House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parties.


Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


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

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to three petitions.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present a petition signed by a number of Canadians, including those in my own riding of Mississauga South, on the subject matter of stem cells.

The petitioners draw to the attention of the House the fact that they support ethical stem cell research which has already shown encouraging results to find the cures and therapies necessary to treat the illness and diseases of Canadians. The petitioners also stress that non-embryonic stem cells, also known as adult stem cells, have shown significant research progress without the immune rejection or ethical problems associated with embryonic stem cells.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to support legislative efforts which will pursue adult stem cell research to find the cures and therapies that Canadians need.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I would like to present a petition on behalf of my constituents of Yellowhead regarding child pornography. The petitioners ask the government to protect children by outlawing any materials that glorify pedophilia in this country.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to present several thousand signatures from all over the province of Quebec, including its remote regions.

The undersigned residents of Canada wish to draw to the attention of the House of Commons that any efforts by the government to put the economy back on its feet and guarantee the economic security of Canadians will be in vain unless the federal government can eliminate the debt, stop making interest payments, and begin running this country properly in the interests of all Canadians.

The petitioners therefore call upon Parliament to ask the government to create wealth for the country, basing their request on the abundant production of this country, for which its people are responsible.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


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

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


Request for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has notice of an application for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore.

Request for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring to the attention of the House of Commons and all Canadians the plight of the people of Badger in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I have been in touch with some folks there through my colleagues and friends in Newfoundland and Labrador. The tragedy that has struck those people is unbelievable. The kitchens in their homes are covered in ice. Over 1,000 people have been displaced.

These people know that the provincial government, through its emergency measures organization, is doing everything it can. They want to know what the response will be from the federal government and all parliamentarians to the serious crisis facing them. These people have no idea when they will be allowed to go back to their homes. They have no idea the amount of loss they have suffered. They also have no idea of what their future will hold.

I believe an emergency debate in the House of Commons would send a clear message to the good people of Badger, Newfoundland and Labrador, that we in Parliament care. We could give advice to the government so it could assure those people that we as parliamentarians will do everything we can to assess the situation and meet their immediate needs.

Request for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The Chair is well aware of the situation that the hon. member described. All hon. members share the concern described by the hon. member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore because of the extensive news coverage that this situation has received. I am sure all hon. members appreciate the seriousness of the situation for the residents of the communities involved in this crisis.

On the other hand, having reviewed the letter the hon. member sent to me, having heard his comments, and having reviewed decisions of past Speakers in respect of these kinds of matters, I am of the view that the request does not meet the exigencies of the Standing Order at this time.

The House resumed from February 17, 2003, 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 and the amendment to the amendment.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.


Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise to speak to the bill amending the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing).

We are aware that the Prime Minister of Canada and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have introduced a bill to better govern the financing of political parties and candidates, in order to improve equity and transparency and to restore Canadians' confidence in our public institutions.

Some fundamental changes to the way federal elections are financed are required in order to dispel Canadians' perception that big business and labour unions exercise undue influence through large donations in exchange for favourable treatment, and that the arrangement is reciprocal.

Five provinces already have legislation restricting political contributions by individuals, the Province of Quebec in particular. Several years ago, under René Lévesque, Quebec adopted well-received legislation on political financing. Two of the five provinces ban donations by corporations or unions.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.


Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

I must point out here that the applause from the Bloc Quebecois is because they know what an excellent financing bill there is in Quebec.

Various countries such as the United States and France are also imposing ceilings on political contributions. Bill C-24, which would limit contributions, follows up on the commitment to ensure clear and full reporting of contributions and expenses.

Canadians have the right to be informed and to have access to this information, just as Canadians and Quebeckers are learning today how members of this House have been spending public moneys for their office and on travel to the House of Commons and around Canada and Quebec for many years.

The government must show leadership in order to restore the foundations of our democratic government. The government intends to exercise this leadership.

As legislators, we have an interest in tackling this issue head on, not only for the good of our government, but also for the good of future governments, no matter what their political stripe.

Many people have said that the Prime Minister has taken up where René Lévesque left off; that is true. For the first time, Ottawa is limiting donations to political parties. Big business no longer has the right to give a dime to political parties, and contributions from individuals will be capped. Ottawa has finally decided to follow the lead of Quebec and Manitoba in developing a framework for financing the electoral process.

Individuals will have to limit their donations to $10,000 per year. Business and unions are almost totally cut out of the system. They will be entitled to make contributions of only $1,000 per year and only to individual canditates or riding associations. They can no longer make direct contributions to a political party. The $1,000 limit will apply to all subsidiaries of a company or locals of a union.

The idea is to discourage big business from financing elections, while allowing small local merchants, corner stores or your brother-in-law's drycleaning business to encourage their member of Parliament.

The Prime Minister and the government House leader clearly explained it. The minister responsible stated:

It is a small amount for big business. Say I represent Imperial Lord and there are 301 candidates in Canada. What difference would it make if I send $12 to each of them? It is a small amount, but at the same time it allows the corner store owner, who is incorporated, to buy two tickets to the member's annual dinner.

For those of you who are using the increasingly frequent examples of people circumventing the Quebec law to prove that such limits do not work, Ottawa's answer to you is that it has perfected René Lévesque's model.

We looked at what happened in Quebec in 1977. The limit was $3,000. In real dollars, that represents about $10,000. Some say this is a mistake, but in the end, it is not because if we consider indexation, it represents about $10,000 today.

The bill contains measures to discourage circumventing the law. The penalty will be a fine of up to $5,000 or five years in prison. This seems steep when we know that the average donation was $591 in 2001 for both corporate and individual donations.

There is also increased transparency. The bill seeks to plug the infamous black hole so often denounced by the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley.

The limits will also apply to nominations and party leadership races. Riding associations, until now exempt from having to report their sources of revenue outside of election campaigns, will now be required to report all of this information.

I agree with this. In our riding association, there will have to be yearly reports to the Chief Electoral Officer as to how money from contributions is spent.

In these three cases, yearly reporting is required to the Chief Electoral Officer. All of the money that goes directly or indirectly towards elections will be accounted for publicly.

Our most important principle is complete disclosure. The bill puts an end to black holes and money given under the table. The government leader in the House referred to this. He gave an example of a numbered company, ABC1234 Inc. making an election contribution. “How is that transparent?”, he asked, in reference to contributions from numbered companies.

To offset these limits, the state will increase its funding for political parties. Public financing currently costs Canadians $39 million. That figure will increase by $23 million per year, and by $40 million during election years.

Candidates will need to receive 10% of the votes, instead of 15%, in order to qualify for a refund of half of their election spending. As well, political parties will receive a 50% reimbursement on their election spending, compared to the current 22.5%. This is a complete overhaul at the federal level.

If a political party receives over 2% of valid votes cast, it will receive $1.50 for each vote obtained every year after the next federal election.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, as we look at the bill, I would like to address the subamendment and the principle of what is being asked.

The first thing that is important to note is that the government, as I understand it, through the Prime Minister, has said that this will be a vote of confidence in the government. If that is not the epitome of personal paranoia being expressed, then I do not know what is. What a noxious and odious notion that this would be considered a vote of confidence.

This chamber is supposed to be the arena where we discuss our clashes of convictions and where, in a democratic sense, we debate the issues and then vote on them on behalf of the people we represent. Many, if not most of the Liberals MPs I know, are intelligent, caring individuals. My colleagues might take issue with me for saying that about my Liberal colleagues but I believe that. I believe they are intelligent and caring people who promised, when they ran in the last election and possibly the elections before that, that they would come here and speak for their constituents and represent them. When they came here they were awakened with the stinging smack of the Prime Minister's whip and were informed that they would not speak for their constituents. They would speak as they were ordered to do by the Prime Minister.

On this particular bill, which is about the essence of democracy itself when it comes to the voting process, they have been told that this will be an issue of confidence, meaning that if this vote fails the government would fail. What a ridiculous and paranoid notion.

The Canadian Alliance position has always been, on votes of this matter, that votes should be conducted freely and that the business of the House should be conducted like a small business or a corporation in the private sector. In fact, when the voluntary and charitable associations and groups across this land meet, they have an item on their agenda that they discuss, debate and then vote on. If the particular item is voted down, the business does not collapse. The voluntary association, if that is what is involved in the discussion, does not evaporate. It simply moves on to the next item.

I would suggest that it would be profitable for the Prime Minister on this particular bill to say that he will not impose this Neanderthal, knuckle-dragging notion of democracy.

There are regimes around the world where people who do not support the autocratic leader lose their jobs or lose other things. That is what is happening here. The threat is that if the Liberal MPs do not support the Prime Minister they will lose their jobs. The threat of non-confidence is noxious, odious and should be changed.

The initiative itself goes to the very root of democracy because it is talking about voting and supporting the political party of one's choice. A number of things are being suggested.

The Prime Minister, because this is his bill, is saying that corporations and labour unions should be very restricted in terms of what they can give to a particular party or a candidate. That is an area of debate. In my view, it is something that would continue to take us down that slippery slope of the loss of freedoms.

If a corporation or a labour union is transparently communicating to its shareholders or its union members, and takes a vote on whether a certain amount should be donated to a particular party or candidate, locally, provincially or nationally, as long as the members are aware of it and have the chance to vote and decide on it, how does a government have the right to usurp that ability for individuals to choose? That is what is at the base of this initiative. It would take away an individual's right to choose.

It does that through putting huge restrictions on businesses and on labour unions. I do not agree that a labour union or a business should take a chunk of money without its shareholders or members knowing anything about it and then give it in some way. They should be held accountable to the shareholders. However the government has stepped in and has significantly reduced the problem of that happening.

We continue to hear about voter participation dropping and individual citizens becoming less enamoured with the political process altogether. Because part of this initiative would force voters to give, like they have never given before, to the political process, it diminishes the chance that individual citizens would become more involved voluntarily. Their rights are being taken away. Every voter across the country would be told that they will be assessed $1.50 every year to go to all of the political parties. They have no choice in this.

I know there is a process of rebates that is in place now. That was in place before I arrived here. I would have had other ideas on that particular process. However I am talking about this process now being expanded and citizens being steamrollered into having their hard earned tax dollars going to political parties that they do not necessarily support.

All citizens would be supporting my good colleagues, the MPs from the Bloc Quebecois, a federal separatist party, whether they liked it or not. All citizens would be supporting the NDP position, for instance, on Iraq, which is to have a unilateral approach to the United Nations and not care what the United Nations says. I find it hard to believe that some citizens might not support some of the principles of the Canadian Alliance but if there are a few citizens out there who do not support the Canadian Alliance they would be forced to support it whether they liked it or not. Their hard earned dollars would be taken away in a much greater way than they are being taken right now. It is not just at election that voters would have that right taken away. Every year between elections voters would be forced to send their money, whether they liked it or not, to political parties not of their choosing.

One of the things about having to fundraise is that sometimes it ties to individual performance and sometimes it ties to the corporate performance of the party itself. It brings certain responsibilities, especially on the governing party, to continue to govern well between elections. As we know, certainly by the Liberal Party and its leadership, arrogance runs at the fore of everything it does, especially between elections when it does not have to consult with the voters, and now even more so.

The Liberals know that the amount of votes they receive during an election would now figure directly into how much money they get every year between elections. If we can imagine, and this is a frightful thought, they would be even less responsive and more arrogant to the voters of the country now between elections than they have been. I cannot imagine what that would be like.

This particular initiative speaks clearly to the difference between liberalism and conservatism. In the simplest of terms, liberalism basically means more invasion into the lives of individual citizens. Conservatism means less invasion into the lives of individual citizens.

A famous Russian dissident, a person who spent years in solitary confinement in the gulag, when he was talking about government invasion in our lives and the loss of freedoms, said “Never trust a government more than that government trusts its own citizens”.

By this government striking at the very core of democracy, the voting process itself, and removing the right of citizens to decide to which political party they will donate their money, the government is saying that it does not trust its citizens. The government has a reduced level of trust in the citizens.

The government has forgotten that it should be governing at the consent of the governed, instead of telling citizens where their money will go related to politics and democracy itself. Based on that, because the government in fact does not trust its citizens, we should not trust the government, especially relating to the bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the debate today is extraordinarily important because it is about democracy and about the confidence Canadians have in their electoral system. During the debate we perhaps should remind ourselves that our proximity to the United States makes us forget that we already have done the most important thing in terms of election financing rules in this country, which is to limit the amount that we can spend in election campaigns.

When I was at the Woodrow Wilson school in Washington and heard about the problems women were having in running for political office, I realized that they had to raise millions of dollars for one candidate to run. My immediate reaction was that they should just change the rules and put a ceiling on the amount that can be spent in an election campaign. That would give them an even playing field, allow real democracy to take place and allow people of all walks of life to run for political office.

If part of the bill does deal with the perception problem, that money does buy influence, then we must correct that impression. We need to make the system as good as it can be. Good governance to me and to one of my heroes, Ursula Franklin, is that it must be fair, transparent and take people seriously. Ursula has said that if we do not have transparency in our small organizations, whether it is on the boards of our day care or our church, how can people expect us to apply it to government? Obviously, as one of the organizations that is most important to democracy, we must have transparency in political parties.

I believe the democratic deficit in the country is evident in four ways. One is parliamentary reform and our ability to listen to citizens between elections in terms of democracy and in terms of the resources with which to do that. Another is party reform. The final one, which we are dealing with today, is electoral reform, the financing of elections.

I think it is a game to talk about our proximity to the United States when we actually have to remind ourselves that some of those congressmen and senators spend more than half of their time raising money every week just to keep afloat. We are hugely blessed in Canada that we actually get to do our job every day and that fundraising becomes a small part of our jobs.

People must remember that if I were only allowed to spend about $60,000 in an election campaign that would have little influence on the way I voted. I have to believe that if I were not able to raise the $60,000 from the people who gave it to me the last time that I could easily go out and raise the $60,000 from a new group of people who believed in the principles on which I stood.

However it is important for people to think so and that we are doing everything possible to make it happen. I think the idea of the ceiling is still the most important thing and that we must do everything to make sure it is always preserved.

The second most important thing would have to be transparency. We must ensure that the transparency provisions in the bill are not diminished. If George Bush can put his receipted donations on the web within 48 hours of them being received, then we should not be settling for anything less. People must know immediately who is contributing to our elected representatives.

The third issue has to be the sources of the money. We again must bear true vigilance to what is happening south of the border with the Bush political action committees. As we say, if we block the toothpaste coming out of the tube we need to know where all the little pin holes are. Therefore, before we stop something we need to make sure that we have anticipated how people will get around it in order to have the influence that they think they want to have.

I have some concerns, even though the bill is spectacular in what it does for all of us in getting rid of unreceipted money in the politics of Canada. Full disclosure is an important step to deal with all aspects of political financing.

For all donations over $200 to have to be disclosed, whether that is for riding associations, nomination races, candidates' elections or leadership races, this is a hugely important initiative that the women's caucus had felt very strongly about, indeed, back to the Lortie commission, where we understood that money and nomination fights were the most important barriers to women running for office. Having no unreceipted donations to political campaigns will deal extraordinarily well with the transparency issue and I think will serve to reduce the inequities. Women candidates have traditionally had much greater trouble raising unreceipted dollars. The idea that this then brings it in under the scrutiny of the chief electoral officer I think is extraordinarily important, and in terms of the enforcement of these rules, I think it is extraordinarily important too.

In regard to the bill proposing a limit on the amount of money that could be spent in a nomination fight, we have some concerns. We in the Liberal women's caucus have suggested that it should be about 10% to 15% of what could be spent on an election. The bill puts it at 50%. We think this is still too high, although we do have to acknowledge the fact that this now would be receipted dollars, which would help a little bit. However, it would mean that in my riding $30,000 would be spent on a nomination fight and I think that is still too high.

I think that the limits on individual donations up to $10,000 and corporations up to $1,000, only to ridings, even though there are strict anti-avoidance penalties, do not prevent executive and board members from giving as individuals. It just prevents them from being reimbursed from their unions, companies or associations. I am worried that this would lead to lesser transparency, as the Elections Canada donor list would then list only the individual names and not the companies they work for or the associations they belong to. I have heard certain concerns raised by some forensic accountants that this may create more problems than it would solve. I think it is important that we move to this way of more individual support for political parties, but I do think that blurring what used to be transparent political donations, and now burying them under business expenses, is very difficult for Revenue Canada or Elections Canada to trace.

What we want is real time transparency. We are concerned that other third party contributions are not capped, other than during elections, and now in terms of the issue at the Supreme Court.

We worry that this may mean that organizations and individuals can unduly advertise and have influence on behalf of a political party without the scrutiny of Elections Canada. In fact, last month there was a full page ad taken in The Globe and Mail by Tom Caldwell, whose son happens to have been an Alliance candidate in the last election. That full page ad criticizing one party and supporting another party is indeed $33,000 that does not show up anywhere in this particular legislation.

I think that in the greater public funding of elections the $1.50 per vote obtained in the election is a good idea. I think people certainly have recourse in terms of what some of my constituents have expressed in not wanting any of their money to go to the Alliance Party or the Bloc Québécois in particular, but they certainly can give up to $10,000 to remediate that problem, as was pointed out by the Prime Minister last week.

I think the process and the timing of these reforms are very important. If this indeed is a problem of perception of influence, we must hear from citizens about what they see as the problem and therefore be prepared to tailor the solutions. This is about government continuing to be relevant and responsive to their needs and concerns, and it is indeed about regaining the trust and confidence of Canadians in our electoral system and the way that our political parties are financed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I speak to Bill C-24.

This is really a very bold initiative, comparable to René Lévesque's when he was Premier of Quebec in 1977, in terms of cultural changes to political party financing.

The reason I find it to be such a bold reform, which basically deserves substantial support, is that, politically, it makes it possible to achieve, at the federal level, an uheard of degree of transparency, in terms of the financing of federal political parties.

We in Quebec are used to that, to seeing such principles spread across the country. I find it to be an extremely encouraging and promising approach to politics, one which bodes well in terms of exercising democracy.

This bill provides for limits on the amount of contributions by individuals and corporations. Individuals may contribute up to $10,000. Corporations may contribute up to $1,000, but only in electoral districts, that is to say to electoral district associations as opposed to directly to political parties.

This bill imposes spending limits on nomination campaigns. Hon. members know as I do that two or three of us who are aspiring to become candidates, for the Liberal Party for example, in a given riding, are put to the test of a vote by members. To that end, we campaign to be designated official candidates for that riding.

For the first time, statutory limits will be imposed; I say statutory because some limits are imposed in an ad hoc fashion.

This bill provides for the public financing of political activities. This is not new in itself, since there is already a public contribution, through tax credits and the partial refund of election expenses. We know that there is already a public contribution to political activity.

Now, an amount will be paid for each vote obtained by the party in the previous election, to ensure full transparency of political party financing.

When we talk about democracy, I think that we must not forget that the best exercise in democracy is for the public to take control of political activity.

How can this be accomplished? First, when a political party or a riding association is required not only to provide audited books showing income and expenditures, but also to indicate the source of all income and the allocation of expenditures, and to make these figures public, I think that enormous progress has been achieved in terms of transparency.

This bill is fundamental and, as I said earlier, it will change Canada's political culture.

It is not perfect. I believe that there are numerous questions that need to be answered. For example, the bill is supposed to come into force on the later of January 1, 2004, and the day that is six months after the day it is assented to.

We know that federal electoral boundaries are being readjusted. The process has begun. The new map of electoral boundaries will come into force only for elections after June 2004.

In other words, if Bill C-24, now before us, was effective as of January 1, 2004, with certain ridings having to file reports after six months, everything would have to be changed again to take into consideration the new ridings.

Why do things twice? Maybe there is a way to improve things in this respect. I am using the electoral map as one example, but there are others.

For example, in the Liberal Party there are provincial wings and a federal wing. There are also provinces where some of the rules of the Liberal Party of Canada and the provincial Liberal Party are the same and some are not. It is essential to take the time to sort this out as efficiently as possible.

We are talking about ceilings. As far as I am concerned, and I have said it before, the notion of capping financial contributions from business, like contributions from individuals, is fundamental to this bill. If the ceiling is $1,000 and it is spent in one single riding, will this not be an advantage for urban ridings, since that is where businesses have their head office, compared to rural ridings where there are fewer head offices? I think that it is worth sorting out this problem in a manner consistent with the substance of the bill, on which we all agree.

What happens when there is a nomination and an electoral campaign in the same year? The same company could not contribute twice; it is limited to a contribution of $1,000 a year. Perhaps there is a way to arrange it so that a nomination contestant keeps this $1,000, so that the candidate who actually runs for the party in the election that follows no longer has access to it.

There are all sorts of problems of this nature that—I repeat—are not fundamental problems, but enforcement problems. Some political parties, as I said earlier, have provincial wings. If the financing base for the ridings of these provincial wings is reduced, and if refunds go to the wing or at least party headquarters, how will these provincial wings be able to finance themselves when they do not have the right to receive funds from companies directly? There are many problems of this kind that we must address.

Nevertheless, I really do not want us to lose sight of the fact that this bill is absolutely essential. All of us here know the procedure. I would like to remind the House that a bill exists once it has been introduced; this is called first reading. Then there is a debate—during which I am speaking today—which is second reading. This is concluded by a vote in this House. The purpose of this vote is to determine if there is support for the principle of the bill.

I will vote without hesitation for the principle of this bill. Then, in the normal flow of things, the bill will be sent to committee, to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in this case, for detailed consideration. That is when the issues and concerns I have raised are looked at in detail, not only to make this bill excellent, but so that it can be enforced in a consistent, harmonious and effective manner.

I look forward to the day when, with these well-thought out, well-worked, well-researched changes—and in fact with the hope that all the political parties will support them—we will be able to give Canada, thanks to this initiative taken by our leader and Prime Minister, new legislation and new provisions that will govern the transparency of political parties and their operations in Canada. I will be extremely proud to have a final vote on this.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, political financing.

The purpose of Bill C-24 is: (a) to restrict the amount of contributions allowed to political parties, riding associations and candidates, including candidates for nomination for party leadership; (b) to compensate the political parties for the anticipated loss in revenue from large corporate and union donations by way of direct public financing; and (c) to extend the regulatory aspects of the Canada Elections Act in terms of registration and financial accounting to riding associations as well as nomination and leadership candidates.

The bill is yet another instance of the Liberals realizing their past mistakes, taking a good idea and turning it into a bad law. A candidate with money has a campaign, whereas without money has a cause.

It may be true that money is the mother's milk of politics but I believe political fundraising has contributed to the growing cynicism about public life.

Right or wrong, Canadians believe that money buys influence, and we cannot blame them. A recent study revealed that of the top 25 federal government contractors, 17 are major donors to the federal Liberal Party. Moreover these companies donate to the Liberal Party, versus all other parties, at a ratio of 6:1. At the candidate level the ratio is 30:1.

Major donors are not at all representative of the Canadian economy. Rather almost uniformly they tend to be government contractors, regulated industries and companies seeking changes from the government.

When I was the official opposition's critic for CIDA in 2000, I found out that Tecsult, a Quebec firm which had been getting repeat contracts from CIDA, was awarded contracts since 1993 worth $134 million and the same conglomerate gave to the Liberal Party and its candidates donations worth $137,000 since 1995. Since we first raised this matter in 1997, Tecsult and its affiliates were called Geratec. That firm was dissolved shortly thereafter but CIDA kept paying out millions of taxpayer dollars to the same principals.

Why was the CIDA minister allowed to siphon off taxpayer funds to these firms in exchange for Liberal donations? There are many examples like this.

The Prime Minister is determined to pass Bill C-24 even having gone so far as to threaten an election over the bill. Why after 10 years as the head of the government has he finally become so passionate over campaign finance reform? That is the big question. It seems it took the Prime Minister until he was just about to leave the tunnel to finally see the light at the end of it. Maybe the Prime Minister wants to take care of his good political friend, the former finance minister, whose mind he can read and whom he is so obviously determined to assist in any way possible.

The Prime Minister's sudden conversion probably has everything to do with cleaning up the image of the government which has been for so long plagued with scandal after scandal, corruption, cronyism with every suggestion that it has been helping Liberal friends. The Prime Minister should be restoring transparency and accountability to the political process. This bill is too little too late.

My major objection to Bill C-24 is that it removes the incentive to go out to ordinary Canadians and raise money from individual donors. In fact discourages and thus limits individual participation in the political process.

Rather than being dependent upon donations, parties and politicians will become dependent upon the public treasury. That seems like a very Liberal idea.

The public should contribute to parties voluntarily, not by law. The government acknowledges that under this legislation political parties and candidates would be 90% on the public take, up from 60% today.

The bill would double the amount that can be claimed against the full 75% tax credit for political contributions, versus the 16% credit for contributions to other deserving causes such as curing cancer, from $200 to $400. For example, if the party received a $400 donation, the contributor would only pay $100. The tax man would pay the remaining $300. This measure could add approximately $15 million in taxpayer subsidies to the parties in a non-election year and approximately $40 million in an election year.

That is not all. Under the legislation a party would be reimbursed 50% of its election expenses, up from 22% under the current law. This change means that, using the same previously mentioned $400 contribution, when spent, the party would receive another $200 from the taxpayer. Of the original $400 in sum, the taxpayer would be on the hook for $500. For larger donations the credit would be proportionately smaller. It gets even worse.

Under the proposed legislation, political parties would be permitted an annual allowance based upon the number of votes received in the previous election provided the party received either 2% of the votes cast nationally or 5% of the votes in the riding where it ran candidates. For every vote received, a party would get $1.50 per year. Even those who agree with public financing, which I do not, should find $1.50 per vote excessive.

Let us use the results of the last federal election as a benchmark, but it should be kept in mind that election witnessed the lowest voter turnout in recent history so the numbers could easily be higher in future elections. This would have amounted to a public subsidy of more than $20 million to the parties each year.

First the Liberals pass a law against so-called third party advertising forbidding Canadians to spend their own money on a cause they believe in. Now they are forcing the same Canadians to spend their money on a cause they may not believe in.

The Canadian Alliance believes that political parties should be more dependent upon financial support from grassroots members of political parties. People will give money to a party that provides them with a voice and an opportunity to bring about real change in the way the country is governed. That is why we have had such success in attracting individual donations. In 2001 the Canadian Alliance had 49,000 different contributors whereas the Liberals had only 6,500.

This would also put independent candidates and the small and new fringe parties at a disadvantage. They would not have an equal and fair chance during an election. The governing party, the largest party in the House, would continue to enjoy an advantage in the cycle for a long time to come.

The government has long believed it can spend Canadians' money more wisely than Canadians themselves can. That attitude needs to change. Canadians can decide for themselves to whom they want to give their money. They do not need the government to decide for them.

There are many other weaknesses I could point out. Recently it has come to my attention that some members have accumulated large trust funds containing hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is not fair. The provision is impossible to meaningfully enforce so that there could be some accountability.

I will oppose the bill as it increases taxpayer funded subsidies to political parties. I can support in principle limitations on corporate, union and individual donations. I rigorously condemn the enhanced public funding of political parties, especially where it is unrelated to actual financial contributions from a party's supporters.

We are prepared to accept the current reimbursement formula for candidates and parties for direct election expenses. We will seek amendments in committee to tighten up an attempt to prevent indirect contributions through trust funds to make the provisions of the bill fairer to smaller parties and non-incumbents and to limit taxpayer contributions to parties they do not support.

Therefore I will oppose the bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-24, the details of which members have laid out in a number of ways, has to do with an important principle. It has to do with the principle of the appearance of government. Members will know that if it appears that something is so, that is almost as bad as if it were so.

We live in a society in which bashing politicians has become a national pastime. It is much like with the banks. I hate banks, but boy I love my bank. The job of a member of the opposition is to be critical and to try to slant the facts in a way which would discredit the government. Words such as “corruption” and “cronyism” continue to be thrown around to say that corporations are buying government favours and getting all kinds of work because they have somehow given money to a party.

The member is quite right. The perception of Canadians is that large corporate contributions have an influence on members of Parliament, on cabinet ministers, on bureaucrats and on government as a whole. Bill C-24 came forward to address the negative appearance of undue influence of corporations and unions on the Government of Canada and all those who are involved.

Canadians may not know as well as we do the kind of political bureaucracy that has been established which sustains the parliamentary democracy that we enjoy in Canada today. It is unlike that in the United States where there are virtually no limits on the amount of money that can play in politics. A congressman could spend anywhere from $1 million to $4 million on a campaign alone. People may ask themselves why someone would spend $1 million to $4 million to get a job that pays $200,000. It makes absolutely no sense. If we looked at the average net worth of a congressman, we would find that it is basically an elitist profession in the United States. It is the rich of the country who are governing a country of all economic walks of life and socio-economic diversity.

Canada enjoys a parliamentary democracy. People should understand it is important that there be political parties. It is important that those parties be vibrant.

Through the provincial and territorial wings of a party's offices, through the riding associations which are located in each of the 301 constituencies across the country, the members of those constituencies participate in the democratic process. They develop policy issues for their respective party. They continue to update, renew and review their positions on the important policy issues of the day. Virtually every policy issue is well researched and well articulated so that Canadians can understand not only what is the party's philosophy but also what is its platform, what is its vision for Canada and what that party believes Canadians want to see in their country in the decades to come.

Politics is about making decisions and making choices. This extensive process of political infrastructure operations requires funding. To protect that process and to ensure in particular that all Canadians have an opportunity to participate fully in our democratic political process, the Canada Elections Act and related rules guide us in how much can be spent on political contributions and expenses in elections.

Those rules are there so that every Canadian could become a member of Parliament. It is not a matter of money. The principle of a partially publicly funded system of political financing allows people to raise enough money, with the support of all Canadians through the tax credit system, to present their views and present their candidacy for a particular political party or as an independent.

The cross-section of the House today is much different from what people would imagine. We are not all lawyers. We are not all retired businessmen who have made our fortunes and we are now doing this. In this place there are teachers and farmers. There are academics. There are lawyers and medical doctors. I am a chartered accountant. There are ranchers, truckers and chiropractors. There are former municipal and provincial politicians. When I look around I see a microcosm of Canada in this place.

Canadians should know that when all Canadians have an opportunity to participate in the democratic parliamentary process and all Canadians have an opportunity to run for public office and become members of Parliament, that is a good thing. One of the reasons the publicly financed political system has been widely accepted as appropriate for Canada is it promotes our democracy.

One part of the bill suggests that we need to make it a little easier for certain people, whether they be women, minorities, people of a certain culture or religion, to participate.

I am not sure whether tinkering around with the amount of money that someone can spend on a nomination campaign will really matter to whether someone has an opportunity to become a nominated candidate. Let me share the way I think it goes, in terms of if someone wants to be a member of Parliament.

I think an analysis of this place would find that about 80% of the people have very impressive community service records. Over a long period of time they have made significant contributions to their communities, whether it be through a charitable organization, coaching ball or hockey, or being on hospital boards. I was on the board of a shelter for battered women and a rent geared to income housing organization. I spent nine years on a hospital board and coached hockey and ball as well.

In time I got around to realizing that what I really liked to do was to be with people and talk to people. I liked to help them with their problems and I enjoyed the satisfaction of getting things done. For those reasons, people got to know who I was.

When the time came and the opportunity was right, I put my name forward. I was involved with the Liberal Party. It was my party of choice based on my knowledge of the history and the background of the Liberal Party. I became a nominated candidate for the Liberal Party because I was able to go to the people whom I had served in my community and say, “I would like to do this. I need your help. Will you join the party? Will you support me in becoming your candidate in the next election?”

People do not get elected because they have money any more. I think they get elected for what they have done, not for what they promise to do.

The bill goes a long way in raising the importance of re-instilling some respect and some honour for our profession. This is a very honourable profession and I know members value it very much. Part of the process is to deal with the perception that there is undue influence of large contributors and that the rules are not quite right, to ensure that no one would somehow conclude that money was controlling the destiny of legislation in Canada.

The bill is an important instrument for us to deal with. There are many technical aspects to it. I think we can get it right. However, the macro objective is to correct the appearance of government as it will help to improve the democracy of Canada.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my constituents of Brandon--Souris to speak to a piece of legislation that I believe is important for many of the same reasons that the member from Mississauga just talked about.

There is no question that Canadians are looking for accountability and transparency, and for politicians they can trust. As the member just said, we have lost that trust to a great degree. If we look at the polls I think politicians are on the same level as lawyers or used car salesmen. I must be careful about this one, but the point I am trying to make is that the public sees politics in a tainted view. I look at this legislation as being an opportunity to regain some of that trust from Canadians in general.

I will veer a little and I know the member will not be pleased with the tenet I am about to take. When I first came to the House I was perhaps a little naive. I had all the experience at the local level that the member talked about and I felt comfortable coming here and suggesting that we could make a difference, whether it be in the government backbenches or in the opposition. It took some time for me to become the cynic that perhaps I am today. I am not terribly cynical but still cynical enough to recognize that one cannot judge a piece of legislation by just looking at the surface, one must dig underneath to find out what the real motives are and what the driving force is.

The Prime Minister brought this piece of legislation to the House of Commons which I find ironic. The Prime Minister has lived under the terms of the system for the past 10 years and now all of a sudden has found religion. He has seen the light and says we must change the system so that Canadians can now better trust the politicians and the politics. I find it ironic that it took that length of time for him to bring forward a piece of legislation that would fix the problems that he has said for the last 10 years obviously did not exist because he lived under that system.

I find it interesting that this legislation came in the form of a bill. It could have come on the back of a cocktail napkin, as we have seen other documents tabled in the House before with perhaps not quite the same acceptance by the House as being a legal document.

I looked below the surface and I would like to indicate what the bill would not do. It would not instill the trust of Canadians into the political system. It would not stop ministers from accepting chalets from an individual or corporation that does business with the government. The bill would not stop that. It would not stop the political patronage that goes on in those benches. It would not stop a minister of the Crown being sent to Denmark after being able to treat his friends and relatives with largesse. It would not stop the political pork-barrelling simply because the government would have reduced the level and limits of corporate donations.

What would stop that is a complete change in political attitude on that side of the House where the government would treat Canadians with the respect they deserve. That would allow Canadians to be a better part of the political process.

The Canadian Alliance was railing about the fact that Canadians would be forced to contribute to parties with which they had contrasting beliefs in ideology or direction. I find this rather interesting coming from a populist party that puts the rights of the National Citizens' Coalition above those of the people. I find it interesting that the rights of the National Rifle Association are put higher than the people the Alliance is here to represent.

I find it difficult that a populist organization like the CA now says it is not fair that people must contribute to parties that they do not want to. It also mentioned and I believe reference was made to “that French party”. No, it is the Bloc Québécois and it will also receive contributions from the public. There are still people in this country who do support and vote for the Bloc, and they have the right to contribute to the Bloc in any way, shape or form.

Let us get down to brass tacks. What is happening now is that Canadians are becoming disconnected with politics. Voter turnout has gone from 75% in 1988 to a low of 61% in the year 2000. That is deplorable. We must get people back and connected with politics. How do we do that? We try to become honest and become what we should be in the House, the representatives of the beliefs and thoughts of our constituents.

The financial package contained in the Canada Elections Act may help that. What does it do? The nomination process would allow people to get involved in the nomination process with limits on expenses during that nomination, half of what it would be for a candidate in an election. That is fair. We all ran under the existing legislation and laws, and found that in our cases it was successful.

We were allowed to spend a limited amount of money during the election campaign with contribution back from the federal government of 50% of our expenditures. That was fair and easy to do. We are now asked to continue with that and have some constraints placed on us as candidates in the riding. Those constraints are limits: $1,000 from corporations and $10,000 from individuals.

I do not know about the rest of the members in the House, but when I go out on the streets I tell people those numbers, both the people that support me and do not support me. When I tell them it is $1,000 corporately and $10,000 as individuals they say that I must be wrong, that those cannot be the numbers, and that they must be reversed. I tell them no, the proposed legislation is $1,000 corporate and $10,000 individually.

They say that does not seem right. Corporations obviously have a better opportunity to make those contributions than individuals do. I tell them that was the reason why the Prime Minister brought in this legislation, to get away from the perception that corporations in fact have undue political influence because of their deep pockets. Whether that changes or not, I believe I am still cynical on that point. I do not know if that will change. Perhaps we can listen to more of that debate in committee.

There is the $1.50 per vote. We have heard from one of the parties that says absolutely not. It should not be done, it cannot be done, and citizens should not have to spend dollars that they do not want to spend on political parties. It is happening now.

Currently, we contribute approximately 60% of the total expenditures regardless of contributions having tax deductibility. Our contributions are coming forward through the public purse because of the 50% or the 22.5% reimbursement to parties after elections. It works out to about 60%, which in fact could be raised to about 80%. We now have a public that has more say in how the system actually operates than perhaps the corporations and individuals.

If the Prime Minister wants to deal with this honestly and forthright, he must resolve one glaring omission dealing with trust funds. If he has simply appeased his backbenchers by saying we are not going to deal with the trust funds that are out there, then the legislation is wrong. There must be an opportunity to deal with those within this legislation. If there is going to be a back door, then the mistrust and the cynicism of the Canadian public has not been stopped. We must ensure that aspect is dealt with in this legislation. If the government is not prepared to deal with that in this legislation, then it is not prepared to deal with the true problem that is out there in our society.

Regardless of what I or my party say, although we have as a party put forward some suggestions as to how we can better bring contributions into the system, this will go forward to committee. Here I go back to my cynicism. I honestly believe that in committee, with the help of members of the government, we could change the legislation to have it come forward as a better piece of legislation.

I hope beyond hope that perhaps on this particular piece of legislation that backbenchers and the Liberal members would be prepared to listen in committee and would be prepared to put forward the necessary changes to make this a better piece of legislation. If they do that, they would have made a huge step in getting Canadians to trust politicians.

I will by the way, as I sit on the committee, have a lot more time to speak, not only to the witnesses, but to the government.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is good to speak to Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing). The two are closely tied together.

It was interesting the other day when the Prime Minister introduced the bill in the House. He stands here day after day, and defends himself and his government against scandal after scandal. He says over and over that everything is fine, everything is above board, and there is nothing going on that should not be and it is squeaky clean. On the other hand he brings in a piece of legislation and promotes it by saying it would clean up influence peddling. If there is not any, what is the problem here? I think an assumption we all must make is that there is a problem.

He indicated that this would make things more open and democratic. One of the members from the Liberal side talked earlier about being nominated. In some constituencies there is no nomination meeting. The Prime Minister parachutes a candidate and says it is the person he wants to run in that riding and that is who it is. In the governing party the Prime Minister has the right to not sign nomination papers. That is not democratic. It is certainly different from the way our party works.

If hon. members want to talk about fighting for democratic change, I do not think they should look across the House. They should look right here. That is something on which this party has based its policies and platform. There needs to be more democracy here in the House and throughout the system under which we operate. Time after time we have brought forward recommendations that could have been implemented. We have looked at all aspects of governance to see what could be done to make it more democratic and make Canadians feel that they have more of a say in what happens in governing the country.

However we have been turned aside. There were simple things like working with private members' business to make more bills votable allowing individual members the opportunity to have more of a say and to bring up issues that they were hearing from their constituents to put into law. However that is fought at every turn.

I believe the bill is proposing to take away from Canadians the opportunity to support who they think best represents their policies or what they feel is right for Canada and the Government of Canada. I have always maintained in my campaigns and in the campaigns of our party that if a person wants to donate, then that is great. People donate because they believe in the policies and platforms of a party and they believe in the candidate. If people donate because they expect to get something back in return they will be very disappointed. If people are donating to a political party because they think it will bring back some personal or corporate benefit to them, then indeed we do have a huge problem.

I will always remember that in the last campaign I received a cheque from an elderly widowed lady for a small amount. It was sent with an attaching note saying that this was all she had. She said it was all she could afford, but she wanted me to have it to use it to promote what my party and I believed in. That is what this is all about. If we take that away, if we make people donate through the tax system and contribute to parties in which they do not believe, that gets away from the whole aspect of what is right and what needs to be done in our political system.

I wish to do a recap on what the bill entails. The intention appears to be to compensate parties for the removal of corporate and union donations which are largely made at the party level rather than to individual candidates or constituency associations. The way the bill is constructed, there would be many ways to get around that. The amount of individual contributions is high. I am sure that if a union or a corporation were to funnel some money into a party, then that would be able to be done, even under the new rules with the $10,000 for personal contribution. When we think about that, the maximum tax credit people could receive is for a donation of $1,275, so if they are donating over that, then it certainly is not to get a tax benefit.

Political parties are at the heart of a modern political and electoral system and are essential to a vibrant and viable democratic system. It is so important that different parties come forward to represent different views and represent different aspects of society.

Whether this should entail public funding, directly or indirectly and, if so, at what level or what level is appropriate is the debate today. At present, registered political parties are publicly funded through the tax system, deductions for contributions, and through the partial reimbursement of election expenses. I will get into that a little later.

Candidates are also reimbursed for a proportion of their election expenses, while contributors can take advantage of the favourable tax treatment of political donations. There is a compounding factor that I will mention. The bill proposes to enhance and extend that regime.

Currently, registered parties can be reimbursed for 22.5% of their election period expenses. Anything that is spent during the writ period, the federal party or the national party gets 22.5% of that back. The rate of reimbursement of electoral expenses for candidates is currently 50%. In our local campaigns we get back 50% of everything we spend during the writ period from the taxpayer.

If people donate $400 under the new proposal, they get a 75% tax deduction for that. When we as candidates put that forward, we get 50% of that back. This has a compounding effect and the taxpayer continually pays for campaigns.

With respect to individual candidates, the bill proposes that the percentage of votes a candidate must obtain in his or her riding to qualify for reimbursement of electoral expenses be lowered to 10% from 15%. That 15% has always been a platform where we want to try to keep our opposition or the people who we run against us underneath that because they do not get the rebate. It is an additional challenge when campaigning. Now that has been lowered to 10%.

The proposed bill provides for an annual allowance. I want people to understand that this is an annual allowance to registered parties in the amount of $1.50 per vote received by the party in the previous general election, provided the party has received in the last election either 2% of the valid votes cast nationally or 5% of the votes in the ridings where the party ran candidates. Every year between elections that $1.50 will come to political parties. This figure is apparently based on replacing what would be lost to corporate donations. I believe there are other reasons for that.

Let us look at what happened in 1993. In the previous election in 1988 the Progressive Conservative government had a majority. That majority was reduced from roughly 170 seats to 2 seats. Over that period of time the support for the party had dropped right through the floor. It had come down to about 2% of what it used to be. However during the period of time between elections it would have continued to receive $1.50 for everybody who cast a ballot for it in the last election. In the meantime its support had absolutely evaporated. Therefore, in the last couple of years before an election things can change dramatically. People who had voted for the party but no longer supported it would still be giving $1.50 per year.

As an incentive to encourage contributions by individuals, the bill also introduces amendments to the Income Tax Act to double the amount of an individual's political donation, which is eligible for a 75% tax credit from $200 to $400, and to increase accordingly each other bracket of the tax credit to a maximum tax credit of $650 for political donations of $1,275 or more. The Income Tax Act amendments in the bill will apply to the 2003 tax year and beyond.

If we raise the eligible tax credit to 75%, I know one gentleman at home who will be completely torn apart by this issue. He wants to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society, the Kidney Foundation of Canada, Child Find or others and he wants to get the same credit for that as he does for a political donation but he cannot.

In wrapping up, we cannot support the bill because it puts the onus of funding political parties on the taxpayer in general, instead of a person having the ability to support the party that he or she wants.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to take part in this historic debate. I never thought I would see the day federal Liberal MPs would sing the praises of René Lévesque.

That is why I call this a historic debate, a bit late in coming, but better late than never, as they say. It is all part of the process of cleaning up politics.

What inspired the Prime Minister, at the end of his mandate, to finally decide to remedy the numerous shortcomings that existed in the way Canada's political parties were funded? It is not up to me to answer that question, but I am really glad to see that, at long last, the Canadian Parliament is taking action to make politics more democratic.

There is still much to be done, but at least this is a significant first step. That same step was taken in Quebec back in 1977. From that time on, MNAs had a free hand, because the voters of Quebec are the ones who decide what party they want to support. This is a free choice, with known rules and standards.

For a long time now, the Bloc Quebecois has been rising in this House to speak out against the major shortcomings in political party financing. Today I am delighted to hear the other side referring to René Lévesque as the one who changed the rules of democracy. I am proud to hear that, but I would point out that there a lot of time went by between 1977 and 2003. And we are only at this stage now.

When the whole business of the sponsorship scandal was raised, with all the media coverage it got, and the denunciations in this very chamber, with all the talk of Groupaction, the Prime Minister and all the Liberals knew very well that this situation arose because of the way the legislation stood at that time. But we still had to wait for changes.

Now there are some changes. Why did the federal government wait so long, why did it tolerate such major scandals as we have had here since the 2000 election?

I trust that the changes proposed by the government today are the start of a process of democratization in this House. First comes changes to political party financing. Next there will have to be some work on lessening pressure on parliamentarians, that is trying to democratize life in Parliament. We will have to discuss such things as the matter of voting along party lines, the matter of decisions being made without consulting the elected representatives of the people.

So that is democracy. The current Prime Minister—who will leave God knows when, officially at least in 2004, but in politics anything can happen—should not get to leave saying “I have made the most significant historical contribution in changing the party financing legislation”. There are other things that could be done. He could say, “I have waited so long to amend it; this must not be allowed to go on”. Above all, on the eve of a leadership race, it is important that those who will come after him uphold these changes.

Personally, I get the impression that the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard will be very tempted to revert to the old way of doing things. To talk about cleaning up the financing of political parties is one thing, but it is not so easy to address the issue of how candidates go about collecting money to fund their leadership campaigns. Having again benefited greatly from contributions from corporations, companies and friends of the party, they may well be tempted to revert to their old ways to pay them back.

I hope that in our debates in the next few weeks we will hear from these people and that they will make firm commitments to ensure that the historical step taken in this House with Bill C-24 does not disappear with the change in prime ministers.

In addition, all opposition parties, including the Canadian Alliance, should find more convincing alternatives than the one before us. The debate is far from over; it has only just begun.

I think that the people of my riding and all Quebeckers are proud today to see that the government is finally acting, the Bloc Quebecois having raised this critical issue of party financing countless times. Like the other parties of the National Assembly did when the PQ was defeated, the Liberal Party of Quebec respected the major changes made to the system. The people from my riding and from around Quebec expect that the future leader, the man or woman who will lead the Liberal Party of Canada, will uphold these changes. We must not backtrack, we must continue to move forward.

I think that the current debate needs to focus on the changes awaiting the Liberal Party of Canada, because that is the party in power. I invite all federal Liberals, especially those from Quebec, to make a public commitment to the voters, to say that they will uphold these changes. I invite them to promise to avoid going back, regardless of the political pressure that may be brought to bear on them during the leadership campaign.

In Quebec, the political parties remained faithful to what René Lévesque accomplished. I dare to hope that those who continue to make history in this House will remain faithful to these changes and that they will continue to speak highly of René Lévesque.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, I never thought that I would rise in the House to thank everyone here for recognizing the work of René Lévesque. Maybe, someday, members will say, “You know, in the end, sovereignty-association for Quebec is a good thing. It would put an end to east-west tensions. Perhaps it is the way of the future to redefine a historic framework agreement”.

I hope that these historic changes being made will be upheld, and that the appreciation for René Lévesque's work will embrace more than simply the issue of party financing. That, too, is part of the evolution. That, too, is part of history.

In closing, once again, I am proud of the changes proposed in Bill C-24, but these changes must remain in place, regardless of who becomes the next Prime Minister.

This historic step must not be undone. We must uphold this change for the sake of all Quebeckers and Canadians.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I count it a great pleasure to rise in the House on behalf of the constituents of Crowfoot to debate changes to the way that we finance political parties in this country.

The Canadian Alliance has been at the forefront in advocating comprehensive reforms both to the Senate and to the House of Commons. We believe in parliamentary reform. We believe that we need to have systemic change. We strongly believe that the country needs a more effective system of direct democracy to enhance the voices of average Canadians. The only time that citizens of the country really get an opportunity to let their voices be heard is every four years at election time, and we want to change this fact.

Canadians have effectively been excluded from participating in the forum that decides how their daily lives are going to be run and how their daily lives are affected. What we have in the country is a system of government that rules from the top down. The tendency of this and previous governments has been to increase their own power by employing closed door polices, policies that close out the average Canadian. Only an exclusive few, namely the cabinet, the executive council of government, which is influenced by special interest groups and large corporations or unions, are deciding our policies and our programs.

Effective communication between citizens and their elected representatives has been diminished. Politicians are not accountable to their electorate on a day to day basis and, rather than seeking to gain public confidence through listening and accommodating public concerns, elected officials have spent their time selling the government's programs and legislation to the people. In other words, rather than representing their constituents in Ottawa, federally elected officials have become Ottawa's representatives back to their constituents.

My colleagues and I on this side of the House are committed to changing this sad reality. We are committed to changing the autocratic means of decision making by restoring power to its rightful owners, the people of this country.

In direct democracy we have a number of ways to allow Canadians to have a greater voice. Recall is a procedure that effectively allows voters to hold their representatives accountable. It is another procedure which we believe can help put power back into the hands of the people.

As it stands now, elected officials cannot be dismissed by the very people who elected them, except at election time. As we have already heard today, in some parties where nominees or candidates are appointed to run for that party, the people may never have an opportunity except at the time of an election. This leaves the impression that politicians are above the rules and regulations that govern the average Canadian worker. Allowing an elected official immunity for misconduct or incompetence is an absurdity that has added to the current level of political apathy in the country, as witnessed in the last election where we had a voter turnout of approximately 51% of the electorate. People are losing hope in what they see happening in Ottawa.

Author William Mishler states:

Political attitudes and behaviour are learned. The political apathy and inactivity characteristic of large segments of the Canadian public are not intrinsic to man's basic nature. They are neither inevitable nor immutable. The decision to participate in or abstain from politics is to a substantial degree a conditioned response to a political environment.

Our current political environment, our current political system, has produced a nation of cynics who hold politicians in contempt. The perception, and in some cases the reality, that politicians can be bought has only added fuel to the fire.

Therefore, we want to change the undue influence that large corporations, the unions, associations or individuals have on political parties and thus the government. It is for this reason that we support certain aspects of Bill C-24.

In the last couple of years, allegations and evidence have surfaced regarding certain companies receiving government contracts based on past financial donations to election campaigns. Just this past fall, the former solicitor general resigned after the ethics commissioner ruled that he should not have intervened in a funding request from a college that was run by his brother.

In the spring of 2002, it was revealed that the member for Cardigan had lobbied the RCMP and Correctional Service Canada for funds for a police training program proposed by Holland College, a provincially run institution headed by his brother. The ethics counsellor's investigation was sparked by revelations that the solicitor general's department had issued a contract in May 2001 to the political pal of the member for Cardigan for $100,000 worth of strategic advice. Mr. Wilson was seeking clarification on whether or not this contract was awarded without following proper Treasury Board guidelines or rules.

Just over a year ago in another incident, Mr. Paul Lemire was convicted of defrauding HRDC of almost $200,000 in HRDC grants. This man had travelled with the Prime Minister during elections. He had travelled on a team Canada mission in 1996. He had donated to the election campaign in 1997. Subsequently he received millions of dollars in grants in 1998 while under yet another investigation for fraud, against Revenue Canada, for which, I might add, he was finally convicted.

Again, we need to avoid any perception, whether real, imagined or perceived, that elected representatives can be bought for future financial favours. Bill C-24, by limiting the amount of money that corporations can contribute to political parties, would help eliminate this perception. Therefore we support parts of Bill C-24 that would restrict the amount of contributions allowed to political parties, riding associations and candidates, including candidates for nomination or party leadership.

We do not, however, support the portion of the bill that would compensate political parties by way of direct public funding for the anticipated loss of revenues from the donations of large corporations and unions. We will never accept that because some parties may lose dollars from unions or large corporations, we then must replace them with more taxpayers' dollars in funding.

In the words of the Leader of the Opposition, Bill C-24 “is simply an autocratic solution to a democratic problem”, in that it would increase taxpayer funded subsidies to political parties. In other words, Canadian taxpayers would have no choice to which party their hard earned dollars would go. An NDP supporter may end up backing the Canadian Alliance, whereas our supporters may end up sending their money to help fund the Bloc Québécois.

Many people probably do not know that taxpayers already heavily subsidize political parties. Donations to a party are subsidized in that a tax credit of up to 75% is provided. The money spent by candidates is reimbursed by as much as 50% of their eligible expenses, while parties get back 22.5% of their total electoral expenditures after each election. To put a dollar figure on this, in the 2000 election these so-called rebates cost Canadian taxpayers just over $31 million to refund candidates and $7.5 million to refund political parties' eligible election expenses. Currently, by this one measure alone, taxpayers are footing the bill for approximately 40% of the funding during elections.

As stated earlier, we support the portion of this legislation that would limit the amount of money that corporations may give to parties. It may help in restoring Canadians' faith in the integrity of their elected representatives. We believe that if people want to donate to a political party, if they believe in that political party, if they believe in the policies of that political party or in the individual who represents them at a constituency level, then their contributions and donations are the way that political party is funded.

We are, however, adamantly opposed to the enhanced public funding of political parties. In a democracy it is simply wrong to force hard-working Canadians or citizens to support certain political parties. Every voter in the country should have the right to choose which party they support.

In closing, I would like to quote the Leader of the Opposition, who said that “the true nature of the bill is simply the replacement by the [Liberal] government of its addiction to large business and union donations with an addiction to taxpayer funding”. He said that the bill simply forces Canadians “to pay for political parties they do not necessarily support”.

This is why we will not support Bill C-24.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is always important when we are debating important legislation, especially that which is put forward by the government, that there be more than one Liberal out of 180 in the House. Could we have a quorum call, please?