This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #114 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

June 9th, 2003 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great honour to speak on this very important piece of legislation, Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, political financing. I would like to focus my remarks on the public financing measures contained in the bill which have attracted a great deal of attention in the discussion today.

During the discussion of this issue, both in Parliament as well as during the public hearings held by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I believe it has been well established that the measures contained in this bill build on a long tradition in Canada, a tradition of public financing of the electoral system.

This tradition goes back to 1974 with the Election Expenses Act. Among other items, that legislation introduced public financing through post-election reimbursement to qualifying parties and candidates and income tax credit for contributions to registered parties and election candidates. What we are doing is building on what we already started back in 1974. However since that time all parties in the House of Commons have benefited from these measures.

It has also been well established that public funding is not new in Canada. In fact all provinces provide some form of public funding. Three provinces in particular, New Brunswick, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, provide for a public allowance. It is also particularly notable that Quebec has provided a public allowance since 1975 and the system is well received by Quebec residents, a fact which was underlined by the Quebec electoral officer when he appeared before the committee during its hearing on this bill. It is also well known that most democracies provide political participants with some form of public financing.

If we were to look at the public financing measures in Bill C-24, we would see that, as I indicated a little earlier, it builds upon what we already had set up before. However it does change the percentage of contribution by the government from that of 22% to 50%, with a one-time reimbursement at 60% for the next election to assist parties as a transitional measure.

Polling expenses also would be added to the definition of registered election expenses and the ceiling for eligible expenses would be raised accordingly. The threshold for candidates to qualify for reimbursement of part of their election expenses would be lowered from 15% to 10%. I am sure members would agree with me that for at least two political parties in the House, some of their candidates as well as their parties, would be able to qualify under those members.

The rate of reimbursement of candidate election expenses as well would increase from 50% to 60%. An amendment to the Income Tax Act would double the amount of individual political contribution that is eligible for a 75% tax credit from $200 to $400, and all other brackets of the tax credit would be adjusted accordingly. As it is now, every time we give a $100 contribution to a political party, the Government of Canada reimburses $75 of that. Therefore, the--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this is most unfortunate. I have had consultations with House leaders of all parties and have been officially notified that this bill will not go through at all unless I proceed with the following motion.

I am informing you formally then, Mr. Speaker, that an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the report stage and third reading stage of Bill C-24. It is more about the third reading stage of Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing).

Therefore, under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and the disposal of the proceedings at the said stages.

The House resumed 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

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, presently if somebody makes a contribution of $100 to a political party, the Government of Canada will reimburse that individual $75. In essence the government has increased the base from $200 to $400, therefore encouraging more contributions by the public at large to political parties.

In this proposed legislation the government will allow each registered political party to receive $1.75 per vote received in an election in recognition of the significant impact that the proposed prohibition on corporate and union donations will have on parties. This allowance will help political parties to run in an election without having the extra burden of having to raise the necessary funds. All they will have to do is ensure that they have a sound policy statement and a sound platform. If they can get the necessary support from the public, they will be able to generate more revenues.

My colleagues on the opposition side should argue that this is extremely positive news for all involved and for all members of all political parties since it will allow them to sell their ideas to the public and they will not have to chase nickels and dimes.

As a transitional measure, parties will receive the 2004 allowance in a lump sum as soon as possible after the coming into force of the bill, instead of quarterly arrangement about which the bill speaks.

Public financing in general, and in particular the public allowance, was probably the issue that drew more attention than any other issue during the public hearings. For the most part, it was a very positive discussion and people in general recognized the value of public financing, although they had different ideas about how the formula for providing the allowance should work. Others had already spoken about the merits of the bill and they had specific recommendations and adjustments to make to the bill. The committee and the government were very receptive to some of those suggestions.

With the remainder of my time, I would like to speak a bit on some of the benefits of Bill C-24.

It is important to recognize public financing in this debate, and how important it is when it comes to the political financing equations. I think we all agree that political parties are critical to the functioning of our democracy. Without strong political parties and party organizations, a healthy democracy would not function. Political parties in general perform a key role in mobilizing the voters, representing the views of all groups in society, as well as formulating policies, policy alternatives and recruiting future leaders.

Parties offer support to the democratic process and democratic government. They provide a key link between state and society. In view of the important role parties play in so many aspects of our democratic system, it seems obvious that they should be supported by the state. Otherwise, we run the risk that parties will be severely limited in undertaking their critical role in our democracy.

Political parties play a key role as structures through which citizens may participate in our political system. Throughout our history, parties have been the key institution through which citizens can express their political opinions and become actively involved in the governing of our society.

If there is a substantial variation in the resources received by parties, we run the risk that a perception will arise that some organizations have undue influence. The result can be that citizens become disaffected and reduce their linkage to parties and our democratic system in general.

By regulating the financial resources that contributors may provide to parties, in combination with public funding as is being proposed in the bill, we can ensure that a level playing field is created for all participants.

Finally, we must recognize the enormous cost of funding a political party in a modern democracy. Everyone in the House is aware that the cost of running an effective party demands the necessary resources in order to support it.

I want to urge my colleagues, in the name of democracy and in the best interest of the public at large, to pass the bill as quickly as possible.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Motion No. 11 in Group No. 2, as have other political parties in the House this afternoon.

The reason this report has been permitted is to deal with some amendments that were deemed to be inadmissible at report stage, that the Speaker has ruled as being out of order and others that require royal recommendation.

When the committee studied the bill under the rubric of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, we decided that we should prepare a separate report to signal possible areas for legislative change and/or future study. I think this particular motion is supported by the majority of parties, if not all the parties, in the House.

It is important to note that this is the most significant reform of political financing in Canada since the Election Expenses Act was introduced 29 years ago during the minority government of Pierre Trudeau and when the New Democratic Party held the balance of power.

The legislation before us would ban political donations to political parties. It would allow minor contributions to candidates running for nomination, and to electoral district associations, but no more money would be allowed to be donated by corporations and trade unions to the political party of their choice.

It would also require additional reporting requirements for constituency associations. It would limit individual contributions now to $5,000. When the bill was first tabled it was $10,000 and I think it was a unanimous motion of the committee to reduce the amount to $5,000 per individual per year.

It also would regulate the nomination and leadership campaigns of some parties. As an aside, I would say that this is a matter of physician heal thyself because in fact the New Democratic Party, and I believe some other parties in the House, have very strict limits on leadership campaigns and on nominating campaigns. I know members on the government side do not and there have been some embarrassing results flowing from that.

For example, in the last New Democratic Party leadership campaign none of the candidates for election were allowed to spend more than $750,000. There was preliminary reporting of how that money was raised prior to the vote taking place. There was full disclosure. It can be done but the government has seen fit to, instead of operating on a party by party basis or doing it within its own party, bring it in under the election financing amendments.

Certainly, at the bottom of all this, or under the pillar of it, as a result of the absence of corporate and trade union contributions, there is enhanced public financing of the political system.

Some of the concerns some members of the committee had and which we want to see addressed in this special or separate report, had to do with administrative burdens and cost of compliance that would accrue to constituency associations. There is no question that there will be a greater burden of transparency and a need for better record keeping that will have to flow to the Chief Electoral Officer on a regular basis from riding associations.

There was also some concern expressed whether volunteers, with all the requirements that would henceforth be required and forthcoming, would throw their hands up and say that it was too much paperwork and that they were out of there. We need to look at that very carefully.

One of things the member for North Vancouver raised was a concern that the audit fee limit of $1,500 was too low and that some auditors, at the conclusion of an election campaign, or doing the report for a candidate or an electoral district, would be subsidizing the process. We want to look at that as well because I do not think there was anybody who thought that auditors ought to be subsidizing the process. If the figures are too low, let us amend it.

The member for Ottawa West—Nepean, as I recall, was concerned about non-monetary contributions, specifically people who have particular skills in an election campaign and volunteer their services, but because of their particular skills are prohibited from working on certain elements or aspects of the campaign. I think of someone who perhaps operates a phone bank in his or her day job and would, under the current rules, be technically prohibited from doing that as a volunteer in a political operation. We think that needs some examination and clarification. Hopefully this committee or the son of this committee will look at that issue.

One of the issues that has been dealt with in this go around was the matter of the $1.50 per vote per year being based on the results of the last general election. Certainly we heard from witnesses who were concerned that all those eggs should not be in that one basket, that perhaps it should be either a combination of rolling polls that have taken place since the election or perhaps based on a party's membership together with the vote that the party received in the previous election.

I must say that the notion of a poll leaves me stone cold because there are times when governments have to take difficult decisions. I would think it would be another excuse not to make a difficult decision if someone said, “We cannot do that because we have a poll coming up next week and it may do some serious damage in terms of the amount of money that we will have to fight the next election campaign”.

I think on balance the $1.75 per vote per year based on what was received in the last election campaign may not be the best but it is the best that the committee could come up with. However I do not support the increase from $1.50 to $1.75.

As the minister responsible made very clear when he was before the committee at the first meeting on this issue, at $1.50 per vote per year no party would be negatively impacted. All parties would be at least revenue neutral, if not slightly ahead of the game. I fail to see what has happened in the intervening couple of months that now suggests it should be $1.75, a raise of 25¢.

A couple of other issues were raised before in the first group of amendments: the differential treatment of franchises and corporate entities, and the need for equal treatment of union locals versus corporate franchises. This is something that I think is a fundamental flaw in the bill. Yes, it is true that trade unions and corporations have been restricted in the amount of money they can give and to whom they can give that money. However, having said that, there is no question that corporations will be able to give significantly more because the way the legislation is written trade union locals are generally excluded from making a contribution to a local candidate or a local riding association. I think that is indefensible and I fail to understand why that cannot be altered.

Another area deals with free time broadcasting. The Broadcast Act was out of the purview of the committee and out of the purview of this bill because the amendments deal only with changes to the elections financing act and the Income Tax Act, but several significant witnesses, if I may put it that way, came before the committee and talked about the way that the cost of elections could be reduced if in fact there were more free time broadcasts allowed during an election campaign. They pointed to the British system as an example of that. We would hope that this could be looked at in a further go around by the committee that is looking at the impact of Bill C-24.

The third party spending on election campaigns is something that is fundamental. If the third party is defeated or overruled at the Supreme Court then all of what we are doing here on Bill C-24 stands for naught. Therefore we will have to pay close attention to that, as will the committee as it goes forward with the review of these procedures.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise in this debate. I certainly would begin by saying that I support Motion No. 11, the motion we are apparently considering. What it does basically is it calls upon a committee to examine the impact and effect of the political financing changes that are contained in Bill C-24 after the next general election to see if there are any negative impacts that were not anticipated in the bill, and, obviously, that is a very positive thing to do. I do not doubt that this particular motion will have the support of the full House.

However this does give me an opportunity to express my support for Bill C-24, my almost unqualified support, because I think it is excellent legislation. It is certainly something that all parties of the House, everyone in the chamber I think, should want to support. There are some minor glitches here and there that perhaps we do not all agree with but one thing we should all agree with, including members on the opposite side, are the transparency provisions.

I have always been of the view that when it comes to public perception of the political process and how money might influence that political process, the problem is not so much that people think that the registered political parties are the ones that are easily influenced by money so much as people who might be worried that their local politicians might be influenced by large amounts of money that might be flowing around them.

Consequently, it is very important to have a transparency provision, which we have not had up until now, where we can see how much money has come into a riding association at any given time and we can see how much money is going to a particular candidate. The reason it is so important is the voters.

The voters might take a different attitude toward a candidate for re-election, shall we say, an incumbent MP, who might be discovered to have many hundreds of thousands of dollars in his riding association account when he has no need for such large sums of money. At the very most that an individual would need to run an election in this country because of the way the Chief Electoral Officer reimburses election spending, which is a 50:50 scheme, would be about $35,000. So there would be some genuine questions from the public if they were to perceive riding associations with several hundred thousand dollars.

Indeed, myself, I feel that it would be perfectly reasonable to see some limited corporate financing go to the registered political parties directly. I actually proposed an amendment at committee that would have seen corporate financing restored only to the registered parties, that is head office, to a cap of $25,000. That is not a do or die principle with me. I am content with the choice that was made by the government, and that is to provide primary subsidies through this arrangement of a certain amount of money per vote from the previous election. However I do believe that a certain amount of limited corporate financing going directly to the party would have been okay.

What I did not like was the provision in the previous version of the bill that allowed donations of $10,000 from individuals to go to riding associations and individual politicians and candidates. That is way too high. What that means, in my particular instance, in the last election I only spent $28,000, and in the previous election, I only spent $30,000, and in the one before that, I only spent $32,000. So if there was an individual who was able to donate to my riding association $10,000 per year for three or four years and then $10,000 to my campaign, I would not need any other fundraising but that and I would show a profit after the election. That I think is completely wrong.

I think the principle should be that each and every one of us should be prepared to demonstrate that we have support from grassroots people, from ordinary Canadians in our community, by having to go out and raise small amounts of money through local fundraising, like spaghetti suppers or auction sales, or from the small donations from the people in our community who we know have trust in us.

I proposed at committee stage that the $10,000 individual donation cap be lowered to $1,225. That would have been the limit for a tax receipt. The committee, in its wisdom, did not take that suggestion. It did lower the permissible individual donation from $10,000 to $5,000. I still feel that is too high, but it is a significant improvement.

In the final analysis, if we are to regain or maintain the confidence of the public--and we must not assume that people have lost confidence in their political process--we must demonstrate that we are politicians who have our roots in the community and not in big unions, large corporations or individuals in our ridings who are well heeled and can give large sums of money.

Some members of Parliament have suggested that even if they were to get a donation of $2,000, $3,000, $4,000, $5,000, $6,000 or $10,000, they would not be influenced in their judgment and how they would behave once they were elected.

I suggest that is not the issue. The issue is always perception. We must demonstrate through transparency that we are not beholden to anyone because they have given us large sums of money. In the first instance, this is addressed by the transparency provisions in the bill.

One of the other issues that has come up has been the implementation date. There has been some suggestion that the implementation date should be after the next general election. I am one who absolutely rejects that. I do not feel that members of Parliament can bring in a significant reform to the political financing process and not be prepared to live by it.

I have no difficulty with going into the next election under this legislation. I have in my riding association bank account about $10,000, give or take a little. I would suggest that were the election called tomorrow, between that $10,000 and what money I can raise during the election campaign itself, I am sure I would reach the ceiling of $15,000, which, with the rebate, would enable me to spend $30,000, which is as much as I have ever spent on an election anyway. I think $32,000 was the maximum.

So, Mr. Speaker, you do not have to have lots of money in order to be re-elected in this country as a politician. I am in a contested riding. My riding was traditionally Conservative before I won it in 1993. I am not speaking as one who is in a safe riding. The reality is that all an individual needs to do in an election is to get out there, get his or her name out there, get on the podium with other candidates, and convince the people. A lot of money is not needed to do that.

I do not feel that we need to wait a year. We can hopefully pass this legislation this week and make it effective January 1, 2004, and there will be no problem whatsoever.

The other point I wished to address was raised by the member for Vancouver Island North. He was worried that there is an increased charge on the taxpayer because instead of corporate donations we will have to get more money from taxpayers to finance an election.

I would suggest to him that a few million dollars extra to guarantee the integrity of the election process in this country is money well spent. We do not want to have the experience of other nations, notably the United States, where money is so absolutely necessary for anyone to move any distance in the political process whatsoever.

I think this is excellent legislation. It is legislation that I for one will be very proud of as an MP and of the government that brought it into effect.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could pick up where my colleague across the way left off because I was astounded by the statement that he made at the end of his remarks. I think it is fairly accurate to quote him as saying that he supported a few extra million dollars to guarantee the political integrity of the election process.

I find that astounding because the fact is that, with or without Bill C-24 and its generous increase in taxpayer subsidization of political parties, if people lack the moral integrity to decline influence, corporations and individuals will find ways of funnelling money to political parties and leaders to influence them. It is a fact of life. If the individual or the political party wants to be influenced, no law in the world and no amount of government taxpayer subsidization will prevent that from happening.

For the hon. member to say that he is going out on the hustings to brag about this new piece of government legislation, Bill C-24, that funnels some $22 million per year into the hands of politicians and political parties and that he is going to be proud of that during the next election campaign, it shows the extent of Liberal thinking. It blows the mind of the average overburdened taxpayer in the real world, outside of this Ottawa bubble, that the member, not only in speaking for himself, but for a lot of Liberal government members, would make such an incredible statement of support for this legislation.

Why did Bill C-24 come about? It came about because there was and there is a perception that the government led by the Prime Minister, who is just about finished his tenure as leader of our country, has been tainted by a number of scandals. The government brought forward this legislation to provide a smokescreen so that its candidates could go out in the next election campaign and say they had a lot of scandals that had the appearance of influence peddling and kickbacks, and that type of corruption. There was the perception, and pretty widely reported, that a lot of corporations over the 10 year life of this administration received substantial grants and contributions from the taxpayer and by sheer coincidence made generous donations to Liberal candidates, and in some cases Liberal cabinet ministers and/or the Liberal Party.

In order to create an illusion that the Liberals were going to address that and do something about it, they came up with Bill C-24. They now intend, as was stated here a few minutes ago, to bring forward time allocation and rush this piece of legislation through because it is the most important issue that is seizing the nation. I mean everybody in the real world, outside of Ottawa and Parliament Hill, is talking about the need for Bill C-24. Everyone is trying to figure out some way of sending $22 million to political parties every year from now on.

I do not hear that and the Canadian Alliance is the party in this place that is opposed to this legislation. We have said that repeatedly ever since it was brought forward. The government asks, why is the Canadian Alliance opposed to this? It says that taxpayers already subsidize political parties. We have a tax credit. If somebody makes a donation to a political party or a candidate, they are eligible for an income tax credit. That is true. For example, on a $200 donation it is a $150 tax credit. That has been in place for quite some time.

Political candidates, their campaigns and political parties are also eligible for rebates from taxpayers. In the case of a candidate, like myself, I ran in four election campaigns, unsuccessfully in the first one and successfully in the last three. Each and every time, if I received, which I obviously did, more than 15% of the vote, I got a 50% rebate from taxpayers of the money that was donated to me and that I in turn spent on my election campaign.

The government House leader argues, what is the big deal? Political parties, candidates, and politicians are already subsidized by the taxpayer. Well, it is a big deal. The issue is, why must we burden the taxpayer more? The argument is that somehow this particular government ended up with some egg on its face because of some pretty shady operations. It accepted corporate donations and in turn those corporations turned around and had fairly lucrative contracts. It has been revealed in the press. I am not talking about anything new. There have been a series of those over the last number of years.

Rather than restoring the integrity that the Prime Minister promised in the red book back in 1993, he is solving the problem by bringing forward a bill and having the taxpayers pay for it. Corporate donations would be outlawed above a certain amount so that there cannot be any of these large corporate donations to political parties and instead we would have the taxpayers pay for it. That would solve the problem. It is not funny.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

An hon. member

It's sad.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

It's sad, that whenever there is a problem with the Liberal government its first inclination is to have the taxpayers solve the problem for it. Instead of looking within itself and asking if maybe it should have been turning down some of the donations or ensuring that some of the corporations were not eligible from the same department, and the same minister that they were donating to, for a contract. Maybe it should have been looking at that.

I want to spend my remaining time speaking on behalf of my constituents of Prince George—Peace River. I think the message I am sending today as a Canadian Alliance MP, is the message that every one of the 301 members of Parliament would be receiving from their constituents and that is with the huge issues that are facing our nation; the softwood lumber dispute that has been going on for years now, people have been laid-off cannot make ends meet, now we have a SARS health crisis in Ontario, primarily in Toronto and we have the BSE, the mad cow disaster that has hit our beef industry in western Canada but affected the economy of the entire nation and the beef industry from coast to coast.

Those are just three that come to mind. We have our military that is about to face a pretty hefty deployment to Afghanistan. All these major issues face our nation and need to be addressed, and the issue that seizes the government and Prime Minister, in his waning days of power, is taxpayer subsidization of political parties. It is absolutely unbelievable and I can say that my constituents are sick about it and I believe that when word gets out that the people from coast to coast, Canadians are tired of paying taxes to benefit politicians, they are going to speak loudly about Bill C-24 in the next election campaign.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for South Shore, the Auditor General; the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, Iraq.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are now discussing Motion No. 11 for Bill C-24. This motion calls for a review of the act after the next general election. That is the purpose of today's discussion. However, we may need to broaden the scope of the debate.

Before going any further, I would like to point out that my colleagues' main argument was that we are asking taxpayers to fund, in part, political parties' operations under the new bill. He said that we would be adding an additional burden to taxpayers, who are already overtaxed. I completely agree with him; people are much too heavily taxed and yes, the government could make efforts to reduce taxes, which would be even better.

However, the argument put forward by my colleague is a false one. In fact, if a corporation or a company contributes $100,000 to a political party, for example, if a big bank contributes $100,000 to the Liberal Party fund—as has occurred in the past and as is still the case today—this bank is not creating this money out of nothing—it will simply take this $100,000 and include it in its public relations expenses or other expenses. This way, it pays less tax on its profits.

Moreover, the company will ask users to foot the bill because companies make money by selling services or products. So, if the $100,000 is part of this company's overhead costs, it is obvious that the company will increase its prices accordingly. Companies do not create money out of nothing; they provide services. That is how it works. It seems to me that this argument is a somewhat spurious one.

As for the other major element of Bill C-24, I would like to draw a comparison with Quebec. Quebec has had legislation on political party financing for quite a while. We should look at how it has worked, and see what good it has done Quebec in terms of cleaning up politics. If we compare this system to the Canadian system, it is clear that there is a very serious problem with party financing in the latter. One need only look at the current leadership race.

Since we have a bill before us, we can ask ourselves, for instance, which candidate will win the leadership race. The answer is simple: the one who raised the most money. But at present, this is hardly clean money; it is money raised in secret. There is therefore a need to make these activities transparent.

We could look at the United States and how the presidency campaigns are run in that country; we would see all the problems they have had in the past.

At present, if we look at the situation in Canada, I mentioned the leadership race, but we could talk about the overall operation of political parties. To say that political parties are not influenced by the large companies or the individuals who contribute the most to their election fund would be a lie. To say that a member would not be influenced by the fact that a company contributed $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 or $25,000 to his or her election campaign, would be to lie to the public.

Naturally, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of Bill C-24. We had hoped that the measures in this bill would follow Quebec's lead, so as to make it more acceptable to the general public and ensure that our democracy can truly express its will. From the beginning, Quebec's political party financing legislation was recognized throughout North America, Europe and the world as being very forward-looking legislation that cleaned up politics. It is a model for all liberal democracies in North America and Europe. It is a model, but we think too that it needs to be perfected, amended and regularly reviewed, and Motion No. 11 would ensure that Canada's political party financing legislation is subject to regular review.

We want this legislation to be improved. We do not want business to have the right to make contributions. The only way to renew the public's interest in democracy is to allow it to participate and to see that it, not just business, can have a real influence on political parties.

Over the years, this aspect of our democracies got off track. From the moment that businesses had access to political party financing—perhaps right from the start, but it was less obvious before; this has become more evident over the years—they have become increasingly important to political parties and have had more and more influence on our democracy, which has meant that the influence of individuals has decreased.

This must be rectified immediately, since we realize that the public is becoming disillusioned with politics. It thinks that politics are not credible, because it is influenced by interest groups—unions were mentioned—or business.

Another change we should maybe have considered during the examination of this bill on political party financing—and I mentioned this earlier—is the combined influence of interest groups. These days, in our society, it is no longer citizens who dominate. There are even corporations, understandably, that have formed big groups, like all of the chambers of commerce and so on. It is all of these interest groups that constantly influence members to vote one way or another.

This is something that has developed in our democracy over the last 30 years and we have seen it happen. Every citizen with a cause to defend can, if they want, create a lobby group. The more powerful that group is, the greater that person's chances of being heard by governments. Unfortunately, under current legislation, such as the Canada Elections Act and the political party financing legislation, we have also allowed these interest groups to contribute to political parties. That has given them additional influence.

I think this should be prohibited. I think that only citizens should have the right to contribute to political parties, to invest in their democracy and, in this way, ensure its health, on the condition that, as others have mentioned, there be annual reporting and that we know who contributed to the funding of each political party, based on the allowable limit.

In Quebec, if my memory serves well—I would have to check—I think that any contributions over $100 must be declared. There must be a list of people who have contributed to a party. I think the same is true federally, and this is a good idea.

Earlier, there was talk of increasing the burden on taxpayers. I would like to come back to this idea. In fact, I think that it is up to each and every individual to fund political parties, but it is also up to the government to make efforts so that political parties can be viable and, from an economic standpoint, continue to grow and prosper so as to develop our democracy and allow people to participate in it.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-24 at report stage although there is only one amendment in Group No. 2, which deals with the mandatory review to be undertaken after the first election conducted under these new election financing rules.

I am particularly pleased to join the debate today being a member of Parliament from Manitoba, where we recently conducted our first election campaign under new election financing rules. I should point out that in our province of Manitoba under our new election financing rules, I believe it is the purest and cleanest democracy in the country as it stands today, for the simple reason that the NDP government in Manitoba passed a law indicating that only a registered voter can make a political campaign contribution. There are no contributions at all allowed from businesses or trade unions.

When we made those changes we made them completely and absolutely.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

An hon. member

We actually levelled the playing field.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

We actually levelled the playing field in the most literal sense. In fact, we went further. There is no public funding to reimburse or offset the lack of contributions or the reduction in contributions from labour or business. That is election campaign financing in its purest form. Only a registered voter is allowed to make campaign contributions.

It was a bill brought in by the NDP, the very first bill it introduced when it formed the government in 1999. Even then, those individuals are limited to a $3,000 maximum. No private individual can donate more than $3,000. That, I believe, is taking big money out of politics, and that, I believe, does send the message that no one in this country should be able to buy an election campaign. I am very proud that our provincial government did introduce those changes.

As well, however, I am not disappointed to be dealing in the House of Commons today with legislation that is at least similar. I believe the NDP will be able to support Bill C-24. We are optimistic that there will be amendments above and beyond Motion No. 11, which we are dealing with today. We support the idea that there should be a mandatory compulsory review after the first experience. That is only logical.

We are critical, though, of the fact that other amendments were not deemed votable at report stage, specifically the amendment dealing with trade union contributions and corporate contributions. We do not mind the limitation. We are not objecting to the limitation as such, but we are objecting to the fact that under Bill C-24 a trade union is defined in a way that is different from the way a trade union is defined in the Canada Labour Code. As such, only the national organization would be able to make a single contribution of $1,000 in most cases.

There might be a national union with 200 local unions across the country in the same organization. Under the Canada Labour Code they are considered individual trade unions, but for the purposes of Bill C-24 that large trade union would be able to make only one contribution of $1,000, whereas the inverse is not true for corporations. For instance, a corporation that has 200 franchises would be able to make a $1,000 contribution from each one of those 200 franchises. We find this fundamentally unfair, for two reasons.

First, the definition of a trade union is not consistent in the legislation. The definition in Bill C-24 should be the same as the definition in the Canada Labour Code. Second, it is a severe disadvantage in terms of individual trade union locals, which may be fairly large entities unto themselves. There may be 3,000 members in that local union, but they will not be able to make any political campaign contribution; only the parent organization, the national body, will be able to make a political contribution. That is one thing that we in the NDP wish to see addressed in the bill in the interests of fairness.

The second thing we will be speaking to is the idea of trust funds. There will be limitations put in place for all future contributions made to trust funds. After Bill C-24 comes into effect, it will have to be disclosed who is making those contributions to the trust funds, but that rule is not retroactive.

There are substantial trust funds in place already that members of Parliament have developed personally and that provincial wings of political parties have developed and of which we have no record. We will not be able to trace who made those contributions. That is going to be the subject of an interesting debate later on when we get to those amendments.

Suffice it to say that Canadians do not want to go toward the American model. I believe, and others may disagree with my personal opinion, that big money has ruined American politics. I do not say that lightly and I do not say that to be hypercritical in any way of our American friends. It is just that for a person to seek a seat in congress in this day and age, one needs $1 million or even $2 million to run a successful campaign. To run for the senate, one could need $5 million or $10 million. There was one woman in California who spent $20 million and did not succeed.

When big money gets into politics to that degree, people cannot start their political lives without owing an enormous debt to financial backers. As well, elected politicians spend most of their time gathering money for their next challenge two or four years down the road. To put it quite simply, money influences politics far too much in that model. I am proud that we are taking steps to try to diminish that here today.

I cannot help but think what a difference it would have made in some of the more famous scandals that we have seen lately, for instance the public works scandals with the advertising sponsorship contracts, if there had been rules in place that businesses could not donate money to political parties, period. There would be far less incentive for governments to give out money for nothing contracts to friendly businesses who may make political campaign contributions, thinking that they will then get access to a greater number of contracts from the government. That kind of thing would have been self-correcting were it in place years ago.

We would hope that the changes we are making today will put a stop at least to some of that kind of corrupt allocation of public works contracts. We are not sure. As I say, we are still critical that there are ways now within Bill C-24 for businesses to make campaign contributions in such a way that they could--and I am not saying they will, but they could--influence government decision making. Surely what this bill is all about is to get big money out of politics.

I see I only have one minute left, but suffice it to say I am very proud that the province of Manitoba has seen fit to adopt what I believe is the purest and cleanest democracy in the country. Only a registered voter should be able to make a political campaign contribution, and even that campaign contribution should have a limit. The limit set in Manitoba is $3,000 maximum. In that way we are much less likely to run the risk of undue influence by big money in Canadian politics.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, in regard to the amendment being proposed, we are calling for a review after the implementation of this bill and it is first used following an election. Indeed I can support that kind of amendment. However, when I look at the bill in its entirety, I do not think for a second that there should be any question as to whether this review should begin immediately. The bill needs a lot of fixing, to put it in my language. There are a lot of things that need to be done to the bill to make it better.

I find it amazing that there are people in the House who think that integrity can be legislated. Have they not learned by now that integrity is a heart disease, that a person has the will and desire to be honest? Of course, I have not seen that happen in regard to some of the activities that we have experienced over the last 10 years and even before that in some cases.

Bill C-24 really is not in the hearts of all Canadians at the moment. The day will come when a lot of Canadians, after realizing that they will be putting $22 million of their own money into a program to finance all political parties, will be a little upset, myself included. It upsets me to think for one minute that one penny of my money would go to support a party like the Liberal Party that has been running the country for the last nine years. It makes me ill to think that any of my money would go to support the kinds of things the Liberals have been trying to promote over the years and the kinds of actions and inactions they have taken in regard to a lot of issues that are very questionable with respect to honesty and integrity.

I would like my money to go toward what I believe to be a party that is a principled party. I want to make sure that happens. I want to be part of it.

This bill is not going to sit too well with Canadians, but that is not even the issue in Wild Rose and I know it is pretty well true across the country, particularly for members on all sides of the House of Commons where the agriculture industry is part of their riding. Today, because of mad cow disease an industry has been halted in its entirety and we can no longer export our beef. That industry is one of the biggest providers of work and labour for so many people. With the hurting that is going on, does anyone think that people really care whether we are going to pass this bill or whether we are going to do anything about it? Does anyone think people are really concerned about that today?

For three years the riding of Wild Rose and surrounding ridings suffered through a drought while the government did not do one thing, not one thing, in terms of the tragedy people were facing. We had music concerts and bingos. All kinds of fundraising took place by two Canadians who wanted to help their fellow people who were suffering because of the drought. They were doing their very best. Farmers from Ontario donated hay and did their very best to get it out west. There was cooperation across the nation. What did the government do in regard to that drought? Nothing. It did not provide one cent.

Liberal members sit over there and gloat about a bill like this, when people out there now cannot even move the cattle. After they finally got some rain and it looked like they were going to get some hay, now they have to just sit on it. The bankruptcies are beginning, folks. It is not going to take long before they are really hurting. Instead of dealing with a problem of that nature in the House of Commons, we are debating how we can squeeze another $20 million or so out of taxpayers to try to buy some honesty through legislation. It is disgraceful.

People are hurting out there because of the softwood lumber issue. It has been happening for 10 years. When are all 301 of us in the House of Commons going to sit down and talk about the disasters that are happening to our people? Let us sit down and work together to solve some of these issues.

But no, we will debate this bill for a while, until the House leader for the Liberals gets tired debating it. Then he will run in and put closure on the issue, which he is very capable of doing. It has been done 100 times or so. He has already done it on this bill. It is finished after a few more hours of debate. It does not matter. I would just as soon shut down debate on the bill altogether and get down to some serious problems.

What a great week it was when I was back here the last time. It was a great week. There were all kinds of difficulties facing the nation. What did we do? We sat in here and talked about marijuana. For crying out loud, is that really a serious problem?

A member over there is making fun of what I am saying. He does not care about all these other things. He cares about Bill C-24. Other issues keep coming up day after day and in question period we listen to some minister or parliamentary secretary say “We are reviewing the situation. We are keeping on top of it. We are not doing anything. Nothing is happening, but we are reviewing it”.

One day the Canadian people will wake up and say that enough is enough of that kind of government. One day the Canadian people will really want to see a wakening in this place and will say “You people are there to look after our needs. When are you going to start doing it?”

Right now in my riding, there are many ranchers, feedlot owners, truckers who cannot move their trucks and everything is stopped dead after three years of drought and we sit in here debating how to squeeze another bunch of money out of taxpayers to make the elections honest. Elections can be very honest. It is unfortunate for the Canadian people that some of the people they elect are not very honest.

Of course all kinds of investigations are going on to determine whether or not what I say is true. Then we are investigating ourselves and I am sure we will get to the truth of the matter.

I would like to see a bunch of people in here become a principled group, principled to the idea that by golly it is time that we started serving the Canadians who pay our wages, who cause these lights to be on. When are we going to start doing that? When will the day come when we decide we are going to be a real democracy and someone will not march in from behind the curtain on that side of the House and bring in closure on practically everything important that does come up?

Year after year, the person who brings in closure on behalf of the government is the same one who once stood on this side ranting and raving about the terrible way that the Conservatives of the past brought in closure time and time again. On and on it goes, year after year.

We can talk all we want about this election bill. Right now I personally do not give a hoot about it and neither do all the 180,000 people who live in my riding. They really do not care. There is a lot of hurting going on out there. The softwood lumber industry is suffering to no end. Agriculture is our top industry and it is really hurting. My constituents have sent me to Ottawa to help with these problems and I have to come in and listen to a bunch of garbage on things about how we can make ourselves honest. People ought to try being that way once and see if that works. Be honest about what we are here for.

Forget about marijuana for a while, put it aside. It has got a problem of its own. Leave it where it is at and let the police take care of it. Let us start looking after our people. We will get down to those issues when the time is right. Right now I prefer to look after the people of this land and it is beginning to really hurt.

If members who have people in their ridings who depend on the cattle industry to support their way of life, their lives and farms and those members sit in the House of Commons and do not do anything to help that situation, then they should hang their heads in shame. As for me, those are the issues I want to spend my time on, but I will not be allowed to because we have to talk about things like this bill.

Congratulations to all members of the House of Commons. They should ignore the real issues, enjoy themselves and have fun because summer is coming. We will all enjoy summer but I can guarantee there will be a whole pile of people out there who will not if we do not start to do something today.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to speak to the second group of amendments.

I have listened attentively to the speech just given by the hon. member. I know he feels very profoundly about his constituents. I know he works very hard for them. However in his speech he has not stated correctly the position of all of us in the House.

That being said, I will be the first to admit that he works hard for his constituents. I remember last summer when we had a crisis of another kind in his part of the country. He and I were speaking to each other during the summer months from our respective homes, working on such things as the Hay West initiative. I know how hard he and another member from Saskatchewan worked.

The Saskatchewan farmers were in my office last week. Again, we were discussing not only the problems they have now, which are very real and very serious, but we were also discussing the issue of last year in which constituents from my constituency, your constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I can address you as such for the purpose of identifying your constituency because your constituents were very helpful, and those from a number of areas.

I do not agree with some of the things that are being said now. The issue of the legislation in the House and the issues of the overall agenda of the government are not identical. Obviously a minister negotiating with a province to obtain help for a group of people is not necessarily a legislative initiative. Where the two coincide is in question period where members, opposition members in a greater number but government members too or government supporting members, question the government to ensure that it does what is best for Canadians. That is done by question period. That is done by the statements that we make in the House of Commons. That is done by the private members' initiatives that people produce from time to time on a whole variety of issues and so on. That is done by the committee work that we all do around here. Countless committee reports are tabled in the House of Commons. Issues are discussed. Committees increasingly travel throughout the country and listen to Canadians.

You and I, Mr. Speaker, were just recently in the U.K. looking at what its Parliament does, and the same in Scotland. I think everyone who went there came to the conclusion that although the U.K. Parliament does some things better than us, our committee system is by far superior to its committee system. That is much to the credit of members on all sides of the House in terms of the good work they do.

The issue of marijuana legislation is not one that somehow interferes with how ministers are trying to help out with issues, whether it is SARS, the BSE issue in agriculture or anything else. A bill was introduced and put on the Order Paper by the minister. We have not yet debated it, so obviously it has not taken debating time away from anything else. That is the marijuana bill.

In terms of the bill that is before us today, Bill C-24, and the amendment that we are discussing at the present time, it is designed to make this great institution even better. I do not apologize for that. I think it ultimately serves all Canadians better when the legislation that governs how we are elected is better.

I feel that this legislation will improve our system. In 1973-74 there was no legislation on political party financing. Later there were strict laws on spending limits. I will use my case as an example since it is the one I know best. I come from a socio-economic background where it would have been impossible to become a member of parliament a generation ago. Yet, today I have the opportunity to serve my country.

Who would have thought that a busboy at the parliamentary restaurant, who dropped out of high school, would become a member of parliament let alone a minister or Leader of the Government in the House of Commons?

Yet, I had this opportunity. I may have worked hard, I may have been lucky, but for the most part it is the law that allows me to be here because I did not have to be rich to be a candidate. It was not a prerequisite as it is in some democracies, or so-called democracies.

Our neighbours to the South hold some great democratic values for which I congratulate them. But they are still not well endowed when it comes to democratic values. My test of democracy is not, for instance, met by the news that Senator Hillary Clinton spent the equivalent of what is spent by all political parties in Canada for the 301 ridings in this country to get herself elected.

The bill we have before us at this time will help improve this system. Not for me, who has been in one elected position or another for the past 27 years, but for the future generations. I think that I have a reasonable chance of getting the nod from my party for the next election, and maybe even a reasonable chance of getting re-elected, but those who come after me are entitled to a better situation than I have known. They are the ones I hope will benefit from this opportunity, along with the institution in which we all sit.

Now for the clause in question, which we are addressing. Its objective is to clarify the fact that, after the next election, there will of course be a review of the legislation. That is already there, but I have proposed an amendment. Its purpose is to respond to the concerns of the committee, by stating that, next time, this review must address the financial aspect we are adopting at this time, today, tomorrow and in the days to come. We must be sure that, should the formula require adjustment, improvement, additions or deletions, or anything else, the steps required to make such major improvements will be there. The amendment in question is in Group No. 2, which we are discussing, nothing else.

Back to what I was saying before, with all due respect to certain of my colleagues—particularly the previous speaker—I disagree strongly with him when he says this is not a significant bill. I believe it will likely be one of the most important bills this Parliament enacts.

Those who produced the original act in the 1970s have produced a very important piece of legislation, and so is Bill C-2, which was introduced in a previous Parliament to prohibit this kind of control which was impending by third parties, these so-called public interest groups which were influencing the political system by claiming to be running parallel campaigns.

That is when the National Citizen's Coalitions of this world were stopped. There is a case pending before the courts and we will see what comes of it. I will not discuss the details of the case because I do not want to prejudice the outcome, but I think that this is another important bill for democratizing our institutions. Today, we have Bill C-24 before us and we will conclude debate.

I urge my hon. colleagues to support the last step we have to take to complete this debate, that is, take the required votes and then pass the bill in the House. This will ensure that it will become the law of the land for generations to come, so that our institution can be increasingly one which represents all the citizens of our country, men and women, regardless of their ethnic origin or whatever group they belong to, allowing them to at least aspire to get elected. If they are as lucky as I was, they will get elected to represent their fellow citizens in this place.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, this certainly does not happen to me often, but I have to admit that I agree with all of the latter part of the speech by the government House leader.

Bill C-24 is an important bill that will improve the conditions in which democracy is exercised, despite what some hon. members may say. I must say that I never expected, in this House, to hear the Prime Minister praise the democratic value of the legislation passed in Quebec, at the instigation of René Lévesque, concerning public financing of political parties.

The Prime Minister of Canada has recognized this as a model law and he wants to follow its lead. I hope that, by means of the amendments, he will follow it all the way through to the end, and that the only people able to donate to election campaigns and political parties will be individual citizens, and they alone.

We Quebeckers do not see this as a leap into the unknown, as it appears to be for some other hon. members in this House. This bill, Bill C-24, is not a leap into the unknown for us, because for years, since 1977 in fact, we have been living with a law that forces people who want to work in politics—not just the candidates, but also those who work within a party, in a riding or at the national level—to go out and meet the citizens, and talk to them about what they are doing and what they plan to do, and listen to them, too.

The rewards might be $5, $10, $20, sometimes $100 or $200, but there are a lot of small amounts in party financing. That this should be so is extremely healthy. When a party begins to do this less often and relies more and more on big donors, it seems that its own internal democracy and its ability to be close to the people and represent them well is also called into question.

In view of that, it appears extremely clear that the system that will be in place until the bill is passed and has allowed corporations in general and big corporations in particular to help fund election campaigns, political parties and riding associations is such that political parties, candidates, MPs and organization executives tend not to give the same consideration to someone who makes a $5, $10, $15 or $20 donation as to someone who gives $5,000, $10,000 and sometimes more.

Understandably a candidate who needs a lot of money to run might be extremely sensitive to the arguments of an individual or a corporation able to give $5,000. This is human and the law puts people in that situation, namely not to give the same consideration to all citizens but to be more sensitive to the arguments of those whose money talks and gets them heard.

There is another harmful consequence: when citizens see that their party is financed by corporations, if they are not wealthy, they tend not to contribute. They rationalize this by saying that parties get money from businesses anyway. They know that businesses can in turn deduct it from their taxes one way or another. In people's minds, it is clear that funds do not come from the businesses themselves but from their profits, which in turn come from the public's pockets and from tax credits.

This approach is bad in every respect and has been condemned repeatedly, so much so that today we are happy to see the government finally come up with this bill. It can be improved of course, for instance, by eliminating the provisions that still allow corporations to give $1,000. Why keep this amount? It will be difficult to enforce within provincially and across Canada. Also political parties will find it difficult to deal with. To which riding will the money go or will it only go to the parties?

There is no real advantage but a series of disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that it corrupts the principle slightly. But for what purpose? Again there is no advantage, only disadvantages.

We heard all kinds of things in this House, for example that debating this bill is a waste of time. I am sorry but I am extremely sensitive to the plight of workers who are affected by the softwood lumber issue, and businesses as well, especially small and medium size businesses. It is a very important issue, but it is not something that needs to be debated in the House; it is something that requires action by the government, which we have been calling for constantly.

This bill, like many others, is our responsibility. We must create the proper conditions for democracy so that all Canadians can be heard equally no matter which party they belong to or what member represents them. This seems extremely important to us. In the end, it will make a difference. When the government House leader says that it will be one of the most important bills, I think that he is right because indeed—and that is what he truly feels—it will change the relationship between political parties in this country and their members as well as all Canadians.

We, in the Bloc Quebecois, are pleased because we know that, overall, this bill will improve the way democracy works in this country. Our calls did not fall on deaf ears; Quebec was heard. As my colleague was saying, this bill will help all voters to regain confidence in their representatives, knowing that, to finance their election campaign, they will not have to give in to the demands of those who would offer them thousands of dollars.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, in listening to this last round of speeches, I have been thinking that there is something fundamentally at the root of this problem we have, especially hearing from those people from the different parties who support the government on this, including Bloc.

It is a curiosity to me that those people who promote themselves so rigorously as being democratic, and I do not question their sincerity in doing so, do not recognize that this bill is very antithetical to true democracy. Instead of giving people the freedom individually to work for and to promote the party of their choice that represents their values, we will simply with this bill pass into law that the parties can exist whether they have the support.

I know people on the other side will say that is not true because if the parties do not represent the people, they will not get the votes and then they will get less money. That also is anti-democratic.

I wish they would stop to think about this. If their vote count goes down, how will they ever fight back? How will they once again come to a place where they can offer a true alternative to some other government that has come into place?

Let us say, for hypothetical reasons, that the Canadian Alliance forms the government next time and the Liberals are reduced to two seats. Now that is not entirely without its historical precedence in this place, that a majority government has disappeared down to two seats. It happened in 1993. It could happen again where the electors will just simply say that they have enough of that crew, that they waste money on boondoggle after boondoggle, that they have no program to solve problems in the justice system and that they keep wasting taxpayer money on a very ill-conceived gun registration system. It goes on and on, and they will be defeated.

Let us say the Canadian Alliance forms the government and the Liberals are down to two votes, having had their electoral balanced in total, because this bill apportions money based on the number of votes collected in the previous election. Let us say that the electoral share of the Liberals went down to one-half of what it is now. That is a possibility. I wonder whether they would be singing this song today if they stopped to think that is a possibility.

I do not think it would be good for Canada. I do not think it would be healthy if, from now on, there would be a totally dominant Canadian Alliance Party running the country without a viable opposition. I would like to see a Canadian Alliance government. I know we could do much better than that crew over on the other side. I still think, for the purposes of democracy, that Canadians are well-served if there is a strong opposition, and we have tried to be that.

In fact just as a little aside, I have had people tell me that since we came here in the last 10 years, it is the first time Canada has ever seen a real opposition. Until now the two parties have just changed sides and, because basically they are the same, there is not really much difference. It did not matter which one was on which side of the House. However we came here with some truly new ideas, some really creative ways of working within our economic systems and reducing taxes. We actually made it politically correct to talk about balancing the budgets, reducing taxes and reducing government interference in our lives.

Now that party is saying that from now on it wants whichever party has had the dominance in the last election to thrive and any new party which comes along will really have a difficult time raising money. This bill prevents the party from raising large amounts of money from individuals and from businesses, and makes it dependent directly on the taxpayers based on how many votes it has received in the previous election.

The amendment we are debating in this group talks about reviewing this. I favour the amendment. It is important for us to review the legislation after it has been in effect for a while, particularly after the next election. However I am really fearful because the party in power, the party that has had the majority of votes in the last election, will continue to have the most amount of money and the other parties will be disproportionately and negatively affected by it. I think that is wrong.

I think the Canadian people say that here is a party they support. It represents better than any other party on the horizon right now the true values they have, the true aspirations they have for their country. Surely in a government, in a democracy like Canada's they should be free to support that party to their heart's content and not have the money squeezed out of them to support the party that received the most votes in the previous election.

We are talking about the next election now; where will we go from here, not where have we been. It is like driving a truck gazing only into the rear view mirror. One cannot keep the thing going straight by doing that. One must look out of the windshield and judge where one is going. One can use the rear view mirror when backing up. I guess maybe these Liberals are taking our country into distant places in the past, where we have been instead of where we want to go.

I am very concerned about one aspect of the bill and I am sure we will want to revisit it. That is the reporting requirements.

Every time there is a general election, we have a very busy bureaucracy in Elections Canada and in our taxation department. Even now it is required that every candidate file returns. If they get more than 15% of the votes, then they are eligible for a rebate of 50% of eligible expenditures in running the campaign. That is an awful lot of book work.

Think of 301 members of Parliament presently, soon to go up, and 300 returns. However the fact of the matter is that very few ridings have fewer than four candidates. Many of them have six, eight, some up to ten, and even more I guess. How many returns are we processing in an election? If it is an average of five, and there are 300 ridings, that is 1,500 returns that have to be processed and expenses determined and evaluated.

The bill proposes to expand that to nomination candidates. It is feasible that each of the parties could have four contenders for the nomination for each of the parties. If five parties are contending in a riding and four people for each party, there are now 20 individuals per riding. With 300 ridings that means 6,000 returns to mull through, just as a result of getting the candidates, prior to the election even being held. We would have 6,000 returns from candidates and another 1,500 when the election is called. That is absurd. All we are doing is saying to people to go out and support the candidate of their choice, give him or her a cheque for $100, $200, $500 or whatever they wish. It is no big deal.

The other thing is the fundamental question of integrity here. We have these limitations, but I am saying that a person of integrity cannot be bought for $500 nor can he be bought for $5 million. It is just a matter of degree.

I remember one time when I made a very blatant statement in our staff room. I said I would not smoke a cigarette for $100. It took a matter of seconds and one of my colleagues said he was putting down $10 and another guy said he was putting down $10. It took less than a minute, there was $100 sitting on the table and then one of my smoking colleagues offered me a cigarette. There is the money, he said. I said, “Oh no, you guys are missing something”. Obviously smoking one cigarette was not going to harm me if I never smoked another one after that. This was back in the days when we made $400 a month and $100 was a lot of money. But I told them they had made a mistake, that it was no longer about whether or not I would take the $100 to smoke a cigarette. It was about my integrity and I told them they could not buy that for any price.

That is why the whole basis of the bill is flawed. What we are trying to do by putting arbitrary limits on how much one can be bought for is to say that somehow that will produce integrity. Very frankly, if one does not have it in the first place, one does not have it all. I do not think this bill is going to solve that problem. People who are going to be subject to being influenced by people who donate money to their cause are going to do it anyway.

I think this bill is as directionless as the registration of long guns is in trying to reduce crime. I am going to support this amendment because the bill needs to be looked at again. I wish it would be defeated right now, but it looks like the Liberals will push it through. They have closure. They are saying no more debate on this thing and they are going to push it through, so then we had better look at it afterwards.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise once again in debate on Bill C-24 at report stage, specifically to the amendments in Group No. 2 that have been permitted by the Speaker, although in fact we are talking about a group consisting of only one amendment so it is a bit of a misnomer.

In a way, the amendment before us is a no-brainer. It just makes perfectly good sense that after Bill C-24 comes into effect, and after we have been through a federal election in which its new political financing provisions have actually been implemented, we would then have a thorough review of the impact of the provisions of the bill. As my colleague the member for Palliser pointed out, many amendments were brought forward in committee. A number of proposed amendments, some of them proposed by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, for example, were not supported or have been disallowed for technical reasons, I think it would be fair to say, by the Speaker.

This does not mean that some of the very concerns raised in debate as the bill has proceeded through the stages of discussion do not have every bit as much merit today as they did when they were put forward. Perhaps following the next election, when we have had experience under the act, it may become clear to some members that some of those amendments ought to have been supported in the first place and, upon review, there will be an opportunity for reconsideration of some of them. It is just good sense and obviously a parliamentary practice that should be built into this and every piece of legislation. I and my colleagues of course will be supporting this provision.

Having said that, it seems to me that this is an appropriate occasion on which to say once again how regrettable and lamentable it is that some of the obvious flaws in the bill are now not going to be dealt with and resolved.

I go right back to the first principle, a principle that the New Democratic Party supports and one that I personally and absolutely support, and that is to eliminate big money and undue influence from politics.

Also a very important point, and one that I think the previous Alliance speaker absolutely misses, is that it is absolutely necessary to be concerned about integrity in politics and to be concerned about eliminating undue influence from whatever sources and for whatever purposes, but it is also critically important to deal with the perception of possible undue influence and the perception of practices that are simply not supportable. For that reason, it is extremely regrettable, it seems to me, that when we are dealing with a bill for which the purpose is straightforward, sound and very supportable, there are a couple of violations of the fundamental principle that go to the heart of the bill.

Frankly, we have been very frustrated and Canadians will not be the least impressed that on the one hand we have the government bringing forward legislation, and it is now obvious that it intends to invoke closure and push ahead and vote time allocation because it is hell-bent to get this legislation on the books, but on the other hand the bill actually does not do what the government said its purpose was in the first instance, and that is to level the playing field, to eliminate contributions both from corporations and from unions. In fact, it does no such thing.

Not only does it not fully exclude donations from corporations, it gives an absolute advantage to corporations: discriminatory treatment to the potentially hundreds of thousands of corporations that can in fact avail themselves of the provisions of the bill to donate to individual political candidates. Is the same treatment accorded to trade unions? No, it is not. We have in the one instance the potential for every single Tim Hortons franchisee in this country, for example, to donate to the political candidate of his or her choice, but absolutely no comparable provision that would allow a union local to contribute to a candidate of its choice. That seems to be profoundly discriminatory and, as I say, a complete contradiction and contravention of the stated purpose of the bill.

Let me make it really clear. I am not taking aim at Tim Hortons. I am actually a bit of a Tim Hortons addict and I admit freely to that, but I cannot for the life of me understand this. Let me take Charlottetown as an example. There are seven Tim Hortons franchises in Charlottetown alone, seven in one riding. It is possible that all seven could be owned by separate franchisees. What that would mean if all seven of those Tim Hortons franchises in Charlottetown were owned by seven different franchisees is that $7,000 could be donated just by Tim Hortons franchisees to one candidate.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Roll up the rim.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

In the instance of Charlottetown, I am not sure this is absolutely correct so I stand to be corrected if there is a Liberal member who may want to correct me. But I believe I am correct is saying that the brother of one of the Liberal members of Parliament owns if not all seven of those franchises then the majority of them. In that instance it would not be fair to say that the Tim Hortons franchisee in Charlottetown could donate $7,000 from those seven different Tim Hortons locales, because I believe there is one owner of those Tim Hortons operations in Charlottetown, but it potentially, based upon these rules, would be the case.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

They can only give $1,000 total.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

One thousand dollars per franchisee is my point.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

One owner, one controller, $1,000 only.