Mr. Speaker, the Chair's generosity is appreciated, except that certain agreements will enable me to share my time with my hon. colleagues in other parties. So, I will be very brief.
I simply want to review some of the arguments made by my hon. colleague who spoke before me. To those listening who might be outraged by the previous speaker's comments, I would say that it is important to consider the bill before us in its context.
First, since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois has been demanding that the House pass legislation to make political party financing democratic. Such legislation exists in Quebec, and all the Quebeckers listening are well aware that this legislation is now part of our legislative heritage and that it is appreciated because it has helped avoid so many excesses with regard to political party financing.
So, as a result of our experience, we have made many recommendations to this House and to the government to encourage them to proceed with this kind of legislation. Today, as I said at second reading, I am pleased to confirm that the Bloc Quebecois supports this government bill, given the positive effect it will have on restoring order to Canada's political mores.
It is difficult to complain, on the one hand, that political parties will be financed in part using taxpayers' money—it would be hard to get upset with a bill that democratizes funding and prohibits companies from giving $25,000, $50,000, $75,000 $100,000 and more to a political party—and, on the other hand, explain to the public that we do not really agree and disapprove of the government and the Deputy Prime Minister having received $25,000 or $50,000—I am not sure exactly, but it was an impressive amount—from a billionaire for his leadership campaign. We cannot have it both ways.
We can make the choice in this country to prevent anyone, whether businesses or individuals, from gaining undue influence and control over the political parties. If we do, we must accept the bill before us.
Where do abuses come from? They come from businesses that in the past, gave $250,000 or $300,000. We have discussed examples of such abuses in this House. We have identified the businesses and major banks that give impressive sums to the government and political parties and who, consequently, have enormous influence.
So that everyone understands, if I am the president of a large corporation and I give $250,000 per year to the Liberal Party of Canada, the odds are good that if I want to fix some problems politically, I will find a sympathetic ear on the government side. There is nothing strange about that. If someone gives $250,000 per year and has a problem that needs fixing, they will expect their problem to receive attention commensurate with the amount of their contribution.
It must be understood that this kind of abuse must be avoided. When the citizenry is stirred up with cries of, “Listen, it is going to be awful. Public money will be used to finance some of the expenses of the political parties” and there is a public outcry, we must say that the corollary is that the undue influence exercised by a limited number of people will disappear. That is what will enable the citizens to take control of their democratic institutions.
If the financing is shared among the general population and is provided in large part from public funds, in accordance with specific rules, clearly this will give people the influence they thought they did not have or might not have had when individuals were financing political parties to the tune of $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 or $300,000. It seems to me that that should not be difficult to understand for our listeners, the members of the Canadian Alliance and the other members of this House.
Allowing large donations inevitably results in those making donations having an influence over the government which those who cannot afford to make donations do not have. If large donations are prohibited, the political parties must nevertheless be able to finance their activities. We cannot turn off the funding tap and at the same time announce that we will not be providing a cent, that political parties are expected to operate with so little funding that it would be tantamount to killing them. Their very existence would be jeopardized.
It is important to take positive action to ensure that political parties remain healthy and operate relatively at arm's length—everything is relative of course.
This is therefore the kind of action we applaud. What the government did here took courage. It could not have been easy. Witness the fact that, within government, there is opposition to this bill. It is public knowledge.
Those opposed are probably right in terms of being true to themselves, when they make comments like, “We do not want our own government to pass this bill because it is taking away too much leeway. We will not be able to operate anymore. What is provided in terms of public funds is insufficient and at the same time we are not allowed to raise money”.
When there is this kind of reluctance coming from the government side about a bill, it generally means that a worthwhile effort has been made. The bill will ensure that from now on, the members of this House, cabinet members and members of the various parties will be more independent vis-à-vis large corporations, big labour unions and all sorts of lobby groups which could previously have strong leverage through financing.
Who could argue against the principle of democratic institutions becoming more independent? Who could argue against citizens having greater influence over political parties?
I would just like to point out that the reality is that the citizens are well served by a bill such as this one. It will improve political mores. We will likely no longer have to rise in this House, as we have done in the past, to criticize the government for awarding contracts to firms that hand a large chunk of the money back to the Liberal Party, or other parties in this House.
This will no longer happen. It is already no longer happening in Quebec. The situation was regularized 25 years ago in Quebec. Everyone is pleased with that way of doing things. The cost of implementing this bill is around $21 million, or $22 million if we prefer a round figure. In a country the size of Canada, $22 million to ensure independence for political parties, to preserve the quality of democratic representation, strikes me as very affordable. It seems to me that $1.75 per voter is not a huge sum to ensure that our parties are less beholden to those who provide funds to them.
I would say in conclusion that I believe we are serving our fellow citizens well by voting for this bill. On the basis of principles, it is unassailable when we consider that we are preserving the quality of democracy. It is unassailable considering that the purpose of this bill is to prevent excessive financing.
It is also extremely important that this bill prevent examples such as those we denounced earlier of leadership campaign contributions to the tune of $250,000, $100,000 or $25,000, depending on the situation.
This is a major victory for the Bloc Quebecois because we have been trying to have this type of system implemented here in the federal government since 1993. This is a good thing that this is happening for democracy in the rest of Canada.
There is no opposition to this bill in Quebec, but in the rest of Canada, in some areas, there is. However, today, we can tell people who are listening that this type of legislation has been very much appreciated for 25 years now in Quebec and in some other provinces where financing rules are a little more civilized than they were here. We can certainly tell our fellow citizens that we are doing something positive, responsible and respectful of democracy, something that will guarantee that politics will be better in the future.
What we would all like to see is legislation based on honesty, justice and democracy. That is why we are pleased to support this bill and invite all our colleagues in the House of Commons to do likewise.