Mr. Speaker, Bill C-24 seeks to make fundamental changes to the way we fund political participants in the country.
I think all of us would agree that Canada's electoral system is one of the best in the world in terms of fairness and honesty. But as we know, democracy is a work in progress, which means we need to revisit our political and government systems from time to time to make sure they are doing the best possible job of serving Canadians.
One area requiring a second look, of course, involves the rules governing political financing. Let us look at requirements for financial disclosure. At present, the Canada Elections Act requires only registered parties and candidates to disclose contributions and expenditures to the Chief Electoral Officer. This effectively exempts other important players in the political process, such as electoral district associations and leadership and nomination contestants, from having to reveal where their money came from and how they spend it. In turn, this has reduced the transparency of the system and public confidence in it and has created what the Chief Electoral Officer refers to as the “black hole” of political financing.
We need to open up the system and give the public more and better information on what is going on behind the scenes. For example, we must address leadership contests. There are many going on in the House of Commons right now, all over the place. This is an area of great interest to Canadians. Little is known about how they are financed, which is strange given how important they are to the political landscape in this country. We need to know more about leadership contestants and who their supporters are. After all, one of them will eventually become the Prime Minister, the leader of the country, but of course that would be on this side.
The bill would make this possible by extending disclosure requirements for leadership campaigns as well as a number of other important activities. For example, once a party launches its campaign officially, leadership contestants would be required to register with Elections Canada. At that time, they would have to disclose all contributions received from their campaign up to that point.
They would also have to disclose contributions to their campaigns in each of the last four weeks prior to the date of the leadership convention. This responds to the criticism that filing a report six months after the contest is too late to be effective. Of course, contestants would still be required, six months after the end of the campaign, to disclose all contributions received and expenses incurred.
Once in place, these new measures would make important new information available to Canadians and open up this area to full public scrutiny, which would go a long way toward enhancing public confidence in the honesty and fairness of leadership campaigns.
Greater disclosure cannot by itself buttress public confidence and reassure Canadians that our approach to funding leadership campaigns is fair and above board, so the bill would ensure that only individuals would be able to make financial contributions to registered parties and leadership and nomination contestants. This is important since a recent Environics poll found that many Canadians feel that wealthy Canadians, large corporations and unions have too much influence on governments. In the same poll, almost two-thirds of respondents felt the government should stop campaign contributions from having too much influence on the government and two-thirds supported the idea of allowing just individuals to contribute to political participants.
The bill responds to this call for action by proposing a ban on corporate and union contributions except at the local level. Limits would be placed on individual contributions to remove any suggestion that well-to-do individuals could use large contributions to hijack government deliberations later on once the election is over. An annual ceiling of $10,000 would be placed on individual contributions to a registered party, its local associations, candidates and nomination contestants. Individuals would be allowed to contribute no more than $10,000 in total to the leadership contestants of a particular party.
These measures are tough, but they are not unusual nor do they represent a break with established Canadian practice, for such a prohibition has been in place since 1977 in Quebec and was recently implemented in Manitoba. They are in force in other countries around the world as well.
I want to reassure members that these measures would in no way interfere with leadership contests already under way. The bill would not apply to those contests that start prior to its coming into force, which would be either January 2004 or six months after the bill is passed by Parliament, whichever is later. This should provide enough time to put the necessary system in place while at the same time ensuring that both parties and contestants are able to adjust to the new measures.
Canadians have told us they want new approaches to funding our political system which would remove once and for all concerns that large donations by corporations, unions and well-off individuals give them undue influence over government. They want regulations to cover not only election campaigns, as is currently the case, but also nomination and leadership campaigns, which they see as equally important.
That is what the bill before us does today. It would provide greater disclosure and extend it to the new areas such as leadership campaigns. It would ban corporate and union contributions in a number of areas, including leadership campaigns, and limit what well-to-do individuals can contribute. This goes a long way to enhancing public confidence in the way we fund political activity in this country and that is why I support the bill.
As a former returning officer for a party and having filed audited papers in the city of Toronto for the Haliburton—Victoria—Brock area for a candidate who had won, when I took our audited statement in and was quite confident that it was well done, comprehensive and accurate, I was told by the person at the desk that it would be audited because it looked too good to be true. That person wanted to make sure that they would look at it in this light and go through every bit of it. I asked the person at the desk why they would audit one that they could read. The person turned around, showing me a bunch of shoeboxes full of returns that other people, losing candidates, had brought in and tied up with old shoelaces and said, “We're not going to audit those”. So I know that proper financial contributions listed in a such a manner that they are legible and which the Canadian public can read are the ones that hold the most weight.
I think we can enhance our electoral system. My riding is the second largest riding in southern Ontario. In my riding and the one next to it, we have one-third of the land in southern Ontario. We take up a large area. Contrary to what my friends in the Alliance would say, we do have the same Toronto influence on us. I do not cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as I am more of a Montreal Canadiens fan, but when one lives 80 miles north of Toronto in a totally rural municipality--