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

Free Trade Agreements
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Free Trade Agreements
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Free Trade Agreements
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 11, at the end of government orders.

The House proceeded to the 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.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

June 9th, 2003 / 12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

There are 15 motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-24.

The Chair will not select Motions Nos. 5 to 7 since they require a royal recommendation.

The Chair will not select Motions Nos. 1 to 3, and 15 because they could have been presented in committee.

All remaining motions have been examined and the Chair is satisfied that they meet the guidelines expressed in the note to Standing Order 76.1(5) regarding the selection of motions in amendment at the report stage.

The motions will be grouped for debate as follows:

Group No. 1 will include Motions Nos. 4, 8, 9, 13 and 14.

Group No. 2 will include Motion No. 11 only.

Group No. 3 will include Motion No. 12 only.

The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 4, 8, 9, 13 and 14 in Group No. 1 to the House.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

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

moved:

That Bill C-24, in Clause 40, be amended by replacing lines 21 to 24 on page 41 with the following:

“(2) An allowance fund for a quarter is the product of

(a) $0.4375 multiplied by the number of valid votes cast in the election referred to in subsection (1), and

(b) the inflation adjustment factor determined under subsection 405.1(1) that is in effect for that quarter.”

That Bill C-24, in Clause 48, be amended by adding after line 22 on page 64 the following:

“(3) The portion of subsection 464(3) of the Act before paragraph (a) is replaced by the following:

(3) An official agent of a candidate shall without delay return to the Receiver General any amount received by him or her under subsection (2) that is more than 60% of the total of”

That Bill C-24, in Clause 49, be amended by adding after line 34 on page 64 the following:

“(2.1) Paragraphs 465(2) (a) and (b) of the Act, as amended by subsections (1) and (2), are replaced by the following:

(a) 60% of the sum of the candidate's paid election expenses and paid personal expenses, less the partial reimbursement made under section 464, and

(b) 60% of the election expenses limit provided for in section 440, less the partial reimbursement made under section 464.”

That Bill C-24, in Clause 72, be amended

(a) by replacing line 43 on page 101 with the following:

“72. (1) For the quarter during which this”

(b) by adding after line 49 on page 101 the following:

“(2) The allowance payable to a registered party under section 435.02 of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by section 40 of this Act, for the quarter during which this section comes into force and for any remaining quarters of the year during which it comes into force shall be estimated on the basis of the most recent general election preceding the coming into force of this section and paid within 30 days after its coming into force. Subsection 435.02(2) of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by this Act, applies to that payment with any modifications that may be required.

(3) In the application of sections 435.01 and 435.02 of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by this Act, any amount paid under subsection (2) in relation to a quarter shall be taken into account. A registered party that received an amount under subsection (2) for a quarter that is in excess of the amount to which it is entitled under those sections for that quarter shall without delay return to the Receiver General the amount of that excess. The Receiver General may reduce any other amount payable to the party by the amount of that excess.”

That Bill C-24 be amended by adding after line 49 on page 101 the following new clause:

“72.1 For the first general election after the coming into force of this section, the reference to “50%” in subsection 435(1) of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by this Act, shall be read as a reference to “60%”.”

Mr. Speaker, I want to take just two minutes to make a general comment about the first amendment, and, at the same time, thank all the members for their work in committee. I would like to thank, in particular, those members who made recommendations to the government, thereby permitting me to move motions at report stage. I want to thank those members.

Since there are now very few motions at report stage, I am therefore asking all my hon. colleagues in this House to pass them very quickly, so that third reading can take place soon.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the hon. member for Peterborough for doing an excellent job as chair of the standing committee responsible for considering these motions that will be debated shortly.

I also want to thank the committee for having provided me with a draft of the recommendations to be tabled later this afternoon. This draft enabled me, over the past few days, to amend and improve the bill. This institution called the House of Commons of Canada means a great deal to us, as does the process whereby we represent our constituents here.

I will have an opportunity to go into greater detail during third reading. For now, those are all my comments. I ask all my hon. colleagues, given the very small number of amendments at report stage, to pass them very quickly so that we can conclude consideration of this bill, which is truly a step in the right direction, one which the Right Hon. Prime Minister took with his speech of last June, and, of course, which will ensure the best governance of our country.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised that the minister only took a couple of minutes. I guess he wants to minimize the exposure to criticism about this bill because it is a huge invasion on the public treasury. He said, also, that he wants to adopt this stage rapidly so we can move on to third reading and get this thing pushed through the House, presumably so he can go home on Friday. However we can just tell by his demeanour that he cannot wait to get his shovel into the public treasury and start loading the cash into the Liberal coffers so the Liberals can pay for their day to day operations.

It is outrageous that the bill is all about paying for the day to day operations of the Liberal Party of Canada, using other people's money. That is what it comes down to. It is so easy to spend other people's money in this place and that is exactly what is happening here. It is a rape and pillage of the public treasury to provide hundreds of millions of dollars a year to political parties that should be raising the money they need from the people they claim to support or to represent. That is what should be happening; not a big shovel into the public treasury to load other people's money into our treasury.

This bill does not even fix the problems it was supposedly produced to address. Even the president of the Liberal Party, Stephen LeDrew, said that this bill would increase cynicism. At committee hearings, when we had witnesses before the committee on the bill, he said that it would increase the cynicism among voters.

The party on this side of the House, the Canadian Alliance, agrees with that interpretation.

My colleague from South Surrey—White Rock—Langley did a survey in her riding and I have a done a casual survey in mine, hers was more formal, asking people what they thought of the idea of taxpayer money being used to subsidize the day to day operations of political parties. The results were 95% to 96% of the people are opposed. They would rather have that $1 or $2, or whatever it is, in their pockets to help support their families and to spend wisely on the economy of the country rather than giving it to the Liberal Party of Canada, the Canadian Alliance, the PCs and the NDP.

My party, the Canadian Alliance, has done a good job of raising the money we need from individual supporters over all the years, and we would have been happy to stay with the status quo.

It is not too late for the government to abandon this exercise of attack on the public treasury. It could abandon it at this point. I certainly hope the Liberals see the light.

Also, I would like to mention that the number of amendments which have come through on the bill illustrate how badly it has been put together. It is full of extremely complicated wording. We found many errors during the committee hearings that the government was constantly introducing technical amendments to fix problems it had discovered. I identified two problems for the minister, not because I supported the intent of the bill but because if there were to be a bill passed in this place, it may as well be correct. They continue to find problems. One of the motions before us for debate, I am not sure if it is in this first group, again is to fix a technical problem.

The government has not done due diligence on this bill. It was rushed into this place because the Prime Minister wanted it, before there had been proper research.

During the weekend, I noticed a CP Newswire item that said the Prime Minister won the dubious honour of being the stupidest person in Canada. Members might ask “What does that have to do with this bill?” I actually disagree with the voters who made that decision during the weekend because I do not think that the Prime Minister is stupid, but I think he is very crafty. I think he introduced this bill to diffuse a big problem that was in this place, and that was the problem that we were finding the huge donations from supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada, and those donors subsequently were rewarded with money from the public treasury in the form of very lucrative contracts.

I know that when my colleagues get up to speak on this bill, some of them will be using examples of those types of huge contracts that were awarded to people who had been generous donors to the Liberal Party. I will give them the chance to do that because I would like to move on to some of the other things that the bill fails to do and fails to do even in this latest batch of motions we are debating right now.

First, Bill C-24 fails to fix the underlying problem of the awarding of government grants, government contracts and loans, most of which end up being forgivable to supporters of the party in power. If anything, Bill C-24 will make it more difficult to uncover such behaviour because now huge corporations, like Bombardier, which have traditionally supported the Liberal Party to get contracts, will not even have to front up with any money. They will still get the contracts, they will still get the favours and we will not have any way of tracking it down unless we go through a very complex reporting procedure investigating whether individuals have used their ability to donate individually to try to influence the government.

Bill C-24 also fails to correct the 50 candidate rule. That 50 candidate rule, which was struck down, was put in place by this government. It required small or emerging parties to run 50 candidates in an election to be recognized as a party and have tax receipt status. We felt it was wrong. We have tried for years to get the government to agree to make it 12 candidates, which is the same as the number required for party recognition in the House. All the small parties out there in the other world agree with 12 being a reasonable number. The courts have struck down 50 as unreasonable. In fact in the court case in Ontario, which struck down the 50 candidate rule, the judge said that two people were a party.

That minister has a history of bringing bills to this place that end up costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees because of charter challenges. When I get the opportunity to speak at third reading, I will highlight some weaknesses in the bill that will open it to court challenges. However that minister has a history of introducing such bills. It is very problematic.

Here again, we have a problem that the Liberals could have fixed. It is being court challenged. Because of his failure to change the 50 candidate rule to 12, when he had the opportunity while we were amending the Elections Act, I believe the courts will prevail and we will be forced to accept two as the number. It was very foolish of the minister. He should have dealt with it while we were dealing with Bill C-24.

The bill fails to end patronage appointments to positions in Elections Canada. Since I first came here in 1993, and when I joined the Reform Party back in 1988, it has been a policy of this party to try to get the government to allow Elections Canada to select its own returning officers in a non-partisan way based on skill. Instead, the government insists on a system of political patronage appointments to Elections Canada. Returning officers are selected by the Prime Minister, and when they do not do their job, the Chief Elections Officer cannot get rid of them. In fact he mentioned during committee hearings that he presently had 11 returning officers who were not doing their job. He cannot fire them because he has to get the Prime Minister to agree.

The Bloc introduced an amendment in committee which was defeated, so unfortunately, I cannot do it here in the House at this stage. The amendment was to get the government to move to a system of proper appointments of these people, and not being political patronage appointments.

I realize I do not have much time. What I need to do now is express my frustration in a very meaningful manner, by moving an amendment. I move:

That Motion No. 4 be amended by replacing the amount $0.4375 with the amount $0.01.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am advised by the Clerk that it should be taken into deliberation with a ruling in the next few minutes or so.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to speak in this debate on the political party financing bill.

My first reaction to this bill is, “Finally”. Finally Canada will catch up to Quebec, in part at least, when it comes to political party financing. The bill will clarify many things and allow for corporations to contribute to democracy in an active and independent manner. That is what this bill and the amendments resulting from consultations contain.

I also feel that we must vote on this bill as soon as possible, because the member for LaSalle—Émard, who may be the next Prime Minister, seems to take an approach that is much closer to that of the Canadian Alliance. He has tried all kinds of ways, via members who support him, to slow down passage of this bill and to find ways that would allow corporations to continue to finance parties. We know that he himself comes from a business background, and he is probably not happy with the fact that this bill takes away from the influence that business has.

I think that it is important to realize that this bill and its amendments will help prevent the types of abuse that occurred in the past. We can be sure that there will be one less way to exercise undue influence over government activities.

Let us remember the scandals at Human Resources Development Canada, the sponsorship scandal. It is still making the news: today The Globe and Mail reported that Canada's ambassador to Denmark, Mr. Gagliano—who used to be the Minister of Public Works and Government Services—had managed to set up a system of measures and activities that allowed the Liberal Party of Canada to dole out patronage.

This type of problem flourishes when the environment allows it. I think we need to try to change this environment, and this bill before us allows for this to happen, at least partially, and it will improve democracy across Canada.

I think that this is interesting. Instead of having a process that leads to a question in the House or a newspaper article that sheds light on unacceptable and inadequate behaviour that frequently borders on dishonesty, the government, after a few days of questions, refers these matters to the RCMP. Probably, it is conducting these investigations in good faith but, ultimately, it is used like a sleeping pill to try to calm things down.

Obviously, in the HRDC and the sponsorship scandals, there are still dozens of incomplete investigations, which have not been thorough enough. Nothing is being done to complete these investigations. Consequently, the government has often used the RCMP to put out fires and avoid questions in this House.

With regard to the political party financing legislation, as I keep telling all Quebeckers, Quebec passed similar legislation some 25 years ago now, which restored order to political party financing, as well as overall democracy and the way in which governments are influenced.

I hope the bill on which we are voting today will have the same kind of influence on the federal government to avoid the repetition of such scandals. This can be accomplished by means of this bill, but possibly also by other means, which must continue to be developed, and particularly by means of the fundamental honesty by which parliamentarians must place the public interest before their own interests.

With the passage of this bill, I believe we will have an opportunity in future to avoid a repetition of scandals like those involving Human Resources Development, the sponsorships, and all the business of people close to members or to the party in power being able to benefit from government actions.

We had very clear and definite examples of this only weeks ago. There was a direct correlation between the amount donated to the party in power and the amounts received in contracts; the amounts were virtually the same. Let us hope this sort of situation will be remedied. At least peoples' desire to do this kind of thing will be done away with by tightening up the rules on corporate funding. I think this is a step in the right direction.

I also hope this legislation will be implemented promptly. There are no reasons left for delaying it. We may be a year away from the next election campaign. We must ensure that this improvement to electoral mores is in place for the next campaign. Otherwise, it will be nothing more than smoke and mirrors and hoping to gain some time.

As for the amendment proposed by a member who directly supports the member for LaSalle—Émard, I hope it will be rejected by this House and that at the end of the day we will have a bill that can be passed as soon as possible. Thus we will be able to assure the population that we have at least plugged some of the loopholes that jeopardized the transparency necessary to the work of a government.

This bill would be a kind of cornerstone, which is why I hope it will go quickly through report stage.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am ready to rule on the tabling of the first amendment, the amendment to Motion No. 4. The Chair finds the amendment acceptable.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think the final debate on and analysis of the election financing bill, Bill C-24, will prove to be an interesting one. Certainly I do not think there is a lot of disagreement among the political parties in the House of Commons on the fact that the election financing system needs to be revised and reformed, but I do think there is a lot of disagreement on exactly how that should occur.

I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Brandon—Souris, for all the work he has done on the bill. He, rather than I, has really had carriage of Bill C-24 so really I stand today to speak on behalf of the member for Brandon—Souris.

As we know, Bill C-24 was introduced at the beginning of the year as part of the Prime Minister's eight point action plan on ethics. Supposedly the bill was introduced to help address the lack of trust in which Canadians hold not necessarily only this institution but the political system itself. It was supposed to do something to combat the low voter turnout we are seeing in elections and hopefully improve the fairness and transparency of the electoral system.

The Progressive Conservative Party believes that the bill does not address the issue of low voter turnout and does the opposite of creating fairness and addressing transparency. However, I think there will be further and more in-depth debate on this issue.

Let us look at the whole point of having an election financing bill and the Prime Minister's seeming insistence on ramming it through the House at late sitting in June. I think Canadians need to ask themselves a few questions. The first question would be this one: Why would a government that has been in power for 10 years bring in an election financing bill now? Also, what advantage does it give to the government that it maybe does not give to other political parties?

Having come to the bill only recently and really just having had the opportunity to look at it in depth, the first question I ask is not the question of whether perhaps there is room in the system for public financing of elections, because I think possibly with the right type of system, with the correct system and a proper analysis of the situation as it exists now, we could have public financing of elections and actually do a pretty good job of it.

However, if we really want to do something to react to low voter turnout and if we want the electorate to have faith and trust in the system, then here is what I would suggest to the government. I made the amendment at committee, which was not accepted. I tried to make it again at this reading of the bill and again it was not accepted. Rather than change the system as the Liberals and the majority on committee did, the bill should come into effect on January 1, 2006, not even January 1, 2005. As the bill exists now, it will come into effect on January 1, 2004.

I do not think there is a breathing and thinking Canadian who does not believe that we will have another election after that date, so really what the Liberal government has done here is get rid of its debt, and it has done that by just putting it over onto the backs of the taxpayers. The taxpayers of Canada will collect the tab for the next election. We have a big majority government. If we do it on the results of the last campaign, it only benefits the parties as they are established in the House of Commons now.

The reason I suggested that the bill should come into effect after January 1, 2006 is that we would be guaranteed that it would be after the next election.

I understand the need to base the election financing on some statistics, on some group of numbers. I would say that from my knowledge the committee worked very hard to be as fair as possible. However, by moving the date forward instead of backward, it showed a serious bias toward the establishment, the government and the numbers as they existed in 2000, not as they may exist after another election.

The bill is all about incumbency. It is all about supporting the government that is there now, supporting the parties that have the majority of the numbers. It is not about fairness. There is very little fairness in the bill.

Supposedly, we are taking away the ability of corporations to donate to political parties. However we have not taken away the ability of wealthy individuals to donate to political parties. In particular, and I think even more galling for me, is the fact members of Parliament would be able to donate to their own campaigns to the tune of $5,000 per year. What a slap in the face to ordinary Canadians who do not have that kind of money to put into a political campaign. However what a big assistance to the incumbent, especially the wealthy incumbent who may not have the public support to run an election campaign but who has the personal and private support to finance his or her own election campaign.

I think it is time Canadians took a look at the bill for exactly what it is. Again, it is all about incumbency. It is all about assisting the wealthy who may happen to be in politics already. It is a long way from transparency and fairness. I think the government has it wrong.

If we examine the fairness issue and look at the public funding of parties based on the number of votes received in the previous election, how can this possibly be viewed as fair? The governing party gets to start an election at least five paces ahead of every other party based on the platform it ran on three, four or five years earlier. The public financing does not address the changing views of Canadians during the term of this government or of any other government.

The government needs to look at a method of core funding for political parties and reasonable and equal limits for corporate and individual donations.

There is no balance to the legislation as it exists. The reporting requirements of the legislation should be a burden carried by cabinet, the Prime Minister's Office and members of Parliament. Instead, it is placed on our volunteer organizations that are already stretched to the max. It will discourage rather than encourage participation in the political process.

The government is beginning a process of micromanaging political parties, including the very structure of political parties, and the management of disclosed funds that are transferred within the party structure.

Due to the Prime Minister's supposed legacy agenda, we have had a very short time to examine the bill. It seems that very little thought and substance has gone into the bill. I will say again that I think the committee has tried to do what it could with the bill. A lot of discussions have taken place and a lot of hard work has gone into the bill but it has not been enough.

When there is a Liberal majority on the committee, at the end of the day the Prime Minister gets exactly what he wants. If what he wants is to put this in place now to pay off the $8 million debt of the Liberals, then that is exactly what Canadians will get.

I think there are some real issues with this particular legislation that have not yet been addressed, and certainly the issue of fairness is one of them.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I assume we are speaking technically against the amendment introduced by the member from the Alliance, that the amount be reduced to $0.01 from $0.4375. I certainly am speaking against that amendment, but I am also speaking against the increase from $0.375 that was originally proposed by the government House leader when he introduced this legislation.

The price of democracy has risen over the course of the weekend. What was to be $1.50 per vote per year to each of the political parties has now, according to the amendments that are in front of us in Group No.1 of this section, risen to $1.75.

I recall well the government House leader, when he was before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and when he introduced this bill, saying that the government officials had looked very closely at the returns over the past several years of all the political parties as to the total global amounts of money they received from trade unions, corporations and other associations by way of donations and that he was quite confident in what he reported to the committee on that occasion, that at $1.50 per vote per year, no political party would suffer financial injury as a result of that.

What has transpired in the last three months that now we come back at report stage and the $1.50 has climbed 25¢ to $1.75?

I have only been around here for six years. I do not recall one occasion when an organization or a request for money has come to the government that the government actually has turned around and given more than was ever requested. I find it passing strange that on this occasion the $1.50 becomes $1.75. I can only assume, as we have heard throughout this, that there has been a lot of in-fighting in the Liberal Party. The president of the party, Mr. LeDrew, has said that this whole idea was as dumb as a bag of hammers. We know, as has been alluded to by other speakers ahead of me today, that the Liberal Party has a significant debt, and so to extract another 25¢ from the taxpayer is no big deal, except that the members opposite ought to be hanging their heads in shame.

The other part of this, which I do not think anyone has touched upon so far, is that of course this money will all be, what they call in labour management negotiations, front-end loaded for the first go around. In other words, when the $1.75, on which we will be voting at some point, comes into effect for the purpose of the first go around on the legislation, when the bill comes into effect on January 1, 2004, all the political parties will receive $1.75 in a lump sum payment, as opposed to quarterly payments of 43¢ which would represent $1.75 in four annual instalments. Each of the political parties will receive their full allotment based upon how well, or less well, they performed in the 2000 election campaign. The Liberals already would have received over $8 million, and at $1.50, we can do the math and figure out what that will mean for them. It will certainly mean more money and it will be the termination of the Liberal debt as it heads into an election, which we undoubtedly will have within the next 12 months.

Those are real concerns. I want to make it clear that this party supports Bill C-24, the election financing act, in principle. We believe there are many good features in the bill. We think it could be a lot better. It does not need to be test driven to find out where some of the flaws are going to be.

For example, we believe and have said repeatedly that there should be no opportunity for trade union or corporate financing in this legislation. The only group of people who should be able to donate to politics are those who will be or are eligible to vote. We think that is a good principle.

We fought the notion of allowing any donations from trade unions, corporations and associations. We note that the amounts are relatively small, $1,000 per year, and none of that money can go to a political party. It all has to go to a candidate or a riding association from corporations, trade unions and associations.

However a very unlevel playing field has been allowed to occur. We tried to address it with our motions but they were ruled out of order. We tried it at clause by clause. The issue is the definition of how corporations and trade unions are defined.

As I said, our first preference was to eliminate all of that money. However if we are going to have, admittedly, modest amounts of money, then we believe that trade union locals should be able to donate $1,000 per year. They have their own bylaws and elect their own officers. They have money at their disposal and ought to be part of the electoral process, just like a Tim Hortons franchise or a General Motors franchise could and would be allowed to do.

When we look at the facts and figures, there are about 16,600 union locals in Canada, but when we look at the number of incorporated businesses in Canada, there are more than one million of them. As I said, this is a very unlevel playing field. We have tried without success to have the government see this, to have the government even take the general definition of a trade union under the Canada Labour Code. If it applied that definition to this legislation, then the locals would indeed be able to participate in the electoral process, just the same as a doughnut franchise or a DaimlerChrysler dealership.

However the government has taken a very narrow definition where it lumps all the locals together. This to us is very unfortunate and I think it points out a fundamental flaw. As I say, the bill does not need to be test driven to find out where the flaws are. They stick out like a sore thumb.

Another area for which we feel very strongly is the whole area of trust funds. In the course of clause by clause analysis, clause 71 of Bill C-24 was deleted. This, in effect, would have allowed those members of Parliament who have trust funds now, some of which are very sizeable, to simply launder that money into their riding association over the next six months with no questions asked. Therefore, on January 1, 2004, when the legislation takes effect, none of the sources of this money will have to be disclosed. We find that extremely unfortunate. We believe that clause 71 should have remained intact and that those funds, which have been held by perhaps half a dozen or 10 members of Parliament who have trust funds that we are aware of through public knowledge and public information, should have been in the bill and should have had to have been reported prior to January 1, 2004. That will not happen. It is another shortcoming of the bill.

On the positive side, reducing the amount that an individual can contribute from $10,000 to $5,000, is good on balance, although I would concur with my colleague from the Conservatives where we have allowed wealthier candidates to be able to put in $10,000 if they are running for office.

We will be speaking more about these as we get into report stage further, but those are our initial observations.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on debate in report stage of Bill C-24 to discuss the amendments in Group No. 1.

I want to deal with some of the amendments themselves. For instance, Motion No. 4 amends paragraph 435.1(2) to, first, increase the bases for the allowance from $1.50 to $1.75 and second, to allow for the indexation of the allocation.

The idea of this is the amendments would ultimately ensure that the changes to the political financing rules brought by Bill C-24 would not result in revenue losses for any of the parties. It was discovered, during the committee stage discussion, that the intention of the government was the bill be revenue neutral. It became clear that it was not quite revenue neutral, so this change was made to ensure it was. Also having indexation will ensure that it remains so for the future.

These proposed adjustments result from revisions made to the estimate of losses to parties that would result from the new restrictions of contributions by individuals, corporations and unions. That is the idea behind those amounts.

Regarding Motions Nos. 8 and 9, they amend subsections 464(3) and 465(3) of the Canada Elections Act to increase from 50% to 60% the percentage of election expenses for candidates that will be reimbursed.

The reason is that this premature change to reduce the financial impact felt by candidates would result in new restrictions on contributions by individuals, corporations and unions.

Concerning Motion No. 13, which deals with the early payment of quarterly allowances for 2004, the motion would add a transitory provision to provide that the quarterly allowance to parties for 2004 would exceptionally be paid in a single instalment at the beginning of the year when the act came into force.

The idea here is there is a need for transition because we have a new bill and a new procedure coming in. It was felt this would help with that transition for the political parties. It would also provide the possibility of subsequent adjustments to the allowance during that year, if there were to be an election in 2004, resulting in a change to the amount that a party is normally entitled to receive.

For example, in the case of an increased allowance following an election in 2004, additional instalments to the party would be made on a quarterly basis. On the other hand of course, in the case of where a party received an amount at the beginning of the year that was greater than that to which it would be entitled based upon the results of the votes from that election, let us say it was next year, any amount paid in excess of what it would be entitled to would have to be paid back to the coffers of the government.

For 2005 and subsequent years, the allowance would be paid on a quarterly basis, as provided for in the bill originally. Again, this is a transition measure to help the parties adjust to the new procedure.

Motion No. 14 would allow for reimbursements for election expenses for parties incurred in the first general election following the coming into force of the act to be set at 60% instead of 50%, as a one-time exception.

Subsequently, parties would receive a 50% reimbursement for election expenses, as set out in the bill. Once again, this is a transitional measure to help parties adjust to the new system.

Those are the positions of the government on the various motions, and I look forward to hearing the views of other members of the House.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am in favour of the subamendment to Bill C-24 moved by my colleague, not only because I seconded it but because it is a very good idea. That subamendment would reduce the amount of money payable from the taxpayer, via the government, to political parties to a fraction of what has been proposed in Bill C-24. If I had my way, I would have amended the amount to zero and save all the bookkeeping.

Bill C-24 is an amazingly stupid bill, and I mean that in the best sense of a description in the English language. The bill makes as much sense as the bag of hammers mentioned by the president of the Liberal Party. It really is nonsensical in that it does not make sense. It is detrimental to the democratic process. It basically entrenches the financing ability of parties in the House to the exclusion of any other party.

Back in 1988, the Reform Party would have found it extremely difficult to have come into being under the rules of this legislation. Perhaps this is the motivation of the Liberal government. Maybe it thought of the guys who came here first as reformers and who tried to get together with like-minded, Conservative-minded people in the country with the formation of the united alternative leading to the Canadian Alliance. Unfortunately our dance partner did not come. We have had amazing input to the process.

Members may remember that before we came here, it was politically incorrect to talk about balancing the budget. The government spent to its heart content and did not worry about whether there was enough money. The Liberals did not want to tax people to death because they would rebel, but they did tax them to the max, just short of that line, and spent the money as a government. Probably our primary message when we came to this place was that it was not right to future generations to put the country into such debt that it would probably face bankruptcy.

The party I have been with for almost 10 years has provided a very important function in this place. Under Bill C-24, the Canadian Alliance probably would not have made it here. This is just another huge hurdle to cross before we can criticize the government.

Centuries ago a law was passed granting freedom of speech to all individuals. The reason for it was to permit citizens to criticize their government without fear of losing their heads. Nowadays that is considered a good move. Democracies flourish when governments are held to account. Democracies flourish when individuals, parties, groups, including lobby groups and associations can mount an objection to something the government does. This government wants to free wheel it and does not want anybody to ever say anything against it. The government knows it cannot put people in jail so it sets up a rule preventing certain parties from getting any money and thereby they cannot exist.

Under Bill C-24, the amount of money a party would get would be based on how many votes it received in the previous election. A new party could receive very few votes. Therefore, not being able to raise money directly and not having access to public funds is not an improvement of democracy but rather a detriment to democracy. It means a new party will not likely ever again come on to the Canadian scene. The Liberals should be ashamed of their name because Liberal is supposed to mean freedom to liberate. It is a Latin word, libere , meaning freedom, to free. What they are doing is saying, “No. Unless we are in control here, it can't be”. What they are doing is controlling, even now with the criticism of their party.

I would like to go another step.There is something in a democracy that is fundamentally offensive when it says that I have to part with some of my money through the avenue of coercive taxation when that money is used for purposes with which I disagree. This bill does exactly that.

I know the people over on the other side and the minister of state particularly, love to get up and say that this is totally democratic, that it is based on the number of votes a party gets, therefore when our tax money goes to fund these political parties to think of it as our money going to our party because it is in proportion to the votes the party got.

I just reference back again. If I am working for a party that is just starting up, will I now be exempt from taxation to that degree? No, I am not. I will still have to pay whether I am supporting a brand new party. For those individuals, it is very offensive.

It just happens right now it is not personally offensive in the sense that we had enough votes last time, so this really is not a bad deal financially for us. However we cannot argue a principle based on whether it feels good for us at the present time. That is a very weak argument.

I remember when I was an instructor at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology many years ago. We were forced members of AUPE, and I used that word forced. It was a condition of employment that we belonged to the union. Later on, when we had an opportunity to break out of that union and to form our own professional association, we did it. As I have told members before, my colleagues honoured me by asking me to be the first president of that association. We did very well as an individual association in comparison to how we did under the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. I am not, by this, saying there is no room for unions. There is indeed. However this union was very coercive in its nature, and I found it very offensive. That is one reason why we broke away from it.

One thing it did was make a huge donation every year to the NDPs, both federally and provincially, and I objected. I wrote a letter to say that I objected to my dues money, which was substantial, being taken to support a political party with which I disagreed. The union said that the decision was taken democratically. It had a convention and somebody put forward a motion that the union support the NDP and it passed democratically. Therefore my money, even though I did not agree with it personally, went to party.

Unions are wrong when they do this. They should poll their members, see what proportion each of them are and then give the money to each party in that proportion. They did not do that and I was offended by it.

By the same token now, each of us will be required to fund political parties and political activities with which we disagree, and that is true for every citizen in the country. Not one of us says that this year we will donate $100 to political parties and therefore we will give $50 to the Liberals, $30 to the Canadian Alliance, $20 to the other parties, and our money is gone. I will not do that. I choose which party best represents my idea of what this country should be, and then all my money goes to that party.

We are wrong when we coerce Canadian taxpayers from coast to coast to support a party other than the one they really do support. That is a wrong assumption, and I would strongly urge members of the House, now that the opportunity will be before us, to reject totally the bill when it comes to final vote.

The amendments that are being put forward are meant to improve the bill in the short term. We cannot improve in the short term that which is wrong fundamentally for the long term. We must be against this legislation on principle, not because it is politically expedient at the present time.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on the report stage motions in Group No. 1 on Bill C-24, a bill which has garnered an awful lot of attention, particularly because as a totality, it brings forward to the House the principle that there is a public perception that the business community has an undue influence on those in political life. I believe all members would agree with that sentiment.

To change the rules regarding donations, a number of questions have been raised. I am going to do what I can to explain some of the changes that have been made and are proposed in the bill. In Group No. 1, Motion No. 4 introduces an inflation factor regarding the amounts payable to political parties based on the number of votes that they get.

The inflation factor is understandable, however I must find out whether the last election is reflective of the participation of each of those parties in terms of corporate and union donations. It may be an aberration. I do not know whether or not there has been enough study done to ensure that the last election is within the range of a reasonable breakdown of the corporate and union support.

Motion No. 8 deals with the amount to be subsidized for a candidate's election expenses. It would increase from 50% to 60% as an adjustment to assist candidates in an election. Individual candidates in a riding would not be able to rely on corporate donations other than the limit allowed which, in a large number of cases, would be a substantial reduction in their ability to raise funds. It is certainly going to shift the onus to a greater participation by individuals. I am not sure whether there is more to the 50% to 60% as a transitional provision. It would appear that it is not a transitional provision, but, in fact, a permanent provision and I am not sure whether that was the intent of the original proposal when the bill was first brought to this place.

The last item deals with advancing a full year amount in the first year and has to do with cash flow issues. I think I can understand that and would be supportive with an implementation date of January 1, 2004. Having said that, the fundamental issue goes right back to the principle which is being presented and strongly recommended to the House by the Prime Minister.

We must address the issue concerning the integrity of people in public life. There should be no allusion that a simple change in fundraising issues could deal effectively with the full scope of the problem. It has taken a long time for people in public life to get this reputation. It is going to take a long time before the public at large feels more comfortable vis-à-vis the people or organizations who influence Parliament.

Having said that, I would question the principle that corporate donations should be restricted to $1,000 across the country. That $1,000 actually gives the corporate donor or a union the full maximum tax credit allowed under the Income Tax Act, namely $500 of benefit. It peaks out below $1,000 so that the direct cost to the taxpayer in terms of the tax expenditure or the reduction of taxes otherwise payable is unchanged by the bill.

The fact that we continue to have corporate donations to a certain extent means that the administrative and mechanics of the system of donations for political purposes continues to be fully in place. Although there is a cap now, there will probably be even more work to determine whether or not compliance with the act has been met by companies. I can see a tremendous amount of cost.

I would argue that the total elimination of all corporate and union donations would be a savings to taxpayers because we would not have the administrative costs. It would be a more streamlined process. Having run in four federal elections, I know how complex the returns are for members when they have to audit their election expenses as well as others who administer fundraising activities in off-election years.

I raise these in good faith because I fundamentally believe in the principle underlying the bill. By addressing this issue the integrity of parliamentarians, of people in public office, will be improved in terms of public perception. I will support the bill on that basis. We are now at a point where members are discussing certain changes. I hope, as a consequence of considering some of the mechanics,--and I can only believe that the committee has touched on some of the points that I raised--that I will be satisfied that these changes being proposed in Group No. 1 would improve the bill and enhance the public perception of the credibility of the bill and its intent.

In conclusion, I support the bill at this point on the main principle. I look forward to following the debate and to participate further with other groups to ensure that when we finish, and have our votes, that we have the best bill possible. Should there be other items that could be dealt with, I trust that all those who have that opportunity to further improve the bill will in fact take that opportunity.