Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure speak today to Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act regarding political financing.
The NDP has long been calling for the removal of big money from politics and supports this legislation in principle. However, the devil is in the details in every piece of legislation and we will be combing over the details of the bill to make sure that it is really moving us toward fairness and a more democratic system of political financing.
I would like to review in brief some of the contents of Bill C-24 and talk about the concerns we have with it, which we will continue to raise. First is the issue of individual donations. The legislation allows individuals to donate $10,000 a year to any party, candidate or riding association. All contributions will be indexed for inflation. Individuals can donate in multiples of $10,000, for example, to the Liberals, to the Alliance, et cetera.
Our concern about this is that the amount is too high. We believe that this kind of money can still buy influence and the whole idea of this bill is to eliminate buying influence in our political system. The level should be set much lower. We would suggest something like $3,000, as it is in Quebec and Manitoba. The Canadian Labour Congress, the CLC, calls for $5,000. In addition, we would seek this amount as a limit for individual donations to a maximum amount for all parties, not to each party.
On the issue of corporate and union donations, the bill prohibits contributions to political parties from corporations, unions or other associations. As an exception, it does allow those organizations to contribute $1,000 annually to the aggregate of candidates, local associations and nomination contestants of a registered party. All contributions are combined under the limit of $1,000.
Again the NDP has a concern with this. Unions like the CAW, for example, would be considered as one unit no matter how many locals there are, but franchises of corporations, let us say Ford car dealerships, may be considered to be separate entities, each able to make a $1,000 donation. This is an inequity that we do not believe is fair. We must argue that all contributions be banned or that unions be given equal treatment.
On the issue of public funding for elections and between elections, the bill provides for an annual public subsidy to parties of $1.50 for every vote they received in the previous election. Based on the 2000 general election, the Liberals would receive $7.8 million annually, the Alliance $4.9 million annually, the PCs $2.4 million, the Bloc $2.1 million and the NDP $1.6 million. Had the $1.50 per vote been in place for the 1997 and 2000 elections, the NDP would have received more money than it received from union contributions, including the federal and provincial share of affiliation fees lost.
The bill extends the candidate rebates to those receiving 10% of the vote rather than the old 15% limit. It also increases the national rebate to 50% of allowable expenses for political parties from 22.5% and includes the cost of public opinion polling for the first time. Our concern is that the provision is not indexed and so will decrease in value over time. Contributions from individuals, corporations and unions are indexed. We must push for further indexing.
In terms of trust funds, several Liberal MPs, and perhaps others, have amassed large trust funds and we are not sure how the new legislation will treat trust funds. One interpretation is that they will continue to exist but could not be used for political purposes beyond the $1,000 annually that an association can donate to the candidates or riding associations. The NDP remains concerned that there will be an enormous temptation for some MPs to find ways to slip trust fund money into their political work and campaigns.
On the issue of third parties, if the government truly wants to remove the perception that big money rules politics, then it is even more imperative to limit the amount of money that third parties can spend during elections and on politics generally.
The amendments do not deal with third party expenditures. The existing elections act does limit expenditures of third parties but the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the National Citizens' Coalition challenge. The federal government is appealing that ruling.
Our concern is that the intent to get big money out of politics is severely undercut if third parties are free to spend what they want. Once the political parties have restricted themselves to accept only individual donations, it would follow that judges would find it harder to rule against legislation limiting the involvement of third parties.
In conclusion, the NDP offers its support in principle to Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act. We will be working to make sure that it in fact is meeting the spirit of its intent. We will be working for specific amendments that will bring this legislation into line to benefit all Canadians.