Bill C-364 seeks to do two things. First, it seeks to re-establish the per-vote subsidy, which provides that after a federal election political parties receive taxpayer subsidies based upon the number of votes they received during the previous election. Second, it seeks to reduce the maximum amount an individual can contribute to a political party from $1,500 to $500.
I oppose Bill C-364 because I do not support the re-establishment of the per-vote subsidy, nor do I believe it makes sense or see any compelling reason for why the maximum limit should be reduced from $1,500 to $500.
The heart of this bill relates to re-establishing the per-vote subsidy, and I want to take a bit of time to talk about why it is I oppose the re-establishment of the per-vote subsidy. In that regard, it is helpful to provide some context in terms of how the per-vote subsidy came to be.
It came to be as part and parcel with political financing reforms introduced by the Chrétien government in 2003, whereby a $5,000 maximum cap was set in terms of contributions to political parties. That change in political financing laws was a step in the right direction, to the Chrétien government's credit. It is something we continued when the previous Conservative government reduced the maximum contribution amount and banned union and corporate donations altogether.
When the $5,000 cap was introduced, it constituted a monumental change in political financing laws in Canada. Indeed, prior to that, there were really no rules or limits. Unions and corporations could donate large sums of money to political parties. In that fundraising environment, it is no surprise that political parties often relied upon a smaller pool of donors who contributed large sums of money, whether it be from corporations, unions, or other wealthy individuals.
Then the rules changed, and changed very quickly, almost overnight. As a result, the per-vote subsidy was introduced to allow political parties to transition and acclimatize to the new rules respecting fundraising activities. It was never intended that the per-vote subsidy would be permanent; rather, it was intended to be an interim measure. It is precisely for that reason the previous Conservative government phased out the per-vote subsidy following the 2011 election.
There are proponents of re-establishing the per-vote subsidy, and they argue that it is a more fair and equitable way in which to finance political parties. I respectfully disagree with that assertion. I say it is an unfair way to finance political parties, starting with asking taxpayers to pick up and subsidize, out of sweat-soaked taxpayers' dollars, political parties. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that re-establishing the per-vote subsidy would cost taxpayers $45 million annually. I can think of a lot of better ways to use 45 million taxpayers' dollars than to subsidize political parties.
Moreover, I would submit that the per-vote subsidy is unfair in as much as the party that receives the largest share of the votes receives the largest subsidy. Why might that be a problem? Is it fair to ask taxpayers to continue to subsidize a political party that they may no longer support, that they may no longer agree with, having regard for the fact that there could be a significant shift in support between elections? I would say that is not fair.
In that regard, as a result, almost always there is a built-in advantage for governing parties over opposition parties. Again, I say that does not sound very fair. That does not sound very equitable. In addition, it provides a significant advantage to established political parties and a significant disadvantage to new parties. After all, a party that competed in a previous election would receive large amounts of taxpayer-subsidized funds, whereas a new party would receive nothing, if it was a new party that did not compete in the previous election.
There are many examples in Canadian history where political parties have emerged to go on to be very successful, whether it be the Reform Party or the Bloc Québécois, of which the member for Terrebonne was a member at least up until yesterday.
For all of those reasons, I would submit that the per-vote subsidy is not fair and is not equitable.
Proponents would go on to say that this bill would help take money out of politics, except that it does not take money out of politics because it provides that individuals can continue to contribute to political parties, as I believe they should. All it does is provide a whole new stream of revenue, courtesy of the taxpayer, to political parties.
Then there are proponents who would say that at least it would diminish the need for the Liberals to engage in their unethical pay-to-play, cash for access, $1,500 fundraisers. I say that we do not need to pass Bill C-364 for the Liberals to end cash for access cash. All that needs to happen is for the Prime Minister to follow his “Open and Accountable Government”. Do members remember that document? It was the code of conduct that the Prime Minister said would bind him, his cabinet ministers, and his parliamentary secretaries.
“Open and Accountable Government” provides that there should be no preferential access to government, and no perception of preferential access to government. Imagine that: the Prime Minister actually doing what he said, keeping his word to Canadians. I know for this Prime Minister, it is a truly novel concept.
For all of those reasons, while I believe this is a well-intentioned bill, I cannot support it.