An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing)

Sponsor

Karina Gould  Liberal

Status

In committee (Senate), as of May 3, 2018

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Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to

(a) enact an advertising and reporting regime for fundraising events attended by Ministers, party leaders or leadership contestants; and

(b) harmonize the rules applicable to contest expenses of nomination contestants and leadership contestants with the rules applicable to election expenses of candidates.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Feb. 13, 2018 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing)
Feb. 6, 2018 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing)
Feb. 6, 2018 Failed Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing) (report stage amendment)
Feb. 6, 2018 Failed Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing) (report stage amendment)
June 15, 2017 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing)

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 9th, 2018 / 10 a.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 9th, 2018 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, during the 2015 election campaign, the Prime Minister said, “There should be no preferential access to government or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.”

This is the rule the current Prime Minister set out for himself and for his cabinet. He said that there should be no preferential access to government, or even the appearance of preferential access, based on donations. However, this legislation would do nothing to effect that. Only the names of those who donate to political parties would be published, and the bill would change the timing of the publication of those names. Therefore, pay to play would continue, and cash for access would continue. This would just speed up when we tell people how the government was bought and sold. We would inform the public online more quickly how preferential access was given.

Could my colleague explain how Bill C-50 would do anything to help implement the Prime Minister's own promise to Canadians that no preferential access to government or the appearance of preferential access would be given based on financial contributions?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 9th, 2018 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is no accident that today we are once again debating the Liberals' Bill C-50.

Several scandals have put the spotlight on the Liberals' outrageous and questionable fundraising activities. They introduced Bill C-50 to improve their image. After breaking the electoral reform promise they made before, during, and after the 2015 campaign, they introduced this bill to cover up the fact that they had broken their promise.

The Liberals dangled this promise before a generation of young people, my generation, saying that our electoral system was obviously not very representative and that it did not necessarily reflect how Canadians voted. People believed this promise. The NDP believed it. At the end of the day, we were too naive. We were thinking that, for once, something constructive would be done.

Tens of thousands of Canadians testified and were consulted as the committee travelled across Canada, gathering ideas and suggestions from citizens. Eighty percent of Canadians said that they were in favour of a system with a proportional component. Furthermore, almost 90% of the experts who appeared before the electoral reform committee were also in favour of a proportional system for the next election.

About two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told the CBC that he was not convinced. When he put an end to the electoral reform process one year ago, everyone was devastated. What more do we need to do if the Prime Minister cannot recognize what is democratic, even though 80% of citizens and 90% of experts are on the same page?

At some point, the people stop believing the politicians, whom they mandated to represent the public. The Prime Minister himself repeated some 60 times that he would do what it took to ensure the 2015 election was the last under the first past the post system. He is now outright rejecting this and telling us that the current system works in his favour and that he will leave it as is, despite all the work done on this file.

The committee travelled across the country at great expense. All that work was done for nothing because, in the end, the Prime Minister did what he wanted and decided that the views expressed at all those consultations by all the experts and by all Canadians were meaningless.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 9th, 2018 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, since we are still talking about Bill C-50, let us all agree on why we are here.

We are talking about this bill, the main goal of which is to restore the Liberals' reputation, which was tarnished by certain ministers and the Prime Minister. We are not talking about the Prime Minister's vacation to the Aga Khan's island. He was severely chastised by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner recently for that. We are talking about political party financing.

As we all know, politics and the exercise of democracy requires funding. Funding is needed to run an election campaign. In order to raise that money, some members of the Liberal government sold privileged access. At what price? It seems that the maximum amount that can be donated to a federal party is $1,500.

In May 2016, the Prime Minister went to the home of a wealthy businessman, where 32 guests paid $1,500 each for exclusive access to the leader of the government.

We also learned that the Prime Minister was present at receptions hosted by the wealthiest people and business people at $1,500 a plate, in order to meet people interested in the infrastructure bank. There were also Chinese nationals hoping to buy Canadian telecommunication companies in B.C. Other people had interests in cannabis, for example. All of these very influential people with a lot of money managed to land a private evening with the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister cannot deny it. This has been made public, so Canadians would know, which put him in an awkward position, much like the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice.

If that does not constitute selling access to ministers or the Prime Minister, I do not know what does.

In October 2016, as I said, it was the Minister of Finance who was hosting a cocktail party at $1,500 a plate with wealthy people from Bay Street. The Minister of Finance is supposed to be an arbiter and show fairness to all Canadians, since he regulates Canada's financial sector. However, he had no problem taking money from some of the world's wealthiest people.

The activities of the Minister of Justice have also been the subject of much discussion. What exactly is the problem? How is the Minister of Justice in conflict? Certain lawyers hoping for judgeships attended the Minister of Justice's fundraising events, which were held not in her riding, but in various places across the country. Since the minister is the one who approves judicial appointments, there is clearly a conflict of interest there.

Certainly political parties need to hold fundraisers to generate revenue and to have a platform for candidates' ideas during election campaigns. The problem is the lack of transparency with respect to who attends, what they talk about, and access to ministers.

“Open and Accountable Government” states the following:

There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions...

That is exactly what we are talking about today.

Let me be clear. Very few of our constituents, such as the people of Salaberry-Suroît, can afford to spend $1,500 to attend a private event. When someone is prepared to do so, they obviously expect something in return. In the case at hand, it is the possibility of becoming known to a minister or getting one's name into an address book, which could help get an idea or a project off the ground. It goes without saying that there is always the possibility of putting a word in or making a recommendation to the right person.

The only way to make these events less secretive is to make them more transparent. To that end, we have to allow the media to publicly report on the goings on at these events and to name who was present. One might think that that is the goal of Bill C-50 . However, as my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley said, the Liberals invented the Laurier Club loophole.

In some cases, specifically during party conventions, people might donate the maximum amount of $1,500 to the Liberal Party, but the names and addresses of those donors do not have to be made public. Under Bill C-50, every donation of $200 or more will have to be recorded in a report sent within 30 days to Elections Canada, which could publish that report on the Internet. Again under Bill C-50, any fundraising activity that involves ministers, the Prime Minister, and party presidents has to be announced five days in advance, a measure we applaud. In fact, that is why we support this bill. However, that does not stop people from avoiding disclosure by buying a $1,500 ticket under the pretext of attending a Liberal Party convention, for example.

This is just another bill that allows the Liberals to have it both ways. They claim to want to improve transparency, but with a bit of game-playing and an open back door they can continue to provide Liberal Party donors with a bit of discretion to ensure that they do not have to disclose their names and addresses, except in a final report at the end of the year. They also get to keep organizing questionable events providing special access to the Prime Minister and ministers.

Is that loophole fair? Should it be removed? The NDP thinks so. We made this recommendation in committee and the Liberals rejected it outright. Every time we make a recommendation in committee, the Liberals take great delight in rejecting it. Why? If the recommendation improves a bill, if it improves transparency, if they are looking to be accountable to the public, and to be fairer, more equitable, and more ethical, why do they refuse to prohibit privileged access at conventions? No one knows. We suspect that the Liberals are not opposed to that revenue stream.

We are also asking that the Chief Electoral Officer be given investigative powers to ensure that political financing during elections is fair and equitable and that he has the public's trust. Once again, the Liberals rejected the NDP's recommendation out of hand. The NDP has made many recommendations in committee, but the Liberals have ignored them, even though that is part of the democratic process. What is the point of having committees if we cannot make sensible recommendations based on the advice of experts and common sense and if the Liberal majority, which refuses to listen to reason or to be open to other ideas, always prevails? What is the point of hearing from one witness after another, if in the end the government does not listen to any of their suggestions?

The Liberals are the champions of excessive consultation. They are doing the same thing to farmers. The Liberals keep saying that they want to know what to do to protect supply management and maintain family farms in Canada. They keep telling farmers that they are going to consult them and listen to them and that farmers are important, but when it comes right down to it, the Liberals are using farmers as a bargaining chip.

Getting back to the matter at hand and Bill C-50, it is the same thing. Once again, fair, sensible, and significant recommendations that would make Bill C-50 more than just a charade will not be acted upon because, unfortunately, the Liberals rejected them.

Bill C-50 still allows parties to hold fundraisers and makes it even harder to fight corruption. This is an opportunity to strengthen our democracy and prove to all Canadians that their elected representatives live up to moral and ethical standards, but that is not where the Liberals are going with this.

Clearly, the bill does not go far enough. There is an effort to be more transparent, but it still allows cash for access events to be held. Those kinds of events, which we oppose, have been making headlines for the past six months. They will stay in the headlines because certains parties will maintain this practice, as the Liberal Party is doing now.

I want to reiterate that this was a Liberal promise in 2015. This is a betrayal of the people who voted for the Prime Minister, who then decided to give up on the electoral reform that Canadians, especially young Canadians, so desperately want.

We are trying to get young people more involved in politics, not just as candidates, but more interested in political activities, in the debates, in social issues. We want young people to know what is going on, to propose ideas, and to become engaged.

There was one idea that really united young people, gave them hope, and might have won them over, but in the end, they were told “never mind”; the old system was too advantageous for the Liberals, and our young people were robbed of that hope.

What effect will that have? Youth voter turnout has declined by 30% over the past 30 years and no one seems to mind. The Liberals do not seem to think it is important to remedy the situation. They are in power. They have a majority. That means that they are going to continue to dash the hopes of these young people who believed them. These young people will be told to have faith because there may still be some authentic people who keep their promises and bring integrity to politics. Nevertheless, with every broken promise, it becomes harder and harder to show people that there can still be honest politicians worthy of our trust.

Electoral reform was not just a simple election promise. It was a commitment made by the Prime Minister to everyone. Again, we are nowhere near it. The Prime Minister has done a complete about-face and left people with their shattered dreams of a better world.

It is 2018 and there is nothing left of the promise that brought the Prime Minister to power. He made people believe that legislators could not agree. However, as I mentioned, 90% of the people did agree. The Conservative Party, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party, everyone agreed that there was a need for electoral reform and that proportional representation had to be part of the next system. That was not enough for the Liberals.

Clearly, a mixed member proportional system resonated with MPs, Canadians, and experts alike. It would have given a voice to every Canadian.

For all these reasons, I find that Bill C-50 is poorly thought out. It does provide some additional transparency, but there is so much more to be done. The Liberals could have gone further. We hope that they will listen to reason and will be open to the NDP's recommendations and those of the other parties and the experts.

Under the bill, any party that does not follow the rules would be fined $1,000. However, according to a former chief electoral officer, this fine would not deter parties from breaking the law. If donors can donate up to $1,500, the parties are still making money and still manage to fill their coffers. It is not hard for them to pay a $1,000 fine. That is ridiculous.

This really is a smokescreen. The Liberals are trying to restore their public image, but this is mostly fluff.

I think the Liberals should go back to the drawing board, improve this bill, and make it genuinely ethical and moral.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 9th, 2018 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear my New Democratic colleague's views in this area. We all hear that our constituents, voters, Canadians want to see themselves reflected in the government, both in the seats that are here but also reflected in the outcomes of public consultations and public participation. I know that very active youth activists, especially, feel deeply betrayed by the government abandoning its promise, repeated 1,500 times, that it would make every vote count. It had broad public support, and the parliamentary committee made a lot of strong recommendations that the government totally ignored.

Bill C-50, for one, feels like a distraction from that broken promise on true democratic reform. As well, the Liberal government ignored the previous committee study, in the previous Parliament, that could have informed this work, and then also ignored the amendments that the NDP made at committee. It just did not even give them consideration.

How do these betrayals affect public support for the political process and for the democratic process? What is lost when those promises are broken?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 9th, 2018 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House. It is particularly an honour to rise on a Friday afternoon, when so many of my friends and colleagues have joined us in the House today to listen to my speech. It is always a great honour to have so many people tuning in.

It reminds me a bit of when I was a lecturer at King's University College at the Western University when so many people would turn up for my lectures on Canadian public administration. They were always hanging on every word, until I had to wake them up, and then realized they may not have been paying as much attention as I had thought.

However, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-50. As a member of the procedure and House affairs committee, I am well-acquainted with the legislation, having heard from a number of witnesses and participated in the examination of this bill.

Bill C-50 is really about legitimizing the Liberal cash for access events. So often the Liberals try to tell Canadians that they are different, that they are not like those Liberals of the past anymore. The days of the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery commission, that is not them anymore. Those days are gone. The days of being entitled to their entitlements, those days are gone, as this is a different Liberal Party. The Prime Minister told Canadians, hand over heart, that the Liberal Party was different.

The Prime Minister, when he came to office, told Canadians:

There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties

However, shortly after the government was elected, that is exactly what happened. We saw a string of cash for access events. High-profile Liberal politicians hosted events where donors gave significant amounts of money to the Liberal Party. In exchange, these donors got private one-on-one access with senior Liberal ministers, senior Liberals ministers who many of those donors could potentially have business with the government and could potentially have business with these same ministers. Most Canadians know this is wrong. Most Canadians know that this is not an appropriate way for ministers of the crown, those who serve our country to operate. However, with the Liberals, old habits die hard.

We should not be too surprised when the Liberals formed government that these types of cash for access events would happen. After all, the Liberals learned from the best. The Ottawa Liberals learned from their Ontario counterparts. The Ottawa Liberals learned from Kathleen Wynne, Dalton McGuinty, and their great success with fundraising through cash for access events.

I want to quote from a Globe and Mail article of July 6, 2016. The title is, “An inside look at cash-for-access Ontario Liberal fundraisers”. The article reads:

On the evening of March 2, 2015, Premier Kathleen Wynne gathered with eight guests who paid $10,000 each for exclusive face-time. Three months earlier, 22 donors spent $5,000 apiece to be entertained by Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Days later, eight people shelled out $5,000 each to attend a reception with then-energy minister Bob Chiarelli.

These were just three of more than 150 intimate cash-for-access fundraisers the Ontario Liberal Party held in Ms. Wynne's first three years in power. At the events, contributors paid thousands of dollars each to bend the ears of the Premier and members of her cabinet privately, typically over cocktails and dinner at five-star hotels or high-end restaurants.

Therefore, the Ottawa Liberals had a great road map from their friends in Ontario.

What happened once the Liberals formed government? They quickly started implementing cash for access events.

Chinese billionaires have been attending Liberal fundraisers, even though they are not allowed to donate because they are not Canadian citizens. One of these individuals, Zhang Bin, who is also a Communist Party apparatchik, attended a May 19, 2016, fundraiser at the Toronto home of Chinese Business Chamber of Canada chairperson Benson Wong, according to the report in The Globe and Mail. A few weeks later, Mr. Zhang and a business partner donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and $50,000 to build a statue of the current Prime Minister's father.

On November 7, 2016, B.C. multi-millionaire Miaofei Pan hosted a fundraiser at his West Vancouver mansion. At this event, which was of course a pay-to-play event, Chinese investment, seniors care, and real estate developments were certainly topics of discussion. This event took place while the federal government was reviewing a $1 billion bid by China's Anbang Insurance Group to buy one of British Columbia's largest retirement and nursing home chains.

In Toronto, another example of cash for access was an event with the justice minister that had a $1,500 paycheque. This was again an event with a minister who could potentially be having dealings with these same donors.

When the Liberal Party promised real change, this was certainly not what Canadians were expecting. Canadians know this is wrong. Canadians know this type of cash for access event is not right. In fact, a 2016 Nanos Research survey showed that more than six in 10 Canadians disapprove of this type of event. They disapprove of political parties holding fundraising events in which access is sold to Canadians.

One has to wonder why the Liberals are so eager to raise money through cash for access events. One reason is that they are failing to raise money through other means. Time and again we see the Conservative Party raising more than the Liberal Party. Why does the Conservative Party raise more than the Liberals? It does so because of hard-working Canadians who feel the Conservative Party reflects their views. It does so because the Conservatives have a leader who is committed to Canadians, average Canadians, and not selling access, as our friends across the way have been doing since the beginning of their time in office.

Let us go back to what this bill is trying to do. It is trying to legitimize what the Liberals have been doing. Rather than simply stopping cash for access, they would rather print new rules just to legitimize what they are doing. However, they did not have to. They already have rules in place in their mandate letters and in the “Open and Accountable Government” document.

I will quote from the Minister of Democratic Institutions' mandate letter, but the words are reflected in all the mandate letters of ministers. The Prime Minister wrote the following to his Minister of Democratic Institutions:

...you must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.

The Prime Minister's own letter to his ministers clearly dictates that simply following the letter of the law is not enough. They have to appear to be fully above board. This was not happening with the Liberals' cash for access fundraisers, so they brought in this piece of legislation to try to legitimize them.

The Liberal government introduced its “Open and Accountable Government” document with great fanfare. This would be the road map for a new era of transparency for these Liberals. The opening clearly states, “Open and Accountable Government sets out core principles regarding the roles and responsibilities of Ministers in Canada’s system of responsible parliamentary government.”

What are some of those requirements? What are some of those issues ministers and parliamentary secretaries ought to follow? Annex B, “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries”, states:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.

The best practices the Prime Minister lays out were not followed by his Liberals. They were not followed by his ministers, who felt the need to raise $1,500 from donors who could have direct dealings with not only the government as whole but also with its individual departments. Under “General Principles” in annex B, it states:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.

It is not only following the letter of the law. It is the appearance. It is ensuring that all actions are above board and are able to have the closest degree of scrutiny to ensure that those who serve as ministers of the crown, those who serve our country in high office, are not tainted by even the appearance of conflict of interest.

I am reminded of a former minister in the Harper Conservative government. Once she became aware that there was a potential that those who lobbied and who worked with her department could be attending a fundraiser hosted by her riding association, that event was cancelled and all funds raised were immediately returned. Then we fast-forward to this government. Not only is the money not being returned, but the Liberals are doubling down on these events and they have introduced Bill C-50 to do so.

This bill has had great fanfare from pretty much only the Liberal Party. In testimony before the committee, almost all witnesses were very lukewarm in their excitement about this piece of legislation. They were very lukewarm in their response to an underwhelming bill being brought forward. It could be because this bill really does not do much at all.

In fact, the media knows this. Despite the advertising of these events, the way the media is actually treated at the events is far from ideal.

Let me read from an article in The Hill Times from June 21, 2017:

A Hill journalist is calling into question the Liberal Party’s promise to make its fundraising events more open and transparent, after party staff restricted media access at a June 19 Ottawa event for the party’s top donors.

Sure, the media can know about the events. They can even show up, as long as they stay in the corner and do not talk to anyone. The report goes on to state:

Reporters were ushered into one room for an RCMP sweep prior to speeches. They were told they were not allowed to mingle, but could talk to guests registering and entering the event in the foyer of the museum.

Even a Liberal Party candidate expressed concern about how the Liberals were treating journalists:

Allan Thompson, a journalism professor at Carleton University who ran for the Liberals in the riding of Huron–Bruce, Ont. during the 2015 election and attended Monday’s event, said in an interview afterward that he had sympathy for the reporters who weren’t allowed to mingle, especially because of his background as a former Hill reporter with The Toronto Star.

It is one thing to try to legitimize cash for access. It is another thing to blatantly use this as a ploy to keep the media away and to ensure that this is actually not opening up transparency at all, unlike the former Conservative government, which, on taking office in 2006, introduced Bill C-2, the strongest measures of accountability and transparency in our country. It was a bill that banned corporate and union donations, and put hard caps on the amount of money that could be donated to political parties. Unfortunately, the good work that was begun by the Conservative Party is now being used by the Liberals to initiate and to continue their cash for access events.

Of course, there are certain exceptions and exemptions to this bill. One such exemption is what I like to call the Laurier Club loophole. Yes, donor appreciation events are included under this legislation, except for when they occur at a party convention. A perfect example of this is the Liberal Party convention happening later this year. The Liberal Party's own website boasts about the benefits of being a Laurier Club member, which include invitations to “Laurier Club events across the country, hearing from leading voices on our Liberal team” and the “opportunity to meet a strong network of business and community leaders who share your commitment to Liberal values”.

The Liberal Party is selling access through its Laurier Club. In fact, earlier this week, the chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence sent a tweet that said, “if there was a time to join Laurier Club, now is the time”, of course, referring in advance to the Laurier Club event that would be held at the Liberal convention later this year. It is cash for access, but simply another way of doing it.

I find it interesting that when this legislation was tabled, we heard from certain witnesses in committee, and one of them was Canada's acting Chief Electoral Officer. It was interesting because the acting Chief Electoral Officer had a number of suggested amendments to this piece of legislation. Why should the Chief Electoral Officer have to encourage a committee to introduce amendments? Could it be that the Liberal government did not actually consult the Chief Electoral Officer before introducing this piece of legislation, and instead, had to rely on the committee to review to take into account some of his recommendations?

Let us talk about penalties in this act. Clause 11 of the bill states:

Section 500 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):

Punishment — strict liability offences

(1.1) Every person who is guilty of an offence under section 497.01 is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $1,000.

That is one aspect of it. The other aspect is found in proposed section 384.4, which refers to the return of contributions. I find it interesting with these Liberals that if, in this situation, an event is held that does not comply with the new rules they are putting in place, the money has to be repaid, but what about an all-expense paid trip to the Aga Khan's private island? What about a trip in which the Ethics Commissioner found that the Prime Minister had violated the ethics laws on four separate occasions? What about that situation?

No, these Liberals feel there is no need to repay money in that situation. There is no need for the Prime Minister to pay back $200,000-plus that was expensed to Canadian taxpayers for an illegal and ethically challenged trip that the Prime Minister himself took. No, the Prime Minister does not feel the need to pay that back, because what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. This behaviour, by an elected member of the House, let alone the Prime Minister of this country, is unacceptable.

The bill is clear in what it intends to do. It intends to do nothing more than legitimize the cash for access schemes of the Liberal Party of Canada. Old habits die hard and with these Liberals, it is the same old Liberal Party.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 9th, 2018 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the thank the member for Perth—Wellington for his speech on Bill C-50, which is a bill, as he described, that arose because of the problem around the Liberal cash for access fundraisers.

I wonder if the member could comment on what the average Canadian might want the government to do to fix this problem. If we asked a reasonable person on the street, would they feel a whole lot better about these things if they had been invited? Would they feel a whole lot better if they found out a month from now who was there rather than a year from now? These people cannot afford $1,500 to get this access.

Should the government make it illegal to have cash for access fundraisers? I wonder if the member could elaborate on that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2018 / 3:20 p.m.
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Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Karina Gould LiberalMinister of Democratic Institutions

moved that Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-50. This bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency for political fundraising events.

Political parties are made up of Canadians from across the country who have different experiences and points of view. Political parties help the public learn more about their leaders and their politicians, as well as their policies and positions of principle. Political parties appoint and train candidates and volunteers, support them before and during elections, and coordinate the logistics for national election campaigns.

Unlike many organizations with mandates that are just as broad and vital, political parties must do their own fundraising to support almost all their activities. Donations pay for all activities, from daily operations to a national election campaign.

The system works. Canadians donate because they believe in our political parties, what they stand for, who leads them, and the candidates they empower to run for office.

A strict regime is in place to ensure fairness in this system. Existing regulations regarding political fundraising in Canada are among the strongest in the world. The existing regulations include strict spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and a ban on corporate and union donations.

Caps on donations have existed for 44 years in Canada, and governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have worked to strengthen our political financing system over this period of time. Bill C-50 would do just that. It would add an additional layer of openness and transparency in political fundraising.

Our government has stated that we must raise the bar for transparency, accountability, and the integrity of our public institutions and the democratic process. We also said loud and clear that we want to encourage Canadians to fully participate in our democracy. It is this last objective that I have been focusing on since the Prime Minister asked me to serve as the Minister of Democratic Institutions one year ago.

Our government has moved on several fronts to ensure a more open and inclusive democracy. We have changed the way we appoint senators and judges. More women have been appointed through our public appointments process. We are making elections more accessible and inclusive. We are taking steps to protect our democracy from cyber-threats and foreign interference. We take these actions seriously, because we know how deeply Canadians value and cherish our democracy.

Former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci said:

Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.

Section 3 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the right to vote. This article and the right to freedom of association are intimately connected. Canadian citizens and permanent residents also have the right to donate to a political party of their choice.

Many Canadians make financial contributions to election campaigns or participate in political fundraisers, since that is a way for them to actively participate in our democracy. It is also an important way for people to express their democratic will. We will continue to protect the right of all Canadians to provide financial support to the political party of their choice.

Canadians have been loud and clear. They want to know more about who funds political activities in Canada. Bill C-50 would shine a light on who is attending political fundraisers, where and when these events are taking place, and the amount required to attend them.

This bill would ensure that more information than ever before about political fundraisers was shared with the media and the public. This transparency would allow Canadians to continue to have confidence in our democracy, confidence that they could support a party with which they shared values, ideals, and policy positions and confidence that they, too, could actively participate, should they so choose.

Our laws, when it comes to political financing, are already quite strict in this regard. Bill C-50 would build on these existing strict laws. Specifically, it would see the following rules put in place. First, details about fundraising events involving the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, and leadership contestants of parties with a seat in the House of Commons, when over $200 per person was necessary to participate at the event, would now be required to be made public. Second, these events would be required to be advertised on political parties' websites at least five days before they took place, and political parties would be required to report a list of attendees to Elections Canada within 30 days after the event.

The bill would also make technical amendments, which would bring leadership and nomination campaign expenses in line with the current regime for candidates.

This bill takes into account certain privacy considerations with regard to the disclosure of the names of minors, volunteers, event staff, journalists, and support staff for people with disabilities or for any minister or party leader who participates in the event.

I would like to highlight some quotes from acting Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault, who said the following at a committee appearance on the subject:

I note that the bill offers a calibrated approach. Not all parties will be subject to the new requirements and I believe that is a good thing. Similarly, the rules will not apply to all fundraising activities, but only those for which a minimum amount is charged to attend and where key decision-makers are also present.

Later in his testimony, he elaborated, saying:

Generally speaking, the bill increases the transparency of political fundraising, which is one of the main goals of the Canada Elections Act. It does so without imposing an unnecessary burden on the smaller parties that are not represented in the House of Commons or for fundraising events that do not involve key decision-makers.

It is clear from Mr. Perrault's testimony at committee that he feels that Bill C-50 would accomplish the goal outlined in my mandate letter to “significantly enhance transparency for the public at large and media in the political fundraising system for Cabinet members, party leaders and leadership candidates.”

I believe that my hon. colleagues, like our government, want to provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising activities.

If Bill C-50 is passed, it will keep the government's promise to significantly enhance transparency in Canada's political fundraising system for both the public and the media. By improving transparency, we will also help build Canadians' trust in the political system. This is one of many measures that we are taking to improve, strengthen, and protect our democratic institutions.

I am proud to speak to this bill at third reading, as I strongly believe that it is one more step in our efforts to improve our political financing system, one that would strengthen the confidence Canadians have in how parties raise money through events.

I would like to close my remarks by thanking the officials in my department for their hard work in helping to put this bill together, the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for their diligent study of this bill, and the members of this place for their support in getting this bill to the next step in the parliamentary process.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2018 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I could be wrong, but I understand the Minister of Democratic Institutions had some experience and expertise in democratic reform and looking at different kinds of electoral systems prior to getting into politics.

One of the things that has struck me about Bill C-50 is its lack of ambition in changing the landscape of Canadian elections. We are doing some tinkering at the margins with respect to transparency around political financing reform. However, prior to getting into politics, had she known she would have the opportunity to reform the Canadian electoral system, whether political financing or the way we vote, is this the extent of her ambition for changing Canada's electoral laws? If it is not, what does she think we should do in addition to this and why is it not in the bill?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2018 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister of Canada, the chairman of cabinet, the head of government is a very powerful position, one that only 23 people in the history of our country have had the distinct privilege of holding. While constitutionally this position serves at the pleasure of Her Majesty, it is Canadians who the Prime Minister ultimately is to serve.

Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, when we have newspaper headlines like, “[Prime Minister] defends cash-for-access fundraising”, or articles that state, “Prime Minister...says financial donation limits in federal politics are too low for wealthy donors to buy influence with his cabinet ministers”, are Canadians really being well-served and, specifically, are they being well-served by this legislation?

Today, as we debate Bill C-50, those are the questions we have to answer. Perhaps this headline speaks to that, “Liberals’ fundraising bill fails to quell cash-for-access charges.”

Let us be perfectly clear why the Liberals introduced the legislation. It was because they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, and now they are trying to blame the cookie jar.

Bill C-50 came to fruition because the Liberal Party was selling cash for access to the Prime Minister at events where tickets cost up to $1,525 a person. What is worse, in the Prime Minister's own “Open and Accountable Government” guide, under the fundraising section it states:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.

The document goes on further to state:

There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.

One wonders if Orwell's 1984 Ministry of Truth may have produced that document, given the actions we have seen from the Liberal members and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister simply got caught for breaking the very ethics guidelines that he himself created. Now we get this legislation as a mandate, as an attempt to try to fix this self-inflicted Liberal wound.

Even after introducing Bill C-50 and promising to abide by these new rules, the June 19, 2017, Liberal fundraising event took place. This event featured the Prime Minister speaking at a Liberal so-called donor appreciation night for Laurier Club members. In order to join such a club, members must donate at least $1,500 annually to be a member. Just to get in the door, one needs to donate $1,500 to see the Prime Minister speak.

This is after the Liberals promised to abide by the rules of Bill C-50, the legislation they had just introduced, and promised to be open to the media. However, instead, the following took place. Liberal Party staff restricted media access to Ottawa bureau chief at the Huffington Post, Althia Raj, as well as to Joan Bryden from the Canadian Press. Then, after a lot of representations on its own behalf, the media was actually allowed inside, cordoned off into one little area, and not allowed to mingle with any of the guests. Giuseppe Valiante, a Montreal reporter with the Canadian Press, was told to leave after the Prime Minister gave his speech.

Therefore, it is not quite clear why the Liberal government bothers to put these so-called rules in place when it is quite evident it just intends to break them anyway.

Legislation is not supposed to be about a PR exercise, legislating is not about a pair of the Prime Minister's socks that BuzzFeed can write a kitschy article about. Legislation is supposed to be about making good policy that changes Canada for the better.

Legislation should not be a way for the PMO to try to spin out of the bad headlines the Prime Minister created through his bad behaviour. Some of those bad headlines include, from the National Post, “Ethics watchdog says [Prime Minister] vacation on private island broke conflict rules”; from CTV, “[Prime Minister] broke ethics rules, watchdog finds”; and from the Toronto Star, “[Prime Minister] violated conflict-of-interest rules with vacation to Aga Khan's island: ethics commissioner”. It is kind of like a greatest hits album for the Prime Minister, but it is not one he should be proud of.

In 2006, when our previous Conservative government came to power, we came in to clean up the corruption culture, the corruption that had taken hold in Ottawa after 13 years of Liberal rule. One of our government's top priorities then was passing the Federal Accountability Act. In that legislation, our Conservative government banned all corporate and union donations to political parties. If political parties wanted the ability to be heard and operate, they would be forced to go to ordinary Canadians on main street and make their case. That is a promise Canadians were and are on board with.

Clearly, that is not a concern for the Liberal Party or for the Prime Minister. Regular Canadians do not have billionaire friends who invite them to vacation on private islands. Regular Canadians usually cannot afford $1,500 for the privilege of bending the Prime Minister's ear. After all, the Prime Minister should be equally accessible to all Canadians. However, we know that is not the case.

If this is something the Prime Minister actually believes in, then he should do the right thing and stop attending cash for access fundraisers. The ethical issue surrounding cash for access fundraisers is not solved because the event is apparently open to the public. At the end of the day, is the event really open to the public? Does publishing the list of attendees on some website a month and a half later make the event transparent? No, it certainly does not. For the Liberal government, it is apparent that it is “do as I say and not as I do”. Apparently, the Prime Minister thinks the law does not apply to him.

If the Liberals really wanted to end these sorts of practices, all they had to do was simply follow their own guidelines to stop attending cash for access fundraisers. It is really quite simple. If one is the justice minister, this means not attending the fundraiser with lawyers who are lobbying the government. If one is the parliamentary secretary who has been tasked with coming up with a plan for marijuana legalization, do not attend fundraisers with representatives from the cannabis industry, and if one is the Prime Minister, do not attend fundraisers with stakeholders who regularly and actively conduct business with the government. Those are very simple measures that even the Liberal Party should be able to follow, if it cared to bother following the rules.

Ethics is not a tricky thing, but I guess for a Prime Minister who views his role as merely ceremonial, there is really no reason for him to be worried about a conflict of interest. I have bad news for him. The office of the Prime Minister is not ceremonial. It requires more than selfies and signing autographs. As the head of cabinet and the head of government, the Prime Minister should go above and beyond what is stated in the law. He should follow his own guidelines.

The Prime Minister is most certainly not above the law, no matter how much he thinks he is, so he should lead by example. As public figures, we are all expected to lead by example. The Prime Minister should understand that, but it appears that neither he nor his government have plans to stop this obvious conflict of interest.

If someone does not have $1,500 to pay for access to a fundraiser, apparently that person's opinion does not matter to the Prime Minister, and that is simply not right. We are talking about the Prime Minister and his cabinet, the people who make our laws, create regulations, and raise our taxes. Is it right that they attend partisan fundraisers where they are being actively lobbied? How does the entire Liberal government not see that this is a serious conflict of interest?

I know the answer to that one. It is a classic case of Liberal arrogance seeping in yet again, the same type of arrogance that led to the sponsorship scandal. How quickly the Liberals forget that they were swept out of power previously during the Chrétien and Martin days because Canadians were simply tired of their arrogance and their unethical dealings. Now, after just two years as government, the Liberals have piled up a whole slew of ethical breaches already.

The finance minister introduced a bill that would rewrite pension laws while he still held on to a million shares of Morneau Shepell, a company that could benefit from these new laws. That led to an investigation by the ethics commissioner.

The Liberal's former Calgary minister campaigned with his father for a school board seat while using House of Commons resources. That also led to an investigation by the ethics commissioner.

Who can forget about the private island vacation that the Prime Minister took on an island of a billionaire who lobbies the government? That led to him making history as the first prime minister to have been found guilty of breaking the law, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times.

It is no wonder the Liberals have voted down the opposition's efforts to have the Prime Minister appear in front of the ethics committee to answer for his actions. He has even refused to answer the opposition's questions in question period in the House of Commons about these serious ethical breaches. Instead he leaves the government House leader to answer for him, for the mess that he made, while he sits there and signs autographs.

This is why it is so hard to take the Prime Minister and his government seriously when they claim that Bill C-50 would make political parties more accountable. The truth is it will not.

The barbershop owner, the mechanic, and the farmer in our ridings do not have time to go on the Internet to keep up with the fundraising activities of the Liberal Party. They rely on the Prime Minister and his cabinet having the moral integrity not to sell access to themselves to the highest bidder.

Fundraising is a perfectly normal activity for politicians and political parties. Asking Canadians to support us and our party's vision and our ideas is part of how democracy works. Political parties take their ideas to the people and if the people like them enough, they chip in a bit of money to help the message get spread. Selling government access for donations to a political party is not a part of being in a democracy. Maybe it happens in countries with basic dictatorships, which the Prime Minister admires so much. I do not know. Maybe that is where he came up with the idea that this was okay. I can tell him that it is not right and it is certainly not ethical.

As politicians we are expected to go above and beyond. I challenge the Prime Minister and his government to do just that. Stop attending cash for access fundraisers and all of these problems will be gone. No more publicity stunts. It is time to take real action and to make real change, not just lip service.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2018 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise at third reading of Bill C-50 to offer some thoughts about the bill and about the issue of electoral reform, whether it is reforming finance, reforming the way we vote, or more generally.

I think it is important to start off with some reflections on why anyone listening at home might care about this debate, because if members looked at the bill, they would see it would not do a lot. It would add some measure of transparency to political fundraising events held by members of government in the formal sense, such as cabinet ministers, the prime minister, and party leaders.

Those Canadians who are on the Elections Canada website all the time and are interested in poring over these things, or those who watch political news shows with analysts who are more familiar with the names and data would benefit from understanding better some of the relationships around government, and understanding those things is not a bad thing. It is helpful to have more of that information in the public domain. However, I do not think that a lot of Canadians would think that Bill C-50 would make a big difference for them personally in terms of the way they relate to the political system.

The way a lot of Canadians relate to the political system is with a fair bit cynicism. They feel that it does not really matter whom they vote for as the issues of the day do not really get addressed. If they are going to see any kind of reform, it has to be big enough and bold enough to help them feel that their participation, even if it is only voting once every four years, is going to start to make them feel that it makes more of a difference than they feel that it does now.

I would say to a lot of Canadians that voting makes more of a difference than they know. They may not feel that it makes much of a difference, but it can make a lot more of a difference than they know. However, I would also forgive them for not feeling that way, particularly in light of a government that ran on a slogan of real change but is largely defending the status quo. We can see that with the bill before us.

The bill is not really about fundamentally changing the Canadian political system at all. A lot of Canadians who voted, and many more who do not ever bother to vote, would look at this and think that our political system is not working for them. They feel that it is hard for them to have their voice heard, and tinkering around the edges does not fix that.

A lot of Canadians voted for a government that promised real change, and not just real change generally, or real change on this or that, but it promised real change specifically on electoral reform. The big promise was that 2015 would be the last election fought under the first past the post system. Bill C-50 is really a status quo bill. It would not provide anything near the level of change that was promised in terms of electoral reform.

To the extent that I think all of us in this chamber have a stake in caring about how Canadians feel about the state of their democracy, and to the extent that some real change is required in order to get many Canadians who feel disaffected and disinterested in Canadian politics back to the table or to the table for the first time, we should be concerned that the bill, which was an opportunity for the Liberal Party and the government to present its vision on how we were going to bring some meaningful change to Canadian electoral politics, really is saying to let us keep on with the status quo.

Around 40% of Canadians do not find it is worth showing up to vote, and many feel that the system is, in some important way, broken. This is not a good status quo. It is not a status quo that the Liberals promised to defend in the last election. They said they were going to change it. They said that they heard that message, and that they were onside with Canadians who felt that way, and a reason to vote for them was that they understood that and they were going to bring meaningful reform.

When it comes to publishing the details of a fundraising event five days in advance, the lack of that information is not what has been driving Canadians away from the political process progressively more and more over the last 30 to 40 years. It was not that they did not get the five-day notice on the fundraiser. It was not that it did not apply to the leaders of political parties that are not currently in government. That is not what Canadians were calling for when they said that they wanted meaningful change in order to feel that the political process was working for them. However, that is all that is offered in the bill. That is fine. It is a step in the right direction. I do not have a problem supporting it. It is not that it is a bad measure because it is not enough, but it really does not meet the expectation that was set in the minds of Canadian voters for improving the electoral system.

Where are we four years from now regardless of who is elected as government in the next election? Well, we are in the same bloody place we were over two years ago when Canadians were dissatisfied and electoral reform was an election issue. How is it that we went through a whole election where that was a key election issue and there were key promises made on the part of the now governing party, and we end up in the same place with the same complaints and the same feelings of dissatisfaction? That is the problem with the bill. It is not a reason not to vote for it, but it is a real problem with the bill and it is a problem for Canadians who were rightly fed up with the status quo.

To some extent this does not just defend the status quo, but it actually legitimizes some of the worst aspects of the status quo that the Liberals have professionalized to an extent that no one foresaw or expected in terms of cash for access fundraising. Politicians of all stripes have always done fundraising and members of the governing party have always done fundraising. However, it was not until this Parliament that it became and issue. Believe me, it is not because we had more charitable opposition parties in former Parliaments that cash for access was not an issue; it is because there was not the same evidence of the professionalization by government of selling access to their ministers.

That is why we did not hear about the term “cash for access” even under the Harper Conservatives. It was not because there was a benevolent opposition party that was willing to let the Conservatives get away with that. Believe me, if they had been doing that, the NDP as the official opposition would have been calling attention to it and the Liberals as the third party would have been calling attention to it too. I disagree with my Conservative colleagues on many things, but I am not going to make up that they were doing something that they were not doing.

Cash for access was not a theme of the Canadian political discourse until these particular Liberals came to power. There is a reason for it. Nobody was as organized in seeking out members of the Canadian business community or different communities that would have an interest in getting the ear of a minister until the current government was elected and members made a science of it. They recruited those people and offered them special time in smaller venues at a high price in order to get the ear of ministers. That is wrong. I do not care what the law says, that is wrong.

To be going through the motions of passing a bill on electoral financing and fundraising and not address that issue, not by making that practice, which is a repugnant practice, more transparent is not what we need to do. It is a practice we need to put an end to. To the extent that we do not see any sign from the government benches that the repugnant practice of selling access to ministers is not going to end as a result of Bill C-50, there are serious problems with the bill.

It is a great step in the right direction. We could pass a law that says anytime we meet someone in the grocery store we should smile at them. That would make the world a better place. It would make everyone feel good. It would be a step in the right direction, but it would not solve a lot of the real problems that are facing Canadians today.

The bill does not do that and it does not solve the real problems that Canadians are facing today with respect to how they feel about their own political system. At the very least, it should do that. We do not expect the bill to fix the problems with pensions in Canada. We do not expect it to fix the problems with health care, but surely we could have expected that it would fix some of the problems that Canadians experience in the way they relate to their politics.

I am concerned that the government sees the passage of this bill as legitimizing a new practice in Canadian politics in terms of the level of sophistication of going out and selling access to ministers based on interests that donors have in the ministers' portfolio area. The government's defence of this practice does not hold up at all. It says that this is not so bad because the Prime Minister gets out there and does town halls. He talks to people, and if they write him a letter he will get back to them.

It is an offence to the intelligence of Canadians to pretend that the little old lady who comes to a town hall with 3,000 people and has to sit in the back because she got there by Handi-Transit and gets to wave at the Prime Minister is the same as a high-powered corporative executive who pays $1,500 to go to a small dinner in somebody's condo, residence, or whatever, to talk about whatever he or she is going to talk about. This bill does not give us any more insight into what is talked about at those events, what is said or not said.

To compare those two scenarios and expect Canadians to believe that they are comparable is just ridiculous. It is totally ridiculous, and kind of offensive. It offends me, and I think it probably offends a lot of Canadians. “When I sign up to go to a town hall,” says Joe Canadian, “I get it that I am not going to get the kind of experience that a high-powered corporate exec is getting when he pays $1,500 to go meet the Prime Minister in a mansion somewhere. I get that it is not the same thing.” However, the Liberals are trying to say that it is the same thing. Canadians have to ask themselves whether they want people in government who think they are that stupid. This is a legitimate question for Canadians to be asking themselves.

That is the issue as I see it. We have a really repugnant practice of cash for access. We have a bit of window dressing here to try to make it seem a little better, maybe kind of okay. I do not think it accomplishes that at all. However, in the absence of real reform, it is not worth turning down.

What a missed opportunity this is. The Liberals actually built a mandate for meaningful reform. They said they were not a status quo party and wanted change. Instead of talking about the quality of this window dressing and the colour of the drapes, we could be talking about what kind of new voting system we are going to have.

We could be talking about other measures that would have done a lot for Canadian democracy. Some measures we have talked about, because they have been presented in the form of various private members' bills. I am thinking particularly of my colleague from Burnaby, who had a great idea. We talked a bit about how political parties are already subsidized publicly in two ways.

One is that when these high-powered corporate execs buy that $1,500 ticket, Canadian taxpayers actually reimburse them almost half the cost of the ticket. There is something particularly perverse about that. Corporate execs, who can pay the $1,500 with the money in their pocket, are able to climb over ordinary Canadians, who also want the ear of the government to get special attention, and then actually have those same ordinary Canadians pay them back about half the cost of the special access they are using to steamroll Canadians. One can pick any issue, whether it is big pharma and jacking up drug prices, or energy companies that want to build a pipeline through this community or that community and want the ear of the government instead of having to go to the communities to get their permission. There is something perverse about the fact that those same people who are the victims of those bad policy decisions are being made to pay for the corporate executives' access to those dinners.

That is one way in which Canadians already subsidize political parties. There is another way, in that the costs that Canadian political parties incur during an election are rebated, in part, by taxpayers as well. Therefore, we already have different forms of subsidy. I am trying not to go off on a tangent too much.

It is completely legitimate to talk about a per-vote subsidy, and maybe even look at cancelling some of those other subsidies in order to pay that money. Allocating already existing public subsidies on the basis of the parties that people actually want to support makes far more sense than rewarding certain parties for having donors who have more money to give, and then forcing all taxpayers across the country to rebate those donors simply because they are the ones with more money in the first place. There is something perverse about that, too.

However, I will digress on that point. The point I want to make comes back to the excellent point made by my colleague from Burnaby. Because we are rebating a certain portion of the costs to political parties for what they spend during an election, we could use that as a tool in order to encourage political parties to nominate more female candidates so we can start to correct the serious gender deficit we have in the House of Commons. We have 26% or 27% women in the House of Commons, even though women make up more than 50% of the Canadian population. That is a great idea. That is the kind of bold thinking that might actually do something to change the status quo of Canadian politics. That would be in keeping with the kinds of promises the Liberals made in the last election, when they said that they would not be defenders of the status quo.

That is not what we see in the bill. The bill is simply a reimagining and reinstituting of the status quo. We have heard good ideas about how to really increase the participation of women in Canadian politics, and not just to encourage them more. That is good too, and it is something that also needs to happen, but it ignores the fact that there are a lot of systemic barriers in the way of women participating in politics. It is not just about calling up our female friends more to see if we can get them to run. We also have to take more concrete measures.

Earlier this week, I was listening to the member for Burnaby South speak to this bill. He said that Canada has slid down to 65th in the world for participation of women in its House of Commons. That is not a very impressive number. It is certainly not an impressive number for a government that styles itself as a feminist government and says it is very committed to increasing the participation of women in politics.

We know that the Liberal Party has assured its incumbents of being able to run again, and it has a disproportionately small number of women in its caucus. This means that if the Liberal Party is successful in the next election, in re-electing most of its members who are here, that would be a bad day for women, because there are not a lot of women, proportionately, in the Liberal caucus.

There are no real policy ideas coming from those benches to address those issues in any real way. It has been unfortunate that when we have had real ideas come forward, they have been quashed. Who quashes new ideas like that?

They could be ideas that came out of an all-party committee on electoral reform, which many pundits predicted would not be able to come to a majority opinion on how to proceed with electoral reform, but it did. It recommended a referendum on proportional representation. That idea got quashed, even though it took many people across many different political fault lines working together to make it happen.

Here we have a great idea on how to concretely take a measure that would not cost Canadian taxpayers any money. In fact, it would save them money, because the way it was going to work was through the rebate I was talking about. Parties that did not run a slate with gender parity across the country would have their rebate reduced by a proportionate amount. That would actually save Canadian taxpayers money and incentivize political parties to get more women involved in politics at the same time.

If we want to talk about policy innovation and good ideas, that is a good one. A lot of good ideas we talk about that would move us in the right direction do cost money. That is money worth spending, in many cases. I do not apologize for that. However, this is one that is actually more likely to save Canadian taxpayers money, and certainly would not cost them any more. We saw it quashed. Who would quash those things? Only a party and a government that, frankly, are satisfied with the status quo would do that. Where this leaves us is largely with the status quo. We have changed the drapes, but the house is the same.

We need to do a heck of a lot better if we are going to address the real democratic deficit in Canada. I look forward to passing this bill and then moving on to those real questions.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2018 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member is quite right. There are two roots to that cynicism. One is that what we are ultimately getting out of the government, certainly on the electoral reform issue but actually on a lot of other issues, is the defence of the status quo. That is not at all consistent with the main message of the Liberal campaign, which was change, real change, in fact.

If the Liberals promised real change and the upshot of a lot of their measures, and that is certainly the case here with Bill C-50 and it is the case on the electoral reform file, is a strong defence of the status quo, then people are going to feel disappointed and betrayed. I do not blame people for feeling that way with respect to the paucity of ambition of this bill and the total lack of movement on the larger electoral reform file.

The second root of the cynicism comes from the idea that those guys were bad and we are better so anything we do is okay. We see that in a lot of ways. We see that in the Prime Minister's remarks about electoral reform. We needed electoral reform when it was Stephen Harper, but now that it is him, we do not need to change it. The system is working again. The job of the system is to elect Liberals and, hallelujah, the good old days are back and we do not have to worry about making any changes.

We see it in the Prime Minister's behaviour with respect to being found to have broken the law on conflict of interest, and thinking that it is okay that there are no consequences for that. We see it from government ministers who are unapologetic about their cash for access fundraising and do not think it needs to change. In fact, the Liberals can pass a bill that kind of tweaks at the edges of some of the rules of this nefarious thing they are doing, and they think that is okay.

That is where cynicism lives and grows. It is unfortunate to see it all day, every day, in this place.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2018 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Surrey—Newton.

It is a pleasure to rise today to speak to this important piece of legislation that the government has brought forward, Bill C-50, which would make political fundraising events more open and transparent for Canadians and enhance the trust and confidence in our democratic institutions. Transparency is so important because the public deserves to know what its elected representatives are doing, what information lies at the root of government decisions, and how influence is exerted in the government. Transparency is in the best interests of Canadian democracy and is much needed in our political financing process.

The previous government simply did not understand the importance of transparency. It was a government often criticized for its pervasive secrecy and categorized as one of the worst in history regarding access to information. In fact, reports from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression gave the previous government the lowest possible grade on transparency for a number of years running. Liberals were elected on a promise to restore a sense of trust in our democracy. At the heart of this is a simple idea: transparent government is good government. Through Bill C-50, our Liberal government will establish the openness and transparency that political financing has been needing for so long.

It is important to recognize that fundraising is a significant part of political participation and democratic expression. Fundraising is a way for Canadians to show support for a party with which it shares values, ideals, and policies. Therefore, it is of vital importance that we get these processes right.

Canada already has one of the most robust systems in the world for political fundraising. This system includes strict spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and the banning of corporate and union donations. At a national level, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can contribute a maximum of $1,550 annually to a registered party. Contributions to federal political parties are reported to Elections Canada and donations of more than $200 are published online, including the contributor's name and address.

At present, Canada is the sixth best democracy in the world, according to the Democracy Index from The Economist's intelligence unit, with a score of 9.1 out of 10. Canada ranks particularly high on the process of financing political parties with a score of 9.6 out of 10. It is evident that our democratic system is strong, but the performance of our system is due to the constant work of assessment, evaluation, and improvement.

Our democratic institutions are the pillars upon which our democracy is built. As our society continues to evolve, these systems need be strengthened and improved. Measures within Bill C-50 are a step in the right direction. These measures ensure our system continues to evolve while furthering the principles of political participation and democratic expression.

Bill C-50 would improve the fundraising process and simplify the processes of accountability. In front of committee, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner mentioned her support for the direction of this proposed legislation with the following. First, this piece of legislation, via increased transparency, would also make it easier for her office to investigate complaints. Second, the ease of access to the names and addresses of attendees at fundraising events would be useful if her office were to look into an allegation that a stakeholder who attended such an event subsequently received a benefit from a minister or a party leader. Third, the bill would remove secrecy surrounding fundraising events.

It is these types of results that demonstrate our government's commitment to a fair, transparent process. These types of measures are how we seek to restore a sense of trust in our democracy. We recognize that these are important steps in improving the system and, as this government has said time and time again, we will work tirelessly with opposition members, the Ethics Commissioner, and other experts in making sure we get this right.

In examining this bill, Dr. Leslie Seidle, a leading scholar in this field, has gone on to say that transparency is a vital principle of our political financing system. In fact, for those who do not know, political financing regulations in Canada were created under the 1974 Election Expenses Act, which established a regime for the financing of federal elections in Canada. Seidle explains that since 1974 two critical developments have occurred to strengthen transparency in federal political financing. First was the extension of reporting requirements beyond parties and candidates to other entities such as constituency associations, leadership contestants, nomination contestants, and third parties. This was an amendment of the Election Expenses Act of 1974, and took place in the eighties.

The second development mentioned by Seidle took place in 2004. Since 2004, political parties must report on their contributions at the end of every three-month period rather than annually. According to Mr. Seidle, Bill C-50 fits into these two critical junctures as a third development, enhancing further transparency to our political financing system.

The reason I mention this is that it was under a Liberal government that the Election Expenses Act of 1974 was crafted. It was under a Liberal government that reporting requirements were extended. It was also under a Liberal government that enhanced transparency over political party contributions were established. It is now again under a Liberal government that transparency over political financing is further being strengthened.

Looking back in history, it is very easy to identify the pattern. Not a single Conservative government has enacted legislation to strengthen transparency in political financing. Not only have the Conservatives chosen to disregard this file time and time again, the Conservatives have chosen to omit making improvements to our democracy. The Conservatives are now refusing legislation that enhances public scrutiny.

I wonder why the Conservatives would continue to oppose strengthening transparency in our political financing system. Even though stakeholders such as the Ethics Commissioner clearly indicate that Bill C-50 is good legislation moving forward, the official opposition continues to reject it. It does not make any sense that the Conservatives are unwilling to support sound legislation that promotes transparency. It does not make sense that the Conservatives object to transparency, unless of course they have something to hide. Under the bill, measures would also apply to fundraising events held by party leaders, and in this case, as I have mentioned many times in the House, the Conservative leader specifically.

We know the Conservative leader, the leader of the official opposition, has refused to disclose details of his own private events in the past. However, moving forward under this legislation, he, along with all parties, would have to disclose these events. No longer would the leader of the Conservatives be able to hide who his donors are and who influences his agenda.

In sum, I am strongly supportive of Bill C-50 because it reflects the importance of transparency in democratic rule. Bill C-50 brings forth enhanced transparency to the political fundraising process. These changes are a step in the right direction. They complement and strengthen our democracy, and they contribute to fairness within the political fundraising system.

I encourage all members of the House to vote in support of Bill C-50. Again, our party understands that when we bolster transparency, democracy wins.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2018 / 4:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for splitting his time with me and for the very passionate speech he made.

I rise today to speak to Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, political financing. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Democratic Institutions, we have taken concrete action to make the government more open so that Canadians can fully understand what their government is doing. A clear way to do this is to make political fundraising more transparent.

I am proud to say that Canada has been a leader in this since the former prime minister, the right hon. Jean Chrétien, banned corporate and union donations to political parties. Today Canada's strong fundraising and election laws are an example throughout the world, as foreign countries regularly visit our country to understand our system and learn from it.

We have one of the most robust systems in the world, which includes strict spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and a ban on corporate and union donations. Canadian citizens and permanent residents can contribute a maximum of $1,550 every year to a registered federal party. This is among the lowest in the democratic world. In fact, many other democratic countries have no limit at all.

These laws prevent big money from influencing our elections and policies and provide transparency, because any donation above $200 is published online with the information about who donated it. It is important for our democracy that the voice of every Canadian is heard and that decisions are made based only on facts, principles, and values. I have no doubt that every member in the house would agree with that.

I am proud of the work that has been accomplished to make our elections fairer, where big money plays no role. Our elections are about ideas, and we need to keep it that way. These laws are important to protect the integrity of our institutions. When the government or its policies are motivated by large donations from corporations or unions, that is when public trust in government begins to erode and Canadians become disinterested in the political process. This undermines the foundation of our country and the foundation of our democracy.

Many countries have no limits on how much one can donate. The result is that large interest groups control the conversation regarding policy because of their ability to donate large amounts of funds. This leads to the policy discussion changing from what is in the public interest to what is in the interest of raising enough money for the next election.

I want to be clear. There is nothing wrong with raising funds. It is an important part of our democracy, as it gives political parties and their candidates the ability to reach out to citizens through communication materials and other means.

It is also an opportunity for voters to express their support with their money, which is their individual right. I myself am very proud of the grassroots fundraising from thousands of people who have supported me over the many years I have been in public service. The value of those donations is much higher than those that come in large sums from single groups, because they bring real committed support along with them.

However, these laws need to be made stronger so that our bar for transparency and accountability is high enough to maintain the highest standards of trust in our election process. That is why we are introducing new actions that will increase transparency and give Canadians a new way to understand the fundraising by political parties.

Our promise to Canadians was to increase trust and accountability in Parliament and the democratic process. This is something we have continuously worked towards that began with our actions to strengthen our election system and to engage more Canadians, especially new and young Canadians. Bill C-50 would build on the existing rules and add a new layer of transparency around fundraising by making several changes.

First, fundraising events that had a ticket price of over $200 and were being attended by cabinet ministers, party leaders, and leadership candidates, would have to release the name and partial address of each donor, with the exception of youth under the age of 18, volunteers, staff, media, and individuals providing support services.

Second, parties would have to advertise the event to the public at least five days in advance so that Canadians would have access to where and when fundraising activities were taking place. After the event, political parties would have to release the names and partial addresses of donors within 30 days.

Third, to ensure that the rules for fundraising were followed, the donations collected would have to be returned if not reported within a set period of time.

Bill C-50 recognizes that even though Canada has world-renowned rules on political fundraising, we understand that this is something that needs to be continually addressed and improved.

This bill would allow Canadians to continue to place confidence in our democratic institutions. These amendments to the Canada Elections Act would give Canadians, including the media, more information than ever by letting them know who was going to fundraisers, when they were happening, who was attending, and the amount required to attend.

In closing, I urge all members to support this bill. Our democracy is the most important foundation of our country. Making fundraising activities more open and transparent has been a core commitment of this government, and we will continue to deliver on that promise.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2018 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to tell the House and Canadians that the Prime Minister is not being above the law. This is a prime minister who is a grassroots leader. I have seen him over many years, and he does not shy away from being transparent. That is why we have brought Bill C-50 forward.

On the other hand, I am sure the member for Banff—Airdrie is very informed that his leader, who did events this past summer, refused to declare who attended and who donated. It is our Prime Minister, our leader, who is transparent and open. That is why we have brought the legislation forward.