very limited period of debate on report stage and third reading, the government has invoked closure on this. It is completely unacceptable. Given the importance of the issue, there is no reason why we could not have a longer debate. The purpose of the institution of Parliament is supposed to be a deliberative assembly. When we shut down debate, we eliminate the whole purpose for the institution in the first place.

I want to speak to this motion and to the bill in general as well, since I have not had an opportunity as yet to go on the record. As the member opposite stated, we do not think this specific motion is necessary. We do not oppose increased calls for transparency or accountability. With respect to my own constituency association, we have a very modest level of funds in our account and we would have no problem opening up the books.

Going through the actual bill itself, and the summary of Bill C-24, we are discussing the whole regime of political financing. The first paragraph describes what the bill actually does: introducing limits on contributions made to Canada's electoral district associations, leadership and nomination contestants. We are not opposed to that.

The second paragraph imposes on registered electoral district associations, leadership contestants and nomination contestants the obligation to report to the chief electoral officer on contributions received and expenses incurred. Again, in terms of the general whole issue of transparency, the Canadian Alliance has been at the forefront calling for this.

Our concern, and one concern I can echo, is for those of us who have been involved in local campaigns. Obviously, for those of us with very active local associations, it is a lot easier to find someone who will do the books, the accounting and reporting. However I know, within my own riding, other parties that did not do so well had a tough time finding volunteers who would do all the reporting and be the official agent for the campaign.

I think we want to look at extending and enhancing the bureaucracy we require upon people to be active in political life. We want to ensure obviously transparency but a balance has to be struck to ensure that there is not too much bureaucracy or too many requirements so we prohibit people from entering and becoming active in political life.

I want to address the bulk of my talk to two other points, mainly with respect to the limits on corporate and union donations. This happens in various amendments in the bill. However the bill stipulates contributions to parties, candidates, electoral district associations, leadership contestants and nomination contestants may be made only by individuals who are subject to limits. A limited exception allows contributions of up to $1,000 to be made by corporations and trade unions or by associations for money given by individuals to registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates.

I want to state quite explicitly that we in the Canadian Alliance are very supportive of allowing for greater contributions by individuals in political campaigns and political parties. We as a party are much more dependant on individuals, our supporters and members than other political parties. We think that is where the bulk of this support ought to come from instead of relying upon corporate or union donations.

We have done a fair amount of work as a party in trying to inculcate that within our membership and our supporters that they should, by contributing, take ownership of the party, its apparatus, the ideas and the policy process.

If we look at the statistics from 1996 until 2001 and compare the corporate and individual donations per party, it is very instructive. The Liberal Party of Canada, through those years, raised over $53 million from corporate donations and $32 million from individual donations. If we compare that to what the Canadian Alliance raised, we see that the Canadian Alliance raised just over $13 million from corporation donations and over $34 million from individual donations. Given the fact that we obviously are not the governing party, I think that is a record for which we can be proud.

I should also point out that the NDP does rely to a greater extent on individual donations. It raised over $27 million through individual donations and $1 million through corporate donations, although a large amount of the NDP contributions come from union contributions. The Conservatives are about equal at about $18 million each, but again a higher proportion of their donations come from corporations.

On this point I would like to be clear and state that the Canadian Alliance is supportive of greater transparency and accountability within the system but it is also supportive of ensuring that the contributions by individual Canadians themselves are the greatest. To address the point made by the member who spoke before, we want to ensure that it is individual Canadians whose voices are heard rather than one or another interest group.

The last issue I want to address has to do with the public subsidy of political parties during election campaigns. There are so many things wrong with this that I want to point out a few of them. Obviously what is of concern at this time, given the fact that the government has invoked closure, is that for weeks and weeks the Prime Minister and the government House leader have stated that $1.50 per voter would be enough to balance off the loss in corporate and union donations. They then came back from committee and the government House leader announces today that it was the committee that recommended this.

The committee chairman, in the news reports today, stated that it was the Prime Minister's compromise, that the committee was simply fulfilling the Prime Minister's wish on it, which, instead of $1.50 per voter, has been pushed up to $1.75 per voter. No explanation has been given for this but one has to assume that there is one.

On our side of the House, because we are in opposition and because we have seen the government operate as it has over the past 10 years, we are a little suspicious. One would think, given the comments of the head of the Liberal Party of Canada about the funding shortfall, that the Liberals bumped up the amount from $1.50 to $1.75 to ensure that the Liberal Party would be in a positive position rather than a negative position.

That would be an unbelievable reason to change public policy if it is to ensure that one political party actually receives as much or more than it did in corporate donations. It violates a fundamental principle, a political principle. I actually think the legislation will be challenged in court because it violates a fundamental principle. It forces voters, Canadians, whether they agree with the party or not, to contribute to that political party. We are forcing people who are members of the NDP to contribute to the Alliance and people who support the Bloc to contribute to the Liberals. We are forcing them to do that through this enforced public subsidy and to me that violates the whole principle of political expression.

Political expression is not only the right to participate but the right not to support a certain political party or a certain political organization, and the right not to participate in certain ways of political life. That is the flip side of this issue as well.

I want to go back and talk about the increase from $1.50 to $1.75. We heard for weeks and weeks that the government, particularly the backbenchers, were having a tough time supporting the legislation and that they likely would delay the bill, kill it outright, vote against it or hope it dies in the Senate. There was sort of a collision course between the Prime Minister and his own caucus on this issue.

In order to come to a compromise, and the Liberal Party has been compromising since Confederation on issues, it was agreed that the $1.75 would please everyone or please no one but that everyone would end up voting for it. We in the Alliance think that is a fundamentally bad way to make public policy.

We not only opposed the increase in public subsidy from $1.50 to $1.75, but we opposed the $1.50 in the first place. The basic rule of involvement in political life should be that one supports the political party of one's choice. We should encourage more Canadians to become more active but we should do that in terms of them actually giving money to the party they support. That is the fundamental principle that should guide us and that is why we in the Canadian Alliance oppose the legislation.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to address a couple of points that have been mentioned and specifically address some of the commentaries with regard to the motion from my colleague for Winnipeg Centre. There was some debate about this particular motion requesting the amendment which in effect would simply reinstate clause 71 which was in the original draft of the bill. The debate seems to have focussed around whether this would accomplish what it was designed to do because we use the term “may”, which would make it permissive rather than mandatory.

It goes essentially to the very nature of the funds that we are addressing here and how they came into being. As we all know, the member for Trinity—Spadina, the former defence minister on the government side, and the current Deputy Prime Minister have all been pointed to as members from that party who in fact have these trust funds. We are of the opinion, and it can only be an opinion because we do not know where these funds came from, but we believe that a good deal of the money would probably not meet the requirements of donations under the proposed bill.

What clause 71 would do if it were passed and became part of the act, is it would give members a choice. They could do what I would say is the moral thing, because a good deal of the money is probably improperly raised, and donate it to charity or to some other community endeavour. We can think of any number of those that would benefit, especially when we hear that one of these trust funds in particular is in excess of a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

This clause would have given members of Parliament a choice. They could give the money away or give the money to a charity which, in effect, would be the proper thing to do because they should not have raised the money in the first place and should not be using it for their riding associations or for the next election as a candidate.

However if they feel they can justify where the funds came from, then fine, they can donate it to the riding associations or to the candidate within the riding in the next election, and we would accept that. However, and this is very important because it goes to the essence of what we are trying to do with the legislation around accountability and transparency, if the money is to be donated to the riding association then they should tell their constituents and the country where the money came from.

If the bill is going to have real meaning it is essential that this provision be passed. I strongly urge all members of the House to accept the bill with this amendment in it because without it the bill would have a fundamental flaw.

The other point I want to make has to do with the issue of trust funds. As we have heard from a series of speakers, there is no specific provision on an ongoing basis prohibiting the use of trust funds. The government's argument is that we do not need a specific provision because if those trust funds were set up as they have been, as we know in the past, any of the money that was used to go to riding associations, to candidates, to leadership or nomination campaigns would have to be accounted for by the riding association, the party, the candidates who were seeking nomination or a leadership candidate. The government has argued that it has covered it all.

It causes us some concern when we look at some of the very serious abuses that have occurred in the United States around the political action committees and the millions of dollars, I think it is actually up to billions of dollars now. We know those funds have been used improperly in all sorts of ways.

It would be much safer for the electoral process in this country if there were simply an outright ban on any trust funds, in that none of those funds could ever be used for political purposes.

I wish to make a couple of other comments in response to what we have heard from other members of the House. We heard from one of the Liberal members that there is accounting around these trust funds. I do not believe that is accurate. I do not think the member understands the nature of the trust funds that have been established and that are so scandalous. There is no accounting and no requirement under existing legislation for those funds to be declared, to show their source or to show how they have been used. I do not know what point the member was making in that regard.

One of the questions we on this side of the House have with regard to these trust funds is that if they are earning, and they obviously are, especially the largest one, such levels of income just from basic interest, does our income tax laws require the interest to be declared? One of the questions we have always had is whether the trustees of those funds are declaring this and providing some accounting under the Income Tax Act. We have never had a response to that question. It hangs out there as to whether that law is being complied with.

The additional point I wish to make is with regard to how funds are used and raised. We have heard figures, particularly from the Canadian Alliance. The point I want to make is that our party raised more than 50% of our funds from individuals, something for which we are quite proud. In fact we raise a little more than 60% of our funds from individuals. We have done that historically for a long period of time.

I was recently at the committee reviewing the bill when the president of the federal Liberal Party came forward and acknowledged that the federal NDP had a much greater ability, and I have to say the same is true of our provincial wing, to raise funds from individuals than the Liberal Party did.

It is part of the need for us to get back to the grassroots of our party, for us to be able to say to our party members that we need their financial support, that we will be in touch with them, and that we will be engaging them in the democratic process. The two, although not exclusively, go hand in hand. We are very proud of our record in that regard.

Some members of the Canadian Alliance talked about the huge amounts that we receive from the labour movement. First, I want to be very clear that we have, for quite some period of time, felt that it was appropriate for this type of legislation, which does not go the whole distance that we wanted it to go, but for us to say that all funds should either come from individuals or from a subsidy from the taxpayer. We believe that is the safest way to protect democracy.

We do raise in excess of 60% of all our dollars from individuals. We raise approximately 10% of our dollars from small corporations. We raise about 30% from labour unions.

We are very clear on this. It is our position that the bill does not go far enough, that in fact all donations from small corporations, large corporations, the corporate sector and the labour sector should be eliminated as possible sources of donations to parties in the country. That is our position and it is one we are proud of having taken historically for quite some time.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Laval East
Québec

Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, this House is witnessing an historic moment. We are going to take a very important step to improve Canadians' faith in our electoral system.

I was elected in November 2000. As a candidate, I had to learn the electoral financing process, personally invest in order to run in the election and ask my party for financial assistance. I won and immediately thereafter I had to start talking financing in my riding.

First, I had to pay back my election debt and the money I borrowed from my party. I must say it was not easy to understand all the rules of the financing system, but I did my share for my party. I wanted my riding association to have access to a fund in order to help my constituents.

I must say that in 20 years of being a journalist, I always believed that the system's transparency was guaranteed by the act of disclosing political contributions. The logic was simple: if a company obtained a government contract, we looked to see if it had contributed to the party and we would go so far as to conclude, of course, that there was a cause and effect relationship.

But after hearing the opposition members drawing this simple conclusion, journalists reported a number of cases and the public also drew its own conclusions. That is why, today, we must tighten the rules and be even more vigilant. This government decided to do this, and we should be proud of it.

I would like to take this opportunity to explain why, in my opinion, the opposition's amendment, Motion No. 12, must be defeated.

The purpose of this bill is to overhaul the rules regarding political financing. There are new rules regarding nomination contests. These contests, their management and financing were not previously regulated by the Canada Elections Act. Similarly, the bill proposes rules for financing contests to select the leaders of registered parties, also not previously regulated.

As the hon. members know, this bill makes significant changes to allowable contributions, as well as to the categories of eligible donors. Finally, the bill provides for a much more complete system in terms of the disclosure and publication of contributions made to nomination or leadership contestants, candidates, riding associations, and political parties and provincial and territorial divisions of registered parties.

These are significant changes. I believe that these changes mark a key moment in the evolution of our electoral democracy. They help to ensure the trust of Canadians in our political system, and this is essential to the future of our parliamentary democracy.

These new rules change the way political parties will be financed in the future. Bill C-24 gives us a glimpse of the future, but it also raises questions. For example, what about contributions made before this bill comes into force.

The opposition is proposing reintroducing a section that was in previous legislation. I believe we must draw the line. Previous contributions should not be affected by the new rules.

In keeping with the bill, when amounts are transferred from trust funds, for example, to the accounts of riding associations before the bill comes into force, they will be recorded as part of the association's overall assets.

In many cases, the origin of these funds cannot be determined because they have accumulated over the years. The information might not be available any longer. So why get ourselves into such an impasse?

I must admit that I have trouble seeing the advantage for Canadians, and for our democratic system, in imposing rules which would result in exclusion of contributions made to a constituency association prior to the effective date of the bill.

On the contrary, I believe we need to turn over a new leaf. It is preferable for all this money to go to the constituency associations before Bill C-24 takes effect, even if this means they will be able to benefit from funds of unknown origin, and share the benefits with the constituents. The future is what is important. For that, we have guarantees. All funding will have to be reported. It will be recorded in the system and the constituency associations will need to be accountable.

Public confidence in the integrity of our electoral system has been seriously undermined in recent years. Transparency and accountability requirements are essential to the integrity of any political system. With this new legislation, Bill C-24, we have some rules to guarantee that transparency.

I therefore feel we have adequate guarantees, which will provide us with the means of achieving this objective of restoring public confidence in our electoral system.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the Group No. 3 amendment to Bill C-24. This is the first opportunity I have had to address this bill. There has been a lot of excitement on both sides of the House pertaining to this legislation. I wish it were more favourable. I wish the government had put more teeth into the legislation and had actually carried through with some of the things that unfortunately are missing from the bill. Within my discourse I will try to address some of the bill's failures.

One thing that is astounding in discussing this bill is the timing of the bill being in the House and the priorities of the government. The government is trying to rush through legislation which, in its opinion, is very important especially at a time when there are crises going on across the country. As members know, SARS is causing problems for many people around the Toronto area and there is the problem of mad cow disease out west and its effect on the livelihoods of cattle producers in that part of the country. We have faced other problems and challenges across the country over the last number of months, and on the eve of the last week of Parliament we are discussing a bill that is strictly in the interests of this particular government.

Bill C-24 has been brought forward because the government wants to address, possibly even corruption, in political financing. It is the same government that has been in power for the last 10 years. There is some sort of ironic logic that comes with this bill if the government is trying to address issues of influence peddling or corruption or whatever it might be or even if it is trying to mask these issues because the government will in fact benefit from the changes in this legislation by receiving more public money in the case of subsidization.

The reason we have this legislation is that the government has been incompetent in dealing with many issues pertaining to transparency and accountability. The government has been incompetent in dealing with all the things that Canadians want to see from their government. The Liberal government has been lacking on those issues and it has to bring in legislation to mask the problem. It is trying to deal with the fact that it has managed things so poorly over the last number of years it has been in power and now we are debating this legislation at this period in time. Bill C-24 contains only half measures when it comes to what Canadians would like to see with regard to having financing legislation in place that would in fact bring in the things the government talks about.

I would like to address for a moment Motion No. 12 which is an NDP motion. We feel there is a lot missing in Bill C-24. We in the Alliance will oppose this motion. We feel the motion would actually work against riding associations across the country. The motion put forward by our colleague from Winnipeg Centre requires a registered association of a political party to provide all information with regard to contributions. Where it becomes problematic is if an association misses its reporting deadline, it could be convicted of a criminal offence and could face up to $5,000 worth of fines.

It seems that this sort of amendment is unnecessary. The bill already contains provisions for associations to do this. I am curious as to why the NDP feels that we need to punish some of the riding associations. If they made an honest mistake, why would we want to punish them in this way?

I do not think we necessarily need this amendment. However our colleagues from the NDP feel it is something that needs to be dealt with. I think it is a short-sighted amendment and one which may not necessarily work in the interests of riding associations. If anything, I think it would work against them. The Canadian Alliance will be voting against Motion No. 12.

I would like to address some of the failures in Bill C-24, and there is no shortage of failures unfortunately. An hon. member across the way is encouraging me to carry on with my discourse. I know he wants to learn about these failures and maybe he will try to amend the legislation.

What does Bill C-24 fail to do? It fails to fix the underlying problem of awarding government grants, contracts and loans to supporters of the party in power. If anything, Bill C-24 would make it more difficult to detect and expose such behaviour.

What is interesting, and this is what I was talking about earlier as I opened my discourse, is the fact that we have this legislation being brought forward by a government that obviously has had one problem after the other when it comes to issues of contracts, scandals, loans, all these particular things that may in fact control the influence of these contracts, how money is spent and how it is awarded. This government has been in power for the last 10 years and now puts forward legislation to deal with these problems that have unfortunately only become worse under this government, yet it fails to address all the particular problems for which it has actually been accused of abuse.

Bill C-24 fails to correct the 50 candidate rule, which was struck down by the courts. I will just address this issue very quickly. In 1999, an Ontario court struck down the sections of the elections act which required a party to run 50 candidates in an election to remain on the register and to have its candidates listed with party affiliation on the ballot. The court indicated that two candidates should be sufficient to be recognized as a party.

During the revision of the elections act in 2000, the Liberals reinstated the 50 candidate rule even though the case is still under appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The government says it is protecting voters from frivolous parties, but it is actually trying to limit competition on the ballot. Voters in countries that have other types of proportional representation systems often make their selections from up to 35 parties on the ballot. They have shown that they are capable of distinguishing between frivolous and serious candidates.

Are the Liberals trying to tell us that Canadian voters are not capable of making the same type of distinctions? I would only expect it from this government. It does not seem to want to allow Canadians to at least make decisions about who they want to represent them. Instead, it is trying to restrict more involvement from other political parties.

I would like to focus specifically on where Bill C-24 fails to end the patronage appointments to positions in Elections Canada. That is something I touched on briefly, but let us just follow up on this problem, where this legislation could have made such a huge impact on changing the way that patronage currently takes place.

Bill C-24 fails to end the practice of the governor in council making patronage appointments to fill returning officer positions at Elections Canada. Returning officers are presently political appointees of the Prime Minister. This is outrageous, considering that Elections Canada is supposed to a non-partisan electoral organization. The voters of Canada should not have to put up with the Prime Minister appointing Liberal Party hacks to prime positions as returning officers within Elections Canada. That works against an open and democratic system. The Chief Electoral Officer has repeatedly stated during committee hearings that it is critical he be given the power to hire returning officers based on merit.

He has also repeatedly stated that ideally he would like to adopt the provisions contained in a private member's bill put forward by one of the Canadian Alliance members, the member for North Vancouver, who also has done an incredible job in researching and working on this bill on behalf of our caucus. I would like to congratulate him for that. He put forward a private member's bill with respect to this. That bill would have eliminated the patronage at all levels of Elections Canada.

During the revisions of the Canada Elections Act a few years ago, the Chief Electoral Officer made it clear that he would not recommend adoption of the Canada Elections Act to a third world country or an emerging democracy. His exact words were:

...obviously when I go out on the international scene I do not recommend that the Canadian system be emulated where it comes to the appointment of returning officers. I clearly indicate, as I do in Canada, that the appointment of returning officers under the present system is an anachronism.

It is archaic. Elections Canada has repeatedly asked the government to release it from the system of patronage and allow it to hire its own staff for elections by advertising and interviewing like any other independent organization.

These are just a couple of the failures of this legislation. I could go on for a while, and I know that the hon. House leader of the government would love me to do so. Unfortunately, in the limited time we have I will have to conclude quite quickly, but hopefully the government will take heed some of the suggestions being made by my colleagues here in the official opposition and improve the legislation in the interest of Canadians, because Canadians deserve it.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak on the third group of amendments. I want to start by commenting on the last suggestions made by the hon. member who just spoke. He referred to Bill C-2, which I also sponsored. His colleague from North Vancouver sat on the committee when we dealt with this bill.

According to him or whoever wrote his speech, the bill tightens the elections rules in a way that is too tight. In other words, it does not give opportunities to smaller political parties. This is revisionist history at its best, because of course everyone who was around here after the 1993 election remembers that the first set of amendments we made to the Elections Act, after our government came to power, was a bill sponsored by a then Reform MP to tighten up because marginal political parties were getting a subsidy. The bill was under the name of Ray Speaker, I believe, and it had to do with eliminating the subsidy to a group that called itself the Natural Law Party, because it was a fringe group and not a political party in the traditional sense of the definition. It served to do just that.

Whoever wrote his speech failed to take that into account. The hon. member should go back to him or her and ask the writer to read Hansard . Hansard is good stuff. It tells us all kinds of useful information, particularly about what we did ourselves. That is always useful.

He may also want to take the transcript of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The then chairman of the committee, the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, was just excellent at chairing that committee. So excellent were his skills that he is now the Speaker of the House of Commons. It was at this committee that we did the work at the initiation of a Reform, now Alliance, MP. So much for that.

I would now like to speak to Motion No. 12. I agree with the member who just spoke. The amendment proposed by the New Democrats simply does not work. Incidentally, I proposed this amendment following a speech by a colleague of the hon. member opposite, the member for North Vancouver, who indicated that there was a flaw.

He was right. This flaw did exist. If there were no receipts for funds collected by riding associations since 2000, we would not know what to do. Before 2000, fine, there is a type of grandfather clause. However, for money collected since 2000, we have to know where it came from, but there was no rule saying that we had to know where it came from, so we did not know.

Which is why he was right to raise this point. The member for Edmonton—Strathcona is quite right when he says that this motion moved by our colleague from the New Democratic Party does not work.

If this motion were to be carried, there would be thousands of dollars in riding association accounts that would go nowhere; they would be in a sort of limbo, because it would be impossible to track them. For this reason, we cannot agree to the amendment proposed by my colleague.

I thank all members for their contributions to report stage. I ask them all to vote for Bill C-24.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 5:45 p.m., pursuant to the order made earlier today, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith all questions necessary to dispose of the report stage of the bill now before the House.

Is the House ready for the question?