Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the NDP to comment on Bill C-29. It is very appropriate because the NDP, in this corner of the House, has been the foremost advocate of smart and democratic grassroots election financing in Parliaments throughout Canadian history.
I am standing beside the member for Winnipeg Centre who has been a very strong advocate of accountability and has spoken in the House on this bill. It is important to note that the NDP has been walking the talk on democratic grassroots election financing since the very origins of our party back in 1960 and even before that with the CCF.
It is important to note that even in the fifties and sixties, big money essentially dominated Canadian politics because we did not have the kinds of limits around election financing that we find today. How did that happen? It was another minority Parliament from 1972-74. The NDP leader, David Lewis, essentially said that the minority Parliament could only continue if for the first time in Canadian history, election financing limits were put in, both in federal parties and also in constituencies. So that was a key point in Canadian history.
It essentially drew us away from the American model, and I will come back to that in a moment, where there are essentially no limits in election financing, where big money dominates, and brought a unique Canadian contribution to election financing law. That put in place the kinds of limits today that mean that ordinary working people can run for the House of Commons and not expect that they are going to be simply outspent by bankers and big business, that essentially there is an even playing field.
It is important to note that since that first election financing act was put into place, the NDP has had a lot more representation in the House of Commons. Ordinary working families have had a lot more representation. It is not a perfect system yet, and I will come back to that in a moment as well. But essentially, the 1972-74 period was a watershed for Canadian election financing laws.
Why is that important? We see in the United States how democracy plays out, that essentially in most campaigns, particularly at the national level, we see that millionaires get elected because there is no election financing legislation that caps the amount of money that people can spend in election campaigns. We hear about $20 million, $30 million, $40 million campaigns, millionaires stepping forward and basically taking money out of their piggy-bank and then running for public office.
As a result of that, we see that the institutions governed by that lack of respect for the democratic will and a lack of responsibility to assume that there is a level playing field means that legislation does not necessarily get adopted in the interests of ordinary working families.
Here in Canada, through the efforts of Tommy Douglas, we have a public health care system that is financed by public taxes and we have that in place in Canada as a result of the work of the CCF and the NDP. We are very proud of that. In the United States where big money dominates there is still a continued effort to put in place a public health care system; 60 million Americans will not have health coverage at some point in this year 2008 which means they are only a car accident or a fall away from perhaps going bankrupt because they have to pay for their medical costs that could be $100,000 or $200,000.
In Canada, in part because we have a more even playing field, we have been able to bring forward progressive social policy. Of course, the NDP and the CCF have been at the origin of every single progressive piece of legislation brought in for social policy since Confederation.
This brings us to Bill C-29. Essentially, what the NDP has endeavoured to do over the last 30 years is gradually ensure that the level playing field does not have the kinds of loopholes that the parties that tend to represent corporate CEOs tend to like to use. We see it all the time. We put in place legislation and rather than keeping to the principle, the Liberal and Conservative parties are trying to get around those loopholes because they believe big money should dominate politics.
What we are trying to do with Bill C-29, essentially, and what we proposed in the Federal Accountability Act, the wellspring of ideas that has brought about Bill C-29, is close the loophole, that has gradually been put into place over the 30 years since the first adoption of election financing caps, to ensure a party cannot get around the legislation. First there were election financing caps and subsequent to that big corporate donations were shut down.
I remember reading the election returns when I used to work at the NDP national office. At one cocktail party the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party would receive $50,000, $60,000, $100,000 from big banks and big oil companies. Essentially, that has been shut down. It is not in Canadians' interests to have corporate donations dominate the political field. We have had that put into place.
Bill C-29 would close another very important loophole. As soon as Parliament stopped the huge corporate donations that were going to political parties, one would assume political parties would have acted ethically and morally in respect to that legislation, but that did not happen. The Liberal Party found an interesting little loophole.
Under the existing legislation, if a corporate entity loans money to a political candidate or to a political party and that money is not paid back, it becomes a donation. That is an interesting little loophole. Beautiful. We outlaw corporate donations, but a corporate entity can loan money and forget to ask to have it paid back. It then becomes a donation, a direct contravention of the principle of the law that this Parliament put into place.
The NDP saw that loophole right away. We put it forward in the Federal Accountability Act. Ed Broadbent, the former member for Ottawa Centre and Oshawa, was the foremost proponent of that. The member for Winnipeg Centre as well. This loophole allowed largely Liberal members to get around the principle of the act. That brings us to where we are today.
In the most recent Liberal leadership campaign, hundreds of thousands of dollars were loaned to leadership candidates in what was a splurge of money to the Liberal leadership. There did not seem to be any sort of cap. In NDP leadership races, we ensure that there is a cap on leadership donations. People right across the country give small amounts. Some of our leadership candidates have done very well with those small amounts. In the case of the Liberal leadership race, big money came in again with big loans.
Bill C-29 tries to close that important loophole where big companies cannot donate, but they can loan the money and it becomes a donation later.
This is an important principle. What can we say about Quebec’s Election Act? It is one of the best provincial acts. It was not brought into force by a New Democratic government—at least not so far. We certainly hope to have a New Democratic government in Quebec some day.
In any event, Quebec has adopted this principle to ensure that no more than a modest amount can be spent. So you cannot spend $10,000 or $15,000 or $20,000 or $60,000. The limit is set at $3,000, which is more reasonable.
In Canada, as a result of measures adopted by the House a few years ago, a contributor may now give a political party a maximum of $1,100. This is an important factor.
In Quebec, we have in fact seen a change, an improvement, and this has changed the face of politics in Quebec. Since then, the rules of the game have really been more balanced, and there is more discussion of ideas.
The same thing happened in Manitoba. A system was adopted to limit the contributions people can make. There is a New Democratic government in power in Manitoba, and it is governed by that same principle.
This federal principle is therefore modelled on decisions that have already been made by the National Assembly of Quebec, the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, and other governments. It is an important Canadian principle that everyone supports. Playing a shell game to get around that principle is absolutely not in the interests of Canada.
That is the problem. We can play a shell game, because there is a way to get around the law. Since big corporations may not give money, what can they do? They can grant a loan, and later on it will become a donation.
It is hard to believe that a member of this House could object to that principle when he knows full well what progress has been made on this issue since the NDP forced the enactment of the first election spending limits, from 1972 to 1974, when we had a minority government. At that time, former NDP leader David Lewis said he wanted to establish a system that was fair to the families of working people.
Since then, we have seen progress that has allowed us to avoid the kind of activities and involvement we can see in the United States, where money buys seats in Congress and the Senate. Anyone representing working people is the exception. As a rule, representatives are millionaires, particularly in the Senate.
We do not want the same thing to happen in Canada. Certainly the House has millionaires, but there are growing numbers of members from ordinary families. The example we can cite is the fact that the NDP, which had barely a dozen members a few years ago, now has thirty.
We therefore see a net improvement in terms of members who come from more ordinary families, working families, the families that keep Canada moving. It is people from those families who built Canada and who continue to build it. It is important that these people be represented in the House of Commons. Our representatives must not be only bankers and corporate executives, they must also be the people who truly build the Canada they are part of.
What, then, is the position of the NDP on the amendments? We have had a number of good interventions on the issue. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the member for Winnipeg Centre have spoken to this issue.
The government has put forward three amendments at report stage. The first one would limit a person to a $1,000 loan per contest. In other words, it would reduce the amount to what is already in keeping with Canadian principles in the Elections Act to per person per contest rather than $1,000 per person per calendar year. We will be supporting that amendment.
The second amendment concerns when the three year payback period begins. We also support that amendment.
The third amendment, which we find difficult to support, is the idea that when the riding association undertakes, or a candidate or a campaign undertakes, a campaign loan, that campaign loan then reverts right back to the political party. It is a question of reasonableness.
Some campaigns can undertake their own loans right across the country. Every political party does. In the next election campaign, only two parties will be running everywhere in the country and in every region, the Prime Minister's Conservative Party and the member for Toronto—Danforth's New Democratic Party.
Everywhere in the country in the next election campaign people will have two choices, two very clear and differing views on the future of the country. I think we are seeing more and more interest in the NDP because people have seen the Prime Minister's vision and they are not quite sure they like it, particularly the corporate welfare provisions where the only thing that seems to be in Conservative budgets is tens of billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts just shovelled off the back of a truck.
The NDP has a vision that is much more in keeping with the values of Canadians, such as improving our health care system, actually dealing with the housing crisis and the homelessness crisis, and reinvesting in Canadian cities. All of those things most Canadian adhere to, but that is a little beyond the scope of the bill.
The point I am making is that in the next election campaign only two parties will be running in all 308 ridings. Other parties will be running in some ridings and not running in other ridings but only two parties will be running in all 308.
Once those candidates have deposited their nomination papers and have received the sign-off from the leader of the political party they are free to undertake loans on behalf of their campaign. They do not need to go to the national office of the political party to get approval for a loan, which is why we are opposed to this particular amendment. The amendment would mean that the political parties would suffer the consequences of a loan that a candidate and its official agent undertakes in the riding, whereas currently they are responsible for that, as they should be. They make the decisions on the ground to what extent they want to undertake a loan on behalf of their particular campaign and they have the responsibility to pay it off.
I have run in two federal campaigns and both of them were balanced budget campaigns. We feel very strongly about that. In fact, in the second campaign we did not need any loan at all because we received a lot of small contributions from people throughout the riding of Burnaby—New Westminster, which was great. However, if individuals must take out a loan, they should be responsible for it. It does not make sense that those individuals, if they run away from that loan, can simply see that loan transferred to the political party head office.
For the next campaign, for the two parties that are running full slates in every region across the country, the NDP and the Conservative Party, it will be extremely important that the local responsibility be maintained. Hopefully, the other parties that are running partial slates will be supportive of the NDP's position on this. However, for the two parties running the national campaign, running everywhere, particularly in their cases, it is important that responsibility stays with the local campaigns.
We have talked a bit about the origins of the election financing act and how things have evolved since then. The NDP has been the chief spokesperson and the principal advocate of putting into place election financing rules that are in keeping with the values that Canadians share from coast to coast to coast.
Canadians believe there needs to be a level playing field in a political contest and that everyone needs to have the same rules apply. They do not believe in loopholes. Therefore, when a Liberal Party member tries to move around the idea that we cannot have corporate financing by getting a loan and converting it into a donation, that is something that must be stopped. That is why we are supportive of this legislation and of most of the amendments.
We believe Canadians support the values of a level playing field, equal participation in politics and accessibility in politics so that an individual, a former manual labourer, can be active in his or her community, can run for political office and can actually be elected because the rules are such that it is a debate of values and ideas rather than simply a contest of who has the biggest wallet.
Speaking as a former manual labourer who is very proud to be in the House of Commons, our election financing act must do just that.