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House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parties.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

Order, please. I wish to inform the House that, because of the proceedings on the time allocation motion, government orders will be extended by 30 minutes.

The House resumed from June 9 consideration of Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing), as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motion in Group No. 2.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, the one motion in Group No. 2 that we are speaking to is one that the NDP supports, although we have serious reservations about several other sections of this bill. This motion would allow us the opportunity at some point in the future to review the bill. We expect the bill to be law, subject to whatever amendments may go through before it gets to third reading. so in that regard, we think the motion is appropriate.

There has been much criticism that this legislation has come on too quickly. Detail that should be in this bill in a number of fairly critical and crucial areas is lacking. We have heard that from all sides of the House. We have heard it from a number of members on the government side. We have heard it from the Liberal Party, for that matter, to a great degree, both in the public and in committee.

What it speaks to is the division within the Liberal Party over this bill. However, it also reflects negatively on the Prime Minister for having insisted to push this through as rapidly as he did, including what just happened a few minutes ago in terms of the Liberals cutting off debate once again in the House on an issue that is of significant importance to not only the House and the political parties, but to democracy in Canada.

There is no question that the bill addresses concerns that we have expressed as a political party over the dominance of big money on the political process in a number of ways. Probably the best example we have ever seen was in the 1988 election when the free trade agreement was being debated in the country as the principal issue. I do not think it goes beyond the pale to say that big business helped buy that agreement by pressing the issue so strenuously as it did and using its financial means to do so. It jumped out very clearly at that point that reform was needed.

The other point that would be made with regard to reform is to look to the United States and see the way big money there has come to totally dominate the electoral process. It calls out for the need for reform. The Americans have been totally unsuccessful, at least from my perspective, at the federal level in that reform. This bill would go some distance to at least addressing the issues.

This particular motion would allow for a review of this legislation six months after the next election. It would allow us to look at the points that we believe have not been properly addressed or addressed extensively enough in this legislation.

I want to speak to at least a couple of those issues, assuming the bill goes through with either no amendment or very minor amendments by the end of this week and then comes up for its final vote. We believe these are issues that will have to be addressed because they have not been properly addressed in this legislation.

The one that is at the top of the list concerns the use of private trusts. They are a scandal, quite frankly. We are hearing of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in these trusts to be used at the whim of the particular member of Parliament, or his or her trustee.

Part of the problem is that there is no accountability for these funds. From what we have been able to ascertain, the funds clearly were raised to assist in the electoral process, whether it be for a nomination meeting at the riding association level, for leadership runs by various candidates or whether they were donated during the course of an election or between elections for local riding association purposes. In each one of those cases the money was clearly raised. The people who donated it knew that the money would be used for the electoral process.

There is absolutely no accountability, no transparency and no regulations as to how the money can be raised and how it can be used. The bill does nothing to deal with that problem. The wording in the original bill attempted to address it; I will give it that much credit, even though I do not know if I believe it. That prior wording has been completely removed. There is no attempt at all now to regulate the trusts. The attempt to simply roll them over with no accountability and no transparency is a scandal and should not be allowed.

When the legislation comes around for review, if that particular section is not changed and nothing is done about the trusts, we are saying to the government that we will have to look at this again. We will have to put into place a methodology that will totally prohibit the use of those trusts.

Another point I would like to make that will require a review if the legislation goes ahead as prepared is the ability of franchises to donate money under the corporate heading. Earlier in the day I had an exchange with the minister on this point. I want to reiterate very clearly that the federal NDP's position is that there should be no donations allowed whatsoever from the corporate or labour sector. There should be an absolute ban. The government has rejected that position, in spite of the fact that it touts across the country that it is eliminating them. The reality is it is not and it will still allow for reasonably significant contributions coming through the corporate sector. It is not providing a level playing field.

I want to quote some numbers in this regard. Today there are in excess of 1.2 million corporations registered in this country at the federal level. There are a lot more of those at the individual provincial level. At the same time there are 16,000 unions and locals in existence in the country. That is the ratio we are talking about.

We are saying we will allow for those donations of $1,000, but with regard to labour unions, we will only allow in effect the federal labour union to donate $1,000. As opposed to that however, in the corporate sector, Tim Hortons and franchises of that nature will each be allowed to donate $1,000. I counted the number of Tim Hortons in my riding. There are 10 or 11; I am not quite sure about one small one. I also have a good number of locals in my riding because Windsor is a heavily unionized city and we have a number of local unions.

The Tim Hortons franchise alone can donate as much as the whole labour movement. If the labour movement in my community was able to say to the national headquarters that it wants to donate the $1,000, all of the labour unions in my area would only be matched by the Tim Hortons. Then there are all of the other franchises.

We have to go back to the principle behind the legislation. If the Liberals really believed in the principle behind the legislation as they have enunciated, they would close the loophole. The principle is it is a question of where is the directing mind, who controls? The answer is that the franchise agreements in this country at times have been heavily criticized by our courts as to how restrictive they are, the individual franchise owners versus the corporate conglomerate that controls.

I have looked at a number of those franchise agreements in my professional career. The reality is that control is exercised at the upper corporate level, not at the local level.

In that regard, we need to look at this again. When this legislation comes up for review, we have to have monitored and we have to be able to show that labour unions donated certain amounts and the franchises, as a separate sector of the corporate world, donated hundreds and hundreds, if not millions of dollars. I am sure we will see that a great deal of that money is still going to go to the Liberal Party. I believe when one looks at the facts, that will call for a change. When the review comes up, that is one of the areas that will have to change in this legislation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is one of those rare occasions in Parliament when we have an opportunity to debate proposed legislation that is somewhat radical in nature, somewhat of a reform, somewhat far reaching. I think the vast majority of Canadians would agree it is for the very betterment of our political system and this House.

I cannot express in words the level of support I have for this piece of legislation. It provides for greater transparency. It provides an opportunity to address any perceived conflicts that may come in the future. It provides a clean slate for this Parliament and for future parliaments for generations to come. For those reasons, I suggest that this is one of those rare occasions when Parliament should be united. Parliament should be united behind a vision and a principle which Canadians by and large all across the country support.

There has been some disinformation brought out about this piece of legislation. I would like to take an opportunity to address that disinformation.

Suggestions have been made by people outside Parliament as well as by some people inside that this is creating a mechanism whereby the taxpayer will simply be subsidizing the political system, the democratic system in this great land of ours. While that is true, it has been true for generations.

Most people do not realize that in our federal political system we issue substantial tax receipts, tax credits if I may, for significant donations or contributions from individual citizens, unions and corporations. What that does on a contribution of up to $500 for example, is it effectively subsidizes that contribution to the tune of $350.

That subsidy by way of lack of revenue is the same as a direct subsidy. Whether we are effecting the revenue in the form of giving more, or cutting off the revenue that we have coming in, either way it equates to the same thing. The taxpayers in this country subsidize our political system, and I think rightly so.

The situation in this country is somewhat unique to the rest of the world. We have a good system in this country right now and this will only make it better, and I would suggest much better.

Canadians do not expect, they deserve to have an independent Parliament. They deserve to have a Parliament that is independent from corporate influence. One of the ways to establish corporate or union influence is by having massive contributions. Certainly there is a perceived conflict at the very least and over the years and decades, we have seen those types of perceived conflicts hit the floor of this House and have had significant debates over them.

That is why I suggest that this is not only a good piece of legislation for today's Parliament. It is a good piece of legislation for tomorrow's parliament and for the next generation's parliament and the parliament for the generation beyond that.

When I talk about perceived conflicts, when I look at large corporations that are able to deliver significant funding to individual members of Parliament and parties, I suggest that the system is not so bad that there is conflict. I am suggesting that there is the potential for conflict.

One only needs to look to our neighbours to the south to see why this is such a critical piece of legislation. When one looks at the system in the United States, effectively what has been created is the ability for large corporations to have massive influence within congress and the senate. I would suggest that we never want to get into a situation where we allow that to take place in this country. This piece of legislation would eliminate that possibility once and for all.

I read in the newspaper today that Senator Clinton has released her book. It was interesting to note that in her senate district, when what she spent in U.S. dollars is converted to Canadian dollars, she spent the same, if not more, for one senate seat than all 301 of us in the House spent in the last federal election. That was for one senate district.

We do not want to see our country move into that domain. We want a system that is clear and transparent. We want a system that is independent of corporate and union influence. We want a system that is driven by Canadians. That is exactly what this legislation will do.

There will be an opportunity, as I understand it based on the amendment brought forward by the government House leader, for a review to see what impact this has had within our political system. The review will be mandatory. It will be a statutory review. Parliament can count on the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer will do an in-depth and detailed review of this legislation after the next election to determine the impact not only on individual members of Parliament but on the parties as well.

That is an absolutely brilliant move. I say that because I believe with some of these far-reaching pieces of legislation we have an obligation not only to ourselves, but to future parliaments and to Canadians to make sure that we review how these things impact. This will provide us with that opportunity.

I was in the U.S. in 1999 for a bilateral negotiation with the standing committee on agriculture from congress. Back in 1999 we were having a pork crisis in Canada. Hence there was the need for parliamentarians to travel down to Washington to meet with their counterparts in the U.S.

It was interesting to note at that time the level of contribution made by, I believe it was, the Pork Producers Association of America. The level of funding that organization gave to members of the committee, more specifically the chairperson, was unimaginable, something that the majority party in the House could even dream about by way of a contribution. I could be wrong, but I believe the figure was $300,000. Imagine, and that was one contribution. When I told them the maximum spending in my riding was $67,000, they kind of chuckled and suggested that would be considered a mediocre fundraiser for them.

When I sit here in the House and I see that the maximum spending is approximately $67,000 and that the bill is moving in the direction of eliminating any perceived or real outside influence by corporations or larger unions, I say it is a good thing. It is not simply a good thing for me. It is a good thing for my children and my children's children. It is a good thing for this Parliament and it is a good thing for parliaments to come. If Canadians deserve anything out of this political system, it is to make sure we are representing the people of the country and not simply some large corporation or large financial institution that is able to make a whopping contribution as is done in the U.S. and in many other countries for that matter.

I am not saying that our system is perfect and that the U.S. one is broken. The Americans have some models within their democratic system that we could certainly borrow, not only in the House of Commons but by way of our parliamentary system.

In closing, this legislation deserves the support of every member in the House because Canadians deserve it and future parliaments deserve it.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak on Bill C-24 and, of course, on Amendment No. 11 to create section 536.1.

First, it must be said yet again that the Bloc Quebecois is delighted that the government has introduced this bill, nearly 30 years after Quebec adopted its own political party financing legislation. It is a matter of ensuring a more public financing system, so as to avoid the situation that has existed for a number of years, particularly in the last two, with the sponsorship program.

It is not for nothing that this independence needs to be reworked, so as to ensure that donors have no ties to political parties, as is the case with the sponsorship program and all the money that has been transferred. Groupaction and Everest are just a few examples. So, all the ill effects on society are obvious.

I am my party's public works critic. It is no fun for me to expose the existing corruption or the schemes used to fill the Liberal Party's pockets with public program funding.

It is clear that this bill had to be introduced and the Bloc Quebecois, as I said, agrees with having ceilings on contributions. Why do we agree with this?

It is easy to see that if an individual or a company can finance a political party, he or she certainly will not do so simply so that the political party can win elections, especially if the person gives astronomical amounts of money in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the troubling cases that are currently in the hands of the RCMP, we are talking about contributions of $63,000 and $100,000. Those are big contributors. When someone gives that much money, they expect something in return.

Unfortunately, the sponsorship program was purposely introduced to boost Canada's visibility in Quebec. Of course this was after the 1995 referendum. Nevertheless, the sovereignist movement is still strong in Quebec. People are trying to show and to have everyone believe—especially the media—that the sovereignist movement is on the decline in Quebec after a general election that truly had nothing to do with sovereignty. The only polls that are talked about are those which show a drop in the number of people intending to vote in a general election. However, no one talks about the polls which show that support for sovereignty is still over 40%.

That is why there is an interest in having legislation that sets out ceilings both for individuals and companies. Why? Naturally when we look at these sums of money, $5,000 could be considered a lot for an individual. It is true. There are not too many people who are able to give $5,000, but that is the ceiling; and for companies the ceiling is $1,000.

This also has to be monitored. The legislation specifies that the ceilings of $1,000 for companies and $5,000 for individuals will allow everyone to donate to the party that represents their vision.

Will this be a democratic party? Will it be a party that prefers to be authoritarian and anti-democratic, as the Liberals have been since 1993? Only the leader of this government, the Prime Minister, surrounded of course by the staff of the PMO, has controlled this government and even each of the ministers. People will therefore have a choice of contributing to the financing of a political party that represents that authority and one vision of Canada, but not the one held by Quebec.

Once again, the approach of this government is to try to assume all power, use all the money, notwithstanding the current fiscal imbalance, in order to be able to encroach upon provincial areas of jurisdiction. Then there are others—certainly over 40% of the population—who will want to finance a party that will represent them.

Those people are, of course, sovereignists. They will have the choice of making contributions without any imbalance between a party that receives tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars and a party people want to finance because its ideology differs from that of the government. That is what this bill will allow. It will re-establish a balance between those wishing to finance a political party.

So, from the democratic point of view, people will feel far more protected. They will know where their money is going. It will serve to promote their ideas and to let them know what sort of future they will be leaving their children.

This situation does not involve everyone. Probably not all members on the other side are involved with the sponsorship scandals. It is not a hot potato any more. The proof is there and they are refusing to have a public inquiry.

I cannot understand the reaction of hon. members who have no connection whatsoever with this situation, which has been stirred up as the result of a program using the money of our fellow citizens of Quebec and of people everywhere in Canada. This money has allowed friends and companies with which the Liberals have connections to misuse the taxpayers' money.

You read the three Groupaction reports. That is only one of the files. We now know that the problem is even bigger. This is not just about reports that were paid for and never produced. Quite the opposite, some were produced, very well produced indeed.

This money was given to advertising agencies and then contracts were awarded to people with ties to these agencies, to people from their families. And it is not limited to the agencies. Yesterday, you heard question period, like I did. We learned that the minister responsible for this program helped out not only friends of the party, family members of advertising agencies' directors, and his friends, but also his son.

Imagine that. This minister was then given an ambassadorship in Copenhagen, Denmark. Incidentally, I was in Denmark, and do you want to know what people asked me about? They wanted to know if the issue involving Mr. Gagliano was resolved. Imagine the image Canada—but also indirectly, Quebec—is projecting having this type of person as an ambassador.

However, what is most ridiculous is that this person, Alfonso Gagliano, wants to become ambassador to the Vatican. After all of the proof tabled here in the House of Commons, which is now in the hands of the RCMP, they want to appoint this type of person to the Vatican. What kind of image will that project for Canada abroad?

You know as well as I do that a country's image is becoming more and more important given globalization. We saw what Canada did in its decision regarding Iraq. It is a good thing that the Bloc Quebecois was around and that Quebeckers took to the streets, because our government would have supported George Bush.

These are images that we project abroad. I must conclude, but I will come back to this. I think there is one more amendment that will be moved later today. I simply want to say that the time has come for public financing of political parties.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Assad Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are all aware that Bill C-24 will bring significant changes in the way political activities are financed and the way all participants in the political process report on their financial operations.

I would like to point out to the House that five or six years ago, I introduced a private members' bill in the House, a bill which unfortunately was not voted upon. I based my argument on a thesis by a doctoral student at the University of New Brunswick, a Mr. Stewart. He proposed a revolutionary change that was really quite simple. He felt that it was time for the state—the government, the people—to finance the political parties.

Why? Because the democratic process is such that political parties are the most fundamental part of our democracy. If the method we use to elect our representatives is not transparent and clear, democracy will suffer.

In any case, the private members' bill that I introduced in the House was inspired, as I said, by his thesis that the state should foot the entire bill for an election. It may seem like a large amount, but I did some research before introducing that bill. I gathered information from Revenue Canada, Elections Canada, and even the Department of Finance, in order to find out how much the current system was costing us with tax credits, corporate tax deductions, and so on. To my great surprise, the total was over $25 million per year.

Thus, we will have gone through all that paperwork and all those procedures, when it would have been simpler for the government to take responsibility, saying that if it already costs over $25 million, it would be much easier to have an equitable system, as Bill C-24 recommends.

Obviously, this is a step in the right direction. I was well aware that the state was not going to provide funding overnight. I reasoned that if ten people were stopped in the street and asked, “Do you believe that the political party financing system is fair, just and transparent and that the wealthy have no undue influence?”, obviously, nine out of ten people would say, “Hey, do I look stupid?” Everyone knows that there are minor problems and that there is a lack of transparency.

So, my argument was as follows. If the electorate is not convinced that the political party financing system is open and transparent, we have the obligation to change it. If we believe that it is just, then we must defend it and prove to our fellow citizens that it is fair and transparent. But this is not the case. So, we have bills such as this one. The argument is quite simple. We represent the people, but if they have a very poor perception of something, it must be changed.

But, it must be said that Quebec was the first province to have taken the initiative to introduce such changes. I remember, in 1964, the Lesage government took the first steps. It limited nomination expenses per riding. Previously, there were slush funds. People know a little bit about our provincial history in this regard.

In any case, this turned out to be the first step in limiting riding expenses.

Later, in 1977, the year René Lévesque came to power, the government set limits on the donations individuals could make to political parties. These were all steps forward.

Of course, when I proposed my private member's bill at the time, I thought there was eventually going to be a much more open and transparent system. If we believe profoundly in our democratic system—I do and I am convinced that we do have a democracy—we must ensure that the party financing process, which is the very basis of democracy, is fair, equitable and above all, transparent. The whole idea of the wealthy or large corporations unduly influencing the government is no longer valid. I am convinced that this will be a great step forward.

As I indicated, in preparing my bill I consulted many people and organizations not only in my region but also across Canada. I spoke to a number of people and everyone said the same thing, “It goes without saying that, in our system, people have a perception that must be changed”.

Bill C-24 marks a step forward. There is no doubt the day will come—I hope I will live long enough to see this—when the state will take over party financing and fund-raising campaigns will no longer be necessary. I know that for many of my hon. colleagues, this is a big burden. We spend a great deal of time raising funds for election campaigns. All this could end.

I will conclude by saying that it is not complicated at all. In fact, it is very simple. We must correct the misconception our fellow citizens have. This is a step forward. I hope that in coming years, in spite of the great many problems experienced in the past, we will be able to show that our system works. It is a start. Let us hope that this is the beginning of a future party financing system that will be the most equitable and democratic in all democratic countries.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on Bill C-24, and particularly on Motion No. 11 which will make it possible for a review to be carried out after a certain period of time. This is a normal practice; Quebec has provision for it in its legislation governing political party funding.

I have never been prouder to be a Quebecker than I am today. Quebec has set an example for the people across the floor. The Government of Quebec took a real step on behalf of democracy in 1977 on the urging of René Lévesque.

I do not know if it is his approaching retirement that has wakened the Prime Minister of Canada up and moved him toward transparency, but for the second time in only a few weeks I want to congratulate him for taking his inspiration from Quebec legislation.

As hon. members are aware, democracy has many faces. Democracy takes on the face governments want the public to see. At the present time, federal political parties are financed in such a way that the public gets a very negative image. As my colleague in the Liberal Party has just said, we found our constituents discouraged. They told us, “On the federal level big corporations have control over the government, with hidden funds that end up filling the coffers of the party in power”.

At last a new day has dawned in Canada. Things are not perfect, of course, but this is a very important first step. For the years we have been here on the federal scene, all Bloc Quebecois members have been constantly calling upon the government to take action to at least bring in some transparency, for there at last to be some guidelines for political party financing.

Yes, that day is soon to be with us and at last we will be able to speak. We Bloc Quebecois MPs are financed by donations of $5, $10 or maybe $100. As a result, there are no strings attached and we can go and talk to people, ask their opinions on bills, on what is going on in their daily lives.

That is why Quebeckers identify with the Bloc Quebecois. In order to get $5, we often have to go five, six or seven times before we get the chance to talk to someone. We tell people that it is important they fund political parties through a small contribution of $5 to get a membership card, because that is what democracy is about. It assures them that their representative will never be bound by slush funds and big money, as we have seen in federal politics for decades.

There were some serious problems. I do not know why it took the Prime Minister so long to wake up to this, but as they say, “better late than never”. So, this is slow in coming, but it is finally being done and we will finally be able to have democracy. However, I think that we need to keep talking about this because democracy has many faces. For political parties, the first criterion of democracy is transparency when it comes to funding.

Earlier, my colleague, the member for Châteauguay—whom I commend for the work he has done on the file involving Mr. Gagliano—gave us some examples. He was telling us how, in the past, Mr. Alfonso Gagliano, who acted as the Prime Minister's right hand man in Quebec, had set up a patronage system involving funding, cronies and friends of the party. The tentacles even reached to his own son.

How many times—we are doing it still today—have we denounced this way of doing things? This has had an extremely serious impact on democracy and on the accessibility and independence of politicians, given that this was an issue that concerned the fundamental values of an individual.

We need to denounce this type of activity. We must not say that the slate is wiped clean with this new bill and that is the end of the story. We must continue to denounce what happened with Alfonso Gagliano. There need to be independent inquiries; we must get to the bottom of this. In fact, with this bill, people will say, “Finally”.

Still, we cannot say we are turning our backs on the dishonest practices of the past, wiping the slate clean and starting over. No. Things have been done in the past. In January 2004, this bill will take effect and introduce a new mechanism. Then we will have to be very vigilant to ensure that all political parties in this House of Commons are fully onside and ready to follow the new rules. We must not forget that it is not easy to change longstanding fundraising habits.

My hon. Liberal colleague was saying that in Quebec in 1964, under Jean Lesage, some faint questions began to be raised. We must never forget that the Liberal Party of Quebec was a carbon copy of its federal counterpart when it came to such practices.

So we are indebted to the foresight of René Lévesque, whose memory I want to honour today; this man was truly a trailblazer and a guiding light for the people of Quebec. René Lévesque was a democrat in the broadest sense. He was a man who believed that the individual should take precedence over society.

The Prime Minister of Canada is wise to take a page from his book. If Mr. Lévesque were alive today, and sitting in this House, I think he would walk across the floor and say to the Prime Minister, “Bravo. I have been a Liberal in the past, but congratulations”. Sometimes, perhaps, when one is approaching one's twilight years—because the Prime Minister is getting close to his announced retirement—one steps back and regards one's political adversaries in a different light, and can look to them for inspiration. This is a historic moment for the House of Commons as we consider Bill C-24.

The hon. members of the Bloc Quebecois, my constituents in Jonquière, and I, myself, will finally be able to say that all the rules are the same. No one is going to have a slush fund and everyone will be on an equal footing. Finally, we will be able to debate the real issues in future election campaigns and membership and fundraising drives, without our constituents saying, “That person will not speak for me, because his financing comes from the slush fund”.

Bravo. There are other groups of amendments and it will be my pleasure to speak to them at a later time.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, there are a few bills that are very important for most members of Parliament to speak to, and certainly this bill is one. Unfortunately, the government House leader has chosen to cut off debate simply because the Prime Minister has his legacy in mind and particularly wants the bill passed before the House rises for the summer.

I for one am scheduled to be here until a week Friday. I intend to be here until a week Friday unless the government decides to cut the session short for whatever reason.

We have time to get into the bill. We have time to get onto the record the items that are of concern to our constituents, yet the government has chosen to move forward with closure.

With respect to Group No. 2, Motion No. 11, which we are currently debating, we do support the fact that there should be a review of the act to assess the impact after the first election.

Clearly, we should get as close as we possibly can to reviewing the bill and the impact it will have on politics in Canada and on Canadians in general, but I would suggest that if we were not under this closure by the government, if we had not been shut down, we would have been able to bring out all the issues, or at least most of the issues, that show the bill to be, frankly, in contempt of the people of Canada.

Let us take a look at the stated reason of the Prime Minister for the bill in the first place. The stated reason for the bill is that the Prime Minister has been caught doing a tremendous number of things, first by the National Post when it was governed by Conrad Black. We all know the relationship that is not there between the Prime Minister and Conrad Black. Many events have taken place around the government, for instance with the former public works minister who is now in charge of our embassy in Denmark. These events are all things for which the Canadian public has a right to know and indeed for which the Canadian public has an extreme distaste. These are things that are very sorry, very sad and certainly put the honourable profession of being a politician into serious question and into great disrepute.

Because of the actions of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, we now have this bill. That is rather ridiculous. If the Prime Minister had not undertaken the kind of questionable activity in which he was involved and if he had kept proper control over his front bench, over the cabinet, over the government of the day, the Canadian public would not be questioning this.

What is his solution? His solution is to dig deeper into the Canadian taxpayers' pockets.

As the political system presently works, a number of rebates are available to people who choose to contribute to my campaign, to any other member's campaign or to a recognized political party. Through those rebates and tax credits, the people of Canada are currently providing about 60¢ of every dollar that political parties spend. Sixty cents of every dollar that political parties spend currently comes out of taxpayers' pockets as it is. Therefore the Prime Minister's solution to his questionable ethics and his questionable activity is to dig deeper into taxpayers' pockets and go after 80¢ on the dollar.

Now that is bad enough, but what is worse, which to me is the nub of the issue, is that the financing of political parties will be based on the number of popular votes that they received in the last general election.

If we were to go back to 1988 and 1989, when the Reform Party first came on the scene, and then we fast forward to 1993, when the Reform Party at that particular point had so few votes, where would my party have had the resources to fight against the well financed Liberals and Conservatives? We simply would not have been able to do it.

We are now in a position where, if the bill passes, a party like the Reform Party, coming out of whatever jurisdiction in Canada and following whatever interests the party may have, will not have access to all the largesse that is being provided by the bill out of taxpayers' pockets. In other words, we now have a closed shop situation.

The member across asked where we got the money. I will tell him where we got the money. We got the money from people $1, $5, $20 at a time who were really concerned about the way in which the government of the day, the Conservatives, were completely mismanaging and completely out of touch with the people of Canada.

The people of western Canada, in particular, voted very strongly for the Conservatives, both in 1984 and again in 1988, to maintain the Conservatives in power because they believed, unfortunately falsely believed, that the Conservatives would be paying attention to the concerns of the people west of the Manitoba-Ontario border. They did not and, as a consequence, many people, $1 at a time, $5 at a time, $20 at a time, ended up contributing large amounts of money to the Reform Party. Hence, we had the ability to fight the election in 1993, 1997 and again in 2000. My point is that the bill would stop another reform party.

Perhaps there are people in the House who would jokingly, or even with a pointed joke, ask what the problem is with that. The problem with that is that it is a case of freedom of speech. If I, as a small “d” democrat, believe that the people of Canada should have people who are representing their views, their wishes, their desires and their direction, then I must also expect that there will be some in the community who will oppose my point of view. That is what democracy is all about.

Now, however, to repeat, as a result of Bill C-24, fundamentally new political parties in Canada are not welcome. There is no place for them because there is no way for them to function. There is no way for them to get their message out. There is no way for them to compete with organizations like the Liberals have with all the political staffers.

Where does the money come from for them? Where does the money come from for the computer programs that they run with? Where does the money come from for the storefronts or for the offices? Historically it has come from 60¢ on the dollar from the Canadian taxpayer and 40¢ on the dollar from their supporters, many of which are the large corporations, which is fine. Now we have reached a point where 80¢ will come from taxpayers and only 20¢ from volunteers.

There is another smaller problem but, nonetheless, a serious one. I would be hard-pressed to find anyone in my constituency who had any appetite for supporting the BQ. Conversely, I rather suspect that my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois would tell me there are very few people in his province who would be interested in supporting my party, which is fine. Those are the choices. At least they were the choices up until Bill C-24.

Under Bill C-24, people in my constituency in the Rocky Mountains will be obliged to pay for the Bloc Quebecois. Conversely, there will be people who feel very strongly about certain issues and oppose the Canadian Alliance Party with all their might. That is democracy. However those same people will be compelled to pay support to the Canadian Alliance.

This bill, although it had questionable intentions to begin with, has gone downhill from that point. In fact, this bill is just fundamentally anti-democratic.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today at report stage of the various amendments to Bill C-24.

I support transparency in donations that are made to political parties, to candidates and to members of Parliament. I support full disclosure and full transparency, and I say that unequivocally. Members of parliament should have transparency in disclosing the kind of support we receive across a broad spectrum of Canadian society.

I know there have been many discussions and negotiations at committee on the bill and it looks like some progress has been made. However I still have a number of concerns and they fall into essentially three categories.

First, my most fundamental questions are: Why do we need the bill? What problem are we trying to fix? I will come back to that in a moment.

Second, I have concerns about the limits to corporations and to unions. I will come back to that in a moment.

Third, we have had a serious lack of effective consultation on the bill. I understand that many of the parties are agreeable to some of the amendments but I wonder if we are not rushing into this without having a proper review of the implementation and without having the major stakeholder groups onside and supporting this important legislation.

I would like to come back to my first question. Why is the bill needed? As I said earlier, we need full transparency, and I certainly support that aspect of the bill, but the bill goes beyond that. It seems to me that the government is trying to deal with perceptions among Canadians, perceptions that perhaps politicians are not totally honourable people and perhaps are influenced by donations from corporations and unions.

It seems to me that government should be leading, not by dealing with perceptions but by dealing with substantive issues. If the perceptions are wrong, then the government should be communicating to Canadians that parliamentarians are honourable people and are not influenced by donations in their service to the Canadian public.

We did have some problems with the sponsorship program in the province of Quebec, which was a very unfortunate circumstance. The Minister of Public Works has taken it upon himself to remedy that situation. Sponsorship contracting has all been brought back in-house and I think that will deal with that particular problem.

Therefore why do we need legislation to respond to one particular circumstance? My perception is that this legislation is partly in response to some of the very difficult situations the government found itself in with respect to the sponsorship program in the province of Quebec. However does that mean we need legislation to limit donations for corporations and unions as a matter of general policy? I have some difficulty with that.

I do not have any difficulty limiting corporate donations and donations from unions because some of the amounts can get quite large, which can become a problem, although maybe not consciously. However to limit corporate and union donations to $1,000 is somewhat overkill.

In my riding it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. I think I can count on my left hand the number of corporate or union donations I have received that have exceeded $1,000. In fact, if I did see one I would probably ask myself why they were doing that.

Typically, my fundraisers include a reception at which corporations, individuals and organizations might pay $200 to attend and support the process. Do they really feel that by buying a ticket to my fundraiser for $200 they will be creating all kinds of access or opportunities for them to influence government?

I am sorry, while I very much appreciate their support, a $200 donation at my fundraiser will not exactly pave the way for instant access to the government, or to me for that matter. I have very much of an open door policy in my riding. Citizens can pick up the phone and say that they want to see me, and that will happen. It may not happen that day or that week but it will happen. Access is not a problem.

If we look at the Canadian bankers for example, they are one of the largest donators to political parties. In fact they are like many large corporations, they donate to all the major political parties. They might donate to the governing party in a larger amount but they donate to all the political parties. They support the process.

If we recall, in 1988 the bankers wanted bank mergers very badly. The government said no. They must have asked themselves what value their corporate donations made or what value they had. I suspect that really when we look at it, they probably would not necessarily put the question to themselves in that way because they are supporting the democratic process. They also know that in the formation of public policy, sometimes one is successful and sometimes one is not, depending on the issue and the validity of the issue being pursuing.

The way the bill is presented and the one we will probably vote on will have no impact on me at the riding level. I just want to make that clear.

One of the difficulties is we disengage corporate Canada and unions. When we go to big fundraising dinners with the Prime Minister, we meet people and network with them. Sometimes we put a face to a name or there is a fleeting moment where someone could raise an issue. It is a matter of communications, networking and having corporate Canada and unions engaged in the process. The bill is somewhat of an overkill to deal with something that seems to be a perception problem.

The other problem I see with the bill is we will end up going to the public purse for more subsidies for the political process. We have a system that is frankly working, where we have corporate Canada and unions already supporting the political process. I do not really believe it buys them that much influence. There have been some exceptions, but in general terms I do not believe it does. Nor do they look upon it that way. They want to make contact, support the process and engage in the public policy process in the politics of the country.

I could support certain limits to the corporate and union donations but I have difficulty with the $1,000 limit. If in my riding of Etobicoke North, I get a donation from the president of a local company for $2,000, will I really think that person, on a personal level, thinks I am a nice guy and that I do a good job? If I get a donation from the president of a local company for $2,000, my bells will start to ring, that there is something people want. It will not be that individual; it will be that individual on behalf of the corporation.

We all have to deal with these realities. When I get a large donations, maybe $500 or $750, I do ask myself what those people might be looking for. At that level, I do not spend too much time thinking about it but I appreciate that the corporate world and unions in my riding are engaged in the political process.

I personally support full transparency. Every Canadian should know exactly who has donated to my campaign and to every member in the House, every candidate. However I have difficulties with the current limits that are proposed in the bill.

I understood there were to be report stage amendments which unfortunately were ruled out of order. That of course is the prerogative of the Chair. However I was hoping for that kind of relief on the bill. It did not happen. I will now have some difficulty supporting those limits where we are basically disengaging corporate Canada and unions from the political process.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

There is no question we have heard a variety of perspectives from different parties and from within the parties as to how we need to approach the bill. My Liberal colleague who just spoke has indicated he does not feel a few thousand dollars will buy influence with members of Parliament or the governing party. The perception out there among Canadians from coast to coast to coast, because it is not a regionalized issue by any means, is that a lot of money does buy influence. Whether it is a huge amount of dollars given by corporations or by unions, the perception is that democracy will be influenced. That is a major issue. To suggest in some way that it is not a real problem, is turning a blind eye to what we are hearing from Canadians.

I do not think there is any question that we need to see some changes through the process of elections in Canada, and in a number of other areas within Parliament. I do not believe for one second that this is the only thing we have to do to ensure a real democratic process and to ensure there is a process that is not influenced by certain sources.

There is a lot more to be done and part of that will come from maybe an independent ethics commissioner responding to particular things. The key factor that has Canadians so enraged in the last while has been the number of patronage types of expenditures that have appeared within the public works department and within the government.

The former minister who is no longer with us, Minister Gagliano, received an appointment after all those huge expenditures, with indications of patronage. He resigned and received an ambassadorship in Denmark. However the Vatican has indicated it is not willing to accept him as an ambassador there. From the perspective of Canadians, that is a plus, because there were a lot of upset people, Canadians and parliamentarians, over the blatant type of patronage contracts within the government.

There is an issue, even though my Liberal colleague said there is not. Whether it is a perception or reality, that may have to be proven. From my perspective, it is a reality. There is no doubt in my mind, judging from some of the things that have come up, there is an issue.

Quite frankly within the New Democratic Party we have not accepted large donations from corporations. We have accepted them from unions, but from a broad spectrum, and unions give to other parties as well. We will support the legislation that will ensure there are limitations put in place.

As has been indicated so far in the discussion, we think the legislation is unfair in that corporations at every level can make donations but unions cannot. I want to speak to this directly.

United Food and Commercial Workers is a union to which I still belong. I pay my union dues every year. I have benefited from a unionized workforce, a contract that has given me an opportunity to be away from my employment. Should I not have the opportunity to be elected at some point, I will be able to go back to that employer, so I have benefited from that. However I have paid my union dues.

The United Food and Commercial Workers has a number of locals throughout Canada. I specifically belong to local 832 within the province of Manitoba. There are numerous locals throughout the country with which I never have contact at any given point. To suggest that UFCW, as a nation, can only make one donation is unacceptable. I have been a contributing member of my union.

We have a signing agreement to allow money to be taken from our union dues for political donations. I believe there is a democratic process in place for any members who do not want that to happen, if they really want to pursue it. I was given an opportunity as to whether I did.

However I want to emphasize what is unfair within this legislation. The union local that I belong to by rights could not make a donation to myself if the Canadian UFCW, as a whole, made one donation of so much money. That is unfair. If we are working at fixing the system, then we need to fix it to be fair, not continue with it as a one-sided issue.

If we look at the amount of donations that corporations make as a whole compared to what unions make as a whole, there is an imbalance. There is no question that a number of times corporations have made rather large donations and appear to have benefited from that in the way of government contracts. I would challenge anyone to show me how a union contribution has benefited an individual corporation or individual union and not the Canadian public as a whole.

Any legislation, which I have seen in the House or elsewhere, that unions have supported have not just been legislation that says only unions will benefit, such as health and safety legislation. It has been legislation that would benefit every Canadian. It was not legislation that said this union would get this much money for this contract. That is not how it works, and that is because union members as a whole want to see improvements throughout the nation. That is generally how things have worked.

We have seen a lot of major social changes as a result of the efforts of unions throughout the country. There was a statement made from someone within the New Democratic Party, as a CCF member. The individual said that what we desired for ourselves, we wished for all. That is our perspective as well. That is what we want to see. We are not just out for ourselves.

Within this election reform bill, if it is allowed to go as is without some changes to whether a small union local can give some dollars to someone in its area, that is unacceptable. We have 301 ridings across the country right now. I would be willing to guess that probably every riding has some union in place. To suggest that of those 301 ridings a union can only make one donation of a certain amount or that it spreads it so thin with a $2 or $5 donation to each and every candidate, if so desired, is unacceptable.

An other statement that came up from my Liberal colleague was what was the rush to get this through. Like so many pieces of legislation that come before the House, if we are ever going to see anything done, we have to get on with doing it. I know if there is a will to see things change and improve, it can happen. If there is a will to really not do anything, it can be dragged out.

There has been one issue that has been on the forefront for me and for members within my party, and that is bringing in legislation on corporate liability and corporate accountability. It was lost in the last Parliament because an election was called. This time around it came up again. We were to see legislation before us, but that has not happened. We risk possibly losing that again if we do not get on with it.

What is the rush? The rush is if we do not just darn well go ahead and make these changes, they will never happen. If it has to be done in the name of the Prime Minister wanting a legacy, then so be it, let us make some changes. I would like to have seen a legacy that might have turned out a whole lot fairer than what this bill may imply but it is a step in the right direction.

I hope Parliament will support this legislation. Obviously we have some problems with bits of it and we will deal with them, but there is no question that it is a move in the right direction. I think it is something Canadians want to see. My time is up, but I will come back on the next round.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to also speak today on Bill C-24 at report stage.

Just last week, I was speaking on the Lobbyists Registration Act. I think that today's debate is a bit similar to the one we had last week. I had suggested that differences between lobbyists be established. Of course, lobbyists with a $400,000 lobby campaign probably exert more influence than lobbyists with a $40,000 lobby campaign.

Today's debate is somewhat similar, in terms of setting limits on political party contributions and financing. Last week, I had an idea—an ideal, some would say—about how the electorate should be served. Is it normal that a voter , who cannot afford a membership card or to make contributions to a campaign fund, would receive much fewer services than someone who makes major contributions? People will say that this is not an ideal world. That may be true, but one fact remains: politics is a bit like justice, there must be, at the very least, the appearance of justice for it to work.

In politics, everyone knows full well, no matter what people say, that if they call the Prime Minister, they are much less likely to get him on the line than the President of the Royal Bank is.

Given the implications of this system, I support voters who say, “Is it possible to better serve voters by implementing rules to ensure some fairness for all?” Even if we know that this could never be totally true, one fact remains: the system, in its current state, cannot continue if the goal is the appearance of transparency in politics.

So, it was important for me to consider these bills in relation to each other. In both the Lobbyists Registration Act and the political party financing legislation, such individuals can exert an influence both on the executive branch, or cabinet, and the legislative branch. Quite obviously, those who want to be truly effective will hire the best lobbyists at top dollar and will likely make significant contributions to the campaign funds of political parties that promote or might promote their values.

Today's debate is important. Finally, after nine years, we in the Bloc Quebecois are having the satisfaction of seeing this bill being brought in, as we had been asking for the longest time. Ever since I was elected to this place in 1993, we have been calling for a reform of party financing along the lines of what was done in Quebec, where this reform took place more than 20 years ago now. I will remind members that, in Quebec, corporate and union donations are prohibited; only individual donations are allowed. This limits the influence of large corporations and big unions.

We could look at several examples. One example is election funds. it is not often mentioned that election funds are political party funds. There is a double distortion in election funds and in contributions, in that contributions can be made to candidates running for the leadership of a party, as is the case right now. There are clearly distortions. The more people get the impression that corporations and unions are making contributions, the more they get the impression that these corporations and unions are exerting influence. That is probably also true.

Not so long ago, the Liberal Party was complaining to the leadership candidates that hardly any money was going into the party's coffers, since large corporations were investing in one leadership candidate or another, which left less money for the party.

We can see that there are great distortions and a great lack of transparency in the existing system. I think that the bill before us will put this right.

There are many examples. Everyone talks about sponsorships. This was a program established by a former minister who is currently the ambassador to Denmark and who may be appointed to the Vatican. We shall see. There was indeed a program whereby contracts were consistently awarded to friends of the party in exchange for contributions to the Liberal Party.

The result is that there is no longer any transparency in politics. The voter can no longer keep track of things and can become very cynical. Afterward, we wonder why the turnout at various elections is so low. Maybe it is cases such as these that make voters lose confidence.

If we look at the government's behaviour toward big contributors it is no wonder. Every year, we see how much is given by the big banks, the oil companies, Bell Canada and so on. We can understand why a voter would say, “That explains the government's reaction”.

For instance, we have been asking the government for years to control the service charges imposed by the banks. There are fixed charges and all sorts of charges. The big banks have not stopped making exorbitant profits over the years. We have realized that the government is very reluctant to put an end to this. If people knew who the top 20 contributors to the Liberal Party were, they would see that in fact the big banks are among.

The same goes for the oil companies. We have been asking the Minister of Industry for months to work with the commissioner of competition and fully enforce the Competition Act. The minister says, “It is not up to us to regulate the price at the pumps”. That is not what we are asking it to do. We are saying that it is not normal for four gas stations on the same street corner to increase or decrease their prices at the same time.

There is definitely collusion among the oil companies. The minister keeps playing the same old tape, which is that the price at the pump comes under Quebec's jurisdiction. Clearly, he has no regard for the Competition Act. If people knew who the main contributors were to the party's coffers, they would perhaps understand why the Liberals want to put the ball back in Quebec's court. They do not want to upset those who contribute the most.

To take the banks as just one example, one of my Liberal colleagues has said that the banks probably donated to everybody. That is not so. When the Bloc Quebecois was established, it adopted Quebec's approach to political donations, and so it was all personal contributions. Imagine what I heard from the banks, “Mr. Bachand, if you complied with the federal legislation, there would be some nice little cheques of $500 or $1,000 waiting for you at our bank, We are prepared to make donations to you, but you see, you do not comply with the federal legislation”.

In 1997, a debate was held at the Bloc Quebecois convention, and we decided to fight on an equal footing with the federal parties, to accept cheques from major corporations and banks. I went to the banks that had so kindly told me off and I told them, “Well, are you aware that we are now accepting cheques from corporations and companies? So could I have this year what you were offering me last year?” Then I heard a different argument. “We would be glad to donate to you. We know you comply with the federal legislation, but unfortunately you are not running candidates in all ridings in Canada”. Will the Bloc Quebecois have to create an Ontario wing, a Manitoba wing, and so on, in order to comply with the new rules the banks have adopted?

Clearly they have intentions. We have seen that the money they contribute is for very specific purposes, to protect their turf. That is as much the case with the banks as with the oil companies or Bell Canada.

I sit next to representatives from Bell Canada at meetings of the Haut-Richelieu chamber of commerce. They tell me, “You know Mr. Bachand, we do not give any political contributions. We would love to go to your cocktail party, but we do not contribute. We do not want to get involved in politics”. I learned from the chair that Bell Canada gives $50,000 to the Liberal Party and the same amount to both the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance. Yet, we do not get anything.

So, this is important. Democracy cannot be bought. I think that $1.50 or $1.75 per voter, as proposed, is perfectly suitable. People must understand that governments must not be influenced by money in our society. Until this bill is passed to do away with the whole issue of influence over political parties in return for special treatment for businesses, there will not be any transparency in politics. That is what voters want right now.

We are very happy about this bill. Obviously we will be supporting it. I would invite all of my colleagues in the House of Commons to support this bill to get our house in order, once and for all, and to restore voters' confidence in politics.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jeannot Castonguay Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

That is right, Madam Speaker, Madawaska—Restigouche, in New Brunswick, a beautiful place to visit over the summer.

Madam Speaker, Motion No. 11 proposes that, following the next general election, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be called upon to consider the effects of the provisions of this bill concerning political financing.

I think this significantly improves Bill C-24. As we know, the bill will result in major changes to the way political activities are financed and to the reporting of financial transactions for all involved in the political process.

As we have heard in committee, these changes will require serious efforts to adjust, particularly at the level of riding associations. The bill proposes major changes to this institution, to bring greater transparency to the transactions made by the associations and greater rigour to their financial management.

The bill also proposes changes which are likely to make these new rules more palatable to those who work, often without pay, in our associations.

I would like to say a word about transparency. Back in the early 1990s, the Lortie Commission said, and I quote:

Full disclosure of information on financial contributions and expenditures is an integral component of an electoral system that inspires public confidence. Essential to enhancing the integrity of the political system are the principles of transparency and public accountability.

Sharing this vision, the Chief Electoral Officer has been harsh in his criticism of the current system. His reference to a “black hole”, by which he means the activities of riding associations, has often been quoted.

Most hon. members will agree with me that there is nothing very mysterious going on in our associations. Complete disclosure, once a year, of the contributions received and expenses incurred by riding associations would show this.

We at the federal level are not the first to demand transparency of our riding associations. Seven provinces already do this. Those of us who represent ridings in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia can attest that provincial riding associations already have to provide this kind of information every year.

The bill provides that on or before May 31 of every year, the financial agent of each registered association shall submit the association's financial transactions return for the preceding fiscal year to Elections Canada. In that return, the financial agent will provide a statement of contributions received by the association, by class of donor, as well as a list, with names and addresses, of donors who have made contributions of over $200 to the association during the year. This is the same rule that already applies to parties and candidates in an election.

Special rules will also apply for the initial return, when the association registers with Elections Canada. It will not be necessary, at the time of registration, to disclose the source of contributions received before the last general election, simply the total assets of the association, including bank balances.

The bill also provides that if the association is eliminated by changes in electoral boundaries, it will be possible to transfer funds to other riding associations. In that case, the bill recognizes the extent to which it would be difficult for an association receiving funds from another association to be expected to disclose the source of funds. Thus, if the transfer is made within six months after the riding association is eliminated, it will not be necessary to disclose the source of funds but only the total actually received from the former association.

I would like to mention an important improvement that was made to the bill in committee. This improvement will significantly reduce the impact of a electoral boundary review on riding associations.

Under the new rules, the deregistration of an association following the readjustment of electoral boundaries will not be automatic. In fact, it will be possible for the registered association to continue as the association for a particular electoral district simply by filing a notice with the Chief Electoral Officer, without having to deregister and re-register.

Furthermore, it will be possible for an association to pre-register once a representation order has been given, so that the association can be automatically registered once the order comes into force.

The aim of the bill is not only transparency, but also greater responsibility for the riding associations. It makes registered riding associations responsible for respecting certain basic rules of financial administration, such as appointing a financial agent, an electoral district agent and an auditor.

The bill provides for the auditing of the association's accounts if it has accepted contributions of more than $5,000 or incurred expenses of more than $5,000 in a fiscal year. This obligation to conduct an audit therefore applies only to associations that remain active between elections.

Under the bill, those riding associations that must conduct an audit of their books will receive a refund of up to $1,500 of their audit expenses.

The obligation to conduct an audit for riding associations that remain active between elections is not new. This is already being done in the majority of provinces where riding association reports are required.

There are a number of other provisions in the bill concerning riding associations. Seeing that these take up 15 pages, one cannot avoid asking oneself some questions. Most of the provisions, however, are adaptations of the rules that apply to the parties and there are many to protect riding associations in the event of disputes.

There is a special rule for the associations, however: no more than one riding association can be registered in each riding.

Riding associations of registered parties that accept these rules and register with the Chief Electoral Officer will acquire the following rights: the right to accept contributions, the right to provide services and to transfer funds to a candidate supported by the party and, finally, the right to accept surplus electoral funds from a candidate, leadership contestant or nomination contestant.

What is more, they may issue receipts for income tax purposes themselves when they receive contributions. They will no longer need to forward these contributions to the party between election campaigns in order to have receipts issued, or to pay the charges levied by some parties for issuing these receipts.

All in all, I believe that the provisions of this bill, which are aimed at the riding associations, will enhance transparency. They will also facilitate better management of the financial operations of these associations. Finally, in connection with the authorization to issue tax receipts for contributions made outside of election campaign periods, we must admit that this will relieve the associations of a major irritant.

Some of us have justifiable concerns about adding to the burden of the volunteers who run our riding associations. The bill, with all its clauses, does nothing to allay those concerns. On the other hand, if one reads the bill carefully, it is clear that with the exception of some new reporting requirements, the new rules are entirely consistent with good financial administration. In many cases, I bet we will find, in discussing this with our riding association presidents and treasurers, that the association will have already put these rules, or something similar, in place.

Moreover, the addition proposed by Motion No. 11 provides assurance that an examination of these issues will be carried out after the next general election.

Given the importance of the changes proposed by Bill C-24—and I have only addressed the ones affecting the riding associations—I believe this is a wise measure and one which ought to reassure the members of this House.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to report stage of Bill C-24.

I have not had a lot of constituent input. Only a couple of people raised concerns about any onus this might put on local associations and the difficulty in getting volunteers for such work, and the concern related to the financing of the political system by taxpayers. I support the motion for the review of the implications of Bill C-24 and I hope that the views of my constituents are taken into consideration.

The measures contemplated in the bill are of great importance to us as members of the House. They are even of greater importance to Canadians. They are about solidifying and improving public trust in our political institutions. All members would agree that a healthy, democratic process is the most valuable asset that a society can have.

We are all here because we profoundly believe in the importance of the democratic process. We recognize that our capacity to inspire respect for the rule of law is dependent upon it as is our ability to make difficult yet necessary decisions on a wide spectrum of issues such as criminal law reform or the environment.

We are fortunate in this country to have one of the most highly regarded electoral systems in the world, but this does not mean that it is a perfect system and that there is no room for improvement. I would like to take this opportunity to address what is the fundamental core of the bill, the establishment of limits on political contributions.

There is no dispute that money is indispensable to the electoral process. Parties and candidates need money to develop a platform, to communicate with Canadians, and to compete for their support. It must also be recognized that besides voting and running for election, making a political contribution is a legitimate form of political participation. Political fundraising allows the pooling of individual resources in order to pursue common goals.That is why our system, as well as many other regimes around the world, encourages individual contributions.

Yet, a system of unregulated fundraising can adversely affect our system of democratic governance by undermining public confidence in political institutions. When a party or particular candidate relies heavily on a handful of large individual or corporate contributors, there is a concern about the existence of a quid pro quo that can lead to perception of undue influence and a perception of undue influence is just as bad as the reality.

In this regard, the absence of any actual corruption does not diminish the importance of the harm done to our political institutions. One of the most important values underlying our electoral system is that of equality. Where it is perceived that some, because of their wealth, are able to command a disproportionate attention then there is a feeling among citizens that they are not equal participants in the political process.

Obviously there will always be differences in wealth and some individuals have the capacity to spend significantly more than others. Absolute equality in this area cannot be imposed, but setting limits on contributions leads to a broadening of the funding base for political parties and instills some measure of political equality.

In doing so, we take an important step toward improving public trust in our political institutions. That is why a number of other jurisdictions that share a commitment to democratic governance have come to accept the importance of imposing limits on political contributions.

Internationally, these jurisdictions include the United States, France, Spain and Japan. Here in Canada more than half of all the provincial and territorial jurisdictions have imposed limits on contributions, including Quebec, Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, and Yukon.

The experience of these jurisdictions shows that a system of political financing that includes contribution limits is not only worth pursuing but also feasible in practice.

As the government House leader pointed out during his appearance at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the setting of an appropriate contribution limit is by its very nature a line-drawing exercise. There is no magical number.

If we look at the existing limits in other regimes we see that there is a significant range. Some provinces, such as Quebec and Manitoba, have opted for a low limit of $3,000, although it has already been pointed that the $3,000 limit imposed in Quebec would amount to nearly $10,000 today had it been indexed.

In Alberta, by contrast, the annual limit for contributions to a party is $15,000, plus a maximum of $3,750 to the district associations of the same party. This brings the Alberta limit closer to the $20,000 range. In Ontario, there is a limit of $7,500 for each registered party per year.

In the end, the issue is one of balance. One of the key objectives in this legislation is to remove the perception that wealthy individuals have undue influence on political participants.

At the same time, we recognize the importance of financial contributions for an effective electoral system. This was certainly a point made very clear during the hearings by political parties and individual members.

As the minister has indicated at his appearance before the standing committee, he was open to hearing suggestions about what the appropriate limit should be. As he made very clear, however, the ultimate limit chosen must respect the fundamental principles of the bill. In other words, it would have to meet the bill's objective of restoring public confidence in our electoral system while, at the same time, ensuring political participants have access to the resources that they need.

On a positive note, there was virtually no one who appeared before the standing committee who said contribution limits were a bad thing. Most witnesses recognized the need for limits as a way of restoring confidence to our political system. The vast majority of those who addressed the issue of contribution limits focused on the actual level of the limit and many felt that the original $10,000 limit was too high. Suggestions for contribution limits were as varied as the number of witnesses. They ranged from a suggestion by a few members that limits should be as low as $600 for candidates and electoral district associations, to a few witnesses who felt the $10,000 limit was just fine. However, most suggestions seemed to fall into the range of $3,000 to $6,000.

There was also a debate about corporate limits. As a result of the strong sentiment expressed on this issue, the limit for individual contributions was ultimately reduced to $5,000. As part of the amended limit, it is also important to note that candidates would be allowed to contribute an additional $5,000 to their own campaign in election years.

In the end, I believe the committee found an appropriate compromise. The $5,000 contribution limit would provide a necessary balance. It is low enough to combat the perception of influence while, at the same time, providing political participants the funds they need to function effectively.

I would like to conclude by emphasizing the importance of the bill. As I have indicated at the outset, public trust in the democratic process is the lifeblood of public governance and the foundation upon which every member of this House stands.

I believe that imposing reasonable limits on contributions would significantly contribute to enhancing public confidence in the integrity and fairness of our system of representative government.

The contribution limits, when combined with the expanded disclosure measures, the prohibition on corporate and union donations, and the enhanced public financing provisions would mark an important and necessary milestone in our political financing system.

For these reasons, I will be supporting the motion and encourage other members to do so. That being said, I also support the review of this bill as proposed in the motion.

The last point is in refutation to a point that came up the other day. I was astonished that the Alliance spoke against our trade efforts around the world, particularly outside the United States. It was much to our astonishment that the Tories started questioning NAFTA and free trade in North America. In fact, it was not the new leader; he was being democratic. It was the third most popular candidate and a significant portion of the party.

But yesterday, the Alliance member questioned our trade with the rest of the world and its effectiveness. The Alliance was questioning trade that brings so many jobs to Canada and supports so many businesses, especially in these difficult times. The Prime Minister has led these trade missions around the world to Russia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, along with 2,800 reps from Canadian businesses bringing a $30.6 billion increase in trade to Canada. So, if I was working in a company that trades around the world, I would be worried about the Alliance's criticism of Canada's efforts to trade around the world.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak to Bill C-24, especially since it provides for an overhaul of political financing in Canada. Moreover, the Prime Minister himself admits that the system, as set out in Bill C-24, was very much inspired by the one that has existed in Quebec since 1977.

I would remind the House that the system that has existed in Quebec since 1977 was created by someone who did a great deal for the Quebec cause, someone whose goal in public life was to clean up politics. The person who adopted this system in 1977 was René Lévesque.

When this bill was introduced, we heard the Prime Minister, a well-known adversary of sovereignists—whom he detests—praise the system implemented by René Lévesque. Rest assured that to us, as sovereignists, this was sweet music to our ears, a lovely symphony indeed.

Since I have very little time, I should focus on three aspects of the amendments. We know that Bill C-24 was reviewed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am a member as chief whip for the Bloc Quebecois.

In the amendments I put forward in committee, there were three aspects that I strongly insisted on. Perhaps we can still convince our colleagues from all the parties here. The first one had to do with corporate financing. We know that the system in Quebec prohibits outright any type of financing from corporations, unions or associations of individuals.

Unfortunately, the bill still allows this. It is true that the contribution a large corporation may make is quite small. We are talking about $1,000. However, to clean up politics, the bill should ban any form of corporate financing.

One of the underlying principles of political financing reform, and consequently of cleaning up politics, is to eliminate any undue influence that certain people or groups of people may have on the machinery of government or the elected members of this House.

Of course, under the current system, among the 10 largest contributors to the Liberal Party of Canada are the big banks, like the Royal Bank of Canada, the Bank of Montreal, the CIBC, and so on. The big oil companies are also on the list, the same ones that gouge drivers, the small users. Once again, the gas tax suits the government, just like the issue of competition, the close ties between the oil companies, which control the refineries, distributors and retailers.

When a party receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in election contributions, it is not necessarily motivated to solve the competition problem among oil companies. That is why we must ensure that corporate funding, and union funding, even amounts of $1,000, be completely prohibited.

Since I am running out of time, I want to talk about the second concern we had with the draft bill. I am happy to say that this has been a victory for the Bloc Quebecois. At report stage, we put forward an amendment to lower the limit for individual contributions.

In the bill introduced at first reading, the limit for individual contributions was set at $10,000. I would challenge any member in the House, or anyone here in the galleries or at home, to tell me if they knew many people who could make a $10,000 individual contribution to a candidate. It was completely ridiculous. It lowered the likelihood of members being accountable to middle income or lower income people, those who do not have the means to give that kind of money.

Imagine that a constituent comes to us and says, “I am going to give you $10,000 for your electoral campaign”. Is that person going to carry exactly the same weight as the ordinary person who comes to see us? The current bylaws of the Bloc Quebecois prohibit contributions of this size, in any event. Our current bylaws specify a ceiling of $5,000. But imagine what would happen if our amendment had been defeated. Fortunately, the Bloc Quebecois amendment was accepted by the government majority, and the maximum individual contribution will be $5,000.

Most of the contributions to Bloc Quebecois members come from ordinary people who give $2, $5 or $10 to help with our election campaign. During a campaign, our election headquarters receives telephone calls from people who say, “I would like the MP or candidate to come and see me at home. I will have a contribution to make”. Sometimes we cover quite a few kilometres and when we arrive, the caller takes $5 from his wallet and says, “I know that the day after the election you will represent us, because you are a party that represents ordinary citizens and the middle class, not just people who can afford to give $10,000”. Therefore, we were very happy that our amendment was accepted.

There are other amendments that we suggested for Bill C-24. We could have taken advantage of this bill to change the current process for appointing returning officers. I am getting the signal that I have only one minute left so I will try to be brief.

Under the current system appointments are made by the governor in council. It is the government that appoints friends of the party, good Liberal organizers. They are the ones who are appointed returning officers. Unfortunately, although some of them are competent, this practice sometimes leaves the door open for incompetence. Even the chief electoral officer, Mr. Kingsley, asked parliamentarians on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to put forward amendments to model the system after the one that exists in Quebec, in other words, a system of open and transparent competition where job offers are published in the papers so that anyone can apply to become a returning officer in Quebec ridings. This fosters a system free of any political interference or patronage.

Unfortunately, the government did not accept this amendment. Nonetheless, the Bloc Quebecois is stubborn. As long as this is not cleaned up, we will keep coming back to this demand that members of the Bloc Quebecois have been making since 1993.

Since the Speaker is indicating that my time is up, I will conclude.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

York South—Weston Ontario

Liberal

Alan Tonks LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise with respect to this debate and make further comments on something that was raised during the debate on the subject of trust funds.

It was said that the government had not dealt with trust funds. I beg to differ. I will elaborate with respect to the overview, which I think will bring members of the opposition to the proper conclusion that the matter of trust funds has in fact been dealt with.

There has been a lot of confusion with respect to Bill C-24 and the use of trust funds for political purposes. I believe it is time to correct these misconceptions and to try to set the record straight. In this regard, it is important to be clear about what Bill C-24 will do and what it will not do with respect to trust funds.

Three types of trust fund activity must be clearly distinguished: improper use of trust funds that is caught by Bill C-24; improper use of trust funds that is not caught by Bill C-24 but is dealt with by other means beyond the context of the bill; and finally, the use of trust funds that is not improper and is therefore not caught at all.

By way of overview, first and foremost, Bill C-24 contains a number of safeguards which would ensure that political trust funds cannot be used for election purposes which in fact would evade prohibitions or limits on political donations or deliberately avoid disclosure requirements. The proposed legislation would ban indirect political contributions and provide for a system of full disclosure to ensure that hidden donations are not possible.

Bill C-24 does not, however, and I emphasize this, attempt to address every type of wrongdoing or improper conduct involving political trust funds. It is about political financing specifically in the context of elections. Where trust funds are used for non-election purposes, for example to confer a personal or private benefit, other mechanisms in fact apply. Most specifically, these include the proposed code of conduct for parliamentarians, to be administered by an independent ethics commissioner.

There are also potential uses of trust funds that are not improper and need not be prohibited at all. For example, like other citizens, politicians may wish to involve themselves with charitable work or non-profit causes that have no electoral purpose. This is entirely legitimate, and most members would accept that we are attempting to encourage community based organizations to participate in improving the quality of life in our communities. This is entirely legitimate. In no way could it be suggested that it undermines democratic principles generally or circumvents the electoral finance system in particular. So the fact that trust fund activity can be used for non-electoral purposes is not caught up by Bill C-24 and cannot be regarded as a loophole.

I will discuss the use of trust funds that are caught up by Bill C-24. Later, a colleague will discuss the use of trust funds that are not caught up by Bill C-24 but are caught up by other means, as I illustrated a little earlier.

Let us talk about the use of trust funds for electoral purposes that are caught up and included within the context of Bill C-24. While Bill C-24 does not address trust funds directly, the effect of its provisions would be to prevent the use of trust funds as a way to funnel money to political candidates and parties, thereby deliberately circumventing contribution limits and the disclosure requirements. Bill C-24 provides that any money donated to a candidate, a riding association, a political party, a nomination contestant or a leadership candidate can only come from an individual out of his or her own money.

This is subject to two very limited exceptions for donations from corporations and trade unions and from unincorporated associations made only at the local level and up to a maximum of $1,000 per year. Not being an individual, trust funds cannot contribute in their own right. But what about indirect contributions from the fund through its trustee or trustees?

Where the trustee of the fund is a single individual, no contributions would be possible. This is because Bill C-24 expressly prohibits indirect contributions received from another person or another entity. Thus an individual trustee, like any other individual, could only donate his or her own funds and not funds received indirectly from others.

There may be circumstances however, such as where the trust fund is administered by more than one trustee, where a trust may be treated as an association. Bill C-24 provides a minor exception to the prohibition on indirect contributions by allowing associations of individuals to contribute funds received from other individuals. The names and addresses of original contributors must be disclosed, along with the amount of their contribution.

This is the only way a trust fund could contribute money for electoral purposes. It is not in any way a loophole in the system or an oversight in the bill, but a carefully limited exception. It directly parallels the exception allowing minor contributions from unions and from corporations. Moreover, as I indicated before, contributions are subject to full disclosure of original donors.

This exception in no way undermines the system of contribution limits, since any donations made by an individual to such a trust fund must be deducted from his or her overall contribution limit.

Subject to this very limited exception, the provisions of Bill C-24 would, for example, prevent the use of a trust fund to finance a nomination contest or electoral campaign, or to facilitate the transfer of funds collected by one candidate indirectly to other candidates. Trust fund donations to a political party or leadership contestant would be prohibited altogether, since contributions from unincorporated associations would be confined only to the local level.

In addition to these provisions, the anti-avoidance clause of Bill C-24 is also relevant to the use of trust funds. This section prohibits any attempt to circumvent the bill's contribution limits to conceal the identity of a source or of a donation, or to collude with any person for these purposes. This represents a further protection against the nefarious or unscrupulous use of those trust funds for electoral purposes which in fact would subvert the spirit and scheme of the act.

The Chief Electoral Officer has recognized the extent to which Bill C-24 would solve the problem of unregulated election money being channeled through trust funds. As he stated at a recent international symposium “If Bill C-24 is enacted, the Canada Elections Act will do much to eliminate the perception of, or potential for, undue influence from political contributions”--and I emphasize--“including contributions made from trust funds”.

For these reasons I will vote against Motion No. 12, but of course I will support Motion No. 11.

That deals quite comprehensively with the issue of trust funds as it relates to those that fall within the context of Bill C-24 and the use of those trust funds for electoral purposes which are caught by Bill C-24.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, it is also my pleasure to rise in debate on Bill C-24 about which, if I am not mistaken, we are considering the second set of amendments. I also want to say right off that it seems absolutely normal, legitimate and desirable to me that this legislation be reviewed following the general election.

Why review the operation of an act after a trial period? Simply to determine whether the original objectives have been met, whether the act could be improved on and whether the desired objectives could be better met.

When it was put forward and debated in committee initially—it was later debated on numerous occasions in the media and the public—the idea was simply to democratize the party financing process as well as to correct a perception, often borne out in fact, about mismanagement or dishonesty in the dealings between donors and political parties concerning financing in general.

All too often, rightly or wrongly, the public has come to realize that those who initiate bills or private member's bills may unfortunately have done so, after being the object—I almost said the victim— of corporate donations of $5,000, $10,000, $50,000 or $200,000.

There have been many instances, in recent parliaments, of questionable situations. The bank merger bill comes to mind.

The government party introduced a bill respecting bank mergers. When we look at the current situation, we see that major Canadian banks are contributing $100,000, $200,000 and even $300,000 to the Liberal Party coffers. Our fellow citizens witnessing this situation are telling themselves that decisions are certainly made on the basis of these donations by large corporations.

What is true of banking institutions is also true of pharmaceuticals, steel, and industry in general, which makes generous donations to the Liberal Party. One can definitely wonder.

I am not suggesting nor stating that political decisions are always influenced by such donations from large companies or big corporations. I am saying that it is normal, up to a certain point, for the general public watching us to believe that these decisions may be influenced by such large sums of money given to the Liberal Party.

Bill C-24 attempts to correct this negative public perception of politics and the relationship between large companies and the political world.

But, more importantly, there are the recent scandals—and, after much thought, I am using the word scandal correctly—involving, for example, the sponsorship companies. The government gave untendered contracts to Groupaction, Everest and Lafleur Communications. New details are being uncovered every day. The longer the House sits, the more question periods there are, and the more scandals that will be discovered. It seems clear. This is happening more and more. Contracts of $500,000, $200,000 and $300,000 are being awarded to companies who are told, “Look, you have to remit 5%, 10% or 15%, depending on the size of the contract, to the Liberal Party's coffers”.

Perhaps, in terms of the first example, people may think that there is some wrongdoing going on among the large companies, the big corporations and the government. But when consulting firms, public relations companies and friends of the government take with one hand, deduct a certain amount and give with the other to the party in power, it seems essential, then, to rectify this type of political party financing. If we are to some small extent a banana republic, we must avoid any further transformation into a system that would be financed the way political parties were financed long ago or during the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, this is still the case today in some countries that have a bad international reputation for the way they finance their election campaigns and their political parties.

This government has reached the bottom of the barrel with the schemes whereby companies give back part of their money to the government. In order to improve the situation before it went too far, the Prime Minister used what works well as inspiration. It is not perfect, there are no perfect, marvellous or paradisiac political systems, otherwise, everyone would adopt them.

In Quebec, what helped, to some degree, the reputation of political parties or politicians in general, was what is known as the René Lévesque act, which was passed in 1976-77. This was one of the first policies implemented after the election, in order to democratize the funding of political parties. Under the legislation, it is the eligible voters who fund political parties.

This form of funding for political parties has been around in Quebec for more than 20 years, for almost 30 years now, and there is no way that anyone would question it or backtrack on it.

Yes, we want to improve certain aspects of this legislation in Quebec that has been in place since then. Yes, we want to improve certain problems, but that does not mean that we question the fundamental principle of Quebec's democratic life being funded by contributions from individual citizens.

That is what Canada wants to do now; it is seen as a good thing, and it is a good thing. Some people, like members of the Canadian Alliance, have said, “We do not want citizens, through the government, to fund election campaigns or political parties”. It seems to me that it would be much simpler for democracy if funding came from citizens instead of from the Royal Bank of Canada, the National Bank, or big P.R. companies like National, that take money from the government and then give it back to the government. If that is a healthy democracy, if that is the modern way of giving political parties the tools and the elements they need to work, then we have not made any of the progress toward the 21st century that we should be able to expect.

In this end of session, after discussions in committee, the government has introduced a bill that is essential to follow up on events and to change the relationship between people and politicians, between business and politicians, this triumvirate in which we live.

If we look at the popularity ratings of the members of this House, we see that a considerable change is required to the way we operate, particularly the way we campaign.

When I sat in on some of the committee meetings on this bill, I heard Liberal MPs saying, “Yes, but now we will have trouble organizing $5,000-a-plate dinners with the PM as guest speaker”. Exactly. We will organize suppers for larger numbers of ordinary folks and will invite them to come to hear the party leaders speak. It seems to me perfectly normal for the Prime Minister or the party leaders, when they travel to major cities, not to just see the people who are able to afford to pay $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 for the opportunity of meeting them. They should meet others equally entitled to vote.

This is the intent of the bill we have before us today, and is why it indicates to us that we absolutely must look to the future.

Why a review after the election? As I have said, it needs to be revisited in order to make the necessary corrections. There has not been enough of this review process when it comes to other pieces of legislation, for instance the Official Languages Act, which have been in place for nearly 20 years and are absolutely not meeting their intended objectives.

This bill, and the others we will be considering, ought to be automatically subject to this review process, in order to improve them and achieve the objectives set when the discussions prior to their enactment were held.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate today.

I would like to begin by thanking the members of the committee, members from all sides of the House and the staff of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for their extraordinary work on this legislation. Like any other important piece of legislation, this bill has created a certain amount of controversy and a great deal of discussion.

The committee heard from almost 40 witnesses from across the country. We contacted at least another 40, perhaps 50, some of whom sent us written testimony and some who felt that their testimony, although we were interested in it, would not add to the discussion the committee had so far. That gives the House an idea of how closely these people had been following this important legislation.

It seems to me that the purpose of these changes to the Canada Elections Act, which, in principle, eliminate corporate and union donations and puts something in the place of those donations, have various purposes. One of them, which is very important to everybody here, is to increase confidence in the electoral system.

I think there is a perception, and I believe that it is almost entirely a perception, that large corporations and large unions unduly influence the system and influence members of Parliament operating in their ridings or here in the House of Commons. I think the bill would help take away that particular stigma.

However I think the bill would also increase confidence in the system and increase participation in the electoral system in some other ways.

With regard to participation, I think all members know that there has been a decline, not a large decline, but a significant decline in participation of voters in recent federal elections. That is almost entirely explained by a reduction in the number of people under the age of 30 participating. The age groups over the age of 30 are participating more or less as they always have, but younger people are not. I think that is a particularly unhealthy sign.

It is my hope that the legislation would encourage confidence and interest in those people. I will try to explain why. Sometimes in an election people come up to me and say that they simply cannot vote for me this time. They say that they do not believe it is worth their while voting for one of the other parties, so they will not be voting at all. Those people drop out of the system.

When I am faced with that kind of situation I always try to encourage them, first, to vote for a candidate who is in the race, but failing that I encourage them to go to the poll and to officially refuse their ballot. I explain to them that if they do that the numbers are recorded and at least someone knows that they went to the poll and refused the ballot, presumably because there was nobody for whom they could vote. If someone does not show up at the polls it is difficult to tell whether they were just sick or just disinterested. Only if they go to the polls and are recorded do we know if they have participated in the electoral process.

When I am faced with that situation in the future I will be able to say to voters that if they vote for one of the minor parties--with due respect, I am not using that in a pejorative sense--one of the smaller parties in the election, even though they will only get a handful of votes they will truly be helping them because in the future, between now and the next election, they will get a small amount of money for every vote that they receive across Canada. These would be parties like the Green Party, which appeared before our committee.

All 13 registered federal parties were invited to appear before the committee, parties like the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). Those parties, if they run a candidate, wherever they get a vote they will receive some support between elections.

Although I disagree with some of those parties, I strongly agree with the idea that a parliamentary system should generate new parties and there should be different parties in play out there. I believe the legislation would assist with that.

Millennium Excellence AwardStatements By Members

June 10th, 2003 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to announce today that one of my constituents, Karen Bees, has been chosen to receive a millennium excellence award from the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

The foundation was established to help Canadians meet the challenges of a rapidly changing economy and society by creating opportunities for them to pursue their post-secondary education.

Karen was selected as one of 37 Manitobans to receive this award based on a national competition for her academic performance, community service, leadership and interest in innovation. Karen, along with Kyla Pederson, Jennifer Pommer and Melissa Therrien, was also a recipient of my own Member of Parliament Canadian Student Award.

These students are dedicated and hard-working young people who give selflessly to their school and community, all the while maintaining high academic achievement.

On behalf of everyone in the House, I would like to congratulate Karen, Kyla, Jennifer and Melissa on their outstanding achievements and wish them all the best in the future.

AgricultureStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, the trade restrictions imposed on May 20 on all ruminants as a result of BSE are affecting farms and farm support workers across Canada. The beef and cattle industries continue to lose $11 million daily. Sheep and goat farmers are also being affected by the trade ban.

Last week I met with beef farmers on one of the many cattle farms in my riding and I have also received representations from the sheep farmers of eastern Ontario. They are hurting.

Tragically, the concerns of rural Canada do not even enter the Liberal radar screen.

While all this is going on, the internal strife within the Liberal Party remains the only issue about which the government actually cares. While not a nickel goes toward mitigating the crisis in rural Canada, the Liberals are suspending the rules of Parliament in order to ensure immediate passage of a law that will give the party a $9.1 million taxpayer funded gift on January 1 to make up for the fundraising shortfall caused by its leadership race.

Beef farmers and sheep farmers across the country deserve a higher spot on the government agenda than the internal concerns of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Millennium Excellence AwardStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, the Government of Canada created the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation in 1998 to assist Canadians in pursuing their post-secondary education goals. Each year through its bursary program, the foundation awards over 90,000 bursaries to Canadian students based on financial need.

Also, through its excellence award program, the foundation recognizes academic achievement, community service and interest in innovation with grants to hundreds of Canada's top students each year.

Again this year, it is my sincere pleasure to name two students from Oxford who will receive millennium excellence awards. I want to congratulate Jaclyn Rodenburg of College Avenue Secondary School and Kaitland Gray of Woodstock Collegiate Institute.

While the cost of post-secondary education is great, so too are the rewards. I am proud that through the excellence award program the federal government is helping Canada's top students reach those goals. I send my best wishes to Jaclyn and Kaitland.

P.J. ImpexStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to congratulate a proud and successful Canadian company on the occasion of its 15th anniversary.

P.J. Impex of Montreal opened its doors in June of 1998 to begin serving clients in the food supply industry. Since that time, the company has enjoyed steady growth, rising to a position of leadership among Canada's food exporters. Today, with a multilingual and multicultural staff, along with a network of reputable suppliers, that leadership role is played out on the world stage. The company's reputation for making the safest and best quality food on the market available to clients in over 35 countries is testament to its international success. In short, millions of customers around the globe have come to rely on P.J. Impex's bond of quality assurance.

In closing, it should be said that it is thriving companies like this one that form the backbone of our economy and represent Canada proudly around the world. May this 15th anniversary be just one of many important milestones for P.J. Impex as it continues in its role as the strongest link in the international food supply chain.

National Maritime DayStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to bring to the attention of hon. members, National Maritime Day, which has been proclaimed for September 3 in the city of Belleville. On behalf of the hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings, I am pleased to bring this issue to the attention of the House.

The resolution of the city of Belleville reads, “In peace and in conflict, ships and seafarers have held a special place in our nation's history”.

This resolution goes on to speak of the historic importance of seafaring in the history of both the European settlers of our region and country and the aboriginal peoples before them.

I ask all hon. members to join me in paying tribute to the countless Canadians who have a close attachment to our seafaring past and present and congratulating the city of Belleville on commemorating these historic roots.

Atlantic Institute for Market StudiesStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies has been awarded the Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Award by the American Atlas Economic Research Foundation, an international honour for excellence in public policy work.

AIMS has won this prestigious award four times in just eight years, an impressive record of achievement.

AIMS was presented the award for its innovative project on Canadian health care reform. The study is a comprehensive proposal for reforming the Canadian health care system.

The report was written by: Dr. Brian Lee Crowley, the founding president of AIMS; Professor Brian Ferguson, University of Guelph; Dr. David Zitner, Dalhousie Medical School; and Brett Skinner, University of Western Ontario.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies deserves credit for its internationally recognized contribution to a more informed debate on health care for the 21st century.

Nunavut Youth Abroad ProgramStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, 20 Nunavut youth accepted into the Nunavut Youth Abroad Program will gather in Ottawa for orientation before travelling to their placements, which stretch from Calgary to Halifax as well as Botswana, Africa.

These young Nunavummiut range in age from 16 to 21 and come from 15 communities across Nunavut.

The Nunavut Youth Abroad Program is in its sixth year and is a very successful pre-employment program providing education through work and travel to the participants.

I would like to congratulate and thank all the volunteer board members, the mentors who guide the students through the program, as well as the very important funders and supporters.

I wish all the participants a wonderful summer of learning, broadening their horizon and having fun.

Comic Book for PeaceStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to bring to this House's attention, and particularly to the Prime Minister's attention, a project by the grade 6 students of École Jean XXIII in Repentigny.

At the instigation of their teacher, Évelyne Parent, and student teacher, Janie Lacombe, the pupils designed a comic book about peace and the effects of war on civilian populations.

Looking at this little masterpiece created by these young people, we can see their talent and their awareness of others, and appreciate how they have expressed their compassion for women and children, the innocent victims of armed conflict.

As the member for Repentigny, I thank Évelyne and Janie for their commitment and I congratulate Group 601 for their wonderful work in making others aware.