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

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Beauce
Québec

Liberal

Claude Drouin Secretary of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)

As you know, Mr. Speaker, this program was put in place for specific regions affected by the cod situation. We will look into the matter raised by the hon. member, but I do not think that the program is applicable in this case.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

June 10th, 2003 / 3 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food finds himself on the horns of a dilemma, or more appropriately on the horns of a mad cow. On March 23, 1990, the minister is quoted as saying:

If we look around the world it does not matter how a country is trying to survive, if it does not have a strong, viable, economically strengthened agriculture industry, then the economy and the future of that country is certainly in question.

There is no doubt that the agriculture industry is in peril and that the economy of this country is in jeopardy.

The dilemma is, does the minister help the industry or does he let it die? Or will he stop floating trial balloons and come up with real money for the cattle industry?

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings
Ontario

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, as I have explained to the hon. member in committee, the strength of the proposed business risk management program has, along with the programs we have had in the past year, paid out over $2 billion to Canadian farmers because of situations beyond their control, be it drought, poor markets, or whatever.

That program which is being offered now is even better than the programs that we have had in the past. We will work with the industry to build upon that in order to help the beef industry get through this situation.

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 motions in Group No. 2.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on an amendment to Bill C-24 put forth by the government House leader with which we agree.

However, let us take a look at the nuts and bolts of the bill as it pertains to the amendment and why we would like to see this issue revised and looked at a year from now. We agreed with the objective of Bill C-24. How do we limit public or private influence in public policy? How do we limit the ability of deep pockets to have influence on public policy, something we all agree has to be removed? Does the bill do that?

I would submit that Bill C-24 does not do that at all. The bill wants to ensure that corporations and individuals do not get special favour on public policy, but the government is unable to eliminate that. The fact of the matter is that the big money donations, the $100,000 and $50,000 donations, do not happen above board. Those are the donations that have access to change government policy and enable certain groups to have access to untendered government contracts. Therein lies the problem. The bill does not address that. The bill deals with preventing groups from donating more than $1,000 and individuals from donating more than $5,000. That is not where the big money comes from. That is not was causes the influence.

What creates the influence are those big moneys that are happening under the table. There is also the fact that contracts may or may not be untendered and the awarding of contracts, in fact, violate Treasury Board's own guidelines.

How can we address this? An interesting thing happened in Europe where this issue was addressed. The question that was asked was, how can we ensure that big money cannot influence public policy? One option that was proposed was called: publish what is paid. I would extend that to something about publishing what is received.

I would suggest and submit that the way to prevent private influence of public policy is to ensure that individuals who donate to a political party or to an individual cannot donate more than $5,000, otherwise they must ensure that those moneys will be made public every year. Not only that, the recipient of those moneys, or the party that receives those moneys, will also have to publish the donor and the amount that they received. That would eliminate private influence of public policy.

The second is the issue of government contracts. We saw with the Groupaction scandal millions of dollars of taxpayers' money being wasted on three contracts that were utterly useless. Those contracts were given to a company that was a large donor to the governing party. The problem is, how do we eliminate that? How do we ensure that contracts will be awarded on the basis of merit and that money will not be passed under the table in return for those lucrative government contracts that exist?

Two things must happen. First, Treasury Board guidelines must be followed, and second, contracts above a certain amount of money, say $25,000 or $50,000, must be put out to tender. That, in fact, is the law and should be applied.

There is quite a debate between members of the NDP and our party on the concept of whether the taxpayer should be on the lamb for funding political parties. My party and I would say, absolutely not, not through the taxpayers' purse. If we, as elected individuals, choose to run for elected office, or if we, as a political party, cannot get the moneys from the individuals in the public ourselves, then we should not be running for office and should not be elected. We would ask the public as individuals seeking elected office or as parties seeking to be elected. We would ask the public individually for support, but we should not obligate the taxpayer through the public purse for those moneys.

That is what the bill does. The people who are watching would be shocked to know that for every single vote a political party received in the last election, the taxpayer will be giving us $1.50 every single year. Where could that money be better spent? Could it not be better spent for MRIs, hospital beds or hiring nurses and physicians to ensure that people will get the health care they deserve? Is that not a better use of the taxpayers' money? Or is it better to give those moneys to a political institution?

We would submit that those moneys should be spent on priorities like health care, defence, education and the social programs on which people who are less fortunate rely on. That is a better use of taxpayers' money. Taxpayers should not be giving millions of dollars to political parties every single year. In our view that is not a good use of taxpayers' money.

The amendment by the government House leader is a good one because it proposes that the bill be reviewed in one year. We hope it will be dramatically changed if it is not changed during this period of time. It is completely unfair that a billionaire in Ottawa received millions of dollars from the Canadian taxpayer, from our government, for projects. Viewers out there would be shocked to know where their money is going.

There is something called a technology partnership Canada fund which has handed out close to $2 billion to the private sector. How much of that money has been repaid? A shocking $35 million. This is taxpayers' money. It is not money that somehow appears from the ether in the middle of nowhere. This money comes from hardworking Canadians who made $16,000, $20,000, $40,000 a year and who pay a lot of taxes which are being given to multi-billion dollar Canadian companies and only a fraction of those moneys are repaid. That is absolutely ridiculous.

More shocking is that the people who receive those moneys make donations to the government. We have a multi-billionaire with multi-billion dollar companies receiving taxpayers' money in the form of loans that more often than not are never paid back to the government and by extension, to the people of our country. That is not right. Furthermore, that individual was a prime donor to the governing party.

The bill is deeply flawed. We are thankful in our country that we do not have the situation south of the border where it costs millions of dollars to run for political office. Thankfully we have limits on what we can spend. Let us never change that. Our current system enables people from all socio-economic groups to run for the highest office in the land and that is a good thing.

It is not a good thing that our current system, even with the bill, will enable big money to be used to influence the tendering of government contracts and potentially the implementation of public policy. The government could deal with that by publishing what it pays and what it receives. That would add the element of transparency in a system and improve the objective of the bill, which is a good one, by eliminating deep pockets from having influence in public policy.

On the issue of tendering of government contracts, we must ensure that Treasury Board guidelines are fulfilled, adhered to, and that the tendering of public contracts is indeed a public and transparent process. If we do not do that and the bill does not address that, then we will still have the influence of deep pockets and big money in public policy and in the tendering process. At the end of the day, it is not our money. It is taxpayers' money we are using. It is not the government's money. Above all, we must be respectful of that because it is our duty to use the money as wisely as possible.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-24 and the amendments under consideration at this time.

Let me say at the outset that I will be speaking in support of Bill C-24, not just because I happen to be a Liberal and a member of the governing party. I support Bill C-24 because it is the kind of issue that I have felt strongly about for a good many years. I have felt for a good many years that it is time for the public to take a much wider financial participation in our democracy.

I want to say some congratulatory remarks to the government for bringing Bill C-24 before the House at this time. I think it is an idea whose time has come. When the bill is passed and becomes law and when the law has been enforced for some years, I think it will be a model for many other countries around the world to follow. I believe it is that progressive.

I also want to congratulate the Prime Minister. In the months leading up to his retirement toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year he could have just sat back and done nothing, but he has not done that. He has been very active. Evidence of that is bringing forward Bill C-24, which I think in political terms and in legislative terms is a very bold act. I think he deserves our congratulations. This is going to be a long-lasting legacy in his name.

The particular amendment before us would allow for a review roughly a year from now, after the next election, let us say, and I think that is a good amendment. The opportunity to look at something that we parliamentarians have done in the recent past and to assess and evaluate the efficacy and value of the legislation is a good direction to take. Certainly I will be supporting not only the legislation but this particular amendment allowing for that kind of review. I think it is a good amendment and a good decision to take.

Now I want to ask myself a question and provide the answer. Why do I support Bill C-24? I happen to believe, and I have felt this way for a long time, that elections are at the centre of our Canadian democracy. Democracy belongs to all of us and we all have to take responsibility for it. That includes paying for it. There is no other way. If we are going to take financial responsibility for our democracy, that means we are going to have to take on our responsibility as taxpayers and share in the financial support for our democracy.

On the one hand we Canadians cherish our democracy, which I think is one of the best models of democracy in the world. We have had it for almost 136 years and would never want to give it up. Yet I find it passing strange that on the other hand, a lot of Canadians seem content and happy to surrender some control of that democracy to corporations and unions to save us a little bit of money. I think that is a dubious saving, to say the least.

There is of course this perception that big money involved in the financing of election campaigns bears with it or carries with it too much influence. We know, despite arguments to the contrary, that there is really no smoking gun in support of this perception. Nevertheless it is there.

I do not think there is any doubt that when it comes to big contributions to political parties, political campaigns and political candidates, they do to some extent provide access. Sometimes that is all we need: access. We do not have to be a direct participant with our money in a decision or in a process leading up to the decision. What we need is access. What we need sometimes is just the opportunity to present our case. From then on good things may well happen, not always, but they may well happen.

For example, well-to-do people can go to some classy fundraisers and pay $200 to $600 or maybe even more than that. With that, they have an opportunity to meet certain important people, particularly prime ministers. That is access. They may bend an ear for only half a minute or a minute, but perhaps there is some value to that. We always hear about the famous golf tournaments. One buys into a golf tournament and has an opportunity for a few rounds of golf with a cabinet minister, a deputy minister or someone else important. That is the kind of access we are talking about. I think anything that will offset that kind of perception is all well and good.

I want to deal with a particular matter that I think I heard the previous speaker talk about: the concern of some people that the money coming from the taxpayer in support of election campaigns would go to parties, as if somehow or another the money would actually go into the pockets of political parties for the pleasure and enjoyment of political parties, or that the money would be used for their profit, let us say. I do not think that is true. I think the money goes through the parties and the operative word is “through”. The money goes through the parties to enable them to express themselves and to communicate their policies and messages to the electorate. That is what the money is for.

Parties that have those kinds of resources from taxpayers will be able to express themselves better and more clearly, without fear or favour, as it were. I support the notion of putting the money through the parties. The parties, we can be sure, will spend the money, every nickel of it. In fact, another aspect of this which I think is important, and which the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca mentioned, is keeping a lid on spending, or in other words keeping control of spending. That is one of the great things we have under Canadian law. There are rigid, tight controls on election spending, and that it is the way it should be.

I hope that we always will keep a very careful eye on this control of spending. It is very important. It is one thing to get wider public financial participation into the process, but it is equally important to keep a tight rein on spending. I hope we never let that go.

I know that some people are not comfortable with asking taxpayers to participate in this way, but there is simply no alternative. It is either public support or private support and I think it is time for us to go to a greater scale of public support. Right now, considering rebates and other things that we use, around 59% of election spending is borne by the public purse. Under Bill C-24, that may go as high as perhaps 89% or 90%.

This kind of legislation is not new. The Province of Quebec has had it for a good long while, for many years now. There is an aspect of it in New Brunswick. In fact, in New Brunswick I think they fork over about $1.80 a head. Of course the Province of Manitoba has it and I think the legislation was enacted in 2000. It was put to the test for the first time in the recent provincial election in Manitoba on June 3.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

And it works.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

I hear the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre saying it works. I think it works, although I think the member might agree that the government in Manitoba, which is NDP, will have to consider some public support. Looking not at the results of the election campaign but at the way in which it was waged, I think there was a paucity of funds. Maybe Manitoba will have to look at the legislation.

Mr. Speaker, you are giving me the high sign to close, so I will say that I think this is good, progressive legislation. Let us support it.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Portneuf
Québec

Liberal

Claude Duplain Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, thank you for these few minutes to speak on a bill that will enable us to reform political financing. I would like to speak specifically about my support for Motion No. 11, which calls for a review of the impact of the legislation after the next election.

Canadians justifiably take great pride in their country. They are proud of its reputation for honesty and good government, which sets an example for many new democracies around the world.

This good reputation did not just pop up overnight, however. Rather, it is the result of hard work and sacrifice by ordinary Canadians who took a keen interest in the issues of the day, who got involved, who made a difference by their actions.

The Canadians of 2003 are not much different from their predecessors. They too want to play an active part in bringing about change, but to do so they need to know how the system works.

Political financing is an area in which Canadians are not fully informed. This was obvious when the Government House Leader consulted the experts, provincial leaders and ordinary Canadians on how the present system could be improved.

Many of them pointed out that Canadians did not have enough information on political financing. And they are not always happy about the information they do have. Canadians have the impression that corporations, unions and wealthy individuals, with their generous contributions, sometimes have undue influence over the political system. This is not correct, of course. But, as we all know, perceptions are important and every effort must be made to ensure that Canadians have complete faith in our democratic process.

There is no doubt that the best approach to correcting these misconceptions is for Canadians to be given as much information as possible on the donors, the recipients and the use to which funds are put. This means enforcing better rules for reporting and requiring all involved to declare funding. That is exactly what Bill C-24 proposes: enhanced transparency and tighter rules on reporting.

To begin with, the bill contains some measures aimed at opening up the system, making it more transparent, clarifying unclear points. This makes a lot of sense, since the system is, after all, one of integrity, so why not let the public see what it is all about and allow it to draw its own conclusions?

At the present time, only candidates and political parties have to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with a report of the contributions received and their sources. The rules are patently incomplete, since some important participants are not included in this at all.

To correct this, the bill will extend disclosure requirements to all participants in the electoral process, namely, leadership and nomination contestants, as well as political parties and electoral district associations. And all political participants will be obliged to declare contributions over $200, along with the name and address of the individual or organization making the contribution.

As of January 1, 2005, political parties will also be required to report quarterly on contributions received. In addition, when registering with the Chief Electoral Officer, leadership contestants will be required to declare contributions received, with sources, prior to the date of registration. And in each of the four weeks preceding the nomination convention, candidates must declare the contributions received and their source. Finally, six months after the conclusion of the leadership contest, the candidates must declare to the Chief Electoral Officer any additional contributions and expenditures.

Nomination contestants will also be required to disclose any donations received and their sources, along with expenditures incurred, during the four months following the nomination contest.

When it comes to changes in political funding rules, improved disclosure of contributions, expenditures and other factors cannot in itself boost public confidence.

In order to reduce the system's reliance on large donations from corporations, unions and the wealthy, the bill prohibits corporations and unions from making contributions; a limited exception allows them to contribute up to $1,000 to registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates.

The bill also provides heavy penalties for businesses and unions that try to get around this ban by asking employees and members to make contributions on their behalf. Finally, it caps contributions by individuals at $5,000 per year in response to concerns about the impact of major contributions.

To compensate for the insufficient funds that may result from commitments related to public financing measures, the bill would increase public support. As a result, eligible parties would receive a quarterly allowance of $1.75 per vote; the percentage of election expenses to be reimbursed to the parties would go from 50% to 60% for the next election alone; the definition of election expenses would be broadened to include polls; the election expense limit for parties would be increased; the candidates would also be entitled to a refund of their election expenses, which would go from 50% to 60%; and the minimum allowable expenses would be lowered to 10% so that a greater number of candidates could get a refund of their election expenses.

Furthermore, other measures would encourage more Canadians to contribute. Individual contributions eligible for tax credits of 75% would increase from $200 to $400, and the maximum tax credit for individual contributions would increase from $500 to $650.

In closing, I believe that passing this bill would contribute greatly to strengthening public confidence in political financing in Canada. This would reassure Canadians of the system's fundamental integrity, while providing a better idea of the funds received, the beneficiaries and how the money has been spent.

Furthermore, the bill would make a fundamental change to political party financing across Canada, which would reassure Canadians and the rest of the world that our political system and government are founded on, and will continue to be founded on, very strict ethical standards.

Clearly, everyone would be a winner. But I agree that it would be good to review the effect of these provisions after the next election.

For those reasons, I will support the motion, and I encourage the other members to do the same.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion No. 11 agreed to)