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

Sponsor

Karina Gould  Liberal

Status

Report stage (House), as of Oct. 23, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-50.

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

June 15, 2017 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing)

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 15th, 2017 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, the mandate letter to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, which is connected to Bill C-50 on political financing, says to set up an independent commissioner to oversee future debate forums held between leaders of major political parties.

We saw what happened with the failed appointment of Madam Meilleur to the official languages commissioner role. The New Democratic Party is trying to move a reasonable motion in this House to make sure that all these officers of Parliament are appointed in an independent, open, and transparent fashion.

I do not see this part of the minister's mandate letter in Bill C-50. It is deeply troubling that the government is not moving ahead with this important part of the minister's mandate letter. Could I have the member's comments and observations on that?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon, we will continue the debate we began this morning on the NDP opposition day motion.

This evening, we will return to Bill C-24, an act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act. Following that, we will begin second reading of Bill C-50 on political financing.

Tomorrow will be dedicated to debating Bill C-44 on the budget.

As for next week, our hope is to make progress on a number of bills, including Bill C-6 concerning citizenship; Bill C-50 respecting political financing; Bill C-49, transportation modernization; and Bill S-3, amendments to the Indian Act.

Finally, next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday shall be allotted days.

As the member very well knows, I always look forward to working with all members. I look forward to continuing our conversation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 8:45 p.m.
See context

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 second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, regarding political financing, which would amend the Canada Elections Act to create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency for political fundraising events.

I first want to recognize my officials for their extraordinary effort in developing, drafting, and refining this important legislation. I thank them for their hard work over the past few months. They are a credit to our public service.

Our government told Canadians we would set a higher bar on the transparency, accountability, and integrity of our public institutions and the democratic process. We have also sent a clear message that we want to encourage Canadians to embrace our democracy.

I have been focused, in particular, on this latter objective since the Prime Minister asked me to be Canada's Minister of Democratic Institutions. This is why our government has moved on several fronts to enshrine a more open and inclusive democracy. We have changed the way we appoint senators and judges, we are making our elections more accessible and inclusive, and we are taking steps to protect our democracy from cyber-threats. We take these actions because we know how deeply Canadians value and cherish our democracy.

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation this year, we can reflect on the work of past generations that have improved, strengthened, and protected Canadian democracy. The challenge facing us is how we, as parliamentarians, can continue to lead this work and fulfill the promise of a strong, stable, vibrant democracy.

The simple but important act of voting is a central part of this discussion. Casting a ballot is a rite of passage in this country. I am sure that many hon. members recall going with their parents to a polling station. Many members will recall bringing their own children with them to vote at their local school, church, community centre, or in one of the many other locations where voting takes place.

In many respects, election day is one of the last true civic rituals that Canadians take part in. It is a day on which we all come together to take part in the democratic process. We wait in the same lines, we follow the same rules, and we exercise the same rights and freedoms.

Today, as Minister of Democratic Institutions, I have a mandate to protect and improve one of the greatest democracies on earth. It is an honour to talk about this in one of the most respected democratic institutions in the world. We know that democracy does not just happen on its own. We all need to contribute to it, and that means more than just voting every four years. Democracy requires our constant attention.

There are many different ways Canadians choose to make a valuable contribution to our democracy. It could be as simple as engaging in a public policy discussion with a friend, joining a community group, participating in a demonstration, or volunteering with a charity. It could also include joining a political party, making a donation to a party, or attending a political fundraiser. Democratic participation and civic engagement are critical to a healthy democracy.

While we believe that we could always do more to raise the bar on openness and transparency in political fundraising, we also respect the right of all Canadians to choose to financially support a party of their choice.

We are celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms this year. Section 3 of that Charter guarantees every citizen the right to vote and to run in a federal election. Section 3 is closely linked to the protection of the freedom of association, which is also provided for in the Charter.

Today in Canada, Canadians and permanent residents have the legitimate right to make a donation to a party and to participate in fundraising activities. All parties of the House receive support for the honest work that they do through the donations and contributions of individuals who believe in and support their work.

It is important to take a step back and look at Canada's political fundraising system as it now stands, even before the changes we are discussing. The Canada Elections Act sets out the legal framework that governs fundraising and campaign financing, and all registered federal political parties are subject to it.

According to Elections Canada, disclosure requirements have existed for candidates since the beginning of the 20th century, but the current regime was essentially laid out with the introduction of political party registration in 1970 and the Election Expenses Act in 1974. Essentially, there have been limits on contribution amounts and on the people through whom Canadians can make donations to federal political parties for the past 43 years.

Today, only individual Canadians and permanent residents can donate. Companies, industry associations, and trade unions cannot give funds to any politician or political party. There is a strict limit on individual contributions. Annually, individuals can donate up to $1,550 to a national political party. They can also donate up to $1,550, combined, to all the riding associations, candidates, or nomination contestants of a party. Finally, if their preferred party is in a leadership contest, an individual can donate up to $1,550, combined, to all the leadership contestants in a leadership race.

Today, there are already a number of different reports and requirements that parties, electoral district associations, candidates, leadership contestants, and others must complete. Elections Canada publishes all financial reports, as well as the identity and postal codes of those donating more than $200 on its website.

It is also important to note that there are strict penalties under the Canada Elections Act to punish anyone violating political financing rules. The penalties could include fines of up to $50,000, or up to five years in jail, or both. Canadians take political fundraising seriously. There are serious consequences for breaking these rules.

It is important to point out that 2% of Canadians are currently members of a party or have made a campaign donation. Not everyone wants to join a political party, but everyone can celebrate the contribution that political parties make to our democracy. These institutions bring together people from across the country, people with diverse perspectives, opinions, backgrounds, and experiences. Some parties might focus on specific issues or concerns, while others might seek to cover a broad range of opinions.

At best, parties can mobilize many people and encourage them to take action on important causes, champion certain ideas, and work hard to convince other people to join them.

Political parties are vital to the discourse that we have in Canada about our democracy. To quote former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci:

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

They are capable of introducing unique concerns into the political discourse. In order to participate in political discourse, parties require funding to operate. As Canadians, we have the right to contribute to a political party that shares our ideals and our aspirations. For many, contributing to a political party and attending a fundraising event is a valued form of democratic expression, and I know all hon. members agree that this is an important right we must continue to respect and uphold.

I believe that a strong democracy does not merely tolerate the exchange of ideas, but rather encourages it. A healthy democracy fosters lively partisan debate that offers ideas and clear choices to people. Canadians can choose to donate to a political party to show their support for that kind of democratic debate. In Bill C-50, we are proposing that people continue to make donations to political parties and do so in a way that is more open and transparent than ever.

If passed, Bill C-50 would provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising events than ever before. It would make our already strong and robust system for political financing even more open and transparent, so that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our democratic institutions. It would ensure that Canadians know who is going to fundraisers, when and where they are happening, and the amount required to attend.

If passed, Bill C-50 will apply to all fundraising activities that cabinet members, party leaders, and leadership candidates take part in when the ticket price is over $200. This will apply only to parties sitting in the House of Commons. The bill will therefore apply to all of Canada's political leaders, across party lines. These are the people who are leading our country and aspire to become prime minister themselves.

Fundraising events involving these individuals would be advertised at least five days in advance. Canadians would know about them before these events take place, giving them an opportunity to inquire about a ticket, if they wish. They would know exactly where and when a fundraiser is happening, who is organizing the event, and which senior political leader or leaders will attend.

Further improving openness and transparency for our political leaders will enhance the trust that Canadians have in our democracy across the political spectrum, and we believe this is a good thing.

Public disclosure of fundraising details offers the added benefit of providing that information to the media, leaving it up to the press whether to cover it or not. I believe, and our government believes, that a free press is essential to our democracy and that a healthy media landscape is necessary for a healthy democracy. Our approach in Bill C-50 is to provide journalists the information they need to choose whether to cover an activity or not and give the political parties the flexibility to set their own rules for providing media access and accreditation.

Political parties would also be required to report the names and addresses of those who attended the fundraiser, within 30 days, to Elections Canada. This information would be published online. Canadians and the media would know who attended a fundraiser, and could hold politicians and attendees more accountable for their actions.

Elections Canada, as the recipient and publisher of so much fundraising information already, is the natural place to collect this new information. Publishing all the information in one non-partisan place would make it easier for Canadians to search for this information. I should add that certain individuals, such as minors, service staff, and volunteers, would be exempt.

The bill would also create a new Elections Act offence for not respecting these rules. Any penalties would be borne by political parties, not the senior political leaders invited to attend the events. The maximum fine we propose for violating the provisions would be $1,000 on summary conviction, and any party that breaks the rules would also have to return the contributions collected at the events.

If passed, Bill C-50 will fulfill our government's promise to make Canada's political financing system much more transparent to the public and the media. This is one of many ways our government is improving, enhancing, and protecting our democratic institutions.

Members of the House know that we also introduced Bill C-33, which, if passed, would repeal undemocratic aspects of what the previous government called the Fair Elections Act. Bill C-33 would make it easier for Canadians to exercise their right to vote. It would also encourage voter turnout, and enhance the public's trust in our electoral system as well as its integrity.

To that end, significant measures will be taken, such as allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to accept voter cards as identification and re-establishing vouching so that eligible voters without identification can prove their identity and place of residence by asking another voter to vouch for them.

Moreover, under the bill, Elections Canada could register young Canadians 14 to 17 to include them in the electoral process at a younger age.

Those are just some examples of the measures our government is taking to ensure that we continue to enhance democratic institutions.

We have also introduced a new merit-based Senate appointments process, as I mentioned. To meet the expectations of Canadians, we developed a process to appoint senators that is more open and transparent than ever before. We established an advisory board for Senate appointments and launched a new, open, non-partisan application process. Now any Canadian can directly apply to become a senator, and since spring 2016, we have appointed 27 senators through this new process. The Senate is an important institution in our democratic system, and our government remains committed to building a more effective and less partisan Senate in partnership with hon. senators and all parliamentarians.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the procedure and House affairs committee, as well as the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee. Both of these committees have been studying the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the 2015 election and will be reporting their recommendations to their respective chambers. Their guidance will be incredibly helpful, as I work with all of our colleagues to continue the important work of improving, strengthening, and protecting our democratic institutions. Bill C-50 is an important example of how we can continue to raise the bar when it comes to our democracy.

Samara Canada recently released a report entitled, “Democracy 360: The Second Report Card on How Canadians Communicate, Participate and Lead in Politics.” The report measures the health of Canada's democracy across 19 different indicators. According to Samara, 71% of Canadians said they are fairly satisfied or very satisfied with how democracy works in Canada. This is six percentage points higher than the first report card in 2015.

Although this report suggests that Canadians have confidence in their democracy, we realize that there is always room for improvement. We therefore introduced Bill C-50 for more open and transparent fundraising activities.

We are shining a light on these types of activities so that Canadians can know and understand what is happening. We are providing them with information on who attends these fundraisers, when and where they are taking place, and how much it costs to participate.

Political fundraising is an important form of democratic expression. Fundraisers are an opportunity for groups of like-minded Canadians to come together and discuss values, opinions, and policy ideas. They also provide Canadians with the opportunity to support a party or individual with whom they share similar perspectives and ideas. We believe it is important to clarify what happens at these fundraising events. Bill C-50 would do so by shining a light on who is attending political fundraisers, where and when they are taking place, and the amount required to attend them. For the first time in Canadian history, our government is legislating and requiring political parties to disclose this information, because Canadians have a right to know even more than they do now about political fundraising events. I think all members of this House can agree that political parties do not have anything to hide. Bill C-50 would ensure that more information than ever before about political fundraisers is shared with the media and the public at large, so that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our democracy.

I am eager to hear the opinions from other members of this House about the bill itself. This is important legislation that affects all of us in this chamber, and I am confident that the hon. members share my desire to provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising events. I look forward to the debate ahead.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 9:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this legislation could be understood in three steps. Step number one, the Liberals come up with a fundraising system that is profoundly profitable. Step number two, the public finds out about it and it becomes profoundly unpopular. Step number three, the Liberals attempt to develop a piece of legislation that would provide ethical cover for continuing this unpopular practice because it is so darned profitable.

This legislation is the Liberal Party's attempt to legitimize and normalize the practice that is sometimes referred to as pay to play, and sometimes referred to as cash for access. Either of those two descriptions makes a point. If one wants to play in this game, if one wants to have access to ministers, then pay up, and one can have access to the cabinet minister of choice, in particular, the Prime Minister himself or the finance minister, although every minister is a part of this game.

The goal of Bill C-50 is to legitimize this process. The Liberals are getting attacked. They can say it was the expressed will of Parliament that this practice be continued, because they will publicize some information about these enormously profitable events in which only the Liberal government can participate.

This is an issue here. It was a huge scandal for the Liberal government in Ontario, which has quotas for ministers to seek out great events at which access would be provided only to those who paid up to the Liberal Party of Ontario. This has been a huge issue in British Columbia. It may very well have been the issue that will cause the Liberal government out there to ultimately lose power, but that remains to be seen. There is a hung parliament in British Columbia, but this is a big scandal out there.

I want to give some examples of what the federal Liberals are doing, not the provincial Liberals in B.C., or the Liberals in Ontario. I want to give some examples of how this works and what it is about. I am going to give some examples of actual pay to play or cash for access events over the course of the past year or so.

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 this 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 statute of the current Prime Minister's father.

Here is a second example. On November 7, B.C. multimillionaire Miaofei Pan hosted a fundraiser at his West Vancouver mansion, and made the case to the Prime Minister, at this event that he had to pay to get into and that he also hosted, to allow Chinese investment in seniors care and real estate developments, and ease rules for rich immigrants from China. What better way to get preferential access than to have it in your own home? This took place as the federal government had been reviewing a $1 billion bid by China's Anbang Insurance Group to buy one of British Columbia's largest retirement home nursing care chains.

Here is another example. An event scheduled for September 29 was actually cancelled, but was organized by senior business executive Geoff Smith, CEO of the giant construction firm EllisDon, which was involved in a scandal in Ontario over very similar events, and Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar, Canada's second largest automotive parts company. Both companies could benefit from government decisions concerning infrastructure and automobile policy.

Here is another example of pay to play as exercised by the Liberal government. The finance minister was scheduled to attend a fundraiser that cost $1,500 to get in the door in Calgary on November 2 at the home of Shaw Communications Inc. President Jay Mehr. The telecom firm has directly lobbied the finance department eight times. Is there a conflict there?

Here is an example of an exclusive event. On November 7, the finance minister attended an event in Calgary, and the Prime Minister attended an event in Toronto. This was an exclusive event held at the Toronto condominium of philanthropist Nancy Pencer and funeral home executive, Michael Benjamin. Helping to sell tickets were Barry Sherman, the chairman of generic drug manufacturer Apotex and Joel Reitman, who runs global venture firm Jillcy Capital. Apotex is the company whose executives had civic-minded children, I believe under the age of 10, who decided to make contributions to the leadership campaign of Joe Volpe, when he was running for the Liberal leadership. That is the kind of company the cabinet over there runs with.

Another event is a corporate law firm in Toronto with interests in Ottawa lobbying the federal government, hosting an event where the justice minister was the guest of honour, for goodness' sake. The finance minister was the star attraction at a $1,500 per person Liberal Party fundraiser in the home of a wealthy Halifax developer. Another event was $500 per person. That is a bargain price for the finance minister.

Members get the idea. This is a sample of the kinds of activities the cash for access activities in which the federal cabinet members have all been involved. The Prime Minister, the finance minister, the justice minister, and the whole crew met with people who do business with the federal government, and who now get to speak face-to-face with these ministers, when no one else gets that kind of access.

Pay to play is the backbone of Liberal fundraising. To make this point, I want to say how much the Liberals raise when they have these kinds of events. In this report, they would not actually say, but attendance figures had suggested that the party brings in between $50,000 and $120,000 per event, when either the Prime Minister or the finance minister is the star attraction, and the ticket price is $1,500. That is how much they bring in at an event in an evening. There are paying very special attention, and it has had a big impact on their bottom line. This is the backbone of their financing.

The pay to play process for raising funds started early last year, but it really took off in the final quarter of last year. Liberal Party finances went from $4 million, substantially behind the Conservative Party in the first quarter of 2016, to $5.8 million, well over $1 million ahead of the Conservative Party in the final quarter of 2016.

This was going to be the ace in the hole for the Liberals. This was how they were going to finance the next election. Let us be clear about this. When our party was in government, we did not do this stuff, but even if there were no ethical considerations holding back other parties in this place, only one party can deliver cabinet ministers, people who can, with the stroke of a pen, make someone's company tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars richer, at the expense of the Canadian people. Only the government can do that. There is an inbuilt incumbency advantage. This is an inbuilt way of ensuring that the governing party can raise funds in a way that is simply impossible for other parties.

That in itself is an outrage. Any system that is designed to give the incumbent party an ongoing, perpetual systemic advantage is inherently morally wrong. That is leaving aside the fact that giving preferential access to cabinet ministers, when the average Canadian does not get this chance, is absolutely contemptible.

This is not actually illegal right now. It is not unlawful, but it is a violation of the Prime Minister's ethics code, his open and accountable government code, put in place in 2015. Let me read the fine words the Prime Minister put at the front of this code. I do not know if he writes his own stuff, but there is a unique sanctimonious tone to whatever he puts on paper.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 9:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, last November, the Nanos polling organization asked Canadians what they thought of cash for access or pay to play. I will just read from The Globe and Mail coverage, what the answer was. It says:

A Nanos public-opinion survey, conducted for The Globe and Mail from Nov. 26 to 30, shows that 62 per cent of Canadians disapprove of the Liberal Party’s practice of charging people $1,500 a ticket to meet in private with Mr. Trudeau and senior cabinet ministers who oversee major spending or policy-making decisions.

Canadians strongly do not approve. There we go. Number one, it is a profitable way of raising money. Number two, Canadians strongly do not approve. Sixty-two per cent were against this and 33% approved, so 2:1 Canadians think this is a bad idea. Therefore, the Liberals need cover and their cover is to say, “We have this legislation that is going to still allow all these things to happen, but there will be public notice that the events are occurring”. Of course, there is public notice anyway. They are selling tickets, so that is not a change or an innovation.

It would be on a website now, which is nice. They would not be in a private residence. That was their promise that they subsequently backed off from. Members will notice how many of those that I cited were in private residences. I think the reason they took that out is that this is a key component. The really special access to the PM, to the finance minister, and to others comes from being the host.

As well, there would be a reporting afterward. The fact is that everything gets reported anyway, because donations are reported in Canada. They get put up on the Elections Canada website. We could go back and track every single donor who contributed more than a relatively paltry sum to my riding association or my campaign or any of the leadership campaigns we had going on for the Conservative Party. There is simply no new meat here.

This is simply a way of having it so that the next time someone like John Ivison thinks of writing a story, he will say, “Wait a minute, they passed a law about this; I guess it is now okay”. The next time the Ethics Commissioner has something to raise, she could say, “After the issue came up, Parliament passed a law, so it is the expressed will of Parliament that this sort of practice be permitted”. This is all about regularizing this practice. The legislation is all about legitimizing this practice. This is all about saying, “Yes, influence peddling is okay. Influence peddling is just the way we do business here in Canada.”

If there is a theme other than sanctimoniousness about the current government, a theme other than finding ways of violating the spirit of the law over and over again, a theme other than abandoning conventions of behaviour, whether it is about unilateral changes to the Standing Orders in the House of Commons or the unilateral breach of the practices that we have all had regarding fundraising, if there is a theme beyond those it is this: that we need to go back to the good old days. I do not mean the good old days of Trudeau senior. I mean the good old days of the 19th century, with no restrictions at all on the practice of power. Far from moving ahead to a new age or a new era, the current government is the most retrograde government.

I have been here since Jean Chrétien's day, and I was not the biggest fan of Jean Chrétien but the current Prime Minister is so much worse. In fact, I think it was a surprise to him that our prime minister, despite his vast powers, is not actually an elected dictator. There are in fact careful restrictions in this place and out there in public, some of them in law, many of them simply in conventions and practices and usages.

The Prime Minister frankly regards all of these as an impediment and would like to see them swept away. He is not our elected dictator, but it is my belief that he thinks he should be our elected dictator. Every four years we will go back and the people will decide whether they want to keep him on, but that is not what the Prime Minister of Canada is. He needs to learn that, and I can assure members that the Conservatives will be voting against Bill C-50.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 9:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think this is one of these situations where the Liberals were saying, “We're not claiming we're ethical. We're just saying you're as bad as us.”

First, nobody buys tickets for appreciation events. The way an appreciation event works is that the people have already paid, typically, the maximum donation and the appreciation event is then held for the Laurier club in the Liberal Party and for the leaders' circle in the Conservative Party at a convention, and they get to have wine and cheese and hobnob with some cabinet ministers, for sure, when they are on the government side.

I will just make this point. If those are as bad as the parliamentary secretary is implying, and I think he was saying that we are hypocrites for not opposing them, then I have to ask why there is a specific exemption for those events in Bill C-50, so that those events can continue. The leaders' circle events will continue, and so will Laurier club events. I am mystified why he even brought that up at all.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 9:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to say it is a pleasure to be rising, but at this time of night, that would be a lie, and I do not wish to mislead the House. I am, however, very pleased to be standing to talk about this charade called the election reform legislation. I want to put it in context in the time that is available.

The Liberals released their famous “Open and Accountable Government” guide to much fanfare, but none of it is legally binding, as the Prime Minister demonstrated, of course, by ignoring it altogether.

Canadians have become deeply concerned about the government's fundraising practices. My friend from Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston used the expressions Canadians have come to know with the government: “cash for access” and “pay to play”. I had not heard those terms before the government was elected, I concede, but now, of course, we hear them all the time.

Because of that practice, there was a concern about conflicts of interest at these various events. This bill is purporting to be the reform to address Canadians' concerns. Of course, it does nothing of the sort. It is, sadly, a half-baked measure that does not stop the cash for access events from happening whatsoever. It just makes it easier for Canadians to hear about them. I am not sure what that accomplishes.

We know they are happening. I guess we are supposed to feel better as Canadians that now it is out in the open. We can still have private parties where we invite friends of the party to come, and now we will know who the people are on the list. The Prime Minister will be there, or the Minister of Finance. I want to know what this is going to do to the lobbyist business. I know how many of my colleagues are concerned about the lobbying industry and how it is not doing very well. Frankly, why would I want to hire a lobbyist, when I could go myself, pay a few bucks, go and talk to the Minister of Finance, and maybe get the deal? Why spend thousands on a lobbyist? I am pretty persuasive. I will just go and talk him up. That is, of course, regularized by this legislation. I want this to perhaps be subtitled the lobbyists' despair act, because that may be what is going to happen as a consequence.

Not a single recommendation from the ethics committee, which studied the law on political fundraisers, found its way into this mishmash legislation. It is surprising to my colleagues that a committee would not have its recommendations addressed by the government, but I am sad to report that this appears to be the case.

I want to be clear from the outset, because of the way politics is played, that the NDP will of course be supporting this bill so we can refer it to the committee and tear it apart, as it deserves to be torn apart, and so we can actually have a meaningful response to Canadians' concerns about cash for access events.

I have to give credit where credit is due. The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston did an excellent job of reminding Canadians why we are here tonight at this late hour talking about this little fig leaf the Liberals are proposing to address the cash for access dilemma. He talked about Chinese billionaires attending Liberal fundraisers and making donations to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and maybe a statue here and there as well, or West Van billionaires having people over for dinner and talking about how the Chinese could buy a nursing care chain and so forth. Again, where were the lobbyists? I guess they did not need to come, because that was discussed at that meeting. Do not take my word for it. The individual who wanted that was actually bragging about his access to the Prime Minister that night.

I also want to salute the member for pointing out another anomaly. Frankly, this law applies to other parties as well as the governing party of the day. It applies to an electoral district association the leader of a party or an aspiring leader would attend. Somehow we are supposed to think that is fair. It is sauce for the goose. It is supposed to be tit for tat. Frankly, I am not sure who wants to go talk to an opposition party. Surely only one party can deliver a cabinet minister. That is the dripping roast lobbyists tend to want.

Good news, we are going to have them in private homes. I asked the minister, when she spoke, if that was covered, because that was in the mandate letter in January the Prime Minister gave the hon. Minister of Democratic Institutions. I do not think I got the answer to that question, but I can tell Canadians that the law says they can still have these fundraisers in that West Vancouver billionaire's private mansion, and the Prime Minister will come, and there will be a discussion about hockey games, I guess, or perhaps the events of the day in some foreign land. Far be it to talk about things that might involve cash for access or issues of that sort. I am sure they would never come up.

I have another example. When the Minister of Finance had billions of dollars to invest in infrastructure and other initiatives, such as a new container terminal and the development of federal harbour land in Halifax, what did he do? He had a private Liberal Party fundraiser at the home of a gentleman named Fred George. Fred George is a mining tycoon turned land developer in that city. According to a Globe and Mail article, about 15 people attended the $1,500 per person Liberal Laurier Club event. Among the people who were there was Jim Spatz, a federal director on the Halifax Port Authority board of directors and a land developer. These are exactly the types of cozy coincidences that cause concern to Canadians and give rise to the perception of undue influence, whether a direct conflict of interest exists or not.

One might ask why that is so important. It is because the Prime Minister said it is important. In Annex B of his famous “Open and Accountable Government” document, 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.

Am I stretching it to think this event might just have a tad of potential conflict of interest? That is what the Prime Minister told us would not happen anymore under the enlightened regime before Canadians today that asks us to accept this initiative as addressing that problem. It does not.

What else did the Prime Minister say in his “Open and Accountable Government” document? He said something much more specific.

It states:

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.

I do not know about other members, but when I spend $1,500 to go to an event with a large number of Liberal donors and the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance, I have a feeling that there might be the potential for conflict of interest. Some cynics might even think preferential access is available.

It is disappointing that the government did not respond to the concerns of Canadians with a genuine and robust effort to actually clean up its fundraising scandals.

I come from the province of British Columbia, where it took a New York Times journalist at a bar in Whistler to call it what it is: the wild west of fundraising. In our province, I am ashamed to tell members, there are absolutely no limits to how much money one can spend. We love preferential access. We think it is great. Contrast that to the province of Quebec, where two or three years ago, after some scandals there, a political decision was made to restrict the maximum donation for a party or an individual to $100. Quebec should be proud of leading the way for this kind of reform. Did the Liberals go anywhere near that? No. They decided that they would have these fundraising parties. Not to worry, because it would all be on the website so people could see who attended. That is not reform. That is a joke. I will come back to that in a moment.

I want to come back to a point I made when I was addressing the Minister of Democratic Institutions. I am sure it was inadvertent, but I believe that people would agree that she left the impression that somehow events that happen in private homes are off limits. They are entirely consistent. In other words, one can still have these cozy events in private homes.

In the mandate letter the Prime Minister gave to that minister, it very clearly said that the law would make fundraisers involving ministers, party leaders, and leadership candidates more transparent, including requiring them to be conducted “in publicly-available spaces”. This is not that law. One can still meet in someone's private home in West Vancouver and talk about transactions with government leaders, and that is just fine. This time they just have to tell us who is there, and that seems to be it. They just have to put it on the website.

That is a very modern solution, but it does not go anywhere near addressing the problem. I would not want anyone to think that somehow these cozy little deals in private homes are off limits. They are not. They are very much alive and well in Canada under this law.

According to media analysis, the Liberal Party scheduled more than 100 cash-for-access events in the year 2016 alone. They are enormously profitable, as we know. We are not just talking about transparency; we are talking about the principle of cash for access itself. As the government once recognized, it is not just about undue influence but about the perception of that undue influence.

If Canadians are watching at this late hour, I need to remind them that the bill does not in any way, shape, or form address the cash-for-access events. They are alive and well and continue to be profitable. A prime minister or a finance minister will be coming to a private residence nearby, but this time people are going to know who is there.

Bill C-50 creates a new class of what are called “regulated fundraising events”, subject to special reporting requirements. In theory, these requirements would apply to a broad range of events with ticket prices over $200. It would require public notice in the days leading up to the event and the public release of the attendees' names within 30 days following the event. In practice, there are glaring gaps, most notably, as my colleague earlier commented, the exclusion for what are called “contributor appreciation events” at party conventions. In other words, the bill as written appears to subject to its reporting requirements an event that requires a $250 donation to attend, but not one organized to express appreciation for individuals who have donated $250. I do not understand that, but that is what the bill says.

For example, the bill would continue to allow donors at the Laurier Club, the high-donor Liberal organization, to contribute $1,500 at party conventions and then gain access to the exclusive events with cabinet ministers and the prime minister. They do not seem to think that is a problem at all. It is too bad the Prime Minister did when he wrote a non-binding document that was celebrated not that long ago, called “Open and Accountable Government”.

If anyone doubts that donors really do expect access in return for their cash, let me quote the website of the Liberal Party's Leaders Circle, an elite tier of donors who not only max out their donation limits set by existing political finance laws but also bundle together at least 10 others. These donors, who brought at least $16,500 to the Liberal Party, are promised a variety of recognition opportunities, including an annual dinner with the leader and invitations to events and discussions with leaders within the party.

What is that? I would call it unique access to the Prime Minister of Canada and members of his cabinet. It just costs a little more. Apparently the ministers attended 31 such appreciation events last year alone. Under this bill, what would change about those? Zero, so it is deeply disappointing that the government did not respond to the concerns of Canadians with a genuine and robust effort to actually clean up political fundraising. It could have followed the lead of other governments that have actually banned politicians and candidates from attending such events. Instead we have a fig leaf and we are supposed to be happy about it.

I have another concern I promised I would come back to. It is that the bill does not just apply to what we would think it would, such as having access to cabinet ministers and the like, because that is what Canadians call cash for access. Somehow it has to cover opposition leaders and their parties as well, which is a bit odd. The thing that worries me is these people are going to have their names on an easily accessible website. Everyone who would come to a Liberal fundraising event would be known, and it would be the same for a Conservative or an NDP fundraising event in similar circumstances.

Let us say a public servant in the current government attended a Conservative fundraising event, or an individual who had aspirations to be appointed to a federal agency or something of that sort attended. It is their public right, their right as Canadians, whether public servants or otherwise, to attend a fundraising event for the Conservative Party, an opposition party.

Somebody in the Liberal Party or apparatchiks in the government would be able to cross-reference the list of donors, the list of people who gave money to the Conservatives, and then know who was not a supporter of the government of the day. What would happen then? What they would be able to find out by cross-referencing is people who will not be appointed to a federal agency because they are the wrong political stripe. A public servant might suddenly see that their best new opportunity is in Iqaluit, because that is where they might send people who are outed as donors to another party.

As the Liberals say, and they may say, that is not something we would do. We are not like that.

However, we are making this law for a long, long time until it is changed, so it is not an excuse to say, “We would not do that”, because in the hands of another, less generous party, that could happen. Therefore I would ask, as this gets to committee, that we consider that possibility.

Frankly, are there privacy concerns with this? In the zeal to have transparency and actually not do anything about cash for access, but let everybody know who comes to these events, are there issues of privacy? I would ask the Privacy Commissioner to opine on that.

Yes, indeed, we all have a right to attend political events. The lifeblood of our democracy is those people who wish to get involved, and we salute those who participate, but it seems there may be a high price to pay, both in the loss of an individual's privacy as well as the potential impact on their career aspirations as a consequence of doing so. I think that is something that at least is worth consideration.

I want to suggest that the bill is deeply flawed. It is flawed in principle and it is flawed in drafting. It does not do what Canadians expected it to do. It ignores committee recommendations on ethics that could have made a difference. Instead it is providing more information, perhaps to the detriment of individual Canadians, so I ask the government to be open to suggestions at committee.

It is not often that suggestions that come from opposition parties are accepted, but perhaps this is an exception. I would welcome the opportunity to have a serious conversation about what the Liberals are trying to do.

Cash for access will continue. We can still buy access to the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers if we have the money to pay. In press releases and commentary, the Minister of Democratic Institutions told reporters that what happens at the cabinet table is not influenced by what happens at fundraising events. That is a direct quote. Even if that is true for this government, which I severely doubt, a lot of Canadians do not expect it to be true. They think that there is an appearance of problems here, and as the Prime Minister himself argued, that ought not to be the case, but it is the case and it will continue to be the case. I ask the Liberals what they think they are achieving by such a hollow exercise.

Having these events in private homes where the media are not required to come to tell us who is there and what they are doing and what they are talking about is just ridiculous. It is just a complete travesty. It will not achieve what Canadians expected would happen here. We all expressed outrage at these cash-for-access events. We all expected meaningful reform, and this is what we were given. It is not even consistent with the open and accountable government document that the Prime Minister talked about.

We will have to support the bill so we can get it to committee. Then let us fix it. Let us roll up our sleeves and make it better for Canadians.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 10:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, political financing, which we feel will help to raise the bar that we, as parliamentarians, are held to when it comes to the important issue of openness and accountability in political fundraising.

We know Canadians value our democracy. While Canada already has one of the strictest electoral finance systems in the world, we recognize we can do even more to increase the transparency in the way that political parties finance. That is why Bill C-50 would contribute to enhance trust in our democratic institutions by providing Canadians with more information than ever before.

Canadians will know who is going to fundraisers, when they are going to be held, and the amount required to attend. Canadians deserve to know that their elected representatives are playing fair. Bill C-50 would not only help achieve this goal by implementing new rules to make political financing even more open and transparent, but it would also allow those across our country to know more about how the political fundraising that the parties conduct is undertaken so they can continue to have confidence in our important and valued democratic process. It will also allow them to make up their minds about who they will vote for in elections and how they can be better informed for that purpose.

As my hon. colleagues know, key regulations, such as spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and a ban on corporate and union donations, are already in place when it comes to political financing in Canada. At the national level, all Canadian citizens and permanent residents have the ability to contribute up to a maximum of, this year, $1,550 annually to the registered party and then of course an equivalent amount to the riding association for the local candidate.

Additionally, contributions to a federal political party are reported to elections Canada and donations of over $200 are already published online with the information, including the contributor's name and address.

Canadians elected our government on a promise of openness and transparency. Canadians have a right to know even more than they do now when it comes to political fundraising. It is our responsibility, as parliamentarians, to serve those we represent. By taking action to make our political fundraising system more open and transparent, we are raising the bar on an informed choice in our political process.

Our government understands that many actions, such as attending a fundraising event, play a very important role in our democratic expression. Choosing to financially support a political party is not only a recognized right, protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also accounts for a valuable form of civic engagement. As a society that values democratic engagement, we must continue to uphold and protect this essential right.

Furthermore, our government knows that Canada's current political party system plays an important part in our democracy. It has contributed to our status as a model for many other democracies around the world, it is a key attribute of our democratic process, and it allows like-minded Canadians from all across the country, from diverse regions, social classes, religions, ethnic groups, and gender identities, to work together on a common purpose.

With this in mind, we must remember that political parties require funding to operate. We must continue to respect the right of all Canadians to choose how to financially support the party of their choice, while ensuring we are providing Canadians with open and transparent information about how this is done. This means taking significant steps to ensure that those across the country can view and understand how political fundraising works and plays a role in our democratic process.

Canadians will be able to determine, as a result of this law, when a political fundraiser is happening, who attended the fundraiser, and how much a person contributed or paid to get into it. Under the proposed measures of Bill C-50, all political parties that currently have seats in the House of Commons will have 30 days to report to Elections Canada the names and addresses of those who attend any fundraiser covered by the legislation.

Who is covered? Any fundraiser attended by the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, or party leadership contestants with a seat in the House of Commons where over $200 is required to attend will be subject to these rules. This is commensurate with our current disclosure requirement.

Furthermore, under the proposed legislation, these events will be advertised at least five days in advance, with the date, time, and location of the event. This will all be made clear on the party's website. This information, along with the names and addresses of those attending and the cost of event, will be published online.

As a former volunteer with a political party, as someone who has served as a treasurer of a provincial part, and a treasurer of a riding association, if somebody attended a political fundraising event but someone else had purchased a ticket or he or she attended as a guest, for free, the information might not appear online, whereas for someone who paid the full $200 cost, it did appear online.

This information was obscured, and this has come up in debate in the House. This legislation addresses that gap and makes the event reporting more transparent and open for Canadians so they can make a decision about whether there is some perception of undue influence.

Political parties will be responsible for ensuring this information is properly reported within the necessary time frame. If these rules are not followed, the party or candidate in question will be required to return all contributions from the event and there could also be a fine to a maximum of $1,000.

When it comes to our democracy, we know that balance is important. Under the measures brought forward by the legislation, we are successfully balancing the important charter right of democratic expression, while increasing openness and creating even more transparency in political fundraising. We are doing this to allow the electorate to make more informed decisions.

These measures will not only help strengthen and improve our democratic institutions; they will provide Canadians with more information than ever before when it comes to political fundraising events.

I believe all my hon. colleagues will see the value and importance of improving the openness and transparency of our political institutions. As a result, I encourage all members of the House to welcome the legislation so we can raise the bar when it comes to accountability for political events and to strengthen our continued democracy.

It was interesting to listen to some of the other comments. I want to talk a bit about some of the things my colleagues from Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston and Victoria raised with respect to some of the objectives of the act, what was covered, and what was not.

One section in the act states:

at least one person who, in order to attend it, is required...to have made a contribution or contributions of a total amount of more than $200 to the registered party or any of its registered associations, nomination, contestants, candidates...

It is not just events where a ticket price is included. Events like an appreciation event are covered under this act. There is another opportunity to close a loophole where some parties may have held events and said if people made their donations to the party three months ago, they would not report that they attended the event. We will close the loophole to ensure people are on an even footing when they attend events as to whether and how their information is recorded and made public to Canadians.

There are some interests in the background. Again, we already have very strict limits. I do not think anyone believes that a colleague in the House is going to be unduly influenced by the low levels of donations made by the limits set forth in our existing Canada Elections Act. Donating $1,550 among donations in the tens of millions of dollars to parties is not material. It does not go to affect and influence anyone. I do not believe Canadians feel that a de minimis amount of money in the overall scheme of things will affect public officials. I believe they have confidence in them. I do not believe they felt that $1,500 donations to the Conservative Party unduly influenced the Conservative Party, or that $1,500-a-year donations to the NDP unduly influenced the NDP. I also do not believe they feel that $1,550-a-year donations to the Liberal Party unduly influenced the Liberals. These are de minimis in the grand scheme of things when compared to the overall amount that parties fundraise.

However, there have been gaps, and we have seen that with respect to certain types of donations and certain types of political participation. We would not see in the record what clearly happened. At times, this leads to a perception that something is wrong.

I remember reading about events with Dean Del Mastro, a former member of the House, who held fundraising events. The reporters on the events did not seem to understand that when certain people from the party attended these events, they did not pay the ticket price. There were concerns within the articles about there being 300 people at the event, but it only raised a certain amount of money. It cast aspersions on the event that perhaps in that instance should not have been there.

If people understand how the finance laws and the reporting work, which is quite arcane, they will understand that some people were not allowed to pay for a ticket because they had already paid the cap. This change will allow the media and Canadians to understand that when people attend fundraisers in accordance with the rules, it does not always mean people pay the same price. Some people are prohibited from paying an additional amount to attend.

Advertising in advance is important for public scrutiny. Canadians will lose confidence if they only learn about things after the fact. It provides an opportunity for shock and awe type media events and media exposure in respect of events. It is this sort of perception by the media that something inopportune is happening. This has happened for years in Canadian reporting, when in fact nothing untoward has happened. This is a totally normal practice.

Advertising publicly in advance that these events are occurring provides the opportunity for the media to understand and prepare and then report more accurately on the events.

However, of course, every time we go and try to interfere with the type of publication that we are engaging in with respect to political finance reform, we have to recall that under our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, thought, belief, expression, peaceful assembly, and association. All of these are implicated in the political process. They are right there in section 2 of the charter. Of course, these can only be limited, in accordance with section 1, when they can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

We feel that we have achieved the right balance here. We are not going to require volunteers' names be disclosed or those of minors under 18 years of age. Journalists in the media will not need to be disclosed if they attend events, if the events only cost $200 or less, either at the event or including all previous donations for the right to acquire a ticket to the event. People providing hospitality and other services at the event will not have their names disclosed. This protects the freedom of association that Canadians hold so dear.

At the same time, for those donors in the over $200 up to $1,550 range, there is going to be some public openness and transparency and accountability to provide confidence that nothing untoward has happened, although generally, I think the members of this House will agree that $1,550 is also quite a low limit.

When it comes to other aspects of the political process that might be interfered with, we will note that during election campaigns, the particular rules about the timing of the promotion of the events will not apply. I think we feel that this would be unduly restrictive.

If we look at the smaller political parties that do not hold seats in this House, we see they do not necessarily have the resources to comply with all the rules in this act. Their access to influence, which could be peddled, is also quite limited. I think everyone would find that it would be fair that they should not have to comply with some of the rules about the promotion of their events, the disclosure of individual attendees, and the amounts donated, provided that they do comply with the limits, of course.

Any donation to a political party of $200 or more is going to be published, regardless of which party. It is not that Canadians do not have visibility into the electoral financing of the smaller political parties. They do, but this additional administrative burden is going to apply to those who hold seats in the House.

Then there are leadership contests. This is a subject that comes up time and time again in terms of the level of disclosure and the level of accountability in a leadership contest and how that affects the public perception of politics in Canada.

I know right now it is in the media about Mr. O'Leary and whether he appropriately financed his leadership campaign. Although they will not affect Mr. O'Leary or the people who are seeking the role of leader of the New Democratic Party, for future leadership contests, these rules would apply. These rules apply so that Canadians can have the information at their disposal within 30 days of the event to know plainly and simply who attended these events and how much they paid. Canadians themselves can come to an informed decision about whether they feel anything untoward has happened, and they can cast their vote accordingly.

I think we balanced the charter, and I think we have learned about the events of recent history. So much to do has been made about nothing, in some cases. Then, in other cases, there may be a situation where something untoward is happening, and promoting and publishing not only who has paid for tickets but also who is attending events, even if they have not paid for the tickets, would allow the opposition parties and the government party to examine exactly what has happened and if anything untoward is occurring in our political finance system.

I have already mentioned the fact that we are covering off appreciation events. I know that earlier in the debate there was some confusion about that. It seems very clear from my reading of the legislation that appreciation events are covered and that if people attend an appreciation event and their attendance is contingent on a donation that solely or in combination amounts more than $200, their names will need to be disclosed and published. I think this is appropriate.

I myself found, in connection with my role in political finance reporting as a riding association treasurer and as a treasurer of a provincial party, that those gaps exist. This act does a great job of closing those gaps, not only so that people are fully aware of what is happening and everyone is on an equal footing when it comes to their donations to a political party, but also so that in this place the opposition parties can review the lists and hold the government to account. I think that is an important feature of our democracy.

I know they like to do it almost every question period. This would provide them with a little more information. That is wonderful.

Bringing leadership and nomination campaign expenses in line with the current regime for candidates is an important aspect of the changes to the rules. Another thing that we found in the last election was that the rules associated with nomination contestants and candidates for a campaign and in the leadership contest are all a bit of a smattering and a bit of a mix, in terms of making sure that we have the same coherent information being provided across the political finance spectrum for all the ways in which Canadians are engaging in the process.

We would allow Canadians to have a better sense of what is going on. The more loopholes there are in our law, the more ways there are for people to provide donations and not have their name published, the more it seems there is something wrong with our system, and it lowers the credibility of the system. I think we have managed to close that off here.

I understand that the NDP is at least going to be supporting the bill at this stage. I am very thankful for that. It points to the fact that New Democrats feel the bill addresses something. I know they are asking for more. I look forward to hearing more from the members of the NDP, as to what they would like to see in the bill.

I look forward to hearing from the Conservatives, as well, even though they are not supporting it. They talked earlier about putting on a fig leaf, and I think we are really talking about pulling the fig leaf away. Let us lay everything out on the table. Let us see what is on the table, in terms of donations, and let Canadians make up their minds with respect to the issues that are of importance to them.

This was important to me before I entered politics, and I am glad to see that, now, as a result of the legislation that is being put forward by the minister, we are achieving on our election campaign commitment to make our electoral finance system more open and transparent. That is something that I hope earns the support of all members of the House.

With respect to advertising by political parties on websites, this will be an opportunity. This should not impose too much of an administrative burden on political parties. Most political parties, at least the ones represented in the House, have well-functioning websites that include the opportunity to host and show events. We have not heard anyone stating today that their party would not be able to comply with this aspect of the bill. From a compliance perspective, this should not put any undue cost or burden on the parties. It is something they are able to do already.

Perhaps it is not something that they are always doing, but this would provide a strict and clear standard on what needs to be done in terms of promotion of events on websites, to make sure that everyone is playing ball fairly, and that when events occur, the media know about them in advance, the public knows about them advance, and people are able to make up their own minds as to the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the particular type of event, its location, its costs, and what the party is trying to achieve in hosting it.

In addition to the promotion in advance, there is also an accelerated timeline for reporting the results of the event after it has already occurred. Now there would be a 30-day timeline in which the event organizers would need to provide to the parties the list of the attendees at the event, subject of course to the limits of not reporting minors, volunteers, media, and people providing support to the event; but for all the other attendees of the event, their names need to be provided, along with their addresses, to Elections Canada within 30 days of the event.

I think this is important, because it would provide timely access to information for Canadians. The lack of timeliness of the information is another way by which Canadians lose confidence or faith, or they have a perception that there might be something untoward or inappropriate happening. By accelerating the timelines for this reporting and ensuring that the reporting is done within a month, that would give confidence to Canadians that things truly are on the up and up.

I am sure when Canadians see the results of this bill come forward, if it gets passed in its current form, they will see the benefits of this public reporting. It would help them have confidence that political fundraising is not some type of evil that has to be undone. It is an important part of our political process, and it allows us to do the work we do here every day. It allows Canadians to engage in a fair and balanced way in the political system.

If it has a negative perception as a result of some of the discourse in this place, the bill allows us to overcome that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 10:40 p.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, when my friend from St. John's East mentioned that a campaign promise of the Liberals was being fulfilled in Bill C-50, I went back to look at the Liberal platform because as I recall, this was not a campaign promise. The campaign promise on electoral financing would ensure that the loophole of unlimited spending by political parties before the writ drops would be closed, and controlled spending within the writ period.

The more significant campaign promise was that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post. We must get back to that if the Liberals do not squander a lot of what particularly younger Canadians entrusted when they cast their votes.

Bill C-50 really deals with an almost microscopic issue of the importance of electoral reform and campaign finance reform. This only became an issue because of the optics of cash for access fundraising that conflicted with the Prime Minister's own words.

Bill C-50 would close that loophole, but there are many more important issues with respect to improving democracy in this country than this so-called cash for access piece. Let us be clear. Under our existing laws all donor names have to be published and donations held at $1,500. This legislation deals with the issue of private fundraising that creates the impression of elite access.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 10:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to belabour the point that the real reason we are here tonight on both Bill C-24 and Bill C-50 is because of miscalculations on the part of the Prime Minister. In the first instance, he promised gender parity in cabinet, and suddenly realized he did not have it. On this piece, he is giving in to his Liberal instincts.

Why is there nothing in Bill C-50 that would address third-party financing? That is the big elephant in the room. Third-party groups have unduly influenced elections, especially the last one. Why is there nothing in Bill C-50 that would address that?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 11:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise tonight and speak to Bill C-50 or, as I like to refer to it, the “got caught with my hand in the cookie jar so I'm going to blame the cookie jar act”, because that is exactly what the Liberals are trying to do with this legislation. They knew what the rules were. They knew what the rules were all along. Then they just broke them. They continued to break them. Then they got caught. Now they are trying to put up a bit of a cover for that. They did this for months. They went on and on with it. They showed no remorse. They did not seem to have any feelings of guilt. However, when they were caught, they decided that it was the rules' fault and not their fault. That is where we are today.

I guess we could look at it the way my colleague, the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge, put it. He told me this legislation was designed to stop the Liberals from doing what they have been doing. Maybe it would just be easier if they just stopped doing it. What is even worse is this legislation would not even stop them from doing it. It is just a cover. When people forget about the cash for access scandals, they will just quietly start doing it again. This legislation really would not do anything to stop it.

Let me back up a bit and take us to where we started with all of this, or where they started with all of this. In November 2015, very shortly after the Liberals formed government, the Prime Minister issued some directives. These directives were titled, “Open and Accountable Government.” I suspect if anyone is watching tonight, they are probably chuckling a bit at that, because it does sound amusing to hear that title, given what we have seen from the Liberal government in the year and a half to two years it has been in power. However, I do not want us to get too distracted by that because it is a bit amusing. There is no question about that.

However, under “Annex B” of that directive, “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries”, the Prime Minister outlines three general principles that he said must be followed. I will read them:

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.

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.

There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments.

When we start thinking about that, they have broken all three of those multiple times.

Of particular note is the second principle that talks about preferential access to government by donors of political parties. Let us look at the Liberal record of upholding that principle as it pertains to the rules laid out in the Conflict of Interest Act.

In April 2016, the Minister of Justice attended a $500-a-ticket fundraiser at Torys LLP offices, in Toronto. Several of the law firm's members were registered to lobby the federal government, including a senior member who was registered to lobby the justice department. How, in any universe, is that not a conflict of interest? The Minister of Justice has a duty, not only to be independent, but also to be perceived as independent, which was very clearly compromised by that fundraiser.

What was discussed at this fundraiser? Did the lawyers who were present lobby the minister to advance their interests? Did the interests of those lawyers go further than the ones who did not contribute to the Liberal Party? At the time this was discovered, the Liberal Party refused to say who was in attendance at the event. That information only became public once it was posted on Elections Canada's website.

It is actually interesting that the Liberals feel the need to change the law to make sure that attendees at ministerial fundraisers remain public, because when given the chance, they refuse to do so themselves. It goes back to the principle that it would be easier to just stop doing what they are doing. They do not have to change the law to stop doing it; they just need to stop doing it. They know it is wrong, so they should not keep doing it.

How about the fundraiser the finance minister attended in Halifax in October, where corporate executives paid $1,500 each to attend? How about when the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, who was the Prime Minister's point person on legalizing marijuana, headlined a private Liberal fundraiser, attended by a marijuana lobbying group, at a law office in Toronto that advises clients in the cannabis business? Seriously, this stuff can not be made up. I know the Liberals eventually returned the donation from the marijuana lobbyist. They acknowledged what was obvious, that it was clearly a conflict of interest, but they only did so when the fundraising event became a media story. In other words, it was when they got caught. Again, they put their hand in the cookie jar, someone caught them, and they were trying to blame the cookie jar.

Because of all of this, we know that Liberal ministers and parliamentary secretaries cannot, or maybe will not, and are not following simple ethical rules when it comes to fundraising.

I am sure the Prime Minister must have been incredibly disappointed when members of his own government not only broke the conflict of interest rules but also the very rules he created himself called “Open and Accountable Government”. Hold on. Was he disappointed? As it turns out, in May of last year, the Prime Minister was a guest star at a $1,500 Liberal Party cash-for-access fundraiser at the mansion of a wealthy Chinese Canadian business executive. One of the guests in attendance was a donor who was seeking approval from the federal government to begin operating a new bank in Canada. Another guest at the event made a sizable donation to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation. It was $50,000 to build a statue of the former prime minister himself just weeks after the event. It was just a pure coincidence, I am sure.

It looks like it was not just his cabinet that was breaking his rules. The Prime Minister himself broke his own rules when it came to political fundraising, which is why I do not know how anyone can take this bill seriously. Again, if they want to stop doing it, they just have to stop doing it.

We all know what it really is. It is just a smoke screen they are putting up to make it seem like they are being accountable. They like to talk, but they do not really like to follow through with action. It is all talk and no action. It is just a smoke and mirrors situation, just like everything else they do.

If they really want to be accountable, they do not need a bill to do so. They could just stop selling access to the government for cash. They could voluntarily provide the list of attendees at their fundraising events. They could ensure that the Prime Minister and other members of cabinet were not in a conflict of interest when they attended partisan events. A new law is not going to make their cash-for-access fundraisers ethical. It just will not do that.

If the Prime Minister wanted to end cash for access, all he ever had to do, and all he still has to do, is stop doing these fundraisers. It is that simple. It does not take legislation.

Bending the rules so the Prime Minister can keep charging $1,500 for wealthy individuals to meet with him and discuss government business is still wrong. It will always be wrong. That is clear. What else is clear are the rules. Why do the Liberals not just start following the rules like everyone else?

Here is the answer. It is because they are not open, they are not transparent, and they definitely have no intention of actually being accountable. They like to talk about it, but they certainly do not want to walk the walk. It seems like this is a pattern with these Liberals. It is a pattern with all Liberals, but certainly with these ones. They do not want to be accountable to Canadians.

Remember just a few months ago when the government House leader introduced her quite ironically titled discussion paper on changes to the Standing Orders. It became obvious very soon after that a discussion was actually the last thing the Liberal Party wanted and they tried to ram those changes through the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, with no discussion, no debate, no questions and answers, and without unanimous consent.

Let us try to remember some of the changes they were trying to force through and I am sure they are going to continue to try to force through. They want to take every Friday off. Canadians work five days a week, at least. Why does the Prime Minister and the Liberal government think that they are more entitled than average Canadians? It is a pattern with them again. They seem to think they are entitled.

Really, I think they want to avoid scrutiny from the opposition parties, the media, and therefore Canadians. Why show up and be held accountable five days a week when they can try to get away with just four? They will try to get away with cash for access. Why not try to get away with fewer days to be held accountable?

Furthermore, the Liberals proposed that the Prime Minister only attend question period once a week. I realize the Prime Minister does not actually answer questions when he comes to question period anyway, but that does not mean he should not show up most days. He should be expected to show up so that people can see him not answering the questions. What would that mean? With the schedule of the House of Commons and his showing up and answering questions one time a week, it boils down to his answering questions for as little as 25 hours in an entire year. That is on the weeks he shows up at all, because last week we did not see him once.

Some of the other changes that were being proposed by the Liberals were designed to limit and handcuff the opposition, essentially to not allow them to do their jobs to full capacity. These changes would have diminished Parliament and they largely would have stripped the opposition of the power to hold the Prime Minister and his government to account. There it is again, the lack of wanting to be accountable.

What is worse than the outrageous changes they tried to make, which I am sure will continue, is the fact that they tried to ram these changes through a Liberal dominated committee without the consent of all political parties. This was an unprecedented move that had not been seen before in Canadian democracy. It had been a long-standing tradition in Parliament that any changes to the way the House of Commons operates must have unanimous consent from all the major parties represented in the House.

That entire standing order debacle made it quite clear that the Prime Minister has absolutely no respect for democracy. The Liberals only backed down after Canadians let them know that they would not stand for it. Again, the Liberals get away with it as long as they can and when they are called out on it, they try to find some way to weasel out of it.

During the procedure and House affairs committee, I had the opportunity to read hundreds of emails from Canadians who were upset and very angry that the Liberals were trying to subvert democracy in such a way. An e-petition that was created on March 23, collected over 30,000 signatures pretty much over a weekend.

I am happy and proud that Canadians became so engaged in our parliamentary process, but it should not have had to come to that. The Liberals should have known better, just like they should know better when it comes to cash for access fundraisers. I know they do know better. They think they can get away with it and that is just plain wrong.

The Liberal government members should be accountable, should be open, and should be transparent on their own, not only when there is public outcry. It should not take public outcry to make them appear to be accountable, open, and transparent. They should just be doing it, but that is not the LIberal way.

There is another parallel I can draw. We have heard it mentioned a couple of times tonight already, but this bill deals with a problem that the Liberals have created themselves, which they could just stop doing. They do not need a bill to stop doing it. There are all kinds of serious matters that are potential threats to our democracy that they could be dealing with. A great example of this is third-party spending during elections. I will take a moment to talk about that glaring issue.

The commissioner of elections told the Senate committee the following:

We have received a significant number of complaints about the involvement of third parties in connection with the 2015 general election. And I would add we received many more complaints than had been filed with respect to the previous election in 2011.

Common to many of these complaints was the perception that third parties, in some ridings, were so significantly involved in the electoral contest that this resulted in unfair electoral outcomes.

I would suggest that third-party engagement in Canada’s electoral process will likely continue to grow. For that reason, it may be time for Parliament to re-examine the third-party regime....

The previous electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, also testified that a registered third party can accept and use foreign money during a Canadian electoral campaign and that, further, there is no limit to the amount it can spend, except on advertising. The current election law only regulates third-party activities that are directly related to advertising. Therefore, Elections Canada does not define things like surveys, election-related websites, calling services, push polls, and other things to communicate with electors as advertising. Once the funds are mingled in with an organization in Canada or from outside of Canada, it is within their funds and they can use those funds in an unlimited amount, the way it is now.

The commissioner further stated:

In Canada, third parties are only regulated with respect to their election advertising activities. Provided they act independently from a candidate or party, they may incur limitless amounts of expenses when carrying out activities such as polling, voter contact services, promotional events, etc. They can also use whatever sources of funding—including foreign funds—to finance these non-election advertising activities.

The level of third party engagement in Canada's electoral process will likely continue to grow in the years to come. For that reason, Parliament should consider whether there is a need to re-examine the third-party regime, with a view to maintaining a level playing field for all participants.

Does no one on the government side find those statements in any way concerning? They should.

The commissioner of Canada elections is saying that Parliament needs to be looking at changing the third-party regime to ensure the integrity of Canadian elections. Instead, the Liberals are introducing legislation to police themselves because the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Instead, they could be dealing with something that would ensure the integrity of elections. That is what we should be doing. In fact, on this one, the Minister of Democratic Institutions is turning a blind eye and pretending that this has not even been flagged as an issue. It was said by the commissioner of Canada elections, nonetheless.

During question period in the Senate recently, the minister testified on foreign funding in third-party spending during elections, and stated:

From the experience we have, we have found that this is not something that is currently present and so significant that it would impact the electoral system or the confidence that Canadians have during a writ period or during an election.

She also said, “there's very little evidence to suggest that foreign money is influencing Canadian elections by third parties.” It seems to be quite different from what the commissioner had to say, quite different. I will point out that just because the minister is turning a blind eye does not mean this is not a glaring issue. As the minister's mandate letter famously put it, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant to concerns about our political process.” Why is she not shining a little light on this issue? Is this issue not in need of a little sunshine? Why do we not deal with that? It is not dealt with in Bill C-33 and it is not dealt with in Bill C-50, which we have before us today.

At the end of the day, Liberal members opposite can use all the platitudes they want. They can claim all they want to be open, transparent, and accountable, but Canadians are certainly growing tired of their games. Canadians are seeing the Liberal government for what it really is: the same party that brought us the sponsorship scandal, only with slightly better hair and maybe some really snappy socks.

The Liberals got caught breaking the rules, and changing the rules does not make them any less guilty. They still broke the rules, and they continue to break the rules. It is time for that to change.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 11:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise to speak to Bill C-50, and to have the opportunity to talk about the importance of providing more transparency on how party leaders and political parties fundraise.

I just want to mention a few things about the objective of the bill. It is about fundraising events and applying more transparency to events involving cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, which was not there before. It is about including more transparency for party leaders and leadership contestants of parties, which was not there before.

I have to talk about party leaders who are running for nominations because to this day we still do not know who donated to Stephen Harper. Thirteen years later, Stephen Harper has not released the amounts—

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 11:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Just in case they did not hear me, Mr. Speaker, I just want to repeat. In 2004, Stephen Harper was the leader of the official opposition. We did not know who donated to his campaign. To this day, we still do not know who donated to his campaign. We do not know which lobbyists or which stakeholders. We have no idea who donated to the Stephen Harper campaign, and to this day he will not release those numbers.

Here is what we are proposing. We are proposing that any member who runs in a leadership campaign, a prime minister, cabinet member, or any leadership contestants for a party with a seat in the House of Commons needs to release that data within 30 days.

I have to speak about the members of the official opposition who ran for the leadership. I am sorry. I have to bring this back to 2009. It is frustrating but we have to be honest and this is about an honest debate. I have to read what I have here. Those members talk about transparency and openness and cash for access, but lobbyists used to host fundraisers for their cabinet ministers, and they were caught. The lobbying commissioner caught them red-handed. I have to read part of the ruling:

The Commissioner initiated an administrative review to look into the file and she also received complaints from Parliamentarians and Democracy Watch—

I was not here in 2009, but I want to thank those members who were here for launching those complaints. Let me go on:

—to look into the matter. In July 2010, following an administrative review, the Commissioner commenced an investigation of the matter. The investigation concluded that Mr. McSweeney played a role in the organization of the event by selling tickets.

Now that is cash for access. If one is lobbying on an issue and selling tickets, that is cash for access.

During the same period of time, Mr. McSweeney was registered to lobby on behalf of the CAC in respect of subjects that fell within the purview of the Minister—

Who was that minister? It was the member for Milton.

—and communicated with her directly in respect of registrable subjects.

It is time to change the channel. We must move on. We have to provide transparency into fundraising events. We have to stop lobbyists from selling tickets to events and allowing ministers to get that cash for access, as the Liberals have talked about. We have not done that on this side of the House.

No member has left this side of the House in shackles. None of our members have left the House in shackles. Our colleague from Niagara has not left in shackles. He is a good member. He has not left in shackles. The member for Cambridge is good member. He has not left in shackles. We follow the law, and that is the important thing.

The important thing is about providing more transparency into this matter, and this is what Bill C-50 is all about.

What do we want to accomplish? Let me read a few important goals that we want to accomplish. Let me talk about some of the issues.

We want to improve the already-strong and robust rules around political fundraising events. We agree that in the past there were some issues with political fundraising events. Of course, we do not agree with $15,000 and corporations and unions giving to political fundraising. We do not agree with that, but we agree with the limit of $1,500. It is a great amount. No member could be sold for that amount. That amount was actually established by the previous government, and we agree. We can agree on that amount because it changes the channel. It takes the money away from the influence.

The other issue that we agree about is that Bill C-50 would make political fundraising events more open and transparent to enhance trust and competence in our democratic institutions. If members across the aisle are so against these events, then I hope they can guarantee tonight that no member who ran for the leadership of that party actually held those events.

I do not think they do because we know, on this side, that some of these members held these events. Therefore, at the end of the day, what we want to accomplish is more transparency with respect to political fundraising, which will benefit all political parties, the Green Party, the New Democratic Party, the Conservative Party, and even the independent members way at the back there. It will benefit all parties at the end of the day. I will leave it at that.