Debates of June 13th, 2008
House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was development.
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Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Some hon. members
Question No. 264
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
As to the statistics compiled by Statistics Canada regarding the assets and liabilities of provincial and local governments according to national figures, for 2006, for all levels of government in Quebec, excluding the federal government, what were the: (a) total liabilities; (b) total financial assets; (c) total non-financial assets; and (d) net value?
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK
I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
The Speaker Peter Milliken
Is that agreed?
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Some hon. members
The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), be read the third time and passed.
Canada Elections Act
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), especially since the Bloc Québécois is in favour of nearly the entire bill. We would have liked to make certain amendments, but they were not approved. I will mention them in my speech.
It is important to keep in mind that, ever since it arrived in this House, the Bloc Québécois has been fighting to put an end to corporate funding and limit individual contributions, as Quebec did 30 years ago.
Earlier, I listened as the Liberal member for Toronto Centre talked about his leadership race, the difficulty of getting funding, and so on. Quebec has had legislation in place for 30 years. In Quebec, political parties successfully hold leadership races, raise funds and run election campaigns, all without corporate funding or huge contributions from individuals
That is where the problem lies. With Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability, the Conservative Party tried to correct the situation. The Conservatives were in a hurry. They had just been elected and had promised transparency and accountability legislation. We remember this bill.
We warned them at the time about their Bill C-2. And we were not alone. Democracy Watch, an organization made up of democracy experts, also pointed to problems in the bill. Obviously, among the problems are the famous loans. Even if individual contributions are limited to $1,100 a year, this is not an improvement if individuals can make loans to get around the law. That is very worrisome.
I will say it again. Earlier, I was listening to the speech by the Liberal member for Toronto Centre, a candidate in his party's leadership race, who told us it was unfair. Before it was reduced to $1,100 per individual, the contribution limit stood at $5,400 per individual and corporations were allowed a separate amount. He finds the bill to be unfair. However, he is one of the members who received a loan from an individual. His brother, among others, lent him $400,000. This is just as unfair as individuals being able to contribute $5,400 or $1,100 to a leadership or other campaign and getting around the limit by saying that the limit does not apply if the money is given as a loan.
That is what Bill C-29 seeks to remedy. In law, there is a principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. However, there is also a principle that you cannot do indirectly what cannot be done directly. That is an argument we raised with the Conservative government with respect to its Bill C-2.
It is a good thing to adopt a limit of $1,100 for individuals and to prohibit corporations from contributing to election campaigns. That is perfect. It is similar to Quebec's law. However, we should not allow loans that would permit individuals to do indirectly what cannot be done directly. If the contribution limit is $1,100 per individual, tomorrow morning we cannot say to an individual that the limit does not apply, that he can lend hundreds of thousand of dollars and that it is not a problem if he makes it a loan. He could declare that it is a loan and that the means will be found to repay it.
Today, it is understandable that the Leader of the Opposition—the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville—and the member for Toronto Centre have not been able to repay the debts incurred to participate in the leadership race. Nor should Canadians be fooled. I know that the Chief Electoral Officer did not make public the agreement he had with the leadership candidates; however they have not yet repaid their debts.
I repeat, the hon. member for Toronto Centre said earlier that he has run in several provincial election campaigns and that he was a party leader in Ontario. He also said that anyone who runs in a leadership race will have funding problems.
Perhaps he had a problem. He was in the NDP and became a Liberal. I understand why many Liberal supporters might not have wanted to contribute to his election campaign. Perhaps he chose the wrong party. Only time will tell, but, during a leadership race and an election, the individuals involved must be reliable and obey the law. In other words, candidates must be able to raise enough money from enough supporters to campaign responsibly in an election, and the same goes for a leadership race.
It forces the people who want to become party leaders to expand their circle of supporters. If they are unable to bring in more supporters, they might as well stay at home. It is not complicated. It is as simple as that. If a leadership candidate estimates that it will cost $500,000, he or she needs 500 people to contribute $1,000 each. And any candidate who cannot do so does not deserve to run in the leadership race. That is it.
In my view, it only makes sense and shows respect for individuals, and it prevents one individual or group of individuals from being able to control a candidate in a leadership race or an election. It is only logical, simple and honest, and it also means that anyone can hope to enter politics one day. They must understand that, in order to run an election campaign, candidates must have people who trust them and they must be able to raise between $80,000 and $100,000. Thus, one must be able to raise funds, like I do and like all Bloc members do.
Indeed, we use public financing—spaghetti dinners and suppers, sugar shacks and so on—and some 100, 200 or 300 people come out and generously give us $20. That is how, over the years, we are able to raise funds. That is why Bloc Québécois members, like the Conservatives, are probably among those with the best backing. We also probably receive the most money from individual contributors, men and women who are thrilled to come to a Bloc Québécois fundraising activity and give $20, knowing that $7 or $8 will go towards funding, depending on the cost of the meal.
With these small amounts of money, we can raise funds for an election campaign. It is simple. I can understand that the Liberals and Conservatives are not used to that, since for them, it is clearly the “establishment”, only a few individuals, that has run the party. These people were able to make some very large contributions.
So I am not surprised. What surprises me most, is that the member for Toronto Centre, a former member of the Ontario NDP, was also collecting money from some individuals. He was not used to grassroots fundraising, which surprises me about a former NDP member.
In this House, surprises are not uncommon. Every day, the Conservatives bring us revelation after revelation. It is clear that the way the Conservatives wanted to govern is looking more and more like the way the Liberals were running things. I can see that the NDP had a way of running things that is similar to the Liberals' and the Conservatives' way. Regardless, that is the problem of the federalist parties in this House. It is not the problem of the Bloc Québécois, which is used to grassroots financing.
The members of the Bloc Québécois worked very hard to get Bill C-29 passed. Why? Because in Quebec, for 30 years, grassroots fundraising has dominated, since René Lévesque, the leader of the Parti Québécois, implemented election legislation that prevents lobbyists from controlling politics. This legislation completely changed politics in Quebec. It ensures that politics must be supported by fundraising among the public.
If an individual is not able to get funding to run a campaign from the largest possible number of individual men and women, he or she does not deserve to be in power. That is what I would tell the Liberals, in particular the member for Toronto Centre, who was offended that the amount for individual contributions was reduced in the middle of the race. Except that, thanks to the $400,000 loan he received from his brother, he did not need funding.
He needs it now, because he had 18 months to repay his debt. He was counting on the $5,400 per person that he was allowed to collect. But along the way, the $5,400 became $1,100.
I can understand that it is hard for him to find Liberal supporters to pay off his campaign debt, because he is not a real Liberal.
In some ways, it is disappointing that not everyone in this House realizes that politics should be open to every man and woman, to every citizen. It is not a matter of money, friends or anything like that. It takes someone who is able to express their ideas and defend them, someone that many people around them or in their party are able to trust.
That is how we should run elections and that is how the Bloc Québécois does it. We convince hundreds and thousands of people to become members of our organization and to make donations to enable us to run election campaigns based on defending the values and interests of Quebec. That is why, once again, as in election to election since 1993, our party has the most representatives from Quebec in this House. It is precisely because we are always in contact with the public, with the people we represent. We call on them for financing and it takes a great number of supporters, people who can trust us, to build up the money for our election campaigns.
The other parties will probably have to follow our example. Quebec is often a model of innovation for the rest of Canada, as hon. members know. One such innovation came from René Lévesque and was included in the electoral legislation that he was responsible for over 30 years ago. It bans corporate donations and limits individual donations.
This bill is the logical next step to what we sovereignists in Quebec defend. In politics, we have to be able to convince as many people as possible. The best way to do so is to limit individual contributions. We cannot allow a dozen or so people to give us $10,000 each to enable us to run an election campaign. We have to broaden our network.
When the Conservatives passed Bill C-2, we told them that, if individuals may not invest more than $1,100 in an election campaign annually, we absolutely cannot allow them to do so indirectly by handing out loans. That is why the Conservatives have amended that in Bill C-29. We cannot prohibit people from making donations greater than $1,100, while allowing them to lend as much money as they want and saying this is just fine. This bill corrects that.
We demanded—and we obtained this amendment at second reading of Bill C-29—that political parties not be liable for their candidates' debts. Obviously, be it an election campaign, a leadership race or a personal election campaign, it is not right that a political party be held responsible for debts that a candidate may have contracted with banks or otherwise and not from individuals.
The Conservatives decided to reverse course, with the NDP's support. That is why I find it difficult to understand the NDP. It sees itself as a grassroots party but has, I believe, a hard time fundraising. This party now has the Conservatives' support to withdraw the amendment that we presented. That means that henceforth a political party would be responsible for its candidates' debts to financial institutions, if ever they were not paid back.
Once again, when people run as candidates, they must be able to prove that they can find sufficient support. Therefore, it is normal that if a candidate borrows from a financial institution to fund an election campaign, that candidate is responsible because it is their election campaign. Under this bill, parties would be required to cover any unpaid debts.
This means that the people who run as candidates might not necessarily be the best. They would not need popular support. They would not need to fundraise to reimburse their debts. Inevitably, they would only have to run as candidates, knowing full well that if they do not raise enough money, the party will pay off their debt.
I will say it again: the Bloc Québécois was against this position. That is why we proposed amendments. It is difficult to understand why the Conservatives did not agree to them. Perhaps they also have trouble with grassroots fundraising in individual ridings. They are better at collecting money as the party in power. We see it with the Couillard affair in Quebec, the Kevlar situation concerning land in Quebec City that Ms. Couillard apparently pushed for. Basically, we can understand that much of the money going into the coffers comes from the way in which the Conservatives engage in politics, which means that they probably have difficulty with grassroots fundraising.
Of course, that is not the Bloc Québécois' case. We are proud to say that every day, we rise in this House to defend the interests and values of Quebeckers. We do not need to be in power to do that. Citizens are the ones who give us real power. The only power we should be able to accept is the power entrusted to us by the people. The people can take it away whenever they want because it does not belong to us. The people lend us power, and we are here every day to stand up for the people.
I have a hard time every time I see a Quebec Conservative rise and say something that is not in line with the interests and values of Quebeckers. That is what has been happening with the EDC file. The Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the minister responsible for the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, typically takes a stance that opposes what was passed unanimously. It gets even worse. Quebec's minister of regional development, Mr. Bachand, is engaged in an open war with the Minister of Labour because at some point, the latter decided that he no longer respected the Quebec consensus on economic development.
Quebec's non-profit organizations are our way of diversifying our economy and giving certain responsibilities to non-political organizations that exist not to engage in politics, but to work on community development, to make decisions about what kinds of businesses and economic interventions are needed in each region. The Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec decided that the government would no longer fund these organizations, would no longer help them. He decided that he would make direct payments instead.
That is very hard to accept. I can see how he might have trouble getting grassroots funding from the people after taking such a position in the House. All of the other Conservative members from Quebec support him. This kind of policy is contrary to the values and interests of Quebeckers. I can see that they are getting more and more out of touch. Raising funds is getting harder and harder for them. Nevertheless, the law must not permit impunity.
Once again, we had hoped that the Conservatives would understand that it is not up to the party to repay a debt incurred by a candidate. Especially since the party now receives $2 per voter, which means that the candidate's debt will be paid by our citizens because that $2 contribution to the political party comes from the government. It would be taxpayers' money repaying candidates' debts.
The Bloc Québécois would never have accepted such a situation. We would never have allowed taxpayers' money to repay an election debt. That is what the Conservative Party has done with the help of the NDP. I have a great deal of difficulty with this, especially coming from the NDP, which calls itself the champion of the people and of the people's interests.
I have a great deal of difficulty with the idea of allowing taxes—through a $2 per taxpayer contribution to political parties—to be used to repay a candidate's debt. The candidate would no longer have to fundraise because he or she would think, “If I ever go into debt, then the party will automatically pay it back out of the money provided by the government.” I have a great deal of difficulty understanding that. But, once again, it is typical of the NDP to signal that they are turning left and then turn right. They always do that. I see that they decided to turn right with the Conservatives. They will have to suffer the consequences and live with that decision in the next election.
Obviously, we will support Bill C-29. We wanted our amendment—that would not permit a candidate's debt to be repaid by the party, given that the contribution of $2 per voter is paid by the government—to be adopted. We would have liked that amendment to pass. However, once again, the Conservatives and the NDP decided to oppose it. As for the Bloc Québécois, we will always respect the interests of Quebeckers.
Canada Elections Act
Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).
Over the last number of years since 2003, we have seen a series of pieces of legislation and amendments to legislation dealing with the whole issue of election funding and financing. These pieces of legislation have attempted to provide transparency in our electoral process and prevent undue influence. Those are the two component parts.
Both parts are extremely important. Not only should the democratic process be transparent, but it also has to be a process that does not allow undue influence.
I wish to clarify where the differentiation is between those two elements. For instance, we have been watching the presidential electoral process in the United States. We have heard that this process is going to be the first billion dollar presidential election.
There are many pieces of legislation and many regulations that deal with the issue of transparency, but when the people of the United States, along with many people in other countries who look to the democracies with hope, see a system that appears to be almost a “dollarocracy”, it is worrisome.
Thus, it is quite important that these pieces of legislation which we have been enacting address both of those issues so that they in fact strengthen our Canadian democracy.
Are undue influence and lack of transparency an issue, or have they been an issue, here in Canada? I would have liked to believe that these sorts of things would not happen in Canada, but in fact just this past winter and spring we saw the spectacle of the unfortunate Schreiber-Mulroney relationship.
One of the aspects that perhaps was not given enough attention was a former leadership convention, which provided Mr. Schreiber, because of a lack of transparency, with the opportunity to influence an historic outcome for this country. Offshore moneys were used to influence the outcome of a leadership campaign in one of Canada's major parties.
Quite clearly, that one example demonstrates that we need to have a transparent process. In fact, we could use another example that is a little closer in time, because at this point neither Mr. Clark nor Mr. Mulroney are in this House. They no longer occupy the political positions of power that they have in the past. However, in 2002, the current Prime Minister underwent a leadership process that was not transparent.
I would like to believe that there was no undue influence. I believe that all of us want to assume and believe that, but now, with the example of Mulroney and Schreiber, as I have said, we see that these things have happened in the past.
It begs the question of why the Prime Minister would not want to address that particular issue. I know he is not required to by law, but there is the very fact that he does not wish to come clean.
There is a higher standard that we expect of our elected officials. To have responsible government, we must have confidence in our ministers and especially in our Prime Minister, our first minister. Quite clearly, it is necessary to have laws that provide this sort of transparency.
Then there is the whole issue of undue influence. As we know, electoral processes culminate with election day when collectively we as a people gather, travel to the vote locations and cast our ballots. At the end of the day and the end of the process, the people have decided.
People decide, based upon a campaign during which they have had the opportunity to listen and to examine party platforms, whether a party leader inspires with a vision for the future and whether locally the candidates speak to the hopes, dreams and principles upon which the local communities are built and believe in.
However, we know that to communicate one's vision is not an inexpensive process. There is a cost to communicating with the public and if we are unable to communicate with the public then we undermine the democratic process.
We need the money and the resources to get out there, to meet with people and to give people a sense of who we are, where we stand as a party and where the leader wishes to take the country.
It would be tremendously unfortunate if single individuals or corporations had the ability, through donations or loans, to influence potential candidates or parties because of their ability to provide large sums of money for their campaigns. Therefore, I think there is a clear case of why we need this sort of legislation, and Canada seems to be at the forefront. It is encouraging that we have been working on this process.
However, we now need to ask whether this most recent legislation addresses those issues. Have we perhaps gone a step too far, to the point where it acts as a brake on our democratic processes, prevents individuals from putting themselves forward as candidates or as leadership candidates or prevents people who perhaps have a point of view that better fits with one of the smaller parties, such as the Green Party or other parties that are out there?
Does the legislation act in a way that is conducive to the democratic process or are we at the point where, inadvertently, or perhaps, as some would say cynically, advertently, we have begun undermining the very process?
Let us take a look at what, in this legislation, are some of the unintended consequences may be.
We are in an era right now of minority governments and, although politics are unpredictable, we can assume that over the next period of time we may be in a situation of minority governments.
When it comes to actual fundraising, we do not necessarily face a campaign every four years, providing enough time to raise, whether it is locally, the $70,000 approximately that is required for a campaign, we have a series of sequential elections in much shorter timeframes.
With a limit of $1,100 per donation, it has made it incredibly difficult for many people to step forward as candidates. For many people it has now become a barrier that prevents them from putting themselves forward. There is the question of whether $1,100 is the barrier that we should put in place or should it be $2,500, especially when it comes to leadership campaigns. It is difficult to make the argument that $1,100 is the perfect amount.
We are in a world of minority governments. We have set the barrier very high with this very low limit of $1,100, so we have forced candidates into the situation of having to go out and look for loans. This legislation proposes to put limits on where and how one could go about doing this. Unfortunately, it has a series of unintended consequences that are corrosive to the democratic process.
Each one of us here have a group of volunteers in our riding associations, tremendous people who believe in their candidates, their parties, their platforms and want to be part of the process. This legislation would entail a requirement that they provide loan guarantees to banks for loans that are necessary for election campaigns.
Many of these volunteers are not people of modest means. They are people of conviction. It would be a terrible situation if we limited the ability, not just of candidates, but the ability of people to engage in a formal manner in political parties unless they were people of modest means and willing to take on this sort of guarantee risk with financial institutions.
Probably some of the most wonderful volunteers over the years with whom I have dealt were not people of modest means but they were people of principle and character. These are the people this type of legislation would now prevent from taking part in the process. We have almost come full circle.
By wanting to ensure that big money would not have undue influence so the average Canadian, a person of conviction, could take part in the process, we are now preventing those individuals from taking part in the process. We then take the unfortunate step of saying that it is only big money, the banks, that can provide the financial loans for electoral campaigns. That is truly an undesirable consequence.
I heard my NDP colleague from Winnipeg Centre state that, from a position of principle, he supports this because it would prevent unions from providing loans, just as it would prevent corporations. It is to be lauded that he approaches this with that mind frame. However, the legislation would prevent unions and most corporations from providing loans but not banks. I am sure many members in this House have over the years been lobbied by unions. As he stated, it is an uncomfortable situation because if a union has provided members with a loan then, at some point, as legislators they would need to sit through a union presentation on particular issues of interest.
Why would we want to provide banks, which lobby in very sophisticated ways and sometimes not very transparent ways, with that additional clout?
I can imagine how difficult it might be in certain ridings where there are not a lot of bank branches, especially some of our northern ridings where perhaps someone lives in one small particular community how it would feel for a candidate to have to go to the local bank branch manager and talk about a loan. If we truly intended to address the issue of undue influence of those who would provide loans, we would have spent a little more time, instead of trying to rush this legislation, thinking it through. Perhaps we need an arm's length body whose sole purpose would be to provide loans to campaigns and not not lobby members of Parliament. It would prevent undue influence.
I have just thrown that idea out and it is something we should perhaps look at in the future. However, as I have just referenced, this seems to have moved very quickly and not truly been thought through in a collective manner where all the parties sat down, discussed it and tried to go about this in a way in which we truly could have addressed the issues of transparency and undue influence.
Unfortunately, besides the inadvertent consequences, perhaps there were some cynical reasons for this legislation. It does not inspire confidence when we see some of the past tactics that have been used by the Conservative government when it comes to this whole issue of finance. I reference the disappointing situation of not being provided with open books on the 2002 leadership campaign of the current Prime Minister. It would be tremendous if he set an example but, unfortunately, that is not forthcoming. Therefore, we take it with a grain of salt when there is such tremendous interest to pass this legislation.
We also note that the Conservative Party truly is the party of big money now because its coffers are overflowing. We should note that the parties have the ability to provide loans to their various candidates. We often talk about democratic deficit in this House and how members of Parliament have been diminished in their role because of the strength of the central party apparatus, the so-called party backroom boys, and this has just provided another lever to ensuring there is limited independence of thought.
What we note here is that there are parties which virtually do not have an ability to provide that sort of financing. I mentioned the Green Party earlier. It does not have the same sort of resources and there are other parties, other points of view. I can imagine how difficult it would be for those particular candidates, from those parties, when it came time to get their executive together, to walk over to the local bank branch manager and to convince him or her that at some point in time they would have the ability to repay the loans required to run a $70,000 campaign.
There appears to be even more cynicism in this because we see and have heard on tape the Prime Minister reference how two high-powered backroom operators within the Conservative Party approached a potential candidate with financial considerations. It does not inspire confidence in this particular piece of legislation brought forward by a government whose party's head office potentially engages in those sorts of activities and a Prime Minister who is not willing to come forward with his own leadership campaign details.
Many have insinuated that big oil and gas perhaps provided financing for that particular campaign. I just cannot imagine why the Prime Minister would not want to put to rest those sorts of insinuations, a Prime Minister who talks about accountability so often would want to be transparent to set an example.
People say that was in the past and that these cannot be done retroactively. Of course, but he could also set an example, show true leadership, especially on these issues and especially in this era when we have heard of things that we could never have imagined half a year ago. Once again, I would like to reference how Mr. Mulroney's relationship with Mr. Schreiber and the leadership convention undermined our electoral processes here in the country.
In conclusion, there are tremendously negative and corrosive inadvertent consequences to this particular piece of legislation and it does the exact opposite of its stated intention.
Canada Elections Act
June 13th, 2008 / 12:50 p.m.
John Maloney Welland, ON
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member referenced the current Prime Minister's leadership campaign expenses. Although he is aware that it was not legally required at the time, and although he has been asked many times to disclose those expenses and donations, he has declined to do so.
With suggestions of rumours and innuendo he might wish to clear that up and also show leadership in the spirit of this current legislation. Could the member offer any reason why he would not want to comply with the recommendation that he provide public transparency and show his expenses and donations?
Canada Elections Act
Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is puzzling, but more than just puzzling, it is disturbing.
As I already mentioned, the public expects a higher standard of its elected officials, of its public servants, and the terminology is public servant. We are here to serve the public. That is why the very process that brought us here should be transparent.
Mr. Schreiber, a lobbyist for an arms company, did not just attempt to influence, but he actually did have an influence on the final outcome of the leadership of a party. It makes the case that the Prime Minister should be the one setting the standard, and the standard that we expect is higher of our first minister, among all ministers, especially in the recent situation of scandal after scandal. We would all hate to assume the worst.
We would hate to think that big oil and gas could have influenced a leadership campaign, could have influenced a decision to get rid of the Kyoto accord. I do not want to assume that, but the only way we could clarify that situation would be for the Prime Minister to come clean. Why has he not?
It is absolutely perplexing for all of us in the know. Unfortunately, Canadians do not know. The Prime Minister has every intention of keeping Canadians in the dark so that they will not know.
I would like to believe that our democratic processes, our policies, our legislation, are not being undermined due to undue influence by the corrosive influence of big money. The only way to address this would be for the current sitting Prime Minister to come clean. He has been asked many times and people will continue to have questions. There is only one way he can address these questions. He could rise to the occasion and open up the books. If he does not do that, those questions will linger.
Canada Elections Act
Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, we all accept the principle of transparency here and to the extent that this legislation imposes or extends it. That is fine. Does my colleague not think that the measures imposed with the additional prohibitions would potentially straitjacket the political process? Is there some chance that, in the government's fear of the Liberal Party of Canada, it has approached this legislation in a way that would restrict legitimate, registered, political parties in Canada who have not managed to elect members to the House yet? There are approximately half a dozen parties I am referring to. Does my colleague think these restrictions are totally unnecessary and arguably unfair, and maybe unconstitutional, simply because the Conservatives have been blinded by either their dislike or their fear of the Liberal Party?
Canada Elections Act
Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is quite clear to anyone who has listened to this debate that this, in fact, is the case, notwithstanding the name of the legislation or how it is preambled. The legislation deals with accountability with respect to loans.
We have heard members of the Conservative Party, the backbench members, refer often to the current Prime Minister's Office as the Kremlin. However, we never thought that they would go so far as to engage in doublespeak, and that is exactly what is taking place here.
The title, the preamble, speaks to something which is the exact opposite of what the outcome of the legislation would be. It would straitjacket. And it would not just straitjacket and prohibit individuals but, as the member pointed out, parties.
We would now have a limited spectrum of political debate in this country. Smaller parties would not have the capacity to jump through these hoops to provide them with the resources necessary to communicate their particular visions, whether we agree with them or not, or their particular platforms.
This is an issue of fundamental democracy. It is not just parties but, as I already referenced, individual members. Some of the best that we have in our country, some of the best among our people, are those who volunteer. They expend a tremendous amount of time volunteering their time for NGOs, but they also believe in democratic principles, the fundamentals of our country, and they want to have input in the process, and some of them take active interest; that is, they join executives.
This would dampen people's ability to do that because they would have to provide guarantees for loans from the bank. The candidates, potentially, and they would not want to do that I am sure, could walk away from these outstanding loans. Let us remember, we are in a situation of minority government, where we could have election after election, and these are not inexpensive processes. We would saddle well-meaning volunteers with loan guarantees to our big banks.
My goodness. Why would we give that sort of power to big banks, a corporate sector, and a very particular corporate sector? And why would we remove the little guy from being able to be part of the process?
If we take a look at the scales in this case, this particular piece of legislation has just given tremendous influence and weight to a portion of our corporate sector, the banking sector, and taken away the ability to influence the democratic process from individuals who are not people of modest means, and smaller parties who would like to have the opportunity to put their points of view across.
It is a terrible piece of legislation. It should not have been rushed through. It should have been thought through. I hate to have to say this, but it appears that this particular legislation is a cynical attempt to freeze in a particular advantage of one particular party at this point in time. It is a tremendous disservice to anyone who believes in a democratic process.
As has been stated over and over, the Liberal Party is against this piece of legislation. We will stand up for the small people in this country.
Canada Elections Act
David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).
There are aspects of the bill which I support. In fact, when it returned from committee, the bill had been amended in such a fashion that I might have been unable to support it at third reading. Unfortunately, the government, with the help of the NDP, undid three very sensible amendments which would have improved the bill. It remains a mystery to us why the NDP members would want to sidle up with the Reform Conservative movement in Canada today. I still think that they have to justify to their supporters and Canadians at large why they might undermine this progressive piece of legislation.
As a result of those amendments and the NDP support of the government, and for many reasons, I will not be able to give Bill C-29 my support on the vote at third reading.
The majority of the bill comes from recommendations in a report from the Chief Electoral Officer to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. That, by the way, would be the same Chief Electoral Officer, a highly accomplished lifetime public servant whom the government derided because of its own legislation dealing with veiled voting. However, we will leave that for another debate.
In that report the Chief Electoral Officers found that when loans are given to a political candidate by a person who is not regularly in the business of lending money, it can be perceived by some as a means to influence the political process with money. The report made a series of recommendations to end this perception. All of us, I think, want to see that perception eliminated in Canadian society. We want to drive up trust in our democratic institutions and processes, not drive it down.
One such recommendation was to ensure that all loans granted to a candidate were signed at the going commercial lending rate. A second was to establish a limit on loans made by individuals that would be equal to their annual political contribution amount. If we look at the year 2007, for example, that amount was $1,100. These measures are contained in Bill C-29.
The bill will also ensure that corporations and unions are prevented from making loans to political candidates and parties, just as they have been prevented from making campaign contributions, a theme I will come back to in a moment.
Bill C-29 will ensure if an individual lends and donates money to any candidate that the sum total of his or her contributions and loans will count toward his or her maximum. For instance, a person will not be able to make a $1,000 loan and a $1,000 donation.
Yet another important recommendation made by the Chief Electoral Officer was that the information surrounding any loans be made public. Why? In order to mitigate the chances of a perceived conflict of interest, something that all of us as parliamentarians must fight against, again with the higher public interest in mind, that is, to drive up trust in democratic institutions and the democratic processes that bring us here.
According to the report, the information to be disclosed should include the identity of the lender, the interest rate, and a repayment schedule for the loan, over what period of time, how much, with a beginning, a middle and an end to the schedule. The reason it is important to disclose this type of information throughout a campaign is that after a vote, while the information may be telling, it comes too late to help a voter make an informed decision about which candidate he or she may choose to support or not.
I can support this measure in Bill C-29. It is the right thing to do.
In fact, for Canadians watching or reading Hansard at some point, let me take a moment to remind them it is the Liberal Party of Canada that was well ahead of the curve on this issue.
During the last Liberal leadership race, our leadership candidates went way above and beyond the call of duty to disclose this type of information. It is an excellent idea. I strongly believe that the other parties in the House should be brought under the same type and level of scrutiny that the Liberal Party of Canada has voluntarily adopted.
We have heard from numerous speakers this afternoon and throughout this debate specifically about the Prime Minister. It is revealing. It is more than interesting. It is not somewhat passing that the Prime Minister has not yet revealed the names of the people and organizations that contributed to his leadership campaign in 2002. Why? Why would a leadership candidate not want to reveal the people and organizations supporting, in this case, his leadership bid? This kind of secrecy is exactly what leads many Canadians to become distrustful of the political process.
Who exactly, they might ask, put the Prime Minister at the helm of the Conservative Party? Who? Who wrote the cheques? Which Conservative members? Was it the big oil companies? An objective Canadian might ask, is this why the Prime Minister continues to deny the existence of climate change? When faced with one of the greatest ecological threats of our time, in the wake of the loss of 2,500 of the highest paying jobs in the manufacturing sector in Canada, how does the Prime Minister respond? How does he respond to the climate change crisis facing the planet? With a talking oil stain that tells Canadians there is no point in trying to curb our greenhouse gas emissions.
It is actually encouraging. I encourage the Prime Minister and his party to pursue exactly those kinds of tactics. I encourage him to run those advertisements at every gas pump in every service station in the country. Why? Because Canadians would then see that the response to the climate change crisis by the Prime Minister is a cartoon character. I ask him to please go forward in that regard and continue to proliferate those kinds of race to the bottom tactics.
Was he funded, for example, by groups like Charles McVety's at the Canada Christian College, who was recently in Ottawa to help the government push through Bill C-10? That bill would give the Conservative government the right to censor Canadian films based on whatever they seem to find offensive.
Or is it the same Charles McVety who actually cybersquatted on over 40 MPs websites, including my own? Having seized it, he was confronted by me, and was shamed into actually transferring mine back to me and the others back to the other members from all sides of the House, all parties? Dr. McVety, whatever his doctorate might be in, was opposed to the notion of same sex civil marriage and he used cyber theft and cybersquatting as his modus operandi to achieve his objectives. Is this the group that funded the Prime Minister's leadership bid?
We should know those things. If either of these are the case, I believe that Canadians deserve an answer. They have a right to know. I encourage my colleagues on the Conservative side of the House to urge their leader to disclose those contributions as quickly as possible.
While they are at it, why do they not ask the Minister of National Defence which sole contributor paid off up to half a million dollars of his leadership debt. One cheque, one donor, the amount has never been disclosed. The Minister of National Defence has never come clean with Canadians.
It is no surprise that some of the measures we find in this bill are supported by the Conservatives.
Those are two examples and there may be more. That is exactly the kind of transparency the House should be seeking to increase, not decrease, to drive up trust in the democratic institutions and the processes that brought us here.
I understand that members in the Conservative Party are not allowed to question their leader or even to express their own ideas, failing which we see the kind of despicable content which has emerged in the last 48 hours from the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. On that note, we know the apology is not enough. It is not enough because it is not the first time.
This is about restoring the faith of Canadians in the democratic process. Over the past five years the Liberal Party has done tremendous work, I believe, to help restore faith. It was in 2003 that the previous Liberal government introduced the very first annual limits on individual contributions to a political party and to our candidates. In that same bill we also banned contributions from corporations and unions to political parties. That is progressive. Those changes stand today as the most significant ones that have been made to political financing at the federal level in decades. We went further.
In 2006 the maximum contribution amounts were lowered even further. They are now tied to the rate of inflation and in theory should rise slightly each year. I say “in theory” because we have yet to see if Canada's Minister of Finance will be able to steer the economy well enough to meet targeted inflation rates. Given his past behaviour at Queen's Park and his performance in the Ontario government, Canadians are of course deeply suspicious of an individual who increases provincial debt by $28 billion and leaves a $5.6 billion deficit in Canada's largest province.
Nevertheless, we did support lowering those maximums, which brings me to the part of my speech where I have to raise my concerns about this bill. There is a danger that sometimes we, as legislators, in our zeal to make things better, often make things worse through a variety of unintended consequences.
This bill, unfortunately, finds itself well across the line of what is needed in order to make things better. To their credit, the members from all sides of the House who studied the bill at committee stage tried to make the bill better. At least in this case it was not one of the six standing committees that have been filibustered, blocked, toyed with and brought into disrepute by the conduct of Conservative members, most recently of course in a number of standing committees with respect to their cheap and dishonest talk about carbon pricing.
The members who studied the bill did try to make the bill better. There were, however, three amendments made at committee which the government did not agree with and which were eliminated at report stage, again with the help of the NDP. It is a shame because it was widely recognized that these amendments would have improved the bill.
One such amendment has to do with who is liable for loans that go unpaid. The Bloc and the Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs were concerned that the original wording of the bill could have made political parties responsible for loans that their candidates took without even knowing that their candidates had taken those loans. Let me give an example.
The local candidate takes out a $30,000 loan to finance his campaign. He does not inform the central Conservative Party that he is doing this. The central party, however, is now responsible for that loan should the candidate not win and declare bankruptcy. That is right; a political party would not have authorized the loan, would have had no knowledge of the loan, yet it would be required to assume liability for the loan if the candidate declared bankruptcy.
I do not think this is right. I actually do not even think it is legal, particularly when we consider that there are parties not represented in this House and for whom a $30,000 debt is an extremely high sum of money to be stuck with through no fault of their own. In short, this is not good for democracy. It does not give rise to the possibility of new political parties, for example.
That brings me to my last point. It is about who will be disenfranchised by Bill C-29. Every single politician cuts his or her teeth in politics by taking a chance and running for office. From a local councillor to a federal cabinet minister, we all start that way; everyone except, of course, for the Minister of Public Works, whom the Prime Minister appointed to the Senate and who, in his own words, did not feel like running for office.
I will admit that in mounting a campaign for office some people will have advantages. They might have a recognizable name or face because of their past activities. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does give them an early advantage in getting the early stage donations that are so crucial to a candidacy.
Others come to politics with a good amount of money in their bank accounts. That is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Any political bodies should be represented by a broad spectrum of the citizens who vote them there. The advantage that these types of candidates will have, however, is that it will be far easier for them to secure loans from a financial institution to get their candidacy up and running. If they have a big house or other assets to use as collateral against a loan, the banks will be all too willing to give them that loan.
Banks and financial institutions, of course, are the only places where federal political candidates will be allowed to secure loans for over $1,100 if Bill C-29 passes. That would be for a nomination campaign, a leadership campaign or an election campaign.
Then there is a third type of politician, one who runs for office without a lot of face recognition and without the benefit of having much wealth tucked away. These politicians run because they want to make a difference. They believe their ideas can help to shape the national debate.
These are the candidates who would be disenfranchised by the bill. They do not have the face recognition needed to get a lot of early stage donations. They might not have the assets for a bank to give them a starter loan. In the case of a nomination battle for a riding, this could easily be the difference between launching a winning campaign and losing one.
What about family and friends? Why can family and friends not support early funding start-up for nomination battles? This is exactly what has happened, for example, in our IT sector, where so much of our IT success has come from individuals with robust ideas who have drawn from family, friends, contacts and neighbours to help start up with a positive idea. I draw a parallel here between both.
Canada Elections Act
An hon. member
Keep Mulroney out of this.