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House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was loans.

Topics

Summer Career Placement ProgramPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I am tabling a petition in this House signed by residents of the riding of Manicouagan.

This petition is the latest in a string of petitions tabled in the House in response to the federal government's decision to replace the summer career placement program. Many people have expressed their displeasure at this decision.

Petitioners, voters, NPOs, students, and public and private organizations are asking Parliament and the House to maintain and improve the summer career placement program.

Human TraffickingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have over a thousand names of people all across Canada calling on our government to continue its good work to combat trafficking of persons worldwide.

Investigators from the Peel Regional Police vice unit have charged a man with human trafficking just last week here in Ontario.

I thank the House for this opportunity to address this rising crime that is growing here in Canada.

Terminator Seed TechnologyPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Chan Liberal Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition from my riding to ban terminator seed technologies. The petitioners call upon Parliament to enshrine in legislation a permanent national ban on terminator seed technologies to ensure that these are never planted, tested, patented or commercialized in Canada.

AsbestosPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by hundreds of Canadians from all over Canada who point out that asbestos is the greatest industrial killer that the world has ever known. Yet, Canada remains one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos in the world and Canada allows asbestos to be used in building materials, textiles and even in children's toys.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to ban asbestos in all of its forms, end all government subsidies of asbestos, both in Canada and abroad, and stop blocking international health and safety conventions designed to protect workers from asbestos, such as the Rotterdam convention.

Employment Insurance ProgramPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have here a petition signed by people from New Brunswick. The employment insurance program was implemented to help workers who lose their job and salary temporarily or permanently.

This petition calls on the government to reject the mandatory waiting period, to allow workers to apply for benefits as of the first day and to reinstate the appropriate number of staff at the regional offices of Service Canada in order to give applicants the choice of applying on paper or on line, and to provide them with help from a well informed staff member.

Mr. Speaker, I have another petition with the signatures of many hundreds of people from New Brunswick. In today's economy the loss of even a day's salary is a hardship for too many.

The petitioners claim that the two week waiting period is unfair to workers who are already suffering from loss of employment and recommend that the government reject the mandatory waiting period and allow workers to claim for lost salary commencing on day one of their claim.

The petitioners call on the government to re-establish proper staffing in the local Service Canada office so that a claimant can have the choice to either file a paper or electronic claim and that a claimant can receive support from properly informed staff.

SeniorsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table another petition today that arises out of my national campaign to fight for fairness for ordinary Canadians, and in particular, for seniors who were short-changed by their government as a result of an error in calculating the rate of inflation. The government has acknowledged the mistake made by Statistics Canada, but is refusing to take any remedial action.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to take full responsibility for this error, which negatively impacted their incomes from 2001 until 2006, and take the required steps to repay every Canadian who has been short-changed by a government program because of the miscalculation of the CPI.

The petitions are signed by hundreds of people from Nova Scotia and Ontario, including an overwhelming number of seniors at Saint Elizabeth Village in my riding of Hamilton Mountain. The petitioners are people who have worked hard all their lives, who have played by the rules, and now are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. All that the petitioners are asking for is a little bit of fairness from their government. It is my great privilege to table this petition on their behalf.

Motor Vehicle Safety ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, summer is upon us and many Canadians are cycling. Unfortunately, every year some cyclists die under the wheels of large trucks. In fact, large vehicles are involved in 37% of collisions resulting in cyclist fatalities.

I have hundreds of names on a petition calling on the Government of Canada to introduce a regulation under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act requiring side under-run guards for large trucks and trailers to prevent cyclists and pedestrians from being pulled under the wheels of these vehicles and to harmonize Canadian vehicle safety standards with ECE Regulation No. 73 which requires side guards on all trucks and trailers in Europe.

Old Age SecurityPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, my second petition contains hundreds of names of Canadians from the Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network in support of eliminating the 10 year residency requirement for the old age security and guaranteed income supplement for entitlement to a monthly pension.

These hundreds of names are part of 10,000 signatures on a petition in partnership with this network which is formed by the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, Hispanic Development Council, African Canadian Social Development Council, Council of Agencies Serving South Asians and the Old Age Benefits Forum.

Labelling of Alcoholic BeveragesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with deep sadness that I present this petition dealing with alcohol warning labels and fetal alcohol syndrome.

The petitioners are deeply saddened that they need to sign a petition calling on the government to implement a motion that was passed by Parliament six years and one month ago.

The petitioners express grief that we have been through six years, five health ministers and two governments and, to this day, there has been no implementation of a very basic motion to put alcohol warning labels on all beer, liquor and wine bottles in order to help deal with the most troubling and difficult issue of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

May 9th, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved that Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I open the debate today on the accountability with respect to loans bill.

This legislation builds on our groundbreaking Federal Accountability Act in ushering in a modern era of clean politics, an era when it will no longer be acceptable for any political entity, including candidates and leadership contestants, to mortgage themselves to powerful, wealthy individuals. This bill is modern, accountable and realistic and it would strengthen our democracy.

Canada's new government fought the last election campaign on a commitment to eliminate the influence of big money in the political process and, since our very first days in office, we have been delivering on that commitment with an active agenda of meaningful democratic reform.

The Federal Accountability Act brought in tough new campaign finance rules. In it, corporate and union contributions were banned. Anonymous contributions and trust funds were banned. A strict limit on annual donations to a political party of $1,100 was established to put an end to the influence of big money.

With these reforms we have closed the door on those who tried to exert influence by signing large cheques.

It has been said, “Think what you do when you run into debt; you give another power over your liberty”. Unfortunately, last year it became apparent that the Liberal leadership candidates were all too willing to relinquish their liberty by mortgaging themselves to a handful of wealthy individuals.

When Liberal leadership candidates started financing their campaigns with big loans from a few wealthy individuals, Canadians saw that big money had found a back door. It had found a way around the Federal Accountability Act. Big money saw political loans as an opportunity to buy back the influence that the Conservative campaign finance reform had blocked. And they took that opportunity, big money did.

The leader of the official opposition mortgaged himself for almost half a million dollars to rich and powerful people like Rod Bryden and Stephen Bronfman.

Bob Rae accepted a whopping $720,000 from his brother, an executive vice-president and member of the board of directors of Power Corporation. The member for Kings—Hants borrowed big cash to the tune of $200,000 and the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore borrowed almost $.5 million as well, all of it either from wealthy individuals or guaranteed by a handful of powerful interests.

In total, Liberal leadership candidates are on the record as owing over $3 million, almost all of it to wealthy individuals. To put that figure in context, that debt is six times the total amount raised by the entire Liberal Party in the first three months of 2007.

Big money found an easy way to get around the Federal Accountability Act by giving huge sums of money to their favourite candidates and simply calling them loans. I do not think that arrangement sits well with Canadians. It is inconsistent with the spirit of the new Federal Accountability Act that sought to eliminate the undue influence of big money on politics.

Canadian democracy does not breathe easy when the country's leaders owe millions of dollars to a handful of rich and powerful people.

The accountability with respect to loans bill would ensure that politicians are accountable to the people who elect them, not the rich and powerful people who want to bankroll them. Today we are acting decisively to put an end to that kind of old style, backroom politics. With this legislation, our government will kick down the doors of political back rooms and turn the lights on.

The bill would regulate all loans made to political parties, candidates and associations in Canada. The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities. It would require mandatory disclosure of terms and of the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors.

Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals would not be able to exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Federal Accountability Act, which is set at $1,100 for this year, 2007. Only financial institutions and other political entities would be able to make loans beyond that $1,100 limit and then only at commercial rates of interest, the same rates all other Canadians would get from their banks or credit unions.

Under the accountability with respect to loans bill, unions and corporations would be unable to make loans, just as they are now unable to make contributions. This brings our campaign finance rules for loans in line with the rules for political contributions.

Finally, the rules for the treatment of unpaid loans would be tightened by this legislation to ensure candidates could not walk away from unpaid loans. Riding associations would be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.

In short, the accountability with respect to loans bill is modern, realistic and effective. It would strengthen our democracy and public confidence in the integrity of our political system.

The accountability with respect to loans bill builds on the agenda of democratic reform our government has undertaken since being elected. Canada's new government has taken action to modernize Canada's political system by introducing realistic legislation that strengthens accountability, strengthens our democracy and makes the entire political process more accountable.

First we introduced Bill C-4, which implemented a review of the requirements for the registration of political parties.

As I mentioned, the Federal Accountability Act, which included provisions to reduce the influence of big money on politics, was passed before Christmas. Bill C-16, another bill, strengthens our democracy by improving responsibility, transparency and equity. It establishes fixed election dates every four years on the third Monday in October.

Fixed dates take the guesswork out of the electoral process and level the playing field for the chief electoral officer, for political parties and, more important, for voters. It also encourages participation in the democratic process by allowing Canadians to plan to participate in their nation's electoral process.

I am very pleased to report that Bill C-16 finally received royal assent despite becoming the target of unelected Liberal senators to obstruct and delay every aspect of the government's democratic reform agenda, as has been their habit.

As members will recall, Bill C-16 was passed in the House of Commons without amendments. It underwent exhaustive debate in the House of Commons as well as in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

After being passed in the House of Commons with support on both sides of the House, the fixed dates for elections bill was sent to the Senate where it was examined in detail by the Senate's committee on legal and constitutional affairs.

After a lengthy period of scrutiny and detailed process, that Liberal dominated committee supported the passage of the bill without any amendments.

While neither the House nor the Senate committees found it necessary to amend the term limits bill, at the 11th hour, the very last minute, an amendment was passed by the Liberal Senate, a frivolous amendment that watered down the legislation, which was never subject to any level of scrutiny, and compelled it to come back to the House of Commons, effectively delaying and obstructing the bill further.

Finally the delays and obstructions in the Senate stopped and we will now have fixed date elections.

Our government has also moved to modernize the unelected Senate and to make senators more accountable to the people they serve. We have acted to strengthen accountability in the Senate with legislation that finally seeks to give Canadians a say in who they want representing them in the Senate. The involvement of citizens is fundamental to any democratic institution. Unfortunately, until recently Canadians have had little involvement in the selection of their senators.

The Senate election bill recognizes that it is the citizens of the country, not big money or backroom boys, who are best qualified to advise the Prime Minister on who should speak for them in Ottawa.

We, on this side of the House, are anxious to see the passage of this groundbreaking legislation and that brings us to Bill S-4. The tomfoolery that Bill C-16 was subjected to in the Senate pales in comparison to what has happened to Bill S-4, the legislation that seeks to limit Senate terms to eight years.

Bill S-4 was introduced in the Senate on May 30, 2006, almost a year ago.

Remarkably, even though the Leader of the Opposition says that he supports term limits for senators, Bill S-4 remains mired in procedural limbo thanks to Liberal senators bent on obstructing and delaying any meaningful democratic reform.

Bill S-4 is a simple bill and just 66 words long. According to my calculations, the senators, who are not elected, have spent more than five days on each word in this bill.

As I have already done several times, I am asking members of the official opposition to urge their colleagues in the upper chamber to respond to the wishes of Canadians and pass Bill S-4. I know the Liberal leader has tried to do that. I know the Liberal senators tend to defy him and just simply will not listen to him. I wish he could muster some authority, some strength regardless of his overall weakness, at least the strength to lead his own caucus on this one issue and get them to pass it.

Our government rejects the tactics employed by some senators to delay an agenda on democratic reform that is endorsed by the Canadian people and we are taking action to respond to the wishes of Canadians to make their national institutions stronger, more modern, more accountable and more democratic.

The accountability with respect loans bill is the latest of these reforms and I look forward to introducing more legislation that will strengthen accountability in the days ahead. The accountability with respect to the loans bill delivers on the commitment of Canada's new government to rid our nation's political system of the undue influence of big money. It shows Canadians that their vote is mightier than the big bank accounts of a powerful wealthy few.

With the passage of this bill, Canada's new government will create an airtight system of political financing, a system that will eliminate, once and for all, the influence of the rich and powerful, of big money, on our political process. It will create a system that Canadians can trust.

The accountability with respect to loans bill would ensure that the 2006 Liberal leadership race was the last time the influence of big money and powerful friends played a role in the selection of a leader of a political party in Canada. Most important, the bill is modern, accountable, realistic and will strengthen our democracy and public confidence in the integrity of our political system.

For all these reasons, I am making an urgent appeal to all the members in this House to support the bill on accountability with respect to loans and guarantees.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the government House leader on the range of topics on democratic reform that he has touched on and I look forward to further debate on this bill so we can examine some of those points a little more carefully.

The reason the government House leader was so explicit in being able to attach the amounts and the lenders of loans to the Liberal leadership candidates last year is because they disclosed who lent the money and who the guarantors were. It was all disclosed, in fact beyond the requirements of the current Canada Elections Act.

I would like to observe in passing that the only leader in the House who has not disclosed the contributions for his leadership is of course the Prime Minister. Therefore, I would ask the government House leader if he would comment on when we will know who contributed to the Prime Minister's 2002 leadership contest.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, my friend from Vancouver seems to like to change the subject, as the Liberals do on this matter. I can understand why they do not want to talk about the loans and the mortgaging of their leadership candidates to wealthy and powerful individuals.

The reality remains that the Prime Minister, in his leadership campaign for leader of the Conservative Party, disclosed all the contributors. It was all publicly disclosed. It is a matter of public record.

In fact, in researching this the other day, I even read an article in which I saw that all of his contributions were small contributions and he ended up without a debt. Yet there was another competitor for that leadership contest at the time, the member for Newmarket—Aurora, who apparently financed her campaign almost entirely herself, so again, it is the influence of the wealthy and the powerful that we sort of want to get away from in this process. We have done that effectively on contributions now so that the kind of thing that happened with the member for Newmarket—Aurora will not be able to happen again.

We also want to ensure that we do not have wealthy, powerful individuals getting control over leadership candidates by making them loans when they are desperate, at the worst time, during a leadership campaign, and thereby being able to exercise undue influence.

There is a question we have to ask ourselves in this House. What is the situation when we have a political leader who owes half a million dollars to a handful of wealthy, powerful individuals?

I can tell members that the Prime Minister does not owe any money to anybody. Nobody has a claim on him. Nobody has a claim on what he does on policies.

I am not sure we can say that about the Liberal leadership candidates, who gathered up almost $3 million in loans from wealthy private individuals. That includes the Leader of the Opposition, who, according to his public disclosure today, owes half a million dollars.

I want to be clear, though, that none of those things are illegal. Everything they did was entirely legal and proper. What we want to ensure is that it does not happen again and that it will not be legal in the future.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am the first one to say that these political loans were a loophole that had to be plugged. It would have been fundamentally wrong to go into another federal election under the current regime, where big money can still buy undue influence in Canadian politics.

Obviously there is much in this bill that I am pleased to see. In fact, during the Federal Accountability Act discussions, we moved a similar amendment seeking this very type of thing.

There is one thing that I do have a question about. I cannot for the life of me imagine why this implementation will not take effect until six months after royal assent. The House leader for the government can correct me if I am wrong, but that could set up the situation where we are going to conduct one more election campaign under the existing rules. Given that it is now common knowledge that a loan is not a loan when it is not paid back, but a donation, we will have more people than ever doing this if we do not change the rules before another federal election.

The government was adamant that we implement and put into effect Bill C-2 immediately upon royal assent, the very same day. Why does it want to give us a six month grace period in this case?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, who has indeed been a champion on this issue. I think he deserves due credit for having placed it on the public agenda and kept it in the public eye. We must give him due credit for having ensured in the fashion that he did that it was drawn to the attention of the government for action. He, too, can take some credit in the fact that we have brought forward this legislation at this time to address the very serious problem he is concerned about.

In terms of the question of the bill taking effect, I think he also raises some very good questions. It is a legitimate concern. Of course, we always receive advice from the Chief Electoral Officer and others on the time that they need to implement legislation. On this side, of course, we would like to see it brought into place as quickly as possible. We have to look at the practicalities of how to manage those things.

However, it may well be that the member for Winnipeg Centre has raised a very good point. There certainly will be an opportunity after second reading to test the actual practicalities of implementation at committee and potentially an opportunity to call the Chief Electoral Officer, who, I might add, recommended that we bring in this kind of change as well. This has been a recommendation of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. There will be an opportunity to test whether it is practical to come up with an implementation take-effect date that is sooner. Certainly on this side of the House the government is very open to that possibility if it can be done.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague across the floor. I think we have heard some very valid points. In my opinion, the government should take them into consideration during second reading.

I was part of the legal community for the past 25 years. The Conservatives were in a hurry and wanted Bill C-2 to pass quickly. Another bill is being introduced today in this House, one that amends the first bill, because a few small things were overlooked. I would like to talk about some of those little items that were overlooked. The accountability act provides for whistleblowers to have access to adequate legal counsel, but they are given a limit of $1,500. I hope the government realizes that, with a $1,500 limit, the individual could enjoy the services of a lawyer—and with all due respect for my colleagues of the bar—for only 10 hours of work. Moreover, whistleblowing files are extremely complex and often involve considerable ramifications.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague if we should not think about this now and perhaps add a zero to the $1,500. Personally, I think $15,000 would be a more appropriate figure under the circumstances.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member of the Bloc Québécois for his question. He asked a very interesting question, but I think it needs to be addressed to the President of the Treasury Board, who is the minister responsible for this issue and the accountability act.

I would like to also add, however--and we would be happy to hear from him in question period on it and pursue that matter--that we believe that if we have this structure in place with regard to loans financing for political campaigns, we will have gone some distance to strengthen the provisions of the previous Federal Accountability Act and to deal with some of these problems that were not foreseen in their entirety, foreseen perhaps by the member for Winnipeg Centre, but not foreseen by all. The Liberal leadership campaign of course helped to shine a spotlight on that for the rest of us in terms of the danger of the loophole that existed.

This is the nature of legislation in our country. It is an evolving thing. The best thinkers and the best minds do not always do a perfect job. This is a good example of where government has seen a flaw or a gap and we are moving quickly to correct that gap and take action. That is the nature of our government, particularly on the critically important issue of accountability.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Liberal opposition and address Bill C-54. I must say at the outset that the government House leader was not able or willing to answer my earlier question about the disclosure of the Prime Minister's leadership funders in 2002.

He did not address that topic, but I think this House needs to know that, particularly in relation to the comments that the government House leader made about the open disclosure of all loans, of all lenders and all amounts by the Liberal leadership contenders last year. Clearly they were acting beyond what the Canada Elections Act required, in good faith and with full disclosure. Everybody knows both what is going on there and the rules that apply to it.

As for the Prime Minister bringing forth this legislation, I think the government House leader suggests that he is somehow on the road to Damascus, leading this House in some epiphany in terms of loans and the way they are treated. Perhaps he was waylaid, misled or turned around and is actually on the road to perdition, because this bill of course has a perverse consequence. It is a non-accountability act. Again, it is Orwellian in many of the impacts that it will have. I will take some time to explain exactly why this will make democracy weaker in many ways in our country if it goes ahead as it is written, without amendment.

The Liberal Party is certainly very much in favour of transparency and accountability and will be looking toward a bill that properly and effectively tightens up the application and the use of loans in political financing in this country wherever it might be necessary. However, we certainly will also want to ensure that as the bill goes forward the proper amendments are made so that it does not, whether consciously or unconsciously, create a barrier to entry to the political process for those who do not have access to funds or friends who have access to funds, or to financial institutions that reflect their willingness to give loans because they realize that these people already have money, or they have people who will sign for them and back them up with money. We have to be very careful that this is not a barrier.

Let me go back to January 2004, when the former Liberal government brought in the most dramatic changes to electoral financing in this country's history with Bill C-24, and indeed perhaps the most dramatic change than had happened in any democratic jurisdiction in the world, which of course reduced the union and corporation donation limits per year to a mere $1,000. That is almost meaningless when we are talking about a nation this size. To suggest that a $1,000 donation by a corporation could buy favour across this country in an electoral process is beyond imagination. In any case, we effectively took that out and left the donations at a $5,000 level for individual members of the public, who are of course the basic building block and the basic unit of democracy. That is where it should be. That was an extremely important step. It was a dramatic step in the political history of this country.

Bill C-24 also did some other things. It introduced an aspect of proportional representation. I know that many members in the House in all parties are interested in seeing us proceed with consultations and consideration of that. However, when the private money was taken out to such a dramatic degree, Bill C-24 provided for public funding of electoral processes by providing $1.75 for every vote that any party received in the general election nationwide.

That allowed for a proportionality that corrected some of the difficulties with the first past the post process, where often the number of seats in this House achieved by parties bears very little relation to the proportion of the vote they get. As an example, the Green Party got 600,000 votes in the last election. Under that provision, it received over $1 million, which allows its members to express the views of the people who voted for them through the financing of their political activity, although not yet representation, across the country. That is a first tentative but important step. It was part of that groundbreaking electoral financing legislation.

Let me correct a perception that the government House leader gave, which was incorrect. He suggested there were no rules now covering loans and the disclosure of loans. In fact, the current statutory provisions require the disclosure of all loans. They require the disclosure of the lenders and the guarantors of those loans.

Another misconception is that there are no consequences if these loans can be written off. In fact, there are consequences. Those loans must be repaid within an 18 month period or they fall under the political contribution rules, which are very strict.

It is not a way to have money given. It is money loaned for a period during an electoral process, either a leadership process, as was involved last year with the Liberal leadership, or perhaps a nomination process where someone does not have access to party funds or riding association funds. If people were unable to take a loan, that might well be a barrier to entry into the political process for people who were not of independent means. There are consequences. Those must be converted and that is an important aspect to it.

Who owns the Prime Minister? The government House leader raised the issue of the Liberal leadership candidates and the influence of big money, but we still have not had an answer about who financed the leadership bid of the Prime Minister in 2002.

Why do we want to know that? We want to know that for the very reason the government suggests we need the bill. We already have provisions in the Canada Elections Act that cover both disclosure of loans and repayment of loans and consequence if we do not. In any event, why do we want to know? It is an immensely important question. Is it U.S. gun lobby? Is it big oil? Who made those contributions to the Prime Minister's leadership race in 2002? We will come back to that until we get a proper answer, until the Canadian people get a proper answer. These are important issues.

Let me talk about the name of the act, the accountability with respect to loans act. It could be called the new Conservative bank of Canada act. It is big money that would get more influence because of the way the act is written currently. We will seek amendments to ensure it does not simply limit the influence that can be exerted to those with money or have access to big money. Let me tell members why.

Financial institutions are the only ones that can make big loans to individuals. If people are maybe from a disadvantaged group or an under-represented group who have not been in politics before, who seek a nomination in a riding, those people do not have independent wealth, they do not have a riding association yet to loan them funds, as is allowable under this bill, and they do not have, perhaps, credit worthiness to go to a bank. What does that person do? The individual is left out. They simply cannot, effectively. With the limits under this, there is a barrier to entry into the nomination process.

If we look at the Liberal leadership process that went for nine months of fulsome discussion and debate across the country, presenting 11 candidates for scrutiny by the public in a highly open and democratic process, those were expensive. We cannot do that in a country the size of Canada without having some funds to expend for it.

Those should be under rules, and there are rules. There may be some tightening up that the bill can do, and that is fine. However, to say that people taking out loans so they can exercise their right to take part in the democratic electoral process for leadership, for nomination, is going down the wrong road.

In fact, the bill, as written, does not, as Bill C-24 previously did, take out corporate money and put in public money that was properly and evenly distributed according to the proportion of the vote achieved by each party that ran candidates. This cuts out the public and brings in the big money.

Who can get a loan from a bank, from a financial institution? It is someone with a lot of money or property to put up as collateral, or someone to co-sign or support the loan. Those are people of influence and money. This is letting the money in. It is not keeping the money out. That is what we will have to see. I look forward to working with members of the Bloc, the NDP and the government to see if we can get some amendments so we do not create a barrier to entry for people who have no means and are not yet part of the political process. That transparency is immensely important.

We have an organization called Equal Voice. All members of the House will be well aware of and knowledgeable about it. The organization seeks to encourage women to enter the political process so we can rise above the deplorable disproportion of men to women in the House of Commons, with 20% representation by women.

The leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has pledged that in the next election one-third of the Liberal candidates will be women. We are well on the way in the nomination process to achieving that. This is a demonstrative move to try to get a proper proportion of gender equity into the House.

If this goes to committee, I am sure Equal Voice, representing all parties and all people across the political spectrum, will be very interested to come to talk the committee and to give evidence, as will many other groups who represent disadvantaged or under-represented sectors of this society. They will want to come and give their evidence on it. I hope we will take instruction from them as to how, perhaps unintentionally, the unavoidable consequence of this will be, to exert more power, not less, in those who have access to large amounts of funds.

This new Conservative bank of Canada act is interesting. It may tighten up the rules a little. It is not so that the Canada Elections Act now does not require loans to be repaid or be converted into contributions under the very restrictive rules. It is not so that contributors, lenders or co-signers do not have to be disclosed for political loans. They do have to be.

I am as anxious as anyone else in the House to see that this process is not abused, and if we can tighten it up, all the better. However, we have to ensure there are no unintended consequences of creating barriers to disadvantaged and under-represented groups.

The government House leader took some time to describe a number of what were called democratic reform bills, or statutes, in the House as brought forward by the Conservative government, and it is worth talking about a few of those.

One is Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act. Members of the House and the committee of the House spent a great deal of time on this as did members of the Senate. In fact, unencumbered by a set deadline that was forced on the House committee in the House, the Senate put forward dozens of amendments through its careful review of that act, even under the constant shrill criticism of the government that it was slowing things down.

Regarding slowing things down, royal assent was given to the Federal Accountability Act on December 15, 2006. Here we are, almost five months later, and one of the central parts of that act was the appointments commission. Amendments by the NDP sharpened that up. We had two choices. The Liberal opposition put forward amendments. The NDP put forward amendments. All of them would have been effective, and will be effective, as it was finally passed, but all these months later, all of these appointments later, dozens of them, and we still do not have the appointments commission. This was one of the key things that was said by the government to be so important about the Federal Accountability Act. We do not even have a commission.

We continue without the proper controls. We had suggested that the Public Service Commission take over this role, that there be amendments to its mandate to apply the same rules, competitive process and objective criteria used in the public service for any order in council appointments, but we still do not have that.

I would be very interested to hear from the government when it is going to proceed with that important part of Bill C-2. There were so many complaints about it being delayed when in fact there were a very large number of responsible, thoughtful and careful amendments suggested by the Senate, and actually passed into law.

Bill C-16 deals with fixed dates. We supported that on this side of the House. There was no delay. There was careful consideration in the Senate. There was a thoughtful amendment put forward. It was brought back to the House with that amendment. We on this side offered the government, before the Easter recess, to pass the bill through all processes in the House, back to the Senate, hopefully, for royal assent in the day before we broke. That was rejected. We would have needed unanimous consent, but we did not get it from the government.

Bill C-43 was mentioned by the government House leader. It is not a Senate elections act; it is a consultation act, with provincial elections. It is being put forward as a great democratic reform. I think all members of the House believe, as do probably all members of the other place, that the Senate needs reform in becoming a fully democratic legislative chamber, and we should all work toward that. This is going at it piecemeal. We get criticisms of trying to block the incremental reform of the Senate, but the fact is it all fits together and it must be dealt with at once.

There are three critical aspects of the Senate that have to be considered together.

One aspect is the selection process, which could include elections or involve terms. The term limit is suggested in Bill S-4.

Another aspect is the mandate. In the future how does the mandate relate to the mandate of the House of Commons? Will it be a mirror legislative body with the same electoral validity that will then lead to gridlock. We have to do to deal with that area of comprehensive reform is to have some kind of dispute resolution mechanism whenever the legislative powers mirror each other in the House and the other place.

Then we have the distribution. We cannot do anything else with the Senate until we work out the distribution. It is amazing that the Prime Minister, and all members of the government, would consider doing something to give a greater validity, greater power to the Senate without fixing the very unfair, inequitable distribution of seats to western Canada, particularly to British Columbia and Alberta.

For all of us from British Columbia and Alberta, it is extraordinary that we might think of increasing the power of that body without fixing the horrible lack of fair distribution to western Canada.

Bert Brown has been mentioned in the House by the Prime Minister as being the senator in waiting, to be appointed sometime this summer. He has played a very important role in the political life of Canada. He did not play that role by plowing one E into his barley field or a wheat field. He plowed three E's into it. To try to deal with just one E at once in a piecemeal incremental way, as the Prime Minister says, is not in the favour of Alberta, from where that fine gentleman comes. Nor is it responsible reform in the comprehensive way to properly bring the Senate into the modern age of a democratic legislative chamber. We have to work together to do that.

We often hear about the ghosts of Meech Lake and the ghosts of Charlottetown. We also hear that we cannot go near the Constitution because, my goodness, we might all get distracted and not be able to do anything else in this country and we will never get anywhere. Thank goodness the Fathers of Confederation were not so shy about dealing with the Constitution. We should take on that responsibility ourselves.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the hon. member. I understand the member will not be running in the next election which will be a great loss for this House.

Does the member not see the purpose of the bill? I will use an example without mentioning names. One of the runners in the past Liberal leadership convention actually raised almost $800,000 from one individual and he received that money through a loan. The rules suggest that a candidate can raise a maximum of $1,000. If that individual had 800 donors giving him $1,000 that would represent a much greater amount of people and hence, in my view, democracy would have played out.

What we are trying to avoid with this bill is an individual going to the bank and asking for $800,000 which would be guaranteed by another individual. Now whether the individual won or lost, what we are trying to avoid is that individual declining to pay the bank back and the bank then going to the individual who guaranteed the loan and calling it in. We see that clearly as one individual paying $800,000 to a bank, which is skirting around the contribution limits by Elections Canada. I wish that kind of creative intelligence was used to solve the problems in Canada, not used to skirt the law. Does the member not see that singular advantage of simply saying that the rules are $1,000? We need to play catch-up and make these laws.

Does the member not agree that it would be much more advantageous to just play by the rules? The full intent of the law is that a person can only contribute $1,000. Simply borrowing through the bank and paying the bank and not the person is just creative thinking and it skirts the law.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-54 would allow for exactly what the member has described. If an individual had his own property and resources and went to a bank to borrow $800,000 against his assets, Bill C-54 would allow that.

All of the Liberal leadership candidates, to one extent or the other, took out loans because this is a big country and the process is long, which requires financing. Those loans need to be converted within 18 months into contributions under the current limit, which, under the Federal Accountability Act, is $1,100. Every one of those leadership candidates has the responsibility now of raising money under the rules of the Federal Accountability Act to convert their loan. We know they are out doing this. The member makes a very good point because that is exactly what those people are committed to and required to do at this stage.

If we can identify areas of abuse that might happen, then we should work together to fix them and plug them. However, those leadership candidates are under that requirement now.