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 political.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved:

Motion No. 12

That Bill C-24 be amended by adding after line 42 on page 101 the following new clause:

“71. (1) Within six months after becoming registered under Division 1.1 of Part 18 of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by this Act, the registered association of a political party that is already registered on the coming into force of this section may provide the Chief Electoral Officer, in addition to the documents required by section 403.05 of that Act, with a report including

(a) a statement of contributions received by the registered association since the last general election and before the coming into force of this section from the following classes of contributor: individuals, businesses, commercial organizations, governments, trade unions, corporations without share capital other than trade unions, and unincorporated organizations or associations other than trade unions;

(b) the number of contributors in each class listed in paragraph (a);

(c) the name and address of each contributor in a class listed in paragraph (a) who made contributions of a total amount of more than $200 to the registered association, and that total amount; and

(d) in the case of a numbered company that is a contributor referred to in paragraph (c), the name of the chief executive officer or president of that company.

(2) No registered association of a political party that is already registered on the coming into force of this section shall transfer to a registered party, another registered association or a candidate any contributions that were received by the registered association during the period mentioned in paragraph (1)(a) unless it has filed the report under subsection (1).

(3) A registered association that wilfully contravenes subsection (2) is guilty of an offence and is liable

(a) on summary conviction, to a fine of not more than $2,000; or

(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine of not more than $5,000.

(4) This section ceases to have effect on the day that is five years after the day on which it comes into force.”

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, what we are attempting to do here, as you so eloquently read into the record, is to reinstate a clause that was deliberately deleted from the proposed bill when we were debating clause by clause last week, we being the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The clause that was deleted in its entirety was clause 71, which was, we believe, placed there initially to deal with transitional provisions for this act to come into force. It dealt with contributions received by the registered association since the last general election in November 2000, and prior to the coming into force of the Bill C-24 amendments to the election financing act and the Income Tax Act.

It proposed to obtain the amounts of money donated by individuals, businesses, commercial organizations, governments, trade unions, corporations and unincorporated organizations that donated over $200, as well as the total amount they donated.

It demanded, in the case of a numbered company, for example, the name of the chief executive officer of that company or the president. It warned or cautioned registered associations of all parties that transferring money was illegal unless it had filed a report, and that a registered association was in contravention if it had not filed that report and was guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a $2,000 fine or imprisonment of up to one year, or both.

The proposed amendments were placed there to simplify reporting requirements for candidates and registered parties.

Under the act, this clause would require that candidates and parties must report details of contributions received through a constituency association, or what is referred to in this act as an electoral district association.

All of this was in clause 71 to ensure that the information concerning contributions flowing through a constituency association would be accounted for. It preserved the status quo by continuing to require a registered constituency association to provide information about contributions, where those contributions came from that were forwarded on to candidates and the party that the association gathered in the period between the most recent election in the riding and the coming into force of the act. As I said before, it was provisional.

The transition provision would have ensured that Elections Canada would continue to receive the information concerning contributions that flow from an association to a party or a candidate and that the information would not be lost in switching from one set of reporting requirements to another.

As indicated, penalties and punishment were laid out for failure to provide the information requested, and then, out of the blue, the recommendation from the member for Halifax West was to drop clause 71 in its entirety. The question that must be asked is, why?

I would say, in response to that question, and it is really rather pathetic, that the government members opposite were so embarrassed by it that they did not really want to talk about it. I believe on good grounds that it was deleted because the Liberals decided they did not want to embarrass a few of their colleagues who have been accepting money in trust, some to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. I think it is a matter of public record that the member for Trinity—Spadina has a trust fund in excess of $260,000. They do not want that revealed and they do not want to have that money reported in any way, shape or form.

If clause 71 had remained, the Liberals with trust funds would have to disclose the sources of the money before they could be rolled into the constituency association account. By deleting the clause, the money can now be transferred any time between now and December 31, 2003, the day before the legislation would come into full force and effect, without having to disclose the source. It is, purely and simply, money laundering and the government is making it perfectly legal by hoisting this particular clause 71.

The president of the Liberal Party, Mr. LeDrew, has said that this legislation is as dumb as a bag of hammers. I think Mr. LeDrew should have taken the blame, as the president of the national Liberal Party, for not stopping this practice several years ago.

It seems to us that it is only a few members, and I want to emphasize it is certainly not all members, on that side of the House who are guilty of setting up and having established these trust funds. The money is not circulated through. There is no percentage that goes to the Liberal Party of Canada, and the Liberal Party has just chosen to ignore this over the years. Now all of a sudden they are going to be embarrassed by it and have decided that they better deep-six clause 71 so they will never have to report the sources of the income. Leaving clause 71 intact would have, at a minimum, allowed constituents to learn the source of their donors since November 2000, the date of the last general election.

All we are doing is requesting that section 71 be reinstated in its entirety to prevent those few MPs with trust funds to escape the disclosure provisions.

The Prime Minister is on record as saying that big money influences politics. He should follow through and insist that there be full disclosure on this bill coming into effect by reinstating clause 71.

It is true, under other terms of the changes to the election financing act, that trust funds will no longer go undetected after December 31, and that obviously is a good thing. What we are requesting is that politicians who have engaged in this questionable practice be required, under the law that is now coming into effect, to publish their donors list and the amounts received since that last general election. That provision was in the bill until last week. Then it was deleted. In our opinion, it is unconscionable that this has been done and it should be reinstated immediately.

There is no valid reason why the vast majority of Liberal MPs do not want to see the same basic transparency for all MPs in this House. That, in the final analysis, is what Bill C-24 is all about.

Finally, if a member of Parliament with a trust fund at the moment is so embarrassed that he does not want to disclose his donors list, there is even a way out that is provided for in clause 71.

If an association did not wish to provide the basic information about contributors, clause 71 provided that it could elect to spend the contribution in some other way than transferring it to a candidate or a riding association. I assume that means it could, for example, give the money to the victims of SARS in Toronto, or the beef industry in western Canada, or the homeless, or the EI.

There is absolutely no excuse that these trust funds should not be reported. Unfortunately, as a result of the clause by clause provisions that were voted on last week, that can only happen if clause 71 is reinstated.

In conclusion, this is money laundering, pure and simple. We want to let the sunshine in on all aspects of the election financing act. In my opinion what has happened on clause 71, is it taints what we are trying to do in terms of going forward on this legislation. The purpose of this report stage amendment is to reinsert clause 71. I urge all members of the House to support it.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to the NDP amendment to Bill C-24. Just before I do that, it is incumbent upon me to mention that the government has moved time allocation, which is the 84th or 85th time that it has done that to us.

The unusual situation in this case was that we had not even had three hours of debate in the House and the minister was on his feet moving time allocation on this bill.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Shame.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

I hear members saying, “shame”. It is a shame when we cannot even have three hours of debate before the minister jumps to his feet and moves time allocation. It is as if he is addicted to closing down debate in this place. He has become so addicted to this closing down that he hardly has enough time to go from one fix to the next. I am beginning to wonder whether he will move time allocation as new bills are introduced to the House. A new bill will come into the House tomorrow to do with fisheries. I suppose the minister will stand and move time allocation as soon as it is tabled. It is starting to get ridiculous.

I want to ask the minister, what is the rush? What is the emergency?

The minister claimed he could not get all party agreement to move the bill through promptly. It does not come into effect until January 1, 2004. We could have spent the summer, having an opportunity to talk with our riding associations and parties about the impact of the bill, and there would have been nothing wrong with continuing the debate in the fall.

There is no excuse for having moved time allocation on the bill. It is inexcusable and it is ridiculous that it was moved after only three hours of debate.

I think the real reason is to gag the opposition because the Canadian public is starting to notice that the money to pay for this is coming out of its pockets. The minister has a huge shovel into the trough over at the treasury, shovelling money out of the treasury and into Liberal coffers.

Before I move to the detail of the NDP's amendment, I would like to mention what I think is a bit of hypocrisy which comes from the NDP about political donations. NDP members are constantly railing against corporate donations to political parties and the terrible influence that corporations have on the political process because of the size of the corporate donations. They wanted it to be zero because they were so worried about it.

It is almost as if the NDP has its own private trust funds in the unions of the country. I bet it is not widely and publicly known that, for example, in the year 2000 the NDP received: from the Canadian Labour Congress, $683,947; from the CAW, $452,177; from the USWA, $254,416; and from UFCW, $196,670.

Every single one of those donations was bigger than what any corporation gave to any political party in the country. How hypocritical of the NDP members to stand in this place and criticize corporations when they are beholden to groups like that to the tune of $683,000.

Do we honestly think the Canadian Labour Congress does not expect anything for that size of a donation to the NDP? How can that party make logical and reasonable decisions about legislation in this place when it is so reliant on that influx of money from unions?

I suspect we will not see NDP members talk any more about those numbers, and I bet the unions will not lower their union dues to their members to make up for the savings they will have from the passage of the bill. I think the real reason the NDP members want to see this bill go through is so these millions of dollars, which they are receiving from the unions, can be kept in union coffers while the taxpayers top up the NDP coffers.

Normally it is my job to attack the government. I am sorry for that sideways movement for a moment, but I thought it was important to get that stuff on the record.

In terms of the amendment that the NDP has proposed in Group No. 3, the key word in the amendment is that electoral district associations “may” report the information contained in that amendment. That is the key word that they “may”. For that reason we feel the amendment is unnecessary because there is nothing to stop riding associations from voluntarily doing these reports in any event. Therefore what is the point or putting a clause in a bill which says that the riding associations can do what they already do?

Our position on the amendment is that it is unnecessary. We understand the reason why the NDP brought it to the floor, and it is good that we have a chance to discuss it. However it is not an amendment that we can support.

For those who are not familiar with the bill, I should run through some of the things electoral district associations will have to report under Bill C-24.

Proposed Bill C-24 will require riding associations, or electoral districts as we call them now, to provide Elections Canada with a permanent operating address, the names and addresses of executive officers, the auditor and the financial agent for the registered electoral district. The auditor and financial agent will need to sign their consent to act in those positions and, if signed, approval by the leader of the party for registration of the electoral district association will also have to be submitted to the chief electoral officer.

As riding associations have typically relied on volunteers to fill executive positions and to administer the affairs of the electoral district association, it is our opinion that these onerous new requirements will make it impossible for some riding associations to attract enough volunteers to do the work that will be required. That is a major flaw in this bill.

The minister has argued vociferously that there is no difference between the requirements in this bill and the requirements in Ontario under the provincial legislation. Frankly, there is a big difference between administering this type of thing across the entire country as opposed to the much smaller riding associations in a place like Ontario.

In addition to registering and providing all the information I have mentioned, there will be annual financial reporting and disclosure by electoral district associations. Within six months after registration, they will have to file a statement with Elections Canada listing assets and liabilities, including a surplus of deficit. In addition, a report will have to be made by the auditor stating whether or not the statement is fair in its representation of the riding's financial position.

Finally, a declaration will have to be made by the financial agent that the statement is complete and accurate.

As I mentioned, the bill is presently set to come into effect on January 1, 2004, and electoral district associations will have to provide Elections Canada with a list of their assets and liabilities as of that date. The basis for the amendment brought by the NDP is to have the details of where the money came from prior to January 1, 2004 revealed at that time if a riding association so wishes.

As I mentioned, they can do that anyway so this amendment is kind of redundant. However we understand what the NDP is trying to get at, and that is the trust funds held by, we believe, some of the members in this place. I am not sure I would call it money laundering. Perhaps to a degree we agree with the government that it is an opportunity to have this money come out of the closet and be put into riding associations where from this point on we will be able to see it and monitor it.

There are a fair amount of complex rules in terms of what riding associations have to do after the bill comes into effect. Whilst the chief electoral officer did not feel that it would cost a tremendous amount of money to get this up and running and that training would be provided across the country, I have the feeling this will be one of those situations, a little like the gun registry. We will have an initial estimate of how much it will cost to get it up and running and then we will see it double, or triple or quadruple in cost, as Elections Canada increases the size of its bureaucracy and starts rolling this program out across the country. I think we are in for a big surprise about how much this whole thing will cost us. It is will not be just $1.75 per voter. We will find this rolling along up to $3 and $4 and so on.

I am almost out of time on this segment so I would like to close by saying this. If a survey were held across this country about Canadians' attitudes to having to pay for this bill, the $1.75 per vote cast, I suggest we would find that 95% or 96% or more of Canadians would object strongly to the government taking money out of their pockets to fund the day to day operations of political parties. What it basically amounts to is a tax on voting. For every person who goes out to vote, that individual will know that it just cost $1.75 for the privilege of doing so. What an outrageous situation we have created where it will cost people a $1.75 to vote. What is more, they do not have control of where the money goes.

It is a dreadful bill and I sincerely hope members would vote against it. Certainly the Canadian Alliance will.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 12 in Group No. 3 of Bill C-24 at report stage basically requires that the electoral district associations or, as some people refer to them, riding or constituency associations, within six months after being registered pursuant to this act would provide a statement of contributions received since the last general election and before the bill comes into force, including the name and address of each contributor who made contributions of more than $200 to the registered association.

That is a valid requirement and could be put in the bill but it already is a matter of public record. The member will know that all contributions in excess of $200 where there are receipts issued are already a matter of public record each and every year and are available for the public to see.

It is not just with regard to contributions raised during election periods. In fact, riding associations do take in contributions to help with their administrative costs, as well as to pay for levies against them from the main party for the administrative support that is provided. Indeed, in my own party, all the receipting of donations is done by the central party. They are audited and all the information is provided through the offices of the chief electoral officer for the public to see.

On that basis, I do not have a problem with the motion. It is somewhat redundant but it somehow suggests that this is information that is not available and I wanted to make sure members knew that it is in fact available each and every year to all Canadians. That is part of the transparency of our existing system.

Since we are talking about riding associations, Bill C-24 is a very important bill in terms of the impact it would have on the overall process of financing the electoral activities in Canada. When I spoke yesterday to the bill, I compared it to the United States where basically people can spend millions of dollars in support of their candidacies for congress or the senate. In fact, just today in the news it was confirmed that Senator Hillary Clinton actually raised and spent $30 million to become a senator in the United States.

One can imagine what would happen in Canada to the public perception of people in elected office if they raised, for instance, $1 million and spent it to get elected, if they could. What would be the reaction of Canadians? Obviously they would be outraged because the job is not worth $1 million.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

That is not allowed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

The member says that is not allowed, and he is absolutely correct. In today's system we have, under the electoral act, rules regarding how much someone can spend on an election. It is roughly equated to about one and a half first class mailings per eligible elector.

I believe I have 65,000 eligible voters in my riding. If we were to multiply that by one and a half first class mailings, we would get the spending limit for my riding. In fact, the spending limit in an election for my riding was just over $60,000. Therefore there is a basis for how those are determined. There are some adjustments for ridings that have geographic expanses which are exceptional or have large populations, et cetera, but in the main that is the basis.

One can appreciate now that if a candidate in an average riding, such as my own, were limited to spending $65,000, it would still be a lot of money. It would be very difficult for someone who did not have money of his or her own or did not have the extensive contacts to raise that kind of money to be competitive with someone who could raise $65,000.

Ergo, in our system today, before this bill, we have a partially subsidized, publicly financed electoral system that helps to ensure that ordinary Canadians of ordinary means have an opportunity to seek public office and in fact to be competitive in an electoral race because of the limits that are set.

Under the current rules, any candidate, whether the candidate wins or loses, who gets at least 15% of the votes in an election is entitled to a reimbursement of 50% of the eligible expenses that he or she actually incurred.

In the last election I spent approximately $40,000. As a consequence, I was eligible to receive and did receive a subsidy from the chief electoral officer of $20,000. However, as part of the rules of our party, half of that money goes to the national party to support the expenditures of a nationwide campaign for all the advertising, all the expenses of a leader's tour and all the other attendant costs of running in a general election. This is part of the rules that we operate under but it means that out of the $40,000 I actually spent, $10,000 was given to me by the Government of Canada through our current system and $10,000 went to my party, but that was half of the expenses.

On top of that, during the off election years we run fundraisers and we try to raise money to support ourselves, not only for administrative costs in non-election years but to save up some money so that when an election is called we can spend enough money to properly inform our electors about who we are, about those who have been elected and what they have done as elected representatives, as well as to outline for the electorate the platform of the party for which one is running. It is a very important process and the way we do it is through the public assistance that we have available.

Under Bill C-24 an adjustment would be made to that 50% reimbursement. It would go up to 60% as a transitional measure. However Canadians should understand that today the Government of Canada is basically subsidizing electoral expenses by 50%. In addition, in off election years those who contribute money are also eligible for refundable tax credits from the federal government through the electoral act. For instance, the electoral act permits a donor of $100 to receive a tax credit of $75.

There is a further subsidy of public money for the electoral process and this is because we are supporting a democratic process, a process under which all Canadians, regardless of means, would have an opportunity to seek public office and to run a competitive campaign.

Members will know that all Canadians who wish to seek public office can in fact get substantial support from public moneys in order to run in campaigns, and that their contribution to raising additional dollars, along with their riding association, is much less than half of the actual costs that they will incur.

It is important that members and the public understand that we do have a publicly financed, heavily subsidized electoral system in Canada to support this democratic process.

Members have talked about shifting away from the issue of corporations and the concern about corporations having undue influence over people in elected office. I think that is a legitimate concern but, as I said earlier, this one change in itself would not change public perception. We will continue to work on this through the implementation of further enhancements to an ethics package guiding those in elected office, not only cabinet ministers but all members.

I think this is a good step forward in terms of enhancing what I believe to be a publicly funded, democratic electoral process for which Canadians should all be proud.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start my comments on the motion moved by the member for Winnipeg Centre with a quote from Winston Churchill that should get us thinking. He said, “Democracy is the worst system devised by the wit of man, except for all the others”.

Obviously this quote may seem somewhat strange when presented like this. The democratic system is often criticized and sometimes we stretch it and try to make everyone see our point of view. However, with these words, Churchill hoped to convey his profound respect for democracy in comparison to other systems, be it communism or the totalitarian dictatorships that existed in Germany and Italy at the time Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain

The purpose of Bill C-24 is to improve the democratic system in which we live. Under the current system, which Bill C-24 would modify, certain privileges were granted to people who made significant contributions to Canadian political parties.

Yesterday, I said that Quebec had passed legislation on the funding of political parties in 1977. We support the bill before us, but we feel there are still more improvements that could be made, such as the fact that businesses are allowed to contribute to parties' election funds. While the limits have been reduced, I think we need to make it so that only people who are eligible to vote have the right to contribute to political parties.

Earlier, the Canadian Alliance was talking about unions. Obviously, neither unions, nor businesses nor corporations have the right to vote. As a result, unions, businesses and corporations should not be able to make an active contribution to political party financing.

I would like to come back to the motion by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre. I think my hon. friend from the Canadian Alliance, speaking a short while ago, did not understand the meaning of the motion, which reads:

—as enacted by this Act, the registered association of a political party that is already registered on the coming into force of this section may provide the Chief Electoral Officer—

Certainly I was brought up short by the words “may provide”. At first I thought it should have read “must provide”. However, when one reads the motion closely and analyses it seriously, one sees in paragraph 2:

No registered association of a political party that is already registered on the coming into force of this section shall transfer to a registered party... any contributions that were received by the registered association during the period mentioned in paragraph (1)(a)—

This means that the purpose of the motion is to prevent—if I have correctly understood the sense of the motion by my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre—any money held in trust by these associations from being used illicitly by these associations or used “under the table” by the parties, so as to ensure the election or nomination of a particular person.

Therefore, I will support the motion of the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, with whom I am in agreement now, even though I had some doubts at first.

I would like to return to Bill C-24 as a whole. There is another element which I think is not adequate and which we perhaps ought to have considered further. The federal government should have made a commitment to respect the laws of the provinces and Quebec. In Quebec during the 1995 referendum, we had a political party financing act and an act concerning the financing of referendums, dealing with the way the two sides were to be funded.

The fact remains that the federal government invested a lot of money; in the end, it violated Quebec's legislation because it claimed to be above the laws of one province, of Quebec.

The federal government should have made a commitment in this bill to harmonize its laws with those of Quebec, and to respect provincial legislation on political party financing or on referendum campaigns, so as not to interfere in the democratic process.

I also wanted to come back to what I was saying earlier about democracy and involving citizens. Last night, we watched the election results come in from New Brunswick, which were, incidentally, very close. As Premier elect Bernard Lord—whom I would like to congratulate, by the way—said, it was as interesting to watch as the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It took quite some time before we found out who would form the government, and even today, there are still some doubts because of the recount.

I watched the reports on television and noticed that many volunteers participated in the electoral process, yet the voter turnout was lower. There was roughly a 69.1% or 69.7% participation rate, which is 5% to 6% lower than the previous election. The same thing happened during the last federal election and we see this happening throughout the country.

There is a reason for this dissatisfaction with politics. People are less involved in political parties and are therefore not canvassed by them as much, since politicians, including those at the federal level—where dissatisfaction is greatest—had no need to appeal to the voters for campaign funds.

It is essential that public financing become the focus of Bill C-24 and that we make it a long term goal. The only way to convince people to adopt our view is to go out and speak to them, to get them involved in the election process. A person first has to belong to a political party, then attend conventions, nomination meetings for instance, and then, finally, run in an election.

If people are to participate in this process, it is clear that we have to seek them out, win them over and spread the message. However, if, as is the case in several countries, we only use information media or, because we have the money to do so, increasingly rely on using advertising, sending out information and so on, we will not convince anyone to participate in the democratic process. There is only one true way to convince someone to participate in the democratic process and that is to ask him to participate to the best of his intellectual and financial abilities.

Even though we agree with Bill C-24, it will need to be improved over the years and at some point we will have to stop appealing to companies, which we have already stopped doing in Quebec. I would like only those who are entitled to vote to be able to contribute money to the parties, and not the companies, unions or any other corporation.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on Bill C-24. I think this is an incredibly important bill that is before Parliament and I cannot believe how bad it is. I am amazed that after the 40 years the Prime Minister has spent here now he suddenly believes we have to try to legislate integrity somehow.

I know the government is actually trying to limit corporate and union political donations. That is not a bad idea in itself. I can see some merit in that. But I do not really believe that is what this is all about. I actually believe this is about sending taxpayers' money to political parties and just making it too easy.

I am absolutely and adamantly opposed to the bill and I want people to understand it. I think this could be a major issue in an election; I think it is that bad. I agree with my colleague from North Vancouver that this is a matter we are going to hear about in the coming years. We are going to be looking at inquiries and people are going to be asking how we blew $100 million and saying there was no accountability. It is going to come off the rails.

I want to point out how our electoral system works now, before Bill C-24. Somebody who contributes $200 to my campaign gets a 75% rebate. They get $150 as a tax credit and I spend the $200 and get a 50% rebate, so suddenly it costs the taxpayer $250 for the $200 donation. If Mr. Smith donated $200 to my campaign, he would receive a $150 rebate from the government. I spend the $200 and I get a $100 rebate. Right now today it costs the taxpayer $250 for a $200 donation.

Under one aspect of Bill C-24 there is an increase in the amount of the rebate. It would actually increase the base amount to $400 for the 75% rebate. I believe this is fundamentally wrong. I do not disagree that we should change our electoral financing. I believe we should be bringing it in line with every other charitable organization. When we donate to a charity we can deduct it from taxable income. There is a percentage, but it is not a lot.

Why should we be any different from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the cancer institute or all of these other charities? Why should it cost the taxpayer 125% for every dollar or every thousand dollars donated to individuals and political campaigns? I think this is fundamentally wrong.

Now let us look at what Bill C-24 would do. When it was originally brought forward, it stated that $1.50 would go to political parties for every vote they received in the previous election. That was not enough, as we know. We heard that on the government benches the Liberals were violently fighting this. They were opposed. The Prime Minister was having difficulty getting even his own caucus to agree on it. There were threats of an election being called.

So what has he done? He has given them a signing bonus, if we can imagine. Not only are the Liberals going to start giving political parties taxpayers' money, they are giving them a signing bonus. Again I disagree. They are increasing it from $1.50 to $1.75 and then there is the real signing bonus. This was supposed to have been paid in quarterly instalments throughout the year, but when this comes into force next January there will be a one year lump sum right up front in anticipation of an election. Of course we do not know that. That will probably be up to the heir apparent, of course, the member for LaSalle—Émard.

I am absolutely opposed to this. I have had some conversations with some of the members opposite and here is their logic. We have to try to follow it through. It just makes no sense. They said there is a perception out there that corporations and unions have too much influence. The word here is perception. Of course they do not; they are not doing anything wrong. Again I will come back to the point that we cannot legislate integrity: we have it or we do not. They said that they have to fix this perception. How is that done by forcing the taxpayer to pay for political parties? It just cannot be done.

Again let me come back to their logic. When I spoke to them, they asked if it was fair for union members or shareholders of a corporation to have their money donated to a political party. Either there is a company that they are shareholders of or they are members of a union and pay union dues. Is it fair for the directors of a company or the union bosses to donate to a political party with which they may not agree? We may have shares in a company that gives money to one party and we may disagree. They said that is wrong and that is why they are trying to limit union and corporate donations.

If we follow that logic, who are the shareholders of the public purse? Of course it is the taxpayers, but suddenly we are going to force the taxpayers to fund every single political party, although that last part is not true. It is only the parties that received a certain number of votes in the last election, and they would receive $1.75 for each vote.

It does freeze out any new parties that want to get involved in politics, of course, because they would not have any votes, as it would have been with the Reform Party of Canada. Back in the late 1980s, Preston Manning saw this vision, saw this need and wanted to reform Parliament. He created a movement and it grew overnight. This scheme protects the status quo and it gives the largest share of the pie to the government in power, which makes it even more difficult.

Again, it is so wrong to give $100 million or $125 million a year of taxpayers' money to political parties. If people believe in a cause, they should be able to donate $1,000 or $2,500. Let them donate it. If one believes in a cause, then one should go out to get those individual donations. We should not stuff it down the taxpayers' throats. We should not make them pay for it. It is wrong.

I do not disagree that we need to reform electoral financing, but again I would advocate that it be on a par with charitable organizations, not what we have here today. Under the new changes, for every vote a party got in the last election it would get $1.75. That would go to the national party. For the individuals who ran in the last election, the limit would be increased from $200 to $400 and the donor would get a 75% rebate. Let us look at what that would do. Under Bill C-24, if Mr. Smith donates $400 he gets a $300 rebate. Then I take that $400 and spend it and I get a $200 rebate. I get a 50% rebate. In fact, I am told it might even be going to 60%, although I am not positive about that, which would make it even worse. The point is that then it would cost the taxpayer $500 for every $400 donated. It is wrong. We should be going the other way and not getting our hands in the cookie jar, not digging deeper into the public coffers.

This notion that possibly we can legislate integrity is so flawed. It is so wrong. We should all be standing up and opposing this for that very reason. Perception is reality, so if they say there is a perception out there that the unions and the corporations have too much influence and that has to be fixed, it is probably true, they probably do have too much power, and the companies that give the $50,000 donations probably have been influencing the government.

I would encourage all members not to force taxpayers to fund political parties. There are far better uses for $125 million each year, such as health care. The list goes on and on. Again I would ask all members to reconsider this very flawed piece of legislation, probably the worst piece of legislation. If they do pass this bill, I have no doubt we will be doing study after study in the years to come as to why this was such a terrible waste of taxpayers' money.

Canada Elections Act
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June 10th, 2003 / 4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to a number of my colleagues argue that this legislation should be delayed so that they can consult with their constituents and their political parties.

Members will probably recall that this is not a new issue that has been brought to the attention of the House or a committee of Parliament. In fact, it has been years since the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley, called on Parliament to take action on this issue and to introduce legislation that to a large extent reflects what is in this bill.

The government has shown leadership by taking action in response to the Chief Electoral Officer. The Chief Electoral Officer is entrusted by Parliament and the public at large to ensure that elections in Canada are transparent and fair and to ensure that our society is well served by a parliamentary system that has democratic elections. To a large extent this is not a new issue before Parliament.

Another point some of my colleagues have raised has to do with the notion of whether or not we should subsidize political parties. I am sure my colleagues are not suggesting that the government or the House should abolish the subsidy system that is already in place. We subsidize political parties after every election to the tune of about 22.5%. As well there is the 50% rebate that goes to individual candidates if they receive 15% support in their respective constituencies.

I am sure my colleagues are not suggesting that we do away with that. If my colleagues are not suggesting that, then what we are dealing with here is an increase in the percentage of the subsidy from 22% to the level the government is proposing, which is 50%. Where is the problem? The problem is we really do not know how to proceed with some of my colleagues on the opposite side. They were members of the committee that dealt extensively with the issue.

Members will recall that the bill was introduced on January 29, 2003. Today is June 10. The committee dealt with this bill for a number of months. About 14 hours and 50 minutes were spent on second reading alone, on February 11, 12, 17, 18 and 20. Bill C-24 was approved at second reading by the House on March 18, 2003.

The bill then went to committee. The committee held in excess of 11 days of public hearings with in excess of 37 witnesses and it spent four days on clause-by-clause study, for a total of 15 days. Bill C-24 came back on June 6 for the House to deal with it.

It is not a secret that my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance do not want to support the bill. They are on the public record as stating that they do not want this legislation to receive third reading.

All the complaints about time allocation and the fact that the government is attempting to pass a bill before the recess are only excuses. At the end of the day it does not matter how much time is given to my Alliance colleagues. We could give them the whole summer. If their intentions are such that they do not want to support the bill at third reading, it is irrelevant whether or not time allocation is used.

Members know full well that at some point decisions have to be made. This legislation has been before Parliament for close to six months. There has been plenty of time for each and every member of Parliament to consult with his or her constituents, riding association or political party. There has been ample time for them to bring forward their concerns and recommendations to the committee or the House. In my view, any extra time would not be time well spent. It would be a waste of time. That is why it is absolutely imperative for the House to deal with this issue as quickly as possible.

Since the bill came back to the House we have spent in excess of five hours at report stage. As a result, the House leader served notice of time allocation. We have to get on with the program. We have to move forward. We have to get our ducks in line so we can move collectively as a team. Canadians want us to take action. Many of my constituents have told me that they want Parliament to deal with this issue as quickly as possible.

Some of my colleagues have raised the issue of American elections and the difference between somebody running for congress and somebody running for Parliament. We have a spending limit in Canada of close to $70,000 whereas south of the border they can spend millions of dollars to run for political office.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Some have spent $35 million.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, some candidates have spent $35 million. I am not sure how we would be serving democracy if we were to open a bank account with unlimited funds in order to get elected. I am not sure what interests would be served other than special interests when it came to spending that kind of money on an election.

After the bill goes to the Senate and is approved, it will be the pride of Canada. Canada is one of the finest democracies in the world and we will be setting an example for the rest to follow. I commend the provinces that have already gone ahead with something like this, in particular the province of Quebec as well as the province of Manitoba.

There will be problems with this legislation. There will be a need to amend the legislation. There will be a need to revisit it. As with other legislation that has gone through the House and the Senate, it has to be reviewed from time to time to make it perfect, to make it even more responsive to the needs of Canadians. Just because we may not like the location of a comma or a period in the legislation, or a paragraph is not in the chapter where we want it, those are not good enough excuses to oppose legislation that at the end of the day will serve the interests of Canada and the interests of Canadians.

There are things I would like to have seen in this legislation, such as making it mandatory for Canadians to vote in an election; in other words, every Canadian must, not can, but must vote with the provision of introducing fines for those who do not vote. I think there will come a time when that suggestion will become law. I hope that it will take place in my lifetime. I hope that we not only ban contributions to political parties but also make voting mandatory so we can better serve democracy and respond to the needs of Canadians even more efficiently.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, agriculture; and the hon. member for Lanark-Carleton, Canada Elections Act.

Canada Elections Act
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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, the Bloc and I support the amendment moved at this stage to reinstate section 71, which was included in the original version of Bill C-24 and that was, for reasons I do not know but find strange, was deleted at the report stage.

These reasons seem strange because I know the effect of Bill C-24 in its original form and when it was reintroduced by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

This actually allows me to point out that Mr. Kingsley himself had, on several occasions, mentioned the loophole with regard to disclosing donations and allowing riding associations to create funds and transfer them during an election, without further ado, to a candidate.

There is no need to point out that such funds can contain significant sums, and that section 71 provided for such funds. I will say it again, this amendment was not drafted. It is an amendment that allows reinstatement of an item that seems to have been omitted from the committee's report.

At the report stage, this bill allows for improved—and I am going to repeat what has already been said—honesty in elections and democratic life, as well as improved morality.

I hope that the hon. Alliance member for Saanich—Gulf Islands will hear or read that I think he is very wrong when he says that we cannot legislate integrity—that is my own translation—or that we cannot make a law that will cause people to be honest.

We can, through legislation and with fairness, help human beings be more honest. The first laws in any country are the ones to prevent theft, and if people steal, they will be punished.

I am very glad that Canada is getting out of the field of political party financing. Fattening election funds with corporate donations has created a situation in which companies—at occasions such as $200, $500, $1,000 or $2,000-a-plate dinners—could take advantage of the tax laws to get the taxpayers to pay for their election donations. No one has ever denied that.

From now on, we will know that when a party is elected with x votes, it will get $1.75 per vote; now it is clear and the same rule applies to everyone. That makes it possible for the citizens to know that their representative—whom they often do not think of as their representative—has not been bought. It is very serious. This bill will make it possible to ensure not only fairness, but also integrity in political party financing.

I attended a session of the Council of Europe on political party financing as an observer for Canada. I can say that legislation such as there is in Quebec was held up as a model. I know that Manitoba has also recently enacted strict legislation. My reference to this meeting is in response to the member's comment that too much money is going to political parties. One thing was made clear at that meeting: in today's world, the electronic media are necessary if we are to reach people. As well, there must be an assurance that all parties receive a fair and equitable share of free air time, and advertising must be allowed. There may be differences in legislation, but advertising is one powerful way of getting to people, and it must be allowed. It must of course be limited and controlled.

That said, when we say, “If corporate financing is not what is wanted, then we must settle for private donations of $5 or $10, and so on”, this is delusional thinking. What we want is to create conditions for direct public contributions, as well as indirect contributions through tax money.

This is something that is already known about and I am sure it is supported. When the public votes for a party, they are the ones who decide that is where the $1.75 will go.

So corporate funding will become a thing of the past. As a result, democracy, as far as the relationship between the voters, the political parties, and the candidates is concerned, will be vastly improved. I am pleased that the Government of Canada is at last deciding to take the route Quebec opted for in 1977, and Manitoba just recently.

Our colleagues who are expressing such outrage about this will also find that this way of doing things will bring them closer to their constituents, without any doubt.