Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-50, which is important legislation.
I am a little surprised that the Conservative Party has opted to vote in opposition to the legislation, which does not make sense. I listened to them talk at great length, attempting to explain why they were opposed to it.
If they were to read the bill, I think most Canadians would have to question why the Conservatives have made this decision. I hope to maybe explain, at least in part, why I believe the official opposition has decided to vote against it.
The New Democratic Party has taken a little different approach. The New Democrats are reiterating a lot of the their Conservative friends have highlighted. I have often made reference to the unholy alliance between the two parties. They like to work together, fairly closely, and we can hear that at times with their speaking notes. However, the New Democrats have the wisdom to recognize something the Conservatives have not, and that is that this is good legislation and is worth supporting.
What are we asking of the House? The essence of the legislation is that not only do we want the Prime Minister to be more accountable and transparent with respect to who he meets with and who pays for these $250-a-plate meetings or gatherings, whatever type of reception it might be, but that same principle also apply to cabinet ministers, and I think this is really where the catch is, the Leader of the Opposition, and other leaders.
It is a step forward in government legislation and the types of things that could improve accountability and transparency. It all boils down to wanting to amend the law so there is a legal obligation for political entities, those leaders, the Prime Minister, and cabinet ministers, to indicate who shows up at these receptions. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that. I see that as a strong positive.
We have seen many reforms over the last couple of decades to improve the Canada Elections Act and the Financial Administration Act, and this is yet another piece of legislation to do just that.
One has to question why the Conservatives are in opposition to that. The only thing I have discovered is the current leadership within the Conservative Party seems to believe Canadians do not have any business knowing with whom the Leader of the Opposition is meeting.
It is interesting, because last year there was a fundraising event, and we knew it was a fundraising event, but the Conservatives denied it. It was with the current Leader of the Opposition, the Conservative Party. When we made some initial inquiries in regard to it, we were told that the event never occurred. The Conservatives were formally asked whether there was an event and we were told no.
That puts things at odds with the individuals who actually attended the event. One of those individuals said “No, I did pay”. I believe the opposition leader met with realtors and some business leaders, but I do not know the actual price that was paid. It was over $250, and it might have been $500, although do not quote me on the price. However, it was a substantial amount of money to meet with the leader. The leader finally had to admit they did have the fundraiser. I do not understand the resistance in telling people this, but there was a great reluctance.
If we read the one published news story on the issue, it is interesting that the leader of the official opposition said, in essence, that he was not the prime minister, that he did not have to report it, that he would keep within the law. He implied that if it were the law, then he would report it. If we connect the dots, one could draw the conclusion that the Conservatives do not want this to be the law, and that is the reason they will vote against it.
Members across the way say that it is somewhat silly or possibly ridiculous, but think about it. The leader of the official opposition said if it were the law, he would report it. We now are introducing the law that would obligate him to report it and the Conservative Party will vote against it.
I do not quite understand how the Conservatives can justify that the leader of the official opposition, the person who wants to be prime minister some day, should not have to share with Canadians who he meets with for these big bucks. Instead of trying to explain or justify that, they are choosing use the line that they are voting against the legislation because of so-called cash for access, as if the Conservatives never did it when they were in government. Some of them across the way say they did not do it.
I can recall when former prime minister Stephen Harper would go to British Columbia for summer barbeques. The good news is that if people attended the barbeque, they could watch the prime minister walk into the big white tent. They could not go into the big white tent unless they paid at least $1,000, but if they paid that, it would give them two minutes with the prime minister and a photo. It is not like that was just a one-time event. I understand it was almost an annual event and it was very nice of a senator to put on that event. How quickly things have changed.
Do the Conservatives believe that former prime minister Stephen Harper did not raise money for their party, never attended an event where money was charged? I just gave an example of it.
Did Stephen Harper say that these ware all the people who were in that big white tent? I will suggest, no. If I am wrong, please tell us who was in the white tent with the prime minister, who paid that extra money to have the ear of the prime minister.
We know that whether one is a leader or a prime minister, leaders of political entities have a responsibility to assist their respective parties in raising money. Is it too much to ask that the individuals they meet with, who are paying over $250, at some point become public knowledge? I would suggest not.
This government has said no. The Prime Minister and the cabinet ministers have now been following the rules in this legislation. The Conservative Party still does not want to follow it. It reminds me of another situation, and my friends will recall this one.
I remember when the current Prime Minister was the leader of the Liberal Party, sitting back where the New Democrats are sitting today. We all remember those days. Personally, I am glad those days are over, and the biggest beneficiary of that has been Canada's middle class. I remember when he stood in the House and said that he believed in proactive disclosure. He asked for the unanimous consent of the House to implement “proactive disclosure” in regard to members of Parliament. I remember all the objections and the nos, especially coming from the then official opposition the New Democratic Party. However, those members were not alone at all. The Conservatives also objected to it. It was not like we just tried it the one time; we tried it on several occasions.
I believe the Prime Minister set into work good deeds that ultimately ensured there would be more transparency and accountability coming out of the House. That is what this legislation would do that.
I will go back to the proactive disclosure for MPs and what happened. We decided that even though it was not the law, we took actions and we imposed it upon ourselves, and that is what is happening with the the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers today. It did not take that long for the Conservative Party back then to recognize it was offside, kind of out of touch with Canadians. I give the Conservatives credit. They recognized it, jumped on board and complied. My New Democratic friends went kicking and screaming. It ultimately took an opposition day where they were shamed into supporting proactive disclosure.
Today the New Democrats are recognizing that this is good legislation so they are supporting it. People will notice that even though they are supporting the legislation, they are still somewhat critical of the government but they recognize the value of good legislation, unlike my Conservative friends across the way. After the current Prime Minister convinced them that listening to Canadians was a good thing to do, they came on board with the proactive disclosure for MPs. However, now on this issue, the Conservatives do not seem to want to listen to Canadians.
I always thought we would not do any worse than Stephen Harper with respect to leadership, but on this issue, the Conservatives do not recognize something that even Stephen Harper recognized, which was being more transparent and accountable was what Canadians expected. That is why I do not quite understand their position on Bill C-50. The good news is that it is not too late. It took the Conservatives a little while to come to their senses on proactive disclosure for MPs. I am an optimistic person. I believe the glass is half full. I would hope my friends across the way will actually see the merit of passing the legislation.
I know some Conservatives have argued in their presentations that we do not need the law to tell us what we should be doing.