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.