Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).
I remind all those who are watching at home that the bill was originally introduced, as my colleague said, as Bill C-54 in the first session of the 39th Parliament.
The bill would create restrictions on the use of loans by political entities governed by the Canada Elections Act, rules that we all respect during elections. We continually strive to ensure that transparency and accountability is within all of our parties.
The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors. Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals could not exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Canada Elections Act. Only financial institutions and other political entities could make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals and only at commercial rates of interest. Unions and corporations would be unable to make loans and financial institutions could not lend money at rates of interest other than the market norm.
Rules for treatment of unpaid loans would be tightened to ensure that candidates could not walk away from unpaid loans. Riding associations would be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.
As I indicated before, my constituents and I welcome initiatives to improve accountability in the federal government, as I believe all would at all levels of government.
Bill C-29 is a continuation of the groundbreaking work done by the previous Liberal government. My government showed great integrity by reviewing the responsibilities and the accountability of ministers, senior officials, public servants and employees of crown corporations.
A wide variety of concrete measures were adopted to increase oversight in crown corporations and audit functions were strengthened across the board. It was time for us to bring in tighter legislation to ensure transparency and accountability. This was not invented two years ago. The Liberal government worked on this for a long period of time to ensure transparency and accountability. Does everybody follow it? Clearly some members did not and still do not.
From his first day in office, our former prime minister reformed government so that everyone in the public service would be held to account. It was the Liberal government that re-established the Office of the Comptroller General of Canada, very important for all of Canada and its citizens.
It was the Liberal government that strengthened the ethical guidelines for ministers and other public office-holders and established an independent Ethics Commissioner. They are extremely important guidelines. It is important to have an Ethics Commissioner who assists and guides members of Parliament to ensure that we do the best job we can and that we do not get into conflicts of interest.
Many of these things were long overdue, and I am pleased the previous Liberal government brought these issues forward.
It was also a Liberal government that introduced a publicly posted recusal process for members of cabinet, including the prime minister.
Much of the legislation that has been brought in with respect to transparency and accountability is modelled after what the Liberal government introduced.
The Liberal government also put forward legislation to encourage whistleblowers and to protect them from reprisal.
In February 2004 our Liberal government put forward an action plan on democratic reform to strengthen the role of parliamentarians. We heard a lot of debate about democratic reform and about allowing people to have more free votes and an opportunity to have more public and free debate and so on. It was clearly followed when the Liberals were the government of the day.
Referring more bills to the House committees before second reading gives all of us an opportunity to make significant changes in those bills. Otherwise, if they go to committee after second reading, which was the norm until those changes were made in February 2004, there was very little we could do. The principle of the bill was there and we could skirt around it but we could not do a whole to change it. That has made a significant difference in the work that we all do in committee. Again, that was work that we did so members of Parliament would have more opportunity to influence and shape legislation.
We also implemented a three line voting system to allow for more free votes. That was quite important because it was not here in the first five years I was a member of Parliament. We all voted as a bloc with our party. Having the three line and two line voting system gave all of us as MPs on our side of the House when we were in government much more freedom to express what we really felt about various issues.
That was important and it is unfortunate that we lost it. We still have a lot of freedom on this side compared to the government party certainly but having the three line voting system was starting to introduce more democracy to the House of Commons.
We have also pushed for the establishment of a committee of parliamentarians on national security. The Liberal government strengthened audit practices in the public sector through a comprehensive initiative that included the policy on internal audit and to strengthen and further professionalize the internal audit function throughout the government through higher professional standards, recruitment of additional skilled professionals, training and assessments.
In 2004, my government delivered on a commitment to proactive disclosure. Since April 2004, all travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, their political staff and other senior government officials have been posted online on a quarterly basis. That is accountability. That is being open and transparent so that anyone can go online to see just how much travel and hospitality expenses were, where they were incurred and who went where. That is opening the door in many ways to what goes on in government.
Government contracts worth more than $10,000 are disclosed publicly and, again, posted online. Those were all initiatives by the Liberal government.
My government embraced transparency in key appointments, which was also very important. Through our action plan for democratic reform, parliamentary committees were empowered to review the appointments of the heads of crown corporations, something that should have been done a long time ago to ensure transparency and accountability to Canadians and taxpayers.
We brought increased transparency to the selection of Supreme Court justices and committed to expanding access to information. The Access to Information Act was extended to 10 key crown corporations that were previously exempt from this. We also presented a discussion paper to Parliament that proposes, among other measures, that the Access to Information Act be expanded to several federal institutions that are currently exempt. However, sadly, the Conservatives' secretive paranoia has led to the demise of access to information in this country, and that is a complaint we continually hear from citizens and the media on just how difficult it is now that has been closed down.
My government was the first to seriously limit both individual and corporate political contributions, as well as third party election spending. As my colleague attempts to take credit for all of the changes that were made, he needs to be reminded to look back because the real serious changes to the Elections Act came from the Liberals, not from the current government.
Our Bill C-24 was enacted in June, 2003 and came into effect on January 1, 2004, representing the most significant reform to Canada's electoral and campaign finance laws since 1974. It was well overdue, it was a good act and it made everything much tighter and more difficult but it was much needed. I am quite proud of the fact that our government did that. I am doubtful that the current government would have ever done it.
The act affected contribution limits, those eligible to make contributions, public funding at political parties, spending limits for nomination contestants and disclosure of financial information by riding associations, nomination contestants and leadership candidates.
The Liberal Party supports efforts to increase transparency and accountability in the electoral process. Our history has shown that and we will continue to support that.
We are the party that initially passed legislation limiting the role of corporations and unions in electoral financing and introduced the most dramatic lowering of contribution limits in Canadian history.
All of the Conservatives' accountability facades just build on the great success of the previous Liberal governments.
Candidates for the leadership of our party went beyond the requirements set out by Elections Canada in reporting loans to their campaigns. In contrast, the current Prime Minister still refuses to disclose the names of those who donated to his leadership campaign in 2002.
For ours, people can go online to see every cent that was donated, every cent that has been paid back, where it came from and what is still outstanding. We are not hiding anything, contrary to him.
Whatever it is, the Conservatives certainly do not want to talk about it so they have decided to spread misconceptions about this bill instead.
The Conservatives are misleading Canadians about the current state of the law concerning political financing. The Conservatives are suggesting that the current law allows loans to be made in secret and that Canadians are kept in the dark. That is not true.
The truth is that under the law that is currently in place, the details of all loans, including the amount of every loan and the name of every lender and every guarantor, must already be publicly disclosed.
In addition, the Conservatives are also suggesting that the current legislation allows for loans to be written off without consequence. Again, this is absolutely false. Under the current law, loans cannot be used to avoid donation limits and they cannot be written off without consequences. The proposed new law simply restates the existing rules.
The Conservatives seem to think that Canadians can be fooled into believing that this somehow constitutes a dramatic change but Canadians can see through their charade.
The government has been playing a game of delay and deflect, perhaps to draw attention from its recent troubles. By talking about political loans, clearly, the Conservatives are trying to make us all forget about their little visit from the RCMP at their own party headquarters, or perhaps they are happy to talk about political loans to distract from their latest disgrace, the former minister of foreign affair's security breach and subsequent resignation, or maybe they are trying to distract from their constant politics of division, in which they specialize, by pitting one province against another.
However, let us get back to the bill that is before us today. The bill was significantly amended following hearings by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. However, now that the bill has been reintroduced in the House and will be debated at report stage, the government has made three motions to effectively strip portions of these amendments from the bill.
I do not have time to get into all of the details of the amendments that we had put forward to strengthen this bill but I can comment on the Conservatives' motions to undo our work at the committee level.
Government Motion No. 1 would delete the Liberal amendment to allow for annual contributions to a leadership candidate.
Government Motion No. 2 would make it necessary for loans to be repaid annually, rather than at the point when the loan becomes due. Effectively, this would prevent candidates from taking extended loan repayments.
Government Motion No. 3 would delete the Bloc amendment that removed liability from registered political parties for loans taken by candidates.
The government, again, is not respecting the committee process, which is a process that we all talk about how important it is and yet, if we turn around and undo the work of committee, it clearly questions what was the value of the time and effort put into that.
In closing, I want to say that Canadians must have faith in the integrity of government and in the people who administer it. My government worked very hard to be accountable to the citizens of this great country and I am committed to supporting measures to enhance our prior work of building accountability, transparency and the public trust.