Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to take part in your study of Bill C-50.
My presentation will be in two parts. First, I will make some general observations about the purpose of the bill, intended to situate it in the context of the ongoing development of the regulation of political finance under the Elections Act, and then I will have a few comments about certain provisions of the bill.
Canada's regulatory framework for election and political finance is considered, with justification, to be one of the most progressive in the world. It is based on a number of principles, one of which is transparency. As with other parts of the Canada Elections Act, the means to further that principle have evolved over time. Often this has occurred in response to scandal or to concerns about the potential for financially well-endowed interests to exercise undue influence over the federal, political, and legislative processes. We can think, for example, about the Pacific scandal of 1872 as well as the Rivard affair and related controversies about irregular party funding during the Pearson government in the mid-1960s.
In response to the first, the Pacific scandal, Parliament introduced a requirement in the 1874 Dominion Elections Act that candidates report on their election spending. However, there were no sanctions or an effective enforcement body, and the provision became a dead letter.
In response to the controversies of the 1960s and the pressures on political parties for financing election campaigns, the Pearson government appointed the committee on election expenses in 1964. It's often referred to as the Barbeau committee. Significant parts of that report were enacted in the groundbreaking Election Expenses Act of 1974.
Over time, two developments have occurred to strengthen transparency in federal political finance. First, the reporting requirements have been extended beyond parties and candidates that were covered by this 1974 statute to other entities—constituency associations, leadership contestants, nomination contestants, and third parties. I might add that this extension follows from some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Electoral Report and Party Financing. I was the senior research coordinator for that commission, so I am slightly biased. But sometimes it takes quite a while for the work of royal commissions to actually be implemented, and this is an example where the extended reporting that the Lortie Report recommended actually came into place some ten years later.
The second development is that some of the requirements that were instituted in the seventies have become more demanding. For example, since 2004, political parties must report on their contributions at the end of every three-month period rather than annually.
Bill C-50 fits within the pattern of developments I just sketched. First, if passed, it will extend reporting requirements, with some exceptions, to those attending most fundraising events sponsored by parties represented in the House of Commons as well as events sponsored by their leadership and nomination contestants, providing they meet certain criteria.
The bill also responds to concerns about the potential influence of people who attend fundraising events in addition to those who make political contributions. For those who do contribute, the identity is reported under the already existing requirements.
Particular concern has been expressed about the attendance of non-Canadian business leaders at certain fundraisers. I don't need to go into any more detail about that; you're aware of what I'm talking about. In light of the ban on foreign contributions to federal political entities, which I am sure most Canadians support, I share that concern. I share a concern about the attendance of foreign business leaders, and indeed, foreign interests from different sectors that happen to be business leaders who have been mentioned in some of the commentary about fundraising.
I would underline, to sum up, that political finance reporting requirements are intended not only to allow the public, the media, and others to have reasonably timely access to relevant information but also to serve a broader purpose. My colleague has referred to that as well.
The Lortie report included the following observation: “Full disclosure of information on financial contributions and expenditures is an integral component of an electoral system that inspires public confidence.” The Minister of Democratic Institutions also drew this link when she spoke on a second reading last June 8. She stated, “Canadians have a right to know even more than they do now about political fundraising events...so that [they] can continue to have confidence in our democracy.”
I should add that what the bill will intend to do, and what the Canada Elections Act does already, needs to be situated in a broader context. We can't put all the freight on the shoulders of the Canada Elections Act. We have lobbyist registration; we have ethical codes of conduct; and we have officers of Parliament who are charged with implementing the statutes and the regulations under them, and you're hearing from two of them later today, including my former colleague Mary Dawson.
Turning to the provisions of Bill C-50, I have three brief comments. First of all, there have been questions about whether the reporting requirements should also apply to political parties in addition to the party in government. In response I would say that first of all, it's entirely possible that an opposition party becomes a governing party. That's a fundamental part of our system, and it happens all the time. In the meantime, its leaders and MPs participate in the legislative process. It is therefore legitimate to apply similar rules to the fundraising activities of opposition parties. Moreover, the political finance regulatory scheme, as set down in the 1970s and modified since, is not based on a distinction between the governing and other political parties. Rather, it requires political parties, whether they're represented in the House or not, to apply to register providing they meet certain criteria. Once they do so, the same rules, whether they're on reporting, spending, or contributions, apply to all the registered parties. There isn't a distinction between whether you're in government or sitting on the opposition side, or indeed whether you're inside or outside the House, providing you're registered.
Secondly, Bill C-50 provides that a party or other entity must publish information about a fundraiser on its website at least five days before the event takes place. This is too short. Such events are planned weeks, if not months, before they are held, and in my view the five-day period should be lengthened. If the announcement needs to be modified, for example if a minister has been invited to come and he or she cannot come at the last minute, the notice on the website can be modified. Indeed, the bill already specifically covers updates.
Finally, along with Jean-Pierre Kingsley, with whom I worked a little over 10 years ago, I find the sanction of a $1,000 fine for non-compliance too weak. The level of the sanction should send a message that the new requirements must be treated seriously.
The second part of the bill covers leadership and nomination contest expenses. As I understand it, these amendments flow from an interpretation note the Chief Electoral Officer issued in August 2015 and from his report after the election of that year. Beyond saying that it is important to align the text of the Canada Elections Act with Parliament's intent, I don't have any specific comments on that part of the bill.
I will be happy to answer your questions and comments.