Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-24 regarding political financing. I would first like to correct, as it were, the comments made by the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla, former leader of the Canadian Alliance, former leader of the Reform Party, at the end of his speech, when he suggested, in response to the remarks by the former Minister of Finance, that it would be wrong and probably shameful for Canadian democracy to finance the Bloc Quebecois, a party which promotes Quebec sovereignty, as you know.
This may seem annoying, but such is the price of democracy. These people should understand that. If Canadian democracy is held up as such a wonderful model, then we should be only too glad to take it to its full and logical conclusion.
We could make the same complaints in Quebec, as sovereignists. We know that the legislation in Quebec, which I am going to talk to you about shortly, allows for opposition parties in Quebec to receive funding, just as does the Parti Quebecois.
However, these parties, both the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Action démocratique du Québec want to consign the people of Quebec to the provincial category once and for all; they want to “provincialize” Quebec forever.
We, as sovereignists, tolerate that. We allow these people to receive public financing. They want to place limits on Quebec. And we allow them to receive this funding. The complaints of the former Minister of Finance, like those of the former leader of the Alliance, are either entirely founded—and allow us to make the same complaint to the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Action démocratique—or completely ridiculous.
I am going with the latter. These remarks, especially when they pop so spontaneously out of the mouth of the former Minister of Finance, can be described as simplistic, not to say crude, in the context of democracy.
I am now getting to the main thrust of my remarks. It is with great pride and even emotion that I welcome this opportunity this morning to speak on the federal bill on more appropriate and sounder political party financing. We know that, thanks to René Lévesque and thanks to the Parti Quebecois, Quebec is one step ahead, one very long step ahead, not only of Canada but also of all political parties in the western world or almost all, with the possible exception of a few I may not know about.
This is very advanced legislation providing that only—and this is the fundamental intent of the law—voters, those individuals who have the right to vote, may make contributions to political parties—this is a major aspect—subject to an annual limit of $3,000 per voter.
In practical terms, this means that, through this kind of sound financing, a Quebec government of any stripe belongs to everyone and no one. The latest study shows that, out of four or five million voters, 58,000 made contributions, and 82% of these contributions were under $200.
This shows how democratic this financing is and how the Government of Quebec, regardless of who is in office, belongs to everyone and no one. And the Parti Quebecois in particular, which was behind this bill and introduced it, is reflected in it.
All this to say that, as everyone knows, Quebec society is therefore a very advanced society which can truly be an inspiration to other governments, and that is what has happened with the Government of Canada. It took some time. As we know, distance can make communications difficult, and Ottawa is far away from Quebec City. There are bureaucrats and technocrats everywhere. There may also be preconceived ideas to the effect that anything coming from Quebec is as good.
At any rate, they woke up. Before moving on, the Prime Minister and member for Saint-Maurice saw fit, and this was wise of him, to introduce this bill which, if enforced properly, will bring about—this is something we must realize—a complete overhaul of electoral procedures in this country.
We know that historically it is the oil and gas companies, the banks, the timber companies, the arms producers, the pulp and paper companies, the steel producers who had the government's ear and privileged access to influencing this government's policies, thanks to the secret campaign fund that existed in this country. All you had to do was to call the right person, at the right time, and say that the bill under consideration was not well regarded by such and such an industry and that it would be appreciated if the government could remedy the situation.
It was understood that things worked this way, and things will continue to work this way until the bill passes. Furthermore, the Minister of Canadian Heritage made a somewhat naive admission when she recently said that, in fact, she had witnessed government policies or bills being amended in some cases in response to pressure from people who had made large contributions to the party. They could not afford to ignore it during a given debate or when a certain political will became apparent. It was essential to listen to the wishes and concerns of these people who had been so generous over the past few months or years.
Not only is Canada involved, so is the U.S.A., and we all know how much influence they have on us. According to my knowledge of the situation, and to what I have heard from others, the situation is worse in the United States. A person cannot be a candidate unless he or she is a millionaire to begin with, and also has the support of a specific industry, be it oil, sugar, forestry, lumber, highway construction or whatever. Anyone wanting to get into politics as a senator or member of the House of Representatives in the United States needs to have backing. That is the way things are now in that country. A person needs a whole lot of money to get into politics, to run for office successfully in the United States.
It is not just a matter of money, but also of the way it affects democracy. This is a totally negative situation. The more private sector financing there is, and the more hidden that financing is, the more negative the effect on democracy. There is no such thing as a free lunch, as they say. The greater the effect on democracy, the more the government serves private interests rather than collective ones. That is what we have tried to avoid in Quebec. I believe we have been more successful than other governments that are rather close to us geographically.
If he wants to use Quebec as a model, then the Prime Minister and member for Saint-Maurice should have gone further, and based the bill on Quebec's referendum legislation. He should have announced that he was going to abide by the spirit of that legislation, even if he does not have such legislation himself.
There is the issue of the financing of political parties, but there are also public consultations. There are elections, but there are also public consultations, in Quebec in particular.
In Quebec, there is legislation that covers such consultations. There is the referendum bill, which, as we know, was completely ignored and flouted by the rest of Canada. In the dying days of the 1995 referendum campaign, Quebeckers were treated to a love-in, and told how much Canadians wanted them to stay. We know that the federal government spent money freely then. It gave its employees the day off. It helped the cause, even if it was in violation of the spirit of Quebec's legislation. The law was ignored, was flouted. Companies such as Air Canada, Via Rail and others contributed what they could. The same thing for private sector companies, which, in some cases, sent out threatening letters to employees, to vote no under the threat of reprimands. They all should have abided by the spirit of Quebec's forward-thinking legislation.
A major asset that we have in Quebec in terms of democracy is the way returning officers are appointed. Again, in Canada, we are behind the times. The Liberal Party of Canada has been in power for 69 years over the last century. It is very tentacular. If you are not a Liberal, a former riding association president, a former defeated candidate, and so on, you have no chance of being appointed a returning officer. In Quebec, this is done through the most calculated and scientific competition possible. People are appointed based on their qualifications. Canada should also adopt this practice.
Canada would benefit and this would meet the recommendation of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada to depoliticize the system. It would allow him to fire anyone who does not do a good job on election day. Since he did not appoint them, he cannot fire them, at present. This too is very serious for democracy and taints the electoral process.
Our complaints are rather legitimate and I have already said as much to the Chief Electoral Officer here, in Ottawa. There is a negative bias; there is an adversary among us, before us. I hope Canada will learn from this.