Madam Speaker, I am highly interested in the bill introduced today by the member for Edmonton Southwest. I congratulate him on the fact that his bill was chosen. I hope that today, or at a later date, the House will adopt the bill at second reading so that it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs which will study it, and maybe recommend a few amendments before sending it back to the House for concurrence.
The bill purports to put a minimum in place for contributions from the federal treasury for parties participating in elections. The hon. member has proposed a political party must receive at least 2 per cent of the votes cast in order to be eligible for the 22.5 per cent reimbursement allowed under section 322 of the Canada Elections Act.
The hon. member will be aware there is a fairly significant history in relation to this issue which might be of interest to him and other hon. members wishing to participate in the debate today. The Lortie commission, the report of the royal commission on electoral reform and party financing, recommended registered parties that receive at least 1 per cent of all the ballots cast be reimbursed at a rate of 60 cents for each vote received provided that no party would be reimbursed at an amount greater than 50 per cent of its electoral expenses.
This increase proposed by the Lortie commission rewarded parties that received a large number of votes in proportion to the number of votes they received and also increased the rate for the major parties so they would get more money because there was a recognition that at the national level Canada's national parties are generally short of cash, particularly those not forming the government.
There was a recognition by the royal commission that the governing party had an easier time raising funds than parties in opposition to the government. In part to offset that the commission recommended this rather generous reimbursement procedure but based on votes so that only a party that was fairly successful in the polls would receive a substantial chunk of money.
The hon. member will know there were extensive discussions between the parties about the Lortie recommendations. In the last Parliament I had the honour to be a member of the special committee on electoral reform which dealt with the Lortie proposals in some detail and came up with a series of reports tabled in the House. One of the reports resulted in the adoption of Bill C-114, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, in the last Parliament. The other major report from the committee was never acted on by the government prior to the dissolution of Parliament and accordingly this issue, as were some others, was left untouched.
The committee, composed with representatives of the three recognized parties then in the House, the NDP, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Liberal Party-the Progressive Conservatives of course had a majority on the committee-was unable to agree on the Lortie commission proposal.
While it was something that would have been palatable with our party, the New Democratic Party in particular found it offensive because it would have received far less money than under the current legal arrangements. The Progressive Conservative Party, looking at the polls, was very nervous it might also be disastrous for it and so it was not very keen on it.
I say with some pride the Liberal Party has always done well in the polls, whether in opposition or in government. Hon. members opposite laugh but it has been a fact for really all of this century that we would have come out reasonably well on any scenario with this arrangement. Other parties were more apprehensive and based on the election results in 1993, I can understand their apprehension. We all know the New Democratic Party took a terrible whipping, although well deserved, and the Progressive Conservative Party similarly was thrashed, and very properly so.
They would have felt this rule in a very harsh way had they adopted it before the election, which this party would not and had not in any election. With all the elections it has lost in this century it still would have done all right under a rule of this kind.
I now want to turn to what the committee did. The committee came up with another way of enriching the parties a little, and that was to increase the reimbursement from 22.5 per cent to 25 per cent and simply leave the rules as they were. That was the only deal we could make which every party agreed on and it was part of a package which included other changes to the financing of political parties. Of course none of it was enacted.
I do not mind telling hon. members opposite one of the points the government was very anxious to include in the bill was a restriction on the minimum number of votes one had to receive in order to qualify. The government was very anxious to put in place a figure which I think was around 5 per cent. That would have put at risk various other parties that were more regionally based. When I say that I look at the two parties in opposition because both of those parties come from a fairly regional base. I think the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest would concede the Reform Party is not strong in Quebec or in Atlantic Canada.
We resisted that at the time because we felt if we were to have a regional basis to the parties it was unfair to stack the deck against the establishment of new parties and we were naturally somewhat concerned about that. Therefore we resisted and I think I can safely say from the point of view of hon. members opposite it is probably just as well we did.
However, that is history and certainly from a theoretical point of view there was no objection on our part to putting some minimum number of votes obtained in place. Therefore, to have this bill before us today and allow the committee to study it is very important. I support the hon. member in that objective.
However, I cannot let the opportunity pass without commenting on the 2 per cent figure. It strikes me as being rather low. In South Africa and in Germany where there is a system of proportional representation, in order to qualify to get any seats in the legislature they have to have at least 5 per cent of the votes. That is my recollection. That is to get seats, let alone reimbursement.
In our country we can win seats in Parliament in one or two places, as we had with the Reform Party which had one member in the last Parliament, the hon. member for Beaver River, who was here throughout that Parliament. With a modest number of votes in a general election a party can still have seats in the House. We have two areas in which there is reimbursement, at the national party level and at the constituency level. If one is successful at the constituency level, money is paid to the successful candidates and to the other candidates who run well.
In looking at the 2 per cent figure I cannot help but look at the results of the 34th general election, the 1988 election. Eight parties ran in that election which would not have qualified using the rule of the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest. They all had less than 1 per cent of the vote. However, the one party over 2 per cent was the Reform Party. That party received 2.09 per cent of the vote in 1988. It is an extraordinary coincidence that 2 per cent is the figure which the hon. member chose because of course it saved the Reform Party based on the 1988 results. I am sure he did not look at the results to come up with the figure, but perhaps a researcher did.
While it has initial appeal, I think a little higher figure might not be inappropriate. I would have hated to see the Reform Party cut out of the financial jackpot if we had put it too high in the last election. I cannot remember if that party broke 5 per cent. I would want to look at a higher figure in committee. I served notice to that effect and I certainly look forward to hearing the witnesses the committee is able to call on this bill, should the House in its wisdom decide to give the bill approval in principle at second reading.
There are lots of ways to skin a cat, as they say, and I think there are many ways we could seek to improve Canada's electoral law with respect to the reimbursement of political parties. I am glad to see the Reform Party by this bill is adopting the principle that the state does have an important role to play with respect to the reimbursement of political parties because that is certainly something we have regarded as fundamental for some time and on which occasionally I have heard statements. I cannot say I have read the little blue book, but I have heard statements that make me wonder if the Reform Party really is committed to this principle.
I assume this bill put forward by the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest has some approval from the powers that be in his party, including the member for Calgary Southwest who I gather has some say in these matters, that this is okay and this principle therefore is satisfactory.
I am glad to support the principle. I hope we can work out a series of rules that will be fair not just to the parties currently in the House but to other parties formed in Canada and also to the Canadian taxpayer.
The problem with the current system is it encourages parties that are registered and fielding the requisite number of candidates to spend as much money as they can. As long as they spend 10 per cent of their limit, I believe, they become entitled to a reimbursement of 22.5 per cent of their expenses no matter how
many votes they get. I agree that is wrong. There should not be an incentive to spend.
In my view, the money paid should be based on some other principle, whether it is on the number of votes received or on a minimal number of votes one must get in order to qualify for the expense. Something needs to go into the law.
I quite agree with the hon. member in bringing this forward. I would be glad to support the bill at second reading in order that the standing committee may do a detailed study on the proposal.