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House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was referendum.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, not every system of matching funds works in an identical way. I will be the first to recognize that. However I do not accept the premise of what the hon. member said. We said that in a way people would be forced to make contributions to parties they did not like.

When people vote for the Alliance Party, say there are a few of them left around who want to do that in the next election, they would know when voting that the result of the vote would have a particular formula of financing after the election for the party they were supporting. That is part of the process. That would be known. It would not be a state secret. Therefore that is nonsense. If they do not want money to go to the Alliance Party, which presumably they will not, they will vote for somebody else. They probably will want to do anyway, if that party keeps behaving the way it is right now.

With respect to campaign limits, the hon. member talked about the campaign limits as they exist in the United States. What he has failed to recognize is that in the United States the political action committees largely have taken over. Why? Because effectively there are no third party restrictions in the United States. Those third party entities have developed into these political action committees.

This is a skill-testing question for all colleagues. Who in the House contested, in a previous incarnation, the restrictions on third party spending? There is a case that will go before the Supreme Court shortly. What is it called? It bears the identical name of the leader of the official opposition. They are applauding themselves. Why? This is what the decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal said, and it was applauded by the people across the way.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

An hon. member

Freedom of speech.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Freedom of speech, they invoke. Charlton Heston could contribute toward third parties or people could contribute toward third parties in unrestricted amounts at any time for any campaign.

I saw the campaign in 1997, called the “no more prime ministers from Quebec campaign”, the parallel campaign that was in my riding and elsewhere across the country. That campaign was financed by third parties, the kind that is being applauded right now by people across the way. They are applauding those kind of initiatives, these third parties. I know they are embarrassed. Their reaction is obvious to the embarrassment that this has caused.

What is no doubt more embarrassing than anything else is that the Leader of the Opposition's name is now formally stuck to this thing. He appealed this thing when he was working for the National Citizens' Coalition, which of course is not national and it certainly is not a citizens' coalition. It is the worst misnomer on the face of the earth. That group, which he used to direct, launched the action. What we have before us now is that this terrible decision.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Canadian Alliance Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I point out that what the member just said about seeing so many things in the campaign last time, Canadians saw the red book litany of lies in the last campaign as well.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. Respectfully, first and foremost, we are engaging in debate and really not in a point of order. I would caution everyone to be very judicious.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the government House leader carefully, and his speech was a very good one. I must acknowledge that he is sometimes capable of recognizing the merit of other parties. In particular, he has acknowledged the worth of Quebec's legislation on political party financing, enacted in 1977 by the Parti Québecois.

It is not a regular thing for the government leader to do in the House, but during his time as Minister of Public Works he even acknowledged the work done by an opposition member. I would now like to ask him a few questions.

This time he needs to realize that it is not the Bloc Quebecois that is being obstructive, but the Canadian Alliance. That is quite obvious. We in the Bloc are in agreement with the spirit of the bill, although of course there are changes we would like to make. That we will do in committee.

We have the impression that the current Prime Minister is in a bad position as far as implementation of this bill is concerned. We find that January 1, 2004 is too far away. Why not do as is done with other laws, let the legislative process take its course? In this connection, the role of the government House leader is a very important one. Things must be allowed to take their course. Perhaps as early as the end of this session, the bill might be passed and given royal assent. Then the legislation could apply before the Liberal Party leadership race. I realize the Prime Minister may be in an awkward position on this, but since this proposal is coming from the opposition and not from his party, how does he feel about it?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think that is an excellent question.

First, the hon. member will recognize that in Bill C-2, and in all other amendments to the Elections Act—I am talking about all major changes—there has always been a convention of giving a six month delay. This allows Elections Canada to put structures in place.

Take the example of registering riding associations, of which there are four or five per electoral riding, depending on what part of the country you are in, and the number of registered political parties that exist. We are talking about 301 ridings. There must be audit systems and such for all of these riding associations, some 1,500 or 2,000. That is a big number. That is the first element. That represents a major measure that needs setting up.

Second, I explained the convention of a six month delay for amendments to the Elections Act. I would like to be able to say that the bill will be passed in six weeks, but the official opposition is using stalling tactics, which means that the only way we can move forward on this is to impose time allocation. Unless the Canadian Alliance withdraws the proposed initiative.

Also, it is important to note that there is not just one political party that is having a leadership race. The member opposite is part of the only political party represented in the House that is not currently having, or has not recently had, a leadership race.

The Canadian Alliance had one, but they may still be raising money to pay off their debts. As for the New Democratic Party, theirs just ended a few days ago. The leadership campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party has already started. The Liberal Party's race will begin soon, I believe the official launch of the campaign will be in the coming days, if I am not mistaken.

Indeed, this situation is not unique to our party. It has been the case for at least three, even four of the five political parties represented in the House of Commons. In any case, all of these elements can be discussed in committee, and I thank the member for his question.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. House leader for his comments. This reminds me of the story of the old preacher who dropped his notes and forgot to pick them up at the end of his sermon. When somebody picked up the old notes later, the old preacher said that he was unsure of his point so he had to raise his voice. The old rat packer himself has gone past the must raise his voice stage. He practically became apoplectic, without any real detail, when he tried to tell us why he thought this was a good bill. He certainly became vexed over it. If Canadians saw that on TV, they would realize that it was not a serious attempt to discuss the issue. It was to perhaps make an impression on those watching TV. Those who will read it in Hansard will not appreciate the antics I am sure.

Perhaps it is best to start my speech by popping some of the balloons brought forward by the House leader for the Liberals. The stuff he suggested was really kind of scandalous.

He first suggested that the amount of money given to parties under the bill would amount to $1.50 for every vote cast in an election, that this would be a fair system and that was like the American system. That is not true. People cannot opt out of this plan. If someone votes, it will cost money. It is not a matter of wanting to vote for somebody but not wanting to give money to political parties. People will give money whether they like it or not if the bill goes through, and it amounts to a lot of money. The primary objection we have with the bill is that it increases the obligation of taxpayers to fund political parties whether they like it or not. Many Canadians will not like the idea of having to pay and pay through the nose foreseeable future.

The member opposite also mentioned at some length how vexed he was about third party spending and that our current leader's name was on a court case, which apparently might go to the Supreme Court. That is an interesting development.

A case was brought forward by the National Citizens' Coalition about the need for free speech and the right of every Canadian to have free speech. It respected the Constitution and it asked the government to respect it as well. For this outrageous suggestion, outrageous by Liberal standards, the trial court supported the National Citizens' Coalition. It said that the coalition was right, that it was allowed to speak out on this and that people should be able to talk about government policies without going to jail. We should be able to do that anyway.

The Liberals hated that decision so they appealed it. The appeal court said that the National Citizens' Coalition was right again and that the Liberals were wrong again. Second trial, second court in a row said that they were wrong.

We have the right to free speech in this country. Third parties should be allowed to comment on government actions, whether they favour them or oppose them. We saw that during the Charlottetown accord. All kinds of people got involved in the debate and it did not hurt it. However the government was sad because it could not buy the result. The truth was freedom of speech was not a bad thing and informed Canadians became involved.

Unhappy with the constitutional right of people and organizations to speak out, the government appealed this decision twice, and will appeal it again for a third time. Interestingly, it will be appealed with tax dollars. People will defend themselves with money they raised on their own. That does not matter to the Liberals. This is in keeping with the tradition of the bill just brought forward. Taxpayers will foot the bill and other citizens who would like to speak out will get no such benefit.

The House leader brought forward another bogeyman. He has stated that this simply builds on existing provisions already available to citizens because the party system is supported through tax rebates. That is playing very loosely with the truth.

An existing provision which I support is that if somebody gives a donation to a political party, a tax benefit goes with it. That is the existing provision. Somebody who wants to voluntarily give money is supported in turn with a partial tax rebate. That is a far cry from a direct subsidy program for every single vote cast in the country. It is hard to equate the two.

The House leader is completely wrong. In a sense this is like a new Liberal head tax. People get taxed whether they like it or not for purposes which the government decides, not what the people decide. People will be taxed and it will go to political parties. It is not loose change either. I will read the numbers we are talking about. I will go through the current situation.

The political parties are already heavily subsidized by taxpayers. That is true. In the first place donations to political parties are subsidized, first as a tax credit system which credits up to 75% of the donation back to the donor. Then when the candidates in the political parties actually spend the money, they are reimbursed again, at the local and federal levels. There is still at least a connection to a donation given and the tax rebate collected.

Just to give people an idea of what the current numbers are, in the 2000 election these so-called rebates cost taxpayers $31 million to refund candidates and $7.5 million to refund political parties for their eligible election expenses. We are already into subsidizing political parties to a pretty big degree. All parties on all sides of the House already benefit from that. On that element alone, just so we are clear, it amounts to slightly less than 40% of the funding of political parties as subsidized through the tax system. That is a lot of money but it is less than 40%.

Proposals in the legislation would push that direct subsidization, leaving aside the tax credits, to beyond 70% government sponsored, taxpayer funded political parties. This would increase the reimbursement to political parties. The tax credit program is enhanced and so are election expense rebates. The percentage of eligible expenditures that is refundable has been doubled to 50%. The authorized limit for such expenditures has been raised to 70¢ from 62¢ for each registered voter. It is a big increase. As well, the threshold for receiving the rebates has been lowered for candidates. They do not have to get as many votes before they start getting the cash from the government.

An additional problem is that the cost of polling which was always outside the rebatable expenses has also been thrown in. It is a very substantial expense in many campaigns. An extra rebate on that will be received.

Each party will receive $1.50 times the total number of votes cast in the last election. The biggest beneficiary in this program would be the governing party. Existing parties would all benefit, but the governing party certainly would benefit the most. The Liberals would benefit regardless of what people thought of them or how they did in the next election. It would not matter, because it would be based on the previous election results.

Admittedly our party would stand to benefit hugely as well. However all we can do is work within a system that is put in place for all of us. There is nothing more we can do really.

We could say that corporate donations should be banned. We could do that. We could live with that, because 50,000 individuals donated to our party last year. How many individuals donated to the Liberal Party? There were 5,000, 10% by number donated to the Liberal Party. The big, huge juggernaut supposedly of the Liberals has only 10% of the supporters as has the official opposition. The Liberals received only 19% of their funding from individuals, the average, common, ordinary voters and the other came from tax rebates or from big corporations.

The Liberal Party is the party of the big corporations. No wonder Liberals enjoy the system that exists right now. They are the huge beneficiaries of people who give them piles of money in return for big favours.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

An hon. member

They want to ban it.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

They want to ban it and replace it with what? If they had to rely on the average voter, they would starve to death. They are already in debt. The Liberal Party is heavily in debt.

Last year our party received ten times as many donations as did the big huge Liberal Party. Our party is debt free. Our party can live with this. Our party gets 60% of its funding from individuals. Our party will not suffer regardless of what happens. People support us in large numbers. They do not support the party over there, not with their pocketbooks.

Obviously the federal Liberals stand to receive almost $8 million worth of taxpayer money in 2004 which will replace the $6.5 million they receive from corporations, unions and associations. They will get some of that still. They are not just replacing the $6.5 million they could lose in the corporate donations, they are topping it up with the bonus plan. They are going to get $8 million from the taxpayers. They keep saying this is going to remove voter cynicism. Well, good luck. I just do not see it.

Voters are not going to say, “This looks good to me; I am hosed into supporting a political party I want nothing to do with every single year for the foreseeable future because it cannot raise enough money from individuals”. The Liberals have to either coerce it out of corporations or they have to get it from sucking on the government tit and that is what they are prepared to do. It is shameful.

Is it any wonder that participation in general elections continues to drop. It was 63% in the last federal election. People are fed up with the whole system. Do Liberals think this is going to enhance it? Do they think more people will say, “Listen buddy, come and vote with me in the federal elections tomorrow because the more people who vote, the more money will go to the Liberals”. People will just run to the polls for that.

What people will say is, “Save a buck, refuse to vote”. That is what it amounts to. The fewer people who vote, the less taxes will be taken out of the system. It is not loose change we are talking about. We are talking about $40 million coming out of tax dollars to go to political parties. It is not going to be a moot point.

One of the things I learned long ago is that when legislation comes into the House, it is always useful to take a moment to ask what is driving the legislation into this place. Sometimes it is pretty straightforward. We have seen legislation that benefits a corporation or a certain type of industry. They push the department because they need some changes to the rules. It is not necessarily unfair. It is just that is what started the legislation. It started with a bunch of lobbyists saying they need changes for example, to the Copyright Act or the Broadcasting Act, so they push to get a change. When it arrives here on our desks in the form of legislation, we can see what started it. We may think it is fair or not but the genesis of it is obvious.

What was the genesis of this bill? What is it that forced this bill, after almost 10 years of Liberal rule, to suddenly become the cause célèbre? Was it a sudden epiphany by the Liberal leadership that is saying, all these years it has been as crooked as a dog's hind leg to take this money but suddenly it is--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The reference to crooked is with regard to the laws under the Canada Elections Act. I think it is inappropriate to characterize them as being crooked.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think we are just getting into a debate again. It is certainly not a point of order.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was speaking rhetorically. If the member would like to listen to that, he could understand the difference here.

I repeat, perhaps somebody suddenly said, “What we have been doing for the last 10 years is wrong. I am slain, cut to the quick. I feel bad. It has been 10 years but suddenly I realize what I have been doing is wrong and it is time to change my wayward ways, fess up and turn over a new leaf”.

For those who believe that, we should put them in touch with those people who want to clone human beings and those who have had weird sightings of Elvis which the House leader talked about earlier. That is just not the case.

It was not a sudden road to Damascus experience by the Liberal Party. That is not what caused it. Was it the fact that there is a Liberal leadership race? That could be a little more like it. It seems to be one of those gifts that the Prime Minister would like to bequeath to the next leader. It is a friendship thing I think. They are looking longingly into one another's eyes, reading one another's minds and saying, “I bet the former finance minister would love to have full disclosure on who has been giving to his leadership campaign”. This bill would force that.

Of course there is nothing to stop the current finance minister from revealing that, but he has chosen not to. Perhaps in a friendly gesture the Prime Minister is saying that just to help him he will bring forward a bill that would force that disclosure. I think that would be a little closer to the truth. That is probably one of the reasons.

Possibly it is, as the Prime Minister admits at least to the appearance, he says misguided, but he admits that there has been the appearance of corporations buying influence with the government. He denies it. It is interesting. I have been here long enough now to know of a couple of examples.

I could talk about Pierre Corbeil who was convicted of influence peddling on behalf of the Liberal Party. I am not making this up. This is not an accusation. I am talking about a conviction. I am talking about someone who was convicted in a court of law. Why? He used the grant process under the federal Liberal system which said, “If money is given to our political party, in exchange we will make sure your name goes on the eligibility list for government grants”.

That is exactly what happened. He was convicted of it. This is not a matter of maybe. He was convicted of doing exactly that. Of course he was kicked out of his role as a fundraiser for the Liberal Party when he was caught. It is the truth.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My understanding is that to impute motive is inappropriate, particularly when that motive is an illegal act. I would ask you to caution the member from using such language.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Again the outcome is the same. It is not a point of order.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is finding occasion to jump to his feet, but there are no points of order here, just the facts. If I was not telling facts, I guess he could get up on his hind legs and say something about it, but the truth is as the courts said: convicted, criminal activity, Liberal Party fundraiser. Maybe that is partly what drives this. People just say that enough is enough, they have had it up to here and this is another example.

I raised another example in the House where a corporation sent a memo to their employees. It said that it was hereby asking all of them to give $1,000 each to the Liberal Party of Canada. By doing so, they would get money in return. They would get the big refund cheque from the government. In exchange the corporation would top their salary up by $1,000, so they would get not only the salary back, they would also get the government rebate. They would be money ahead and the Liberal Party would prosper. The corporation said this was better than it giving a single large donation on behalf of the corporation because it could not get as many rebates from the government.

This bill would legitimize that. It would make it easy. Rather than circumventing the Canada Elections Act, the Liberals would just change the Canada Elections Act. Maybe that is what started it all off.

The first example that I know of for sure was in Quebec and central Canada where local federal party organizations were asked to approve federal grants into a riding. I am not talking about MPs or elected people, which would be bad enough one way or another. I am talking about a federal Liberal political organization approving grants to spend taxpayers' dollars.

I could talk about what goes on in my own riding where there is an organization called FLAG, federal Liberal action group. Its job is to ride herd on us opposition members, which I do not mind, except it is interesting that when projects come up, when infrastructure ideas come forward or whatever, it is told it better get the local Liberal constituency association involved or else it may not get approved.

We can only hope that the transparency in this bill would help to eliminate some of that. There are parts of this bill of course that are supportable. However, in summary, the problem with it is that the bill would force Canadians to support political parties whether they like to or not. Right now, if people do not like a political process, do not like politics, hate politicians or whatever, they can stay home, they do not have to vote, and they do not have to support it.

I do not approve of that because there is value in supporting the party of one's choice and always voting always. However, this bill would force all Canadians, whether they like it or not, whether they vote or not, and whether there is even one person in the system they support, to support political parties financially.

We say that the bill is fundamentally flawed for that reason. It should not come forward. The government will force this through. It will go to committee and the Senate. It will never see the light of day before the next federal election because this is a political game being played on that side of the House among themselves. This thing will not to come through in its current form and I make that prediction fairly fearlessly.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Brampton Centre Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, in the name of transparency and openness I would like to ask the hon. member if, first, he is prepared to table in the House the donor list of the National Citizens' Coalition; second, is he prepared to tell us if this organization ever received money from non-Canadian sources; and third, could he comment about the provincial governments of Quebec and Manitoba, where they have similar laws regarding elections financing?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I could as easily ask the hon. member if he would table the list of donors for the rod and gun club in his local riding. I cannot get anyone to table anything.

We are not talking about donations for political parties. This is a red herring. He is talking about third party involvement in the process.

Let us think of all the third party influence that goes on right now. Whether we agree with him or not, we hear from the C.D. Howe Institute, child welfare advocate groups, anti-war groups, the National Citizens' Coalition, the Red Cross, and all sorts of groups and people advocating a position in a free and open democratic society.

No one says that they should not be heard, except that the government has an axe to grind with the National Citizens' Coalition because it promotes the idea of free speech. I am not even a member nor have I ever been a member of the National Citizens' Coalition. I have never given it 10¢. I do support its objective though, which is freedom of speech.

Two court decisions in Canada support its position. The government will now appeal it to a higher court. Why? Because government dollars are being spent to appeal it. It does not cost the Liberal Party anything. I will have to financially support the appeal after it was won twice in the lower courts. The National Citizens' Coalition will have to raise another $1 million to defend itself in court even though what it is doing is constitutional and the government has been proven wrong twice.

As far as the provinces having their own laws, let them defend themselves as they see fit. Some of them seem to work well and others not so well. Each province has its own jurisdiction and each should do what works in its own region.

Interestingly enough, not only do Canadians not support this, but the one thing they would have supported was a private member's bill that I brought forward about four years ago that said we should at least give as much tax benefit to someone who gives to a charitable donation as we give to someone who gives to a political party.

Right now people receive 75% of their money back on the first $100 if they give to a political party. They receive roughly half if they give to a charitable organization. The government said it needed a more generous tax system for political parties than for charities. I say, in a province or in the federal government, that is nonsense. Charities do a lot more good than political parties and we should have at least as generous a system to help out charitable organizations as we do political parties.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Fraser Valley with some interest. The substance of his position is that the Canadian Alliance obviously opposes the bill, but I did hear him say that it supports some measures of it. Specifically, what is the position of the Canadian Alliance regarding the $10,000 limit by individuals to political parties?

When I first read this I assumed it was capped at $10,000. As the member will know, it is now $10,000 for each recognized and registered party. Would he and his party be prepared to support amendments to cap that at $10,000? There are some of us who think that is very generous, but certainly $10,000 multiplied by six, seven or eight is just outside the limit.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is right. The way the legislation currently reads, a person can donate $10,000 per year per party, plus an additional $10,000 in any one year to a leadership contestant of any political party and a further contribution of $10,000 to the election campaigns of independent candidates.

In addition, there is no age restriction on the $10,000. Right now the father of a wealthy family could belly up to the bar and donate $50,000. If that father were to have three or four dependents who could be four, five or six years old--it does not matter because it is per person as long as that person has a social insurance number--they could donate. A family could lever its influence to the $40,000 or $50,000 mark.

I would support amendments except to say that it would be interesting to see what the final package looks like. I have suggested that we could do without. We could lower the amount of money given by corporations, ensure it is only individuals, and allow it to be given to one party or to one candidate, for example, in one riding. On the other hand, we will be interested to see where the final number ends up for taxpayer support.

I do not support the bill because of that huge taxpayer obligation. I would rather that individuals be allowed to support political parties. I would like to have it transparent and open, and have political parties justify the money they would spend rather than have taxpayers on the hook. It is likely I could support it, but it is also in light of the fact that I also want to see the part taken out that would obligate taxpayers to be on the hook for $30 million or $40 million a year.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the objectives of the bill is to make the process of nominations a little more equitable for a broader range of candidates and maybe make it easier for women by limiting the nomination expenses. I believe there is a formula in the bill.

Has the member had an opportunity to consider that particular provision and can he advise the House whether he feels that provision might in fact address a problem which apparently exists?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys happens to be a female member of our party who leaned forward to tell me that she sees this as kind of humiliating to say she needs some kind of help that I do not need. She said that she was elected fair and square, and would go toe to toe with any person who wanted take her on in the next election. I would fully agree with that.

I would like to see the amount of money that is spent on nominations to be open and transparent. I am not sure that the $200 limit is really necessary. If people want to give $200, it is not a huge amount. I think somewhere between $200 and $1,000 would be fair for reporting purposes and for the paperwork involved. It could be some number in between that. I think $200 is too low.

The real way to bring democracy into the nomination process would be to ensure the political party does not leave the power to the Prime Minister or to the party leader to nominate people without due process.

If I were a member of the Liberal Party, I would squawk about the fact that people are chosen to run in chosen ridings not based on their ability to raise funds or anything else. They are nominated based on the whim of the leader of the party. That is not democratic.

How can the leader say, “I'll pick a winnable riding and plunk somebody in there as my candidate”. There is no nomination process. Candidates do not have to sell a single membership, do not have to go to a single meeting, and do not have to explain a single issue. Those types of candidates do not have to come in out of the rain and if they are in a strong Liberal riding they have a good chance of winning.

That to me is more offensive to the democratic process than any of the nomination processes that involve money. Money is not the problem here. The problem is an autocratic party system in the Liberal Party that allows the leader to appoint who he wants without any due process.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the intervention by the member for Fraser Valley a moment ago demonstrates the difficulty he has, and I hope he is the only one in his party, in living in the 22nd century. Actually, he seems to be reluctantly dragged into the 21st century. Judging from the comments he made and his fishing expeditions as to what is driving the legislation, I think he is still in the 19th century. He spent a considerable amount of time on his search for the rationale behind the bill. Having fished in muddy water for several minutes, the best he could come up with was an hilarious explanation or rationale, namely that the legislation is a gift to the next leader.

I admire the sense of humour of the member for Fraser Valley for coming up with such a nice joke during lunch hour. I hope he is in isolation, because on Friday I heard a very convincing and fine intervention by his colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby who made an impassioned intervention on the treatment of public servants and made some constructive suggestions as to how the legislation ought to be amended in order to meet the requirements of public servants who want to serve their nation in Parliament. I thought he made recommendations that ought to be taken seriously by the committee at the committee stage.

Coming back to the official opposition, unfortunately, I was disturbed by the statement made by the opposition leader in his speech last week, namely when he said that the legislation would serve “to weaken an already fragile democratic framework”.

We part ways with him. On this side of the House we believe that the legislation will strengthen our democratic framework and that we are moving in the right direction. There may be differences of opinions as to ceilings and treatments, et cetera, but, by golly, if we are not going to do this I think we will lose the commitment of the population at large to our democratic and political system.

Another statement the Leader of the Opposition made in his speech which troubled me was when he compared political parties to markets. He said “Political parties, like markets, should be responsible to the people who need them and want them”.

This is a market economy type of approach to democracy which is rather unusual and maybe it needs to be dealt with for a second. I would reject that notion as would, I am sure, most members of the House. Political parties are not a marketable commodity. Political parties are needed by everybody in the country, the ones to which we subscribe and the ones to which we do not, because in a healthy, democratic system we want to have choices and to hear different opinions even from the party to which one subscribes. This happens in every family, in every community and at the national level.

To compare political parties to markets denigrates and cheapens the role of political parties. Political parties are more than markets. Political parties are public institutions of the highest importance, driven by ideas and commitments, and have nothing to do with the marketplace. This kind of approach and evaluation explains the official opposition's low standing in the polls. The House leader already made some very passionate reference to that.

Instead, I found the speech by the right hon. member for Calgary Centre extremely reassuring, particularly what he said toward the end of his speech. In referring to these reforms he said that they would allow us to take a step in the direction of reasserting the public interest and that they were central to the health of our democracy. This was a very good statement and I concur. He also said that it was clear that the status quo does not work.

Evidently, for the official opposition the status quo does work which is why it is stuck. It is stagnant and it seems to be desperately grasping for a rationale that would allow it to justify to its electors why stagnation is better than moving in the right direction. Basically that is what and where the official opposition rests in its approach to politics, which is regrettable because usually the role of the official opposition is to prod the government to do more, to do better and to improve. Instead we have a regressive movement trying to slow down and turn the events and thrust of history into the past rather than into what is the inevitable future waiting for us.

The hon. member for Calgary Centre also said that the Minister of Canadian Heritage had testified to the effect that the present system invited very real cynicism in the country when she said that financial considerations and the interests of contributors held up the timetable of Kyoto. That remains to be proven, but that is what he said.

He went on to say that there was no doubt that the present system invited abuse. This is the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party who I am quoting. He concluded by saying that the bill was only the beginning, that he would support the bill at this reading and encourage the widest possible opportunities from members of all parties to improve it.

We find very fine support from the Progressive Conservative Party, expressed by a member who has considerable experience, who comes from the west, who represents a party right of centre and whose voice, I am sure, is much more representative of the people in western Canada than the unfortunate position taken by the official opposition. I am sure in committee the official opposition will rethink its role and find the positive and significant measures contained in the bill. It is a tremendous step in the right direction as far as I can judge.

Why? There are several reasons. One is that riding association leadership candidates and nomination contestants would have to disclose and report to the Chief Electoral Officer. The other one is that nomination contestants would be subject to a spending limit equivalent to 50% of the candidate spending limit in the same riding as the previous election.

Another element is that the bill is a prohibition on contributions from corporations, unions and other associations. Some have already described it as too high. I am among them. I think it could be much lower than that.

Another feature is that corporations, unions and associations would be allowed to contribute a maximum of $1,000 annually to the aggregate of candidates, local associations and nomination contestants. I am sure this will be studied in detail in committee.

The bill also would limit the amount that individuals could contribute: the aggregate of $10,000 annual donation to a registered party. An individual also would be allowed to contribute $10,000 to the leadership contestant in a leadership campaign. The amount of $10,000 does not represent the amount that the average Canadian can afford. I hope this can be examined very closely at committee stage and possibly reduced accordingly. It is very hard to know exactly where the limit ought to be but I would imagine that even if it were reduced by half, to $5,000, that it would still be fairly high.

Additional features are the percentage of election expenses that can be reimbursed to parties would be increased from 22.5% to 50%. The qualification threshold for reimbursement of candidate expenses would be lowered from 15% to 10% of a number of variable costs in the riding, which would allow more candidates to receive reimbursement after elections. This is a very important feature.

Finally, as has been done already in three provinces, registered parties would receive an allowance which would be paid on a quarterly basis, et cetera.

We can see that there is a wide range of significant initiatives that ought to be given full airing and full attention in committee in an effort of providing legislation for which Canadians can be proud, particularly Canadians who feel that the party system needs to be improved in its capacity to bring forward new ideas and new candidates.

It seems to me, in essence, that one can conclude this debate by simply saying that in a healthy democracy it is actually ideas that count more than money, and that we should provide a vehicle for parties that have ideas to come forward and to secure them for some kind of financial support in times when the costs are skyrocketing.

There are wastes in campaigns. The campaign waste alone in sign production and sign battles is enormous. The sign campaign is costly and energy consuming which makes one wonder whether we should not find ways and means of limiting the extent of the sign campaign for the benefit of everybody.

I, like many others have already done, commend the government for this fine initiative. We need it. The sooner it is brought back to the House, reported and passed, the better for democracy, for Canadian democracy and for all those who believe in having a healthy and mature democratic system.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that the member supports the legislation and says that companies and businesses should not be able to contribute these large amounts, in fact according to his words he would like to see it reduced further, I wonder whether he is simply announcing that he concurs with the perception that members of the Canadian Alliance and a lot of voters have had for years, and that is that organizations, like Bombardier and others, have bought a lot of favour by making contributions to the Liberal Party.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is the whole point, that the dependence on two particular interest sectors, namely the corporate sector and the union sector, is one that needs to be bridled in, controlled and reduced. I think that a party that is in power ought to be actually congratulated for taking that measure, which I would doubt very much the Alliance Party would take under consideration if it were in power.

Second, the Alliance Party has a tremendous amount of confidence in and quotes the National Citizens' Coalition as being the ultimate in democratic procedures and democratic values. We did some research, at least in the limited time available, and this is what we found out about the National Citizens' Coalition, which is the organization to which the hon. member and other members of that party have frequently made reference in very supportive terms. This is what I read:

...Many of the [National Citizens' Coalition's] fiercest critics have pointed out the incongruity of an organization which attacks others for supposedly undemocratic practise while organizing itself along similar lines. Claiming a membership of some 40,000-45,000...it has consistently refused to release any list of names. Even more striking is the fact that it is neither a citizen-based grassroots organization nor a coalition of any traditional kind. Its constitution actually distinguishes between “voting” and “public members”; as so-called public members, ordinary citizens are not entitled to vote, attend meetings or even be informed of meetings...voting members, by contrast, are entitled not only to attend meetings but also to select the four members of the board of directors. Only two voting members are required for a quorum, and only three directors are necessary to conduct NCC business...Nor has the secretive lobby group ever explained its sources of funding, despite its obvious affluence...while the NCC is not a charitable organization whose contributions are tax-receiptable, its contributors--mostly businesses and large corporations--can deduct their payments as a business expense...the organization's budget in 1997 was nearly $3 million dollars...[a] detailed analysis of advisory-board members revealed ties to “thirty-nine major corporations...eight major insurance companies, seven advertising agencies and more than fifty lesser corporations--

This was written by Dr. Brooke Jeffrey in Canadian Forum in June 1999.