Evidence of meeting #72 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was donations.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Duff Conacher  Co-Founder, Democracy Watch
Jean-Pierre Kingsley  Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

11:20 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Yes, there is another way to deal with it, and I'll mention it in a second, but Quebec essentially decided that even with the $100 donation limit, one person from a big business with thousands of employees could walk into the party offices and say these thousand cheques are from their employees, wink, wink. Maybe the party would report it, but to prevent that situation, a donation over $50 goes to Elections Quebec, which verifies it is from the person giving it and not someone giving it on another person's behalf, and then Elections Quebec forwards it to the party.

The other way to deal with that problem is to do what's done in the U.S., which is to require key identifiers of a donor to be part of what's disclosed. In this way, if you suddenly saw in the quarterly donations, or in real-time donations as in the Ontario disclosure, that 1,000 people had all given $100 on the same day from this company, that would be a suspicious pattern that Elections Canada could quickly audit.

The Elections Quebec system is slightly better because executives and their spouses and their dependants could all have different last names. It can be difficult to track funnelling, and it's just better to limit it to $100. You don't have to worry about funnelling so much, but an extra step to ensure it never occurs should be part of a democratic and ethical system.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I only have a minute left.

Very briefly, you touched tangentially on the Ontario system, in which all politicians are forbidden from attending fundraising activities. That's not recommended in the bill.

What are your thoughts on that?

11:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Ontario has gone too far, although not with their donation limit. If you have a $100 donation limit, then any event that you hold is a democratic event because an average voter can afford to go, so there would be no problem with MPs or cabinet ministers having events. To make any money, they are going to be large and public, and having the disclosure of the events is a good idea to attract fundraising.

There should also be disclosure of who organizes any event, because that is the new game when donations are limited. It is about what's called “the bundler” in colloquial terms coming out of the U.S. That's someone who is able to get 200 people in the room who will give the maximum. Lobbyists are supposedly prohibited from doing that, but because the lobbying commissioner does no audits, it's very likely happening many times at the federal level. Only a few people have been caught.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

We'll go on to Mr. Christopherson for seven minutes.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you very much for being here, Mr. Conacher.

First, as you're one of the premier grassroots organizations, was there any consultation with your organization on the development of Bill C-50?

11:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

11:25 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Not at all, before or after—nothing. That's interesting.

You raised a lot of interesting issues. I find it interesting too that you didn't spend a lot of time focusing on the details of Bill C-50. Is that because you just don't think it's making that much difference, and so you kept your comments at the macro level where you thought they would make a difference, or did you just run out of time?

11:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

No, it's just a bit more transparency. That's all. There aren't really any effective limits on cash for access or big money. The government is apparently looking at political finance and it seems a bit more focused on third parties more generally, but I'm appealing to the Liberal members to push their minister to address the whole system in whatever bill comes next, not just third-party spending, because the whole system is unethical and undemocratic and allows for cash for access and undue and unethical influence by the wealthy.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you.

I'll stay where you have gone, because I agree with you that this bill really doesn't do a whole lot. The government is trying to make it seem as though they're addressing the issue, and they aren't.

I want to go through some of the issues you raised. You mentioned the $128 million in funnelling and you thought that if there was an audit done in Canada, we would turn up similar dollars. Could you expand on that for me, please?

11:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Yes. Just to give Quebec a bit more credit, it was $12.8 million in funnelling, not $128 million.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Sorry, I didn't see the decimal point there. It's $12.8 million.

11:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

It's $12.8 million over a five-year period, so it's a significant sum. It was what they thought was likely funnelled, because they identified executives giving the maximum, near the same time, from several businesses. The report is on their website. You can see the details.

Elections Canada, in response to some issues with that and other things at the federal level with some suspected funnelling in one riding in Quebec, was asked by the CBC whether they were looking in the same way. That was back in 2013, because the Elections Quebec audit had come out. Elections Canada said, “Yes, we're doing an audit as well of the 2011 election.” First of all, that's not far enough back. Elections Quebec went five years back. This was in 2013. They should have gone back at least through the 2008 election as well. That's just looking at the election period; why aren't they also looking in between elections?

Those databases can be crunched pretty easily these days. It's all up there online. Why isn't Elections Quebec looking into who is giving the maximum? Just start with $1,000 and above; look at all those people and see who they are. I haven't seen anything now in four years from them. I don't know whether they're doing it. I hope they are doing it.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

For something similar to take place federally, did you mention Elections Canada or the Auditor General? Where did you go in terms of how you thought we could tackle this federally, if we wanted to?

11:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Elections Canada said they were going to do it in 2013. Here we are, four years later. We saw the compliance agreement with SNC-Lavalin over what they found with them from 2004 to 2011. It's hard for me to believe that only one company has done this in the period since corporate and union donations were banned on January 1, 2007. Possibly unions have done it as well. It was mostly businesses in Quebec that were doing it, but also a few unions.

Quebec had a $2,000 limit, so it was a little easier to funnel a bit more money. If you're looking back, you see that we started with a $1,000 limit, which was essentially $2,000 in terms of what you put through a riding association as well annually. Now it's up to $3,100, and I don't know where that audit is. You have to ask Elections Canada. They're the ones who said they were going to do it. If you do an audit and you don't find anything, you still issue a report saying you haven't found anything, but four years later, there's nothing.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

That's interesting.

11:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

The CBC article from 2013 in which the Elections Canada spokesperson is saying they were doing this is linked in the news release that I've submitted to the committee today.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Very good. Hopefully that's something we can follow up, because that's what we do.

11:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

They should go back to 2007. Even better would be 2004, when corporate and union donations were limited to $1,000 annually. That was effectively a ban. The audit should look at that whole period. Elections Quebec waited from the late 1970s until 2011 to finally do an audit, and what did they find? Funnelling. Why would Elections Canada wait 30 years, as Elections Quebec did?

11:30 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

It does raise the question. Nobody suspects any corruption on the part of Elections Canada—at least I don't, and I don't know anybody who does—so it really does pose the question, “How come?” We'd be interested in knowing the answer.

Similar to that, you went on to talk about bundling. Are you suggesting that's their full-time job and that's how they're skirting the law—that by giving of their time to do it full time, they can organize maximum donations and events? Could you expand on that for me, please?

11:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct—it used to be rule 8 and now it's rules 6 to 10—someone who should be registered but is illegally avoiding registration is not allowed to organize a fundraising event. This would hold even in cases of an unregistered lobbyist being on the board of a business or an organization, and we hope this standard will continue to be upheld by the lobbying commission.

We have received complaints about the Apotex chairman regarding the Morneau event that occurred in November 2016, and also about the event he held at his house in August 2015 for a Liberal candidate and Justin Trudeau, before Mr. Trudeau became Prime Minister. We've also received a complaint about another board member associated with a company called Clearwater Seafoods who held an event in August 2014 for the Liberals. We don't know exactly where the lobbying commissioner is going to draw the line. We hope, however, she's going to say that if you're on a board or in any way affiliated with an organization lobbying the government, even if you're not the registered lobbyist, you cannot help with an event or do anything significant for anyone who is being lobbied by the company. We'll see. Hopefully, that line is drawn.

If you're not a registered lobbyist or affiliated with anyone but you want to have influence within the party, if the lobbying commissioner doesn't uphold a strict standard, even lobbyists who are not registered in the lobbyist registry could become board members of companies that lobby the government and be allowed to participate in these events. I'm sure this is going on. As a lobbyist, if you can get 20 people in the room who are each going to give $3,100 to the party at that event, you are going to get your calls answered. You're a bundler, you're valuable to the party, and from that cash you will get access.

I will have more news on this topic very soon. It will be related to something that I think occurred last year, when bundlers were given a huge favour and access based on the fact that they were bundlers.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you, Duff, and thank you, David.

Now we'll go on to Ms. Sahota.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Thank you.

I'm finding your testimony very interesting. It's not something that I haven't already thought about, but being a candidate and having run for office now, I might think a little differently.

You mentioned that this piece of legislation creates more transparency. Do you agree with that?

October 5th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Do you think this is a step in the right direction? Is it a step forward?

11:35 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

It's a tiny baby step, yes.