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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

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, the third petition has several hundred signatures. It calls on Parliament to protect our children from child pornography.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, the last petition has approximately 1,000 signatures and calls on the House, in particular the Department of Health, to deal with the issue of child meningitis and to provide for immunization against that condition.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition signed by a number of Canadians, including from my own riding of Mississauga South, on the subject of stem cell research.

The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that Canadians do support ethical stem cell research, which has already shown encouraging potential to provide the therapies and cures for the illnesses and debilitating diseases of Canadians. They also want to point out that non-embryonic stem cells, which are also known as adult stem cells, have shown significant research progress without the immune rejection or the ethical problems associated with embryonic stem cells.

The petitioners therefore call upon Parliament to focus its legislative support on adult stem cell research to find those cures and therapies necessary for Canadians.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to present a petition to the House of Commons on behalf of people, most of whom are from my constituency and others who are from British Columbia in general.

They are concerned about the issue of child pornography. They are concerned that the courts and the government have not done enough to address the very serious problem of the exploitation of children. They ask that Parliament protect their children by taking all necessary steps to ensure that materials which promote or glorify pedophilia or sado-masochistic activities involving children are outlawed. The petition contains 16 pages of names.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of presenting three petitions today.

The first petition is on the subject of the weaponization of outer space. It is signed by over 1,200 petitioners from the lower mainland of British Columbia, including Bea Bernhausen of Vancouver, Alfred Webre of the Institute for Cooperation in Space Canada and many of my own constituents of Burnaby—Douglas. The petitioners raise serious concerns about the possibility of an arms race in space, particularly as a result of the American termination of the ABM treaty.

They therefore urge the House of Commons to call upon the government to immediately approve, sign and ratify the space preservation treaty and deposit the treaty with the secretary general of the United Nations, as well as to convene a treaty signing conference for the space preservation treaty as Canada has done on other occasions, for example, with the land mines treaty.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is signed by residents from British Columbia and indeed from across Canada, in particular the Citizens Concerned About Free Trade of Saskatoon.

They raise concerns about the history of job loss and other adverse impacts of the free trade agreement and the NAFTA. They point to the Liberal Party's 1993 election promise which was broken on this subject.

In the name of democracy and the future of Canada, they call upon the House to instruct the government to fulfill its election promise, give the required six months notice to the U.S. and Mexico and cancel the FTA and NAFTA without delay.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the final petition is again signed by residents from my own constituency of Burnaby—Douglas and others in British Columbia on the subject of rural route mail couriers who have been subjected to longstanding unfairness. The petition recognizes this denial of basic rights and calls upon Parliament to repeal subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing), be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 17th, 2003 / 3:25 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, the bill before the House is certainly one which I support, the more public financing of political parties. The main thing we have to do is get the big money out of politics. Most of that big money is corporate money. If we are going to get big money out of politics, there has to be more public financing of campaigns.

A very fundamental part of democracy is that we create a level playing field so that anyone can run regardless of his or her financial background and who may be supporting him or her in the campaign. The only way of doing that is by having a greater public side to the financing of election campaigns.

I certainly support the principle of the bill. The bill will limit a contribution by a corporation, trade union or an association to $1,000 per year. It will limit what an individual can give to $10,000 per year.

A couple of provinces already have legislation of this sort on their books. In the province of Quebec it has been on the books for a number of years. A more recent example is the province of Manitoba. This is legislation that is long overdue. It will create a more level playing field for all people of Canada.

I have some concerns about the legislation and I hope the government will be open to amendments. The major one is that the $10,000 an individual can provide per year can be provided not just to one party but to many parties. An individual would be limited not at $10,000 but at $20,000, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000 if that person wanted to contribute to more than one political party. I think that is a violation of the spirit and the principle of the bill presented by the Prime Minister.

I hope there will be an agreement at the committee stage among members of all parties that we make the limitation $10,000 a year, regardless of whether an individual contributes that money to a candidate seeking a nomination, a leadership campaign, a riding association, a member of any political party, or a combination of all the scenarios I have already mentioned. If we do not do that, it will allow a wealthier individual to throw in $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 or more per year and have a great deal more influence than the ordinary citizen of Canada.

Another thing is the bill does not give an age limit; a person only needs to have a SIN number. A wealthier family could divvy up the $10,000 per family member in many different ways. That would be another way of contributing more than $10,000 per year.

In Quebec, the limitation is not $10,000 a year, but $3,000 per year for an individual.

It is exactly the same thing in Manitoba, a limit of $3,000 per person per year.

I think the $10,000 limit is high. We should be looking at an amendment to roll back the $10,000 to something more reasonable, maybe $5,000 per person. Let us have a $5,000 limit and let us make sure that a person can only contribute to one association, one candidate, one party, or one leadership campaign or a combination of all the above, but the total at the very end of the day does not go to any more than $5,000 or indeed $10,000 if the government does not want to roll back the limit. That is very important.

There is a provision in the bill that there will be no indexing for the contributions that are made in the legislation as before. We have to look at the principle of indexation so that it keeps up with the cost of living.

There is also the whole controversial topic of third party advertising. We have to find a way to design a law where there can be a limit on the advertising done by third parties in Canada. A political party or a candidate that is limited to a certain amount of money in a campaign can have a third party advertise without a limit, be it the National Citizens' Coalition or anybody else. That is very similar to what candidates can spend and in the spirit of it, it is a violation of the level playing field and equality for all candidates. We have to make sure there is some limitation.

The members of the Alliance will say it is a denial of free speech. There have been court cases fought to this effect. There is also clause 1 of the charter which says that something has to be demonstrably reasonable.

It does not seem to me that it is free speech if the size of the pocketbook dictates the kind of advertising one can buy. When there is some wealthy Canadian who can spend $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 on an advertising campaign vis-à-vis somebody else who cannot afford to do it, to me that is not free speech. There should not be a financial factor in defining what is free speech. There should be a level playing field for third party advertising and what a political party or a political campaign can spend.

Those are a couple of concerns I have about the bill. I do want to say that the time has come to take the big money out of politics. When we look at all the returns over the years we will find that many large corporations have funded political parties in this country to a massive degree. Members of the crown have said recently that when corporations provide an awful lot of money to a political party, they indeed do buy influence. The old saying that he who pays the piper calls the tune has a certain amount of credibility. If someone puts a lot of cash into a campaign, there is a far greater likelihood that his or her point of view will be heard by the government or by a minister across the way regardless of political party.

The only way to avoid that is to have campaigns funded by individuals and by the public purse. Campaigns funded by the public purse would create a level playing field. I am very much in favour of the increase in public funding of campaigns. I am very much in favour of a more strict limit on what candidates and political parties can spend and what they can also spend on leadership campaigns.

I support the bill in principle. It is the right way to go. It creates a more democratic society. It creates a more accessible society in terms running for public office with a measure of greater success regardless of the size of one's pocketbook. At the same time let us look at some reasonable amendments to make sure this law is a good one for all Canadians.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I grew up in the member's home province. I know all about socialism. I know all about the fact that people all put in their money in order to get a common good. Mr. Speaker, it may come as a surprise to you, and it may come as a surprise to some other members, but I have a certain sympathy for some programs that are paid for collectively for the common good. For example, I believe that all citizens should pay into a fund that provides a justice system that works on behalf of law-abiding citizens. I believe that Canadians should all pay into a fund that provides decent health care for citizens, for the common good.

By the way, my mother has been, and I am going to use the word, a victim of the medicare system in good old Saskatchewan recently. That is a whole other issue.

However, there are some things that I do not think should be paid for by the public. Justice, health care, roads and schools are all fine, but how about individual organizations that one chooses to support? Let us say for example that we have a member who thinks it is really important for Canadians to walk barefoot to the north pole, so a new organization called “Walking Barefoot to the North Pole Organization” is started and it wants to get some memberships. Certainly if people say that it is a good plan, that they are going to buy into it and they make a donation, I have no objection to that. Anybody can spend his money any way he wants to, and if he wants to support that organization, let him.

However, that is not an organization I would support. If that member came knocking at my door, I would say no thanks.

Now, how about political parties? If we were to look at people in my riding, two-thirds of them would say, at least they did at the last election, that they support the Canadian Alliance and that if they are asked for money they will support the Canadian Alliance. In fact, a number of them did, with cheques for $100, $200 or $300. That was my goal. It was to get donations like that and it worked.

The member says no, that it is something we should do collectively so we should force people in Elk Island to give money to the NDP and to the Liberals.

Let me tell members that squeezing money out of people in my constituency to support the Liberal Party right now would be a very tough sell.

How does the member reconcile the good aspect of collecting money publicly to fund a good project that is for the common public good and then bending that principle in order to support political parties, which is a matter of individual choice? How does he reconcile that?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is a member who really lives in the past. He is the member who suggested ending the Canada pension plan in the last campaign, we can recall as well, which I do not think hardly anybody in the country would support him in doing. That is what the member wanted to do.

Way back in 1973, if I am not mistaken, we adopted in this country the principle of some public financing of campaigns. If we do not have public financing of campaigns, we are going to create a playing field that is not level. The member wants to leave it all to those who can raise the most money, those who are the most wealthy. I disagree with him.

The important thing is to have more public financing of campaigns and have limitations on what political parties can spend. Politics is not about who has access to the biggest money roll or the biggest purse. Politics is about creating a level playing field where every Canadian citizen has a right to run for office and a reasonable chance to mount a campaign and communicate to constituents. That is what a campaign is all about.

The Alliance Party members are dinosaurs on these kinds of issues. They are living in the past. They talk about two tier medicine. They talk about getting rid of the Canada pension plan. They would not want any public financing of campaigns. They want to leave things to people who have a lot of money to run for office.

Thank goodness people do not listen to them. It is no wonder they are now sitting at 7% in the public opinion polls, running fifth in this country.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the public should be aware of what is going on here. There is a fundamental decision. What we are fundamentally opposed to is basically influence-peddling, the ability of deep pockets to be able to provide moneys and have influence on government and government actions. All of us are opposed to this, but the bill has nothing to do with that.

The bill is abhorrent because it would use public funds to pay political parties. These days, when there is not enough money for health care, for education and for the social programs upon which we rely, what is the government doing by diverting limited public funds to give to political parties? That is what this is about.

What we want to ensure is that there are good, tough rules to make sure that people like ourselves in public office, and indeed the bureaucracy, are not profiteering from our positions. Furthermore, the public should know that most of the big moneys given to the government happen under the table. Thank heavens we have limits on what we can spend on our elections, which is a good thing, but if we want to eliminate influence-peddling, let us make sure we have good oversight and transparency in what we are doing.

My question for the member is this. How can he possibly justify to the beleaguered Canadian taxpayers giving moneys to political parties in the amount of $1.50 for every single vote that they received in the last election, every single year?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would answer the question in the following way. The member from British Columbia is very sincere. He sounds like he is a very straightforward, honest person, and he believes it is the wrong principle, if I am not mistaken. Right now we do have partial funding of campaigns, so my question to the member is, did he accept his rebate from the federal government for the last campaign? Did he accept his rebate from the federal government for his campaign in the year 2000? Did he accept his rebate for his campaign in 1997?

He has been accepting money from the federal government for part of his campaign. If he believes that is the wrong principle, why is he not a principled man standing up in the House and saying he will return the rebate to the taxpayers of the country? This is a principle we all accept in the House. The Reform Party members want to have it both ways. They are against this principle, yet they accept the money and they run.

I remember the Reform Party members standing and saying that their leader would not be moving into 24 Sussex, that they would turn it into a bingo hall. They became the official opposition and Preston Manning moved into 24 Sussex. I remember that at one time they would not accept the car for the leader of the third party. They got elected and accepted the car. They said they would not accept subsidized haircuts on Parliament Hill, and some did not even do that.

My question is this. If that man over there is really serious about this being the wrong principle, has he accepted money from the federal government for his campaigns in 1997, 2000 and way back in 1993? Has he or has he not? If he has not, then I will concede that he is a principled person in terms of his argument. If he has, then he is not very principled at all.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is questions and comments, but it is true that the member who just spoke asked a whole bunch of questions of the member here and I think it would be appropriate to give him an opportunity to answer.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I can understand the position taken by the hon. member for Elk Island, but it is questions and comments and it so happens that the person in the Chair directs where the questions go to, to the person who last had the floor, the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle. Right now the next question is going to the member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to say that I have at my desk here the printouts from Elections Canada and I can offer to both members, and they can see for themselves what the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca did with respect to his election campaign rebates. I have those documents. I would table them, but I do not think that is necessary.

I would like to just take the debate into another direction, if I may. I would like to ask the member who just spoke what his feeling is about third party advertising. Twice this Parliament has tried to pass legislation putting limits on third party advertising, because we are limited as candidates and we are going to be even further limited in our riding associations in terms of the amount of money that we can raise and show. Yet the National Citizens' Coalition, which supports the party opposite, has taken the current legislation to court in regard to trying to strike down third party advertising. I wonder if the member has a thought about that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Speaking of limitations, there is a limit of one minute for the reply.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I already said in my speech earlier that there have to be limits on third party advertising. If there are not, then certainly the spirit of the law is broken. There has to be a level playing field regardless of whether one is running as a candidate for a political party, as an independent or whatever. If there is no limit on third party advertising, it does not create a level playing field. Therefore, we as a Parliament have to figure out a way to limit third party advertising.

I also would like to say that I am glad that the member made the comment about the expenses of the member from British Columbia as well, because I can bet dollars to doughnuts he accepted that public money even though he is against the principle.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, only one political party wants to eliminate publicly funded taxpayer contributions to political parties after an election. The only party to do that is the Canadian Alliance, and was the Reform Party.

What we are not in favour of is an uneven playing field. I would ask the member this. Will he support us when we get into power to remove publicly funded support of political parties?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, first, it is a joke, that party will never assume power, and even if it did, the answer is no.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing).

I should say at the outset that I support full disclosure of political donations, full transparency and accountability. Canadians should know what individuals, companies, unions and other organizations are donating to which MPs, senators, candidates and political parties.

I support much that is in Bill C-24, in particular measures that would lead to greater transparency and accountability in the political process. I am not sure, though, why political financing has emerged as a political priority at this time. In my view, we have many other pressing priorities: the potential for war in Iraq, for example; health care funding and accountability; implementing the Kyoto accord; renewing our public service; and fixing the gun control registry problems.

Legislation should be used sparingly, in my view, as a tool to correct a wrong, fix a problem and/or enhance public policy and administration. Legislation should also always be preceded with meaningful consultation with Canadians.

I am not convinced that the political financing aspects of Bill C-24 meet the two tests I have just described. Allow me to explain why.

First, I am not sure what problem we are trying to fix or how the bill would improve public policy and administration in Canada. The bill would allow political donations to be made by individuals only, the exception being contributions of up to $1,000 for a corporation or trade union.

Corporations and unions have been involved in the political process in Canada for a long time, perhaps since as early as Confederation. We need to encourage, not discourage, their participation. Do we have any evidence that corporations or unions buy influence when they donate to political parties in Canada? I am not aware of any such evidence.

More recently, the government did have some problems with a sponsorship program in the Province of Quebec, but the Minister of Public Works and Government Services is making significant changes to this program. In fact, the sponsorship program will be delivered largely in house, not contracted out. Allegations of wrongdoing and favouritism are under investigation by the Auditor General and, where appropriate, the RCMP to deal with these problems of sponsorship. In my view, this aspect of alleged political interference is being dealt with very aggressively by the government.

The reality is that most large corporations and many of the smaller ones make donations to all political parties. The company I worked for before being elected, a large natural resource company in Canada, supported all political parties in Canada. I went to fundraisers for the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP.

In 1998, four of Canada's chartered banks proposed two mergers. I should note that Canada's major banks are the largest financial contributors to political parties in Canada. By and large, they donate to all parties. Did their large donations facilitate that merger of the banks which the banks very seriously wanted to transact? No, it did not make any difference at all. If banks in Canada merge, it will hinge on prudential and competitiveness factors and on whether or not the proposed mergers are in the public interest. It will be no more or no less than that.

Do we in this House believe that when ministers are making decisions they refer to lists of corporate, individual and union donations? This is naive in the extreme.

We are told that buying influence is not a real problem, but that there is a perception among Canadians that this is the case. I believe that as legislators we have enough real challenges to deal with. We should not be legislating to deal with perceptions.

I should note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Fredericton.

Comparisons with the U.S. system are sometimes made. We all know that the amounts spent in Canada to finance political parties and candidates do not even come close when compared with the system in the United States. By way of example, election campaign expenses in my riding of Etobicoke North, as is the case with all political federal ridings, are limited by law and are thoroughly monitored and audited by Elections Canada.

During the last election campaign, my campaign expenses were limited to some $55,000 and of that my campaign team spent approximately $35,000 on the election campaign. When we compare that to the multimillion election campaign expenses incurred to elect U.S. senators, congressmen and women and the U.S. president, our figures pale in comparison.

The $1,000 limit for corporations would have limited or no impact in my riding of Etobicoke North. Only rarely would my riding association or official agent during an election campaign receive a cheque in excess of $500 from any company, individual or union.

At the national level, however, with the legislation before us, political parties would be starved of funds. Taxpayers would have to make up the difference, some $110 million over the typical life of a government.

It is true that the taxpayer subsidizes the political process to date with tax credits and the like, but we would be adding a further demand on the Canadian taxpayer to support this process which would be close to $110 million over the typical life of a government.

I personally would support some limits on corporate or union donations to political parties, a limit of say $10,000 for both corporations and unions, but why would we ask Canadians to further subsidize the political process? I hope the government will be open to amendments to the bill. The government says that it is.

This now leads me to the process that the government has adopted in introducing the legislation. The period for consultation has been very limited, almost non-existent. The party president of our own Liberal Party of Canada has called the political financing policy proposal “dumb as a bag of hammers”. I am sure that if he had it to do over again he might not have said that but that is what he said. I am sure many political parties share that view.

The grassroots members and volunteers of federal political parties across Canada need more time to digest the bill and opportunities for input leading to changes. Many technical matters are in need of review. For example, if in any one year there is a nomination, an election or perhaps two elections in one year, which has happened in Canada, how do we allocate the limits? There are a number of other technical questions like that.

The people at the grassroots level are the people closest to the action. They know what works and what does not and they are very familiar with the old adage “if it is working, why fix it?”

We need a transparent and accountable political process and system. We should not, under any circumstances, accept the concept of influence buying. Pragmatic limits to corporate and union contributions to political parties may be required but the limits proposed in Bill C-24 are unreasonably low. Canadian taxpayers deserve better.

We should proceed with the bill based on the principles enunciated but improve the bill in committee.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the presentation given by the hon. member opposite who is asking for some amendments and, I suppose, for putting the brakes on the amount of expenditure we are asking the taxpayer to spend here.

When I work out the rough numbers it looks to me like the Liberal Party would gain around $8 million. Without having a Prime Minister's dinner at $500 a plate or going around and campaigning and soliciting from individuals or businesses, suddenly, just by the stroke of a pen, by the passing of a law, the taxpayers of the country would be coerced into paying around $8 million a year into the Liberal Party. I guess that would quickly wipe out its present indebtedness.

I think perhaps it is a little bit of a scheme by the Prime Minister to eliminate the debt of the Liberal Party. I do not like it. I would like the member's response on that.