Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-24. The member for Brandon—Souris was to speak on this bill, but it is my understanding that his plane is late so I will speak on his behalf.
This is a bill that has been much discussed among members of our caucus, our colleagues in this place, our peers, and certainly one that will continue to be discussed. In particular, the bill would address a number of issues to do with campaign and party financing relating to the electoral system we have in Canada. Probably most importantly, it would address the issues of how we actually report the funding of political campaigns.
The bill would require electoral district associations along with leadership and nomination contestants to disclose to the Chief Electoral Officer the amounts and names of everyone donating more than $200. They would also be required to disclose all expenses incurred. Currently only candidates and political parties are required to disclose donations received. The bill sets out the rules governing such reporting. It looks from the road as though we would have a more reliable system, hopefully a more accountable system and, one would assume, a more transparent system.
I am not the critic for this particular piece of legislation, however there is one question that I have been asking for which I have not received an answer from anyone. If there is someone on the government side with the answer to this question when I am finished my remarks and comments I would appreciate hearing it. My question is, how much of the system is financed by government already? That would include, of course, the amount that is given back by the government, the cost of auditing all the disparate accounts of the 301 members of Parliament in this place, the cost of running individual campaigns, the cost of auditing the books, and the actual amount of money that is given back.
We may be surprised if we had that information. I would have thought, in a fair, accurate and accountable system, that would have been the point that the Prime Minister would have made when he introduced this piece of legislation. There seems to be no willingness on the government to tell us how much is actually being paid now, although we would expect that if we had that information we would be better able to make a decision that we will have to make about this particular piece of legislation. It may be higher than we suspect; it may be lower than we suspect.
There are a couple of other issues. Aaron Freeman, in the Hill Times , writes about the campaign fundraising bill by the numbers. He says, “The sleeper issue is how it will increase the power of parties and not the power of members of Parliament”. I would think most of us in this place would want to have a finished product at the end of the day that actually gives more power to individual members of Parliament. Along with more power we would also expect more accountability and transparency.
Aaron Freeman makes a number of points, but two in particular are worth repeating. He writes:
Based on the 2000 election, the government calculates this will result in payments of $18.9 million a year. However, this figure ignores that our population increases each year. More importantly, it does not take into account that the last election's voter turnout of approximately 57% was a record low. If voter participation returns to the levels of the pre-Liberal era, and our population continues to expand at the current rate, we can expect to pay an additional $5 million to $10 million in public funds for parties in the coming years.
Some would say, and maybe correctly, that this is the price of democracy. I do not have an argument with that, but I do have a word of caution. If it is the price of democracy then we should know that up front during the debate. We should know the final cost at the end of the day and the full projections of where public funding for political campaigns is headed.
Freeman goes on to say that Bill C-24 would allow the donor to claim 75% of the first $400 instead of the current $200, determining the cost to taxpayers of the credit would be very complicated. The finance department would have difficulty figuring out the current credit costs and it would be hard to know how many donors would adjust their donation pattern in response to the new reforms.
The government estimates the added price tag at $3 million in non-election years and $6 million in election years. Quite a gap between $3 million and $6 million, of course, but again my question and point to my colleagues is that we really have some estimates that are based on record low voter turnouts. We do not know in any way, shape or form the actual cost of this piece of legislation to Canadian taxpayers at the end of the day.
I find that problematic. The idea that the taxpayers of Canada should finance political campaigns may be the right way to go. I am not saying it is not. I am saying I would like to see more information and accurate information laid on the table. All parliamentarians deserve that.
This bill would deal mainly with expenses and reporting of those expenses, nomination spending limits, surpluses and donation limits. The surplus and donation limits are worth going over again.
Currently, candidates for election must return any surplus to either their riding association or their party. Bill C-24 would require that surpluses incurred by leadership candidates also be transferred to the party or to a riding association. I think the horse is already out of the barn on that one because we have a number of leadership candidates out there, and maybe this is good judgment on behalf of the government, who are reported to have raised in excess of millions of dollars and no one knows where those leadership funds are. There are a number of them who are now ministers of the Crown and former ministers of the Crown who have left politics.
It would seem to me that either the government is speaking from knowledge that this was wrong to begin with and refused to change it, or it thinks that now it has had a number of plums and payouts to party faithful and that now all of a sudden it can change it for anyone else in the future, as it should never have been there to begin with, I might add.
Regarding donation limits, individuals would be banned from contributing more than $10,000 per year in total to a registered party and its electoral district associations, candidates and nomination contestants. I have listened to some of the questions being asked on this piece of legislation and this one seems to raise most of the issues. Perhaps this will get settled in committee; perhaps not. Perhaps we will say that although someone can only contribute up to $10,000 per year, if there are six members in a family, each of them could contribute $10,000 and therefore, although the family might be classified as one entity, it would actually be contributing six times the total allowable amount for a single person or a single entity as in the legal definition of the word.
Individuals would also be banned from contributing more than $10,000 to leadership contestants. Corporations, unions and associations would be banned from donating to any registered party or leadership contestant. However they would be able to contribute up to $1,000 in total per year to a party's candidates, nomination contestants and electoral district associations.
When I look at that, it begs a greater question that somehow corporations, unions and associations would be banned from donating to any registered party or leadership contestant, yet individuals would be able to donate up to $10,000. This question was raised by the member for Windsor--St.Clair. Why is a union or union office limited to a set amount? Whereas a corporation, which could pay bonuses to its employees and funnel the funds to leadership candidates or to a political party, are not? Maybe these issues are being addressed the same as the cost of this.
Exactly what is the cost to Canadian taxpayers now and what is the cost after the voter turnout is factored in, which was an alltime record low in the last election at 57%? If population increases at a scheduled rate and if voters start to turn out in numbers closer to what we could expect, at around the 70% mark, then that skews the figures on which this legislation is based.
The legislation also deals with reimbursement of election expenses. The annual allowance to political parties would be equal to roughly $1.50 per vote received by the party in the previous general election. To qualify, the party must have received either 2% of the votes cast nationally or 5% of the votes cast in the riding where the party ran a candidate. In the past that amount was 15% of the total votes received for the party to receive its share of its election expenses.
The point remains, we have changed the numbers and I do not see an accurate accounting of everything being factored onto one page. This should be a fairly simple operation. We should get a two page handout showing the cost of the last campaign, the cost of the next campaign and how it affects the riding associations and individual members of Parliament.
There seems to be a number of areas in the legislation where it spends as much time explaining a few simplistic things and as it does avoiding some difficult issues like trust funds and what happens to cabinet ministers in the Liberal government who run for the leadership and amass $2.5 million or $2.6 million in some of the trust accounts. Quite frankly we do not know where they are. One would expect that some of those accounts would be promissory notes, so if they run for leader they will receive $10,000 now and $50,000 later or $5,000 now and $10,000 coming later.
We do know a number of leadership hopefuls from the Liberal benches are no longer leadership hopefuls and they have not passed in their trust accounts. I assume many of them must have them in their pockets. The only way we can know differently is to have them tell us. No one is certainly offering that information. We can only assume that the individual leadership hopefuls still have the bulk of those funds in their own accounts.
Certainly, if this type of legislation does anything to prevent that type of abuse by public officials, then I absolutely support this part of the bill. This is the type of legislation at which we should be looking.
I really wish I had better faith in the government's managerial skills. I do not think we could discuss a single issue in the House, whether it is the upcoming budget tomorrow, if there is anything left in the budget that has not been leaked. We will find that out in 24 hours or less. Let us take a look at the track record. We are not certain this eliminates the trust funds and the ability to fundraise the way the leadership contestants have in the past.
We have not seen any issue that the government has handled with fiduciary responsibility to the Canadian citizens and taxpayers. We have not seen those issues come back to us with proper accounting. We have five million SIN cards, social insurance numbers, that are unaccounted. We have an $800 million cost overrun in a long gun registry and there is no guarantee it will work.