moved that Bill C-364, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-364, which I hope will have the support of all the parties in the House.
In the House, we are all elected representatives of the people. We are here to be their voice and make choices that reflect their concerns and values. In a way, we are the incarnation of the will of the people. It is both a privilege and a duty that we must constantly bear in mind.
However, the public has been losing confidence in us over the years. We hear it at the dinner table at home, in conversations at the office, in the media, and at the corner store checkout. Disparaging politicians has become as commonplace as talking about the weather or the ups and downs of the Montreal Canadiens.
The public is losing confidence in us. More often than not, politicians are accused of being corruptible. It is thought that we are not here for the right reasons and that we have personal interests and hidden agendas.
Unfortunately, the public has the impression that politicians can be bought and that our decisions are up for sale. Commentators often call it public cynicism. We hear this expression often. However, the public is not cynical. It has a moral compass. It can tell the difference between right and wrong. We are the ones suspected of being cynical and being guided by our own interests. Everything is a matter of public perception and public confidence.
All of us have a duty to restore public confidence. Without it, the very legitimacy of the House is at risk. We have a responsibility to be upright and to distance ourselves from the appearance of any conflict of interest, patronage, or situation where we could be seen as returning a favour.
I am not reinventing the wheel. These are comments that we have all heard in our respective ridings. We have a duty to remain beyond reproach and to be as pure as the driven snow. To achieve that, we must start by taking meaningful action and examining the way federal political parties are financed.
Giving money to a political party is a profoundly democratic act. Citizens can contribute to a political party because they believe in its ideas, or perhaps its ideals. It is more than just encouragement; it is a political gesture that implies engagement.
When the foundations of political financing are attacked by diverting funds from the objectives, when political financing is used for personal gain, to put something straight into someone's pocket, it is a direct attack on the very foundations of democracy and our responsibilities.
When it comes to political party financing, the more a party plays fast and loose with the rules, the less popular and accessible it becomes and the more dubious it appears. How are people to believe that everyone has an equal voice in a democracy when political parties are filling their coffers by hosting exclusive parties at $1,500 a head? How can we convince people that decisions are being made solely in the public interest?
Middle-class Canadians do not have access to these private $1,500-a-plate dinners with the Prime Minister, for example. Even people interested in politics see a problem with that. As for our respective party supporters, those who believe in us enough to give of their time and come up with $100, $200, $300, or $400 out of their annual budgets, what opinion do you think these people have of politicians when they see them hamming it up with the elites in the hopes of raking in big cheques?
Here is a good example. On May 19, 2016, at a private $1,500-a-plate dinner, the Prime Minister met Shenglin Xian, a businessman who wanted permission from the government to create a bank, Wealth One, catering to Vancouver’s large Chinese community. On July 7, 2016, the government gave the go-ahead to open the bank. Now, 48 hours before the official announcement, the Prime Minister received $70,000 in contributions, all of it in cheques made out for the maximum legal amount of $1,500.
The Prime Minister received $70,000 for his Montreal riding of Papineau, with practically all of the cheques coming from wealthy Chinese-Canadians from the Vancouver area.
This is quite an extraordinary coincidence. It breeds cynicism. By all appearances, the Prime Minister received payback for creating the Wealth One bank.
We may wonder whether it is moral and whether it is a good idea to have lobbyists in such a close relationship with our nation's leader. We can even wonder whether political donations can help fast track certain projects and whether government decisions can be influenced. There is one thing we can be sure of, and that this is legal. Yes, the practice I just described is 100% legal under the current system.
That is how the major parties get financing these days, since public funding for political parties was eliminated. It made sense for the two major political parties in Canada to eliminate public funding. They have excellent contacts in all the big firms, in all the major banks, and in all the corridors of power where the big deals are done. They do not need donations from ordinary people who want to contribute as much as they can because they believe in protecting the environment, they believe in social justice, or they want to create their own country for their nation.
Fierce competition between major donors is good for the major parties. This gives people the impression that power can be bought. It is important to remember that it was Jean Chrétien, a former Liberal prime minister, who brought in public funding for political parties. In the aftermath of the sponsorship scandal, he understood that in politics it is important to maintain an image of absolute integrity, because the people see that as critically important. This Liberal government could learn a thing or two from that.
With public funding, political parties receive stable funding based precisely on the number of votes they obtain. In that respect, public funding is an incentive to vote, because even though voters know that a candidate will not be elected, every vote received will benefit the party that voters support. Everyone can rest assured that they have not wasted their vote and that their vote counts. It is democratic, and above all ethical, and it is particularly healthy for our democratic values.
With public funding, there is no need to court the elite in the hope of a rich payoff. The big fundraisers for major parties, especially the party in power, often have a direct influence on public policy. They have preferred access to members' caucus, cabinet, and the prime minister's office. The lower the contribution ceiling, the less influence fundraisers have, and the less room there is for lobbies, private interests, and the friends of government.
Also, with public financing, all political options, whatever they are, obtain funding based on the number of citizens who support them. This means, as I said earlier, that citizens know that their votes count. They know that they can choose the political party they want, the one that represents their values, rather than having to mark an x beside the name of the least objectionable candidate for Prime Minister, for example. It is unfortunate to be elected by default because our highly cynical electorate voted for the least objectionable choice.
In one fell swoop, this would encourage a diversity of political opinions and allow small parties to be heard, and even better, this could eventually help usher in a new party, which is in itself very healthy and democratic for a society such as ours.
We are not reinventing the wheel; we can essentially bring back what the Liberals left us. If we restored the old rule, the Liberal legacy, the cost of public financing would be insignificant compared to what the current system costs us.
When political party funding is tied to votes, taxpayers understand that a minuscule share of the taxes they pay to finance political parties essentially goes to the party they supported.
Under the current system, when a rich donor gives $1,500 to a political party, he or she receives a tax credit of $650, which we all pay for collectively. A small portion of our taxes goes to fund parties we do not support. By lowering the limit and bringing back public funding, we are restoring the balance between the voter's will and the taxpayer's contribution. A larger share of our taxes goes straight to the party that stands up for our beliefs. That system is far less costly than the current funding model. The cost of the current system is the legitimacy of Canadian democracy.
I therefore ask my colleagues from all parties to spare a thought today for the women and men they represent in the House. They know them well, and they know who they are dealing with and what kind of values they hold.
I ask them to think about what these women and men expect of them. I ask them to honour the founding values of the House in a meaningful way. I ask them to vote in favour of my bill, of restoring public funding to political parties, of probity and honesty among elected officials, of strong political morality, and of freer democratic expression.