Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today. As we know, this is an important bill, which seeks to democratize political party financing. Contrary to the assertions of the hon. Canadian Alliance members, the government's efforts must be encouraged, although the bill does not go as far as the Bloc Quebecois would have liked. However, it is a step in the right direction. I will come back to the reservations that we have with regard to the bill and any amendments.
Since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois has demanded legislation that better defines contributions to political parties. This is the purpose of this bill.
This bill raises an important debate since it also has implications for the credibility of the political class. We are all concerned by the government's initiative to change the rules of the party financing game.
Currently, at the federal level, political parties can get astronomical sums from banks, big unions, businesses or large corporations. In this respect, we know quite well what is going on. A party can find itself in an awkward situation if a law threatens the interests of these major donors or large corporations.
That is why we must at least support the principle of this bill. We all recognize the different lobbies that exist in order to pressure influential ministers in their decisions regarding the passage of certain regulations and bills.
I do not believe that contributions of $200,000 are made to a political party or a minister because he or she has lovely eyes or is awfully nice. You would have to be terribly naive to think such a thing.
The Prime Minister wanted to take a page from the book of the former late Premier of Quebec, René Levesque, who wanted to democratize political financing and exclude all these lobbies of powerful large associations from the circles of power. He wanted to prevent them from controlling the decisions made within the government. He also wanted to give citizens a more important place and the same power enjoyed by major corporations, that is, the power to influence governments in their decision-making.
We could also mention the whole sponsorship scandal. This is a concrete example of the government's lack of integrity. It awarded contracts to companies that gave generously to the Liberal Party's coffers. Most of them were caught with their hands in the cookie jar and were charged.
I think this bill can do something about companies that help parties get elected. Once elected, the government is obliged to return the favour, and often has to listen to them when setting policy.
Financing is something so significant that the measures relating to it need to be beefed up, so that these major corporations do not get all manner of privileges because of their contributions.
We are aware, for instance, that big business often helps with political party advertising and does such things as pay staff and provide some compensation for volunteers. Major corporations lend staff to help get political parties elected. They also pay for material or equipment, and I could go on with more examples.
Often, not all these expenses are included in the accounting, but we all know how an election campaign is run and how certain services rendered can be paid for under the table.
With the support of major corporations, a party's campaign coffers are really full, and thus a better party image can be projected, with more and better advertising, the right staff and so on.
This bill is a step in the right direction, because its intent is to put an end to this way of doing things. We all suffer the fallout of all these scandals. Often all politicians are tarred with the same brush. I am pleased that this bill offers us the opportunity to debate this matter.
We know that some large corporations use their influence to make the government change its mind when the time comes to implement certain policies. In Quebec, similar legislation was adopted 25 years ago, and we should certainly be pleased that former Premier René Lévesque took concrete action to put an end to these practices.
There is also the whole issue of fairness. We are well aware that, during an election campaign, some political figures—I am tempted to say male political figures—often benefit more than others from financing. Women often tell us that they have some problems with financing, with getting funds. They often do not have the same connections with large corporations.
So, this greater fairness will allow ordinary people, including people who are involved in areas other than the economic sector, to have access to financing. Creating a level playing field will ensure that financing is similar for everyone, as opposed to having some benefit from donations made by large corporations.
As we know, when a person was a minister in a government, that person benefits from it, because large corporations are attracted to these people and they give lots of money to the party.
Still, we have some reservations about this bill. It does not go far enough and we hope that the government will take these reservations into consideration.
The limit for contributions made by individuals to political parties is $10,000. The Bloc Quebecois feels that the limit set in the bill is much too high. We think that it should be set at $5,000, which is the limit set in the bylaws of the Bloc Quebecois.
In Quebec, the most recent data shows that the $3,000 ceiling is enough to meet public financing objectives. Indeed, in 2001, only 1.2% of the contributions made to political parties in Quebec were in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. We also feel that a $5,000 limit would be enough to meet the same objectives at the federal level.
Another problem with the bill before us is that a corporation will be allowed to donate to riding associations, candidates or nomination contestants, up to a maximum of $1,000 per year for all of these entities.
In terms of the principles, we do not understand this exception. Indeed, we fully support the principle of public financing and this part does not respect that principle. In other words, there should be a complete ban on corporate donations, as is the case in Quebec's legislation.
We believe that in practice the new rules will be difficult to enforce, both for political parties and for companies themselves. The legislation will be hard to enforce.
For example, company X in Montreal may give a party's candidate $1,000. In that same year, a subsidiary company, located in Vancouver—and owned indirectly by the first company—may give another $1,000 to a local riding association of the same party. This situation would only be discovered after long and careful research, by comparing the financial reports of the national party with those of the riding association. Also, the person doing the research would have to know that company Y is a subsidiary, owned indirectly by company X.
As a result, given that we support a complete ban on corporate donations, we think that in practice, the $1,000 contribution limit is unacceptable.
Another provision of this new bill deals with the responsibility to produce financial reports, which applies to all of the political actors: candidates, political parties, riding associations, leadership candidates and nomination candidates.
Also, I hope that the Liberal Party will be open when it comes to considering the reservations that we have regarding this bill. Our suggestions could improve it and help the bill to meet its objective, a better democratization of the financing of political parties.
We hope that the government will be open to this and demonstrate its good faith. If the government wants to meet this objective, it can do so with the amendments that will be introduced by the opposition parties.