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.