Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-21, which would amend the provisions of the Canada Elections Act that affects loans and guarantees to political entities, whether registered parties, registered associations, candidates, leadership contestants or nomination contestants.
I am splitting my time with the member for Québec.
It is an important bill and, as I said earlier, it is a complex issue. We should recognize that when people run for leadership for a political party, it is a huge undertaking financially and in terms of a political commitment to their family, community, party and the country. It is easy to focus on some of the problems that occur, and there are problems, and that is why the bill has come forward. We should also remember the enormous sacrifice that people make, no matter what party, when they decide to run for the leadership.
The NDP just went through a leadership race. It was an incredible democratic process. We had hundreds of thousands of Canadians engaged in that process, culminating in the election of our new leader from Outremont.
When we went to the candidate meetings or had interaction with the candidates, our party could see how incredibly hard-working they were and the time and energy everybody put into their campaign teams.
We need to recognize that because politics gets such a bad name. People feel cynical and it is partly because of financial issues. Bills like this one tend to reinforce the negative side. Therefore, let us also be positive and celebrate the fact that individuals make this commitment to give that kind of public service. I wanted to begin my remarks with that because it needs to be said.
We support the bill at second reading. There will be a general rule that loans and guarantees to political entities are prohibited. There are exceptions to that. Financial institutions can give loans to political entities at a market interest rate and in writing, so that is a very clear, transparent thing. Individuals can as well, as long as they respect the limit under the act, which, as of January, was I believe $1,200, and as long as the loans are repaid, a very key point, within the calendar year or guarantees for which an individual is no longer liable in the calendar year will not be taken into consideration for an individual's contribution, loan and guarantee limit.
Finally, one of the three exceptions is that political parties or associations can make loans or stand surety for loans to a candidate or an association as long as it is in writing. There are some very clear rules.
Just by way of background, I was in Parliament in 2003 when the original bill, and I do not remember the name of it but it was under the Jean Chrétien government, came forward and reformed political financing. It sought to limit the donations to political entities from private individuals and legal persons, but at that time it did not limit political loans.
That was very important legislation and it did create a benchmark to ensure that Canadian political process and running in an election and so on was fair. It was a very historic.
I would compare us with the United States where there is virtually no rules. An individual has to raise millions and millions of dollars. Most of us could never run in the U.S. We simply would be unable to raise the kind of money as progressive people taking strong stands. We would never get all the lobbyists and so on. I always think about the situation in the U.S. where it is so much controlled by big lobbyists and big financial contributions. Therefore, the bill introduced in 2003 was very important.
In 2006 the Federal Accountability Act was the first legislation introduced by the Conservative government, and the NDP was very instrumental. I remember the member for Winnipeg Centre worked very hard with the minister at the time. That also was an important act, which lowered the maximum annual limit from $5,000 to $1,000, but it did not address the issue of political loans.
It is curious that in both 2003 and 2006, neither of those pieces of legislation from two different governments and two different political parties dealt with the question of political loans. I would like to put on the record that the NDP has always been in favour of limiting what we would characterize as the influence of third parties, both on political parties and during leadership contests.
It seems to me that the principle here is to ensure that there is transparency, that there are clear rules, that there are not ways to get around the rules and make oneself a loan or have someone make a loan that we know would never be repayable. Our party has always had an understanding, support, and advocacy for this kind of principle in favour of limiting the influence of third parties. This is why we are supporting the bill.
I would go further and say that Ed Broadbent, the former member for Ottawa Centre, former leader of the NDP, and a very well-known member of Parliament, made an enormous contribution in his time serving the House. He put forward a platform that called for transparency, clear rules, cleaning up politics for stronger accountability, and financing rules for leadership contests. That is what we are also talking about today. Sometimes we forget these things, so it is good to put on the record the work of a former colleague who really did make a difference and who espoused these principles of fairness, transparency, and accountability. I want to give kudos to Mr. Ed Broadbent for doing that.
When we debated the accountability act in 2006, we were very clear that it should have included provisions on political loans. We deplored the fact that it was silent on this matter. Again, the member for Winnipeg Centre did an enormous amount of work. We ended up agreeing as far as the bill went that we would support it, but we always believed that it should go further.
Here we are today in 2012. The bill before us has had quite a history and has already been hanging around for almost a year. It was previously Bill C-19 and C-29. It has had various versions, and here it is being debated today. I think it was the government House leader who said earlier that the government would push and convince all the opposition parties to deal with the bill. Quite clearly, for us in the NDP, we have always supported these kinds of measures and we will support the bill in principle.
I want to end on this note. This is a very complex issue. One has to really go through this stuff with a fine-tooth comb and see whether or not there are loopholes. I hope that when it gets to the committee, its members will almost look at it from a negative point of view, from the point of view of how someone can get around it. We need to ask ourselves that question to ensure that the bill is sufficient and adequate and covers the principles that it espouses. I am glad that we are supporting the bill and look forward to it being at committee.