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House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak, on behalf of the NDP, to Bill C-60, An Act to amend the National Defence Act. We will support the bill at second reading and its reference to the Standing Committee on National Defence later today.

The National Defence Act has not been reviewed often by the House of Commons. The last time it was amended was in 1998, and before that it went unchanged for 50 years.

On April 24 of this year, the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada made a decision to strike down a section of the National Defence Act. I want to remind members of the House what the decision of the court said.

The panel of three judges said that the military justice system “is in dire need of a change and modernization to improve its fairness and meet the constitutional standards”. We should keep that warning in mind.

We should also keep in mind that many of the reforms promised could have been dealt with years ago. Military justice is separate from the civilian justice system because militaries must maintain discipline and morale. Breaches of discipline are dealt with speedily and sometimes more severely than they would be in the civilian world. This difference with the civilian system is crucial.

The military justice system does not only exist to punish wrongdoers, it is a central part of command, discipline and morale. Ours is a voluntary military and if the military justice system is not seen as equitable and fair, we will not only have a justice problem, but we could also have an operational problem.

In 1992 the Supreme Court recognized that military justice needed to be different from the civilian justice system. However, there was nothing in that decision that said the military justice system should be antiquated or behind the times.

In 1998 Bill C-25 was introduced to modernize the National Defence Act. The changes brought about are too numerous to mention here today, but for instance, it removed capital punishment from the books. The bill included an undertaking to review the act every five years so we have not faced another situation where Canada would go for 50 years without updates or revisions.

Former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Antonio Lamer, undertook a study of military justice, His report was tabled in Parliament in November 2003. The report contained 88 recommendations, some of with which the government has not agreed. It was not until three years later, however, that legislation was introduced by the government to implement the recommendations of Lamer, and that was under the previous minister in the form of Bill C-7. That bill had many of the changes recommended by Lamer, however, it had a poison pill, which was to virtually eliminate the power of the Military Police Complaints Commission. This would have seriously undermined civilian oversight of the military police, so that bill was dropped.

The department has been faced with the problems brought up by the Trépanier decision for several years, but it did not reform the act. In the Trépanier decision, Justice Létourneau wrote:

The unanimous concern of this Court in Nystrom about the fairness of section 165.14 was expressed more than two years ago, i.e. on December 20, 2005. Since then, there have been five new constitutional challenges to that provision and appeals before this Court are pending. Retired Chief Justice Lamer made a recommendation as early as September 3, 2003 that section 165.14 be amended to give the accused the option to choose his or her trier of facts. As previously mentioned, he also made a recommendation that a working group reviewed the reorganization of the courts martial with a view to improving the fairness of the trial, at the center of which, as an important element of that reorganization, is the right for an accused to choose the trier of facts. Yet, Bill C-45 has been tabled before Parliament and it contains no remedial provision. The authorities have been given more than four and a half (4½) years to address the problem

As a result of the decision made by the Court Martial Appeal Court on April 24 of this year, the department suspended convening all courts martial. This is not a situation that can continue. Serious offences in the military must be prosecuted.

As it stood in the National Defence Act, the director of military prosecutions had the power to choose what type of court martial a member of the Canadian Forces would face. The idea of a prosecutor having this much power is completely contrary to accepted practice in the civilian justice system. As I said at the outset, we have to accept the military justice system will never be the same as the civilian system, but what justifiable military reason was there for this power being given to a prosecutor?

The three justices who made the determination in the Trépanier case, on April 24, said that the military justice system “is in dire need of a change and modernization to improve its fairness and meet the constitutional standards”. If an appeal court made that kind of ruling about the civilian justice system, the entire country would be outraged.

At the end of the day, it is up to Parliament to rewrite the act; it is not up to the courts. It is our responsibility to ensure that these urgent reforms are carried out. Such a delay of justice is a denial of justice.

Finally, I want to speak briefly about the lack of balance in staffing the military justice system. The JAG has 14 staff officers, who work on prosecutions, and four military judges, but how many military defence lawyers are there? There are only four military defence lawyers.

A system with an equal number of defence lawyers and judges would not be tolerated for one moment in the civilian justice system. Military defence lawyers are overworked and under-recognized, just like many members of the Canadian Forces.

I believe everyone in the House will come together to support changes to the act, and I hope we can do so quickly.

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Pursuant to order made on Friday, June 13, Bill C-60, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (court martial) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, is deemed read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on National Defence.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from June 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the bill. We believe that it will indeed plug some holes that needed plugging.

There is however one element that we put forward and that was rejected by the government with the support of the NDP. It had to do with the fact that a political party will now be liable for debts incurred by its candidates even though the party was not involved in the agreement between the candidate and his or her bank.

I find this somewhat absurd, and it is not a partisan issue. It is simply a question of financial logic. Let us take for example a candidate from any party, in any riding, who suddenly decides to spend $40,000 or signs a $40,000 loan agreement with his or her bank without informing the party. The way the bill is written, the political party will be liable for that debt. Is that not irresponsible?

Could that not be very dangerous for a party, like the NDP for instance, where out of 75 candidates in Quebec, perhaps 50 or so are basically in the running just to fill a spot and are often chosen at the last minute? Could we not see a situation where five, six or ten candidates will spend money without being liable for their debts since, under this legislation, that liability will now fall on the party?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup for his question. Our federal NDP staff have looked at this and they have come to two conclusions.

First, we have responsible candidates. They will not take out loans that could pose a problem to the federal party.

Second, and this is a really pragmatic answer, if a candidate's chances of winning are slim so will his chances of securing a loan from a bank or financial institution.

For these two reasons, we are satisfied and prepared, as a party, to accept our responsibility should it become necessary for the party to assume liability for loans taken out by individual candidates.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

To expand on the same question, Mr. Speaker, we have seen that electoral practices have been significantly cleaned up in Quebec and Canada over the past decade. That has to be recognized.

It remains possible, however, for a party to decide all of the sudden to help another party out by finding three, four or five individuals who will agree to become registered candidates for that other party, engage expenses and, ultimately, let the party assume liability and pay for those expenses. Does that not open the door to a rather dubious election strategy which will nonetheless be legal under the existing legislation?

We are talking about officially nominated candidates spending a lot of money. This could happen in three, four or five different ridings, with five candidates each spending $30,000, which would mean a $150,000 liability for the party that accepted to nominate those candidates because candidates were needed in ridings where they are hard to come by. Do we not run the risk of some scandal or another being uncovered in a couple of years from now because of the door left open in the legislation?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again, I thank my colleague for his question.

Encouraging a candidate to stand for election when it is not certain that they will actually be elected is not only scandalous but also unlawful.

I will put it another way. In the case of our candidate in Outremont, who won that riding in the September byelection, he spent a lot of money because he was allowed to borrow money. In fact, the banks were willing to lend him money.

However, in other situations, some Bloc, Liberal or Conservative candidates do not stand a very good chance of winning and therefore cannot borrow money from the banks. They cannot do it.

That is the simple answer.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague from Windsor a question around the whole issue of loans. We saw huge loans being given to Liberal leadership candidates by friends and businesses. Businesses that were not allowed to donate to those leadership campaigns were able to give huge loans.

My understanding at this point is that many of those loans have not yet been paid back. Some are wondering whether in fact they ever will be paid back. Could the member from Windsor tell us how this bill can correct this glaring problem in the democratic system that allows people to go beyond bank loans for their campaigns and get money from friends or businesses?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will say for my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam that there are some major protections in the bill. Again, as I said in my speech, I am not sure that it covers all the bases, but the major protections are there to avoid what we saw in the Liberal leadership campaign.

I think we would have seen it if we had ever received any adequate and accountable reporting from the current Prime Minister in regard to his leadership run. We will be doing away with the ability of individual candidates to borrow from individuals. Basically we are focusing in on only financial institutions being able to lend money to candidates.

Why this is important is that, again, it takes away the ability of the wealthy private sector to come in and buy a leadership or a nomination. We have a cap on what candidates can spend. Then we make sure that they do not get around the cap by taking out loans they never repay.

One of the inadequacies of the current law on the books now is that Elections Canada in effect can extend the time to repay the loans. The loans are supposed to be repaid 18 months after the fact. Elections Canada can extend that time.

Quite frankly, I am concerned that the criteria for Elections Canada to make decisions on whether it is going to allow the loans to be extended for repayment purposes are not as clear or perhaps as tight as they should be. It is one of the areas where at some point we may need to have some additional reform.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood for a short question.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I generally enjoy my hon. colleague's speeches, but I would ask him to reflect on a wider issue, which is that this House, by a series of actions, has put itself in such a jam on political financing that it seems we have to keep on doing fixes.

First of all, the House passed Bill C-24, which many people lauded and thought was a wonderful thing, the effect of which is that fundraising on a larger basis is pretty well cut off. That has driven leadership candidates and others into raising funds on a micro basis and a whole new dynamic of political fundraising has been created. That dynamic has its difficulties as well.

In our particular case, the difficulties are in the Liberal Party but are about to happen to the Conservative Party, the NDP or the Bloc. They are also going to run into the same difficulties that the Liberal Party had, which is that there is only a limited pool of money. Therefore, candidates effectively are driven to getting loans, either from backers, or if they are no longer backers--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. I had asked for a short question. He has now lasted more than a minute and there is not even equal time for the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh to respond.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can do this really quickly. It is a simple answer.

It is not a problem for the other three parties. It is a problem for the Liberal Party. We do not have problems finding enough money to run our leadership campaigns. The Conservatives do not and the Bloc does not either. We can get it from individuals. We do not have to go to the big corporate world as the Liberals always have.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-29, which seeks to close loopholes in campaign financing, is a good bill in and of itself, with the exception of the matter that was rejected by the government at report stage, with the support of the NDP, allowing a candidate to incur expenses without necessarily obtaining the party's authorization. The party would then be responsible for those expenses. That seems to be an aberration. However, we still believe that there are enough positive changes in the bill as a whole to support it.

We believe that the legislation should cover loans in order to close loopholes pertaining to financing limits. We would like to remind members that these limits were established as a result of a fight led by the Bloc Québécois in the past requiring that corporate contributions be prohibited and that individual contributions be limited, as has been the case in Quebec for 30 years.

I have been a member of this House for 15 years and I remember an epic debate that took place under the former Liberal government. As Mr. Chrétien's term of office was winding down, the situation was significantly improved by allowing only individuals to make contributions. With this bill, we have gone even further, and that is a very positive aspect of democracy.

Often, when people in other countries have governance difficulties, one of the sources of their problems is actually linked to electoral practices that do not measure up to the requirements of democracy. They deserve better support. So the actions taken today are part of a development we are familiar with, which deserves to be supported.

The Bloc Québécois and Quebec as a whole have really made an interesting contribution in this regard. In Quebec, the Election Act, which was amended during the time of René Lévesque in the 1970s, now serves somewhat as a rule at the federal level, and that is good. It makes for a healthier democracy. It also requires us to seek money from a multitude of people, and thus reduces the excessive impact some contributors have on political parties. In this regard, we are headed in the right direction.

This bill corrects another problem in the Federal Tort Claims Act. During consideration of Bill C-2, the Conservative government was more interested in getting its bill passed in a hurry than in dealing with problems of ethics. In the present context, we realized that some things needed to be added. At that time, the opposition parties, the media and Democracy Watch had raised the problem, and the government refused to act. In the current context, we are correcting some of these situations.

For example, the bill corrects the problem of loans that made it possible to get around the limits on political contributions. In this connection, there are some important points concerning the poor protection of whistleblowers and the lack of reform of the Access to Information Act. However, as far as the problem of loans is concerned, we realized in the past that these loans served as crutches to compensate for the fact that a candidate or a party had not raised enough money. This situation was particularly prevalent in leadership races. We realized that something the new Canada Elections Act did not permit was happening through the back door, that is, raising very large amounts of money from one or two individuals who were providing loans. The aim is to correct this situation.

When this bill was introduced, it was pointed out that during the last leadership race several Liberal candidates took out large loans in order to get around the financing limits in the way I have just described. While it is true that quite a few have acted in this way, it should not be forgotten that the Prime Minister himself did not reveal all his contributions during the leadership race in 2002. So the Conservative Party was not really in a position to lecture anyone. We have also seen it in the past seven years, given the scandals we now know about.

It is necessary to prevent the law from being circumvented by introducing new limits for political contributions. For example, an individual can contribute $1,100 annually to a registered party or to a candidate. The amount a union can contribute annually to a registered party has been reduced to $0. That shows a significant shift in terms of the respect owed to the people who give us our mandates—the voters. It is still possible to circumvent the limits by using personal loans. That will no longer be the case. The example was given of the candidates for the Liberal leadership.

We have corrected many other issues in Bill C-2 that were not adequately addressed in the Federal Accountability Act.

Other ethical problems persist. Even though Bill C-29 corrects the problem of loans that allow candidates to circumvent political contribution limits, there are still many ethical problems that were not fixed by Bill C-2.

For example, many Conservative campaign promises in terms of whistleblower protection did not make it into the Federal Accountability Act. Notably, the Conservatives said that they wanted to “ensure that whistleblowers have access to...legal counsel”. Yet the Conservative bill allows for only $1,500 in legal fees. They also wanted to “give the Public Service Integrity Commissioner the power to enforce compliance with the [whistleblower act]”. Finally, the Conservatives promised to “ensure that all Canadians who report government wrongdoing are protected, not just public servants”.

We understand that Bill C-29, as a whole, will improve the situation. We would have liked it to clarify the situation of candidates who incur expenses for their party, unbeknownst to the party, which would then be liable for them. However, because of the overall improvements it proposes, the Bloc Québécois believes that this bill should be supported.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-29 has some good points to it. There is one however, and I want to ask the member's view on it. It has to do with unpaid loans by a candidate which, if the bill passes, would become the responsibility of the riding association. That may put some riding associations in an awkward situation. I can say that from experience, because the same practice applies provincially where any debts of a candidate become the responsibility of the riding association. In one particular case, in fact in Mississauga South provincially, a candidate who was appointed by the party, not selected by the riding association, had a very substantial and irresponsible level of spending and ran up a $26,000 debt which had to be assumed by those who had absolutely no control over how that spending was done.

In cases such as that, it would seem to me that riding associations would not have very much recourse and may find themselves with a substantial debt of which they had absolutely no control over the spending, nor the resources to repay. I am not sure whether that really hits the target squarely with regard to that provision whereby unpaid loans would automatically be the responsibility of a riding association. I wonder if the member has some comments on that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has given other examples to illustrate the situation I raised after the speech by my colleague from the NDP.

Yes, the bill is written in a way that does not correct this situation. Consequently, in a few years, we will be decrying situations such as the ones mentioned by my colleague.

It could happen that four or five people run in ridings where their party is not very popular, incur huge expenses and then their party will be responsible for the debt, even though it did not give permission in the first place.

I do not want to assume that any of the parties here in this House are dishonest, but this situation could happen and it could almost be deliberately planned. There would be no legal recourse to resolve this issue, other than proving that there was collusion to make it happen.

The Bloc Québécois proposed an improvement to the bill. It was supported in committee, but overturned in this House by the Conservatives, with the support of the NDP.

We will see, in the coming months and years, but we will likely end up having to come back and fix the legislation. But it will only be done once we are faced with an actual situation.

As my colleague said, it can apply to a party, but under the new legislation, it could also apply to registered riding associations, which generally have the same rights as a party. This could represent a very serious situation.

If a candidate spends $20,000, out of the entire budget of a Canada-wide party, it will certainly have an effect. However, if the candidate spends the money in a particular riding and the riding association becomes responsible for it, that could be catastrophic.

That is why we would have liked to see this flaw in the bill fixed, so that this does not happen in the future. Despite that, we think the bill deserves the support of the House. We will ensure that this situation is corrected in the future, if our concerns unfortunately become reality.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague on his speech.

I heard the answer he just gave to the Liberal member. I do not want to ask him a trick question, but I would like him to elaborate on what he said. We know that the two main pillars of democracy are freedom of speech and transparency. Heaven knows the Conservatives have shown a total lack of transparency regarding several issues that normally should have been submitted to the House in a clear and precise manner. With regard to these two main pillars, can Bill C-29 be compatible with what the member said when we have to ensure that any person who wants to run for office has an equal chance, whether his or her party is strong or weak in the polls? I want to hear what he has to say on how we can reconcile these two concerns.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

We have seen election practices systematically evolve towards this greater transparency over the last 50 years, first through the elimination of contributions to slush funds. Quebec did that 30 years or so ago. Indeed, since the 1970s, under Mr. Lévesque, only individuals, not entities, can make contributions to a political party. It took some time for the Parliament of Canada to pass similar legislation. We have it today but it still needs some polishing because, human nature being what it is, we have to ensure that the legislation does not open the door to improper practices.

As regards the right to speak, any citizen who wants to run in a federal election can do so, either as an independent member, or as a party member, with the pros and the cons related to each option. However, we must see that this can be done while ensuring that each party is given equal opportunities. This is what the whole legislation seeks to achieve. This is why I felt that this bill was missing a part that was necessary, namely to see that, when a candidate is authorized to run for a party, we must ensure, before that candidate spends money, that the party will not be responsible for his expenditures, and that there will not be any unintended commitment for that party.

Unfortunately, that could be part of an election strategy by a party, whereby that party would allow candidates from another party to run in regions where it has few candidates of its own and little chances of winning, and spend a lot of money, thus adversely affecting that party's finances.

All the bills that have been introduced over the past several years seek to improve transparency. We have now discovered a major problem, namely leadership campaigns. After reviewing the Canada Elections Act, we discovered that some strange things had taken place during leadership campaigns, both on the Liberal and the Conservative sides. We want to correct this situation, because we found out that the selection of a political party leader by party members also has an impact on democracy. I believe that making corrections in that regard would, as the hon. member said, improve the chances of voters making a choice that would be as transparent as possible and that would best reflect the democratic will.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

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.

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently as the member spoke and one thing that struck me was the apparent hypocrisy of his crying against the way that political parties collect money.

I personally believe that all money contributed to political parties should be from individuals who give of their own free accord.

I guess I should not say this because it is a dreadful thing to say publicly, but I have contributed a lot of money to the NDP, which I am sure the member is happy about, but I did so under coercion. I always had a job where I had compulsory union membership and the unions always supported the NDP with my money. I had no say in it.

I remember one time challenging one of the union bosses on this. I asked him why I had to contribute money to a political party that I was campaigning against. He said that it had been done democratically, that a convention was held and that through a vote it was decided that $100,000 would be given to the provincial NDP and $150,000 to the federal NDP. The union bosses just had a convention among themselves and decided that was how they would spend my money.

I would like the member's reaction to that particular scene.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, for those school children watching today, they just had the definition of the term “red herring”. The hon. member knows very well that under the Elections Act a union cannot donate money in a federal election. There is no opportunity for corporate donations nor union donations.

For those listening, a red herring is something that has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to what is being discussed in the House of Commons. A union cannot donate money, neither at the constituency level nor at the federal party level, and the member knows this. I guess he thought it would be a trick question or that we would not be well-informed but members of this House of Commons know that what he just asked as a question is a red herring because it cannot be done.

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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments. He always has some interesting comments and at times is actually entertaining.

I am sure there is going to be support for this bill, but there are still some points of concern. One of the areas has to do with where a loan is not repaid within the 18 months, et cetera. Some exceptions were noted: one, if the loan is subject to a binding agreement to pay; two, if it is subject to a legal proceeding; third, if it is subject to a dispute as to the amount; or four, if the amount has been written off by the lender as uncollectable. When we have a number of conditions in which a loan may not in fact be handled in the anticipated fashion because it is a bad debt, if we have made a list, then something must be left out. It really should be a blanket provision.

I am wondering whether or not the legislation ought not to have included a proviso that every legal avenue and effort had been taken to recover the loan. Once we start making other parties responsible or not accountable for their legal obligation and their agreement to the terms of the loan, it tends to fuzzy up the legislation.

Someone is going to say that there must have been some connection, or there may have been a quid pro quo that we did not know about. How do we police these kinds of things? How can we ensure that the intent of the law in fact is followed through? We have seen a lot of very strange and creative things happen. The in and out scandal is certainly an interesting one. Although it is not with regard to a candidate directly, it does have to do with candidates who are asked to participate in a matter related to the operations of an election campaign.

The member may have some comments.

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1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster. There are five minutes left in this question cycle and there are two other members who want to ask questions.

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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to their questions. I hope they will not be red herrings. I hope they will be legitimate questions.

The member for Mississauga South asked, as he always does, an intelligent question about the impact of that third amendment. The problem the member mentioned is why we are essentially opposing it. Because there would be a transfer to the political head office, to the political headquarters, it does not allow for the candidate's official agent in the riding to essentially take responsibility for the loan and pay it down. That is a problem with the amendment the government is proposing. There is not the legal weight to ensure that at the constituency level that loan is paid off.