House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently as the member spoke and one thing that struck me was the apparent hypocrisy of his crying against the way that political parties collect money.

I personally believe that all money contributed to political parties should be from individuals who give of their own free accord.

I guess I should not say this because it is a dreadful thing to say publicly, but I have contributed a lot of money to the NDP, which I am sure the member is happy about, but I did so under coercion. I always had a job where I had compulsory union membership and the unions always supported the NDP with my money. I had no say in it.

I remember one time challenging one of the union bosses on this. I asked him why I had to contribute money to a political party that I was campaigning against. He said that it had been done democratically, that a convention was held and that through a vote it was decided that $100,000 would be given to the provincial NDP and $150,000 to the federal NDP. The union bosses just had a convention among themselves and decided that was how they would spend my money.

I would like the member's reaction to that particular scene.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, for those school children watching today, they just had the definition of the term “red herring”. The hon. member knows very well that under the Elections Act a union cannot donate money in a federal election. There is no opportunity for corporate donations nor union donations.

For those listening, a red herring is something that has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to what is being discussed in the House of Commons. A union cannot donate money, neither at the constituency level nor at the federal party level, and the member knows this. I guess he thought it would be a trick question or that we would not be well-informed but members of this House of Commons know that what he just asked as a question is a red herring because it cannot be done.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments. He always has some interesting comments and at times is actually entertaining.

I am sure there is going to be support for this bill, but there are still some points of concern. One of the areas has to do with where a loan is not repaid within the 18 months, et cetera. Some exceptions were noted: one, if the loan is subject to a binding agreement to pay; two, if it is subject to a legal proceeding; third, if it is subject to a dispute as to the amount; or four, if the amount has been written off by the lender as uncollectable. When we have a number of conditions in which a loan may not in fact be handled in the anticipated fashion because it is a bad debt, if we have made a list, then something must be left out. It really should be a blanket provision.

I am wondering whether or not the legislation ought not to have included a proviso that every legal avenue and effort had been taken to recover the loan. Once we start making other parties responsible or not accountable for their legal obligation and their agreement to the terms of the loan, it tends to fuzzy up the legislation.

Someone is going to say that there must have been some connection, or there may have been a quid pro quo that we did not know about. How do we police these kinds of things? How can we ensure that the intent of the law in fact is followed through? We have seen a lot of very strange and creative things happen. The in and out scandal is certainly an interesting one. Although it is not with regard to a candidate directly, it does have to do with candidates who are asked to participate in a matter related to the operations of an election campaign.

The member may have some comments.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster. There are five minutes left in this question cycle and there are two other members who want to ask questions.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to their questions. I hope they will not be red herrings. I hope they will be legitimate questions.

The member for Mississauga South asked, as he always does, an intelligent question about the impact of that third amendment. The problem the member mentioned is why we are essentially opposing it. Because there would be a transfer to the political head office, to the political headquarters, it does not allow for the candidate's official agent in the riding to essentially take responsibility for the loan and pay it down. That is a problem with the amendment the government is proposing. There is not the legal weight to ensure that at the constituency level that loan is paid off.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question to the member for Burnaby—New Westminster will come after a comment and a brief reminder.

When he says that the NDP's position with regard to the Canada Elections Act is forward-looking and when he cites Quebec's legislation as an example, he is absolutely right. Quebec's legislation has been in use for 30 years now and it has produced results in terms of cleaning up political contributions.

I want to know if he can lift the fog that rolled in with his remarks.

The NDP member for Windsor—Tecumseh told us earlier that he was not overly concerned about the fact that the party will be liable for a debt incurred by a candidate who is unable to repay that debt, because if a candidate has little chance of being elected, it is very likely that banks will not give him or her a loan. Therefore, he thinks that asking the party to be liable for those debts is not really a problem.

However, in his remarks, this member shared our position, and our concern deals with the fact that a candidate who is unable to pay off a loan can force his or her party to take on that responsibility.

I would ask the member to clarify for us his party's position on this issue.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear. The third amendment would essentially mean that if a loan contracted by a local candidate or an official agent is not paid, it falls to the party headquarters.

We are opposed to this amendment for the reasons just stated. It puts all of the responsibility on the political party even though it may not have approved loans contracted in the ridings.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-29.

I am shocked by my colleague for Burnaby—New Westminster's response to my colleague for Chambly—Borduas in terms of a party's responsibility for loans contracted by candidates. My colleague just said that he was not in favour of this third amendment. I should point out that the amendments to the bill before us are a direct result of the NDP's change in position.

I do not necessarily want to dump on the NDP. We agree on certain things, but not in terms of this bill. There was a prior agreement. Given that I sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I succeeded in getting this amendment in order to withdraw this provision. It has now returned to the bill, which means that the responsibilities and debts contracted by local candidates will become the responsibility of the party in the case of insolvency.

I am on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a committee which is incidentally inoperative at the moment. A Conservative colleague was elected to replace the chair and member for Cambridge, whom a majority of the members had to kick out. Apparently he was not doing his job properly and impartially. A new chair was elected. Unfortunately this new chair resigned, and this means that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, because of the Conservatives, is inoperative.

On reading the bill, I noted this problem. I agree that a local candidate has a party banner to defend. Still, in the case of the Bloc Québécois, there are 75 ridings. There are more in the case of the so-called “national” parties. The Bloc Québécois is the national party of Quebeckers. We run candidates in the 75 ridings of Quebec. When we talk about 308 ridings and 308 Conservative, Liberal or New Democratic candidates, there is a coordination problem. How do we find out what is happening at the local level? An ill-advised candidate could make excessive, extravagant, totally crazy and inappropriate expenditures. I would even go so far as to say that he might exceed the limit provided for.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, somebody keeps yapping and that is distracting me. I realize that you yourself are so distracted that you cannot take down any notes about my speech.

So there could be a breach of the spending limit. The party might not know anything about it but would be responsible for the expenditures of this insolvent person. That is the point of this amendment. I have difficulty seeing the logic of my colleagues from the other parties.

That being said, I consider that we are democrats in the Bloc Québécois, and we will acknowledge the democratic decision of the House. Allow me, however, to express some misgivings that I have.

With regard to the general thrust of Bill C-29, the Bloc Québécois remains in favour of it on the third reading. We consider that it contains some interesting, though perfectible elements, given that by definition perfection does not exist in this lowly world.

We are in favour of it for two main reasons. First of all, we think that it is necessary to provide a framework for loans so as to avoid people getting around the spending limits. We realize this on analyzing certain leadership races, among both the Conservatives and the Liberals.

For example, the member for Toronto Centre, the new Liberal Party critic for foreign affairs, apparently received loans totalling $705,000, including a loan from his brother, John Rae, a former vice-president of Power Corporation, for $580,000 at 5% interest. He apparently lent himself $125,000.

The same goes for the current opposition leader, who is supposed to have received loans totalling $655,000 from various people: Mamdouh Stephanos, Marc de la Bruyere, Stephen Bronfman, Roderick Bryden, Christopher Hoffmann. In all, they amount to $655,000.

Since we are including everyone, the current Prime Minister still refuses to reveal who his contributors were during his run for party leadership in 2002. He refers us the web site of the party once called the Canadian Alliance. That party has changed names many times. First it was the Reform Party, then the Canadian Alliance, and now the Conservative Party. It reminds me of the new Coke: it is the same recipe, but in an improved version. It is actually quite confusing.

In any case, a Globe and Mail article on October 2, 2002, revealed that the current Prime Minister spent $1.1 million on his leadership campaign in 2002. According to the article, the Prime Minister said he had posted a partial list of his contributors on the Canadian Alliance web site, but in fact only those who contributed more than $1,075 were listed. Thus, there are many grey areas.

As for election spending limits regarding contributions from individuals, we know that corporate financing is no longer allowed. We support this. Such limits have always been a traditional demand of the Bloc Québécois, that is, since 1993, for one simple, good reason. The Act to govern the financing of political parties has been in force in Quebec since 1977 and has proven effective. It has helped clean up political and electoral funding practices.

I can still vividly recall former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien paying homage to the legacy of René Lévesque, who gave us Quebec's act respecting elections and referendums in municipalities and the referendum act, among others. I am sure it was not easy for Jean Chrétien to pay homage to René Lévesque.

It is not necessarily logical, and certainly not every day, that Mr. Chrétien would pay tribute to René Lévesque.

That is basically what I wanted to say in my allotted time. Question time is approaching, and I am sure that some of my colleagues have some interesting questions for me. I will be pleased to answer them to the best of my knowledge and abilities. I want to stress that we still support this bill, and that we will likely vote in favour of it.

However, we see some serious problems with the fact that parties are responsible for expenses incurred by candidates at the local level. It should be a given that when someone agrees to run for a particular political party, that individual takes responsibility for his or her own expenses.

It is also important to remember that election campaigns are fast-paced. People who work on an election campaign have a hectic life from morning to night, and that includes the researchers who work nights. It is seven days a week. It is not always possible for all expenses to receive approval from senior party officials. That could mean that, although the party has nothing to do with the expense, it could end up being responsible, which does not make sense and is completely unacceptable.

But regardless, the Bloc Québécois supports this bill overall.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to pursue a point that I raised earlier. It has to do with loans by a financial institution to a candidate. The deemed contributions provisions under 405.7 stipulates that the loan must be repaid by three years. However, if the amount has not been paid, there are four conditions under which it would be a deemed contribution. One of those is the loan has been written off by the lender as an uncollectable debt in accordance with the lender's normal accounting practices.

If that is the case, where there is a deemed contribution, a bank could loan $50,000 to a campaign, write it off and it becomes a deemed contribution. I did not think that was really the intent. I am not sure if I missed something in the legislation, but it would appear there would be a way in which banks could effectively contribute to candidates when corporate and union donations would be prohibited under previous changes to the act.

This concerns me, along with the issue that the loans or debts incurred by a candidate would ultimately turn out to be the responsibility of a riding association or a political party if they were unpaid. The member may have—

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised some serious issues. However, we remain convinced that the problem lies with the wording. It is all about the interpretation. Given that we are about to pass this bill, we believe that it would have been advantageous to improve the final wording of the bill in order to clear up any misunderstandings or errors of interpretation.

That is precisely why we have courts, to interpret the laws passed by parliaments. While travelling by plane, I had the opportunity to speak with a superior court judge, who told me that if parliamentarians would pass good, clear laws, there would be no need for the courts to interpret them. We recognize the independence of the judiciary and the executive. The judiciary only interprets the laws that are drafted by this Parliament.

It would have been better to have obtained further clarifications. However, I greatly appreciate my colleague's comments.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nordon his speech.

He spoke about transparency in the financing of political parties and touched on the transparency in financing for the leadership races of major parties, giving as an example his observations about a party that opened its books, and we need only think of the leader of the official opposition.

What we have been able to obtain is quite revealing and that is appropriate because this information should be available to citizens.

He also gave the example of the leader of the government, that is the Prime Minister, who did not open his books and, once again, muddied the waters as much as possible so that citizens know nothing.

I would like to ask my colleague this question: in the near future, should we not put measures in place—especially when dealing with a party leader or a leadership race—to ensure that transparency and information be required?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. It is the principle that I have adapted to fit this situation: tell me who your backers are and I will tell you who you are. Human nature being what it is, it can be easy to reward or help those who helped us. It is called returning the favour.

If everything was done in the full light of day for everyone to see—in an open and transparent manner—it would not leave any questions unanswered.

The same thing could be said for the Couillard affair. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will invoke the relevance rule to interrupt me, but you will be interrupting me in the next few seconds anyway. By not allowing the ministers and the Prime Minister to appear before the committee, the government is sowing the seeds of doubt.

Last weekend, I took part in eight events. People are asking us what the Conservatives have to hide and why they do not want to tell the truth.

It could be the same for leadership races.