House of Commons Hansard #114 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

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great honour to speak on this very important piece of legislation, Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, political financing. I would like to focus my remarks on the public financing measures contained in the bill which have attracted a great deal of attention in the discussion today.

During the discussion of this issue, both in Parliament as well as during the public hearings held by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I believe it has been well established that the measures contained in this bill build on a long tradition in Canada, a tradition of public financing of the electoral system.

This tradition goes back to 1974 with the Election Expenses Act. Among other items, that legislation introduced public financing through post-election reimbursement to qualifying parties and candidates and income tax credit for contributions to registered parties and election candidates. What we are doing is building on what we already started back in 1974. However since that time all parties in the House of Commons have benefited from these measures.

It has also been well established that public funding is not new in Canada. In fact all provinces provide some form of public funding. Three provinces in particular, New Brunswick, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, provide for a public allowance. It is also particularly notable that Quebec has provided a public allowance since 1975 and the system is well received by Quebec residents, a fact which was underlined by the Quebec electoral officer when he appeared before the committee during its hearing on this bill. It is also well known that most democracies provide political participants with some form of public financing.

If we were to look at the public financing measures in Bill C-24, we would see that, as I indicated a little earlier, it builds upon what we already had set up before. However it does change the percentage of contribution by the government from that of 22% to 50%, with a one-time reimbursement at 60% for the next election to assist parties as a transitional measure.

Polling expenses also would be added to the definition of registered election expenses and the ceiling for eligible expenses would be raised accordingly. The threshold for candidates to qualify for reimbursement of part of their election expenses would be lowered from 15% to 10%. I am sure members would agree with me that for at least two political parties in the House, some of their candidates as well as their parties, would be able to qualify under those members.

The rate of reimbursement of candidate election expenses as well would increase from 50% to 60%. An amendment to the Income Tax Act would double the amount of individual political contribution that is eligible for a 75% tax credit from $200 to $400, and all other brackets of the tax credit would be adjusted accordingly. As it is now, every time we give a $100 contribution to a political party, the Government of Canada reimburses $75 of that. Therefore, the--

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, this is most unfortunate. I have had consultations with House leaders of all parties and have been officially notified that this bill will not go through at all unless I proceed with the following motion.

I am informing you formally then, Mr. Speaker, that an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the report stage and third reading stage of Bill C-24. It is more about the third reading stage of Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing).

Therefore, under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and the disposal of the proceedings at the said stages.

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. 2.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

June 9th, 2003 / 3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, presently if somebody makes a contribution of $100 to a political party, the Government of Canada will reimburse that individual $75. In essence the government has increased the base from $200 to $400, therefore encouraging more contributions by the public at large to political parties.

In this proposed legislation the government will allow each registered political party to receive $1.75 per vote received in an election in recognition of the significant impact that the proposed prohibition on corporate and union donations will have on parties. This allowance will help political parties to run in an election without having the extra burden of having to raise the necessary funds. All they will have to do is ensure that they have a sound policy statement and a sound platform. If they can get the necessary support from the public, they will be able to generate more revenues.

My colleagues on the opposition side should argue that this is extremely positive news for all involved and for all members of all political parties since it will allow them to sell their ideas to the public and they will not have to chase nickels and dimes.

As a transitional measure, parties will receive the 2004 allowance in a lump sum as soon as possible after the coming into force of the bill, instead of quarterly arrangement about which the bill speaks.

Public financing in general, and in particular the public allowance, was probably the issue that drew more attention than any other issue during the public hearings. For the most part, it was a very positive discussion and people in general recognized the value of public financing, although they had different ideas about how the formula for providing the allowance should work. Others had already spoken about the merits of the bill and they had specific recommendations and adjustments to make to the bill. The committee and the government were very receptive to some of those suggestions.

With the remainder of my time, I would like to speak a bit on some of the benefits of Bill C-24.

It is important to recognize public financing in this debate, and how important it is when it comes to the political financing equations. I think we all agree that political parties are critical to the functioning of our democracy. Without strong political parties and party organizations, a healthy democracy would not function. Political parties in general perform a key role in mobilizing the voters, representing the views of all groups in society, as well as formulating policies, policy alternatives and recruiting future leaders.

Parties offer support to the democratic process and democratic government. They provide a key link between state and society. In view of the important role parties play in so many aspects of our democratic system, it seems obvious that they should be supported by the state. Otherwise, we run the risk that parties will be severely limited in undertaking their critical role in our democracy.

Political parties play a key role as structures through which citizens may participate in our political system. Throughout our history, parties have been the key institution through which citizens can express their political opinions and become actively involved in the governing of our society.

If there is a substantial variation in the resources received by parties, we run the risk that a perception will arise that some organizations have undue influence. The result can be that citizens become disaffected and reduce their linkage to parties and our democratic system in general.

By regulating the financial resources that contributors may provide to parties, in combination with public funding as is being proposed in the bill, we can ensure that a level playing field is created for all participants.

Finally, we must recognize the enormous cost of funding a political party in a modern democracy. Everyone in the House is aware that the cost of running an effective party demands the necessary resources in order to support it.

I want to urge my colleagues, in the name of democracy and in the best interest of the public at large, to pass the bill as quickly as possible.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Motion No. 11 in Group No. 2, as have other political parties in the House this afternoon.

The reason this report has been permitted is to deal with some amendments that were deemed to be inadmissible at report stage, that the Speaker has ruled as being out of order and others that require royal recommendation.

When the committee studied the bill under the rubric of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, we decided that we should prepare a separate report to signal possible areas for legislative change and/or future study. I think this particular motion is supported by the majority of parties, if not all the parties, in the House.

It is important to note that this is the most significant reform of political financing in Canada since the Election Expenses Act was introduced 29 years ago during the minority government of Pierre Trudeau and when the New Democratic Party held the balance of power.

The legislation before us would ban political donations to political parties. It would allow minor contributions to candidates running for nomination, and to electoral district associations, but no more money would be allowed to be donated by corporations and trade unions to the political party of their choice.

It would also require additional reporting requirements for constituency associations. It would limit individual contributions now to $5,000. When the bill was first tabled it was $10,000 and I think it was a unanimous motion of the committee to reduce the amount to $5,000 per individual per year.

It also would regulate the nomination and leadership campaigns of some parties. As an aside, I would say that this is a matter of physician heal thyself because in fact the New Democratic Party, and I believe some other parties in the House, have very strict limits on leadership campaigns and on nominating campaigns. I know members on the government side do not and there have been some embarrassing results flowing from that.

For example, in the last New Democratic Party leadership campaign none of the candidates for election were allowed to spend more than $750,000. There was preliminary reporting of how that money was raised prior to the vote taking place. There was full disclosure. It can be done but the government has seen fit to, instead of operating on a party by party basis or doing it within its own party, bring it in under the election financing amendments.

Certainly, at the bottom of all this, or under the pillar of it, as a result of the absence of corporate and trade union contributions, there is enhanced public financing of the political system.

Some of the concerns some members of the committee had and which we want to see addressed in this special or separate report, had to do with administrative burdens and cost of compliance that would accrue to constituency associations. There is no question that there will be a greater burden of transparency and a need for better record keeping that will have to flow to the Chief Electoral Officer on a regular basis from riding associations.

There was also some concern expressed whether volunteers, with all the requirements that would henceforth be required and forthcoming, would throw their hands up and say that it was too much paperwork and that they were out of there. We need to look at that very carefully.

One of things the member for North Vancouver raised was a concern that the audit fee limit of $1,500 was too low and that some auditors, at the conclusion of an election campaign, or doing the report for a candidate or an electoral district, would be subsidizing the process. We want to look at that as well because I do not think there was anybody who thought that auditors ought to be subsidizing the process. If the figures are too low, let us amend it.

The member for Ottawa West—Nepean, as I recall, was concerned about non-monetary contributions, specifically people who have particular skills in an election campaign and volunteer their services, but because of their particular skills are prohibited from working on certain elements or aspects of the campaign. I think of someone who perhaps operates a phone bank in his or her day job and would, under the current rules, be technically prohibited from doing that as a volunteer in a political operation. We think that needs some examination and clarification. Hopefully this committee or the son of this committee will look at that issue.

One of the issues that has been dealt with in this go around was the matter of the $1.50 per vote per year being based on the results of the last general election. Certainly we heard from witnesses who were concerned that all those eggs should not be in that one basket, that perhaps it should be either a combination of rolling polls that have taken place since the election or perhaps based on a party's membership together with the vote that the party received in the previous election.

I must say that the notion of a poll leaves me stone cold because there are times when governments have to take difficult decisions. I would think it would be another excuse not to make a difficult decision if someone said, “We cannot do that because we have a poll coming up next week and it may do some serious damage in terms of the amount of money that we will have to fight the next election campaign”.

I think on balance the $1.75 per vote per year based on what was received in the last election campaign may not be the best but it is the best that the committee could come up with. However I do not support the increase from $1.50 to $1.75.

As the minister responsible made very clear when he was before the committee at the first meeting on this issue, at $1.50 per vote per year no party would be negatively impacted. All parties would be at least revenue neutral, if not slightly ahead of the game. I fail to see what has happened in the intervening couple of months that now suggests it should be $1.75, a raise of 25¢.

A couple of other issues were raised before in the first group of amendments: the differential treatment of franchises and corporate entities, and the need for equal treatment of union locals versus corporate franchises. This is something that I think is a fundamental flaw in the bill. Yes, it is true that trade unions and corporations have been restricted in the amount of money they can give and to whom they can give that money. However, having said that, there is no question that corporations will be able to give significantly more because the way the legislation is written trade union locals are generally excluded from making a contribution to a local candidate or a local riding association. I think that is indefensible and I fail to understand why that cannot be altered.

Another area deals with free time broadcasting. The Broadcast Act was out of the purview of the committee and out of the purview of this bill because the amendments deal only with changes to the elections financing act and the Income Tax Act, but several significant witnesses, if I may put it that way, came before the committee and talked about the way that the cost of elections could be reduced if in fact there were more free time broadcasts allowed during an election campaign. They pointed to the British system as an example of that. We would hope that this could be looked at in a further go around by the committee that is looking at the impact of Bill C-24.

The third party spending on election campaigns is something that is fundamental. If the third party is defeated or overruled at the Supreme Court then all of what we are doing here on Bill C-24 stands for naught. Therefore we will have to pay close attention to that, as will the committee as it goes forward with the review of these procedures.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise in this debate. I certainly would begin by saying that I support Motion No. 11, the motion we are apparently considering. What it does basically is it calls upon a committee to examine the impact and effect of the political financing changes that are contained in Bill C-24 after the next general election to see if there are any negative impacts that were not anticipated in the bill, and, obviously, that is a very positive thing to do. I do not doubt that this particular motion will have the support of the full House.

However this does give me an opportunity to express my support for Bill C-24, my almost unqualified support, because I think it is excellent legislation. It is certainly something that all parties of the House, everyone in the chamber I think, should want to support. There are some minor glitches here and there that perhaps we do not all agree with but one thing we should all agree with, including members on the opposite side, are the transparency provisions.

I have always been of the view that when it comes to public perception of the political process and how money might influence that political process, the problem is not so much that people think that the registered political parties are the ones that are easily influenced by money so much as people who might be worried that their local politicians might be influenced by large amounts of money that might be flowing around them.

Consequently, it is very important to have a transparency provision, which we have not had up until now, where we can see how much money has come into a riding association at any given time and we can see how much money is going to a particular candidate. The reason it is so important is the voters.

The voters might take a different attitude toward a candidate for re-election, shall we say, an incumbent MP, who might be discovered to have many hundreds of thousands of dollars in his riding association account when he has no need for such large sums of money. At the very most that an individual would need to run an election in this country because of the way the Chief Electoral Officer reimburses election spending, which is a 50:50 scheme, would be about $35,000. So there would be some genuine questions from the public if they were to perceive riding associations with several hundred thousand dollars.

Indeed, myself, I feel that it would be perfectly reasonable to see some limited corporate financing go to the registered political parties directly. I actually proposed an amendment at committee that would have seen corporate financing restored only to the registered parties, that is head office, to a cap of $25,000. That is not a do or die principle with me. I am content with the choice that was made by the government, and that is to provide primary subsidies through this arrangement of a certain amount of money per vote from the previous election. However I do believe that a certain amount of limited corporate financing going directly to the party would have been okay.

What I did not like was the provision in the previous version of the bill that allowed donations of $10,000 from individuals to go to riding associations and individual politicians and candidates. That is way too high. What that means, in my particular instance, in the last election I only spent $28,000, and in the previous election, I only spent $30,000, and in the one before that, I only spent $32,000. So if there was an individual who was able to donate to my riding association $10,000 per year for three or four years and then $10,000 to my campaign, I would not need any other fundraising but that and I would show a profit after the election. That I think is completely wrong.

I think the principle should be that each and every one of us should be prepared to demonstrate that we have support from grassroots people, from ordinary Canadians in our community, by having to go out and raise small amounts of money through local fundraising, like spaghetti suppers or auction sales, or from the small donations from the people in our community who we know have trust in us.

I proposed at committee stage that the $10,000 individual donation cap be lowered to $1,225. That would have been the limit for a tax receipt. The committee, in its wisdom, did not take that suggestion. It did lower the permissible individual donation from $10,000 to $5,000. I still feel that is too high, but it is a significant improvement.

In the final analysis, if we are to regain or maintain the confidence of the public--and we must not assume that people have lost confidence in their political process--we must demonstrate that we are politicians who have our roots in the community and not in big unions, large corporations or individuals in our ridings who are well heeled and can give large sums of money.

Some members of Parliament have suggested that even if they were to get a donation of $2,000, $3,000, $4,000, $5,000, $6,000 or $10,000, they would not be influenced in their judgment and how they would behave once they were elected.

I suggest that is not the issue. The issue is always perception. We must demonstrate through transparency that we are not beholden to anyone because they have given us large sums of money. In the first instance, this is addressed by the transparency provisions in the bill.

One of the other issues that has come up has been the implementation date. There has been some suggestion that the implementation date should be after the next general election. I am one who absolutely rejects that. I do not feel that members of Parliament can bring in a significant reform to the political financing process and not be prepared to live by it.

I have no difficulty with going into the next election under this legislation. I have in my riding association bank account about $10,000, give or take a little. I would suggest that were the election called tomorrow, between that $10,000 and what money I can raise during the election campaign itself, I am sure I would reach the ceiling of $15,000, which, with the rebate, would enable me to spend $30,000, which is as much as I have ever spent on an election anyway. I think $32,000 was the maximum.

So, Mr. Speaker, you do not have to have lots of money in order to be re-elected in this country as a politician. I am in a contested riding. My riding was traditionally Conservative before I won it in 1993. I am not speaking as one who is in a safe riding. The reality is that all an individual needs to do in an election is to get out there, get his or her name out there, get on the podium with other candidates, and convince the people. A lot of money is not needed to do that.

I do not feel that we need to wait a year. We can hopefully pass this legislation this week and make it effective January 1, 2004, and there will be no problem whatsoever.

The other point I wished to address was raised by the member for Vancouver Island North. He was worried that there is an increased charge on the taxpayer because instead of corporate donations we will have to get more money from taxpayers to finance an election.

I would suggest to him that a few million dollars extra to guarantee the integrity of the election process in this country is money well spent. We do not want to have the experience of other nations, notably the United States, where money is so absolutely necessary for anyone to move any distance in the political process whatsoever.

I think this is excellent legislation. It is legislation that I for one will be very proud of as an MP and of the government that brought it into effect.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could pick up where my colleague across the way left off because I was astounded by the statement that he made at the end of his remarks. I think it is fairly accurate to quote him as saying that he supported a few extra million dollars to guarantee the political integrity of the election process.

I find that astounding because the fact is that, with or without Bill C-24 and its generous increase in taxpayer subsidization of political parties, if people lack the moral integrity to decline influence, corporations and individuals will find ways of funnelling money to political parties and leaders to influence them. It is a fact of life. If the individual or the political party wants to be influenced, no law in the world and no amount of government taxpayer subsidization will prevent that from happening.

For the hon. member to say that he is going out on the hustings to brag about this new piece of government legislation, Bill C-24, that funnels some $22 million per year into the hands of politicians and political parties and that he is going to be proud of that during the next election campaign, it shows the extent of Liberal thinking. It blows the mind of the average overburdened taxpayer in the real world, outside of this Ottawa bubble, that the member, not only in speaking for himself, but for a lot of Liberal government members, would make such an incredible statement of support for this legislation.

Why did Bill C-24 come about? It came about because there was and there is a perception that the government led by the Prime Minister, who is just about finished his tenure as leader of our country, has been tainted by a number of scandals. The government brought forward this legislation to provide a smokescreen so that its candidates could go out in the next election campaign and say they had a lot of scandals that had the appearance of influence peddling and kickbacks, and that type of corruption. There was the perception, and pretty widely reported, that a lot of corporations over the 10 year life of this administration received substantial grants and contributions from the taxpayer and by sheer coincidence made generous donations to Liberal candidates, and in some cases Liberal cabinet ministers and/or the Liberal Party.

In order to create an illusion that the Liberals were going to address that and do something about it, they came up with Bill C-24. They now intend, as was stated here a few minutes ago, to bring forward time allocation and rush this piece of legislation through because it is the most important issue that is seizing the nation. I mean everybody in the real world, outside of Ottawa and Parliament Hill, is talking about the need for Bill C-24. Everyone is trying to figure out some way of sending $22 million to political parties every year from now on.

I do not hear that and the Canadian Alliance is the party in this place that is opposed to this legislation. We have said that repeatedly ever since it was brought forward. The government asks, why is the Canadian Alliance opposed to this? It says that taxpayers already subsidize political parties. We have a tax credit. If somebody makes a donation to a political party or a candidate, they are eligible for an income tax credit. That is true. For example, on a $200 donation it is a $150 tax credit. That has been in place for quite some time.

Political candidates, their campaigns and political parties are also eligible for rebates from taxpayers. In the case of a candidate, like myself, I ran in four election campaigns, unsuccessfully in the first one and successfully in the last three. Each and every time, if I received, which I obviously did, more than 15% of the vote, I got a 50% rebate from taxpayers of the money that was donated to me and that I in turn spent on my election campaign.

The government House leader argues, what is the big deal? Political parties, candidates, and politicians are already subsidized by the taxpayer. Well, it is a big deal. The issue is, why must we burden the taxpayer more? The argument is that somehow this particular government ended up with some egg on its face because of some pretty shady operations. It accepted corporate donations and in turn those corporations turned around and had fairly lucrative contracts. It has been revealed in the press. I am not talking about anything new. There have been a series of those over the last number of years.

Rather than restoring the integrity that the Prime Minister promised in the red book back in 1993, he is solving the problem by bringing forward a bill and having the taxpayers pay for it. Corporate donations would be outlawed above a certain amount so that there cannot be any of these large corporate donations to political parties and instead we would have the taxpayers pay for it. That would solve the problem. It is not funny.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

An hon. member

It's sad.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

It's sad, that whenever there is a problem with the Liberal government its first inclination is to have the taxpayers solve the problem for it. Instead of looking within itself and asking if maybe it should have been turning down some of the donations or ensuring that some of the corporations were not eligible from the same department, and the same minister that they were donating to, for a contract. Maybe it should have been looking at that.

I want to spend my remaining time speaking on behalf of my constituents of Prince George—Peace River. I think the message I am sending today as a Canadian Alliance MP, is the message that every one of the 301 members of Parliament would be receiving from their constituents and that is with the huge issues that are facing our nation; the softwood lumber dispute that has been going on for years now, people have been laid-off cannot make ends meet, now we have a SARS health crisis in Ontario, primarily in Toronto and we have the BSE, the mad cow disaster that has hit our beef industry in western Canada but affected the economy of the entire nation and the beef industry from coast to coast.

Those are just three that come to mind. We have our military that is about to face a pretty hefty deployment to Afghanistan. All these major issues face our nation and need to be addressed, and the issue that seizes the government and Prime Minister, in his waning days of power, is taxpayer subsidization of political parties. It is absolutely unbelievable and I can say that my constituents are sick about it and I believe that when word gets out that the people from coast to coast, Canadians are tired of paying taxes to benefit politicians, they are going to speak loudly about Bill C-24 in the next election campaign.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, 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 South Shore, the Auditor General; the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, Iraq.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are now discussing Motion No. 11 for Bill C-24. This motion calls for a review of the act after the next general election. That is the purpose of today's discussion. However, we may need to broaden the scope of the debate.

Before going any further, I would like to point out that my colleagues' main argument was that we are asking taxpayers to fund, in part, political parties' operations under the new bill. He said that we would be adding an additional burden to taxpayers, who are already overtaxed. I completely agree with him; people are much too heavily taxed and yes, the government could make efforts to reduce taxes, which would be even better.

However, the argument put forward by my colleague is a false one. In fact, if a corporation or a company contributes $100,000 to a political party, for example, if a big bank contributes $100,000 to the Liberal Party fund—as has occurred in the past and as is still the case today—this bank is not creating this money out of nothing—it will simply take this $100,000 and include it in its public relations expenses or other expenses. This way, it pays less tax on its profits.

Moreover, the company will ask users to foot the bill because companies make money by selling services or products. So, if the $100,000 is part of this company's overhead costs, it is obvious that the company will increase its prices accordingly. Companies do not create money out of nothing; they provide services. That is how it works. It seems to me that this argument is a somewhat spurious one.

As for the other major element of Bill C-24, I would like to draw a comparison with Quebec. Quebec has had legislation on political party financing for quite a while. We should look at how it has worked, and see what good it has done Quebec in terms of cleaning up politics. If we compare this system to the Canadian system, it is clear that there is a very serious problem with party financing in the latter. One need only look at the current leadership race.

Since we have a bill before us, we can ask ourselves, for instance, which candidate will win the leadership race. The answer is simple: the one who raised the most money. But at present, this is hardly clean money; it is money raised in secret. There is therefore a need to make these activities transparent.

We could look at the United States and how the presidency campaigns are run in that country; we would see all the problems they have had in the past.

At present, if we look at the situation in Canada, I mentioned the leadership race, but we could talk about the overall operation of political parties. To say that political parties are not influenced by the large companies or the individuals who contribute the most to their election fund would be a lie. To say that a member would not be influenced by the fact that a company contributed $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 or $25,000 to his or her election campaign, would be to lie to the public.

Naturally, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of Bill C-24. We had hoped that the measures in this bill would follow Quebec's lead, so as to make it more acceptable to the general public and ensure that our democracy can truly express its will. From the beginning, Quebec's political party financing legislation was recognized throughout North America, Europe and the world as being very forward-looking legislation that cleaned up politics. It is a model for all liberal democracies in North America and Europe. It is a model, but we think too that it needs to be perfected, amended and regularly reviewed, and Motion No. 11 would ensure that Canada's political party financing legislation is subject to regular review.

We want this legislation to be improved. We do not want business to have the right to make contributions. The only way to renew the public's interest in democracy is to allow it to participate and to see that it, not just business, can have a real influence on political parties.

Over the years, this aspect of our democracies got off track. From the moment that businesses had access to political party financing—perhaps right from the start, but it was less obvious before; this has become more evident over the years—they have become increasingly important to political parties and have had more and more influence on our democracy, which has meant that the influence of individuals has decreased.

This must be rectified immediately, since we realize that the public is becoming disillusioned with politics. It thinks that politics are not credible, because it is influenced by interest groups—unions were mentioned—or business.

Another change we should maybe have considered during the examination of this bill on political party financing—and I mentioned this earlier—is the combined influence of interest groups. These days, in our society, it is no longer citizens who dominate. There are even corporations, understandably, that have formed big groups, like all of the chambers of commerce and so on. It is all of these interest groups that constantly influence members to vote one way or another.

This is something that has developed in our democracy over the last 30 years and we have seen it happen. Every citizen with a cause to defend can, if they want, create a lobby group. The more powerful that group is, the greater that person's chances of being heard by governments. Unfortunately, under current legislation, such as the Canada Elections Act and the political party financing legislation, we have also allowed these interest groups to contribute to political parties. That has given them additional influence.

I think this should be prohibited. I think that only citizens should have the right to contribute to political parties, to invest in their democracy and, in this way, ensure its health, on the condition that, as others have mentioned, there be annual reporting and that we know who contributed to the funding of each political party, based on the allowable limit.

In Quebec, if my memory serves well—I would have to check—I think that any contributions over $100 must be declared. There must be a list of people who have contributed to a party. I think the same is true federally, and this is a good idea.

Earlier, there was talk of increasing the burden on taxpayers. I would like to come back to this idea. In fact, I think that it is up to each and every individual to fund political parties, but it is also up to the government to make efforts so that political parties can be viable and, from an economic standpoint, continue to grow and prosper so as to develop our democracy and allow people to participate in it.

Canada Elections Act
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4:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-24 at report stage although there is only one amendment in Group No. 2, which deals with the mandatory review to be undertaken after the first election conducted under these new election financing rules.

I am particularly pleased to join the debate today being a member of Parliament from Manitoba, where we recently conducted our first election campaign under new election financing rules. I should point out that in our province of Manitoba under our new election financing rules, I believe it is the purest and cleanest democracy in the country as it stands today, for the simple reason that the NDP government in Manitoba passed a law indicating that only a registered voter can make a political campaign contribution. There are no contributions at all allowed from businesses or trade unions.

When we made those changes we made them completely and absolutely.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

An hon. member

We actually levelled the playing field.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

We actually levelled the playing field in the most literal sense. In fact, we went further. There is no public funding to reimburse or offset the lack of contributions or the reduction in contributions from labour or business. That is election campaign financing in its purest form. Only a registered voter is allowed to make campaign contributions.

It was a bill brought in by the NDP, the very first bill it introduced when it formed the government in 1999. Even then, those individuals are limited to a $3,000 maximum. No private individual can donate more than $3,000. That, I believe, is taking big money out of politics, and that, I believe, does send the message that no one in this country should be able to buy an election campaign. I am very proud that our provincial government did introduce those changes.

As well, however, I am not disappointed to be dealing in the House of Commons today with legislation that is at least similar. I believe the NDP will be able to support Bill C-24. We are optimistic that there will be amendments above and beyond Motion No. 11, which we are dealing with today. We support the idea that there should be a mandatory compulsory review after the first experience. That is only logical.

We are critical, though, of the fact that other amendments were not deemed votable at report stage, specifically the amendment dealing with trade union contributions and corporate contributions. We do not mind the limitation. We are not objecting to the limitation as such, but we are objecting to the fact that under Bill C-24 a trade union is defined in a way that is different from the way a trade union is defined in the Canada Labour Code. As such, only the national organization would be able to make a single contribution of $1,000 in most cases.

There might be a national union with 200 local unions across the country in the same organization. Under the Canada Labour Code they are considered individual trade unions, but for the purposes of Bill C-24 that large trade union would be able to make only one contribution of $1,000, whereas the inverse is not true for corporations. For instance, a corporation that has 200 franchises would be able to make a $1,000 contribution from each one of those 200 franchises. We find this fundamentally unfair, for two reasons.

First, the definition of a trade union is not consistent in the legislation. The definition in Bill C-24 should be the same as the definition in the Canada Labour Code. Second, it is a severe disadvantage in terms of individual trade union locals, which may be fairly large entities unto themselves. There may be 3,000 members in that local union, but they will not be able to make any political campaign contribution; only the parent organization, the national body, will be able to make a political contribution. That is one thing that we in the NDP wish to see addressed in the bill in the interests of fairness.

The second thing we will be speaking to is the idea of trust funds. There will be limitations put in place for all future contributions made to trust funds. After Bill C-24 comes into effect, it will have to be disclosed who is making those contributions to the trust funds, but that rule is not retroactive.

There are substantial trust funds in place already that members of Parliament have developed personally and that provincial wings of political parties have developed and of which we have no record. We will not be able to trace who made those contributions. That is going to be the subject of an interesting debate later on when we get to those amendments.

Suffice it to say that Canadians do not want to go toward the American model. I believe, and others may disagree with my personal opinion, that big money has ruined American politics. I do not say that lightly and I do not say that to be hypercritical in any way of our American friends. It is just that for a person to seek a seat in congress in this day and age, one needs $1 million or even $2 million to run a successful campaign. To run for the senate, one could need $5 million or $10 million. There was one woman in California who spent $20 million and did not succeed.

When big money gets into politics to that degree, people cannot start their political lives without owing an enormous debt to financial backers. As well, elected politicians spend most of their time gathering money for their next challenge two or four years down the road. To put it quite simply, money influences politics far too much in that model. I am proud that we are taking steps to try to diminish that here today.

I cannot help but think what a difference it would have made in some of the more famous scandals that we have seen lately, for instance the public works scandals with the advertising sponsorship contracts, if there had been rules in place that businesses could not donate money to political parties, period. There would be far less incentive for governments to give out money for nothing contracts to friendly businesses who may make political campaign contributions, thinking that they will then get access to a greater number of contracts from the government. That kind of thing would have been self-correcting were it in place years ago.

We would hope that the changes we are making today will put a stop at least to some of that kind of corrupt allocation of public works contracts. We are not sure. As I say, we are still critical that there are ways now within Bill C-24 for businesses to make campaign contributions in such a way that they could--and I am not saying they will, but they could--influence government decision making. Surely what this bill is all about is to get big money out of politics.

I see I only have one minute left, but suffice it to say I am very proud that the province of Manitoba has seen fit to adopt what I believe is the purest and cleanest democracy in the country. Only a registered voter should be able to make a political campaign contribution, and even that campaign contribution should have a limit. The limit set in Manitoba is $3,000 maximum. In that way we are much less likely to run the risk of undue influence by big money in Canadian politics.