Mr. Speaker, most people have heard the expression if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This is what ran through my mind as I studied the wording of the
motion before us and the previous debate which took place on March 18, 1994.
If we were to limit solely to individuals the right to donate to a federal political cause, we would surely want to do so for a good and sensible reason. Frankly, I do not see that good and sensible reason.
There is ample evidence that access to large amounts of money does not in itself ensure success in an election or in any other political activity for that matter. There is no need whatsoever to restrict the size of political donations.
The traditional parties in this House authorized enormous sums to be spent on the yes side of the Charlottetown accord referendum but it was the no side with just a fraction of the resource but with all the logic on its side that won the referendum.
As a result of the money spent by the yes side, there was no success in buying the result. As another example I use the National Party, which formed prior to the past federal election. It received a huge donation from just one person. I believe that it may have been in the range of $4 million to $5 million.
I well remember the billboards going up all around Vancouver several months prior to the election. It was very clear that the National Party was being well funded and there was certainly no shortage of funds for the individual campaigns.
Despite this abundance of funding, the National Party has in the last week or so wound up its affairs without electing a single member to this House. In contrast, if we look at the Reform Party of Canada, information from Elections Canada shows that Reform spent significantly less per person elected to this House than any other party in the last election.
Reform also received virtually all of its funding from individual small donations. In my riding we raised between $40,000 and $50,000. If memory serves me only one donation was above $200. Well over 90 per cent were below $90.
I see absolutely no need to limit the freedom of people to donate any amount they wish to political parties. As I have already said there are ample examples that money alone does not affect the outcome of an election.
There is already full disclosure of donors to election campaigns and that is all that is needed for interested voters to track down the source of funds. The corporations and the organizations such as the Federation of Labour, which may donate to various political parties, are after all just groups of individuals. It does not take much work to find out who is behind the donations.
The present system works pretty well but let us suppose for a moment that legislation were actually brought into this House to do what is requested in motion M-150, that is, to limit solely to individuals the right to donate to a political party.
The law could easily be broken by a corporation which, as members will remember, is simply a group of individuals. All that would happen is that the individual board members would make individual donations to the party. Within organizations other than corporations such as unions, the new law could be circumvented simply by having the members make the donations.
How would this avoidance of the law be detected? There is absolutely no point in putting in place a law which could be so easily ignored quite apart from the fact it would be an attack on our individual freedom to contribute to the special interest group of our choice.
The previous government with the full co-operation of the opposition old line parties tried to muzzle organizations like the National Citizen's Coalition with laws similar to the one proposed in this motion. Thank goodness past attempts by the old line parties to do this have been struck down by the courts.
Members in this House cherish their right to freedom of speech but sometimes some of them give the impression they would prefer if such freedoms were not extended to organizations such as the National Citizen's Coalition. Why? Simply because it could be embarrassing exposure of government waste which this House could easily eliminate if there were the will to do so.
To anyone who thinks that way I say tough luck. Maybe the truth hurts but it is morally wrong to pass laws that attempt to muzzle the free speech rights of organizations like the National Citizen's Coalition. It is also morally wrong to try to control elections and referendums by restricting the ability of people to contribute financially to the parties or issues they support.
Of course the supporters of this motion will argue that the corporations or the individuals making large donations are expecting something in return. The inference is that the elected person or government would reward with patronage or contracts anyone who supported their campaigns with large donations. The truth is that most people donate to parties and candidates because they believe that the policies and promises are consistent with their own political beliefs.
Of course they expect rewards. These are not necessarily sinister or immoral in nature. For example, donors to the Reform Party obviously want Reform to form the government. This is because among other things they expect the reward of job creation, lower taxes and more disposable income that come with getting government expenditures under control.
They expect the reward for their children to be a manageable rather than an out of control federal debt. They expect the reward of a return to sensible immigration levels and solutions to the refugee and crime problems. They expect the reward of direct democracy through the citizens' right to initiative referendum and recall, recall of an MP who is not properly representing his or her constituents. Are these causes not worth donating to?
It is not the least bit surprising to me that people want to contribute to a party which will give them such rewards. I will not vote to restrict their ability to do so. I am prepared to let the free market decide what is philosophically worth supporting. I am prepared to let the free market then decide what is the appropriate level of support.
My constituents can count on my protection of their right to support the party and candidate of their choice to the financial extent they believe is appropriate.
Finally, in dealing with the proposed amendment I have the following comments. The amendment if passed could force taxpayers to contribute $1 per voter to each candidate in the riding. What a cash cow that would be. We would have candidates and parties springing up all over the place to climb into the trough for the guarantee of an $80,000 handout every time an election was called. The worst part would be that candidates would not have to earn the right to their donors' support. It would be the worst example of grants using taxpayers' money I would ever see.
To support this amendment would be to support more government waste of tax revenues. How easy it is to give away other people's money. I wonder whether the supporters of this amendment would be prepared to give money out of their own pocket to support the amendment.
I will vote against the amendment and the motion.