Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone. This is your 70th meeting today. Congratulations for that. It is important.
I will acknowledge, though, that I have mixed feelings about being here today.
I am honoured to be before you again to talk about legislation that makes our democracy more open and transparent, but I'm also saddened to recall that my previous appearances at this committee included the participation of my dear friend and colleague, the member of Parliament for Scarborough—Agincourt, Arnold Chan. He was both an outstanding parliamentarian and a really great guy. His passing has left an enormous gap in this committee and in the House of Commons and, I'm sure, in all of our hearts.
I just wanted to put that on the record.
Our focus today is on Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing). This bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency surrounding political fundraisers.
Bill C-50 required the hard work and dedication of many public servant officials, so before I start, I would like to acknowledge and thank them for their contribution.
Thank you for your commitment to this legislation.
The Government of Canada has promised to set a higher bar on the transparency, accountability, and integrity of our public institutions and the democratic process. Today I'm addressing one of our initiatives that will help reach this objective. This year we celebrate, in addition to the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the 35th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadians cherish our charter. It is a model for new democracies around the world.
Section 3 of the charter guarantees every citizen the right to vote and to run in an election. The freedoms of association and expression enshrined in section 2 of the charter include the right of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to make a donation to a party and to participate in fundraising activities. Of course, these rights are subject to reasonable limitations.
Political parties represent a vital component of our democratic system. They unite people coming to the table from different regions, and with a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Parties mobilize ordinary citizens to champion ideas and work to get others to join them.
In my speech in the House of Commons, I quoted former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci. He said, “Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.”
Each time that Canadians vote in an election for a political party that shares their objectives or world view, it is one of the ways in which they play an active and engaged role in their society. We see this as an opportunity to make our country a better place for our children and grandchildren. Some Canadians even choose to work or volunteer for a political party.
But not everyone has the time or inclination to become active in politics as a volunteer. Perhaps they can do that, and something else as well. Still, they may want their voices heard. For many Canadians, making a financial contribution to a political campaign is a meaningful way to play a direct role in our democracy and an important form of democratic expression. Choosing to financially support a political party is something we must continue to uphold and protect.
Everyone in this room knows that donations given by people who believe in us, who believe in what we stand for, make our work possible, and we must continue to ensure that Canadians are free to contribute to political parties in an open and transparent manner.
It bears noting that Canada is known around the world for the rigour of its political financing regime. Companies, industry associations, unions, or any organization for that matter, cannot give funds to any politician or political party, and there's a strict limit on individual contributions. Canadian citizens and permanent residents can contribute a maximum of $1,550 annually to each of the following: a registered party, a leadership contestant, and an independent candidate. In addition, they can donate a total of $1,550 to a contestant for nomination, a candidate in an election, and/or a riding association. Contributions are reported to Elections Canada and the name, municipality, province, and postal code of those who contribute more than $200 are published online.
Bill C-50 will build on this existing regime. Where a fundraising event requires any attendee to contribute or pay a ticket price totalling more than $200, the name and partial address of each attendee, with certain exceptions, will be published online. The exceptions are: youth under 18, volunteers, event staff, media and support staff for the minister or party leader in attendance.
As I said during second reading debate in the House of Commons, Canadians take political fundraising seriously. There are serious consequences for disobeying the law, and that is why the Canada Elections Act provides tough sanctions for those who break the rules. The penalties include fines of up to $50,000, up to five years in jail, or both.
Although Canadians can be proud of our already strict regulations for political financing, we recognize that they have the right to know even more than they do now when it comes to political fundraising events.
Bill C-50 aims to provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising events in order to continue to enhance trust and confidence in our democratic institutions.
If passed, Bill C-50 would allow Canadians to learn when a political fundraiser that has a ticket price or requires a contribution above $200 is happening and who attended.
This legislation would apply to all fundraising activities attended by cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, party leaders, and leadership contestants when a contribution or ticket price of more than $200 is required of any attendee. This provision also applies to appreciation events for donors to a political party or contestant.
These provisions apply to all parties with a seat in the House of Commons.
Bill C-50 would require parties to advertise fundraising events at least five days in advance. Canadians would know about a political fundraiser before the event takes place, giving them an opportunity to inquire about a ticket, if they wish.
Bill C-50 would also give journalists the ability to determine when and where fundraisers are happening. At the same time, political parties would retain the flexibility to set their own rules for providing media access and accreditation.
Parties would be required to report the names and partial addresses of attendees to Elections Canada within 30 days of the event. That information would then become public.
The bill would also introduce new offences in the Canada Elections Act for those who don't respect the rules, and require the return of any money collected at the event. These sanctions would apply to political parties, rather than the senior political leaders invited to the events.
We propose a maximum $1,000 fine on summary conviction for offences introduced under Bill C-50. And if rules are broken, then contributions collected at events would have to be returned.
This new level of transparency will further enhance Canadians' trust in the political system, and that's good for everyone. If passed, Bill C-50 would 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 actions we are taking to improve, strengthen, and protect our democratic institutions.
We are also taking action to increase voter participation and to enhance the integrity of elections through Bill C-33, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, and we have partnered with the Communications Security Establishment to protect Canada's democracy from cyber-threats.
As I noted in my speech in the House of Commons, Samara Canada issued a report indicating 71% of Canadians said they are fairly satisfied or very satisfied with how democracy works in Canada. While this report suggests that Canadians have confidence in their democracy, we recognize there is always room for improvement. That's why we've decided to shine a light on political fundraising activities and build upon our already strong and robust system for political financing in Canada.
I am eager to hear the opinions of committee members. This is important legislation that affects all of us, and I hope you share my desire to ensure Canadians know more about fundraising events.
I look forward to your questions.
Thank you for the invitation to be here before you today.