An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Peter Van Loan  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of June 19, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to enact rules concerning loans, guarantees and suretyships with respect to registered parties, registered associations, candidates, leadership contestants and nomination contestants.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2008 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, what was vital and remains vital is that we prevent them from doing indirectly what they cannot do directly. That was vital.

Bill C-29 contained amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois under former Bill C-54. One of the amendments was that the Bloc Québécois was strongly opposed to the political party being held responsible for the liabilities of its candidates, even though the political party was not a party to the contract between a candidate and the bank. Thus, at report stage, the Bloc Québécois—if I am not mistaken—introduced an amendment which, as the member said, was rejected by the Conservatives and the NDP. The attitude of those political parties with respect to this amendment is rather suspect because there had been a debate and it was a question of transparency. We must ensure—and I am going to the trouble of repeating it—that we cannot alter or get around the limits established by obtaining loans from individuals.

Thus, from this point forward, the law could guarantee that only financial institutions can enter into contracts with candidates. The intended purpose is to have a very transparent process. In Quebec, we are proud of the political party financing act, which resulted in greater transparency in our democracy.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2008 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak about the bill before us, Bill C-29.

First of all, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which seeks to prevent individuals from bypassing campaign financing rules. We believe that it is necessary to regulate loans in order to prevent people from getting around the financing limits. Remember that these limits were established after a long fight by the Bloc Québécois to put an end to corporate funding and to limit individual contributions, as Quebec did 30 years ago.

This bill corrects another problem in the Federal Accountability Act—formerly Bill C-2. As we were studying this bill, the Conservative government was more interested in quickly passing the bill than putting an end to ethical problems. The opposition parties, the media, and Democracy Watch pointed out the problem at that time, but the government refused to take action.

The current bill solves the problem of loans that made it possible to circumvent limits to political contributions. It must be said that several ethical difficulties were not addressed by Bill C-2, for instance, poor protection for whistleblowers and the failure to reform the Access to Information Act.

Bill C-29 incorporates the only change proposed by the Bloc Québécois when Bill C-54 was studied in committee. Remember that the Bloc Québécois was strongly against political parties being held responsible for debts incurred by their candidates, even though the political party is not named on the contract between the candidate and the bank. Remember also that the government listened to reason and reintroduced the Bloc Québécois amendment in Bill C-54.

The Conservatives introduced this bill, claiming that a number of Liberal candidates in the last leadership race took out large loans in order to circumvent the contribution limits. It may be true that some Liberal candidates did this, but let us not forget that the Prime Minister himself has not yet disclosed all the contributions he received during the 2002 leadership race.

The Conservative Party is not a bastion of transparency and ethics. Consider, for example, all the back and forth between political offices and lobbying firms, the contracts awarded to political friends, the use of public funds for partisan purposes, the many partisan appointments, the ideology-based appointments of judges and immigration commissioners, and the publication of a guide for Conservative committee chairs describing how to obstruct the work of committees.

Of course, we must prevent the law from being circumvented. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill that, as I said, would prevent people from bypassing campaign financing rules.

At the time, Bill C-2 introduced new restrictions on campaign contributions, limiting any individual's annual contribution to a registered party or candidate to $1,100. Furthermore, the amount a union or business could contribute annually to a registered party or candidate was reduced to $0.

Unfortunately, it was still possible to circumvent these restrictions by taking out personal loans. We saw this when several candidates in the recent Liberal Party of Canada leadership race took out sizeable loans from individuals and financial institutions. The hon. member for Toronto Centre comes to mind, for example, who took out loans totaling $705,000.

The Leader of the Opposition took out loans to the tune of $655,000. Bill C-29 corrects other shortcomings that were in Bill C-2 at the time.

The bill before us is intended to correct another problem; that of government accountability. As I was saying earlier, during the study of Bill C-2, the Conservative government was more interested in passing the bill than in correcting ethical problems. At the time, organizations like Democracy Watch, the opposition parties and the media raised the issue of circumventing contribution ceilings and the government refused to do anything about it.

And yet, other ethical problems persist. Bill C-29 corrects the problem of loans that circumvent limits on political contributions. However, a number of ethical problems, such as protecting whistleblowers, were not resolved by Bill C-2. A number of Conservative election promises to protect whistleblowers did not make it all the way to the Federal Accountability Act.

The Conservatives said they wanted to “ensure that whistleblowers ... are provided with adequate legal counsel”. The Conservatives' bill provides just $1,500 to cover legal fees, which is totally ridiculous. It is also worth mentioning that the Conservatives said that we need to “give the Public Service Integrity Commissioner the power to enforce compliance with the [whistleblower] act”. They said they also wanted to “ensure that all Canadians who report government wrongdoing are protected, not just public servants”. Finally, they planned to “remove the government’s ability to exempt crown corporations and other bodies from the [whistleblower] act”.

Allan Cutler, one of the original whistleblowers in the disclosure of the sponsorship scandal and a former candidate for the Conservative Party during the 2005 election, was somewhat critical of Bill C-2 at the time. He maintained that Bill C-2 was far from perfect and had some problems that needed fixing, especially with respect to the provisions for protecting whistleblowers. The government could have used Bill C-29 as an opportunity to fix the shortcomings of Bill C-2 with respect to whistleblowers. However, the government did not decide to make such amendments to the legislation.

Bill C-29 could have done something about reforming the Access to Information Act, an important aspect that Bill C-2 ignored.

On April 5, 2005, the Liberal government released a discussion paper on reforming access to information. This document met with general criticism. In addition to doubling the minimum administrative fees charged to the public, the Martin government's plan would have maintained all the exceptions provided for in the legislation. In fact, in 13 years, the Liberal Party never managed to introduce one valid reform of the Access to Information Act, which severely penalizes the opposition parties as well as citizens and media who use the system to get more information. Bill C-29 should have included significant amendments. Bill C-29 should have included reforms to the Access to Information Act.

We are still waiting for the Access to Information Act to be reformed. As it turns out, once in power, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals are especially eager to reform the legislation. The Information Commissioner recently pointed out that all governments share this reluctance.

This is how he put it:

The reason that action, not more study, is required is that governments continue to distrust and resist the Access to Information Act and the oversight of the Information Commissioner.

That is what the Information Commissioner said in an earlier report.

With respect to election financing transparency, both the Liberals and the Conservatives are vying for the title. When the Conservatives introduced Bill C-29, they claimed that several Liberal candidates took out significant loans to bypass funding limits during the last leadership race. As I said just now, in December 2006, the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister admitted that they had failed to disclose receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Chief Electoral Officer. The money was collected in the form of “registration fees” paid by Conservative delegates to attend the Conservative Party of Canada's May 2005 convention.

Clearly, there is a lack of transparency. The government refuses to enforce the ethics and transparency rules. A few months into its mandate, the Conservative Party released a road map that demonstrates its lack of political will to follow the rules and to put an end to the political culture of entitlement.

This government reprimanded the Liberals for the comings and goings between political offices and lobbying firms. Yet, since taking power, the Prime Minister has appointed former lobbyist and current Minister of National Revenue as the head of National Defence, and he made lobbyist Sandra Buckler his director of communications.

This government also awards contracts to Conservative friends. The Prime Minister's government awarded a communications contract to Marie-Josée Lapointe, a former member of the Prime Minister's transition team. This contract goes against the spirit of the Federal Accountability Act, since political staff are not allowed to receive contracts from the government for 12 months after they have left. Believe it or not, the contract was cancelled halfway through.

This government also uses public funds for partisan purposes. In March 2006, the Conservative government awarded an $85,000 contract to gauge public support for the Conservative Party's five electoral priorities. In July 2006, the Conservative government awarded a contract to Strategic Counsel in order to poll public opinion on various political issues. The very partisan report identified the environment as a very important issue for the government's re-election. It should be noted that Strategic Counsel is run by Allan Gregg, who was the Conservative Party's official pollster under Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell.

To sum up, the bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of loan terms and the identity of all lenders and guarantors. The bill would prohibit all unions and corporations not only from making contributions, in accordance with the Federal Accountability Act, but also from lending money.

Moreover, loans, loan guarantees and contributions from individuals could not exceed the limit set out in the Federal Accountability Act, which was $1,100 for 2007.

Additionally, only financial institutions or other political entities would be able to lend money—at market interest rates— exceeding that amount. The rules for unpaid loans would be tightened so that candidates could not default on their obligations.

Loans not repaid within 18 months would be considered a political contribution. Riding associations, or where there are none, the parties themselves, would be held responsible for their candidates unpaid loans.

I would like to take this opportunity to make a small correction. Unfortunately, the government did not listen to reason and did not reintroduce the amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois. Sadly, that Bloc Québécois amendment was defeated at the report stage, by the NDP and the Conservatives, among others.

I just had to make that correction. Overall, however, I must say we are in favour of a bill that prevents individuals from circumventing the campaign financing rules.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2008 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues in speaking to this bill in the House.

The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of Bill C-29. The Bloc is in favour of a bill that would prevent people from bypassing campaign financing rules. Our position has not changed, unlike what the government is trying to do by introducing its three motions that are on the order paper.

Last session, this bill was called Bill C-54. I say that for the benefit of those listening and watching at home. The government simply introduced a new version containing the amendments made in committee, amendments that were adopted, by the way.

This bill is necessary to close some loopholes in the Federal Accountability Act, Bill C-2, which the government wanted to rush through. We believe that it is necessary to regulate loans in order to prevent financing limits from being circumvented. Contributions to political parties from individuals are limited to $1,100, and contributions from unions or businesses are no longer allowed. These contributions are close to zero. So, an individual can contribute up to $1,100 to a political party, and businesses and unions are not allowed to finance a political party. Examples were given in the May 9, 2007 Ottawa Citizen. This is one of the sources that reported on this problem. It provided examples of expenses and looked at whether or not they were permitted under the Federal Accountability Act.

The Liberal Party of Canada allowed candidates, including Bob Rae and the current Leader of the Opposition to take out loans of around $705,000 and $655,000, respectively. We also saw that creditors made loans of $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 or $150,000.

It was clear that the candidates for leadership of the Liberal Party had found a way to fund their campaigns without relying on grassroots funding. We want this ceiling. These contribution limits are the result of a battle the Bloc Québécois has fought since it has been here. These limits were set several years ago, and we will do everything in our power in this House to make sure no one circumvents the law. We will not support regulations that would amount to backsliding. We want grassroots funding and limits on individual contributions, as we have had in Quebec for 30 years.

The content of the bill is fairly simple. The bill would establish a uniform, transparent disclosure system for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms. People would therefore have the right to know the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors. The bill provides that only financial institutions, at a commercial interest rate, or political entities would be authorized to make loans of more than $1,100.

The rules that apply to unpaid loans would be tightened so that candidates could not shirk their obligations.

Riding associations—or the party itself, when there are no associations—would become liable for loans candidates did not repay.

We are currently examining a request by the government concerning how candidates' unpaid loans would be treated.

In its current form, the bill provides that loans that were not repaid after 18 months would be considered political contributions.

This brings me to the three motions on the order paper, and I will explain the position of the Bloc Québécois on each one. The three motions are amendments to the bill. We have problems with two of them. The third does not present a problem because it makes clarifications that are in line with the amendment tabled in committee.

The problem with the first motion is that the government wants to limit contributions to a given candidate to $1,000 for the entire leadership race. We would prefer that each $1,000 donation from an individual be made according to existing rules governing political contributions, that is, on the basis of a fiscal year. That way, if a leadership race were to take place over two fiscal years, a total of $2,000 could be donated. We are therefore against the government's amendment.

We think that the amendment proposed in committee is logical because the contribution limits in the Elections Act are annual. This would provide for a contribution system identical to that for individuals. We do not want two different kinds of funding for two different kinds of elections, whether for a leadership race or a general election.

The second amendment, the one we agree with based on our analysis, is the one about deadlines. Earlier, I said that the bill proposed an 18-month deadline for paying back a loan. Here, the government is proposing much more precise wording, and we have no problem with that. For a nomination contestant, the three-year period would apply as of the selection date; for a leadership candidate, it would be three years after the end of the race; and for a political party, it would be three years after the end of the fiscal year. What the government is asking for here is quite reasonable.

We do have a problem with the motion that proposes rejecting all of the Bloc Québécois amendments. This is very straightforward. The government wants to make political parties responsible for debts contracted by their candidates. We oppose that proposal. We think it is illogical to try to force a political party to take on its candidates' debts when the political party has no way to limit a candidate's expenditures. The example given was a simple one. A political party cannot currently do anything to prevent a candidate from taking out a $60,000 loan. In a case like that, the government's motion would be unreasonable.

The government motion allows an individual to borrow an unlimited amount in the name of a separate entity. To illustrate this, it is as though I were to borrow a large sum of money and when it came time to pay it back and I was unable to do so, I said it was up to my neighbour to pay it back, even though he knew nothing about the loan. We think this is nonsense and we would like to keep the bill the way it is concerning that particular clause.

I see I have one minute left. In conclusion, here is our problem with the last motion. In committee, the government introduced the Bloc Québécois' amendment. It was in favour of doing things the way we had proposed. Now, though, after reviewing the bill in committee, it has changed its position. That is another reason why we will oppose this amendment, although we are in favour of the bill.

The Conservative Party has had many problems these last few days. This whole issue of transparency and ethics has to go beyond mere slogans.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2008 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should read what he is talking about. It was Bill C-2 that restricted the $1,100. This is Bill C-54, which deals with loans. Perhaps he is going to be talking about the member in his own caucus who took $30,000 from his company. I think the member should figure out what he is talking about before asking questions.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2008 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, although I am usually quite happy to rise in this House to debate various bills dealing with social problems, I find it difficult to debate this bill because, for me, anything that has to do with money and math is esoteric. It is all Greek to me. It is a language that I do not understand at all. In that regard, the chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women could corroborate. I have to work very hard to understand anything concerning money.

What I do understand, however, is that the government was too anxious to put through Bill C-2 and that the bill has several shortcomings. That does not surprise me, but what I do find surprising is that the government now wants to address some of those shortcomings. Indeed, over the past two years, none of the objectives of Bill C-2 has been met in its original form. The purpose of the bill was to guarantee a responsible, transparent government that would never commit any wrongdoings as serious as those we had seen in the past. We now see that that is not the case and we must quickly put forward another bill to correct the shortcomings. Let us hope that Bill C-29 will correct these deficiencies, not only in words or in the text of the legislation, but also in action.

Contrary to what my colleague just said, if a young woman from Rimouski went to a bank to get a loan so that she could run in a federal election, I do not think she would have the problems he was describing. In Quebec, the caisses populaires have a social duty and must lend 60% of the amount that a person is entitled to receive from the Chief Electoral Officer for federal elections. So we have something here that is probably already better than what exists in the ROC, the rest of Canada. We have created financial institutions for ourselves in Quebec and passed laws that prevent the kind of abuses they are trying to prevent today with Bill C-29.

At the same time, though, as they try to prevent abuses, they are handicapping the political parties a bit by removing their ability to decide—along with the— whether he or she can borrow money. According to the bill, the parties would be responsible for the money their candidates borrowed. That is totally absurd. I wonder whether the party of which I am a proud member would have been able to meet my needs when I decided to enter politics. I made my own decisions about how much money I needed, an amount that was very personal. It is not up to the parties to foot the bill for people who decide to run for them in elections.

A candidate is chosen and talks with his party. He determines his strategy together and in collaboration with his party, but ultimately, it is the candidate who decides how much he wants to spend on his election campaign. If the political party were made responsible for the money that a candidate spends, we would be opening the door to major abuses.

It is the same as if I decided to buy a new house and told the bank it could have confidence in me because the Speaker of the House of Commons likes it and supports my getting a loan. Since you are a solid citizen, the bank would give me the money. That would be a bit ridiculous.

Once again, we see the party in power, the Conservatives, trying to put more restrictive rules in place when they do not follow their own rules. It is rather paradoxical. When we adopt rules, we should start by following them ourselves before insisting that other people should follow them or thinking that a new rule should be invented to prevent one party or another from making progress.

That is the impression given by this bill.

Bill C-54, which was introduced in the last session, was very similar to this bill. It was examined in committee and debated on several occasions. In fact, an amendment from the Bloc Québécois had been incorporated into the bill. As a result, it was a better bill that provided a great deal more latitude to political parties, to individuals and to companies. We know that we must act responsibly.

Now, the government has tabled other amendments, which are unacceptable, to prevent us from acting in a way that any political party should have to right to act.

In Quebec, we have had regulations governing political funding for more than 30 years. René Lévesque was very conscious of the difficulties and temptations that political parties, individuals and legislature members must deal with. Some members or ministers think they have a great deal more power because their party is in office. That is not how we are supposed to think. We are supposed to take our responsibilities very seriously. Unfortunately, too many people do not do that.

Therefore, we have created a very strict framework that requires parties, members of the legislature and individuals to follow the rules. Those rules have been followed for more than 30 years and that works very well in Quebec, contrary to what some government members here have said. If there is electoral fraud in Quebec it does not happen often. When there is fraud it is discovered immediately, and not two, three or four years later, because we have provided the tools to do that.

The government seems to forget that in the past two years it introduced Bill C-2 to deal with some of the difficulties that parliamentarians might encounter. But they have not even respected the spirit of Bill C-2.

We have heard of influence-peddling in recent weeks. We have also seen appointments that are clearly favouritism. In the past few weeks, we have seen contracts awarded to third parties in ways that do not comply with the regulations. Those contracts were for just under $25,000, which made it possible to award more contracts, to more people, without following the usual procedures.

In my opinion, when we create legislation it is because we recognize that we have a responsibility toward our fellow citizens. If we only do it to look good, would it not be better to think seriously before trying to put through a bill? Would it not be better, as a political body—I am speaking of the government—to look deeply into its conscience to ensure that Bill C-2 is respected?

They tell us all day long that they brought forward Bill C-2, but for the past two years that bill has been laughed at and ignored by the government in power. For two years they have twisted that bill in all kinds of ways. Now, they want to make amendments to Bill C-29 in order to make life difficult for the political parties that are not in power. It is ridiculous.

Part of this bill is certainly important. We will vote in favour of that important part; but the majority of the amendments that have been added are not acceptable to us because they simply do not make sense. We want nothing to do with those.

We do not want those.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2008 / 1:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-29.

Under the wavering light of this corner of the House, I hope my comments are clear and constant in suggesting that the bill, as it came through committee, was the proper bill. What the government is trying to do now is ignore the good democratic conditions and precedents of good committee work.

The bill in review aims to establish a system of improved accountability. It certainly did that as it came out of committee. Its key elements include creating 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.

That much makes a lot of sense. It would also ensure that total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals could not exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Canada Elections Act.

It would also allow only financial institutions and political entities the capacity to make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals and only at commercial or market rates of interest.

Tightening the rules for the treatment of unpaid loans to ensure candidates cannot walk away from unpaid loans was also an aim of this bill as it came back from committee. It would ultimately, as in its original sense, hold riding associations responsible for unpaid loans taken out by candidates. This is one of the cruxes of the problem, and I will get to the democratic deficit and the lack of participation that we have by good candidates in the electoral process if the government's designs are to be carried through.

The bill, by way of history, was first presented to the House during the first session of this Parliament as Bill C-54 and reintroduced in November of the past year with essentially the same content as Bill C-54.

The bill was very seriously examined during meetings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The members worked very hard and came to agree upon different elements. There was a great deal, I say in a spirit of non-partisanship, of unanimity with respect to some of the time limit terms and some of the technical aspects. It was thought, certainly by opposition members, that there was a good deal of consensus and agreement on a few other outstanding matters that were embodied in amendments to the bill.

On this side we thought the bill as amended, as it comes back from committee, is something that we, in the great traditions of the Liberal Party, in the great traditions of democratic reform and keeping the balance that allows people to participate in the democratic process, could support.

At those committee meetings, improvements were made, not the least of which, as a significant improvement, was now to have unpaid amounts of a loan to be considered contributions after three years from the date the loan was made. The original proposal was 18 months.

Now the government House leader, the minister responsible for undemocratic reform, is presenting motions that will completely disregard the other amendments that were passed at committee.

Government Motion No. 1 would delete the Liberal amendment to allow for annual contributions to a leadership candidate. Under this amendment, for example, person A would be allowed to donate $1,000, or $1,100 as the case may be, to leadership candidate B in each calendar year until leadership candidate B paid his or her campaign debt and formally and finally closed his or her leadership campaign.

Government Motion No. 2 would make it necessary for loans to be repaid annually rather than at the point when the loan becomes due. This effectively would prevent candidates from taking extended repayment loans. It acts as a foreclosure on the normal commercial manner in which loans are undertaken and paid back. It says that the way the market works with respect to loaning a person money to fund a campaign shall not be respected. It makes no sense to set up an artificial limit on repayment when the market will deal with that issue.

After all, the movement is from a loan from a friend to a loan from a commercial lender at a commercial rate. I do not know if there was enough evidence from the banking community on this but it would seem to me that the banks are not in the business of giving loans that are high risk. They are not in the business of giving loans to people who cannot repay them.

Why is it that Parliament shall say to the bankers of this country that they do not know how to underwrite risk and that Parliament will make it shorter in duration for the banks and different than the market conditions. It is clearly against the forces of the market, which I thought the party on the other side favoured, and it is clearly undemocratic because it will put a chill on candidates presenting themselves for election.

Considering the fact that elections are not something that somebody can plan for, I think we are living that right now, but often, in the normal course of events, we can plan when we want to buy a house, a car, start a family or put our kids through college, as the case may be. Those are events we can plan and save for and, from time to time, we can make loans from commercial lenders at commercial rates. However, it is very difficult for someone who is not in the House right now and who wants to stand as a candidate to predict when he or she may need to get a loan for a campaign or, as the case may be, a leadership race.

Because the election may be called at any time, January, April or October, it is unreasonable for someone to be asked to pay off a loan before the time limit established by the loan contract itself. We on this side stand for the principles of the market. The free market shall dictate when a loan is given and how it is prepaid. Why is the government interloping and saying to the free market, the lenders in this country, that the government knows best?

Here we see the Conservative government is pushing hard on its perception and not its reality of accountability.

The Accountability Act, Bill C-2, which was presented and passed, was really the window dressing for the government's new regime and for its patina, if one likes, of sincerity. I say patina because it is a very thin layer that can be pierced very easily and beneath the patina we can see the substance. Without proper regulations backing up Bill C-2, the Accountability Act, it is a very hollow instrument. It does not have any of the reality backing up the rhetoric with which it was introduced.

It would be an absolute hindrance, in terms of accountability, for us to say that these government amendments help the democratic process. It would be an absolute hindrance for anyone presenting themselves to have to focus on repaying the loan by the end of the fiscal year if that is not the date that was agreed upon by the lender.

Moving to government Motion No. 3, it would delete the Bloc Québécois amendment that would remove liability from registered political parties for loans taken out by candidates.

We can imagine that we are 308 members in the House, not all filled at the time, but all of us have different constituencies and all of us have been successful in getting here, some by a wide margin and some by a very large margin.

If one is contesting a riding that one does not hold, the spectre of the political association being responsible for one's debt, if one is unsuccessful, is again very undemocratic because it would pit the association against the candidate. In a riding where it is impossible to win, or does not look very likely that one could win, we can see very clearly that the bill and the government Motion No. 3 puts a chill on democratic involvement and is in fact very undemocratic. One would wonder why it is included.

Why would the Conservative government, which does not hold all the seats in Parliament and, in fact, will never hold many of the seats in Parliament, wants to put a chill on its own candidates in pitting their Conservative associations against their candidates? One wonders why because it does not do anything to help the participation of new candidates in ridings.

In short, we are not in support of these amendments that the government has reintroduced at report stage. We think t the committee worked very well and that its wishes and its motions should be respected.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2008 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this debate on Bill C-29, which is in fact the amended version of Bill C-54 that was debated in the previous session. All parties agreed to pick up the debate where we left off before resuming this new session. As was the case in the previous session, we will support the bill even though, and I will come back to this, we think it is important that a number of the amendments we made to it—I am talking about the opposition parties, but the Bloc Québécois in particular—be maintained despite the government's desire to drop them for reasons that are completely unclear to me.

We were in favour of this bill and we still are. The purpose of the bill is to prevent individuals from bypassing campaign financing rules. The bill now includes a ceiling of $1,100 for individuals. Companies and corporations are no longer able to make donations to political associations. We agree with this principle that has existed in Quebec for 30 years now. This was one of the first accomplishments of the Parti Québécois under the leadership of René Lévesque.

As such, we agree with the idea that once a number of rules are in place governing political party fundraising and the amounts that individual voters can contribute, people should not have opportunities to get around the law by taking out loans, thereby sidestepping the will of Parliament, particularly the House of Commons, to ensure that the rules of the game are more or less the same for all political parties.

I have been watching what is going on with the primaries in the United States and the mind-boggling amounts of money the candidates are spending. This is not even the race for the presidency of the United States. These are just the Democratic and Republican nomination races. It is clear that that much money results in inequality that prevents some people from participating in the races from the very beginning.

Of course, in both Canada and Quebec, fundraising efforts do have to be significant. Everyone in this House knows that and participates in it. Still, the amount of money each of us can use for our election campaigns is within reach, even for individuals who do not have a personal fortune at their disposal or a network of acquaintances to secure the loans or donations they need to launch a campaign. For example, the value of some contributions made to both the Conservative and Liberal leadership races, which took place before Bill C-2 was passed, is still unknown.

It is clear to us that candidates should not be allowed to use loans to sidestep the caps that put an end to corporate backing and limit individual contributions.

The bill also solves another problem with the Federal Accountability Act, Bill C-2, about which I spoke earlier. When Bill C-2 was being studied—and this was denounced by all opposition parties—the Conservative government was much more interested in quickly passing the bill in order to inform citizens that it had fulfilled its first promise. Unfortunately, this haste resulted in a certain number of deficiencies. I am referring to loans to political entities. The bill fell somewhat short in terms of the ethics promised. We really did have to revisit the shortcomings of Bill C-2. I remind the House that, at the time, the opposition parties, the media, the political observers and organizations such as Democracy Watch pointed out the problem but the government refused to take action.

Once again, as is often the case in this Parliament, each party had to study the advantages and the disadvantages of the deficiencies resulting from the Conservatives' haste. We supported the bill because we were generally in favour of the underlying principle.

Bill C-29 also solves the problem of loans—it is at the heart of the bill—whereby the limits for personal political contributions could be circumvented. Several ethical difficulties were not addressed by Bill C-2. I am thinking, for instance, of poor protection for whistleblowers and the failure to reform the Access to Information Act.

Bill C-29 incorporates the only change proposed by the Bloc Québécois when Bill C-54 was studied in committee. This amendment ensured that the political party would not be responsible for the debts of candidates. The government wants to change that. We do not really understand the government's intentions. It wants to force a political party to guarantee, without prior knowledge, the debts of a candidate who, without making any effort to raise funds, decides to borrow from a bank the maximum amount allowed under the Canada Elections Act.

We therefore proposed an amendment, with which the government seemed to agree, or at least the opposition parties, the Liberals and the NDP, did. Now the government is questioning our amendment. Therefore, we will vote against this government motion.

It is rather irrational and illogical that a political party would be responsible for debts incurred by its candidates without the party knowing. We think the Bloc's amendment should be upheld so that the bill makes sense. I hope the two other opposition parties will still be in favour of it, as they were when Bill C-54 was being examined in committee.

The Bloc Québécois is almost entirely financed by individuals. An candidate could borrow $50,000 from the bank to run his election campaign. If he did not repay the loan, the bank could go after the political party. I think allowing this would be almost immoral. It means that every citizen who donates $5 to our party would also have to support this candidate who might have gotten into debt irresponsibly.

I think that even though we agree with the spirit of the bill and will vote in favour of it, the government should rethink its decision to remove the amendment proposed by the Bloc and adopted by the committee. It should go back to something that makes much more sense and that would be more respectful towards the thousands of small donors who are the financing backbone of the Bloc Québécois, and I imagine this is the case with the other parties.

I will not go on any longer. That was my basic message. We will have to hope that the government comes to its senses and accepts the bill with the amendment proposed by the Bloc and adopted in committee.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2008 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to participate in the debate on Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).

Several members have already talked about this bill and have explained its principal objectives, one of which is to create a uniform and transparent disclosure system for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors. I would point out that such provisions already exist in the Canada Elections Act.

The previous government formed by the Liberal Party of Canada passed a bill on election financing that sought to limit the role of corporations and unions in election financing, initiating the most significant contribution limit reduction in Canadian history.

This bill targets funding for candidates in leadership races, byelections and general elections, but the law passed under the previous Liberal government already contained Elections Canada's requirements for loan disclosure.

During the last Liberal leadership race, which took place in 2006, all candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada exceeded Elections Canada's requirements for the disclosure of loans under the Canada Elections Act.

That is not at all the case for the current Prime Minister. He has refused to disclose the identities of those who funded his campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2002. The Conservatives, as we have seen so many times on other issues, are trying to deceive Canadians.

In the previous session of Parliament, Bill C-29 was Bill C-54. When the Conservative government introduced this bill, it gave misleading information about the current legislation on political party financing, and the Conservative members continue to mislead Canadians every time they talk about Bill C-29. The Conservatives imply that the current legislation—I am not talking about their bill, but about the legislation in effect today, which was adopted by Parliament when the Liberal Party of Canada was in power—allows secret loans and that candidates are not required to disclose a loan, the amount of that loan, the name of the creditor or the name of the guarantor.

Under the legislation that is in effect today and has been since 2004, candidates must provide Elections Canada with information on all loans they receive, whether they are running for the leadership of a party or in a byelection or general election.

Canadians get annoyed when they cannot trust what their own government is telling them.

During the last election campaign, this Conservative government boasted and said it was whiter than white, whiter than snow, and that it would be accountable, transparent and open. Canadians just have to read and listen to what the government is saying about the current legislation on financing for political parties and candidates. It is claiming that someone running for the leadership of a party today or last year or the year before could borrow money without having to disclose who the creditor was, how much the loan was for or who the guarantor was. It is sad.

This government is going even further. With its bill, the government wants an association or party to be held responsible for a candidate's unpaid debts, even if the local riding association or the party was not aware of the loan and had not guaranteed it. It would be like having a brother in another city who takes out a loan. I do not know my brother borrowed money, but because we have the same last name and share the same blood and DNA, I would automatically be liable for the loan. I would have to repay his loan if he went bankrupt and did not repay it.

The opposition parties have amended this bill. The governing party has even amended its own bill, which is interesting. I would like to provide some information about that.

The Conservative government proposed an amendment to its own bill, thereby admitting that its Bill C-29—which had been Bill C-54 in the previous session of Parliament—was not perfect. The Conservatives proposed amendments to ensure that loans and suretyship contracts paid back during the same calendar year are not included in the total calculation of donations for that year. Consider the following example. If an individual loans $1,000 to a candidate in February and the candidate pays that amount back in April, the individual who loaned the money would be permitted to guarantee another $1,000 before the end of the fiscal year. This was not included in the original bill. The Conservative members put forward an amendment because it made sense and was reasonable. All the parties—the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, and the Liberal Party—all supported the government's amendment. The Liberal Party, supported by the Bloc, proposed an amendment to make it possible to make donations every year to candidates for party leadership and not just a single donation to one particular candidate, as set out by existing legislation. This was because a leadership race can extend over more than one calendar year. Finally, the Bloc, supported by the Liberals and the NDP, put forward an amendment that removed one clause of the bill that required political parties to pay back any loans incurred by its candidates that were not paid back to the creditors. As if a candidate could take out a loan without notifying officials from the party or riding association.

It was suggested that he or she could then declare bankruptcy and the party would be forced to pay back any debts incurred, even if the party had not approved the debt from the beginning. The Conservatives opposed that amendment and introduced the motions at the report stage for—

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 11th, 2008 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-29, especially since this bill is an Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).

The Canada Elections Act has come into question in recent weeks. It always makes me smile to hear the Conservatives in the House boasting about how they have amended the Canada Elections Act. It is very disturbing, and that is why, when the Conservatives introduce a bill like this one, we have to look at it once, twice, three times, four times and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.

As we speak, more than 60 Conservative members still have not received their rebate from the Chief Electoral Officer. They are the only members of the House who have not been reimbursed for their election expenses since the last campaign. They will try and tell us that everything is fine, but there is a good reason they decided to filibuster in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. They do not want to be asked about the errors and omissions the Chief Electoral Officer has found. More than 60 members have not been reimbursed for their latest election expenses, including two ministers from Quebec: the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages and the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

When people—citizens, Quebeckers—read or hear things like this in the media, it does not reflect well on the political elite, particularly seeing as the members of the Bloc Québécois have all been reimbursed and have therefore not been reprimanded by the Chief Electoral Officer. We have to protect that reputation because in the previous Parliament, the Liberals marred politicians' reputation far too often.

Now the Conservatives are making the rest of us look bad. That is what comes of being in power, I suppose. They say that it takes absolute power, but often, as some here know, power can make people crazy, and the Conservatives are verging on it. It is coming. It is getting closer. It started with election spending. They tried to cook the books so they could get more money for the next election campaign. They want to get as much money as possible. They understand how it works, and their actions are based on the premise that the more money one has, the more seats one wins. That is the Conservative way of doing things. The more money you accumulate, the better your chances of coming to power.

We in Quebec are proud that in every election since 1993, we have had a majority, and not thanks to money. We spend as much as the law allows, and not a penny more, because we collect our money $5 at a time. That has always been our way of doing things.

I should point out that Canada adopted its political party financing legislation based on Quebec's, which was brought in by René Lévesque, leader of the Parti Québécois and the sovereignty movement for many years, who cleaned house in Quebec. Canada also cleaned house a few years ago, but some Conservatives got caught yet again, even though they just cleaned house. People have to understand that that's what it means to be a federalist—they have to do everything they can to collect money because that is how elections are won.

Of course we saw that with Option Canada. Maybe, at the time of the last referendum in Quebec, they took money to which they were not entitled. We know that an investigation has revealed that millions of dollars were spent, which was not allowed under the Quebec legislation respecting elections and referendums. But what is done is done. Federalists tell us that what is done is done but that it should not happen the next time. Maybe we should ask the UN to oversee the next referendum in Quebec because it is the only way to stop these people who have no qualms about using public funds to try to win an election.

That is why we have Bill C-29 before us, or should I say before us again. There are three motions in amendment. This bill is the reincarnation of Bill C-54, which was amended by the committee in the previous session. Let us not forget that there was a throne speech. In an attempt to improve their image, the Conservatives presented a new Speech from the Throne. Consequently, certain bills had to be reintroduced, and Bill C-29 is the same as former Bill C-54.

The government is bringing forward three motions to try to counter three amendments made by opposition parties in committee in the last session. I will take the time to explain these three motions. For the Bloc Québécois, two of them are totally unacceptable; there is one however—a minor change—that we will support. It has to be understood that one of these motions deals with expenses, that is the amounts that an individual can contribute to a leadership campaign.

Under the current legislation an individual can contribute $1,000 a year to political parties during a leadership campaign. That amount has been changed to $1,100, but in the legislation it is $1,000. We thought that the bill could contain provisions allowing for annual contributions to a leadership race, as the Canada Elections Act does. The Bloc Québécois enjoys stability, but the other parties in this House often change leaders. We want to give them a chance to raise money for changing their leader instead of for running an election campaign. After the next election, few of these leaders will still be here. I can assure you of that. We are giving them a chance to collect $1,000 a year, pursuant to the current legislation, which, as I was saying, allows individuals to contribute $1,100 a year to election campaigns.

The Conservatives have decided that these contributions can be made once every leadership race instead of once a year. All we are asking for is some logic. We have electoral legislation that allows individual contributions of $1,100 a year. An annual contribution to leadership races should be allowed in order to provide more money for self-promotion and avoid using taxpayer dollars at election time.

This will allow candidates to run their race within their party and to show their true colours. They hide because they do not have the money for a party leadership race. Then, the public discovers them once they come into power and they need taxpayer dollars in order to win the election. That is what the Conservatives do: they try to buy their way in with all sorts of tricks. They must be copying the U.S. model, where we see highly publicized campaigns. Instead of letting us get to know the individuals, prefabricated images are projected in lovely ad campaigns. The candidate, or the leader, is not presented, their image is. That is the new way of doing things. In any event, they will be judged during the next election campaign.

The second motion proposes that a loan become a contribution if it has not been repaid after three years. Obviously, the law does not allow any more time. As was mentioned earlier, the limit is $1,100 a year. Clearly, the law allows loans, but when someone lends another person money, that person must repay the loan at some point. As well, people cannot be allowed to do indirectly what they cannot do directly. We cannot say that we need money, but we need more than $1,100, because we do not have enough friends to give us money. This is often what happens in the other parties. Candidates have enough friends to raise the money they need, but their friends do not have enough money, so the candidates lend themselves money. They take money and lend it to themselves. Once the election campaign is over, these loans have to be repaid.

Candidates cannot use their own money to get elected, because that would be too easy. The Conservatives and Liberals have often used this tactic in recent years to try to get elected. They used their own money to fund their election campaigns. But that is not how things work. After three years, the loan must become a contribution. Because the money has not been repaid, it becomes a contribution, and if that contribution exceeds the $1,100 annual limit—for example, if the loan is for $10,000—then it violates the law. We allowed this minor change.

The last motion proposes that the government reject the amendment introduced by the Bloc Québécois. The government wants to make political parties liable for their candidates' debts. Clearly, if a candidate goes to see his banker because he has no money, but the party does have money, the candidate will be able to fund his election campaign. But if the candidate cannot repay his debts, the party will have to do so.

It makes no sense to adopt this bill in its current form. Candidates must have credibility. If they have to borrow to fund a line of credit until the money comes in, then they should borrow against their own personal assets. That is what Bloc Québécois candidates have always done. We find a way to fund our campaigns, and when we do not have enough money, we take out loans, which we sign for and guarantee ourselves, until we raise enough money. The party does not guarantee our loans, we do. In that way, we may—

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 11th, 2008 / 5 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I had the time for a question I certainly would want to enquire about some of the current cases before Parliament.

Bill C-29 aims to establish a system of improved accountability for candidates to report loans taken out during election campaigns. Its key elements include creating a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political parties, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors; ensuring that total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals should not exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Canada Elections Act; and allowing only financial institutions and other political entities the capacity to make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals and only at commercial rates of interest.

Tightening rules for the treatment of unpaid loans is also important to ensure candidates cannot walk away from unpaid loans by ultimately holding riding associations responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.

The bill was first presented to the House during the first session of Parliament as Bill C-54 and reintroduced in November of last year with essentially the same content as Bill C-54. The bill was very seriously examined during meetings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Members worked hard and agreed upon different elements, not the least of which was a significant improvement which now calls for unpaid amounts of the loan to be considered contributions after three years after the day on which it was made. The original government proposal was to make that period only 18 months. Now the government House leader is presenting motions that would completely disregard the other amendments that were passed at committee.

Government Motion No. 1 would delete the Liberal amendment to allow for annual contributions to a leadership candidate. Under this motion, for example, a person would be allowed to donate $1,000 to a leadership candidate in each calendar year until the leadership candidate paid his or her campaign debt and formally closed his or her leadership campaign.

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 repayment loans. It makes no sense to set up an artificial limit on repayment.

Considering the fact that elections can be called at different times during the year, whether it be January, April or October, it is unreasonable for someone to be asked to pay off a loan before the time limit established by the loan contract. We see that the government is pushing hard on its perception of accountability.

Furthermore, as members of Parliament will know, once we are elected our focus shifts to doing our job, not to running in elections or raising money for elections. It, therefore, would be an absolute hindrance for anyone to have to focus on repaying by the end of a fiscal year if that is not the date that was agreed upon with the lender.

Government Motion No. 3 would delete the Bloc amendment that would have removed liability from registered political parties for loans taken by candidates. This motion would set up a system or a responsibility for registered political parties and riding associations, regardless of whether or not they are aware that the candidate has taken out a loan. Making one entity responsible for the personal debt of an individual does not sound responsible under any criteria.

The government waited for the original version of this bill to die with prorogation so that it could present new motions to completely obliterate the changes that had already been agreed upon democratically at committee.

There are some five bills in Bill C-2, many of which had progressed substantially through the legislative process. In fact, many of those bills would have been law today had the government taken the opportunity it had to reintroduce those bills at the same stage they were at when prorogation occurred.

As a consequence, we now find Bill C-2 as an issue of debate in this place simply because the government suggests that it should happen quicker. However, it engineered the delay in those pieces of legislation. Therefore, it is very similar to what has happened with regard to this bill.

Through this tactic, Canadians have seen that the government is clearly not interested in really working with the other parties to come up with sound legislation. It is only interested in continuing to pursue a philosophy of “my way or the highway” kind of legislative process. It is only interested in presenting political jabs disguised as draft legislation, and we have seen that time and time again on many bills.

While the government continues to repeat that Bill C-29 will finally stop the undue influence of wealthy contributors who were supposedly skirting Elections Act donation limits through the use of personal loans, the bill is clearly designed to disadvantage the Liberal Party of Canada financially and to limit access to the political process for many Canadians.

The fact is our party has demonstrated, in good faith, that we want to work to improve election laws. After all, our party was the one that passed the bill to limit the role of corporations and unions in election financing in Bill C-24 in 2003.

Our party also initiated the most significant contribution limit reduction in Canadian history. Furthermore, during our last leadership campaign, all candidates publicly disclosed all loans made to their campaigns and went above and beyond the requirement set out in the Canada Elections Act in this regard.

The Prime Minister still refuses to fully disclose the complete scope of financing of his own 2002 leadership campaign. Clearly the government is running a “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of operation. How can Canadians believe a government that does not want to practise what it preaches.The Liberal Party supports measures to make Canadians more confident in their politicians by seeking to improve the accountability of the electoral process.

We support the bill, as amended by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which includes the measures that were approved democratically by all of the parties.

Let me refer also to the activity within the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to which many important issues are referred and is represented by all parties. What happens is it is sometimes very dysfunctional in terms of deciding to do things or not to do things. In the case of the so-called in and out scandal, a filibuster has been going on since late October or early November on the ruling by the Chief Electoral Officer that the Conservative Party had breached the Canada Elections Act by transferring loans into and then out of candidates accounts. This kind of issue is very serious and the Chief Electoral Officer found that it was improper. The issue still is not out of procedure and House affairs committee. It is still not progressing because the government is filibustering.

For those who may be watching, a filibuster occurs when a party decides that it will continue to talk. There are no limits on talking when a motion is made. If the chair of that committee permits it to get too broad, effectively what we can do is continue to talk. When one member is finished, another member can get up and continue to talk. Therefore, we have a filibuster whereby the question before the committee never gets voted on and no action is ever taken.

We have seen that time and time again as a tactic. As members know, the government members were given a binder for their committees on how to disrupt the business of committees. Amendments were made to the bill at committee. Now they are being changed. There are all kinds of tactics, which I think Canadians would find very distasteful, with regard to respect for the rule of parliamentary procedures and law and how matters are handled.

I believe parliamentarians on committee, in reviewing the matter before us, did their job. They agreed upon the amendments. These have been tampered with yet again by the government to show bad faith in terms of respecting the fact that this is a minority government. It is important that we move now to make good laws and wise decisions. It does not include the changes proposed by the government.

Motions in AmendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-29.The Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which seeks to prevent individuals from bypassing campaign financing rules. We support the bill for the simple reason that we think it is necessary to regulate loans in order to prevent people from getting around the financing ceilings. The problem with certain bills is that the wording may be clear, but sometimes the spirit of the letter can be abused. Sometimes a bill can be convoluted and ambiguous. This can result in misinterpretation or misapplication of the legislation. This bill establishes more rules for political financing.

I want to remind hon. members that financing ceilings were established in response to one of the Bloc Québécois' traditional demands. We demanded an end to corporate financing and limits on individual contributions, as has been the case in Quebec for 30 years.

I remember it as though it were yesterday. I can still see Prime Minister Chrétien, who was paying tribute to René Lévesque for introducing clear financing rules, or should I say, pure financing rules, in Quebec. Mr. Chrétien did not use those words, but he said that the new rules, which prohibited corporate financing, were largely inspired by what was happening in Quebec. Imagine. It was not easy for former Prime Minister Chrétien to pay tribute to René Lévesque. Mr. Chrétien probably had to dig deep for that. He probably had a hard time getting it out, but fortunately, for the benefit of everyone, Mr. Chrétien implicitly recognized that the Bloc Québécois had a reason to be persistent and to call for better financing rules at the federal level.

This bill includes the only modification proposed by the Bloc Québécois when the old Bill C-54 was at committee stage. After the throne speech, some bills had to be re-introduced, including the one before us, Bill C-29. The Bloc Québécois was strongly against political parties being held responsible for debts incurred by their candidates, particularly when the political party is not named on the contract between the candidate and the bank.

The members of the Bloc Québécois choose its candidates democratically. We sell membership cards for $5, and by purchasing a card, any person who subscribes to our values, principles and policies is showing that they support the Bloc Québécois in its defence of the interests of Quebec here on the federal scene. The membership card also gives the individual the opportunity to choose who will represent the Bloc Québécois and the Bloc Québécois platform in a byelection or general election. This is one of the benefits of being a member. There are others, such as the right to attend the annual general meeting, the right to receive party literature, and many other rights associated with being a member of a political party.

The Bloc Québécois is different from some other parties where the leader, on his or her own authority, can literally name certain people as candidates for the party. In our case, the members choose the candidates democratically. This democratic approach also means that anyone who is a member and shares the party's views can stand for nomination. This can cost candidates money. However, the bylaws of the Bloc Quebecois place a limit on what a candidate for nomination can spend. I believe it is $1 per member in good standing, but I could be wrong. At this late hour, my party's bylaws are not uppermost in my mind. Regardless, there is a limit on what candidates can spend. A person therefore could not decide to spend $350,000 to become a candidate at a Bloc nomination meeting.

During the last session, we found there was a problem with this bill, which was then known as Bill C-54. Candidates could spend up to the maximum stipulated in our party's bylaws, but if they were unable to pay their debts, if they had taken out a loan from a financial institution, the party was held responsible. We considered that totally unacceptable, and we still do. The party should not be held responsible for the debts of a candidate for nomination.

That is why, on behalf of my party, I introduced an amendment to Bill C-54, and I succeeded in convincing my opposition colleagues to bring the government into line. Unfortunately, as hon. members can read in the Order Paper and Notice Paper, the government House leader has introduced three amendments to this bill. One of those amendments would nullify the effects of the amendment my NDP and Liberal colleagues on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs agreed to after I convinced them. The government is proposing a motion to reverse this democratic decision of the committee.

With respect, I want to tell the government House leader that he will likely be disappointed, because I believe that my Liberal and NDP colleagues support the Bloc Québécois' interpretation, and we intend to reject this government amendment, which is designed to reverse what we won in committee. We do not want the government to do indirectly what it was incapable of doing directly.

Because I do not have much time, that concludes my remarks. The Bloc Québécois supports the bill, because it clarifies some rules on political party financing.

Motions in AmendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my colleagues in the NDP caucus, I am very pleased to join the debate on Bill C-29.

Let me say at the outset that I support the content of Bill C-29. I should point out that it finds its origins in a motion put forward by the New Democratic Party on the Federal Accountability Act which, sadly, failed at the time, but the government revisited the issue and saw fit to introduce the same subject matter in a separate bill. That bill is the one before us today.

We should start with the basic premise that nobody should be able to buy an election in this country. In fact, nobody should be able to buy a politician in this country. We should take whatever measures necessary to take big money out of politics for all the reasons that should be self-evident to those of us in the chamber today or anybody watching.

We only need to look south of the border to see how big money can undermine democracy. I do not want to cast any aspersions on the character of politicians there, but I would point out that it takes a couple of million dollars now to run in any credible way for a seat in Congress. Surely, people can see that if people have to start their political careers owing $2 million, it can, and I am not saying it does but it can, influence the way people make public policy. That is something we want to avoid in this country.

This bill also asks another question, and that is, when is a loan not a loan? I would put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that if a loan is never repaid, it is not really a loan anymore. It is a donation. That is the way Elections Canada views loans that are not repaid. If they are not repaid in 18 months, they become donations.

If a loan is larger than the amount people are allowed to donate and 18 months later it becomes a donation, they have made an illegal donation. There is a contradiction in our election financing laws that cries out to be addressed. This bill does just that.

Looking at the origins and history of this bill, I would like to recognize and pay tribute to the former leader of the New Democratic Party, who most recently sat as the member for Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent. A seven part ethics package was put together by Mr. Broadbent which became part of the NDP election campaign platform. It dealt specifically with the idea of election financing loans being problematic in our election financing system. The reason he was seized with the issue at that time is that we all observed the Liberal leadership race.

We became aware that even though the donation limits governing leadership races and other political events were quite rigid, because the very rules the Liberals established placed pretty serious limits on how much could be donated, the loans that were being made were massive. One person alone, the former NDP premier of Ontario, had $720,000 worth of loans from his brother, the executive vice-president of Power Corp. That loan would have to be repaid in accordance with the donation limits, which today would be $1,100 per person per year. We did not see how that was possible.

We were concerned that that loan would be lost in the sands of time without people aggressively policing how loans like that are repaid. People forget about them. Eighteen months later it would fall to the Chief Electoral Officer to follow it up, police it and make sure it was paid back. We are doubtful it happens in that way. This bill would preclude these big loans that are not really loans from undermining democracy and allowing big money to dominate politics once again.

There were other examples, too. Perhaps a more egregious example happened recently with the member of Parliament for Mississauga—Streetsville, who was a Liberal, crossed over to the Conservatives and now has to step out of that caucus as well because it was found that he was circumventing the election financing rules. Even though unions and businesses are not allowed to donate a single penny to finance an election, businesses can lend any number of dollars. In fact in this case, his own car dealership lent $240,000 to his riding association. Surely that violates at least the spirit of the act, if not the letter of the act.

I understand the election financing problems he has now deal more with overspending. I guess he was sitting on such a pot of money he overspent in his election campaign, but I call attention to the flip side of that coin and that is the source of that very money that he overspent, which was a loan from his own car dealership. That is fundamentally wrong.

It gives an unfair competitive advantage to somebody who can find a big corporation, or a big union for that matter, willing to finance him or her to this great extent, when the rest of us are out there scrambling around trying to raise money within the donation limit of $1,100 per year. Surely anybody can see the unfairness and the inequity of a system that would allow big money to dominate politics in that way.

As I said in my opening remarks, nobody should be able to buy an election in this country. It undermines democracy and more important, it undermines the public's confidence in their democratic institutions.

We are in the throes of a graphic illustration of how big money can undermine democracy. To those of us who sit on the ethics committee, and my Conservative Party colleague who is the vice-chair of the ethics committee perhaps feels the same way, if big money is influencing public policy decision making in the form of undue loans or loans that violate the spirit and the letter of the election financing laws, or bags of cash are given to leadership hopefuls or former prime ministers in hotel rooms, the public confidence in their institutions is severely shaken and undermined.

We work too hard to set up the best country in the world to see its democratic institutions undermined by what can be only described as greed by those who are willing to take advantage of loopholes in the election financing laws or in the lobbying registration laws, or the lack of them.

When the NDP was faced with the previous incarnation of this bill, and I believe it was Bill C-54, we spoke in favour of the bill. We note now that the government has introduced three amendments at report stage, two of which we have no difficulty with. We believe they are technical in nature and not of any substance.

The third one we do have a problem with and we will have to serve notice that we will vote against the third recommended amendment at report stage. It is a default mechanism that if the candidate in an election campaign defaults on a loan, it automatically goes to the federal party. We are not in favour of that amendment. We believe it complicates matters. Unless the political party has the right to veto such a loan, it should not be the automatic seconder or co-signer of that loan. It seems to me that it places an undue financial burden on the federal parties.

There are enough illustrations and graphic examples in the country that the general public could relate to this bill. In the spirit of fairness, in the spirit of levelling the playing field, in the spirit of creating an election financing regime where we all have an equal opportunity and we do not have a system that is dominated by big money in politics, that should be our goal. It should be our guiding principle that one of the best things about our election system, I believe, is how egalitarian it actually is.

There was a time when politics was the purview of the well connected, the rich and the powerful. We have a political system where a carpenter like me can aspire to raise the small amount of money necessary to become a member of Parliament. We have schoolteachers, auto mechanics and electricians; I have met many of my colleagues from all walks of life.

That is the system we want to preserve. We do not want to give an unfair competitive advantage to those who happen to know people who could lend them massive amounts of money far and away larger than the annual limit that we have set through the election financing laws.

Motions in AmendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2007 / 4 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take part in this debate on a bill that aims to correct another problem with the Federal Accountability Act. I would remind this House that when Bill C-2 was studied, the government was interested in passing the bill quickly, an attitude that we in the opposition parties, the media and Democracy Watch criticized.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-29 in principle, because it addresses the problem of loans that allowed individuals to bypass political contribution restrictions. In fact, Bill C-29 fills the gaps the government left in studying Bill C-2, which contains little protection for whistleblowers and does nothing to improve the Access to Information Act.

Quebeckers have long understood the importance of having clear, reliable rules on financing political organizations. The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-29 in principle, because it should prevent people from getting around the financing rules, especially as regards contribution limits.

I want to stress that the Bloc Québécois fought long and hard for these limits. Inspired by the system that has been in place in Quebec for 30 years, we called on the government to put an end to financing by companies and limit individual contributions. Bill C-29 incorporates the only change proposed by the Bloc Québécois when Bill C-54 was studied in committee. Then, we decried the fact that the political party was held responsible for its candidates' debts, even if the party was not a party to the contract between the individual and his or her financial institution.

I must say that I am extremely disappointed that the government is refusing to comply with the committee's decision on this. Although the current government wants to demonstrate good faith and sincerity, the fact remains that its intentions are not really genuine. In fact, the Conservatives are using this bill to point out that during the most recent Liberal leadership race, several candidates took out big loans to bypass financing restrictions. Yet the Conservatives are forgetting that the Prime Minister himself has not disclosed all of the contributions he received during the 2002 leadership race.

If the Conservatives think they can pass themselves off as the champions of transparency and the standard bearers of ethics, I must remind them of a few facts that might force them to reconsider. We all remember, as does the public, all the back and forth between political offices and lobbying firms, the contracts awarded to political friends, the use of public funds for partisan purposes, the many partisan appointments, the appointments of judges and immigration commissioners, that is, to the IRB, on the basis of their political beliefs, and the publication of a guide intended for Conservative members who chair committees that lists every possible, imaginable measure to obstruct the work of committees.

Bill C-29 aims to correct the problem of loans used to circumvent the limits on contributions paid to political parties, but certain problems remain. Whistleblower protection comes to mind. During the election campaign, the Conservatives promised to guarantee whistleblowers greater protection. They wanted to “ensure that whistleblowers would have access to adequate legal counsel”. Yet the Conservatives' bill allows for only $1500 in legal fees.

They also wanted “to give the public sector integrity commissioner the power to enforce the whistleblower legislation”. They wanted “to guarantee protection to all Canadians who report wrongdoing within the government, not just to public servants”. Furthermore, they wanted “to take away the government's ability to exempt crown corporations and other entities from the application of the whistleblower legislation”.

In the recent sponsorship scandal, one of the whistleblowers, Allan Cutler, a Conservative Party candidate in the 2006 election, I should mention, was somewhat critical of Bill C-2. He maintained that Bill C-2 was far from perfect and had some problems that needed fixing, especially with respect to the provisions for protecting whistleblowers.

On April 5, 2005, the Liberal government released a discussion paper on reforming the Access to Information Act. This document met with general criticism. In addition to doubling the minimum administrative fees charged to the public, the proposal by the member for LaSalle—Émard, maintained all the exceptions provided for in the legislation.

If the Liberal Party never managed to bring about any useful reform of access to information in 13 years, the Conservative government, despite its election promise, did not do any better. We are still waiting for this reform.

The public knows that once in power, the Conservatives and the Liberals are not in such a hurry to reform the legislation. The information commissioner recently observed that this is a common trait in all governments:

The reason that action, not more study, is required is that governments continue to distrust and resist the Access to Information Act and the oversight of the Information Commissioner.

With regard to the lack of transparency in election financing, we can see that the Liberals and the Conservatives are equals. What is the Prime Minister waiting for to disclose all the contributions he received during the 2002 Canadian Alliance leadership race? The public must know that the Prime Minister admitted, in December 2006, that he failed to disclose to the Chief Electoral Officer that he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars. The money consisted of registration fees collected from Conservative delegates attending the Conservative Party's May 2005 convention. The party was forced to treat convention registration fees as donations. The report indicated that three delegates, including the Prime Minister, had exceeded their annual contribution limit of $5,400 to the party.

At the very least, the Conservative government is a government susceptible to powerful influences. The Prime Minister, when he was leader of the opposition, reprimanded the Liberals for the comings and goings between political offices and lobbying firms. Yet, since taking power he has done no better.

To summarize, the bill establishes a standard and transparent reporting system for all loans made to political entities, requiring the mandatory disclosure of the terms of these loans as well as the identity of the lenders and guarantors.

The bill would prohibit all unions and corporations not only from making contributions, in accordance with the Federal Accountability Act, but also from lending money.

Loans, loan guarantees and contributions from individuals could not exceed the limit set out in the Federal Accountability Act, which is $1,100 for 2007.

Only financial institutions, at market interest rates, or other political entities would be able to lend money exceeding that amount. The rules for unpaid loans would be tightened so that candidates could not default on their obligations.

Loans not repaid within 18 months would be considered a political contribution.

Riding associations, or where there are none, the parties themselves, would be held responsible for their candidate's unpaid loan.

For all these reasons, we support the principle of this bill but we truly hope that motion no. 3 will be defeated.

Motions in AmendmentCanada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2007 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party supports efforts to improve the transparency and accountability of the electoral process. Early on, our party was the one that passed the bill to limit the role of corporations and unions in election financing. We also initiated the most significant contribution limit reduction in Canadian history.

That is why Liberal party leadership candidates exceeded Elections Canada's requirements to disclose campaign loans. In contrast, the current Prime Minister is still refusing to disclose the names of those who contributed to his leadership campaign in 2002.

In practice, this legislation would give the last word to financial institutions, not Canadians, when it comes to deciding who can run for office in Canada. This bill would also have a negative impact on Canada's middle class, particularly nomination contestants, at a time when the government should be encouraging Canadians to increase their participation in the democratic process.

If the proposed changes are implemented, it will be very difficult for Canadians, particularly those with limited means who know few wealthy potential backers, to try to get elected in Canada because it is hard to get a loan from a financial institution. Even though we are in favour of a transparent and accountable electoral process, we believe that this bill unduly restricts Canadians' access to the democratic system and that it will prevent them from participating in it.

The Conservatives would have us believe that current legislation enables individuals to walk away from debts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the current legislation, individuals cannot use loans to bypass contribution limits, nor can they walk away from debts with impunity. The bill merely reiterates existing provisions. The Conservatives think they can fool Canadians into believing that this bill in some way makes significant changes to the law.

For the record, the official purpose of this bill is to reduce the possibility of undue influence in public life by wealthy interest groups. Obviously, this bill was developed to put the Liberal Party of Canada at a financial disadvantage. The main consequence of this new bill is that it severely restricts the opportunities for people running for office to take out loans, a common practice in the past. The proposed legislation would prohibit individuals from making a loan or guaranteeing a loan to political candidates by restricting contributions to the $1,100 limit currently in the Federal Accountability Act.

Furthermore, as in the Federal Accountability Act, unions and corporations cannot make a loan to political candidates, parties or associations. Of course, the government claims that the purpose of this measure is to reduce the influence of wealthy financial contributors, who apparently used personal loans to bypass the restrictions on donations in the Elections Act.

The fact of the matter is that during our last leadership campaign, all the candidates publicly disclosed all the loans they had received for their campaign and went above and beyond what was required by Elections Canada. If this bill is passed, only political parties such as the Liberal Party of Canada or local riding associations and financial institutions will be able to make loans to candidates, and it must be at the market interest rate.

There are also new disclosure criteria, requiring that all conditions such as the amount, rate, lender's name and address, and the guarantor's name and address, if applicable, be disclosed.

If the Chief Electoral Officer determines that an unpaid amount of a loan to a candidate of a registered party has been written off, the registered association or, if there is no registered association, the registered party becomes liable for the unpaid amount as if the association, or the party, had guaranteed the loan.

The minister referred to the changes in this regard. I should remind the House that, when it met last spring to consider the bill, numbered C-54 at the time, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs agreed by a majority vote to amend the government's proposal, to ensure that debts incurred by candidates without the consent of their associations or parties not come back to haunt the associations or parties. A majority of the committee did not want this to happen.

Unsatisfied with this majority decision of the committee, the government is now changing the wording of the bill to make this undesirable situation possible again.

The original text of Bill C-29 read, on page 5, lines 32 and 33, “the claimant, the candidate's registered association or, if there is no registered association, the registered party.” It said that these parties shall be informed. Today, the government is seeking to amend lines 32 and 33. At line 32, it is keeping the word “claimant”, but replacing the comma with a semicolon followed by “the registered association or, if there is no registered association, the registered party”, and it adds: “becomes liable for the unpaid amount as if the association or party had guaranteed the loan.”

This reversal of the reversal adopted by the majority in committee in the spring is unacceptable in that the association—or, if applicable, the party—would be held responsible for a loan without previous knowledge of it, without having guaranteed the loan, and without having been informed that the loan was contracted. A national association—or a national party—could quite easily end up in a situation whereby a candidate, without consent from the association or the party, could incur personal debts, under the pretext that it is for an election campaign. Then the party—or the association—without warning, would be responsible for paying back the loan. It is very difficult to accept that part.

There is also the matter of financing leadership races. The minister was honest. He bluntly said that instead of allowing citizens to participate by making contributions on an annual basis, as long as the loan has not been paid back in full, citizens should instead make a single contribution for a maximum of $1,100. The legislation prevents them from participating any more than that in leadership race financing.

Since I do not have very much time left, I want to say that although we are in favour of having a transparent and accountable electoral process, we believe that this bill unduly limits Canadians' access to the democratic system and that it will impede their participation.