Mr. Speaker, I think the final debate on and analysis of the election financing bill, Bill C-24, will prove to be an interesting one. Certainly I do not think there is a lot of disagreement among the political parties in the House of Commons on the fact that the election financing system needs to be revised and reformed, but I do think there is a lot of disagreement on exactly how that should occur.
I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Brandon—Souris, for all the work he has done on the bill. He, rather than I, has really had carriage of Bill C-24 so really I stand today to speak on behalf of the member for Brandon—Souris.
As we know, Bill C-24 was introduced at the beginning of the year as part of the Prime Minister's eight point action plan on ethics. Supposedly the bill was introduced to help address the lack of trust in which Canadians hold not necessarily only this institution but the political system itself. It was supposed to do something to combat the low voter turnout we are seeing in elections and hopefully improve the fairness and transparency of the electoral system.
The Progressive Conservative Party believes that the bill does not address the issue of low voter turnout and does the opposite of creating fairness and addressing transparency. However, I think there will be further and more in-depth debate on this issue.
Let us look at the whole point of having an election financing bill and the Prime Minister's seeming insistence on ramming it through the House at late sitting in June. I think Canadians need to ask themselves a few questions. The first question would be this one: Why would a government that has been in power for 10 years bring in an election financing bill now? Also, what advantage does it give to the government that it maybe does not give to other political parties?
Having come to the bill only recently and really just having had the opportunity to look at it in depth, the first question I ask is not the question of whether perhaps there is room in the system for public financing of elections, because I think possibly with the right type of system, with the correct system and a proper analysis of the situation as it exists now, we could have public financing of elections and actually do a pretty good job of it.
However, if we really want to do something to react to low voter turnout and if we want the electorate to have faith and trust in the system, then here is what I would suggest to the government. I made the amendment at committee, which was not accepted. I tried to make it again at this reading of the bill and again it was not accepted. Rather than change the system as the Liberals and the majority on committee did, the bill should come into effect on January 1, 2006, not even January 1, 2005. As the bill exists now, it will come into effect on January 1, 2004.
I do not think there is a breathing and thinking Canadian who does not believe that we will have another election after that date, so really what the Liberal government has done here is get rid of its debt, and it has done that by just putting it over onto the backs of the taxpayers. The taxpayers of Canada will collect the tab for the next election. We have a big majority government. If we do it on the results of the last campaign, it only benefits the parties as they are established in the House of Commons now.
The reason I suggested that the bill should come into effect after January 1, 2006 is that we would be guaranteed that it would be after the next election.
I understand the need to base the election financing on some statistics, on some group of numbers. I would say that from my knowledge the committee worked very hard to be as fair as possible. However, by moving the date forward instead of backward, it showed a serious bias toward the establishment, the government and the numbers as they existed in 2000, not as they may exist after another election.
The bill is all about incumbency. It is all about supporting the government that is there now, supporting the parties that have the majority of the numbers. It is not about fairness. There is very little fairness in the bill.
Supposedly, we are taking away the ability of corporations to donate to political parties. However we have not taken away the ability of wealthy individuals to donate to political parties. In particular, and I think even more galling for me, is the fact members of Parliament would be able to donate to their own campaigns to the tune of $5,000 per year. What a slap in the face to ordinary Canadians who do not have that kind of money to put into a political campaign. However what a big assistance to the incumbent, especially the wealthy incumbent who may not have the public support to run an election campaign but who has the personal and private support to finance his or her own election campaign.
I think it is time Canadians took a look at the bill for exactly what it is. Again, it is all about incumbency. It is all about assisting the wealthy who may happen to be in politics already. It is a long way from transparency and fairness. I think the government has it wrong.
If we examine the fairness issue and look at the public funding of parties based on the number of votes received in the previous election, how can this possibly be viewed as fair? The governing party gets to start an election at least five paces ahead of every other party based on the platform it ran on three, four or five years earlier. The public financing does not address the changing views of Canadians during the term of this government or of any other government.
The government needs to look at a method of core funding for political parties and reasonable and equal limits for corporate and individual donations.
There is no balance to the legislation as it exists. The reporting requirements of the legislation should be a burden carried by cabinet, the Prime Minister's Office and members of Parliament. Instead, it is placed on our volunteer organizations that are already stretched to the max. It will discourage rather than encourage participation in the political process.
The government is beginning a process of micromanaging political parties, including the very structure of political parties, and the management of disclosed funds that are transferred within the party structure.
Due to the Prime Minister's supposed legacy agenda, we have had a very short time to examine the bill. It seems that very little thought and substance has gone into the bill. I will say again that I think the committee has tried to do what it could with the bill. A lot of discussions have taken place and a lot of hard work has gone into the bill but it has not been enough.
When there is a Liberal majority on the committee, at the end of the day the Prime Minister gets exactly what he wants. If what he wants is to put this in place now to pay off the $8 million debt of the Liberals, then that is exactly what Canadians will get.
I think there are some real issues with this particular legislation that have not yet been addressed, and certainly the issue of fairness is one of them.