Mr. Speaker, I participate in this debate with some considerable interest.
I do not want to bore members, but I have been elected nine times, federally and provincially, under either federal or provincial statutes. I have run for two leadership contests in two different political parties in two different political jurisdictions, once successfully and once unsuccessfully, but both thoroughly enjoyable experiences.
I have had quite a considerable amount of experience, since first being elected to this place in 1978 and in the province of Ontario in 1982, in looking at the question of election financing. Therefore, I would like to put the debate on this set of amendments in a context.
For a long time, in most provinces, there were very few limits on contributions and very little transparency in the system with respect to who could spend what, whatever limits there might be, and what had to be declared of did not have to be declared. Companies, unions and individuals were allowed to give. Looking around the world, this is what pertains in a great many jurisdictions.
I think there is a very widespread feeling, and certainly one that I share, that this is not a very desirable circumstance in which our democracy should operate and that our democracy should operate under the rule of law, under a rule of transparency and of accountability and under the principle that one does not have to be rich to run for political office and that political office should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their circumstances.
Speaking very personally, the first time I ran for Parliament in 1978, I ran for a nomination in which I would have spent somewhere in the order of $500. The money was raised from a group of friends of mine from law school, who all contributed money so I could run for the nomination. The spending limit at the time I was elected would have been something in the order of $25,000 to $30,000. Contributions came in large and small amounts. It was, by any stretch of the imagination, in discussing with my American or British friends how that system compared with others, a very democratic and open system.
In the early 1970s in the province of Ontario, the premier of the day, Mr. Davis, asked Dalton Camp to chair an inquiry into election financing in the province because there had been a great deal of concern about the principles, which I have outlined: the principle of transparency, the principle of accountability and the principle that the system should be seen to be fair and should be seen to be operating in a fair manner.
Mr. Camp was a Progressive Conservative of some note and he wrote what I think many people would regard as a very fine report. He was assisted in that regard by Mr. Doug Fisher, who is well known to many of us as a public figure and commentator, a former member in this place, and by the former leader of the Liberal Party in Ontario, Mr. Farquhar Oliver as well.
They produced a report that set out some of these principles, but it also did something else, which is worth noting. The way Mr. Davis approached it was to go to the other political parties and say, “We have a problem”, not “I have a problem”, or not “I want to manipulate the system to my temporary advantage”, but “We have a general problem and as much as possible, we should try to regulate the question of election financing by consensus”.
As much as possible, the participants in politics, the political parties, should try to create institutions and methods of operation and establish a broad basis of consensus and stability that would allow us to proceed in a way that no one would be able to suggest that somehow, for reasons of temporary advantage of one kind or another, we would make a change, a change that would be seen to be benefiting one political party as opposed to another.
We all know that nothing could be more subversive of our democratic process than to have a party in government suddenly decide that it would change the rules, so it would completely undermine the position, the credibility and the ability of other parties to operate in that system.
I make no secret of my friendship with Mr. Davis and of my great admiration for him. He and I have since had occasion to work together on many different tasks and projects, including most recently the report that we wrote on improving higher education in the province of Ontario.
I know Mr. Davis continues to regard me as philosophically misguided, as he would put it, but nevertheless our friendship remains very strong. I have great admiration for his sense of occasion and his sense of critical times in the life of the province. He was not simply going to exercise partisan advantage in order to achieve something. He was going to be doing something on behalf of all the people of the province. No issue reflected this more significantly than the question of election financing.
I could tell a similar story about the changes in the federal law and the federal rules, the decision by Prime Minister Chrétien to make a very significant change, which was carried through. It is notable, for example, that the proclamation of the date of that change was delayed so it would not negatively impact a leadership contest then under way in the Conservative Party of Canada. That was, again, an example of someone saying, “Let's recognize that we're not going to take advantage of this to simply punish a party which is now undergoing a political battle”.
I entered the contest for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada under a certain set of rules. Those rules were not made by me. They were not written by me. They had nothing to do with me in a sense. They were passed by the Parliament of Canada. I assumed those rules would apply to the leadership contest, which I was entering, for the full time of that contest.
I do not say this directly when I look at my friends, including my colleagues who are here from the Conservative Party and my friends from the New Democratic Party and the Bloc.
I became a candidate under legislation approved by the Parliament of Canada and very clear rules. The rules said that there was a $5,400 limit on individual contributions and that the contributions could be made up to 18 months after the convention. The law was very clear, unequivocal and transparent, and it was passed by the Parliament of the day.
To put it mildly, I and a number of other leadership candidates were shocked. It woke me up to how the new government plays the game of politics. In the middle of the period in which we were raising money for the leadership and engaged in the leadership race itself, the Conservatives changed the law in such a way that for the entire 18 month period after the convention we were no longer allowed to collect cheques of $5,400. We were only allowed to collect cheques of $1,100.
I want to tell everyone in this chamber and anyone else who wants to listen that there is no other interpretation that one can give to that unilateral change, joined in by the Bloc and approved and egged on by the New Democratic Party. There is no other way to interpret the timing of that law and the fact that it was not grandfathered for those who were participating in the leadership contest. There is no other way to interpret that law but as a deliberate attempt to undermine the credibility and integrity of the Liberal Party of Canada and to cause personal difficulty and embarrassment for each person who ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. It was a deliberate and flagrant attack on our political process in which we had all entered in terms of that race.
The member for Cambridge is laughing. Let him laugh because for him to change the rules in the middle of the game is just a laughing matter.