Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to close this debate on the motion calling for political parties to be financed solely by individuals who have the right to vote, thereby excluding unions, profit and non-profit organizations as well as corporations, so that only eligible voters have the right to donate to political parties.
I think this is in keeping with the measures taken over the past two decades. We will recall that twenty years ago, party financing depended chiefly-95 per cent of the time-on corporations.
Through changes to the election law, to allow tax credits for example, improvements were made, with the result that 40 per cent of the financing now comes from individuals. I think we need to take one more step toward a fully democratic system, in accordance with the electoral wish expressed by all the parties represented in this House to strive for fiscal consolidation. It seems to me that one way to achieve this is by limiting solely to eligible voters the right to donate to political parties.
At present, the only purpose of the federal election law is to imposes a ceiling on election expenses. Our public financing proposal would complete existing regulations in that it would apply before, during and after elections.
This motion is also consistent with the spirit of the bill. The hon. members remember the bill on lobbyists, Bill C-43, that the government introduced out of concern for transparency and integrity. I would remind the government that there is much talk in the red book of the need for restoring voters confidence, promoting integrity within political institutions and limiting conflict of interest and influence peddling. Would public financing not be a good way to implement the principles set out in the red book you brandished throughout the election campaign? Would it not be a positive step toward achieving these goals?
Over the past three hours of debate, government members have referred repeatedly to the Lortie Report. Let us not forget that this report was commissioned by the Conservative government. Before the 1988 elections, Mr. Mulroney had promised to institute public financing at the federal level, like in Quebec. This announcement made the front page of La Presse . Following the elections, he decided to establish the Lortie Commission to release itself somewhat of its responsibility in that regard. The commission, which was established on November 15, 1989, and was presided by Pierre Lortie, tabled its report in 1991. In this report, Mr. Lortie indicated that the report itself showed that
certain donations might be made in hope of obtaining some direct material gain.
That is on page 448 of the Lortie Report and the hon. members failed to mention it while on the subject of public financing.
I also wish to remind you that public financing would induce many people who are in a conflict of interest position not to be. Section 121 of the Criminal Code clearly states that making a donation with the intention of receiving a favour from a government is a criminal offence.
Consequently, every time someone gives $50,000 to a political party, there is a risk of that person expecting the favour to be returned. The Lortie Report makes that very clear.
The report goes on to say that limiting contributions to candidates would have little impact on campaign financing but would provide a kind of "insurance policy" against any attempt to exert undue influence.
Again according to the report, studies done on the financing of candidates' campaigns in 1988 show that outgoing members, especially ministers, receive a greater number of large donations than other candidates. Why do companies give more to ministers than to others? There may be some influence peddling.
In this regard, I would like to quote from an article in the March 31, 1994 issue of Hill Times , which was itself quoted in the April 8, 1994 issue of Le Soleil . It says that the largest donations were made by the Seafarers' International Union of Canada, which gave a total of $31,500 split among 11 Liberal candidates. Six of them are now ministers or secretaries of state. The seafarers' union is closely followed by Burns Fry, Onex Corporation, Molson, three major communications companies, namely Rogers, Canwest Global and Unitel, and then pharmaceutical companies Merck Frosst, Apotex Limited and Magna International.
In all, some 24 ministers, including the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and six secretaries of state from the Liberal government, benefited from these companies' generosity. There is room for questions.
We recognize that there is a danger. There is a risk of influence peddling, and limiting to individuals the right to finance political parties would address that problem. Of course, a lower ceiling could be justified, say from $5,000 to $3,000, and I, for one, would be open to reducing the amount. Still, $5,000 sounds pretty reasonable to me. We must draw a line somewhere. Some have also invoked the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, saying it would not allow us to limit corporate involvement.
It can never be said often enough: it is not companies or corporate entities but citizens who vote in an election. The motion confirms the primacy of voters over public finances. Is this not in keeping with the spirit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? This is also aimed at giving all citizens a renewed taste for getting involved in and controlling their political institutions whose credibility has been greatly undermined in the past, as we may recall.
The Chairman of the Royal Bank of Canada, Allan Taylor, in a speech given on February 26, 1991, argued that corporate funding of political parties does not contribute to the continuing democratization of and popular participation in politics. This quote is taken from page 446 of the Lortie report dealing with Mr. Taylor, Chairman of the Royal Bank of Canada. It is precisely this process of democratization and participation that we want to restore by proposing popular financing for political parties.
Restoring confidence means minimizing the dependence of all candidates, whoever they are, on large donations and thus limiting the risk of breach of trust. Is financing by the people feasible now? Keep in mind that seven Canadian provinces and Canada have legislated on financing. Four provinces limit donations; four provinces and Canada require publishing the source of donations.
Quebec is the most progressive in this regard since political parties there are financed only by the people. It is not something new, then, and in practice, one federal political party, the Bloc Quebecois, has put popular financing in its bylaws. No company, union or association gave anything to any Bloc candidate or to the national party during the election campaign, but we were still able to spend $3.5 million, with an average donation of less than $50 per contributor.
Now, and I conclude with this, I think that two main principles guide me and my fellow members in the Parti Quebecois, who have been joined by our colleagues in the Reform Party, so that popular financing will be enacted soon.
On the subject of transparency, voters want their elected representatives, their members of Parliament, to serve the common good and not vested interests. A voter who gives $20 has much less clout than a company that gives $50,000. If people finance political parties, voters become important again and parties are forced to be closer to their constituents and be concerned about their needs. The membership is more valued and has a greater feeling of belonging to the party; it invigorates democracy in a society and also forces a party to decentralize its authority.
I will close with this sentence, hoping that it might influence members in power and in opposition: "Tell me who finances you and I will tell you whom you serve."