That Bill C-9, in Clause 2, be amended
(a) by adding after line 34 on page 3 the following:
“(5.1) The definition eligible entity in subsection 125.7(1) of the Act is amended by striking out “(entité déterminée)” at the end of paragraph (f) and by adding the following after that paragraph:
It does not include a political party within the meaning of subsection 2(1) of the Canada Elections Act or of any Act of the legislature of a province relating to provincial, municipal or school board elections. (entité déterminée)”
(b) by replacing line 20 on page 14 with the following:
“(23) Subsections (1) to (10), except subsection (5.1), and subsections (14) to (17) are”
(c) by replacing line 35 on page 14 with the following:
“(24) Subsections (5.1), (11) to (13) and (18) to (22) are”
Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the House that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-9 and is in favour of passing it quickly.
We had several opportunities this week to share our reasons for this. The bill extends the Canada emergency wage subsidy in order to give businesses more security, which is something that we have been calling for for a long time. We have also been calling for the creation of a program that provides businesses with real assistance with their fixed costs, and the Canada emergency rent subsidy meets that need.
However, there is a still a problem with this bill that dates back to the initial bill to create the wage subsidy that was introduced in the spring, and that is the fact that the political parties can apply for the program.
The wage subsidy is an emergency program designed to respond to an emergency. We are in the midst of a pandemic and some businesses were or still are being forced to scale back their operations or even close. In order to stabilize the economy, we are asking taxpayers, through their taxes and future debt load, to collectively support these businesses and help them survive the pandemic.
If we have learned one thing from the field of economics over the past century, it is that it is better to go into debt and pay more to support the economic fabric in times of crisis, since that is the lesser of the evils.
Why are millionaire political parties availing themselves of the wage subsidy when, even in 2020, they are still able to raise millions and millions of dollars through their funding mechanisms?
An article by Catherine Lévesque in The Canadian Press reports that the Liberal Party has received more than $1.25 million through the wage subsidy program. However, in 2020 alone, the Liberal Party has managed to raise nearly $9 million in political contributions. The year is not even over yet, and we know that November and December are generally important months for filling the coffers.
Was the program intended for political parties? In my opinion, no. Is this a serious ethical breach? In my opinion, yes. Why? Because if we look at the legislation that created the wage subsidy, political parties are not listed and even seem to be excluded.
Even so, the Liberal Party opted to apply, and the Canada Revenue Agency chose to say yes and give it the funding. That is unacceptable. It is deeply unethical.
I therefore call on the Liberal Party and all parties in the House to vote in favour of the amendment to close that loophole, clarify the scope of the bill and send a message that those actions were contrary to the spirit of the act. I am also asking the Liberal Party and all parties that received money from the wage subsidy to pay it all back. It is a matter of principle. It is not up to taxpayers in Quebec and Canada to fund political parties through the wage subsidy.
According to the act that created the wage subsidy, an “eligible entity” can be a corporation or trust. Is the Liberal Party a business whose activities are intended to enrich it? Maybe that is how it qualified for the wage subsidy.
Item (b) of the definition of “eligible entity” indicates “an individual”. Clearly, the Liberal Party is not a person or an individual.
Is it then “a registered charity”? I say no. However, if we expand this definition to include crony judges or Liberal cronies winning contracts, like the directors of WE Charity or the former member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, who was awarded an untendered contract to produce medical ventilators at twice the price when he has never made them before, then we could say that the Liberal Party is charitable with its friends. However, serving the public does not seem to be its objective.
The definition then indicates at item (d), “a person that is exempt from tax under”. Here it is referring to unions such as farmers' unions, which the Liberal Party is not, obviously.
Item (e) reads as follows: “a partnership, all of the members of which are described in this paragraph”. This is known as a limited partnership.
Is the Liberal Party a limited partnership? Their experience is in sponsorship, not partnership. In any case, once again, it does not apply. That is what the amendment specifies. It clarifies that political parties, within the meaning of the Canada Elections Act or similar provincial legislation, are not eligible entities. That closes the loophole.
To access the wage subsidy, there must be a 30% drop in the average revenue for January, February and March. A political party can easily meet that requirement by delaying fundraising by one month in order to qualify. Just because we are in a pandemic does not mean that the cupboard is bare. There is approximately $9 million in the Liberal Party's coffers. They have the money. It is a millionaire party that is continuing to raise funds.
The other criterion for the wage subsidy is to compare a given month in 2020 with the same month in 2019. The year 2019 was an election year. All political scientists know very well that during an election year, every party tries to raise more money. Therefore, it was only natural that revenues in 2020 would be lower than in 2019, and not because of the pandemic.
Why should taxpayers, people who are struggling right now, working-class people who pay their taxes, who are in debt and who are having a hard time making ends meet, be asked to make an extra effort to support millionaire parties? This should not even be a question. This is another dirty trick to warp the spirit of the bill in order to make a buck at the expense of taxpayers. That is not why we were elected to the House. We must vote in favour of this amendment.
I believe that the state should provide public financing to political parties, as it did before. When Jean Chrétien was looking for a way out of the sponsorship scandal, he decided that each political party would receive a small amount of money for each vote received. This was intended to cut down on shenanigans and shell games. It was an attempt to put less emphasis on money and to avoid putting parties that defend the interests of the wealthy at an advantage. The point was to improve democracy.
This worthy measure was unfortunately eliminated, and the Bloc Québécois has since been calling for it to be reinstated. That is how it is done in Quebec and in the majority of western democracies. It is obviously less common among Anglo-Saxons, and that culture surely had an influence on this Parliament's decision. The idea of public financing is to level the playing field and support each party based on the number of votes it received.
Letting political parties receive the wage subsidy does not level the playing field. It actually increases disparities because the parties that get the most money will hire the most people and will therefore receive more wage subsidies. This creates an imbalance that is unacceptable.
The Bloc Québécois is not against the principle of public financing, but we are absolutely against the notion of warping the spirit of the wage subsidy bill by claiming that they gave it a shot and got it. This is unacceptable and needs to be fixed. That is the purpose of this amendment. I urge all political parties in the House that accessed the wage subsidy to pledge to immediately pay back the money they received. It is a matter of honour.