Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to the bill that is before the House, Bill C-24.
I should say that it does not surprise me, the route that the government is taking on this.
I sit on the public accounts committee and, as members are aware, the Auditor General of Canada, an independent person who reports directly to the House of Commons as opposed to the government, has pointed out some of the travesties that have occurred in government sponsorship programs.
It is constantly being publicized and brought to the public's attention the accountability of how the government has these kinds of offhand situations where companies are directly benefiting from the fact that they donate to the Liberal Party of Canada, or it might even be in the reverse, where people donate to the Liberal Party of Canada and then they benefit, as a company, from government contracts.
The one thing that has made it possible, not only for the Auditor General but for those of us in opposition whose job it is to hold the government to account, has been the ability to connect, through access to information or just the public accounts, those who get government contracts with those who donate to various political parties, namely, the governing party. We have, through that process, been able to make those connections.
Now, as I understand it, with the new legislation the government is trying to give Canadians the impression that all of that questionable behaviour will cease and desist, and that because of the taxpayer funding parties and elections, this kind of thing will not happen.
A person would have to be awfully naive to think that will be the end result. All that will happen is that rather than a corporation, which might receive a government contract, being upfront with its donation, perhaps 10 individuals of that corporation will be donating the money which would be equal or more than what that corporation might have donated in the first place, but the connections will be much harder to put together.
I think it will just create more confusion in trying to make those connections, therefore giving the governing party an opportunity to not be quite so accountable and upfront with who is getting what contracts and who is donating to the Liberal Party of Canada, or it might be some other party at the time.
I think it is also unfair to establish the public subsidization of political parties based on past performance. It was not that many years ago that I was a recipient of a feeling of the people of Canada that they were tired of the government of the day and wanted to replace it.
If this bill had been in place, it would not recognize that turn of support of the Canadian people. Where a party would have had substantial contributions from the public purse, it came to this House with only two people. Somehow there is a disconnect.
I would suggest that the legislation is very dangerous to democracy in Canada because it would fund the party that has perhaps given poor government by the people of Canada when they do not support that party, and that is unfair. It is undemocratic rather than being unfair for a government to insist that taxpayers have to fund political parties that they do not support.
Political parties should be funded by the people who support them, by the people who want to see them elected and elected in enough numbers to replace the government of the day or, simply put, it is the democratic principle of individuals to support the party that represents their viewpoints.
I do not think all taxpayers want to be supporting parties that they do not like, do not believe in and do not believe in what they stand for, and keep them in power, if that be the case. When we look at the number of dollars that the bill would give to political parties, it is astounding.
I think taxpayers are already concerned with the fact that if individuals who run an election receive more than 15% of the votes they will get back half the money they spent. The legislation says that individuals who get 10% of the popular vote would get back half the money they spent.
If taxpayers really stopped to think about it I think they would be horrified to know to what extent they will be funding this electoral process. I am not saying that there should not be a connect between the voter and the process, but I think that should be the decision by the person who is voting and paying the bill, as to how much connected they want to be to the process.
The two things with which I have real difficulty are that it will be less transparent, I believe, and that it will take away the democratic right of voters to support the party of their choice.
In looking at the fine print I am also very concerned with the reporting mechanisms for smaller amounts of money. I do not how other people operate but my constituency organization has all volunteers. They are good people who give of their time to their country in the way they have chosen to by helping the electoral process, but they are not CGAs. They are not people who can go through an accounting process that, quite frankly, is done at election time, and rightly so, but I cannot see where it will be of benefit to Elections Canada to have all this paperwork flowing in. It will not be to the benefit of the constituency organizations that will have to put out money to hire accountants and auditors to audit the books for, at some times, minimal amounts of money.
When large sums of money are raised it is generally at election time which is when the reporting mechanisms have to be very stringent. I am not saying that there should not be any reporting mechanisms but the way it is outlined in the book it will be almost impossible for smaller volunteer organizations like our constituency associations to meet the requirements. I think it is an inappropriate way of handling this.
The other area that causes me great concern is the way the bill does not even deal with one of the greatest concerns that the Chief Electoral Officer has, and that is the patronage postings of returning officers. The comments from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada is that he would not take our Canadian system and push it in third world countries where they are trying to establish democratic election processes. It is a sad state of affairs when he cannot even use our process as an example of how he would do things. The biggest concern he has is with this business of the Prime Minister of Canada appointing returning officers.
When are we going to have a truly neutral election process? As long as the Prime Minister is in a position of picking and choosing political hacks who support his policy and his party's position, how will we ever get neutral people running elections?
It goes further than the returning officers. It goes down into the people who they pick. There is no way, in a democracy like Canada, that our election process should be tainted by patronage appointments. It is a sad day when the major overhaul of our elections act does not remedy that failure.
As I said, when the Chief Electoral Officer promotes democratic elections around the world to developing and emerging democracies but cannot use our own example, something is wrong with that. The bill fails to address some of those very serious issues.
I will end by saying that I had great hopes that this would have allowed more transparent election spending or contributions but it does not. I had hoped that it would have made the process more democratic but it does not. The bill has failed to address some of the serious concerns that taxpayers, voters, Canadians have with our electoral process.