Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to resume debate on Bill C-21. I last spoke to this bill in December of last year. Unfortunately the time was not sufficient for me to complete my presentation, so I would like to continue, but before I do, I would like to point out a few elements of Bill C-21 that I spoke to in December.
It is very important for all members to understand the reasons Bill C-21 has been introduced and some of the elements of the bill that will make the political loans regime a much more fair, open and transparent process for all parties and for all candidates.
Without question the rationale for Bill C-21 and its genesis came as a result of the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign. As most members know and most Canadians know, there were several candidates who contested the leadership for the Liberal Party in 2006 who still have outstanding debts, in some cases, several thousands of dollars of debt. In fact there is one sitting MP, the member for Vancouver Centre, who was a nominated candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party who has still yet to repay her debts.
We believe that to be absolutely unacceptable. Bill C-21 would remedy that.
I also want to point out that Bill C-21 will prevent individuals from lending money to leadership contestants. That is important because in the past there have been abuses of the loans regime. Let me give an illustration. Under the regime that we are currently working with, a wealthy individual, friend or relative could lend money to a leadership campaign candidate and have absolutely no realistic expectations of that loan ever being repaid. In fact, there could be times when an agreement would be struck between the lender and the candidate, and the lender would assure the candidate that he or she would never have to repay the loan because the lender would simply write it off.
If that happened, it would be a clear abuse of the political loans regime and a clear abuse of the rules. Yet there is nothing under the current Elections Act provisions to prevent that from happening. If that happened, the so-called loan would in fact not be a loan at all. It would be a donation. It would be a contribution and there are laws and rules in place to prevent contributions from exceeding a certain limit. In order to prevent that type of abuse from occurring, Bill C-21 will prohibit individuals from lending money to leadership candidates.
In future, after Bill C-21 is adopted, only registered financial institutions, whether they be chartered banks, credit unions, caisse populaires, trust companies, et cetera, will be allowed to lend money. In addition, those institutions, as is the normal practice, will have to openly transmit their practice of lending, the interest rate, the terms of repayment and all other information that should be in the public purview and in the public domain.
Bill C-21 will bring into force provisions that will increase accountability and transparency. Overall it will give the public the assurance that there are no abuses in the leadership or any candidate's campaign. I say that because Canadians have told us loud and clear that they do not agree from time to time with the regime of political donations exceeding the Federal Accountability Act levels.
However, abuses have occurred. I think all of us here can point to at least one or two examples where abuses have occurred, and unfortunately, the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada are prevented from doing anything meaningful to stop them. Bill C-21 would do exactly that.
There are a few other provisions in Bill C-21 that are not only timely but would assist all candidates in a leadership contest from incurring these debts, or at least would assist them in the repayment of their debts.
We have read media reports recently where one of the candidates in the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign, Ms. Martha Hall Findlay, has stated that because of the current rules she has found it difficult if not outright impossible to repay her debt, which she still has six years after she ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party.
Ms. Hall Findlay says the reason it is difficult to repay the debt is that under the current provisions donations from individuals to a leadership candidate may only be given on a per-contest basis. In other words, since Ms. Hall Findlay ran for the leadership in 2006, her supporters who wanted to give the maximum contribution allowable, roughly $2,100, could only do so once because the rules say a person can only give one donation to one candidate for one contest.
Bill C-21 would change that so that individuals could give contributions to a leadership contestant on an annual basis. In fact it would allow existing debts to be paid off by allowing the same contributor to donate yearly to the maximum amount. This would assist candidates like Ms. Hall Findlay and others who have existing debts to pay off their debts.
In fact, Ms. Hall Findlay has stated publicly that if the provisions of Bill C-21 were in force today, she would have her existing debt paid off in three days. I am not sure if that is an exaggeration or not, but we will see when Bill C-21 comes into effect how quickly Ms. Hall Findlay and other outstanding debtors pay off their debts.
Finally, in the limited time that I have, I want to refute a political argument, or at least a political piece of rhetoric, that has been coming from the Liberal Party lately. It suggests that our government has delayed bringing Bill C-21 forward because we want to let those leadership candidates from 2006 continue to twist in the wind. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We have continually, over the last several months, asked the opposition parties to give their tacit approval to Bill C-21 so we could debate it, send it to committee, after which speedy passage would then ensue. Until two days ago, we had not had that agreement. However, on Wednesday of this week, after several months of trying to get agreement from the opposition parties, we finally got their commitment to allow Bill C-21 to go forward with their support.
That is why today we are hoping the debate will end and Bill C-21 will be voted upon at second reading to send it to committee. We want Bill C-21 to come into effect. I know all Canadians support it. Hopefully, the opposition parties will as well.