Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), especially since the Bloc Québécois is in favour of nearly the entire bill. We would have liked to make certain amendments, but they were not approved. I will mention them in my speech.
It is important to keep in mind that, ever since it arrived in this House, the Bloc Québécois has been fighting to put an end to corporate funding and limit individual contributions, as Quebec did 30 years ago.
Earlier, I listened as the Liberal member for Toronto Centre talked about his leadership race, the difficulty of getting funding, and so on. Quebec has had legislation in place for 30 years. In Quebec, political parties successfully hold leadership races, raise funds and run election campaigns, all without corporate funding or huge contributions from individuals
That is where the problem lies. With Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability, the Conservative Party tried to correct the situation. The Conservatives were in a hurry. They had just been elected and had promised transparency and accountability legislation. We remember this bill.
We warned them at the time about their Bill C-2. And we were not alone. Democracy Watch, an organization made up of democracy experts, also pointed to problems in the bill. Obviously, among the problems are the famous loans. Even if individual contributions are limited to $1,100 a year, this is not an improvement if individuals can make loans to get around the law. That is very worrisome.
I will say it again. Earlier, I was listening to the speech by the Liberal member for Toronto Centre, a candidate in his party's leadership race, who told us it was unfair. Before it was reduced to $1,100 per individual, the contribution limit stood at $5,400 per individual and corporations were allowed a separate amount. He finds the bill to be unfair. However, he is one of the members who received a loan from an individual. His brother, among others, lent him $400,000. This is just as unfair as individuals being able to contribute $5,400 or $1,100 to a leadership or other campaign and getting around the limit by saying that the limit does not apply if the money is given as a loan.
That is what Bill C-29 seeks to remedy. In law, there is a principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. However, there is also a principle that you cannot do indirectly what cannot be done directly. That is an argument we raised with the Conservative government with respect to its Bill C-2.
It is a good thing to adopt a limit of $1,100 for individuals and to prohibit corporations from contributing to election campaigns. That is perfect. It is similar to Quebec's law. However, we should not allow loans that would permit individuals to do indirectly what cannot be done directly. If the contribution limit is $1,100 per individual, tomorrow morning we cannot say to an individual that the limit does not apply, that he can lend hundreds of thousand of dollars and that it is not a problem if he makes it a loan. He could declare that it is a loan and that the means will be found to repay it.
Today, it is understandable that the Leader of the Opposition—the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville—and the member for Toronto Centre have not been able to repay the debts incurred to participate in the leadership race. Nor should Canadians be fooled. I know that the Chief Electoral Officer did not make public the agreement he had with the leadership candidates; however they have not yet repaid their debts.
I repeat, the hon. member for Toronto Centre said earlier that he has run in several provincial election campaigns and that he was a party leader in Ontario. He also said that anyone who runs in a leadership race will have funding problems.
Perhaps he had a problem. He was in the NDP and became a Liberal. I understand why many Liberal supporters might not have wanted to contribute to his election campaign. Perhaps he chose the wrong party. Only time will tell, but, during a leadership race and an election, the individuals involved must be reliable and obey the law. In other words, candidates must be able to raise enough money from enough supporters to campaign responsibly in an election, and the same goes for a leadership race.
It forces the people who want to become party leaders to expand their circle of supporters. If they are unable to bring in more supporters, they might as well stay at home. It is not complicated. It is as simple as that. If a leadership candidate estimates that it will cost $500,000, he or she needs 500 people to contribute $1,000 each. And any candidate who cannot do so does not deserve to run in the leadership race. That is it.
In my view, it only makes sense and shows respect for individuals, and it prevents one individual or group of individuals from being able to control a candidate in a leadership race or an election. It is only logical, simple and honest, and it also means that anyone can hope to enter politics one day. They must understand that, in order to run an election campaign, candidates must have people who trust them and they must be able to raise between $80,000 and $100,000. Thus, one must be able to raise funds, like I do and like all Bloc members do.
Indeed, we use public financing—spaghetti dinners and suppers, sugar shacks and so on—and some 100, 200 or 300 people come out and generously give us $20. That is how, over the years, we are able to raise funds. That is why Bloc Québécois members, like the Conservatives, are probably among those with the best backing. We also probably receive the most money from individual contributors, men and women who are thrilled to come to a Bloc Québécois fundraising activity and give $20, knowing that $7 or $8 will go towards funding, depending on the cost of the meal.
With these small amounts of money, we can raise funds for an election campaign. It is simple. I can understand that the Liberals and Conservatives are not used to that, since for them, it is clearly the “establishment”, only a few individuals, that has run the party. These people were able to make some very large contributions.
So I am not surprised. What surprises me most, is that the member for Toronto Centre, a former member of the Ontario NDP, was also collecting money from some individuals. He was not used to grassroots fundraising, which surprises me about a former NDP member.
In this House, surprises are not uncommon. Every day, the Conservatives bring us revelation after revelation. It is clear that the way the Conservatives wanted to govern is looking more and more like the way the Liberals were running things. I can see that the NDP had a way of running things that is similar to the Liberals' and the Conservatives' way. Regardless, that is the problem of the federalist parties in this House. It is not the problem of the Bloc Québécois, which is used to grassroots financing.
The members of the Bloc Québécois worked very hard to get Bill C-29 passed. Why? Because in Quebec, for 30 years, grassroots fundraising has dominated, since René Lévesque, the leader of the Parti Québécois, implemented election legislation that prevents lobbyists from controlling politics. This legislation completely changed politics in Quebec. It ensures that politics must be supported by fundraising among the public.
If an individual is not able to get funding to run a campaign from the largest possible number of individual men and women, he or she does not deserve to be in power. That is what I would tell the Liberals, in particular the member for Toronto Centre, who was offended that the amount for individual contributions was reduced in the middle of the race. Except that, thanks to the $400,000 loan he received from his brother, he did not need funding.
He needs it now, because he had 18 months to repay his debt. He was counting on the $5,400 per person that he was allowed to collect. But along the way, the $5,400 became $1,100.
I can understand that it is hard for him to find Liberal supporters to pay off his campaign debt, because he is not a real Liberal.
In some ways, it is disappointing that not everyone in this House realizes that politics should be open to every man and woman, to every citizen. It is not a matter of money, friends or anything like that. It takes someone who is able to express their ideas and defend them, someone that many people around them or in their party are able to trust.
That is how we should run elections and that is how the Bloc Québécois does it. We convince hundreds and thousands of people to become members of our organization and to make donations to enable us to run election campaigns based on defending the values and interests of Quebec. That is why, once again, as in election to election since 1993, our party has the most representatives from Quebec in this House. It is precisely because we are always in contact with the public, with the people we represent. We call on them for financing and it takes a great number of supporters, people who can trust us, to build up the money for our election campaigns.
The other parties will probably have to follow our example. Quebec is often a model of innovation for the rest of Canada, as hon. members know. One such innovation came from René Lévesque and was included in the electoral legislation that he was responsible for over 30 years ago. It bans corporate donations and limits individual donations.
This bill is the logical next step to what we sovereignists in Quebec defend. In politics, we have to be able to convince as many people as possible. The best way to do so is to limit individual contributions. We cannot allow a dozen or so people to give us $10,000 each to enable us to run an election campaign. We have to broaden our network.
When the Conservatives passed Bill C-2, we told them that, if individuals may not invest more than $1,100 in an election campaign annually, we absolutely cannot allow them to do so indirectly by handing out loans. That is why the Conservatives have amended that in Bill C-29. We cannot prohibit people from making donations greater than $1,100, while allowing them to lend as much money as they want and saying this is just fine. This bill corrects that.
We demanded—and we obtained this amendment at second reading of Bill C-29—that political parties not be liable for their candidates' debts. Obviously, be it an election campaign, a leadership race or a personal election campaign, it is not right that a political party be held responsible for debts that a candidate may have contracted with banks or otherwise and not from individuals.
The Conservatives decided to reverse course, with the NDP's support. That is why I find it difficult to understand the NDP. It sees itself as a grassroots party but has, I believe, a hard time fundraising. This party now has the Conservatives' support to withdraw the amendment that we presented. That means that henceforth a political party would be responsible for its candidates' debts to financial institutions, if ever they were not paid back.
Once again, when people run as candidates, they must be able to prove that they can find sufficient support. Therefore, it is normal that if a candidate borrows from a financial institution to fund an election campaign, that candidate is responsible because it is their election campaign. Under this bill, parties would be required to cover any unpaid debts.
This means that the people who run as candidates might not necessarily be the best. They would not need popular support. They would not need to fundraise to reimburse their debts. Inevitably, they would only have to run as candidates, knowing full well that if they do not raise enough money, the party will pay off their debt.
I will say it again: the Bloc Québécois was against this position. That is why we proposed amendments. It is difficult to understand why the Conservatives did not agree to them. Perhaps they also have trouble with grassroots fundraising in individual ridings. They are better at collecting money as the party in power. We see it with the Couillard affair in Quebec, the Kevlar situation concerning land in Quebec City that Ms. Couillard apparently pushed for. Basically, we can understand that much of the money going into the coffers comes from the way in which the Conservatives engage in politics, which means that they probably have difficulty with grassroots fundraising.
Of course, that is not the Bloc Québécois' case. We are proud to say that every day, we rise in this House to defend the interests and values of Quebeckers. We do not need to be in power to do that. Citizens are the ones who give us real power. The only power we should be able to accept is the power entrusted to us by the people. The people can take it away whenever they want because it does not belong to us. The people lend us power, and we are here every day to stand up for the people.
I have a hard time every time I see a Quebec Conservative rise and say something that is not in line with the interests and values of Quebeckers. That is what has been happening with the EDC file. The Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the minister responsible for the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, typically takes a stance that opposes what was passed unanimously. It gets even worse. Quebec's minister of regional development, Mr. Bachand, is engaged in an open war with the Minister of Labour because at some point, the latter decided that he no longer respected the Quebec consensus on economic development.
Quebec's non-profit organizations are our way of diversifying our economy and giving certain responsibilities to non-political organizations that exist not to engage in politics, but to work on community development, to make decisions about what kinds of businesses and economic interventions are needed in each region. The Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec decided that the government would no longer fund these organizations, would no longer help them. He decided that he would make direct payments instead.
That is very hard to accept. I can see how he might have trouble getting grassroots funding from the people after taking such a position in the House. All of the other Conservative members from Quebec support him. This kind of policy is contrary to the values and interests of Quebeckers. I can see that they are getting more and more out of touch. Raising funds is getting harder and harder for them. Nevertheless, the law must not permit impunity.
Once again, we had hoped that the Conservatives would understand that it is not up to the party to repay a debt incurred by a candidate. Especially since the party now receives $2 per voter, which means that the candidate's debt will be paid by our citizens because that $2 contribution to the political party comes from the government. It would be taxpayers' money repaying candidates' debts.
The Bloc Québécois would never have accepted such a situation. We would never have allowed taxpayers' money to repay an election debt. That is what the Conservative Party has done with the help of the NDP. I have a great deal of difficulty with this, especially coming from the NDP, which calls itself the champion of the people and of the people's interests.
I have a great deal of difficulty with the idea of allowing taxes—through a $2 per taxpayer contribution to political parties—to be used to repay a candidate's debt. The candidate would no longer have to fundraise because he or she would think, “If I ever go into debt, then the party will automatically pay it back out of the money provided by the government.” I have a great deal of difficulty understanding that. But, once again, it is typical of the NDP to signal that they are turning left and then turn right. They always do that. I see that they decided to turn right with the Conservatives. They will have to suffer the consequences and live with that decision in the next election.
Obviously, we will support Bill C-29. We wanted our amendment—that would not permit a candidate's debt to be repaid by the party, given that the contribution of $2 per voter is paid by the government—to be adopted. We would have liked that amendment to pass. However, once again, the Conservatives and the NDP decided to oppose it. As for the Bloc Québécois, we will always respect the interests of Quebeckers.