Mr. Speaker, I did not know that. It gives me a sense of false power, perhaps, but I will keep to the time my whip has given me and remind myself of when I need to wrap up.
I was a member of the Bill C-2 legislative committee.
First, I would like to thank the committee's Liberal members, namely our leader on the committee, the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, and the hon. members for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and York West. They worked very hard together, along with the leaders of the other parties, including the members for Nepean—Carleton and Winnipeg South.
I would like to add a special word in memory of the hon. member for Repentigny, who died recently.
We worked together when we could and voiced our opinions with much passion. In many cases, I recall the member for Nepean—Carleton, with exceeding passion in language, which we all remember well.
According to the hon. President of the Treasury Board, this was a project to end the role of big money in politics. How farcical. A year ago, the Conservative Party was campaigning under the slogan, “Stand up for Canada”. Today, 10 months later, its true slogan appears to be, “stand up for Conservative friends only”.
Once again, this Conservative minority government—and I emphasize the word “minority”—is trying to use the House of Commons for partisan purposes. Once again, Conservative partisanship has prevailed over the common good and the interests of all Canadians.
Today we clearly see why the minority government wanted to rush the bill through the House, the committee, then on to the Senate and through its committee. The Conservatives thought no one would see how partisan and biased it actually is in certain respects. The more time we spend on the bill, the more flaws and loopholes we find. That is why there was such a dépêche, quite a rush to get the bill out from the spotlight and the microscope of the committees, which did good work, and to the final passage of the bill in the House.
I see it, therefore, as quite ironic in that the Conservatives' campaigned on the promise of cleaning up government and to play by the rules and how today they are trying to tweak the law to sneak in some self-serving loopholes on political donations.
All this after an Elections Canada investigation targeted the Conservative Party, following a statement by the President of the Treasury Board to the effect that his party had forgotten to declare costs of some $2 million relating to its March 2005 convention.
In the process of the hearings, the President of the Treasury Board admitted, particularly in the case at the Senate level, that the Conservatives forgot to declare convention fees as political donations for their convention of March 2005. They had an opinion, which was almost, in this post-football weekend, an audible from the line, the quarterback at the Bill C-2 legislative committee, a representative of the Conservative Party at that point, merely suggested that the Conservatives did not think that convention fees were donations. That has since been ruled completely out of order and improper by Elections Canada officials and by every party in the House except the Conservatives.
Now we will see, as the theme of the response to the speech by the President of the Treasury Board, that it was really all about cover-up and legitimizing something that is quite possibly illegal. Almost $2 million is no small change. The Conservative minority talks about tightening Canadian laws and yet it cannot even follow the existing laws when it comes to political donations.
As I say, I am not the only one saying this. The people of Canada should know that the Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, repudiated the Conservatives' excuses and ruled that the party violated the rules.
Other complaints have been made against the Conservative Party. The Conservatives are attempting to fix their illegalities with certain portions of this law. Today, with Bill C-2, the minority government is trying to cover up its past mistakes and clean up its mess. The very fact that it is trying to change the rules, in extremis, at the last possible minute, clearly is an admission of guilt.
In addition to the convention attendance fees, les frais d'inscription pour les congrès de partis politiques, the fees paid by every party member attending a convention, in addition to the colouring of those as non-political donations, erroneously and quite possibly illegally, the Conservative Party had the temerity and gall in practice to allow corporate observers.
By way of footnote, we must remember that Bill C-24, the very fine Liberal bill brought in under the Chrétien government, made it law that corporate and union donations would not be acceptable. However, the Conservative Party has charged to this date $1,000 for corporate observer fees which were not reported as political donations.
After 70 meetings of the Bill C-2 legislative committee and following the Senate committee, I now understand what the President of the Treasury Board meant when he said that he wanted to take the big money out of politics. He meant all the big contributions that were made off the radar screen, not under the Canada Elections Act, not reportable and elicited by a Senate hearing in the spring of the year by the committee of which the President of the Treasury Board was a member.
These amounts, totalling probably more than $2 million, were corporate donations that the President of the Treasury Board and the Conservative Party wanted out of politics. They did not want them reported. Unfortunately, hijacking the House agenda to pass partisan legislation is becoming a full time hobby for the minority Conservative government.
Time and again the President of the Treasury Board stated that he wanted to reduce the influence of big money and make the political process more open.
He said it again on May 4, when he testified before the committee that was reviewing Bill C-2. Even his boss, thePrime Minister, said he wanted t o “put an end to the influence of money” in the Canadian government.
We have it at both levels. We have the President of the Treasury Board, who is sometimes given to bombast, and we can understand his enthusiasm, but on the other side we have the cold eye of the Prime Minister on this very subject saying that he wants to finish the role of big money in politics. Now we see what they meant, which is that the corporate observer status fees and the registration fees for conventions as being out of politics and not reportable. However, we did not see it at the time.
Unfortunately, this government is unable to move from talk to action. On the one hand, it boasts about being a champion for transparency, but on the other hand it finds it normal not to have declared costs of close to $2 million relating to its March 2005 convention. Today, the Conservatives want to use Bill C-2 to correct their own mistakes of the past.
Accountability, however, is not a bendable concept that can be adjusted to fit partisan objectives and past illegalities. Contrary to what the Conservatives may think, the Liberals believe accountability should apply to all parties all the time, not only when it is convenient to do so or in their case, when they get caught.
A review of Bill C-2 is necessary because there is more than just the passing illegality and cover up, Watergate-like as it is, by the government with respect to political donations.
There were some accomplishments at the legislative committee with respect to making deputy ministers more accountable to Parliament. This is a good thing, with a tighter lobbyist regime. At first the Conservatives did not want people who were past workers for them in opposition to be able to ratchet up the ladder of influence when the government changed, but there was much debate on that.
There was some discussion of the access to information program and Access to Information Act pertaining to some of the agencies, boards and commissions which it can be argued is good and bad depending on the commission, agency and board. Time does not permit, unlimited as it is, for me to get into all of the agencies, boards and commissions involved.
It bears saying there were also some Liberal accomplishments. The Liberal members, at committee, following on the advice of the legal counsel to this Parliament protected an 1868 constitutional privilege which in their haste the Conservatives tried to roughshod through the House. The Liberal opposition members removed the aspect of the secret ballot and most importantly, despite the words of the minority government, saved aboriginal first nations communities from the overreach of audit principles to be imposed by the government.
However, there were some significant missed opportunities in not properly debating, in the haste that was the aura of both committees frankly, many amendments that were brought forward by all parties with respect to some very key elements which might have made the bill stronger. There was a proposal to eliminate donations from people under 18 years of age. This was ironically proposed and was ironically defeated by the Conservative majority on the committee with the help of the New Democratic Party.
It might also be said that in the haste to put the Bill C-2 legislative committee together there were no opinions from constitutional scholars. There was neither the time nor the inclination of the leading constitutional scholars to give evidence at those committees. One wonders if we had the sage advice, for instance, of Donald Savoie and his thoughts regarding the freeze in public sector and lobbying industries with respect to how government should work, how much different a bill we might have.
Last year the Conservatives campaigned on six key words. We often think they only had five principles, but they are much more imaginative than we give them credit for. They actually used six words in their platform. They used: accountability, opportunity, security, family, community and unity, and those are good words. Now let us take a minute to analyze what the government has done since it came into power.
On the same day the Conservatives announced over $13 billion in surplus, thanks to good Liberal management, they cut funding to some of the most important community programs in the country, including: literacy, aboriginal programs, minority groups support and women's equality issues. This is their vision for community presumably from their election campaign.
They cut many youth programs that aimed at promoting exchanges between young Canadians of different regions such as the summer work student exchange program.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister publicly accused many Liberals of being anti-Israel. This is presumably their vision of promoting unity, a further campaign promise.
Conservatives decided in favour of sending a $100 monthly cheque per child to Canadian families, a sum not good enough to pay for quality day care services and child care services, especially when this measure is taxable, while creating no new child care spaces whatsoever. This must be their concept of family as enunciated in their campaign strategy.
As for security, another key word, the Conservative minority government decided to bring forward a very American “three strikes, you're out” law with Bill C-27. The concept of innocence until proven guilty is out the door. This must be the Conservative vision of justice.
Then there is the theme of accountability which is dealt by this bill. In light of what the Conservatives are proposing to do with Bill C-2, it is clear they believe that accountability should mostly be a tool to help clean their own past mistakes, especially the $2 million in convention registration fees that have not been disclosed, that are the subject of complaints officially filed with Elections Canada, and the untotalled amounts of corporate observer fees given by corporations who were, by Bill C-24, outside the scope and allowability of political contributions before this act.
We have large sums of money that have not been accounted for, so how is it that this government can stand on this bill with respect to political contributions and say that it is truly an accountability act? It cannot.
Finally, the last word in the Conservative's campaign was opportunity. Once again, what the Conservative minority government is trying to do with Bill C-2 is to create a partisan loophole, weakening the access to information laws, and watering down the federal accountability act. Opportunity is probably the word that currently best describes the government's principles and modus operandi. More specifically, it is highly opportunistic and partisan.
Today the government should truly stand up for Canada as it promised to do. It promised to adopt the recommendation of the Information Commissioner's report on access to information. It has already had two chances and yet it continues to break this promise. If the government truly wants more transparency and more accountability, it needs to leave partisanship behind and support these amendments. This is what true accountability is all about.
It is important to underline that we have supported in many instances this bill and its thrust, but it is important to underline that the concept of the bill is nothing new.
Bill C-24, as the hon. President of the Treasury Board has already said, was a very good step. It was a Chrétien government step with respect to political financing and transparency. Would that the Conservative government in its most recent clandestine fundraising activities and would that it would follow its own words of the President of the Treasury Board in the House today and be more accountable. Sadly, it is not going to be. It is going to wait until it is dragged, talk about foot-dragging, before the courts and found to have been part of illegal contribution schemes as indicated by Mr. Kingsley.
In the spirit with which the Liberal government brought in Bill C-24 and with which it promised to implement the recommendations of Justice Gomery's report, we moved forward with the deliberations on Bill C-2 and are happy in the further vein to propose these amendments. I move:
That the motion be amended
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 25, 34 to 54 (a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65, 94
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 25, 34 to 54, 55(a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65 and 94”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendments 25”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 121, 123
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 121 and 123”
3. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendments 120” the letter “s” is the first word, the numbers 121 and 123 and the words “and by removing the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of this Act”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 118, 119
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with” immediately after the number “158”, the following “and 118 and 119”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendment 118” and the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendment 119”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 67
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 67”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Senate amendment 67”
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, do I not have some time to conclude?