Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this afternoon to the legislation relating to the accountability with respect to loans to political candidates and political parties.
I want to say at the outset that I do support the legislation but, like other speakers here this afternoon, I have some concerns, but the general thrust of the legislation is good. Anything that enhances transparency in the way politics is done in Canada is good. The public has a right to know who is lending money to any political party or any candidate for office, how much they loaned that particular person or party and what the terms of the loan are. The very same concept applies to guarantors because a guarantor, in most instances, is the actual lender in fact.
In my experience with political parties and political organizations, the banks do not have a big appetite to lend money to candidates or to political parties and they usually require a guarantor. The guarantor actually is the de facto lender of the money, so that is a positive development too.
The whole issue of the treatment of unpaid loans should be codified and understood so that everyone, including the public, understands how these issues are being dealt with, that the rules are known and that the public has a right to know what exactly is going on.
I should point out at the outset that we are really not breaking new ground because many of the issues have already been dealt with. Over the last six years there has been a major groundswell on the whole issue of political financing. It is very positive and most of the credit, I would submit, goes to the previous prime minister, Mr. Chrétien, who decreased, substantially, the amount that any person could give to any political candidate or party and also increased the amount that came from the government.
When we contrast what goes on in Canada to what goes on in the United States right now, it is dramatic. A congressman in the U.S. gets elected every second year. When those votes are counted and the person wins the election, everyone knows they have to start at eight o'clock the next morning raising money for the next election. They spend 23 months raising money for their next election, which is scheduled in 24 months' time, and the amount of money that is spent there, with no obvious limits, boggles the mind.
I am glad that I do not participate in that kind of environment. For many candidates, including myself, it is not one of the jobs that I find particularly attractive, trying to raise money, so I do think, to the credit of many people over the last five or six years, we are in a much better environment because of a number of changes and this is just one small additional aspect of the issue to give full disclosure to any loans.
I should point out to the public watching that under the existing elections financing legislation, each candidate is entitled to a rebate, which is approximately 50% of the legitimate expenses that a candidate spends in an election. I do not have my figures exactly correct but let us assume a candidate spends $60,000. In that election, the candidate is entitled to a rebate of 50%. Sometimes the federal party, depending on which party one belongs to, may take some of that back, but there is a rebate going back to that candidate whether the candidate wins or loses. However, I do believe the person needs to get over a certain threshold of the votes, which is not that significant.
There is a legitimate borrowing exercise because if candidates are with one of the major parties, Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic Party or the Bloc Québécois, they are reasonably certain they will get over the threshold and be entitled to the rebate and that they will have money coming in. It usually does not come in for about 12 months after the election is over but they will have the money coming in so there is nothing untoward in borrowing against that future rebate. That puts the whole debate into context.
However, there is a certain amount of hypocrisy going on with this legislation. I shake my head when I look at what is going on. What I am concerned about is what happens when people break the law and do not follow the Canada Elections Act. What happens to those types of individuals?
From my experience and from what I have seen going on over the last number of years, nothing or very little happens. We have a member of this House who was found in the election of 2004 to have overspent his limit by $31,000. I am speaking of the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
I have a certain amount of sympathy because I have been involved both as a candidate and as a campaign manager. Sometimes we ride our horse close to the cliff and sometimes at the end of it we just do not know exactly what is being spent. If a certain campaign goes over $1,000 or $2,000, it is unfortunate, there should be sanctions, but I personally have some sympathy for those situations because I have seen them happen.
However, in the case I mentioned, it was $31,000 he overspent. According to the report from Elections Canada, the money came from his car dealership. What happened? He was fined $500 and had absolutely no sanctions whatsoever. It is a joke. He is laughing at it. Nothing has been done in this particular situation, which is what I find very disturbing. The member is sitting today as a Conservative member laughing at the act and he is probably laughing at this particular debate. I find that somewhat hypocritical.
Another piece of hypocrisy that is going on in this House with regard to elections financing is the in and out scandal that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has been trying to get to the bottom of. I will describe it very briefly.
In the last election, the Conservative Party, to get the benefit of rebates, to which it was not entitled, would transfer money to a riding or a particular candidate and five minutes later the same amount of money would be transferred back to the central agency or the major party. When the candidate filed his or her election expenses return after the election, the candidate said that the money was a legitimate expense and wanted the 50% rebate. However, any person with any common sense and half a brain would realize that the rebate should not be given, and that was the position of the Chief Electoral Officer. This dispute is ongoing right now.
A parliamentary committee is trying its very best to get at this, to hold hearings and hear from witnesses to find out and report to Canadians what exactly is going on. However, the committee is being stymied by the Conservative Party. What is going on now are filibusters. People stay for five, six or seven hours simply so that this will not come to the public's attention. I find that very hypocritical and unfortunate.
A certain amount of hypocrisy is going on in the debate today and, if anyone is watching, I am sure they have come to that conclusion. However, coming back to the bill, as I said when I began, anything that increases the transparency of how candidates are financed and how they spend their money, which includes loans, guarantors and the terms of the loans, is beneficial. The public, in the long run, will be the winner.
However, I hope, at some point in time in the future, that we will have a look at sanctions because if a candidate overspends his or her election limit by 40% or 50%, then I would like to see a little more teeth in the particular legislation.