moved that Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, regarding political financing, which would amend the Canada Elections Act to create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency for political fundraising events.
I first want to recognize my officials for their extraordinary effort in developing, drafting, and refining this important legislation. I thank them for their hard work over the past few months. They are a credit to our public service.
Our government told Canadians we would set a higher bar on the transparency, accountability, and integrity of our public institutions and the democratic process. We have also sent a clear message that we want to encourage Canadians to embrace our democracy.
I have been focused, in particular, on this latter objective since the Prime Minister asked me to be Canada's Minister of Democratic Institutions. This is why our government has moved on several fronts to enshrine a more open and inclusive democracy. We have changed the way we appoint senators and judges, we are making our elections more accessible and inclusive, and we are taking steps to protect our democracy from cyber-threats. We take these actions because we know how deeply Canadians value and cherish our democracy.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation this year, we can reflect on the work of past generations that have improved, strengthened, and protected Canadian democracy. The challenge facing us is how we, as parliamentarians, can continue to lead this work and fulfill the promise of a strong, stable, vibrant democracy.
The simple but important act of voting is a central part of this discussion. Casting a ballot is a rite of passage in this country. I am sure that many hon. members recall going with their parents to a polling station. Many members will recall bringing their own children with them to vote at their local school, church, community centre, or in one of the many other locations where voting takes place.
In many respects, election day is one of the last true civic rituals that Canadians take part in. It is a day on which we all come together to take part in the democratic process. We wait in the same lines, we follow the same rules, and we exercise the same rights and freedoms.
Today, as Minister of Democratic Institutions, I have a mandate to protect and improve one of the greatest democracies on earth. It is an honour to talk about this in one of the most respected democratic institutions in the world. We know that democracy does not just happen on its own. We all need to contribute to it, and that means more than just voting every four years. Democracy requires our constant attention.
There are many different ways Canadians choose to make a valuable contribution to our democracy. It could be as simple as engaging in a public policy discussion with a friend, joining a community group, participating in a demonstration, or volunteering with a charity. It could also include joining a political party, making a donation to a party, or attending a political fundraiser. Democratic participation and civic engagement are critical to a healthy democracy.
While we believe that we could always do more to raise the bar on openness and transparency in political fundraising, we also respect the right of all Canadians to choose to financially support a party of their choice.
We are celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms this year. Section 3 of that Charter guarantees every citizen the right to vote and to run in a federal election. Section 3 is closely linked to the protection of the freedom of association, which is also provided for in the Charter.
Today in Canada, Canadians and permanent residents have the legitimate right to make a donation to a party and to participate in fundraising activities. All parties of the House receive support for the honest work that they do through the donations and contributions of individuals who believe in and support their work.
It is important to take a step back and look at Canada's political fundraising system as it now stands, even before the changes we are discussing. The Canada Elections Act sets out the legal framework that governs fundraising and campaign financing, and all registered federal political parties are subject to it.
According to Elections Canada, disclosure requirements have existed for candidates since the beginning of the 20th century, but the current regime was essentially laid out with the introduction of political party registration in 1970 and the Election Expenses Act in 1974. Essentially, there have been limits on contribution amounts and on the people through whom Canadians can make donations to federal political parties for the past 43 years.
Today, only individual Canadians and permanent residents can donate. Companies, industry associations, and trade unions cannot give funds to any politician or political party. There is a strict limit on individual contributions. Annually, individuals can donate up to $1,550 to a national political party. They can also donate up to $1,550, combined, to all the riding associations, candidates, or nomination contestants of a party. Finally, if their preferred party is in a leadership contest, an individual can donate up to $1,550, combined, to all the leadership contestants in a leadership race.
Today, there are already a number of different reports and requirements that parties, electoral district associations, candidates, leadership contestants, and others must complete. Elections Canada publishes all financial reports, as well as the identity and postal codes of those donating more than $200 on its website.
It is also important to note that there are strict penalties under the Canada Elections Act to punish anyone violating political financing rules. The penalties could include fines of up to $50,000, or up to five years in jail, or both. Canadians take political fundraising seriously. There are serious consequences for breaking these rules.
It is important to point out that 2% of Canadians are currently members of a party or have made a campaign donation. Not everyone wants to join a political party, but everyone can celebrate the contribution that political parties make to our democracy. These institutions bring together people from across the country, people with diverse perspectives, opinions, backgrounds, and experiences. Some parties might focus on specific issues or concerns, while others might seek to cover a broad range of opinions.
At best, parties can mobilize many people and encourage them to take action on important causes, champion certain ideas, and work hard to convince other people to join them.
Political parties are vital to the discourse that we have in Canada about our democracy. To quote former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci:
Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.
They are capable of introducing unique concerns into the political discourse. In order to participate in political discourse, parties require funding to operate. As Canadians, we have the right to contribute to a political party that shares our ideals and our aspirations. For many, contributing to a political party and attending a fundraising event is a valued form of democratic expression, and I know all hon. members agree that this is an important right we must continue to respect and uphold.
I believe that a strong democracy does not merely tolerate the exchange of ideas, but rather encourages it. A healthy democracy fosters lively partisan debate that offers ideas and clear choices to people. Canadians can choose to donate to a political party to show their support for that kind of democratic debate. In Bill C-50, we are proposing that people continue to make donations to political parties and do so in a way that is more open and transparent than ever.
If passed, Bill C-50 would provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising events than ever before. It would make our already strong and robust system for political financing even more open and transparent, so that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our democratic institutions. It would ensure that Canadians know who is going to fundraisers, when and where they are happening, and the amount required to attend.
If passed, Bill C-50 will apply to all fundraising activities that cabinet members, party leaders, and leadership candidates take part in when the ticket price is over $200. This will apply only to parties sitting in the House of Commons. The bill will therefore apply to all of Canada's political leaders, across party lines. These are the people who are leading our country and aspire to become prime minister themselves.
Fundraising events involving these individuals would be advertised at least five days in advance. Canadians would know about them before these events take place, giving them an opportunity to inquire about a ticket, if they wish. They would know exactly where and when a fundraiser is happening, who is organizing the event, and which senior political leader or leaders will attend.
Further improving openness and transparency for our political leaders will enhance the trust that Canadians have in our democracy across the political spectrum, and we believe this is a good thing.
Public disclosure of fundraising details offers the added benefit of providing that information to the media, leaving it up to the press whether to cover it or not. I believe, and our government believes, that a free press is essential to our democracy and that a healthy media landscape is necessary for a healthy democracy. Our approach in Bill C-50 is to provide journalists the information they need to choose whether to cover an activity or not and give the political parties the flexibility to set their own rules for providing media access and accreditation.
Political parties would also be required to report the names and addresses of those who attended the fundraiser, within 30 days, to Elections Canada. This information would be published online. Canadians and the media would know who attended a fundraiser, and could hold politicians and attendees more accountable for their actions.
Elections Canada, as the recipient and publisher of so much fundraising information already, is the natural place to collect this new information. Publishing all the information in one non-partisan place would make it easier for Canadians to search for this information. I should add that certain individuals, such as minors, service staff, and volunteers, would be exempt.
The bill would also create a new Elections Act offence for not respecting these rules. Any penalties would be borne by political parties, not the senior political leaders invited to attend the events. The maximum fine we propose for violating the provisions would be $1,000 on summary conviction, and any party that breaks the rules would also have to return the contributions collected at the events.
If passed, Bill C-50 will fulfill our government's promise to make Canada's political financing system much more transparent to the public and the media. This is one of many ways our government is improving, enhancing, and protecting our democratic institutions.
Members of the House know that we also introduced Bill C-33, which, if passed, would repeal undemocratic aspects of what the previous government called the Fair Elections Act. Bill C-33 would make it easier for Canadians to exercise their right to vote. It would also encourage voter turnout, and enhance the public's trust in our electoral system as well as its integrity.
To that end, significant measures will be taken, such as allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to accept voter cards as identification and re-establishing vouching so that eligible voters without identification can prove their identity and place of residence by asking another voter to vouch for them.
Moreover, under the bill, Elections Canada could register young Canadians 14 to 17 to include them in the electoral process at a younger age.
Those are just some examples of the measures our government is taking to ensure that we continue to enhance democratic institutions.
We have also introduced a new merit-based Senate appointments process, as I mentioned. To meet the expectations of Canadians, we developed a process to appoint senators that is more open and transparent than ever before. We established an advisory board for Senate appointments and launched a new, open, non-partisan application process. Now any Canadian can directly apply to become a senator, and since spring 2016, we have appointed 27 senators through this new process. The Senate is an important institution in our democratic system, and our government remains committed to building a more effective and less partisan Senate in partnership with hon. senators and all parliamentarians.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the procedure and House affairs committee, as well as the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee. Both of these committees have been studying the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the 2015 election and will be reporting their recommendations to their respective chambers. Their guidance will be incredibly helpful, as I work with all of our colleagues to continue the important work of improving, strengthening, and protecting our democratic institutions. Bill C-50 is an important example of how we can continue to raise the bar when it comes to our democracy.
Samara Canada recently released a report entitled, “Democracy 360: The Second Report Card on How Canadians Communicate, Participate and Lead in Politics.” The report measures the health of Canada's democracy across 19 different indicators. According to Samara, 71% of Canadians said they are fairly satisfied or very satisfied with how democracy works in Canada. This is six percentage points higher than the first report card in 2015.
Although this report suggests that Canadians have confidence in their democracy, we realize that there is always room for improvement. We therefore introduced Bill C-50 for more open and transparent fundraising activities.
We are shining a light on these types of activities so that Canadians can know and understand what is happening. We are providing them with information on who attends these fundraisers, when and where they are taking place, and how much it costs to participate.
Political fundraising is an important form of democratic expression. Fundraisers are an opportunity for groups of like-minded Canadians to come together and discuss values, opinions, and policy ideas. They also provide Canadians with the opportunity to support a party or individual with whom they share similar perspectives and ideas. We believe it is important to clarify what happens at these fundraising events. Bill C-50 would do so by shining a light on who is attending political fundraisers, where and when they are taking place, and the amount required to attend them. For the first time in Canadian history, our government is legislating and requiring political parties to disclose this information, because Canadians have a right to know even more than they do now about political fundraising events. I think all members of this House can agree that political parties do not have anything to hide. Bill C-50 would ensure that more information than ever before about political fundraisers is shared with the media and the public at large, so that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our democracy.
I am eager to hear the opinions from other members of this House about the bill itself. This is important legislation that affects all of us in this chamber, and I am confident that the hon. members share my desire to provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising events. I look forward to the debate ahead.