Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the bill, as opposed to some other times when I rise in the House and really wish I did not have to speak. The bill is definitely a step forward in the reform of our democracy overall, specifically the reform we are pursuing in political financing of election campaigns, both general campaigns and leadership campaigns as well as nomination meetings.
In that regard, this type of reform has been needed for quite some period of time. Prior attempts to reform the system have been made. We saw the Federal Accountability Act passed in this current Parliament. We saw significant reforms, which I think we all applaud, in the prior parliaments of 2000 to 2004 in particular.
However, this was an area where there was a glaring loophole left. We saw that, particularly in the last leadership race by the federal Liberals. A large number of candidates took out very substantial loans to finance their campaigns, in some cases approaching as much as a million dollars, loans that were left owing when the campaign was finished. Although there are mandates to repay those loans, there is no provision of any serious consequence where the lender on the loan had opted to forgive the loan.
We can see where the huge potential for abuse can lead. In most cases, we have very clear guidelines on how much can be spent in campaigns, including leadership campaigns. This is one of the areas where we need further reform, so there is a clearer accountability of where the funds have come from and how they are spent. In fact, we need more detail in those accounting reporting functions.
However, what this left opened was people could come forward as candidates for leadership or running for the nomination in a riding association and could borrow extensive amounts of money to fund those campaigns from family or close associates, business associates perhaps. Then when the campaign was all over, the limits that we had imposed on donations, the cap we had put on donations, could be easily exceeded by the people who had advanced the loans, saying, “I understand you're in dire financial straits, I'm not going to ask you to repay the loan”.
We saw that repeatedly happen. I often wondered, even prior to some of the reporting we now have in place, how often it happened of which we were not aware.
Therefore, we are taking a significant step forward under Bill C-29. We are placing very clear guidelines on from whom funds can be borrowed, and that is primarily the lending institutions of our country, not private individuals. There are limits on how much can be borrowed as well. It is a major step forward. I do not think it is the end of the day.
I remember sitting in committee one time and listening to two delegations, one from the province of Manitoba and one from the province of Quebec. They had started the program of financial reform in political financing and political donations in particular, much ahead of where we did at the federal level. It was interesting to listen to them. In both cases they said that what we had to do was continue to monitor, at least after every election and leadership campaign, to see if some creative person had come forward with an idea, a way to get around the restrictions and legislation, which thought we had put in place and which we thought were solid and absolute,
We are seeing that to some extent in the scandal of the Conservative Party's in and out scheme, which Elections Canada clearly found improper and contrary to the legislation. That was the Conservatives' creative attempt to get around the financing laws during a federal campaign. Hopefully at the end of the day they will have their wrists severely slapped, they will be penalized, et cetera, and we will put an end to that one.
In this case, what happened with the accountability act and some of the reforms we saw under the Liberal administration was that the issue around the loans was not dealt with. We are now dealing with it in Bill C-29. I think we have covered all the bases on it, but it will require ongoing monitoring. If we do not have that, we can be almost certain that someone will figure out a way around it and we will then have to move back in as a legislature to close whatever loopholes are found.
In addition to this legislation, we have additional democratic reforms. The current Prime Minister was very strong in opposition and in both federal campaigns in arguing for all sorts of democratic reforms.
We know we need reforms within this House to deal with the decorum problem we have in this House and to deal with the problem of actually democratizing the institution. In particular, right now we can see the need to deal with democratizing our committees. We need to deal with making them stronger and more independent of the party in power in particular, but also of the leadership of the parties, so that we as members of Parliament can act more independently and also more representatively of our constituents. Those reforms are needed.
We expect that we are going to need additional reforms once we see how the Federal Accountability Act works in the next federal general election. I expect additional reforms will be called for.
There are certainly reforms that need to be made to the electoral process. As members know, the NDP has been a strong proponent for a long period of time of a form of proportional representation so that everybody's vote counts the same. This is another reform that needs to be undertaken.
The point I am trying to make here is that although this is a relatively small act, it is another step along the route we have to take, that we as members of Parliament have a responsibility to take, to see to it that as much as possible we make our country, our electoral process and our democratic institutions as absolutely democratic as possible.
Attached to this is something that one would almost say is just so obvious that we should not have to say it. There has to be accountability in the process and there has to be transparency. The average citizen has to understand how the process works, both in terms of election financing and in terms of the process here in the House and during the elections.
The point I want to make as well with regard to Bill C-29 is what we hear more about from the Liberal side of the House, which is that we really do not need this kind of restriction. We hear that we simply could put in place a regime that would set out how much money a candidate has spent, with no cap on it, and how much a candidate still owes, with all of it just being an accounting process. The accountants in the country would love that, I am sure.
All we have to do is to look to other jurisdictions to see where they have followed that type of regime. I am going to point to the United States in particular, where there are no caps on what a candidate can spend, from whom a candidate borrows, and whether a candidate pays it back. There are very few restrictions.
What we see there is that if someone wants to be a senator, for instance, he or she starts from the fact he or she is going to have to raise millions and millions of dollars to get elected. Quite literally, and I know the Americans hate it when we say this, a person can buy an election at the senate and congressional levels in the United States, because effectively there are no limits on how much one can spend.
On paper it looks like there are some limits, which goes back to the accountability. The reality is that there are none because of the political action committee fundraising methodology they employ there.
We see this even in small states. Members may remember the incident in New Jersey involving an individual who was a multi-millionaire, almost a billionaire, and who spent something like $60 million in trying to buy his senate seat. And he did win it.
He swamped the opposition with advertising, with people working door to door, and with all kinds of promotional material. He was able to use all the things that we could use if we were allowed to spend that amount of money. However, anybody who does not have access to those sources of funds, either personally or through contacts, is in a totally impossible position in regard to making the democratic process function.
It really is important that we pass Bill C-29. I believe from the comments we have heard that it obviously is going to go through.
I want to finish with the caution I heard in that committee from both the province of Quebec and the province of Manitoba. We have to be eternally vigilant.
After the next election, we will have to look at this piece of legislation. We will have to look at the Federal Accountability Act, other political financing acts and other electoral processes to see if somebody has figured out a way to get around the rules. If so, then we will have to move again to close any loopholes that have developed.