Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on Bill C-24.
I listened carefully to the government House leader when he introduced the debate that is now underway. He congratulated members for introducing amendments that would improve the bill and basically urged that we get through report stage reading in a great big hurry so we can go to third reading with haste and get this bill over and done with.
I have to say, “Not quite so fast, Mr. Government House Leader”. It seems to me we have a situation here where a bill that is overwhelmingly supported by Canadians in terms of its stated purpose is failing spectacularly to live up to what that stated purpose is supposed to be. Let me make it very clear that the New Democratic Party from the outset has endorsed the stated intent of the bill, which is to remove big money from undue influence in the political process, to level the playing field as it relates to the financial base of political parties and specifically to rule out the contribution of political party funds and election contributions from corporations and unions. So far so good: It is a principle that I think is endorsed overwhelmingly by Canadians.
The problem I have as a member who supports that principle, one with which my party is struggling, is the shortfall we now see in what the government clearly has decided is the final version of the bill that it wishes to rush through and implement as the law of the land.
Let me use a couple of examples, one referring to a situation in Nova Scotia that perhaps best illustrates the problem we have with some very uneven treatment in this bill as it relates to contributions from corporations versus contributions from unions. My colleague, the member from Saskatoon, who spoke earlier, already has expressed concern about this. My colleague from Winnipeg Centre also has expressed concerns about this. Let me just for the record say that it is surely a contradiction of the fundamental principle that this bill, which the government wishes to pass in this form, reflecting the amendments from government members, is saying absolutely no to contributions from any trade unions of any kind while it basically leaves the door very open to corporations' contributions to election financing.
That is just a statement of fact. That is not a point of argument or a point of disagreement. The reality is that what has been provided in this bill is that corporations are free, admittedly, to donate less money than they did in the past. The reality is that the Liberal Party in particular has been bankrolled overwhelmingly by corporate donations, so I will acknowledge that the restrictions placed on corporate donations mean that the Liberal Party is scrambling to figure out how to make up the shortfall from that massive source of corporate funding of their election campaigns and their political party in the past.
But by what possible principle of even-handedness does the government feel that disallowing contributions, for example, from trade union locals, while it gives completely open door treatment to business franchises, is the way to go? By what possible logic or principle of fairness has the government made the decision that this is the way to go?
Let me give an example. I know this was referred to briefly by my colleague who spoke before me. We have in this country today 1,201,383 incorporated businesses. We also have in this country today 886 trade unions. I do not want to suggest that every single incorporated business in the country is going to give to one political party or to one particular political party, but based on the legislation before us, we have the potential for 1,201,383 businesses to donate $1,000 each to candidates in every riding across this country. We have no such openness even to the far fewer numbers of trade union locals in the country. We have 16,601 trade union locals in the country. In fact, that is a ratio of 1,355 to 1 as between business and trade union locals, yet we have in this legislation a total disallowance of any trade union locals from making modest contributions to election candidates.
It makes no sense, not if the stated purpose was in fact the intention of this legislation. It simply falls short of the stated purpose, which is to level the playing field and to remove big corporate and big trade union money from election campaigns. Even in the way in which it has been described, there is a severe distortion. There is a deception in creating the impression that money from trade union donors comes anywhere close to matching the massive bankrolling of the Liberal Party in particular.
This is all a matter of public record. This is not a matter of conjecture. Those facts and figures are known, because the New Democratic Party in the early 1970s as a condition of maintaining a minority Liberal government demanded the full disclosure of sources and amounts of political party contributions. The facts are a matter of public record.
But what we have here is a situation, for example, where every single GM dealership, and I am not picking on GM but simply picking out one car dealership in the country, in fact can donate $1,000 to the campaign of the political candidate of its choice. However, no local representing auto workers anywhere in the country, no matter how many thousands of auto workers there are, is permitted to donate $1,000 out of its own auto workers' pockets and paycheques and deposit it through a check-off system which they sign on to. Where is the even-handedness in that? Where is the level playing field? We have made it clear that we are opposed both to union and to corporate funds, but what we are absolutely not in favour of is that kind of discriminatory treatment, that kind of contradictory situation.
The second concern, which I will have an opportunity to speak about at a later date, is really the complete farce of allowing for trust funds that are already in existence, with who knows how many dollars from what sources, to continue to bankroll political party campaigns.
Let me say in closing, because I know my time is up, that I come from Nova Scotia and millions and millions of dollars were obtained by the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia and deposited in trust funds through extortion, through influence peddling and through bribery, of which Liberal Party officials were convicted in the courts. In fact, there were cases of imprisonment related to that. To this day, the Liberal Party bankrolls its campaigns with those illegal trust funds. The legislation has been permitting it.
We now have a situation where we have no idea what is in those trust funds because there is no requirement to disclose the sources of those trust funds. They will be permitted to continue to finance political party campaigns where they are in existence.
One has to say, at the very least, that the bill falls far short of fairness, of any reasonable level of the playing field and of any full disclosure of the sources and amounts of political party contributions, which surely are three major characteristics that one would look for in the bill before being able to wholeheartedly support it.