Mr. Speaker, we are continuing debate on Bill C-29, which is a bill that the government has put forward to regulate loans made in political campaigns: elections, leadership contests and nominations.
It is an area that is probably not well understood by most people who do not participate in the political process. It is perhaps sometimes a little more complicated now than I think it needs to be, but nonetheless it is an area that does need some regulation. Federal laws have attempted to do that over the last few years.
I want to start by saying that a loan is actually integral to many campaigns. It is facilitatory to a campaign. It enables many campaigns to get up and running when there may not be sufficient funds at the beginning of the campaign.
The dynamic of a campaign varies in regard to candidate, place and circumstance, but in most campaigns there are a lot of expenses. I am talking first about campaigns for elections to the House of Commons. There are a lot of expenses at the front end of a campaign. I guess that is so in the business world too.
At the front end of a campaign, there are expenses. Perhaps one has to secure premises for a campaign office or pay cash for election signs and brochures. Deposits are required on telephones or other equipment such as computers and also on leases. At the front end of the campaign, there actually is a fair bit of uploading of the expenses.
Of course, the fundraising for a campaign can happen before the campaign, during the campaign and after the campaign, but the cash need is right at the beginning. Thus, there is the need for such a loan for most campaigns.
A lot of campaigns will have already fundraised and will have enough money to get going. Some members around here are fortunate enough to have raised enough money before the campaign even starts, keeping in mind that when we seek election to the House of Commons, there are election spending limits.
We all know pretty much what the spending limit is. For most of us, it is in the range of $70,000 or $80,000 per campaign. If a candidate has raised that at the beginning, he or she is ready to go, but what about those who have not?
For example, a member of Parliament is supposed to know roughly when an election is coming, and he or she can raise money. On the other hand, a candidate who is not an incumbent will often come in as a nominated candidate for a party that is not holding the riding. Often that person has not had a run-up of one, two, three or four years in raising money.
There is a conspicuous need in that case. A person who wants to run for Parliament for a party that has not held a riding may have a significant cash need at the beginning of a campaign. The only way to bridge that cash need is to borrow the money.
Over the past century, that money has come from friends or the father-in-law, or banks or other financial institutions, and we have managed to make do. However, recently there have been suggestions that there have been occasions when these loans have been given or granted and then, at some point after the event, they have been forgiven, so that the candidate who borrowed the money never actually had to pay the money back.
In our electoral system, that might be seen as unfair. I have a very extreme example, one that will probably never happen. Let us say that an individual says he or she is going to run for party A. Party A tells that individual not to worry, that the party will lend him or her the money to get going, and that Mr. X will lend the individual $50,000. They go through the campaign. When it is over, let us say that the candidate is unsuccessful and Mr. X says that is okay, it was his obligation to the party and he is forgiving the loan.
Let us contrast that situation with another individual who has raised $100 here and there and has worked hard and operated within the rules. It may be seen as quite unfair that a candidate or party has a rich friend who basically underwrites the whole thing and seems to circumvent what we now have, which is election contribution limits. For an individual, the limit is about $1,100 per person. A $50,000 loan lent and forgiven obviously circumvents the intent of the election contribution limits that we already have in law.
For some reason, though, notwithstanding that we have made some corrections in the past, the government party here still thinks that these loans are a big problem. It has come back with this legislation that knocks them down and almost squeezes them out of existence.
I have to say that most businesses need these types of loans. They are a part of how our economy operates. A campaign is no different. Many people have mortgages on their homes, car loans and lines of credit. Why would a campaign for the House of Commons or for a leadership not have the same kinds of financial needs? I think they do.
Under our Constitution, people who run for office ought not to be prejudiced or handicapped any more than an ordinary citizen out there doing other things, with reasonable constraints. I agree that any legislation which prevents forgiveness of a huge loan that would circumvent the election contribution limits should be established. That would be justifiable, in my view.
In this legislation, for some reason, the government, and I believe it is supported by one or two of the other opposition parties, sees a need to micromanage the loan situation, in my view overly, to the point where I think it may have crossed the line. I will explain this in my remarks a little later. Having started with the premise that we have to in some ways restrict the loan arrangements, I am suggesting that the provisions in this bill go way too far.
The amendments in this bill restrict the amount of a loan that an individual can make. I am not sure why that has to be. I can see why there is an election contribution limit, but if a loan has to be made and there has to be transparency and disclosure of it and it has to be repaid, I do not understand why it is necessary to restrict the amount that an individual can actually lend. It enforces a repayment regime. I question whether it is necessary to impose an actual time limited regime. In this case, the bill does that.
It does something else that in my view is quite insidious and unfair. The legislation says that if a loan is not repaid in a particular campaign, then the political party under which that person ran must assume that debt.
For the average citizen that may sound almost all right and what is the big deal, but if we go down to the riding level, where we have three, four or five parties running, not each of these parties running candidates at the local level are smooth-oiled machines. These are regular Canadians, some of them for the first time embarking on a run for office.
It is possible that a particular candidate may on his or her own volition, wittingly or unwittingly, borrow a ton of money. The main party may not know about it and the central campaign may not know about it. However, at the end of the time period, and it would be a sad comment on the individual, the individual could say, “To heck with it. I'm walking. I'm declaring bankruptcy”, and the main party would be stuck with that debt. That would create a huge liability contingency for all the political parties.
The large political parties, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, and I think the other parties represented in the House have fairly decent financial means. However, there are other political parties out on the street. Our Elections Act provides for that.
Those parties are being forced, under this legislation, to play by those same rules. I have a sense that it is unfair to impose that kind of a rule on a new or young political party. It could seriously damage it financially in a circumstance where the main party itself does not have control over what its candidates are spending and borrowing. There is no provision in our law that would allow that to happen. I could not conceive of one.
Therefore, this is a serious problem and I absolutely do not support that. I am going to do everything I can inside the House and outside, and later, to make sure this provision is not applied.
The next area I want to touch on has to do with the relationship between what this bill tries to do and our constitutional freedom. I am of the view that some of these provisions do not pass constitutional muster. I think they are vulnerable under our Constitution.
It is not clear to me that anyone has measured and assessed the constitutional implications of some of the measures in this bill. Certain parts of this legislation impose these loan restrictions. One in particular states that a candidate for nomination, or a candidate for office, or a candidate for leadership can only borrow from a financial institution. I think we have a problem.
As I said earlier, it is not clear to me why we have to restrict loans, coming only from financial institutions. It seems kind of reasonable, like we would just want to buy beer from a beer store or buy liquor from a liquor store. However, in terms of loans, this is a much different thing.
I have to say there is the perspective of the borrower, that is the candidate, which is pretty much the perspective that the government has imposed on this bill and which the other two opposition parties appear to be supporting. However, there is another perspective and that is the perspective of the lender. Of course, the lenders include everybody else in this country. We sometimes around this place focus a little too much on who we are as MPs and I am as guilty of that sometimes as others.
However, when we are talking about lending money to campaigns, it is everybody else in the country. It is all of the businesses, all of the financial institutions, all of the fathers-in-law that might lend money, or wherever we might borrow money. It is all of our citizens.
They have the right to all of our freedoms and the right to be unrestricted in what they do. I ask, why should an individual be restricted in lending money to a political campaign when a financial institution is not? What the heck are we doing? We curtail what a citizen can do, when we do not curtail what a financial institution can do. That is wrong. That is turning the whole thing on its head. In the government's rush to nail this area down with rules so restrictive, we will have to hire another army of accountants to police it.
The Conservatives have actually managed to abridge the rights and freedoms of Canadian citizens, and the only ones they wanted to leave out are the financial institutions. God love the financial institutions. We love them. We are indebted to them. We are in hock to them.
However, I have to say that the government and Parliament cannot abridge the freedoms of our citizens unless they do it properly under our Constitution. They can only abridge those freedoms, unless they do it, if they do it, for reasons that are demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.
Who, on the government side, has articulated the demonstrably justifiable reasons for abridging the freedom of Canadians to participate in political campaigns, for example, by lending money, which has to be repaid, to a candidate?
There are many other types of lending institutions in society. They can lend money to buy cars. They can lend money to buy houses. They can lend money to take a bus trip, but they cannot lend money to one of the most vital institutions of our democracy, which is an election campaign.
I do not think I have heard this come up earlier, but it is a real issue for me and it has to be dealt with. The bill is at third reading. It is very tough to fix a bill at third reading, in fact we cannot.
I am inviting the other place, when it sees the bill, to review it with this perspective in mind. If the government cannot come up with reasons to abridge the rights and freedoms of Canadians out there in the way I just described it, that are demonstrably justifiable, then this provision that prohibits individuals from lending to political campaigns is not constitutionally enforceable, and it will go down. I will help to bring it down if I can. I am sure I will be able to help somewhere.
I ask the other place, when and if it has a chance to look at this bill, which I am sure it will if we pass it at third reading, to look at it.
There is a second side of the coin in insisting that only financial institutions can lend the money and it is this. We are forcing financial institutions to become partners on the street with political campaigns, and this our banks have never wanted to do. It is very difficult for them to do it. I do not know how we can force a bank manager in a particular riding to start picking and choosing between the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Québécois, and all of the other political parties. If they lend to one, do they have to lend to the others?
There is more than one bank, but this forces the banks, in a sense, to either politicize themselves or to be seen to be politicizing themselves, and this is not right either. This is a problem and I do not think that has been adequately articulated.
The bill should have had some fixes. The committee tried to fix the bill and I thought the bill had been fixed, but when we got it back to the House, the government party, in league with other parties, decided it would remove those amendments.
I am very concerned about the constitutionality of this and its impact on the street. I think we are making a mistake and for that reason I am not going to support the bill.