Thank you very much, Chair.
To members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to present to you today on Bill C-50. As mentioned, I am co-founder and coordinator of Democracy Watch and chair of the Money in Politics Coalition, which is made up of 50 organizations with a total membership of 3.5 million Canadians.
The coalition has been advocating changes to the federal and provincial political finance systems now since 1999, and is calling for changes to Bill C-50 to stop cash for access and the influence of big money in federal politics.
The bill, I believe, based on the framework, in that it addresses contributions in some sections and others, can be amended by the committee and sent back to the House, and should be, to make changes to ensure that wealthy individuals cannot use money as a means of unethical influence over politicians or parties, and also to stop the funnelling of donations, which has happened in every jurisdiction in Canada that has banned corporate or union donations but that has maintained much too high a donation limit, such as at the federal level.
The $3,100 a year to a party and its riding associations is much more than an average voter can afford. That amount violates the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote. It allows people with money, who can afford to make that maximum donation, to use money as a means of influence.
To think that anyone who is donating the maximum does not get some kind of return on that is naive, based on what we've seen in the past across Canada with various fundraising scandals. Even if it is simply an invitation to a Laurier Club event, that is access that you can only buy, and is therefore undemocratic and fundamentally unethical.
Sports referees can't take gifts from players, so why are politicians continuing to allow themselves, as the referees of what is in the public interest, to essentially be influenced by large gifts of money, property, or services, up to $3,100 annually, in terms of what can be given to a party or a riding association?
The coalition and the more than 11,000 voters who have signed the petition on change.org are calling for changes that will stop big money in federal politics and stop cash for access. These are to lower the donation limit to $100, as in Quebec; strengthen enforcement and penalties for violations; and only bring back per-vote funding or some kind of matching public funding such as Quebec has if the parties can actually prove, and candidates can actually prove, that they need this public financing in order to prosper financially.
These are the major changes that we are calling for.
As well, loans should be limited to the same amount as donations. If donations are limited but loans are unlimited, then federally regulated financial institutions can use loans to essentially buy influence with the parties. Yes, they have to give those loans on the same terms as they loan to anyone else, but giving a loan to a candidate or a party helps the candidate or party.
Clinical psychologists have tested thousands of people across the world, and found in every case that even small gifts have influence on decision-making. One of the best-documented areas is with doctors and prescriptions, even with doctors receiving free samples from drug companies that they don't use themselves but can pass on to their patients. It doesn't save the doctor any money at all, but just giving free samples to doctors has been shown through clinical testing to influence their prescribing decisions, although the doctors deny it across the board.
To think that donations do not have an influence over any politician or party official is to pretend they are not human. Humans across the world have been tested by clinical psychologists in double-blind studies, and it's been found that even small gifts influence everybody.
That's why the solution, the way to stop the influence, is to limit the donation that can be given annually to an amount that an average voter across the country can afford, and that's $100. That's what Quebec has done. It's a world-leading system. The public financing is too high. It doesn't have to be as high as it is. In terms of the donation limit, the fact that a donation above $50 has to be routed through Elections Quebec ensures that funnelling cannot happen and that people are only giving their own money and only giving no more than an average voter can afford.
The too-high donation limit federally also facilitates funnelling, which has been seen at the federal level with SNC-Lavalin. In Quebec, finally Elections Quebec did its job in 2011 and looked back five years and did an audit of donations. It had banned corporate and union donations in the late seventies and there had always been rumours that corporations were funnelling donations through their executives and their family members and through employees and their family members. Elections Quebec finally did an audit in 2011 after the corruption scandal broke there, and they found $12.8 million in donations that had likely been funnelled from businesses through their executives and family members. That was $12.8 million over a five-year period.
Funnelling is happening at the federal level. Elections Canada promised to do an audit four years ago. It hasn't done it yet. If they do, they will find it. It's been found in Toronto and it's been found in every jurisdiction that's banned corporate and union donations but left a donation limit that is too high and that facilitates funnelling, as the federal donation limit does. With the $3,100 limit, you get 10 executives and their spouses to each give $3,100, and boom, you've given $62,000 to a party.
That's big money. That has big influence, and the only way to stop it is to lower the donation limit.
Democracy Watch has filed complaints about the fundraising events held last year and in years past with the Commissioner of Lobbying. We're hoping that the Commissioner of Lobbying at least will stop lobbyists who are registered or should be registered from participating in such events, but Bill C-50, despite making the events transparent, is not going to stop cash for access. MPs will still be allowed to do the events. The staff of cabinet ministers can be at events without it even being disclosed under Bill C-50, so there's not even transparency about a senior government official being at an event, only people who are candidates or party leaders or cabinet ministers. The bill will not stop cash for access. It will not stop the influence of big money.
There is a problem with big money. I will give you just one example of an analysis that Democracy Watch did. It was very difficult to do because of the way Elections Canada discloses the donations, but I did a ton of number-crunching and I determined that in 2015 the federal Liberals received almost 23% of their donations from just over 4% of wealthy donors, who gave $1,100 or more to the party. To do that analysis of what happens at the riding association level is not impossible, but it would take months and months, because Elections Canada doesn't consolidate any of those figures. That's just donations to the party: 23% of the party's money came in from donations from just 4% of wealthy individuals who could afford to give $1,100 or more. That's a cash-for-access system. Those people at the time would have been invited to a Laurier Club event, possibly other events. I'm quite sure if the Access to Information Act were to be extended to ministers' officers, we would find that they get their calls returned more quickly than others, get meetings more quickly than others, get access to staff and senior government officials more quickly than others across the board. We don't have the kind of transparency that would prove that. I hope we will get it through Bill C-58, as the Liberals promised to extend the act to ministers' offices, or through the changes to the Lobbying Act, which has to be reviewed this year.
Within the framework of Bill C-50, I believe it's completely within order under the parliamentary rules for you to make these changes to Bill C-50, because the bill mentions contributions and all the other areas I've talked about.
I have not made a written submission to you today, but there is a news release up today on Democracy Watch's website that will be translated and distributed by the clerk, so you will have all the details.
I welcome any of your questions. Thank you very much.