Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to say a few words on Bill C-24 in this stage of debate. I believe the bill was inevitable in our Canadian political experience. The process has been going on for quite some time and we could say that this is a bill whose time has come. This is probably one of the final stages of the public financing of elections in Canada.
The people of Canada approve of the bill. They approve moving the financing of Canadian elections from the private sector to the public sector. The people of Canada approve the principle of the bill and they approve the process that has been put in place in the House of Commons for this to occur.
With Bill C-24, we will have a clear, transparent and fair process to underwrite the cost of elections. The general public realizes this and fully endorses the transparency of this method of election financing.
To speak on Motion No. 11, the mandatory review of this bill after the next election is necessary because there are always things that we forgot. When we changed the enumeration process in elections, there were a lot of changes that had to be made afterward. That was a learning experience and I anticipate there will be some wrinkles in this bill which we have not thought of either.
The proposed motion will require a mandatory committee review and the bill will bring about important changes to the way political financing occurs. This is a very important reform that will have a significant impact on our political system. The new rules governing political contributions are essential to ensure that the system of political contributions is fully transparent at all levels and to remove any concerns or perception of undue influence by corporations, large donors or unions.
To achieve this purpose, the bill proposes comprehensive rules governing the financing of nomination contests, candidates, election district associations, registered parties, including provincial and territorial divisions of registered parties, as well as leadership contests.
The proposed bill provides for the reporting of contributions made to all political participants, including quarterly reports of contributions made to registered political parties, a measure that was introduced following suggestions in committee. It also provides for a regime where contributions are generally reserved to individuals up to a limit of $5,000 while at the same time allowing for more limited corporate and union contributions at the local level.
As a result of these new restrictions imposed by the bill on political contributions, a number of measures are proposed to ensure that the new regime is revenue neutral for political parties.
Let me simply review the most significant of these measures. The reimbursement of election expenses for registered parties would be increased from 22.5% to 50% with a one time reimbursement of 60% for the next election to assist parties as a transitional measure.
The threshold for candidates to qualify for the reimbursement of part of their election expenses would be lowered from 15% at present to 10%. The rate of reimbursement of the election expenses of candidates would increase by 50% to 60%, and the amendments to the Income Tax Act would double the amount of an individual's political contributions that is eligible for a 75% tax credit from $200 to $400. All other brackets of tax credit would be adjusted accordingly.
The proposed legislation will also introduce an annual allowance for registered parties of $1.75 per vote received. In this way the amount of public money given to a party under the allowance will be determined directly by Canadian electors. There will be in other words a direct link between a citizen's vote and the portion of his or her income tax that will be used in support of a democratic system. This may be a harbinger of proportional representation in our House of Commons but that is another debate.
The allowance of $1.75 per vote would be indexed to allow for inflation. Exceptionally, as a transitional measure, parties would receive the 2004 allowance in a lump sum as soon as practical after the coming into force of the bill, instead of quarterly as will be the case afterwards.
It is fair to say that the public financing provisions in the bill, and in particular the public allowance, are the provisions that have generated the most discussion here in the House of Commons.
Much has been said about the importance of ensuring adequate funding for political parties, given the key functions that they perform in a democratic system such as ours. Political parties serve to mobilize the electorate, provide an avenue for the representation of groups and articulation of their interests in concrete party policy proposals and their electoral platforms.
Strong parties and party organizations are critical to a healthy and dynamic democracy. If parties are not adequately funded, it is our entire electoral democracy that will be impoverished.
It must be remembered that political parties also play a fundamental role by providing a link between the state and its citizenry. They are essential structures for individual participation in our system of democratic governance. Providing basic funding for political parties allows competing political organizations to develop their platforms and programs. It allows them to conduct research and to develop policy options that citizens will then vote upon.
Bill C-24, by addressing on the one hand the concerns with the undue influence of corporations, as well as large individual donors and on the other hand, ensuring that parties have the necessary financial resources to perform their important function, will result in a healthier and more dynamic democracy.
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 running a political party in a modern democracy. Everyone in this House is certainly aware that the costs of running an effective party organization are rising, and this is a fact that was certainly made clear by party presidents who appeared before committee during the public hearings.
Particularly over the past few decades, parties have been faced with increasing costs of technology and the impact of media on party politics. It has been increasingly costly to maintain the necessary staff and institutionalized expertise that parties require to remain up to date on a wide range of issues and policy sectors.
The amendment to add polling to the definition of eligible expenditures is certainly a reflection of the modern cost of maintaining a political party. I do not believe there is any party that does not poll before, during and after elections, and this is a huge cost.
In addition, it must be recognized that the funding provided to parties to date, while beneficial, has had the shortcoming of kicking in after an election. As we are all aware, the functions of a party do not begin and end with an election. They are ongoing and that is why the public allowance is so essential to these reforms.
As an added benefit, the public allowance would be based on the number of votes received in the previous election. If a member has no public support, then there is no public financing. This should result in the encouragement of a greater connection between Canadians and parties. At the same time, we must not forget that there will be a need for parties to raise private funds from individuals, and this will also encourage them to maintain a vibrant connection with individual Canadians.
In conclusion, there are many important reasons for the public financing of political parties. Public financing contributes to a level playing field and an equality of opportunity and electoral competitiveness. It also allows parties to compete effectively regardless of the socio-economic condition of their supporters.
Public funding strengthens the autonomy of parties, reduces the perception of some groups that have undue influence and enhances financial transparency.
Public funding also provides parties with resources that are essential for democratic activities. There are at least equally important reasons for the measures dealing with the limits on contributions and the rules governing transparency.
Together these different rules will have a profound effect on our system of political financing but will in the short and long term be good for Canada.
A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.