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House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

Question No. 260Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada is unwavering in its commitment to give our law enforcement and security intelligence agencies the tools they need to safeguard our national security, and to ensure review mechanisms are both transparent and accountable.

There have been a number of calls for enhanced national security review in addition to Justice O’Connor’s policy review. For example, the 2004 Interim Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and the Senate and House of Commons reviews of the Anti-Terrorism Act, ATA, made recommendations to the government in that regard.

Furthermore, a number of independent reviews have examined the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, CPC. In addition to Justice O’Connor, the Auditor General of Canada, the Senate Special Committee on the ATA, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP have all made recommendations to strengthen the powers of the CPC.

The Government of Canada is carefully examining all of these recommendations, as well as other proposals that have been put forward to enhance the accountability of the RCMP, and is working diligently to determine the most effective review model for Canada’s national security activities generally, and the RCMP specifically.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

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

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Notice of MotionWays and MeansRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 83(1), I wish to table, in both official languages, a notice of a ways and means motion to amend the Customs Tariff and another act.

I ask that an order of the day be designated for consideration of this motion.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:20 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-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, funding of political campaigns has changed dramatically over the years. It is no longer acceptable for political bagmen to go cap in hand to wealthy individuals and powerful interests seeking contributions for a political campaign. Our government understood that this era was over. After hearing tales of bags of cash exchanging hands between Liberals during the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal, the Canadian public demanded action. They demanded that big money be eliminated from the political process.

Upon taking office, we delivered with the toughest anti-corruption legislation in Canadian history, the Federal Accountability Act.

The Federal Accountability Act limited individual political contributions to $1,000—$1,100 in 2008—and prohibited cash donations of more than $20, secret trusts and corporate and union donations.

These changes applied to all types of political entities: political parties, registered associations, leadership candidates, local candidates and nomination contestants.

The Federal Accountability Act levelled the playing field. After it was passed and various amendments to campaign financing legislation took effect, the government believed that the era of political fundraisers was over and that rich and powerful interests could no longer unduly influence the political process.

Some people say that money in politics is like water on concrete: it finds every crack and every crevice through which to flow. Watching the Liberal leadership contest, Canadians found this out the hard way.

The Liberal Party, after relying for years on massive donations from huge corporations, found it difficult to operate in a system that relies on the contributions of ordinary, hard-working Canadian individuals. As a result, while the Federal Accountability Act was proceeding through the legislative process, Liberal leadership contestants discovered a loophole that allowed them to borrow unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. This loophole effectively allowed candidates to circumvent campaign contribution limits by accepting massive personal loans and resulted in Liberal leadership candidates mortgaging themselves to powerful, wealthy, vested interests.

The accidental Leader of the Liberal Party borrowed $705,000. The accidental Canadian, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, borrowed $570,000. The accidental Liberal, the member for Toronto Centre, borrowed $845,000, and of that, $720,000 came from his brother, John Rae, an executive with Power Corp. and a powerful Liberal insider.

In addition, Gerard Kennedy borrowed over $450,000. The member for Vaughan borrowed over $450,000. The member for York Centre borrowed $300,000. The member for Eglinton—Lawrence borrowed over $240,000. The member for Kings—Hants borrowed $200,000. The member for Vancouver Centre borrowed over $150,000. The member for Willowdale borrowed $130,000. The member for St. Paul's borrowed nearly $40,000.

Collectively, the Liberal leadership candidates borrowed millions of dollars to finance their campaigns. By exploiting the loophole in the Canada Elections Act, they were able to skirt campaign contribution limits that expressly sought to end this sort of undue influence by rich, powerful individuals.

In short, the Liberal leadership contestants showed Canadians that big money found a back door into the political process. More important, it also became clear there was a possibility that rich, wealthy individuals could write off a loan as uncollectable if it was consistent with their lending practices, even if they had no such established practices.

In effect, people could lend money to leadership campaigns and then after 18 months could say the debt was uncollectable and simply write it off. This could result in a massive contribution to a campaign which would far exceed someone's individual contribution limit. Under the current law, this could actually happen.

Now that the loophole and its potential consequences were clear, the government decided to act. The government was not going to sit by idly and allow the Liberal Party to undermine the Federal Accountability Act, especially after the Liberal leader was victorious in his leadership contest, financing nearly half of his campaign with massive personal loans from individuals.

In the first session of this Parliament, we introduced the accountability with respect to loans bill, which at that time was Bill C-54. After prorogation of the first session, that bill became Bill C-29 in this session of Parliament. My speech today opens debate on this bill at third reading.

While I have mentioned the various elements of the bill during previous speeches in this House, I will quickly run through the proposed changes once again.

First, in accordance with the Federal Accountability Act, it limits the amount that an individual can lend to or guarantee on behalf of a campaign to the contribution limit of an individual, or $1,100 in 2008. In addition, the combined total of loans and gifts from an individual cannot exceed the contribution limit of $1,100.

Second, it prohibits unions and corporations from lending money to political entities, which is also in keeping with the provisions of the Federal Accountability Act.

Third, it establishes a standard procedure for reporting loans, which applies to all political entities—associations, candidates and parties. This procedure will replace the provisions of the current act, which provides different rules for the various political entities.

Fourth, riding associations will automatically assume responsibility for the debt of local candidates should the latter be unable to repay their loans. Hence, candidates will no longer be able to evade their responsibilities.

Those are the four major changes originally in the bill. Further changes were made as the bill passed through the legislative process.

First, the time period for the repayment of loans was extended to three years from eighteen months. The government opposed this change at committee, but in the spirit of cooperation, we agreed to the amendment so that the bill could move forward.

Second, the bill was amended so that if an individual's loan was paid back within a given year, he or she could still donate up to the contribution limit.

Third, the bill was amended 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, uniformity and procedural fairness in dealings with Elections Canada.

Now that the bill is in its final form in the House, the first question we have to ask ourselves is this. Does this solve the identified problem and close the loophole? The answer is yes.

Under our bill, only accredited financial institutions would be able to lend money beyond the contribution limit and only at commercial rates with terms and conditions fully disclosed. No longer would leadership contestants be able to accept massive personal loans from friends, family and vested interests to finance their campaigns.

The bill would also prevent a situation from occurring where a lender could have the power of deciding whether a leadership candidate broke the law. Under the current law, one of the options for seeking an extension of a loan is to have a binding agreement to pay. As a result, the lender, by the fact that they can choose to sign the agreement or not, can decide whether a leadership contestant breaks the law. A loan is deemed to be a contribution after 18 months unless Elections Canada grants an extension.

Under our bill, this could no longer happen. Individuals could only lend or contribute a total of $1,100. Therefore, if after 18 months, a loan had not been repaid and it was deemed to be a contribution, an individual's contribution limit would not be exceeded.

While our bill would improve accountability and increase transparency, recently there has been some criticism that it does not really change anything. That is simply not the case. The criticism is in fact misplaced.

I will point to the following. Under the current law, wealthy elites can exploit a loophole and land unlimited amounts of money to leadership contestants. Under our bill, that would no longer be possible. Individual loans would be limited to $1,100.

Under the current law, unions and corporations, although prohibited from making contributions or donations to political parties, can, however, still participate by lending unlimited amounts of money to leadership contestants, candidates, parties and associations. Under our bill, that would no longer be possible. Unions and corporations would be banned from lending money to political entities in the same fashion as they would be already prohibited from making contributions.

Those are two significant changes to the way political campaigns are financed in our country.

The government understands that loans have a role to play in the financing of political parties, candidates and associations.

The government is opposed to a situation where individuals, unions or corporations are able to provide loans in order to exercise undue influence on the political process.

If a leadership candidate, local candidate or major national party wants to collect more money than the amount set out in the act, it should go to an approved financial institution, borrow money at the commercial interest rate, then disclose in full the terms of the loan in an open and transparent way. This practice works well in a number of provinces. Why do this? Because it is the job of an approved financial institution to assess risk and lend money. It has established lending practices and is accountable to its shareholders for the loans it approves.

Furthermore, the government does not believe that political entities should be authorized to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars from rich individuals, who do not usually lend money, who have no established lending practices and who are not accountable to anyone for the loans they make.

The government does not believe political entities should be allowed to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars from multi-individuals who do not normally lend money, who have no established lending practices and who are accountable to no one but their own interests for the loans that they make.

In the last election Canadians sent us a message.They want to end the influence of big money in the political process in Canada. They want greater accountability, increased transparency and, most important, a level playing field.

Our accountability with respect to loans bill will achieve this by closing the loophole that gives rich, powerful interests an opportunity to exert undue influence in the political process.

Before I close, I want to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for his considerable support and assistance in ensuring that the bill was able to make it through the process to this stage. I am hopeful and optimistic that when it reaches the Liberal dominated Senate, that it will respect the importance of a decision taken by the House of Commons with regard to elections for members to the House of Commons and the rules that govern them. I hope senators will not take the opportunity to obstruct and delay the bill in their party's partisan interests, but will in fact respect a decision of the House of Commons about how the House of Commons should be elected.

I urge all members of the House to work with the government to pass the bill and take another step toward eliminating the undue influence of big money from Canadian politics, and I hope that we will do that very soon.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell NDP Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech about honouring the will of the House. He talked about when the bill was sent to the Senate, whether the members of the Senate would honour and help push it through.

Several bills have been passed by the House and have gone nowhere. The member and the Conservative Party said, during the election campaign, that they would honour the will of the House. That was very clear, yet we have several bills, for example, the veterans first motion, the seniors charter and other bills, that have been delayed. They have gone nowhere.

Would the member guarantee that the government will ensure that these motions and bills, because they were passed unanimously or by the majority of members of the House, are respected and passed also?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I share the hon. member's concerns about what happens to the business we send to the Senate. As the House knows, our government has a very complete program of modest, but important changes, to how the Senate operates, which we believe would help to democratize it, reform it, make it more accountable and make it more consistent with 21st century values that Canadians expect. Those include our provision that terms be limited to eight years in the Senate and our proposal that Canadians be consulted on who should represent them in the Senate.

The hon. member raises a very good point. One of those bills, the one relating to term limits, actually originated in the Senate, but it successfully delayed it for over a year before we finally introduced it on this side in the House because the Senate was not willing to deal with it.

We have seen the Senate on a number of other bills indicate an unwillingness to deal with matters for what are strictly partisan reasons or otherwise. There is a great concern about that in our system, where we are dealing with a body that, to say the least, lacks the full legitimacy of a democratically elected body such as the House of Commons.

This is why we want to see those changes brought into place. I would welcome the support of the hon. member and her party for both of those elements, term limits that we have proposed as well as the proposal that we consult with Canadians as to who should represent them in the Senate.

I believe if both of those were in place, we would see a body that would be more responsive in dealing with legislation that Canadians have expressed, through the House of Commons, they wish to see passed and of which we know Canadians are strongly in support.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).

I remind all those who are watching at home that the bill was originally introduced, as my colleague said, as Bill C-54 in the first session of the 39th Parliament.

The bill would create restrictions on the use of loans by political entities governed by the Canada Elections Act, rules that we all respect during elections. We continually strive to ensure that transparency and accountability is within all of our parties.

The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors. Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals could not exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Canada Elections Act. Only financial institutions and other political entities could make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals and only at commercial rates of interest. Unions and corporations would be unable to make loans and financial institutions could not lend money at rates of interest other than the market norm.

Rules for treatment of unpaid loans would be tightened to ensure that candidates could not walk away from unpaid loans. Riding associations would be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.

As I indicated before, my constituents and I welcome initiatives to improve accountability in the federal government, as I believe all would at all levels of government.

Bill C-29 is a continuation of the groundbreaking work done by the previous Liberal government. My government showed great integrity by reviewing the responsibilities and the accountability of ministers, senior officials, public servants and employees of crown corporations.

A wide variety of concrete measures were adopted to increase oversight in crown corporations and audit functions were strengthened across the board. It was time for us to bring in tighter legislation to ensure transparency and accountability. This was not invented two years ago. The Liberal government worked on this for a long period of time to ensure transparency and accountability. Does everybody follow it? Clearly some members did not and still do not.

From his first day in office, our former prime minister reformed government so that everyone in the public service would be held to account. It was the Liberal government that re-established the Office of the Comptroller General of Canada, very important for all of Canada and its citizens.

It was the Liberal government that strengthened the ethical guidelines for ministers and other public office-holders and established an independent Ethics Commissioner. They are extremely important guidelines. It is important to have an Ethics Commissioner who assists and guides members of Parliament to ensure that we do the best job we can and that we do not get into conflicts of interest.

Many of these things were long overdue, and I am pleased the previous Liberal government brought these issues forward.

It was also a Liberal government that introduced a publicly posted recusal process for members of cabinet, including the prime minister.

Much of the legislation that has been brought in with respect to transparency and accountability is modelled after what the Liberal government introduced.

The Liberal government also put forward legislation to encourage whistleblowers and to protect them from reprisal.

In February 2004 our Liberal government put forward an action plan on democratic reform to strengthen the role of parliamentarians. We heard a lot of debate about democratic reform and about allowing people to have more free votes and an opportunity to have more public and free debate and so on. It was clearly followed when the Liberals were the government of the day.

Referring more bills to the House committees before second reading gives all of us an opportunity to make significant changes in those bills. Otherwise, if they go to committee after second reading, which was the norm until those changes were made in February 2004, there was very little we could do. The principle of the bill was there and we could skirt around it but we could not do a whole to change it. That has made a significant difference in the work that we all do in committee. Again, that was work that we did so members of Parliament would have more opportunity to influence and shape legislation.

We also implemented a three line voting system to allow for more free votes. That was quite important because it was not here in the first five years I was a member of Parliament. We all voted as a bloc with our party. Having the three line and two line voting system gave all of us as MPs on our side of the House when we were in government much more freedom to express what we really felt about various issues.

That was important and it is unfortunate that we lost it. We still have a lot of freedom on this side compared to the government party certainly but having the three line voting system was starting to introduce more democracy to the House of Commons.

We have also pushed for the establishment of a committee of parliamentarians on national security. The Liberal government strengthened audit practices in the public sector through a comprehensive initiative that included the policy on internal audit and to strengthen and further professionalize the internal audit function throughout the government through higher professional standards, recruitment of additional skilled professionals, training and assessments.

In 2004, my government delivered on a commitment to proactive disclosure. Since April 2004, all travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, their political staff and other senior government officials have been posted online on a quarterly basis. That is accountability. That is being open and transparent so that anyone can go online to see just how much travel and hospitality expenses were, where they were incurred and who went where. That is opening the door in many ways to what goes on in government.

Government contracts worth more than $10,000 are disclosed publicly and, again, posted online. Those were all initiatives by the Liberal government.

My government embraced transparency in key appointments, which was also very important. Through our action plan for democratic reform, parliamentary committees were empowered to review the appointments of the heads of crown corporations, something that should have been done a long time ago to ensure transparency and accountability to Canadians and taxpayers.

We brought increased transparency to the selection of Supreme Court justices and committed to expanding access to information. The Access to Information Act was extended to 10 key crown corporations that were previously exempt from this. We also presented a discussion paper to Parliament that proposes, among other measures, that the Access to Information Act be expanded to several federal institutions that are currently exempt. However, sadly, the Conservatives' secretive paranoia has led to the demise of access to information in this country, and that is a complaint we continually hear from citizens and the media on just how difficult it is now that has been closed down.

My government was the first to seriously limit both individual and corporate political contributions, as well as third party election spending. As my colleague attempts to take credit for all of the changes that were made, he needs to be reminded to look back because the real serious changes to the Elections Act came from the Liberals, not from the current government.

Our Bill C-24 was enacted in June, 2003 and came into effect on January 1, 2004, representing the most significant reform to Canada's electoral and campaign finance laws since 1974. It was well overdue, it was a good act and it made everything much tighter and more difficult but it was much needed. I am quite proud of the fact that our government did that. I am doubtful that the current government would have ever done it.

The act affected contribution limits, those eligible to make contributions, public funding at political parties, spending limits for nomination contestants and disclosure of financial information by riding associations, nomination contestants and leadership candidates.

The Liberal Party supports efforts to increase transparency and accountability in the electoral process. Our history has shown that and we will continue to support that.

We are the party that initially passed legislation limiting the role of corporations and unions in electoral financing and introduced the most dramatic lowering of contribution limits in Canadian history.

All of the Conservatives' accountability facades just build on the great success of the previous Liberal governments.

Candidates for the leadership of our party went beyond the requirements set out by Elections Canada in reporting loans to their campaigns. In contrast, the current Prime Minister still refuses to disclose the names of those who donated to his leadership campaign in 2002.

For ours, people can go online to see every cent that was donated, every cent that has been paid back, where it came from and what is still outstanding. We are not hiding anything, contrary to him.

Whatever it is, the Conservatives certainly do not want to talk about it so they have decided to spread misconceptions about this bill instead.

The Conservatives are misleading Canadians about the current state of the law concerning political financing. The Conservatives are suggesting that the current law allows loans to be made in secret and that Canadians are kept in the dark. That is not true.

The truth is that under the law that is currently in place, the details of all loans, including the amount of every loan and the name of every lender and every guarantor, must already be publicly disclosed.

In addition, the Conservatives are also suggesting that the current legislation allows for loans to be written off without consequence. Again, this is absolutely false. Under the current law, loans cannot be used to avoid donation limits and they cannot be written off without consequences. The proposed new law simply restates the existing rules.

The Conservatives seem to think that Canadians can be fooled into believing that this somehow constitutes a dramatic change but Canadians can see through their charade.

The government has been playing a game of delay and deflect, perhaps to draw attention from its recent troubles. By talking about political loans, clearly, the Conservatives are trying to make us all forget about their little visit from the RCMP at their own party headquarters, or perhaps they are happy to talk about political loans to distract from their latest disgrace, the former minister of foreign affair's security breach and subsequent resignation, or maybe they are trying to distract from their constant politics of division, in which they specialize, by pitting one province against another.

However, let us get back to the bill that is before us today. The bill was significantly amended following hearings by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. However, now that the bill has been reintroduced in the House and will be debated at report stage, the government has made three motions to effectively strip portions of these amendments from the bill.

I do not have time to get into all of the details of the amendments that we had put forward to strengthen this bill but I can comment on the Conservatives' motions to undo our work at the committee level.

Government Motion No. 1 would delete the Liberal amendment to allow for annual contributions to a leadership candidate.

Government Motion No. 2 would make it necessary for loans to be repaid annually, rather than at the point when the loan becomes due. Effectively, this would prevent candidates from taking extended loan repayments.

Government Motion No. 3 would delete the Bloc amendment that removed liability from registered political parties for loans taken by candidates.

The government, again, is not respecting the committee process, which is a process that we all talk about how important it is and yet, if we turn around and undo the work of committee, it clearly questions what was the value of the time and effort put into that.

In closing, I want to say that Canadians must have faith in the integrity of government and in the people who administer it. My government worked very hard to be accountable to the citizens of this great country and I am committed to supporting measures to enhance our prior work of building accountability, transparency and the public trust.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the very cogent and persuasive speech of my colleague from York West.

I just wonder if my understanding is correct, which is that each of the leadership candidates in the Liberal Party's leadership contest, which culminated in a terrific, exciting and most enjoyable convention in December 2006, has entirely and fully complied with the rules and regulations established by Elections Canada?

However, I understand that there are ongoing inquiries with respect to the Conservative candidates in the last election, dozens of Conservative candidates, as I understand it, whose habits, so to speak, during the last election campaign are being scrutinized by Elections Canada.

I would like to ask the member if my understanding is in fact correct.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the challenges that the House affairs committee has been dealing with is the in and out issue that were pointed out by Elections Canada following the last election.

If my memory recalls it right, I believe 62 members in the Conservative Party were pointed out by Elections Canada as overspending their limits due to a so-called in and out scheme. Unfortunately, that got tied up in the procedure and House affairs committee and I believe, through the filibustering, absolutely nothing has happened to resolve that issue. Quite possibly we will be going into another election campaign. It is unfortunate for the 62 members because they will be going into an election campaign not having cleared off from the last one and, no doubt, could have additional problems as a result of that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak about the bill before us, Bill C-29.

First of all, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which seeks to prevent individuals from bypassing campaign financing rules. We believe that it is necessary to regulate loans in order to prevent people from getting around the financing limits. Remember that these limits were established after a long fight by the Bloc Québécois to put an end to corporate funding and to limit individual contributions, as Quebec did 30 years ago.

This bill corrects another problem in the Federal Accountability Act—formerly Bill C-2. As we were studying this bill, the Conservative government was more interested in quickly passing the bill than putting an end to ethical problems. The opposition parties, the media, and Democracy Watch pointed out the problem at that time, but the government refused to take action.

The current bill solves the problem of loans that made it possible to circumvent limits to political contributions. It must be said that several ethical difficulties were not addressed by Bill C-2, for instance, poor protection for whistleblowers and the failure to reform the Access to Information Act.

Bill C-29 incorporates the only change proposed by the Bloc Québécois when Bill C-54 was studied in committee. Remember that the Bloc Québécois was strongly against political parties being held responsible for debts incurred by their candidates, even though the political party is not named on the contract between the candidate and the bank. Remember also that the government listened to reason and reintroduced the Bloc Québécois amendment in Bill C-54.

The Conservatives introduced this bill, claiming that a number of Liberal candidates in the last leadership race took out large loans in order to circumvent the contribution limits. It may be true that some Liberal candidates did this, but let us not forget that the Prime Minister himself has not yet disclosed all the contributions he received during the 2002 leadership race.

The Conservative Party is not a bastion of transparency and ethics. Consider, for example, all the back and forth between political offices and lobbying firms, the contracts awarded to political friends, the use of public funds for partisan purposes, the many partisan appointments, the ideology-based appointments of judges and immigration commissioners, and the publication of a guide for Conservative committee chairs describing how to obstruct the work of committees.

Of course, we must prevent the law from being circumvented. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill that, as I said, would prevent people from bypassing campaign financing rules.

At the time, Bill C-2 introduced new restrictions on campaign contributions, limiting any individual's annual contribution to a registered party or candidate to $1,100. Furthermore, the amount a union or business could contribute annually to a registered party or candidate was reduced to $0.

Unfortunately, it was still possible to circumvent these restrictions by taking out personal loans. We saw this when several candidates in the recent Liberal Party of Canada leadership race took out sizeable loans from individuals and financial institutions. The hon. member for Toronto Centre comes to mind, for example, who took out loans totaling $705,000.

The Leader of the Opposition took out loans to the tune of $655,000. Bill C-29 corrects other shortcomings that were in Bill C-2 at the time.

The bill before us is intended to correct another problem; that of government accountability. As I was saying earlier, during the study of Bill C-2, the Conservative government was more interested in passing the bill than in correcting ethical problems. At the time, organizations like Democracy Watch, the opposition parties and the media raised the issue of circumventing contribution ceilings and the government refused to do anything about it.

And yet, other ethical problems persist. Bill C-29 corrects the problem of loans that circumvent limits on political contributions. However, a number of ethical problems, such as protecting whistleblowers, were not resolved by Bill C-2. A number of Conservative election promises to protect whistleblowers did not make it all the way to the Federal Accountability Act.

The Conservatives said they wanted to “ensure that whistleblowers ... are provided with adequate legal counsel”. The Conservatives' bill provides just $1,500 to cover legal fees, which is totally ridiculous. It is also worth mentioning that the Conservatives said that we need to “give the Public Service Integrity Commissioner the power to enforce compliance with the [whistleblower] act”. They said they also wanted to “ensure that all Canadians who report government wrongdoing are protected, not just public servants”. Finally, they planned to “remove the government’s ability to exempt crown corporations and other bodies from the [whistleblower] act”.

Allan Cutler, one of the original whistleblowers in the disclosure of the sponsorship scandal and a former candidate for the Conservative Party during the 2005 election, was somewhat critical of Bill C-2 at the time. He maintained that Bill C-2 was far from perfect and had some problems that needed fixing, especially with respect to the provisions for protecting whistleblowers. The government could have used Bill C-29 as an opportunity to fix the shortcomings of Bill C-2 with respect to whistleblowers. However, the government did not decide to make such amendments to the legislation.

Bill C-29 could have done something about reforming the Access to Information Act, an important aspect that Bill C-2 ignored.

On April 5, 2005, the Liberal government released a discussion paper on reforming access to information. This document met with general criticism. In addition to doubling the minimum administrative fees charged to the public, the Martin government's plan would have maintained all the exceptions provided for in the legislation. In fact, in 13 years, the Liberal Party never managed to introduce one valid reform of the Access to Information Act, which severely penalizes the opposition parties as well as citizens and media who use the system to get more information. Bill C-29 should have included significant amendments. Bill C-29 should have included reforms to the Access to Information Act.

We are still waiting for the Access to Information Act to be reformed. As it turns out, once in power, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals are especially eager to reform the legislation. The Information Commissioner recently pointed out that all governments share this reluctance.

This is how he put it:

The reason that action, not more study, is required is that governments continue to distrust and resist the Access to Information Act and the oversight of the Information Commissioner.

That is what the Information Commissioner said in an earlier report.

With respect to election financing transparency, both the Liberals and the Conservatives are vying for the title. When the Conservatives introduced Bill C-29, they claimed that several Liberal candidates took out significant loans to bypass funding limits during the last leadership race. As I said just now, in December 2006, the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister admitted that they had failed to disclose receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Chief Electoral Officer. The money was collected in the form of “registration fees” paid by Conservative delegates to attend the Conservative Party of Canada's May 2005 convention.

Clearly, there is a lack of transparency. The government refuses to enforce the ethics and transparency rules. A few months into its mandate, the Conservative Party released a road map that demonstrates its lack of political will to follow the rules and to put an end to the political culture of entitlement.

This government reprimanded the Liberals for the comings and goings between political offices and lobbying firms. Yet, since taking power, the Prime Minister has appointed former lobbyist and current Minister of National Revenue as the head of National Defence, and he made lobbyist Sandra Buckler his director of communications.

This government also awards contracts to Conservative friends. The Prime Minister's government awarded a communications contract to Marie-Josée Lapointe, a former member of the Prime Minister's transition team. This contract goes against the spirit of the Federal Accountability Act, since political staff are not allowed to receive contracts from the government for 12 months after they have left. Believe it or not, the contract was cancelled halfway through.

This government also uses public funds for partisan purposes. In March 2006, the Conservative government awarded an $85,000 contract to gauge public support for the Conservative Party's five electoral priorities. In July 2006, the Conservative government awarded a contract to Strategic Counsel in order to poll public opinion on various political issues. The very partisan report identified the environment as a very important issue for the government's re-election. It should be noted that Strategic Counsel is run by Allan Gregg, who was the Conservative Party's official pollster under Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell.

To sum up, the bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of loan terms and the identity of all lenders and guarantors. The bill would prohibit all unions and corporations not only from making contributions, in accordance with the Federal Accountability Act, but also from lending money.

Moreover, loans, loan guarantees and contributions from individuals could not exceed the limit set out in the Federal Accountability Act, which was $1,100 for 2007.

Additionally, only financial institutions or other political entities would be able to lend money—at market interest rates— exceeding that amount. The rules for unpaid loans would be tightened so that candidates could not default on their obligations.

Loans not repaid within 18 months would be considered a political contribution. Riding associations, or where there are none, the parties themselves, would be held responsible for their candidates unpaid loans.

I would like to take this opportunity to make a small correction. Unfortunately, the government did not listen to reason and did not reintroduce the amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois. Sadly, that Bloc Québécois amendment was defeated at the report stage, by the NDP and the Conservatives, among others.

I just had to make that correction. Overall, however, I must say we are in favour of a bill that prevents individuals from circumventing the campaign financing rules.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I returned a little late from committee so I did not hear the entire speech put forward from the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

However, I am following this debate, and I know that many Canadians are following this debate as well, especially in light of the energy and all the hype around the upcoming presidential race, the selection of the Democratic leader, that leadership process, and the vast amounts of dollars that are laid out within that process.

It just astounds me. I know that many Canadians watch Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room every day and are awed by the amount of money that it takes to pursue that opportunity within the American system. It is considerably different in Canada.

I had the great privilege to work with former prime minister Chrétien when he brought forward the initial tranche of changes, with a different focus and approach as to how we go about funding political parties here in this country. It has evolved since the last election, bringing us to where we are today.

The member may have addressed this through his remarks, but I want to go back to the work of the committee. We know that committee recommendations are not binding on the House, in that they are brought forward as recommendations, but I wonder if he could comment on two in particular.

The first one, brought forward by the Conservative Party, allowed for loans and suretyships that are repaid in a calendar year not to count against donation limits for that year. That recommendation was supported by all parties.

The one that was put forward by the member's own party, supported by both the Liberals and the NDP, was an amendment that removed a section of the bill that forced registered political parties to assume the liability of an unpaid loan. It was thought that since candidates could conceivably secure loans without informing the central party of the status, then they could declare bankruptcy. But this would be without the approval of the national party.

The Conservatives opposed that, but as I said, it was a Bloc motion supported by the Liberals and the NDP. With the motions that are brought forward now by the government and the changes in this, it would gut both of these recommendations. Could the member could share with me why the thought is different now than it was when this piece of legislation came to committee? What has changed since then?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, what was vital and remains vital is that we prevent them from doing indirectly what they cannot do directly. That was vital.

Bill C-29 contained amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois under former Bill C-54. One of the amendments was that the Bloc Québécois was strongly opposed to the political party being held responsible for the liabilities of its candidates, even though the political party was not a party to the contract between a candidate and the bank. Thus, at report stage, the Bloc Québécois—if I am not mistaken—introduced an amendment which, as the member said, was rejected by the Conservatives and the NDP. The attitude of those political parties with respect to this amendment is rather suspect because there had been a debate and it was a question of transparency. We must ensure—and I am going to the trouble of repeating it—that we cannot alter or get around the limits established by obtaining loans from individuals.

Thus, from this point forward, the law could guarantee that only financial institutions can enter into contracts with candidates. The intended purpose is to have a very transparent process. In Quebec, we are proud of the political party financing act, which resulted in greater transparency in our democracy.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the comments of the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and his input to the debate.

I would ask for his insight on a situation whereby the Liberal Party proposed an amendment and the Bloc Québécois supported that amendment, one that would have allowed annual contributions to a leadership campaign debt until that debt had been repaid in full, and the government submitted a motion to revoke that amendment.

Could he provide the House with any compelling reason why the Liberal amendment should not proceed as worded?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, this government is characterized by its culture of secrecy and entitlement.

Just as with Bills C-2 and C-54, it is clear that the government hopes to be able to get around the established rules and give itself an out with Bill C-29. We have a legislative process in place, and we must study Bill C-29. It was a golden opportunity to make these amendments. However, it is clear from the government's stubbornness that there is a lack of transparency on the other side of the House, and we think that is too bad. These amendments and changes should have been made in Bills C-2 and C-54. Bill C-29 gives us that opportunity, but unfortunately this government has missed the boat.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:15 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 thank my colleague for indicating the Bloc's support for this very important piece of legislation.

One of my concerns is that many times before we have seen important government initiatives, particularly on the democratic reform side, make it through this place but then get stalled in the Senate.

I believe my hon. colleague understands the importance of getting royal assent for this legislation before the next federal election, whenever that may take place.

Does my colleague share my concern? If the legislation passes this place, does he fear, as I do, that the Liberal-dominated Senate may stall the bill to try to prevent the bill getting royal assent prior to the next federal election?

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4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the governing party had carefully studied our proposed amendments to Bill C-29, we would not be here. I am thinking in particular of the amendment that the Conservatives and the NDP unfortunately defeated regarding political parties' responsibility for their candidates' debts. The governing party defeated the Bloc Québécois motion and the amendment to Bill C-29, unfortunately with the help of the NDP. If we had been able to get consensus on these issues, the Senate would very likely have discussed and studied the bill much more quickly.

I do not know what is going to happen in the Senate, but it is clear that when the House of Commons is missing opportunities and the NDP and Conservatives are joining together to defeat a motion supported by the Liberals and the Bloc—which I felt was a no-brainer—then it is inevitable that the Senate will have major debates on Bill C-29.

We do not know how the debate will go in the Senate, and we cannot speculate, but I hope that the Senate will consider the amendments that were introduced here by the Bloc Québécois but were unfortunately defeated by the members and the opposition party on the other side of the House.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-29. I think I echo the sentiment of all members that the House desires, very emphatically, to have an election system that is more open, transparent and clear. That is why the Liberals supported the general principle of the bill, which was brought forward to improve accountability for candidates to report loans taken during election campaigns.

Unfortunately, that is not what we get with the bill as it is presently amended. We will end up with severe limitations on the number and types of people who can run due to the fact that, believe it or not, the banks will essentially have the greatest decision-making power on the amount of financial support any given candidate can receive for his or her campaign. This is on the basis that different people have different income levels, equity levels and capacities to borrow money from banks. It is a fact.

The government continues to repeat that Bill C-29 would finally stop the undue influence of wealthy contributors who were supposedly skirting Elections Act donation limits through the use of personal loans. The bill would disadvantage potential candidates not only of the Liberal Party but of all parties. It would limit access to participation in political leadership for many Canadians.

As I have said once before when I spoke on this, we all want an electoral system that is more accountable, but what is really important is that this system of electoral accountability not limit access to different candidates who want to participate but have lower income status. The kind of accountability proposed by the government's amendments to the bill simply does not bridge accountability with equitable, fair and democratic accessibility.

Let us review the amendments proposed by the government and their impact.

First, the government wants to prohibit the possibility for individuals to make annual contributions to a leadership candidate. For a government that claims it wants Canadians to have more freedom in when and how they spend their money, this prohibition seems not to be consistent.

Second, the government proposes that all loans be repaid annually rather than at the point when the loan becomes due. Again, that does not seem to make sense since what we will end up with is an artificial limit on repayment. So much for the concept of freedom of contract.

Considering the fact that elections can be called at different times during the year and that leadership campaigns can last more than a year, it does not make sense to have someone pay off a loan before the time limit established by the loan contract. I am not sure if the government is aware that the amendments are inconsistent with the stated objectives of the legislation and will be viewed by many as narrowly inclusive, rigid and elitist.

Let us consider how much energy it would take for a successful candidate to work on repaying a loan at the end of the year rather than work on more broadly based repayment timeframes. It is totally unnecessary for anyone to have to focus on repaying by the end of a fiscal year if that was not the arrangement contracted with the lender.

Incidentally, the government wants to delete, as my colleague has said, the Bloc amendment that removed liability from registered political parties for loans taken by candidates. Again, I ask the House if it really makes sense to set up a system of responsibility for registered political parties and riding associations regardless of whether they are aware that the candidate has taken out a loan at the bank. I emphasize that making one entity answerable for the personal debt of an individual does not sound reasonable.

Let us review what we on this side have done to improve the electoral laws and what the Conservative Party has done by contrast.

Our party has shown good faith in bridging those principles that I mentioned. We have demonstrated that we want to improve electoral laws. After all, the Liberal Party was the party that passed a bill aimed at limiting the role of businesses and unions in the financing of elections, Bill C-24, in 2003.

In addition, during the last leadership campaign of the Liberal Party, all candidates stated publicly all loans received by their campaigns and they went beyond the requirements set by Elections Canada in this regard.

Recent difficulties faced by the government should dictate greater sensitivity as opposed to the kind of influence that seems to be drawn into the bill. The Prime Minister, for example, has found it difficult to report his leadership campaign contributions, going back to 2002, and there must be some legitimate reason for that.

While we are talking about the Conservative Party's record and following elections laws, let us not forget to mention the efforts of the MP for Nepean—Carleton to denounce Liberal leadership candidates. He has demonstrated, in my opinion, a really inconsistent understanding of the legislation that he is purporting and that the government is bringing forward. For example, he has been declaring that Elections Canada is not impartial.

The member said that the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and other Liberal Party members were acting illegally by actually following Elections Canada regulations with respect to loan repayment extension requests.

With all this grandstanding, one would think the government would have proposed limits on repayment that would reflect its convictions. Despite what the member for Nepean—Carleton might claim, members of his own party have been in hot water over loan repayments. That is why I am focusing on this, because there must be a problem with the loan repayment regime.

Elections Canada has records of five Conservative candidates with loans that remained unpaid 18 months after the 2006 election. I am not saying that because I am dumping on those candidates. I feel for them. There must be reasons why they cannot repay those loans within that period of time, and this legislation will not help. In three of those cases, the donations exceed the legal maximum of the $5,400.

The government solution to its electoral rule breaking problems is to try to come up with new rules that are inconsistent with reasonable practice. The only thing that is clear is the government appears to be taking a “do as I say, not as I do” approach. How can Canadians believe in the legislation if it does not match and bridge its principles with the objectives to which I alluded?

The Liberal Party supports legislation that would make all candidates more accountable. Unfortunately Bill C-29 will limit campaign funding conditions so severely that many people, considering participating in the political process and representing their communities, will be excluded from this option.

Is that what we want to accomplish? Do we want to exclude people from all walks of life the opportunity to run for public office? The legislation, whether it means to or not, in fact will do that. Furthermore, do we want to put the power to determine one person's chance to participate in politics simply on the basis of his or equity positions, on income levels, and let the banks determine that? Do we want to give the banks that kind of power in our political process? I do not think so.

The Liberal Party supports measures to make Canadians more confident in their politicians by seeking to approve the accountability of the electoral process. The government put that forward as a first principle and we supported this going to committee because we agreed. However, we cannot support a bill that will end up limiting the opportunities of so many Canadians who may have and hopefully will have the desire to campaign and participate in our democratic process.

Therefore, I really would hope that the government would reflect on the restrictive nature of the reforms it is advocating and see that they are inconsistent with the objectives the government has put forward in terms of transparency and accountability. They do not guarantee more accessibility for a broader cross-section of Canadians to involve themselves in politics in our great country.

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4:30 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 thought I was listening intently. If I did, I either misheard what the hon. member said or perhaps he misspoke.

I think the hon. member was complaining about the repayment regime being too strict because repayments had to be made yearly. In fact, the legislation quite explicitly states that repayment is due three years after polling day in the case of a candidate or three years after the leadership contest has concluded, and that is up from eighteen months.

An amendment was proposed that we opposed, but we accepted in the spirit of trying to get the legislation passed. To have a three year repayment regime, by anyone's definition, is more than generous.

Would my hon. colleague to respond that?

My second question deals with a point he made at the outset of his presentation, saying that the legislation would be somewhat restrictive inasmuch as it would penalize those of a lower income bracket by not allowing them to participate in elections or leadership contests, since they would be forced to seek financing from financial institutions.

The first premise that we have to establish is regardless of income levels, if anyone who seeks public office wants to borrow money, he or she should be compelled to repay that money. To suggest that those of lower incomes would not have access because they have to go through a bank and therefore may not be able to get money through a bank loan is simply nonsensical.

Whether it be through a private individual, as is currently the case, or whether it should be to a bank, the intent, surely to goodness, would be that the individual would ultimately repay the money. If individuals from any walk of life, from any income level, are unable to demonstrate their ability to repay a loan, then suggest perhaps they should not be granted that loan.

Would my hon. colleague address those two scenarios?

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can tell from the manner in which the question has been put forward that the member does not share the same experience as perhaps many Canadians have in terms of getting a loan from a bank.

Unless I have misunderstood him, he is suggesting that all Canadians are equal before the banks, but that is not the case. The banks do not particularly care whether in this sense the loan is related to the democratic pursuit of public office. If the member is suggesting that has any added value in the eyes of the banks, it may in the eyes of the bank manager who may have insights in his or her experience, but in terms of an institutional insight, I do not think that I would want to suggest that all Canadians will have that kind of equality.

If we take that line of reasoning, if someone has to get a loan, he or she is not going to have as much ability to do that depending on what the person's economic status is, if the person owns property, if the person has collateral. We cannot do that. We cannot even have someone put up his or her collateral in this instance.

Unless I am not understanding the bill, that is not a reasonable nor is it a fair or equitable position for us to put any Canadian in. If we are talking about bridging our principles with our desire to involve Canadians, it has been said that every private has a field marshal's baton in his knapsack. They all have the ability to stand for public office if they so desire, but at least we should guarantee the tools for them to do that.

In terms of the three years, I am saying it is not clear in the legislation that that can be contracted. If I am wrong on that, then there is one part of it that I feel an amendment has been made which accommodates that. However, that is not the understanding I have of the bill. The understanding I have of the bill is that if it is the bank and the bank wants to arbitrarily call the loan, then the loan will be called. Unless it is very clear and consistent with contract law, then there is a major inconsistency in this bill. I would suggest to the parliamentary secretary that that inconsistency has to be looked at.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I very much enjoyed the speech of the distinguished member for York South—Weston, and distinguished he is in this House and throughout his career in politics, including his many years in municipal politics. He is extremely well regarded in the Toronto area. Indeed he has brought those same qualities of class and dignity to the House of Commons over the last eight years. He truly knows a lot about integrity, about elections, about financing for elections and matters of that ilk.

My understanding of the legislation at this point is not as deep or as comprehensive as is his. I am not embarrassed in saying that, because he obviously knows this bill thoroughly. As I understand it, if a family member, a friend or an associate wants to lend to a candidate $2,000 on some repayment terms, the legislation will preclude or prohibit the family member, friend or associate from making a loan in excess of $1,100 per year.

I would like to ask the member for York South—Weston, is my understanding correct about that?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his compliments.

I had indicated to the parliamentary secretary that the breaks in the connectedness of people to even take out a loan beyond the bank is along the lines that have been suggested. In the past if one contracted for a loan, and if that is established under this legislation, it should not matter whom the loan is with as long as it is within the limits prescribed in the legislation.

The member is quite right that not only are there limits on the amounts, but there is a prohibition with respect to doing that. I have said that it is not only impractical, but it is inequitable.

The legislation tries to make it transparent that unions and businesses and so on should not be able to buy their way into the political process, but it applies the same principle to people who want to get behind people they support. As long as it is transparent and it is established in a contract and there is adjudication and transparent oversight, why should it matter whether it is someone within the limits because it has to be repaid? The bill talks about repayment. That is the issue. As long as the loan is paid back to those people as individual citizens, why should it matter? I just see it as very inconsistent, inequitable and unfair.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2008 / 4:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think every member in the House supports the idea of openness and transparency in election financing and a restriction on wealthy individuals or corporations that try to influence the political process by giving large sums of money to candidates.

We have agreed to extend the repayment period to three years, but I am still at a loss to understand why the government would oppose annual contributions to a maximum of $1,100 for a candidate until his loan was paid.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Unfortunately the hon. member did not leave his colleague any time to respond, so we will move on.

Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Labrador, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Government Policies.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.