Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to participate in the debate on Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).
Several members have already talked about this bill and have explained its principal objectives, one of which is to create a uniform and transparent disclosure system for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors. I would point out that such provisions already exist in the Canada Elections Act.
The previous government formed by the Liberal Party of Canada passed a bill on election financing that sought to limit the role of corporations and unions in election financing, initiating the most significant contribution limit reduction in Canadian history.
This bill targets funding for candidates in leadership races, byelections and general elections, but the law passed under the previous Liberal government already contained Elections Canada's requirements for loan disclosure.
During the last Liberal leadership race, which took place in 2006, all candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada exceeded Elections Canada's requirements for the disclosure of loans under the Canada Elections Act.
That is not at all the case for the current Prime Minister. He has refused to disclose the identities of those who funded his campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2002. The Conservatives, as we have seen so many times on other issues, are trying to deceive Canadians.
In the previous session of Parliament, Bill C-29 was Bill C-54. When the Conservative government introduced this bill, it gave misleading information about the current legislation on political party financing, and the Conservative members continue to mislead Canadians every time they talk about Bill C-29. The Conservatives imply that the current legislation—I am not talking about their bill, but about the legislation in effect today, which was adopted by Parliament when the Liberal Party of Canada was in power—allows secret loans and that candidates are not required to disclose a loan, the amount of that loan, the name of the creditor or the name of the guarantor.
Under the legislation that is in effect today and has been since 2004, candidates must provide Elections Canada with information on all loans they receive, whether they are running for the leadership of a party or in a byelection or general election.
Canadians get annoyed when they cannot trust what their own government is telling them.
During the last election campaign, this Conservative government boasted and said it was whiter than white, whiter than snow, and that it would be accountable, transparent and open. Canadians just have to read and listen to what the government is saying about the current legislation on financing for political parties and candidates. It is claiming that someone running for the leadership of a party today or last year or the year before could borrow money without having to disclose who the creditor was, how much the loan was for or who the guarantor was. It is sad.
This government is going even further. With its bill, the government wants an association or party to be held responsible for a candidate's unpaid debts, even if the local riding association or the party was not aware of the loan and had not guaranteed it. It would be like having a brother in another city who takes out a loan. I do not know my brother borrowed money, but because we have the same last name and share the same blood and DNA, I would automatically be liable for the loan. I would have to repay his loan if he went bankrupt and did not repay it.
The opposition parties have amended this bill. The governing party has even amended its own bill, which is interesting. I would like to provide some information about that.
The Conservative government proposed an amendment to its own bill, thereby admitting that its Bill C-29—which had been Bill C-54 in the previous session of Parliament—was not perfect. The Conservatives proposed amendments to ensure that loans and suretyship contracts paid back during the same calendar year are not included in the total calculation of donations for that year. Consider the following example. If an individual loans $1,000 to a candidate in February and the candidate pays that amount back in April, the individual who loaned the money would be permitted to guarantee another $1,000 before the end of the fiscal year. This was not included in the original bill. The Conservative members put forward an amendment because it made sense and was reasonable. All the parties—the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, and the Liberal Party—all supported the government's amendment. The Liberal Party, supported by the Bloc, proposed an amendment to make it possible to make donations every year to candidates for party leadership and not just a single donation to one particular candidate, as set out by existing legislation. This was because a leadership race can extend over more than one calendar year. Finally, the Bloc, supported by the Liberals and the NDP, put forward an amendment that removed one clause of the bill that required political parties to pay back any loans incurred by its candidates that were not paid back to the creditors. As if a candidate could take out a loan without notifying officials from the party or riding association.
It was suggested that he or she could then declare bankruptcy and the party would be forced to pay back any debts incurred, even if the party had not approved the debt from the beginning. The Conservatives opposed that amendment and introduced the motions at the report stage for—