House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elected.

Topics

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his support of the general principle of the legislation because it is important that we pass the bill and get it to committee. I would be happy to appear in front of committee to discuss the bill at that time as well.

In regard to his specific question, it is important that we limit the amount of the guarantee that can be given to a loan to the same amount as a contribution limit. The contribution limit in 2011 is $1,100. Anything more than that, especially if it is not paid back, would be deemed to be a larger contribution, essentially a de facto contribution. This is an important principle of the bill. I would be happy to discuss it further, but it is important that we limit it to the amount that anybody is able to make.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I hope the minister will be as precise in answering questions as he was in his speech.

I have two questions for the minister. What criteria will financial institutions use to decide if it will lend money or not? Is the minister saying that it is more moral for legitimate financial institutions to give a loan than it is for a citizen?

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, it is up to the banks to make that decision on how they will make the loan or if they will make that loan. We as a government cannot tell a bank what criteria to look at when it makes a loan to many different types of candidates. It could be a nomination contestant. It could be a contestant in an election who has already been nominated by the party. It could be a leadership contestant, possibly the front-runner or possibly a person who has no chance of winning at all in the minds of the bank. This decision needs to be made by the individual bank.

It is not just banks. It is also insurers and credit unions. A number of official institutions would make those loans as long as they were open and transparent about the terms and conditions and who the guarantors would be for that loan. One's family, friends and other individuals can guarantee the loan to the maximum contribution limit.

The bill is about bringing more accountability and transparency to the entire political financing regime.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, just a comment on the whole question of the ability and the availability of candidates and their EDAs to get loans from financial institutions.

I have been in the same situation in my early political life as my colleague, my friend from Hamilton Centre was, inasmuch as we did not have a lot of money in my EDA. We found it very difficult to raise money, in the early days. However, I found quite quickly that banks and other financial institutions, quite frankly, feel a responsibility to help the democratic process.

That has also been bolstered by the fact that they know that 60% of a candidate's return could be assigned to the banks. In other words, as a candidate, if I received over 10% of the votes cast in my riding, I would receive 60% of my eligible expenses. That just usually is assigned to financial institutions, which gives them quite a bit more confidence that the money can be repaid.

I ask my colleague, the Minister of State Democratic Reform, does he believe, because of the current situation on reimbursements to political parties and candidates, this would be an asset to candidates seeking loans from financial institutions?

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his question and insight into this issue.

Absolutely, the return for candidates who receive that level of voting, 60%, is some insurance to banks. However, at the end of the day, political parties can loan money to an electoral riding association or other EDAs can also loan money to another riding association. So, between political entities, loans can be made.

There is ample opportunity for Canadians to be a part of the political process where financing will not hinder them.

This bill would actually level the playing field and bring everybody down to the same level where corporations, big unions and wealthy individuals do not control the agenda. It is Canadians who have an opportunity to become part of the political process.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the minister has just told us that he is going to give a lot of power to the financial institutions, varied as they are, to decide whether the campaign of somebody who is just starting out is viable or not. Let us say it is a $20,000 loan and a candidate has lined up 20 people, each guaranteeing $1,000. Even in that case, the financial institution is going to have to do a lot of paperwork. It is going to eat up any profit that the financial institution is going to make.

So, does the financial institution provide that loan or not? Maybe it wants to be nice to a candidate and will eat the clerical costs that would wipe out the profit of that loan. Frankly, it is clear to me that in these cases, the banks are given power to write off some expenses and make some candidates' campaigns financially viable right at the early, critical stages and to not support other candidates.

Do members know the kinds of candidates who will not be supported? Female candidates, I think, would be hurt by this kind of legislation, and it would hand power and discretion over to financial institutions.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, the fact is that we as the government made a commitment to Canadians that we would close a loophole in our political financing regime. We were the government that brought in the Federal Accountability Act that cleaned up the political financing regime in Canada. Now we are building upon that by closing this loophole.

The fact is that it is not only banks but also insurance companies, credit unions and other institutions that can provide these loans. Also, these loans can be provided by another electoral district association, by the party, or by family and friends.

This bill would actually level the playing field for all Canadians to get involved in politics. It would take the power away from wealthy individuals, corporations and unions.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter the debate. Let me first of all say that the reason why we are supportive of this is because there is a problem. We see the problem and I am not going to make this any more partisan than it sounds, that is not my intent, but merely the reality.

The leadership race that the Liberal Party had left huge debts. It would seem that some of those debts are not going to be paid off. If that is the result and a candidate was backed by individuals, effectively right now those individuals bankrolled a big part of the candidate's campaign and by virtue of just never paying it off, put that money forward, and did exactly what we are trying to avoid which is single individuals, single corporations, and single unions from providing tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to one candidate.

I agree with the minister in acknowledging that there is a problem. We accept that the minister is going in the right direction. That is why again, as always, we say we need to see the details at committee. We do have some concerns. It has been raised once and it will be raised again by both opposition parties. The minister is saying that there is no need to put any regime around banks or credit unions in terms of who they will loan to and who they will not. That could create a serious problem. If we are only allowing the money to come from one or two places, and those places are not democratized in terms of what the rules are, in terms of who they will lend money to, one does not have to be a political scientist to see the problem.

I would hope there would be some room and latitude to talk at committee about what kind of regime might be in place, what kind of safeguards could be in place, and maybe there is a backup by the government, maybe there is a role there. But any possibility where we are narrowing how Canadian citizens can raise money to participate in our electoral process, we need to ensure that not only is it fair but that we can actually access the money regardless of our political platform.

For the most part the platforms here are not scary. Some might argue the point from our different perspectives. But in a world view, I think members know what I am saying when I use that phrase.

If there is a legitimate, legal party that might have policies that scare certain segments of the population and part of that segment of the population could be the banks. It does not take a whole lot of analysis to realize that if a bank can find a way to legally, legitimately and free from harm say “no”, it is probably in the bank's interest to ensure that a party that has a platform that would hurt the bank would be helped by that bank to get more votes, and ultimately become the government that is then going to bring in rules and a regime that the bank thinks is not in its interest.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

December 8th, 2011 / 4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I applaud.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

I am thrilled that the member is applauding. Really, it just warms my heart.

We want to have a look at that. We think that is a valid point. There may be other points coming from the third party since it is the example we are using of why we need to have a loophole. That needs to be taken into account, but again, regardless of how many times he heckles me these days, I have the greatest respect for the democratic reform critic for the Liberal Party. I believe that when we get to committee and if the minister if open-minded, we can start to do something about this.

However, I say to the minister, leaving some potential political parties vulnerable to not being able to access enough capital to mount a campaign is as undemocratic as allowing people with tens of millions of dollars to bankroll their good buddy. We need to be talking about that.

There is another real problem and I am going to come back to it again. I heard the minister's response when I asked if the Conservatives wanted to make it fair and keep it on a level playing field, but, quite frankly, how fair is it in a riding like mine where there are not as many wealthy people? I know the difference. When I was an MPP, my boundary ridings changed for a while and my riding encapsulated a part of the city where the demographic income was much higher. Boy, did it make a difference. Now I am back to my old boundaries and the standard problem. I would not raise it as a complaint other than it is in the context of this debate.

Is it really fair for an individual candidate? For instance, I did this in the last campaign, and again I will use myself as an example so nobody will think I am playing any games. I bankrolled my campaign with my line of credit and my house. That was not an institution or an individual, that was me as the candidate putting up my house as collateral, whereas this bill would have me go out and line up 20 or 30 people, each one having to put out $1,100 and my riding association would be denied that $1,100 because it is tied up backing up the loan.

Our point at committee is going to be whether there is some way that individual candidates can back up their loans, as I did. Then, after the election, my books were cleared up and the loan was transferred over to the riding association, but still backed up by my home. We may have to talk about what would happen in the case where a candidate does not win the seat and may move away, but those are still issues dealt with in any kind of collateral arrangement with a financial institution. They should not be so overwhelming that we cannot get over it.

I am kind of arguing the opposite of where I am coming from, which is to stop money from having an influence, but is the democratic process really harmed in terms of the financing of elections by virtue of me backing up a $20,000 or $30,000 line of credit with my own home? Not everybody has a home. Granted, it still has problems, nothing is perfect. The circumstances may be different, but could a close relative do that? Is there a way that we can do this, so that it does not create an unfair disadvantage to those of us who do not have wealthy demographic ridings?

This law does not matter much if someone has $100,000 in the bank. I believe there are some Conservatives and Liberals that do. I would be shocked if any of my colleagues did. They may, I am not aware of it, but I do not think it is that unusual on that side of the House or for some of the Liberals to have that kind of money, and so it is not a problem. I bring that as an element of fairness for us to look at, to see whether we can come up with a regime that meets the standards that the minister has set out but still allows fairness for individuals running for office.

My last point on this is that it may sound like $1,000 from 20 or 30 people is not a big deal. However, this is real world stuff. Does anyone know how difficult it is to find 20 or 30 people who have that kind of money to spare? Again, it may not sound like a lot to members in this place, but for many of my constituents, that could be all of their savings. Then a candidate has to co-ordinate the timing. Those 30 people have to go in and sign the documents before the candidate gets the money, which means time is lost, time when the campaign is going on. The candidate's opponents are already up and running and the candidate is still running around trying to get signatures 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30, so he or she can get a line of credit and get his or her campaign up and running.

Moving from a situation where I back up the loan with my home, and that is the way I have done it since I got here, versus the other way really is a huge disadvantage for some of us. I am hoping that we will be able to take the time to look at that.

I know my time for debate will expire, as it goes quickly. I do want to get my dibs in on the discussion about electoral reform. The minister used some very lofty language in his news release:

The current rules on political loans do not meet the high standards of accountability, integrity and transparency that Canadians expect in their political process.

That is all well and fine, but one of the most progressive steps, and government members should get ready to howl, that was ever taken in this place toward making elections fairer was providing the per-vote subsidy.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

I told you, Madam Speaker. They are a little slow off the mark. They should have been quicker on that one.

I want to say to the hon. members across the way that I participated in an election observation mission in Morocco in the last few weeks. What is one of the most important things to the people of Morocco? It is a struggling, emerging democracy in northwest Africa. One of the most important components they felt they needed was subsidies for political parties from the public purse to level the playing field.

When the government talks about a level playing field, it is often like we all have the right to live under the bridge, that old example. When we stand back and look at the macro picture, at the end of the day, money will play a bigger role in Canadian politics after the government than it did before. That is wrong.

I have given, at every opportunity, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as much credit as possible. I think the president of his own party used the expression, that was about as dumb as a bag of hammers. Why? Because the Liberals used to get all their funding from corporations. That was to be set aside, in large part, and replaced with the subsidies.

That was a good thing to do. It did make our democracy better. I have had the chance to participate in six or seven election observation missions. Anyone who is involved in elections around the world either has that component, or the one thing they desperately want is to get private money out of their political system and replace it with public funding. They are either doing this because they know it is important, or they want to because they know the damage and corrosiveness that money can play in a democratic system like ours.

My next comment will be on the same quote, when the minister used the word “accountability”. I love this. When the Conservatives say that word a lot, I want to bring into the broader discussion, to put the context of Bill C-21 in a more enlightened form, that under their new elect-the-senator bill, there is no accountability.

In fact, the senators would be prohibited by law from being accountable because they would run on a platform of promises, as we all do. They would serve nine years, which we do not. If we look at the model all of us here live by, if we want to stay in office beyond our term, we go back to the people and say, “Here are the promises I made. Here is what I did, what I said, how I voted. Now I ask you, my boss, how did I do, and do I deserve to get rehired or re-elected for another term, yes or no?”

However, elected senators, and I use that term loosely, would be prohibited by law from running again after nine years. Where is the accountability? There would be no accountability at the beginning, only promises. There would be no accountability in the middle. They would not even have constituency offices so they would not even be meeting Canadians, never mind being accountable. At the point when they should go back at the end of their terms, they would be prohibited by law from running again. Where is the accountability?

The minister also said in that same quote, “integrity”. That is pretty rich, coming from the party that gives us the current Minister of National Defence.

The last point is on the Conservatives' use of “transparency”. We do not need to look any further than today's question period and the Canada-U.S. border plan. We do not even know what is in the plan. It may be taking away massive amounts of Canadians' rights.

I raise all of that because the minister sets all these standards and uses these lofty words in his news releases. When we start to analyze piece by piece what the government is doing, it is undemocratic reform on a whole host of files. The words “accountability, integrity and transparency” are the last ones that Canadians are thinking of when they look at the actions and the agenda of the Conservative government.

I will end there. We are in support of closing the loophole. However, we think that there is some improvement needed to make our system stronger.

We have some serious concerns about having banks and other financial institutions as the only ones that can provide capital, with no requirement to actually provide it to all parties no matter what the circumstances. That is a huge problem, but it is solvable. I believe, if we wanted to, we could find ways to bring in conditions that would be acceptable to everyone concerned and make that aspect even fairer.

We hope that we can do something about the requirements for 20 or 30 people to get that initial line of credit. Here is one idea. One could be allowed to spend up to a certain percentage of the maximum. If one's limit were $100,000, one might be allowed to borrow up to $40,000 or $50,000 on the signature or collateral of the candidate.

I am sure we could find a regime that would still meet the goals of the government to level the playing field in terms of money, but also to make sure that our election laws apply equally across the country. The laws should not give an advantage or disadvantage to one's opponents in a general election or byelection.

If these concerns are not resolved, then there is no guarantee what position we will take at third reading. However, with those caveats, we are prepared to support the bill going to committee.

I hope the minister will allow us the same flexibility and tone that we had when we reviewed the previous bill, which we are voting against. The process at that committee was certainly as fair as I could have hoped for. At no time did I feel that the government was using a hammer to shut down democracy. I hope that we can look forward to the same relationship at committee on this bill. I hope we can make the improvements we need as well as look at other improvements to make it even better.

I always say that on bills like this, the ideal would be if we could all be standing in support of it. Would that not say a lot about a good piece of election law?

That is our goal; that is our position. We will see what happens.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, it has been good to work with the hon. member. We will have good discussions on this bill.

The member raised the point about how some people have a house that they could possibly get collateral on, but others may not. He then said maybe a relative could provide a loan. Where does it stop? Where would those guidelines be?

The fact is, we are trying to stop wealthy individuals who have the ability to provide a loan but then have no real expectation of repayment.

For some established political parties, there is a possibility that the individuals could get 60% back on their cost. However, there are other political parties which do not have a chance of getting anywhere in an election. What if one of those candidates were to borrow money under the member's plan and then just walk away from the loan? Where does it stop?

At the end of the day, we need to have rules and guidelines. The bill that we presented has accountability and it is transparent. It says that the maximum one could borrow is the amount one could contribute. Anything over that would be considered a contribution.

I ask the member, how would he solve that issue?

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for staying, listening to my remarks and asking a question.

I am disappointed to hear that answer. What I heard was a defence of the bill. That is not the attitude we are looking for.

I was doing, for a moment, the kind of work that we do at the committee where we deal with these laws. I see my colleague has been working on a couple of the pieces of legislation and projects now for two or more years.

I enjoy working with the hon. member. He is very tough, but he is very fair. He is an hon. member and a good parliamentarian. However, when I give an answer like I did on the floor just now, I expect a response that says, “Well, I hear you on that. Is there a way we could tie it all in?” I may not have a perfect answer right now, but if I had all the perfect answers, I would not be here. I would be somewhere else.

Collectively, we can tie it all in. I am just disappointed the minister was being so dismissive. If the smart minds who want to work together rather than score political points on each other would turn their minds to that, we could find a way to solve our problem.

I hope the minister does not become so entrenched with, “It is my bill. It has to be my way or no way.” That does not get us anywhere. I really think there is an opportunity here, in talking about election laws, to come up with rules that are fair for everyone.

I was trying to suggest to the minister how we could approach that. I was disappointed in his response. I hope he will get back on his feet and indicate that that is not how he sees any kind of potential dialogue going on. I hope he will be a little more open-minded.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to tell my colleague that I agree with 95% of what he said.

I am puzzled by his conclusion, when he said that he has caveats with the bill. In fact, he is strongly questioning the core of the bill. For instance, he said that we should not give the financial institutions this kind of extraordinary power to pressure politicians and parties, but that is exactly the purpose of the bill.

The bill stipulates that citizens will not be allowed to give any loans, but financial institutions will. Why does he want to give this monopoly of power to financial institutions, big money in some ways, and ask them to have a political role they do not want?

Is it because the NDP is no longer socialist but social democrat? I expect the NDP will vote against this bill.