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.