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.


Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Reg Alcock Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to add a few remarks to the debate on the legislation. I will not go over some of the ground that other members have spoken to already.

I listened carefully to the remarks of the House leader in introducing the bill and to the member for Fredericton. I largely endorse what the member for Fredericton has said. His personal experience is a valuable guide for the House as we think about how the bill might be improved. By and large I support it. It is a move in the right direction.

I was just getting active in politics when the current bill was brought in and when we first adopted the principle of the public, through a tax credit, supporting the activity of political parties. At that time there was a lot of excitement about the tool that this provided to us in helping to encourage individual citizens to get involved in politics. We had a great deal of enthusiasm and hope at that time that this would give us a way to really focus our energies on citizens and electors and perhaps even then of some of the corporate concerns that were arising.

Over time, as that tool became weaker, because it was not upgraded and because inflationary pressures and such were not addressed, there was a diminution of the use of it and some concerns about it. This is a welcome improvement, in particular that this would take us back to that base. There is a saying that the best protection of democracy is an act of citizenry. If the bill becomes a way to encourage and support the activities of citizens in support of the political parties of their choice, that is a very positive step.

There are some things in the bill that are worth underlining. The problem, if I could start that way, with the current legislation is that it does not go far enough on the transparency and disclosure side. It was not until we got into this debate that I even realized it was possible for a member to raise funds that were not receipted. I thought all political donations had to be receipted, and I acted in accordance with that.

A lot of the concerns and worries we have about undue influence and all of that are always made worse by a lack of transparency. Those provisions that call for annual reporting by everyone who raises funds, an annual disclosure of the funds raised and what they are used for, would go a long way to restoring public trust. Frankly if people saw the reality of some of this, they would not be as concerned as some of them rightly are.

The second thing that is touched upon, or hinted at, or that is a possibility in the way the bill is structured, and it has been an active debate among myself and some of my colleagues, is the way the bill begins to pick apart some of the structural items in the organization of a political party. I certainly cannot speak to the organizational structures of other political parties in the House, but it makes a nice separation between the member and his or her association and the party. I would argue that we need to go even further and look within that in the provincial and territorial associations. One way to conceptualize this, and the way I conceptualize our party, is a group of individual associations which come together collectively to create the territorial associations which come together collectively in a federation to create the national party. The national party, like the country, is indeed a federation.

We got that model wrong when we started to centralize a lot of the authority and control for fundraising in the national party rather than for those who were fundraising. For example, I could raise all sorts of money, and am a very active fundraiser. I raised funds in a number of guises for theatres and social causes prior to being elected. The techniques and work of fundraising are something I understand well.

I could raise money right now and it would get sent in and receipted in Ottawa. That donation can be found on the website but it can also be found somewhere within pages and pages of information. It is hard to pick out whether it is a donation to me in my riding. There is nothing that breaks that out for us and there is absolutely nothing that happens in terms of my reporting what I do with the money. Those are important flaws.

The more that I am held accountable for the fundraising I do, the reporting of the use of it and the accounting for it, I think the more confidence people will have in the kind of work I do. I currently report on the money I spend in my riding because it is good practice. That would be a healthy change.

I note the Ontario members on the provincial side have, as all members have during an election campaign, the ability to continue throughout the year to offer tax receipts, collect the money and report on it. There are some useful changes.

On the picking apart of the corporate versus individual, I am a bit of an agnostic on a piece of that. I heard one member on the other side talk about how the Americans had a $1,000 cap on individual contributions and no corporate contributions since 1976, I think. That is right but they opened a big back door and drove all the corporate contributions into big packs. The packs are as powerful or more powerful a force in American politics than any corporation in Canada. I do not think that is a healthy thing, and I am not certain I would want to see us go in that direction.

We are trying to deal with a concern about corporate influence by limiting or trying to find ways to squeeze down that activity. Transparency will be a greater tool than any other control but I am not concerned about the $1,000 limit.

I want to raise something on the question of public financing though. I listened to the member for Elk Island. He raised a concern about having someone come to his door selling Liberal tickets and him having to buy one. I do not think there is anything in the bill that would do that. I think he is saying that he has no objection to the current system where if he gets a donation for his campaign from someone, the public gives him $75 of the first $100. He gets public money back for that. The only the test of any activity is the fact that he is the member of a party and somebody is prepared to give him money.

However he is concerned about money being transferred to him on the basis of his having the electoral support of those same citizens. In a funny way he is saying that he does not think people should be forced to pay, even through the public purse, for political choices they do not want. Yet the proposal is that if there were x number of thousands of people who voted for him, then his party would receive money on that basis. I am not sure how solid his argument is.

It is a new area for us but the reality is that every party has to run an infrastructure, every party has to communicate with 301 ridings and every party has to raise money just to keep the organizational structures alive. The one thing this will do is clarify that. It will put it out for all to see. It will make it logical and predictable. I think it also will reduce some pressure on parties and allow them to get on with the work they need to get on with, which is to represent the citizens that put them there in the first place.

However in that same vein, I have a concern. It is one of those concerns that may be out there a bit. It always worries me when I see central control of some of these fundamental processes that could serve to exclude other groups from getting involved, and I would want to look very carefully at those provisions.

I recently read Preston Manning's book. I think the founding meetings of the Alliance Party took place because certain individuals were prepared to write some very large cheques to underwrite some conventions. I am not saying that to be critical.

There needs to be legitimate opportunities for people who descent, who do not like the existing parties and who have concerns about government to express that, to come together and organize around that. I would be cautious about it, if between elections we were to put funding rules in place that made it impossible for other groups to get active or made it difficult for them to get started. This would be a detriment to the nature of democracy in the country.

Beyond that, I am supportive of the bill. I look forward to it going to committee. I suspect there will be some interesting and important amendments made there.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the amendment to the amendment receivable.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-24, recently introduced in this House and dealing with political party financing in particular.

From the outset, I must recognize that we, in the Bloc Quebecois, agree with the bill in principle. I will elaborate on this in my remarks, even if I have only 10 minutes. Ten minutes may seem like a long time to some, but it is a very short time for others.

I want to point out that the purpose of the bill is to clean up our political system. The idea is to do things the way they are done elsewhere. Naturally, Quebec was mentioned. In Quebec, legislation was passed 26 years ago. If memory serves, it was passed in 1977. But we must look at what was going on before then to understand that the purpose of the bill is truly to clean up politics. This bill has a number of flaws, and I will come back to that. Still, it is unfortunate that such a bill was so long in coming at the federal level.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

An hon. member

Better late than never.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Better late than never, indeed. But 26 years after Quebec, that is too long, in my opinion. Naturally, this has caused problems for governments in the past—there are members of this Parliament who can attest to that—for previous governments and, more recently, for this one.

When large corporations are allowed to finance political parties Canada-wide, these large corporations—it goes without saying, it is obvious—will try, as much as possible, to influence the policies put forward by the government.

That is the main problem with the politics of a country like ours. It is a problem because, as we know, people with money can influence politicians and political parties because they contribute substantial amounts to these political parties.

I mentioned corporations. But I could also talk about lobbies. We could look at what is happening in the United States. It is well known, for instance, that the gun lobby is very influential. This lobby makes contributions to both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, thus ensuring that it always has leverage, whichever party happens to be in office.

If we look at what went on before 1977 in Quebec, it is almost the same as the current situation at the federal level. In Quebec, people had the power to influence political parties. Large companies had the power to influence political parties by contributing money to them. We saw what went on under Maurice Duplessis. We saw a little later what went on under Jean Lesage.

That only changed with the arrival of the Parti Quebecois who, since 1970, had said there was a need for legislation to protect the fundamental institutions, our political parties. Political parties are a means of expression for the public. Political parties are vehicles to carry messages from the citizens to the National Assembly, in Quebec, and to the House of Commons at the federal level.

These political parties, the politicians, the elected members need to have some freedom and independence from big interests and groups that are able to pressure them with the money they invest.

Unfortunately, as I said earlier, this bill has a few flaws. The main one is the $10,000 limit for individuals. In Quebec, the current limit is $3,000. This has served us well since 1977. In the statutes and bylaws of the Bloc Quebecois, since our creation, we have proposed a limit of $5,000. That means an individual cannot contribute more than $5,000 a year to the Bloc Quebecois. If we rely on the current law, which will be replaced by the bill we are reviewing at present, this sum is more than acceptable. It must be remembered that there was no ceiling for companies or individuals, yet the Bloc Quebecois imposed its own ceiling of $5,000.

I feel this is a very large amount of money. Very few ordinary citizens can afford to hand over $10,000 to a political party. Let us be honest here, very few can.

Looking at Quebec's experience, 1.2% of the population makes over $2,000 in contributions each year to political parties. This goes to show that $10,000 is a very large amount.

The other problem, of course, is that corporations are allowed to contribute to political parties. For democracy to thrive, citizens must be allowed to get involved.

Naturally, fundraising takes more effort. As one of my colleagues said earlier, it is much more difficult to go to people, ordinary citizens, and ask them to contribute to a political party, to buy a membership card, to conduct yearly campaigns to raise money from other members to maintain a strong membership.

It is basic human nature to try to do as little as possible. But for a political party to thrive, to be what the people want it to be, I think that membership is very important and that individuals, the citizens who have the right to vote, should be the ones financing political parties. This gives them the opportunity to express their views within their party, their institution, and to collectively influence the decisions made by that party.

Now, a political party using public financing opens its doors to any citizen, regardless of income. It is then up to each citizen to stand up for their ideas within their institution, at general meetings, conventions and so forth.

After 26 years, the experience in Quebec has shown that it does work. So far, the two political parties—I say two parties, even though there is third one emerging—namely the Parti Quebecois and the Liberal Party, have been able to thrive, conduct election campaigns and continue to raise money, and perhaps even be freer. Not only have they perhaps been freer in their policies and decisions, but I think that these policies and decisions also reflected more accurately the views of the community as a whole.

In fact, the danger of a government financed only by big business and individuals with the means is that it may be managed in a vacuum. Only lobby groups with the means to put pressure on the government, either through financial contributions or otherwise, get a response. That is a danger.

During the last election campaign, for example, we saw what happened to voter turnout. There is a problem with democracy when people no longer believe in the system. This is very dangerous for democracy.

Democracy must therefore be strengthened, not made totally pure because that would be impossible. I think that the bill before us is a chance to improve federal democracy. As I was saying, we support this principle.

I have great difficulty with another component of the bill which, in section 404.1, allows contributions of “—$1,000 in total in any calendar year to the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a particular registered party may be made—”. This provision seems impossible to control.

During an election campaign, how are we to know if such and such a bank gave $1,000 in one riding—Matapédia—Matane, for example—and $1,000 in Ontario at the same time? We will only find out when the statements of all the candidates have been compiled. I think that this provision is very difficult to enforce and that it should be amended.

In conclusion, we support the principle of the bill because it will allow us to make our democracy stronger.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec


Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying what an honour it is for me to take part in this debate on Bill C-24. This is a bill that has been long awaited, at least within my association and my riding.

Moreover, my association had drafted a resolution calling for a ban to be placed on financial contributions to political parties by companies and corporations rather than individuals.

That resolution was debated during last November's biennial convention of the Liberal Party of Canada by the Quebec wing. Unfortunately, an amendment was proposed, and won out, to instead propose a limit on contributions from corporations, labour unions and associations, rather than the out and out prohibition sought by my association.

I must tell you, Mr. Speaker, that once the bill was introduced and I had an opportunity to examine it, I was pleased with what I saw. I shall explain.

I have already been involved with a code of ethics for law enforcement. My close to 10 years of experience has led me to the conclusion that the best protection for any institution within a democracy is a system based on a number of principles, among them accountability, transparency, good governance or effective control, and independence.

Transparency is included in the legislation, as was mentioned earlier by one of my colleagues from Winnipeg. This legislation calls for clear accounting on the part of riding associations, provincial wings of federal parties, and federal parties themselves at the national level, in terms not only of the donations that are received, but also in terms of the actual disbursements that are made by these various entities.

This legislation calls for transparency and accountability in the area of nomination and leadership contests. That is quite a good thing. It would go a long ways to restoring some of the confidence that ordinary Canadians have in their politicians and in our democratic parliamentary system here. Why do I say that? I will give the House a few facts.

Voter turnout dropped to below 55% of eligible voters during the last election. Many people attribute this voter apathy, in part at least, to the widespread idea that politicians are subject to undue influence from those who give them money.

Some parliamentarians would say that the contributions they receive are philanthropic in nature, and that the money comes without conditions. Others would say that it is impossible to prove that politicians are influenced by the money they receive.

However, there is cause to wonder, like many citizens do, why corporations, non-profit organizations or unions would contribute to a political party or candidate if they do not expect anything in return.

Is what they expect necessarily in the interest of Canadians? It is cynicism, pure and simple. I do not believe that elected officials are corrupt. I belive that the vast majority of elected officials, at every level, whether it be municipal, provincial or federal, are honest and act with integrity.

However, this is not what Canadians seem to think. According to polls, the vast majority believe that they are unduly influenced by corporations, companies, unions and non-profit associations. Whether this is true or not, that is the perception.

When I was the assistant commissioner for police ethics for the province of Quebec, I learned one thing. Public perceptions, particularly when they are false, need to be disproved by the state.

Take the example of police. We know that the vast majority of police officers are honest and go their jobs properly. They are polite, they do not abuse authority, power or use excessive force. However, in some communities, in some provinces and cities, there is a perception that the police are corrupt, abusive and so on.

In every Canadian province, the federal government has implemented monitoring, governance and accountability systems for police forces. It goes without saying that the same should be done for elected political representatives.

There are other facts to consider. In a 2001 poll conducted by the Canadian Democracy and Corporate Accountability Commission, 56% of respondents were in favour of barring business or union contributions to political parties; 33% were against prohibiting business contributions; 35% were against barring union contributions.

I think that this speaks loud and clear. In fact, certain business leaders had already expressed some reservations about the current laissez-faire attitude, which leaves too many doubts about political contributions by corporations, business and unions.

The current system also has the inconvenience, it must be said, of putting businesses in a difficult position, in that some people expect that companies will be good citizens and make donations to charities and to political parties, while others consider these same acts a shameful attempt to manipulate the political process.

Some companies have decided to give up making political contributions. I think that BP, Alcan and Rio Tinto are among them.

Moreover, some people fear that companies will get around the rules and illegally write off political contributions by claiming them as expenses. I will not comment on this.

However, I do want to comment on two things in this bill. There is accountability and transparence, effective government and independence. I think that the Chief Electoral Officer is independent and he has a good track record.

As for the penalities for people or companies that want to get around the provisions of this legislation with regard to contribution methods and ceilings, I believe the penalities are too low.

A maximum penalty of $2,000 or six months in prison is truly too low for any attempt to subvert our Parliament and our democracy. I feel these penalties should be reviewed by the government and should be much stricter.

I would simply like to thank the Prime Minister and the governing Liberal Party for this bill. It is a big step in the right direction.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is another interesting debate today. It is a bit of a change of pace. Everybody came rushing back to this place this morning all intent on a closure motion that was to have been brought down on Bill C-10, the bill coming back from the Senate on firearms and cruelty to animals.

The government threw us a curve and pulled that one off because it was having trouble lining up the backbenchers on that side, not just the opposition but its own backbenchers, who were saying that they would not support that. It is a bit of an unprecedented thing when we see a closure motion rescinded. It was a bittersweet victory that brought us to Bill C-24 today, the election financing bill.

I watched with some interest as the government House leader threw the curveball, the knuckleball, the Nerfball, the spitball, or whatever it was today, that got us over to this bill. Then he stood up and did a tirade, reminiscent of the old rat pack, of how it was everybody's fault but his. The last time I checked he is the leader of the government that has a majority. He controls the agenda totally and completely. It is at his beck and call, and the cabinet that he serves.

How in any way could it possibly be the opposition shanghaiing this place or withholding this or doing that? How could that possibly be? Yet he stood there sanctimonious as anyone could believe, as hypocritical as anyone could believe--and I see you chuckling, Mr. Speaker. You saw the same act I did.

It would have been a great act to have at a circus. He would have had people coming in and paying money to see that. Without a tear in his eye he was able to do that; without a smile on his face. I guess that is a great attribute that he has after all these years in this place. But it is certainly nothing to do with the opposition.

This particular bill, whether it gets shanghaied or not, has more to do with what backbench members do or not do over on that side and the leadership contests, and problems that they have at this time.

Having said that, I look at the bill and think, here we go again. Regarding the last number of bills that I have spoken to in this place, the direction might be right but the focus is off, this might be right but this is missing, and there are all these loopholes. I see that again in Bill C-24. I see the public disengaged. There is a huge disconnect now between what government says and does in this place, and what the taxpayers who are paying the bills and for whom we are doing this are actually asking for.

We are asking taxpayers to totally fund the political system in this country. They do to a great extent now, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40% to 50% with tax rebates and different things that go on. However, we are looking to take that to an unprecedented level with this bill. If taxpayers had a disconnected appetite for politics before, they certainly will have a larger disconnect once they start to analyze what the bill is all about.

This is all about public money, taxpayers' money, paying for the political habits of parties. We are seeing things in the bill that are not covered under allowable expenses at this point. I wish to mention one thing that is inappropriate.

Candidates who ran in an election, and I will use my riding as an example from the 2000 election, who received 15% of the popular vote received their deposit back. It was basically called that. A candidate received half of the allowable expenses as a rebate from the taxpayers. We have all been through that, Mr. Speaker, and you have too. However I see the threshold being lowered to 10%. I think it should go the other way; it should go to 20%. We are talking about public money here. Someone who cannot get 20% of the popular vote in a riding is missing out.

I know the House leader made a comment that none of the Liberals missed by more than 10% so it would not affect them at all. However, in reality, the Liberal candidate got 17% in my riding because 3% belonged to the aboriginal vote. There were aboriginal folks with whom I had become very friendly with who phoned me and said that there was a problem. The polling booths had my picture up with a big X through it along with signs saying “Don't vote Canadian Alliance” and all these wonderful things, which are not allowed but it was done. That is what gave the Liberal candidate the 3% to get above the 15%. It is a dirty way to get it. He will need that money a lot more than I will next time around if he decides to run again because he is fighting an uphill battle with gun control and all sorts of different things that have helped us out in that part of the country.

However, the bill does not in any way address the fundamental problem with political contributions.

There is an unappetizing flavour in the electorate that we are corrupt. We saw that through the HRD scandals, and the advertising and sponsorship fiasco that is still under investigation. There is hardly a file that public works has touched in the last two or three years that is not before the RCMP or that the Auditor General will not have a look at. Everything is suspect. The bill does not address any of that.

We saw polls at the height of the fiasco last spring that two-thirds of Canadians thought that government was corrupt. They labelled us all together and that was unfortunate. We are all here doing a job at, of course, different levels of our capability, but we are still doing a job on behalf of our constituents. We answer to them, not to the public purse, but to our constituents. I do not see the bill addressing that type of fine tuning.

It is all about corruption and kickbacks that we saw throughout the whole sponsorship fiasco. The bill in no way would stop that. It may stop the numbers at times, but it would not limit it and it would not halt it in any way.

We have a majority government that is having a real problem with a corruption label, and an unethical conduct label for some of the frontbench folks. They have the discretionary money and hundreds of millions of dollars that they can put into their pet projects and say that is what government will do because that is what people want, and so on, because it has done some polling. Even the polling would be covered under the bill. We saw the polling cut out of sponsorships and rightly so, and here it is put back into the bill.

We have a backdoor deal going on to put that polling cost into the bill because it is a significant factor. There is no doubt about it. Good polling costs good money. It is being slipped back in at public expense because the government can no longer do it under the sponsorship file because people are looking over its shoulder. There is a bit of sleight of hand which is part of that circus act that the government House leader was doing before.

I cannot see anything but more apathy and low voter turnouts continuing because people are feeling disconnected and asking, how relevant is this place?

There are many days when I have that same concern. I sat in on a committee meeting this morning and I wondered what the heck we were doing. It is just busy work. We get a few people in behind closed doors and let them listen to this, that or whatever. We are not here to be entertained. We are here to do a decent job and I do not need that busy work. I have constituents that I need to call and work on their files because they are having a tough time with Revenue Canada, the GST, or things like that. I do not need that busy work.

There is a member screaming over there to let legislation go through the House. I say to that member to bring forward something worth voting on and we will do it. The Liberals have a majority. They ram legislation through using closure. This is not legislation; this is ripping off the public. It is all about money. It is all about cashflow for political parties. That is what it is all about: $1.50 per vote. I would do very well because I get lots of votes.

It is all about paying off party debt, bringing it forward, and letting the public pay for it. I do not think Canadians want to do that. They are very critical of bills like that.

There are things that are roadblocks to good legislation coming through the House, but not very often are they caused by the opposition parties. A lot of it is the result of the government not being able to get its own house in order. It has very little to do with us. There are so few tools that we have at our discretion to slow things down from the runway that happens here all the time.

The Senate is not sitting right now. The member says it is because we are halting legislation. We did not pull Bill C-13. The government House leader did. We did not pull Bill C-10 today. The government House leader did. Bill C-20, the child protection bill, has been shanghaied for a little while.

We have seen a long term calendar that might go a week into the future and it is subject to change. Let us see some good legislation that we can put through. Let us see a schedule that the government sticks to. Let us see some dates that are locked down so we know what we are working toward, and we can get in here and speak to that legislation.

We spend so much time, two steps ahead and three steps back, and then we get legislation like this that is so full of holes that Canadians do not understand it. They are concerned about big business and unions taking over the political parties. Good and rightly so, but this bill does not address that in any way at all. It would limit the numbers, but it would change them around and would put them in from a different way.

It is more smoke and mirrors. It is legislation that I certainly cannot support and I know my folks at home would expect me to stand up and say this is not good.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this bill. It is an important bill which addresses a number of perceptions of the Canadian public that need to be addressed. I want to congratulate the Prime Minister on his ability to put this bill on the floor of the House and to address issues of transparency and accountability which we are all subject to. In large measure the bill attempts to enhance accountability and transparency, and in that respect I support the bill at its inception.

I want to address the misperception and that is the apparent alleged connection between the donation of moneys to a political party or a candidate and the concomitant linkage to influence. That has not been my experience. I do not know of anyone in the House who can in fact make that connection. I would be shocked, indeed horrified, if in fact members accepted money on the basis that there was to be influence or that there was to be quid pro quo. I find that a completely offensive notion and all members need to address that issue as they speak.

There certainly may be expectations on the part of donors. I would say all donors; I would not simply limit it to corporate or union donors. There is a small percentage of people who do, in some manner or another, expect some influence as a result of their donation. Those donors and the Canadian public need to realize that this place is a lot more complicated than that and simply writing a cheque does not result in what one might in fact expect.

However, it is at this point almost settled political lore that money buys some form of influence. It does not seem to matter much how often it is repeated that money does not in fact buy influence. It has still become almost part of the myth of politics in this country and indeed in other countries.

In politics perception is reality and it does not matter much that there may not be any evidence to support that reality. It is a reality that in fact generates this bill, which in some respects may even be a bill that is based upon a myth rather than a reality.

I want to address the issue of fundraising in political parties. Political parties are simultaneously simple mechanisms and very complex and sophisticated mechanisms. They do require funding. If in fact a party is to get its message across, it requires access to significant resources. It is a little bit more than bake sales. Frankly, I have been there and done that, and it is not a lot of fun to raise money in small amounts at a time. It uses up a lot of energy and in the end does not produce sufficient resources to communicate what needs to be communicated in the years 2001, 2002 and 2003.

In my view, the bill has some problems which are not insurmountable. A lot of them exist on the periphery of the bill rather than in the bill itself. We heard the member for Fredericton talk about the fact that the party in New Brunswick is a fused party because the provincial and federal wings exist together. I believe that is true in Nova Scotia as well as in some other provinces. It would create a difficult situation which would have to be disentangled. It would have been nicer to have had a bit more lead time so that those parties could disentangle themselves from each other.

It does not address the issue of how current debt will be paid off. There are parties, ours included, that carry a significant amount of debt. One has to think in the context of the bill and in the context of various leadership races, one just finished and two still continuing, that limited moneys will be funnelled to leadership races rather than to the needs of the party. As the bill is to be proclaimed on January 1 of next year, there will be a situation for a number of the parties where in fact their debt may be increased rather than maintained or decreased, the consequence of which will be difficulties in doing things like election readiness.

Another problem that comes to mind is in the allocation of the moneys that are raised on the per voter basis. In the case of the Liberal Party I am told that something in the order of $8 million would come to the Liberal Party, so the real question there is how those moneys are to be allocated. Will they be allocated on a pro rata basis? Will they be allocated on a per vote basis? Will they be allocated by some form of discretionary allocation which may or may not be a reward and/or punishment system? I, like all other members here, need to know how those moneys will be distributed and made available to members and to the provincial associations as well.

Another issue that has come up is the limit on the $1,000 corporate donation. On the face of it that sounds like an attractive proposition, except that not all corporations are by any means created equal. We have a situation where a bank, let us say, is limited to $1,000 nationally as a corporate donation. The Toronto-Dominion Bank in downtown Toronto is a very different entity from the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Beaverton, Ontario or Biggar, Saskatchewan or a town or village in New Brunswick. Basically, we are precluding those banks, trust companies and financial institutions from participating with their local member. Essentially all of that money will be distributed wherever the head office is located.

Again, maybe that is not a problem, but for some entities it will be. On the other hand, for a Tim Hortons franchise, which is part of an extensively franchised corporation, in theory each franchise could give $1,000. It seems to me that members will end up cozying up to Tim Hortons and distancing themselves from the banks. Did we actually accomplish anything by doing that? I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that possibly in the future a Tim Hortons manager will be far more influential than a bank manager, if in fact the basis for the bill is a perception that money buys influence.

How will parties adjust to election readiness? We are in a cycle. We were elected in November 2000. We potentially have a mandate to November 2005. We are sort of in the middle of a normal election cycle. We have this bill that will proceed. There will be some modifications in committee. The bill will come back to the House and be proclaimed sometime in January. We will have something in the order of a year to a year and half to develop resources for the next election. That in and of itself will be somewhat difficult, because there will be limitations on being able to get ready for election readiness.

The final point has to do with some unintended consequences. One of them might well be the unintended consequence of enabling only very affluent leadership aspirants to seek the leadership of various political parties, because if in fact there are limitations on abilities to do corporate and union fundraising and the leaders expect to be able to spend significant sums of money, that will be difficult for people who are anything other than quite affluent themselves.

I offer these as a series of concerns that come to mind as I read the bill. I hope they are useful concerns and I hope some of them will be taken up in the committee.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

On the surface, it is a bill that professes to end influence peddling in Canada and I could support it, as could any member in the House. However, the fact of the matter is that this is not what the bill is about. The bill has some serious deficits of which the Canadian public should be well aware because it is their money that will be used to fund us as political parties, instead of in other ways.

The first aspect of the bill deals with corporate and individual donations to parties and candidates. The bill limits funding to political parties by corporations to $1,000 a year and by individuals to $10,000 a year. I do not have any problem with that at all. In fact, putting limits on individual and corporate donations is a good thing. But where does influence peddling take place? It takes place underneath the table. The big chunks of money that we find from organizations like Groupaction and others come in under the table and amount to the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars that are given to political parties in Canada today. Therein lies the challenge.

Producing transparency in the manner in which individual corporations are able to provide moneys to political parties will remove the ability to have influence peddling. I would suggest that what the government could do is adopt what the European Union has done, and that is the “publish what you pay principle”. Not only would I say publish what you pay, I would say “publish what is received”. If we could do both of them, influence peddling would be severely limited in Canada. That is a good way to end it.

To register constituency associations and to put more transparencies in place are good parts of the bill, but where I have serious problems is in using public moneys to fund political parties, and really, if this part of the bill were removed I would stand up and support the government on its bill.

In our system today, after an election parties are refunded from the public coffers 22.5% of the amount of money that they have actually spent. In the bill the government proposes to increase that to 50%.

Second, the government also proposes to increase the tax credit from 50% to 75% of donations. When individual organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and so many others are starving for money and indeed when there is more reliance placed on them to raise their own funds, would it not be right for the government to increase the amount of money that it allows individual charitable organizations, regardless of what they happen to be, so that they would have the same charitable deduction as political parties? Why not do that? That would be a very good and progressive move on the part of the government: to make individual charitable deductions the same whether one donates to a political party or to a charitable organization.

The other aspect that we take umbrage at is the annual allowance. What I think the Canadian public will find very interesting is that in the bill the government proposes to allow the taxpayer to give political parties $1.50 for every vote they have received in the last election, for every single year. Let us look at the facts in the last election. For the Liberal Party, that would mean $8 million every year. My party would receive $4.9 million and the Bloc Québécois $2 million per year of taxpayers' money. In total, almost $19.3 million of the taxpayers' money would be going to us as political parties every single year.

These days when there is so much competition for moneys for health care, defence and a whole host of issues that help the people of our country, surely the government would take it upon itself to say we should not be funding Canadian political parties with taxpayers' money. A better use of the people's money is to put it into health care so people can get their health care when they need it, or to put it into social programs for the poor and underprivileged when they need it, or into housing or aboriginal affairs, or a host of issues that affect the poorest of the poor, because $19.3 million of the taxpayers' money is nothing to sneeze at.

I would support the bill if the government removed the public financing of political parties and took it upon itself to be innovative. I would ask the Minister of National Revenue to please give charitable organizations the same tax write-off as would be given to political parties. It is the right thing to do.

On the issue of a vibrant democracy, it is sad to say that a justifiably cynical public is moving away from political structures and into alternative structures to try to get what they want. That has happened because there has been a defanging of the country's political institutions.

MPs cannot represent the public who sent them here in the manner in which they should be. We need the power to represent our constituents and to do what they want. It is sad that in 2003 that is not the case and as time passes, it is becoming worse. Politics has become a cynical game fuelled by the taxpayers' dollar. The problems of the nation are merely the backdrop upon which the game is played for the maintenance or acquisition of power. That has to change.

Whoever sits in the prime minister's seat and chooses to do this, chooses to democratize Canada, chooses to democratize this House, will have a legacy that will live far beyond that person's years. Whichever leader chooses to do that will have put something in the history books that he or she can be proud of and that will serve the Canadian people very well for years to come.

There are things such as empowering MPs and changing private members' business. The rules are crafted by this House, by your office, Mr. Speaker, to go into the standing orders. In the waning days of December before the winter break, the government chose to renege on its promise. It chose to end the hard work of changing private members' business, that small island of opportunity where MPs can innovate. It chose to kill it and it has gone back to the dark days of private members' business being a farce. That has to change.

With respect to committees, the public and others who have been involved in committees must sigh and shake their heads at how disappointing the experience has been. Committees could be a vibrant place where members from all parties could put forth their individual expertise to deal with issues and offer solutions to help the government to better our country.

Committees are basically a make work project for MPs. We study issues. We often study the studies and then we go back and study them again. Legislation is reviewed which is a good thing.

However, there is a dominance of the party in power. The parliamentary secretaries sit on the committees. The government controls the committees with an iron fist. The original intent of committees as a place where MPs could actually have a vibrant discourse with each other and come up with something good, productive and effective is absent.

Many committees do good work. Even when that good work is done, the committees put together documents that get a day of interest in the media and then they are tossed on a shelf to collect dust. I am sure that somewhere in Ottawa there is a large warehouse where those studies are collecting dust.

We do not need more studies. We need action. We are not lacking in solutions. We are lacking in the political will to implement solutions. We need to deal with issues. We need to put people to work, to shorten waiting lists, to give people health care when they need it, to clean our environment, to help aboriginal people, the most dispossessed people in our country. That is what we need to do. We do not need to root around for more solutions.

There are numerous people outside and inside the House with umpteen constructive solutions that only need to be applied. The government does not need to apply them on a national scale. If the ministers applied them as pilot projects, imagine what we would see. We would see success and sometimes we would see failure, but surely where there was success we could share it with people from coast to coast and adopt that for the betterment of all Canadians.

I close by saying that the government has a grand opportunity to reform our system to make it more transparent and to democratize the House for the betterment of all Canadians.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly for anyone who is a history buff, the opportunity to take part in a debate such as this is both a privilege and an honour.

Since its creation, the Bloc Quebecois has advocated for amendments to legislation on political financing to create a different model, a new model based, of course, on the legislation on political party financing that was passed in Quebec in 1977.

Since 1990, the Bloc Quebecois has championed changes like those that are being proposed today, because the Bloc Quebecois is a product of Quebec, because our members were active in Quebec politics, because we knew Quebec's laws and because we knew how well Quebec's legislation has served democracy in Quebec.

When René Lévesque, one of the greatest statesmen in Quebec's and even Canada's history, came to power in 1976, he had a specific plan in mind: to democratize politics in Quebec.

When he founded the Parti Quebecois in 1968, he insisted right from the start that the bylaws of the party stipulate that the party must be financed by its membership, by individuals. At the time, the other parties, that is the Union nationale and the Liberal Party of Quebec, laughed at him and said, “He is going to run into problems with that one, it makes no sense”.

At that time, political parties operated with secret slush funds and with generous backers who, pardon the expression, got kickbacks on certain government contracts in return.

Despite the David and Goliath aspect of the battle René Lévesque and his slingshot waged against the two monster political machines, that were well greased though not always very cleanly, within eight years of the party's birth he had brought his party to power. One of his first actions was to bring in the bill on the financing of political parties, in fact it was Bill 2.

When this bill was passed in Quebec in 1977, I was seven years old, so I knew nothing about Quebec politics or public life. I am very proud to have had the opportunity to grow up in a state where, from the moment I first became aware of public life, there has been no political funding scandal of any significance.

There are not many developed countries that can boast this. It would be easy to list a number of countries that have had problems, such as Germany with former Chancellor Kohl, France, Italy, and so on.

Since 1977, thanks to the Act to Govern the Financing of Political Parties passed by the great René Lévesque, no scandal relating to political financing has tainted Quebec politics.

The observation of political life in Quebec, and in some cases our personal participation, has led the Bloc Quebecois on several occasions to bring up the idea in this House of having legislation along the lines of what was passed in Quebec in 1977.

The government voted it down every time. It is unfortunate for the image of politicians that it took scandals relating to political financing—like Groupaction or Auberge Grand-Mère—to get the government to move on this.

It is too bad, because although it was primarily the Liberal government that was affected by these scandals, all political parties have been tarnished by this type of scandal.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

It is too bad that RCMP investigations were needed in the case of Groupaction to make the government budge.

It is also too bad that the principles in the bill introduced by the Prime Minister do not apply to the current Liberal leadership race. It would have been very interesting and appropriate for the next Prime Minister of Canada to have been chosen in a clear, proper, well-defined process, as proposed in the bill introduced by the Prime Minister. I find it is too bad that the current Liberal leadership race is not subject to the principles that are at issue today.

I know I only have one or two minutes remaining, but I would simply like to say that I am very happy that the governing party has finally understood that legislation such as the legislation adopted in Quebec in 1977 is the right way to go. I find it too bad that this comes so far into the government's mandate, and I find it too bad that it took several scandals to get there.

Despite the recriminations from those across the room, the Bloc Quebecois will support this bill, because the federal government's political standards will finally correspond to Quebec's.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 6:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10.00 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.30 p.m.)