Mr. Speaker, I pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-29. I think I echo the sentiment of all members that the House desires, very emphatically, to have an election system that is more open, transparent and clear. That is why the Liberals supported the general principle of the bill, which was brought forward to improve accountability for candidates to report loans taken during election campaigns.
Unfortunately, that is not what we get with the bill as it is presently amended. We will end up with severe limitations on the number and types of people who can run due to the fact that, believe it or not, the banks will essentially have the greatest decision-making power on the amount of financial support any given candidate can receive for his or her campaign. This is on the basis that different people have different income levels, equity levels and capacities to borrow money from banks. It is a fact.
The government continues to repeat that Bill C-29 would finally stop the undue influence of wealthy contributors who were supposedly skirting Elections Act donation limits through the use of personal loans. The bill would disadvantage potential candidates not only of the Liberal Party but of all parties. It would limit access to participation in political leadership for many Canadians.
As I have said once before when I spoke on this, we all want an electoral system that is more accountable, but what is really important is that this system of electoral accountability not limit access to different candidates who want to participate but have lower income status. The kind of accountability proposed by the government's amendments to the bill simply does not bridge accountability with equitable, fair and democratic accessibility.
Let us review the amendments proposed by the government and their impact.
First, the government wants to prohibit the possibility for individuals to make annual contributions to a leadership candidate. For a government that claims it wants Canadians to have more freedom in when and how they spend their money, this prohibition seems not to be consistent.
Second, the government proposes that all loans be repaid annually rather than at the point when the loan becomes due. Again, that does not seem to make sense since what we will end up with is an artificial limit on repayment. So much for the concept of freedom of contract.
Considering the fact that elections can be called at different times during the year and that leadership campaigns can last more than a year, it does not make sense to have someone pay off a loan before the time limit established by the loan contract. I am not sure if the government is aware that the amendments are inconsistent with the stated objectives of the legislation and will be viewed by many as narrowly inclusive, rigid and elitist.
Let us consider how much energy it would take for a successful candidate to work on repaying a loan at the end of the year rather than work on more broadly based repayment timeframes. It is totally unnecessary for anyone to have to focus on repaying by the end of a fiscal year if that was not the arrangement contracted with the lender.
Incidentally, the government wants to delete, as my colleague has said, the Bloc amendment that removed liability from registered political parties for loans taken by candidates. Again, I ask the House if it really makes sense to set up a system of responsibility for registered political parties and riding associations regardless of whether they are aware that the candidate has taken out a loan at the bank. I emphasize that making one entity answerable for the personal debt of an individual does not sound reasonable.
Let us review what we on this side have done to improve the electoral laws and what the Conservative Party has done by contrast.
Our party has shown good faith in bridging those principles that I mentioned. We have demonstrated that we want to improve electoral laws. After all, the Liberal Party was the party that passed a bill aimed at limiting the role of businesses and unions in the financing of elections, Bill C-24, in 2003.
In addition, during the last leadership campaign of the Liberal Party, all candidates stated publicly all loans received by their campaigns and they went beyond the requirements set by Elections Canada in this regard.
Recent difficulties faced by the government should dictate greater sensitivity as opposed to the kind of influence that seems to be drawn into the bill. The Prime Minister, for example, has found it difficult to report his leadership campaign contributions, going back to 2002, and there must be some legitimate reason for that.
While we are talking about the Conservative Party's record and following elections laws, let us not forget to mention the efforts of the MP for Nepean—Carleton to denounce Liberal leadership candidates. He has demonstrated, in my opinion, a really inconsistent understanding of the legislation that he is purporting and that the government is bringing forward. For example, he has been declaring that Elections Canada is not impartial.
The member said that the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and other Liberal Party members were acting illegally by actually following Elections Canada regulations with respect to loan repayment extension requests.
With all this grandstanding, one would think the government would have proposed limits on repayment that would reflect its convictions. Despite what the member for Nepean—Carleton might claim, members of his own party have been in hot water over loan repayments. That is why I am focusing on this, because there must be a problem with the loan repayment regime.
Elections Canada has records of five Conservative candidates with loans that remained unpaid 18 months after the 2006 election. I am not saying that because I am dumping on those candidates. I feel for them. There must be reasons why they cannot repay those loans within that period of time, and this legislation will not help. In three of those cases, the donations exceed the legal maximum of the $5,400.
The government solution to its electoral rule breaking problems is to try to come up with new rules that are inconsistent with reasonable practice. The only thing that is clear is the government appears to be taking a “do as I say, not as I do” approach. How can Canadians believe in the legislation if it does not match and bridge its principles with the objectives to which I alluded?
The Liberal Party supports legislation that would make all candidates more accountable. Unfortunately Bill C-29 will limit campaign funding conditions so severely that many people, considering participating in the political process and representing their communities, will be excluded from this option.
Is that what we want to accomplish? Do we want to exclude people from all walks of life the opportunity to run for public office? The legislation, whether it means to or not, in fact will do that. Furthermore, do we want to put the power to determine one person's chance to participate in politics simply on the basis of his or equity positions, on income levels, and let the banks determine that? Do we want to give the banks that kind of power in our political process? I do not think so.
The Liberal Party supports measures to make Canadians more confident in their politicians by seeking to approve the accountability of the electoral process. The government put that forward as a first principle and we supported this going to committee because we agreed. However, we cannot support a bill that will end up limiting the opportunities of so many Canadians who may have and hopefully will have the desire to campaign and participate in our democratic process.
Therefore, I really would hope that the government would reflect on the restrictive nature of the reforms it is advocating and see that they are inconsistent with the objectives the government has put forward in terms of transparency and accountability. They do not guarantee more accessibility for a broader cross-section of Canadians to involve themselves in politics in our great country.