Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-24 on the financing of political parties.
From the outset, the Bloc Quebecois indicated to the government that the bill on political party financing was a step in the right direction. I emphasize, one step.
The Quebec political party financing legislation is recognized in virtually all democratic societies throughout the world. It was introduced and enacted by the government of René Lévesque, and has proven its worth. It is “the” law concerning political party financing by the public, as far as respect of democracy is concerned in any democratic country.
The Prime Minister of Canada has made no attempt to conceal the fact that he owes to René Lévesque a good portion of his recommendations in Bill C-24 on political party financing.
Why do we consider this just one step in the right direction? Public financing should exclude any corporate funding, and this bill allows limited corporate contributions.
With all the scandals that have hit this government, it was time to do a proper cleanup, if I may put it that way. Yet funding from companies and labour unions is still allowed, to a maximum of $1,000.
Members will say that this is a dramatic decrease, except that the matter of corporations is so complex that, with parent companies, subsidiaries and associate companies—there are several divisions now—companies could make a financial contribution of much more than $1,000. Major protests will have been avoided once again. Why not simply have abolished financing by business? That would have sent a clear message that the only acceptable source of political party financing in Canada, as in Quebec, is individuals.
When we talk about financing by individuals, we are talking about contributions that individual men and women can make. In this bill, one contribution is permitted. Normally, the amount of the contribution is limited, but you will agree that $10,000 is not much of a limit. In Quebec, the ceiling on contributions by individuals is $3,000; that is the amount a man or a woman can give to a political party.
This bill would allow an individual to make a contribution of up to $10,000. How many individuals, I wonder, have the means to give $10,000, except company presidents, their families and board members, those who can slip through the back door what they cannot get through the front door.
That is why the higher the ceiling on financial contributions, the bigger the problems we face, because big business can make large contributions and consequently influence the decisions of elected representatives indirectly.
The Bloc Quebecois is recommending that we stick as close as possible to Quebec's ceiling of $3,000. We want Parliament to reduce contributions by individuals so that not only the wealthiest families are financing political parties, as this would cause people to say that, once again, the rich control democracy.
As far as we are concerned, this $10,000 limit should be reviewed and hopefully lowered significantly.
Moreover, this bill is indicative of what is going on on the political scene, especially within the Liberal Party of Canada. This bill will limit corporate and private contributions to leadership campaigns. There is a leadership race in the Liberal Party of Canada. Oddly enough, the bill will not apply to that leadership race.
Once again, the government is trying to redeem itself, by saying, “Look, we are going to become reasonable. In view of the recent scandals, we will try to clean up the legislation on the financing of political parties”. But that will not clean up the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Again, this is indicative of what is happening in this Parliament, and this is why people are losing confidence in their elected representatives. There are good things in there. I say it again, the Bloc Quebecois honestly believes this bill is a step in the right direction. But why not make it applicable right away to every election that will take place in Canada, including the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada?
Of course, only the Liberal political strategists will tell you why. This could jeopardize or probably considerably reduce the lead of some candidates. But of course this is an issue the government does not want people to deal with or even discuss, since the bill will only come into force on January 1, 2004, provided it is given speedy approval by the House.
Members will have understood that the Bloc Quebecois will fight for the principles, namely we will try once again to lower voluntary contributions to a level more respectful of every citizen in Quebec and Canada. However, we will not wage a war on principle and we will not systematically oppose the bill.
The House can count on the cooperation of the Bloc Quebecois, which is always proud to participate in cleaning up the practices that have tainted this Parliament for such a long time. I repeat that this political financing legislation is a step in the right direction. The legislation ensures that the government will provide financing to each political party proportionate to the number of votes obtained.
We have no problem with this. We have the same thing in Quebec. We will therefore support this type of government financing, which ensures that all parties who do reasonably well in the election will have adequate funding, without any interference and solicitation by major players, corporations or CEOs.
We often find out that some political parties are financed by big business. Clearly, I repeat, the Bloc Quebecois feels that this bill is a step in the right direction, not to mention that we would like all financing to come from individuals; companies should no longer be allowed to make contributions. We would also like the limit of $10,000 for individuals, men and women who contribute, to be as close as possible to the limit allowed in Quebec.
Again, whatever the naysayers may think, the political financing legislation in Quebec is among the most effective of its type and is even cited as an example by many democratic countries throughout the world. Like Canada, some countries are in the process of revising their political financing legislation.
It is a step in the right direction and we hope the government will accept the improvements that could be made to it.