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 senate.

Topics

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the first thing I would say is that if my colleague wants to have that much influence on the NDP caucus, we could find him a seat here. Then he would be welcome to attend meetings.

I do appreciate and respect that the hon. member has said he supports 95% of what I said. That is a good start. However, if the member wants to ratchet things up a little, I am game for that.

The fact of the matter is we do need change. The Liberals are more interested in leaving things the way they are because that has worked so well for them over the years. They have lots of rich friends who can bankroll their buddies. The reason we even have this bill in the first place is that in their leadership campaign, there is an issue of hundreds of thousands of dollars that have not been paid back. We in the NDP do not accept that.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:50 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, it is always a pleasure to listen to comments from my colleague from Hamilton Centre.

I have to reciprocate. Not that this was supposed to turn into a lovefest here, but I do appreciate the work that the member for Hamilton Centre has produced at committee. In discussions, we are not always on the same page. We end up, from time to time, agreeing to disagree. I do believe that the member has the best interests of this bill at heart when he says that he believes there should be some changes.

I do not think I am going to end up agreeing with him on some of those points, but I do want to make a comment and ask the member to comment on one of the points he made that did not directly deal with Bill C-21.

The member talked about the need for public subsidies, public financing of political parties. I believe that we do not need that. We have so many other avenues through which the public can receive benefit. For example, as we all know, anyone who contributes $400 gets a 75% tax credit. There are also rebates to political parties and candidates.

I believe one of the fundamental aspects of democracy is, if people are running for political office, they should find support from like-minded people who wish to provide financing because they believe in the candidates and the democratic process.

I would ask my colleague to comment on that, please.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I would answer the member this way. If the government was all that concerned about not wanting tax subsidies to go in, why did it not go after the other tax credit part? Why did it not go all the purist way? Why? Because if we look at the numbers, I believe, and I stand to be corrected, it got more money back from that than it did from the subsidies and what it got back was more than all of our subsidies combined.

Conservatives want to have subsidies as long as they works for them. What they do not want to do is leave subsidies in place that help all democratic parties. They do not want to be that democratic.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his presentation. I thought it was very interesting.

The bill is interesting even though it has some shortcomings. Today, it seems that the government is focusing on opening the door to major corporations so that they can have a rather considerable weight in the democratic process.

Clearly, we have to change the way representation can be done in our country. I am intrigued by what my colleague said in his presentation. He said that we should give some serious thought to the demographic issues raised in the bill. For example, women in Canada are disadvantaged if we compare their situation to that of men. Could he expand on how we could improve the participation of women and change this bill to make more room for women?

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, my macro answer is this. Bring in proportional representation and we could correct a whole lot of problems that exist in our democracy right now. That is the cornerstone of where we ultimately think we need to go.

We know the other two parties do not agree, but proportional representation would do more to advance the interests of true democracy, to have every vote really matter, to have the voices and opinions that exist in our country reflected in the House, to have more women, more aboriginal members, more minority groups, more disabled groups. There are all kinds of people who are either not represented here or not represented sufficiently. Proportional representation is the answer to that.

I suspect this bill will not take us far enough to do that, which is why whatever we do to the bill, it has to be in the context of recognizing proportional representation and getting rid of the other place. These are the kinds of things that will bring real democratic reform to Canada and to the House of Commons. Those are the things that we will push when we get over there.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, although the Liberal opposition agrees with a number of the aspects of Bill C-21—I am going to repeat my sentence from the beginning because the minister was not listening.

Although the Liberal opposition agrees with a number of the aspects of Bill C-21 to amend the Canada Elections Act in terms of accountability with respect to political loans, we cannot support the bill in its present form because it contains a major defect. It gives financial institutions exclusive political authority that they should not have, that they do not want, and that will have the effect of discriminating against a large number of people, especially women. I first want to highlight the aspects we support, then the ones we do not support, before I propose a constructive amendment.

We support any legislative measure that seeks to ban the hidden power of money in politics. We also support any legislative measure that provides greater fairness and greater transparency in making loans for political purposes.

The Liberal Party strongly supports efforts to increase fairness, transparency and accountability in the electoral process. After all, we are the party that initially passed legislation limiting the role of corporations and unions in electoral financing and lowered contribution limits.

No loans should be made in secret and Canadians should not be kept in the dark. This is why under current legislation the details of all loans, including amounts and names of lenders and guarantors, must already be disclosed publicly.

We agree that all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors, must be uniform and transparent. These rules should encompass loans, guarantees and suretyships with respect to registered parties, registered associations, candidates, leadership contestants and nomination contestants.

Thus we agree that financial reporting should be as transparent as possible, which is why we support clauses 5, 11, 25 and 32, which require disclosure of information regarding loan amounts, interest rates, lenders and dates of repayment.

However, we also favour transparent rules that guarantee the right and ability of all Canadians to run for office. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that all Canadians of voting age must have the opportunity to run for office.

In consequence, financial institutions should not be put in the position to decide who can run for office. Yet the bill would give financial institutions too much power to decide who would receive political loans, a power that would expose them to accusations of politicization and discrimination, real or perceived. Making banks the sole lending authority under clause 7 could potentially limit participation in federal politics to only those who would be able to gain credit from a financial institution, as defined under the Bank Act.

It would be a serious mistake to limit to financial institutions alone the ability to make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals.

It would be a mistake to enable these companies to play a political role in deciding who would receive loans and the ability to marginalize certain applicants who did not fit particular criteria, or to discriminate against them.

Bill C-21 gives financial institutions a monopoly on decision-making that is completely contrary to the democratic values and principles of Canadians who do not want access to public services to be linked to a prospective candidate's financial status.

There is a fundamental difference between asking for donations or loans from people by appealing to their sympathy for the ideas or the qualities of a prospective candidate and lining up at a counter in a bank where strictly commercial lending policies are applied. You do not buy your way into a life of public service in the same way that you buy a washing machine or a snowmobile. We must not give Canada's financial institutions a political weight that they should not have and that they do not want, an unprecedented role that is dangerous on several levels. The role is dangerous for the institutions themselves. They are at risk of being accused of political favouritism or of discrimination in one direction or in another, either by turning a candidate down for a loan, or by approving one. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't, as the saying goes.

That is indeed a risk that financial institutions cannot allow themselves to take in these troubled times, when the financial sector is under the glare of the media and the scrutiny of citizens and a whole host of political and socio-economic groups. The reputation, independence and freedom of action of these financial institutions are essential to the proper functioning of our economy, our society and our democracy. The exclusive power that Bill C-21 grants them thus presents a twofold problem, a problem of perception and a real risk, the danger of politicizing our financial institutions and a risk of discrimination involving these loans.

Let us for a moment look at the criteria the banks would use to determine which candidates they would or would not lend money to. They could use a purely financial criterion based on the personal solvency of the candidates, which would favour the rich to the detriment of everyone else; or they could do a risk assessment based on the political probability that the candidate would obtain sufficient support, which would translate into a sufficient number of yearly contributions of less than a $1,000 in order to reimburse the loan. What this means is that we are asking financial institutions to make political judgments. Those institutions could even assess the probability of the candidate getting elected, and see that outcome as increasing his or her solvency. With all of this, we would be politicizing our financial institutions.

Let us now look at the problem of discrimination.

The bill would disadvantage lower income candidates who did not have the necessary credit history to receive loans. It would discriminate against people based on income and credit rating therefore favouring the rich and excluding many people from public service, notably many women, youth, newcomers and minorities in general.

Let me reiterate this. The lack of credit could potentially prevent not only low or middle-income Canadians, but also many women, aboriginal people and new immigrants from standing for office. The size of a wallet or bank account should not be an impediment to prospective candidates.

This is particularly worrisome as it applies to women.

This bill would disadvantage women candidates who had left the workforce for a period of time, resulting in a fluctuation of their financial status. The United Nations has stated that a critical mass of at least 30% women is needed in order for legislators around the world to produce public policy that represents women's concerns and for political institutions to begin changing the way they do business.

According to Equal Voice, Canada falls behind this standard. Despite enjoying economic prosperity and political stability, Canada has fewer women in Parliament than most of Europe and many other countries in the world. In Canada's Parliament, just about 24% of MPs are women. This places Canada 40th in the world on the Inter-Parliamentary Union, “List of Women in National Parliaments”. For Canada, 40th is not acceptable.

Further, Equal Voice notes that women encountered many barriers in seeking elected office at all levels, including lack of access to finances. This is the basic point. Restricting access to loans by financial institutions could disadvantage and create a new barrier to women entering politics.

This House should not do anything that would hinder women's success in politics. On the contrary, this House must do everything it can to promote women's successful participation in politics.

To conclude, the Liberal caucus strongly argues for full transparency and disclosure of political loans.

However, we are opposed to the idea of having financial institutions be the only ones that can grant loans in the political arena. That possibility must also be given to citizens, as long as transparency is made the hallmark of those loans. After all, it is much more legitimate for citizens than for banks to grant loans of a political nature, in keeping with their political convictions, and their confidence in the values or political credibility of a given candidate. We would be in favour of an amendment requiring that these individual loans only be granted at commercial interest rates.

I hope that this constructive proposal from the Liberal opposition will be well received by the government so that we can make our democracy more transparent and more open to everyone.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I look forward to working with the member on this bill and having further discussion.

The fact is it is not only banks, but it is other financial institutions as well. Not just that, it is friends, family, supporters, the average Canadian who has the ability to make donations or to lend money, or even to guarantee money within the contribution limits.

Does the hon. member not think it is important to get out and engage Canadians and ask for that support? As members of Parliament, or as candidates, or as political parties, is it not important that we tell Canadians what we are about, tell them about our platform and ask for that support? Should we not ask them to be a part of the campaign and to donate money? It does not have to be $1,100. It could be $200, or it could be $50. It is a matter of engaging Canadians and getting more of them to contribute to a member's campaign either in donations, or loans, or as a guarantee. Is it not important to engage with as many Canadians as possible and to get that financial support so they are more engaged?

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, if the minister were to come in with a bill saying that the maximum is $1,000 for everybody, we would discuss whether it was reasonable or not, and I would not have a problem with ethics. I have a problem with ethics on moral grounds when he tells me it is okay for a bank, an insurance company, or whatever, to give more than $1,000, but it is not okay for a Canadian citizen. I do not understand what is the basic ground regarding the morality of the bill. I have a problem with that. My party has a problem with that.

If he were telling me that he does not want the amount to be more than $1,000, maybe I would argue that it is too low and that it should be $5,000 and we need to discuss it. However, he is telling me it is okay for a financial institution to give much more than that, but it is not okay for a Canadian citizen to do that. The problem is that a Canadian citizen has the right to have a political opinion, to have confidence in a candidate and to show it, while a bank is not supposed to have a political opinion.

I asked what the moral ground of the bill is. The minister did not answer. What would be the criteria for financial institutions to decide if a candidate were to receive money or not? Would it be that the bank sympathizes with the candidate's platform? What is it? It will politicize the banking institutions of this country and that is wrong.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, does the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville believe that the only changes necessary to funding leadership campaigns is more accountability? Does the member believe that we should still allow wealthy Canadians to totally bankroll someone's leadership campaign, thereby allowing the person possibly to go right from the street all the way to the Prime Minister's Office in one move?

I will be very curious to hear especially on the second question just what the member believes in terms of the health of our democracy with leaving that in place. Is the member saying that we should still allow wealthy Canadians to bankroll single-handedly leadership campaigns? I have not even made the point that under the existing regime hundreds of thousands of dollars of that money may never be paid back.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party fully agrees with everything that would provide accountability and transparency. Where we have a fundamental disagreement is when there is a bill before us which says that the financial institutions will have a monopoly and that Canadian citizens will lose. This I do not understand.

If my colleague was saying that we should cap the loans to a certain amount of money and we should strengthen the rules with respect to the obligation to pay back the money, I would be in full agreement. I have no problem with what is in the bill on that.

However, when he says that it is okay for the financial institutions to do so but not for Canadian citizens, I do not understand on which moral ground he is saying that.

He should be the first one to say that he does not want the power of big money involved, but that is what will happen now. That kind of monopoly power will be given to these institutions with respect to who will vote, who will campaign, who will run and who will not run. It will be detrimental and discriminatory, especially for women.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is important that we reflect on what got us to this point in the first place. The 2006 Liberal Party leadership race ended on December 3 and the leadership contestants had until May 3, 2008 to pay their debts. Most contestants were not able to repay their debts by May 2008, so an extension was granted. Then in 2011 another extension was given until December 2011.

How long does my colleague think this should be allowed to be perpetuated until there is no hope of possibly repaying?

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to say to my colleague that the Prime Minister decided to change the rules retroactively. When we started the leadership race, the amount of money allowed was $5,200 and we booked our budget accordingly. When he decreased it by $1,100, it was very difficult for all the candidates, including myself, to adapt to this retroactive rule.

I am proud to say that I will completely pay my debt as a matter of honour; it is very important for me to do so, but it has not been easy because we did not plan for a limit that would be only $1,100.

I want to add that my point with respect to this bill is not that I am against any limit. I am against a discriminatory situation that would give the financial institutions more power than Canadian citizens.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:15 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, in my colleague's opinion, when does a loan turn into a contribution?

We have seen with a number of the Liberal Party leadership candidates that five years has gone by. There have been loans--purportedly they are loans--that have gone unpaid for five years. At what point does the member actually think they should be considered to be a contribution?

That is what we deal with in this bill. I would suggest to the House and my hon. colleague that by anyone's definition, five years is far too long to have an unpaid loan. It must be considered a contribution at that time. Does he not agree?

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, as I said, we agree with a lot in this bill. I identified what we disagree with.

I have not received an answer from my NDP colleagues or my Conservative colleagues on what is the basic moral ground to give financial institutions more power than Canadian citizens.

We agree that the loans are transparent, that there are clear rules that the money must be paid back. We are open to an amendment stating that the loan must be at commercial interest rates. Why? Canadian citizens would not have the same rights as financial institutions.

That is the basic problem we have with this bill and it is at the core of the bill. If my NDP colleagues want to propose a limit, it must be the same for individuals and the financial institutions. Otherwise, I do not understand on which grounds they say that financial institutions are more acceptable in political life than Canadian citizens.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

December 8th, 2011 / 5:15 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, I think we have had a meaningful debate this afternoon. I know that we will end up agreeing to disagree on a number of points.

I am completely supportive of Bill C-21 and the elements contained therein. In the limited time that I have, I want to point out a few of the reasons, but I also want to use my time to try and refute some of the arguments that I heard from members opposite as to why they seem to disagree. Perhaps I will start there, because we only have about 10 minutes left before the debate has to end.

I have heard from a couple of members opposite that they believe individuals should also have the right to lend money and that moneylending should not be restricted to financial institutions. The bill came into play because of the situation where wealthy individuals could lend money. We have seen many times in the past where supposed loans have been given to political candidates and were never repaid. That is simply unacceptable. The potential and probability for abuse under the current situation without Bill C-21 is extremely high.

The situation, quite frankly, is simply this. As it stands now, any individual could be in a position where he or she knowingly lent money to a political candidate with no expectations of repayment. It is quite conceivable that individuals could have consulted with a candidate and agreed upon a mechanism by which they could circumvent the rules, by lending a certain amount of money with very favourable interest rates, as low as 0%, and basically nudge, nudge, wink, wink, told a candidate not to worry about ever repaying it because it is a loan and the lender will end up writing it off or forgiving it. That is not a loan. That is a contribution. That is a donation.

As a government we need to step in to ensure that the potential for that abuse is completely eliminated. Bill C-21 would do exactly that. It would put provisions in place which would prevent anyone from trying to circumvent the rules again.

We have heard many times before, in committee and in debate this afternoon, some of the problems with the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign. Like my colleague from Hamilton Centre I will try to be as non-partisan as possible, but it was because of the abuse that we saw and still see as a result of unpaid loans from that leadership campaign that our government felt that some bill had to be introduced to prevent that type of situation from occurring again. Bill C-21 would do that.

I also want to point out that despite the protestations of members opposite, borrowing money from financial institutions does not empower those financial institutions. It does not give them a monopoly over political financing. It does not give them any untoward power to influence political parties or candidates. It is simply a commercial transaction that we as Canadians deal with on a daily basis. Whether Canadians secure a mortgage for the purchase of a house, whether they secure a loan to purchase a car or a heavy appliance and so on, they have been using financial institutions to secure loans for generations.

I do not believe that any financial institution, by lending money, whether it be $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 to a political candidate or a political party, would feel that it had some undue influence over that candidate because it entered into a commercial transaction. It is simply not true. In my view it is silly. This is a normal daily activity that most Canadians perform and have performed for the last 200 years, as long as there have been chartered banks in the world. We need to discount the argument completely that suggests financial institutions would have more influence over political candidates and therefore we should allow citizens to make loans.

What we are trying to achieve with Bill C-21 is to ensure that there is accountability and that there can be no circumvention of election financing rules by disguising contributions as political loans. The financial institutions would be obliged, as they are obliged in daily transactions with Canadians, to provide clear terms for both the rate of interest charged on the loan and for its repayment, something that we saw sorely lacking in the 2006 leadership campaign for the Liberal Party. Five years have gone by, and some of those loans still have not been repaid. That is not a loan, in my view, but a contribution, and it should not be allowed.

With Bill C-21 we would not only be putting in clear, transparent rules that would make candidates and political parties accountable; we would also be giving confidence to the Canadian electorate that there will be no funny business or circumvention of rules, and that everything will be done in a transparent, accountable manner acceptable to Canadians.

One of the consequences of Bill C-21 is that if there are unpaid loans, the political parties themselves, whether as riding associations or federal parties, would be responsible for backstopping those loans and repaying the money. We have yet to see any activity by the Liberal Party of Canada in this regard. Has the Liberal Party of Canada stepped up to the plate and said it has a number of unpaid loans from some of its former leadership candidates back in 2006, that it does not think such a situation is acceptable, that it is going to repay them right now and then make its own arrangements with those leadership candidates to reimburse the party? I have seen no evidence and heard no discussion to that effect in this debate.

Members opposite in the Liberal Party have stood in this place this afternoon and said that they want accountability and transparency, but they believe that they can still play fast and loose with the rules. Where is the accountability when the once great Liberal Party that governed this country for many decades now does not even want to speak about repaying loans that some of its leadership candidates incurred?

We are not talking about candidates from a local riding association who might have been defeated in an election; these individuals tried to become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and the next prime minister of Canada, yet that party refuses to be accountable for the debts incurred by its candidates. Instead Liberal members stand here this afternoon and criticize our government for this bill, which is trying to bring accountability and transparency to the political process.

I do not care what arguments they bring forward at committee. I will be there to ensure that I have a question for them: as a party, what do they plan to do about the unpaid loans? What happens if another five years go by? Will they still be advancing the same arguments as they have this afternoon? It is totally unacceptable.

Had we not seen the rampant abuse by the Liberals, we might not have seen the need for Bill C-21. Nonetheless, it is before us. It is a worthy bill, and one that deserves support from other parties.

I understand and appreciate the comments made by my colleague from Hamilton Centre that he wants to discuss this at committee. I would certainly be more than willing to entertain suggestions. I will certainly not commit that I would accept any of his suggestions; I have heard some of the arguments, I understand what he is going to be advancing at committee, and I think that is worthy of debate, but on its own merits Bill C-21, as it stands, deserves the support of all members in this place.

I know it has the support of all Canadians.