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.