Motion No. 1
That Bill C-29, in Clause 4, be amended by deleting lines 13 to 17 on page 2.
Motion No. 2
That Bill C-29, in Clause 5, be amended by replacing lines 29 to 35 on page 4 with the following:
“case of a candidate, the selection date as defined in section 478.01 in the case of a nomination contestant, the end of the leadership contest in the case of a leadership contestant, and the end of the fiscal period during which the loan was made in the case of a registered party and registered association, is deemed to be a contribution of the”
Motion No. 3
That Bill C-29, in Clause 5, be amended by replacing lines 32 to 35 on page 5 with the following:
“Officer shall inform the lender of his or her decision; furthermore, the candidate's registered association or, if there is no registered association, the registered party becomes liable for the unpaid amount as if the association or party had guaranteed the loan.”
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be bringing before the House once again the bill on accountability with respect to loans, former Bill C-54 now Bill C-29, which was reinstated at report stage, in the same form as at prorogation.
The hon. members will certainly recall that this bill amends the Canada Elections Act in order to establish stricter and more transparent rules for loans to political entities. These amendments will ensure a more responsible and transparent use of loans as a tool for political financing. In this regard, accountability and transparency are essential to maintain the confidence of Canadians in the integrity of the political process.
This bill is one of many measures taken by our government to improve democracy and accountability in Canada, in accordance with three major principles of democratic reform: reform of political financing, improving the electoral system and modernizing the Senate.
In the October 2007 throne speech, the government reaffirmed its intention to proceed with these reforms. Our dynamic legislative program of democratic reforms will make real and significant improvements to our democratic institutions.
I remind the House that the amendments proposed for the treatment of loans in Bill C-29 are an important measure to maintain public confidence in this institution and our democracy.
Canadians must have confidence that there is no opportunity for the wealthy to secure undue influence in our political process.
The measures in Bill C-29 follow closely on this government's achievements in the Federal Accountability Act to ensure greater accountability and transparency in political financing. The objective was to eliminate the undue influence of big money in politics.
Members will recall, however, that during the recent Liberal leadership campaign big money found a back door to undue influence through large personal loans well in excess of the legal contribution limit.
The amendments would mean that the same standards of transparency that currently apply to contributions would apply to loans.
By closing the loopholes that allow people to use loans to get around both the limits on contributions and the restrictions on their source, Bill C-29 will ensure that the reforms that have already been made to political contributions cannot be undermined by the abuse of loans.
I would like to remind the House of the measures that are included in this bill. First, the bill would put in place a uniform and transparent disclosure system for all loans to political entities, including the compulsory disclosure of loans' terms and conditions and of lenders' and guarantors' names. This measure would make loans more transparent and standardize the treatment of loans for all categories of political entity, which is not the case at present.
Second, the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Federal Accountability Act would apply to loans as well. Loans and loan guarantees would be counted as contributions toward the $1,100 annual limit at the time they were made. This change would ensure that loans could not be used to circumvent the limit on individual contributions.
Third, only financial institutions and other political entities could make loans beyond that $1,100 limit. This change would mean that unions and corporations would now be unable to make loans consistent with their inability to make financial contributions. They could not disguise contributions as loans, which is a possibility under the current law.
Lastly—and I will come back to the importance of this proposal shortly—the bill proposes to tighten the rules for the treatment of unpaid loans to ensure candidates could not walk away from unpaid loans. Riding associations, or the guarantor if there is no riding association, would be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by candidates.
In the previous session, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs devoted careful study to the provisions of this bill and, after recent deliberations, has reported it back to the House with amendments.
Several of these amendments are valuable additions to the rules governing the treatment of loans, because they make the system described in the bill more equitable.
Notably, a change has been put forward by government members and supported by our opposition counterparts to exclude from the annual contribution limit any portion of a loan that is repaid to the lender and any unused loan guarantees. The effect of this change is to allow a lender, whose loan has been repaid or whose guarantees have been unused, still to contribute up to the annual contribution limit.
A change has also been put forward by our former colleague from Vancouver--Quadra, Mr. Owen, to require the Chief Electoral Officer to hear representations from affected interests before making a determination about a deemed contribution. This change, although technical in nature, would ensure certainty and uniformity in procedural fairness in dealings with Elections Canada.
There was also an amendment to extend the period of time as to when an unpaid loan is deemed to be a contribution from 18 months up to 3 years. In the spirit of working in a minority Parliament, the government is also prepared to accept this amendment.
I commend these amendments to the House on the grounds that they improve the overall regime of political financing in the Canada Elections Act.
However, there were some unwelcome amendments from the committee.
At this time, I would like to give some credit to my colleague, the New Democratic Party member from Winnipeg Centre. He has been a strong supporter of this legislation and, in fact, championed it even before it was introduced. We appreciate the cooperation he has shown with us in helping to develop the bill and discussing it at every stage. In particular, I appreciate his cooperation and discussion on the issue of redressing the two unwelcome amendments that were proposed in committee but which the government proposes to reverse.
I thank him for the commitment he gave to this government that his party would support the effort to remove these amendments. These amendments cause the government concern because they undermine the regime that is presented in the bill. Therefore, we have put on notice, motions to amend the bill to restore certain important provisions that have been undermined by opposition amendments.
One of these unwelcome amendments provides that the contribution limits for leadership candidates be calculated annually rather than per contest, as is now the case. This change, if it were allowed, would allow contributors to bypass the legal limit on contributions to leadership campaigns if a candidate carried that debt over different calendar years or if the leadership campaign happened to overlap different calendar years.
That runs counter to the principle enacted in the Federal Accountability Act that contributions to leadership campaigns by individuals be capped at $1,100 per contest. The government considers this change unacceptable and proposes that the per event contribution limit be restored.
I appreciate again the support that the member for Winnipeg Centre has expressed to us on behalf of his party for that amendment. We are optimistic that, with the support of the New Democratic Party, we should be successful in restoring the provisions originally intended to achieve accountability and political loans on that level.
The second unwelcome amendment removed from the bill is the provision that a riding association would assume liability for the unpaid loans of an endorsed candidate. The change proposed by the opposition would allow political candidates to walk away from debts incurred in campaigns. This is contrary to the spirit of accountability in the bill.
This proposed opposition change would undo one of the most important accountability enhancements presented by the government for the treatment of loans, an enhancement that would create greater certainty about the responsibility for unpaid loans.
The original form of the bill, which we are seeking to restore, not only would ensure principles of financial accountability at the local level, but would also encourage local riding associations to work more closely with their candidates and their campaigns. Again, I appreciate the support and the commitment that the New Democratic Party member gave on behalf of his party to the government and to myself for our efforts to restore the bill to its original form on this issue of trailing debt from campaigns.
A similar rule applies at the provincial level of my home province of Ontario. Section 44(4) of the Ontario Election Finances Act provides that any eventual provincial candidate's financial deficit is assumed by the local riding association. This has worked very well in Ontario at the provincial level, and opposition concerns, which resulted in the provision being amended in our bill at committee, are clearly ill-founded based on the very successful practice experienced by all of the three major parties in Ontario in dealing with the bill.
The government is, therefore, proposing to restore the provision that a candidate's registered association, or registered party if there is no registered riding association, would become liable for the unpaid amount of a loan that a candidate does not repay.
Finally, I would like to point out that there is a technical amendment required to clause 5 of the bill. That clause was amended at committee and the language employed about when a loan is deemed to be a contribution ought to be made consistent with the defined terms used throughout the Canada Elections Act. We are, therefore, proposing that the language be clarified.
In all, these are amendments that are reasoned and principled and serve the overriding principle that accountability be strengthened for the use of loans as a political financing tool.
We are committed to cleaning up campaign finance. We are going to move to do that as we move forward--