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House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elected.

Topics

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeOral Questions

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I suppose fair is fair so the hon. government House leader has a brief opportunity to speak.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeOral Questions

4 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to respond to two new points that were raised by the opposition House leader.

The first is simply with regard to the appeal of this matter. I tried not to re-litigate the appeal before us but I would say that we simply do not accept the notion that this Parliament's powers can be, as section 47.1 of the statute indicated, delegated to other parties, particularly parties that are so vague and open to interpretation. That is what, of course, section 47.1 seeks to do. I certainly part ways with the member on the prospects for success on appeal.

On the second issue, with regard to the question of the conduct of the minister, I would ask for an opportunity for him to come back and speak to that himself.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat BoardPrivilegeOral Questions

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank hon. members for their interventions.

Orders of the day.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

moved that Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to political loans), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to continue with our democratic reform week and begin the debate on Bill C-21, the political loans accountability act. The bill is another one of our government's long-standing commitments and I am happy we are moving forward on it today.

As we have shown with previous bills, our government is pursuing a principled agenda to strengthen accountability and democracy in Canada. In this case, we are addressing the rules respecting loans to political entities.

Currently, there are no limits on loans that corporations, unions, or wealthy individuals can grant to political entities. It is unacceptable that the political loans regime does not meet the same standards of transparency, accountability and integrity expected of the average Canadian. Hard-working ordinary Canadians are expected to pay back loans under strict rules, whether it is for starting a business, going to school, or purchasing a home, and the same rigorous standards should also apply to politicians.

As it stands, there is a loophole in political financing legislation. We are addressing the loophole with this bill.

Our government, in its first bill in 2006, established strong standards for political contributions in the Federal Accountability Act. The act eliminated contributions by corporations and unions. It changed the rules to ensure that politicians would not be beholden to those with deep pockets and unions or corporations that give too much money. However, our law still allows those with deep pockets to lend too much money. The rules concerning political loans should be consistent with the rules for political contributions.

One major issue regarding the treatment of loans in the Canada Elections Act is the loophole in the current standards that fails to impose restrictions on the source and the amount of political loans in a way that is consistent with the rest of the rules for political financing.

A second important issue that our government seeks to address is the inconsistency in transparency requirements for political loans. As it stands, the inconsistencies on how political loans are treated unduly complicate the enforcement of the Canada Elections Act and do not provide for consistent transparency across the Canadian political finance regime.

This lack of rules may result in loans being used as de facto contributions. Clearly, it is a situation where politicians could be beholden to those who lend them large sums of money instead of being beholden to those who brought them into office with votes. This is unacceptable.

By limiting the amount of a loan a candidate or another individual can make to fund political activities, the political loans accountability act would increase integrity in the political loans process by ensuring that all candidates are on a level playing field, regardless of their personal wealth or their connections with elite interests.

The bill would also ensure that members of Parliament are accountable to their constituents first by removing the opportunity for undue influence by unions and corporations on elected representatives.

However, the bill would also ensure that parties, associations and candidates will continue to be able to secure sufficient financing for their electoral campaigns. Political entities will be able to borrow money from a wide range of financial institutions, including trust and loan companies, credit unions and insurers.

The bill is consistent with a recommendation from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. It reflects a legal approach to political loans already in place in several provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

To fully highlight the practical benefit of our proposed measures, I would like to discuss some of them in more detail.

The Federal Accountability Act established fixed contribution limits for individuals and completely eliminated contributions from corporations, unions and associations.

Following the passage of our flagship Federal Accountability Act, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs asked the former chief electoral officer to prepare a report on political financing issues with recommendations respecting the use of loans.

The Chief Electoral Officer's report was submitted in January 2007 with respect to the existing rules on political loans. He acknowledged that:

While Parliament has imposed an extensive regime to control the source and extent of contributions, it has not done so with respect to that other source of funding constituted by loans.

The Chief Electoral Officer suggested that loans to political entities by lenders that were not in the business of lending ought to be restricted, because such loans granted at non-commercial rates at terms and conditions that were available to the general public and without expectation of repayment may lead to the perception of abuse and undue influence by those with the financial means to grant these loans.

To prevent such abuse or unfair influence by those wealthy entities with the ability to make large loans or any perception of it, the Chief Electoral Officer made the following recommendations: that the limit on loans be made by individuals should be to their contribution limit; that political entities may borrow money in excess of the contribution limit only from financial institutions; that all loans by financial institutions be at commercial rates of interest; and that a separate regime for the treatment and reporting of loans be established in the act.

In response to these recommendations, our government introduced the political loans accountability act, which had it been adopted would have regulated the use of loans by political entities to ensure full disclosure and greater accountability in the financing of political campaigns.

This legislation was passed by the House of Commons as Bill C-29 in 2008 and was awaiting second reading in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved for the 2008 election.

The legislation we are discussing today is substantively the same legislation as passed by the House in 2008 as Bill C-29. Our government worked collaboratively with opposition members to pass Bill C-29, which was awaiting second reading in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved.

Some changes have been incorporated from its original version. For example, the bill now would exclude from the annual contribution limit any portion of a loan that was repaid to the lender and any unused loan guarantees, as proposed by our government during the committee's study period.

It would require the Chief Electoral Officer to hear representations from affected interests before making a determination about a deemed contribution, as proposed by the opposition.

It would establish contribution limits for leadership contestants on a per calendar year basis rather than a per contest basis.

These amendments demonstrate that our government developed the political loans accountability act in a collaborative spirit with opposition parties throughout the process. Indeed, when the political loans accountability act was introduced, with the amendments above during the last Parliament, in 2010, there was widespread support in the House, including among the NDP, for the updated bill.

We think these incorporated changes make the bill even better. The act we are discussing today is the reintroduction of this updated legislation from the last Parliament.

Here are some of the important changes brought by our bill to Canada's political financing regime.

The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political parties, associations and candidates, including the mandatory disclosure of terms, such as interest rates and the identity of lenders and loan guarantors.

Unions and corporations would be banned from making loans to political parties, associations, candidates and contestants, consistent with their inability to make contributions as set out in the Federal Accountability Act.

Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals cannot exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established under the Federal Accountability Act, which is currently $1,100 in 2011. Only financial institutions and other political entities can make loans beyond that amount. Loans from financial institutions must be at fair market rates of interest.

Rules for the treatment of unpaid loans will be tightened to ensure candidates cannot walk away from outstanding loans. Riding associations or parties will be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.

By prohibiting loans from unions and corporations and requiring that loans from financial institutions be granted at a market rate of interest, this bill would prevent corporations and unions from doing indirectly, through loans, what they are now prohibited from doing directly through contributions.

Together with the Federal Accountability Act, this measure will no doubt yield more fairness for electors. Politicians will now have to seek financial support from voters, not corporate entities or special interest groups. Politicians will be entirely accountable to voters as opposed to corporations or union interests.

Requiring a fair market rate of interest will allow all parties and candidates to be on an equal playing field by no longer allowing situations whereby favourable or entirely unknown terms of loans are granted without transparency. This change will also serve parliamentarians, riding associations and parties by protecting them from perceptions that they might be indebted to unions or corporate interests.

In addition, our government believes it is unfair that a candidate can walk away from his or her campaign debts. Everyday Canadians are expected to pay back their loans under strict rules, and the same should apply to politicians. This is why our bill proposes to transfer a candidate's unpaid loans to riding associations. This will ensure that the money borrow will be repaid.

Another important impact of the proposed bill will be to subject loans made by individuals to their contribution limits. This measure will prevent the current ability to bypass a contribution limit by lending large amounts of money without any expectation of ever being reimbursed. This measure will ensure greater accountability to citizens and enhanced transparency and integrity in our political financing regime.

The last, but not least of these changes that I want to discuss today is the increased transparency requirements for loans to all political entities. From now on, all loans will need to be recorded in writing and reported to Elections Canada. This change will increase transparency, especially in the case of candidates and nomination contestants who currently have only limited disclosure requirements. Putting in place effective transparency standards for candidates and nomination contestants will allow Canadians to know who is financing their campaigns and under what terms. I think these measures will find wide support in the House of Commons and among Canadians.

I would like to emphasize how the bill, in conjunction with the Federal Accountability Act, democratizes the political financing regime by focusing on grassroots voters. Wealthy individuals will be unable to bankroll their own campaigns by making large loans to themselves. Candidates will be unable to rely on a small number of wealthy contributors to finance their campaigns. They will instead need to seek support from those they wish to represent in the House of Commons.

Lending will not be limited to banks. Indeed, there will be a wide range of financial institutions still able to provide loans. What the bill does is preserve the important role for small community lenders and financing grassroots political campaigns, such as families, friends, supporters, credit unions and caisse populaires. By making political parties and candidates dependent on their supporters for financial support, parties and candidates now have a greater incentive to be responsive to the average Canadian.

What I hear from my constituents, and indeed many more Canadians across the country, is that they do not want to see parties and candidates using large loans from wealthy individuals, corporations, or unions to finance their campaigns. Large individual contributions are not permitted, so large individual loans should also not be permitted. Corporations and unions are not permitted to donate to federal political entities, so corporations and unions should be unable to loan large sums of money to political entities.

When our government was elected in 2006, we made the Federal Accountability Act our first priority, which among other things tightened the contribution limits to ensure corporate and union interests and wealthy individuals would not unduly influence politics.

With the introduction of the political loans accountability act, we are building on our flagship Federal Accountability Act by bringing greater transparency and integrity to political loans. The bill would strengthen Canada's political finance regime, already one of the strongest political finance regimes in the world. This is good news for Canadians and for the political process.

I encourage all parliamentarians to vote in favour of the bill.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, for the most part, the official opposition is generally supportive of the general direction of this legislation. It is our intent at this point, unless we have reason to change our opinion, to support the bill at second reading and send it to committee. It is at committee where I would like to pose my question.

I do not know whether the minister knows or not from talking to his predecessor, but discussions were held in the last minority Parliament when the government was looking for our support to carry this legislation. One of the areas that was a problem in that draft legislation, and it remains a problem in the bill, was the treatment of loans for riding associations once they had a candidate, and I will use myself as an example.

Mine is not a rich riding in terms of demographics. We always have to borrow money through a line of credit and it always takes us the whole term to pay it back. We seem to pay it off just in time to get another line of credit for the next campaign. That is just the nature of my riding, because it is made up of mostly working people who do not have a lot of money to contribute to politicians. They contribute what they can but it is not a lot.

If I am interpreting Bill C-21 correctly, we will be in a situation where to get a $20,000 line of credit, after a candidate has been chosen and the election is either about to be called or has been called, it will take 18 to 20 people at a contribution of $1,100 each, because that is the maximum, to back it up. Given that it is a political loan, banks often want dollar for dollar collateral. Using the round number of 20 people, that is a lot in terms of contributions. That money is then tied up for the campaign and cannot be contributed.

Is the minister willing to roll up his sleeves and look at making some changes in this area?

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his support of the general principle of the legislation because it is important that we pass the bill and get it to committee. I would be happy to appear in front of committee to discuss the bill at that time as well.

In regard to his specific question, it is important that we limit the amount of the guarantee that can be given to a loan to the same amount as a contribution limit. The contribution limit in 2011 is $1,100. Anything more than that, especially if it is not paid back, would be deemed to be a larger contribution, essentially a de facto contribution. This is an important principle of the bill. I would be happy to discuss it further, but it is important that we limit it to the amount that anybody is able to make.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I hope the minister will be as precise in answering questions as he was in his speech.

I have two questions for the minister. What criteria will financial institutions use to decide if it will lend money or not? Is the minister saying that it is more moral for legitimate financial institutions to give a loan than it is for a citizen?

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, it is up to the banks to make that decision on how they will make the loan or if they will make that loan. We as a government cannot tell a bank what criteria to look at when it makes a loan to many different types of candidates. It could be a nomination contestant. It could be a contestant in an election who has already been nominated by the party. It could be a leadership contestant, possibly the front-runner or possibly a person who has no chance of winning at all in the minds of the bank. This decision needs to be made by the individual bank.

It is not just banks. It is also insurers and credit unions. A number of official institutions would make those loans as long as they were open and transparent about the terms and conditions and who the guarantors would be for that loan. One's family, friends and other individuals can guarantee the loan to the maximum contribution limit.

The bill is about bringing more accountability and transparency to the entire political financing regime.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, just a comment on the whole question of the ability and the availability of candidates and their EDAs to get loans from financial institutions.

I have been in the same situation in my early political life as my colleague, my friend from Hamilton Centre was, inasmuch as we did not have a lot of money in my EDA. We found it very difficult to raise money, in the early days. However, I found quite quickly that banks and other financial institutions, quite frankly, feel a responsibility to help the democratic process.

That has also been bolstered by the fact that they know that 60% of a candidate's return could be assigned to the banks. In other words, as a candidate, if I received over 10% of the votes cast in my riding, I would receive 60% of my eligible expenses. That just usually is assigned to financial institutions, which gives them quite a bit more confidence that the money can be repaid.

I ask my colleague, the Minister of State Democratic Reform, does he believe, because of the current situation on reimbursements to political parties and candidates, this would be an asset to candidates seeking loans from financial institutions?

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his question and insight into this issue.

Absolutely, the return for candidates who receive that level of voting, 60%, is some insurance to banks. However, at the end of the day, political parties can loan money to an electoral riding association or other EDAs can also loan money to another riding association. So, between political entities, loans can be made.

There is ample opportunity for Canadians to be a part of the political process where financing will not hinder them.

This bill would actually level the playing field and bring everybody down to the same level where corporations, big unions and wealthy individuals do not control the agenda. It is Canadians who have an opportunity to become part of the political process.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the minister has just told us that he is going to give a lot of power to the financial institutions, varied as they are, to decide whether the campaign of somebody who is just starting out is viable or not. Let us say it is a $20,000 loan and a candidate has lined up 20 people, each guaranteeing $1,000. Even in that case, the financial institution is going to have to do a lot of paperwork. It is going to eat up any profit that the financial institution is going to make.

So, does the financial institution provide that loan or not? Maybe it wants to be nice to a candidate and will eat the clerical costs that would wipe out the profit of that loan. Frankly, it is clear to me that in these cases, the banks are given power to write off some expenses and make some candidates' campaigns financially viable right at the early, critical stages and to not support other candidates.

Do members know the kinds of candidates who will not be supported? Female candidates, I think, would be hurt by this kind of legislation, and it would hand power and discretion over to financial institutions.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, the fact is that we as the government made a commitment to Canadians that we would close a loophole in our political financing regime. We were the government that brought in the Federal Accountability Act that cleaned up the political financing regime in Canada. Now we are building upon that by closing this loophole.

The fact is that it is not only banks but also insurance companies, credit unions and other institutions that can provide these loans. Also, these loans can be provided by another electoral district association, by the party, or by family and friends.

This bill would actually level the playing field for all Canadians to get involved in politics. It would take the power away from wealthy individuals, corporations and unions.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter the debate. Let me first of all say that the reason why we are supportive of this is because there is a problem. We see the problem and I am not going to make this any more partisan than it sounds, that is not my intent, but merely the reality.

The leadership race that the Liberal Party had left huge debts. It would seem that some of those debts are not going to be paid off. If that is the result and a candidate was backed by individuals, effectively right now those individuals bankrolled a big part of the candidate's campaign and by virtue of just never paying it off, put that money forward, and did exactly what we are trying to avoid which is single individuals, single corporations, and single unions from providing tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to one candidate.

I agree with the minister in acknowledging that there is a problem. We accept that the minister is going in the right direction. That is why again, as always, we say we need to see the details at committee. We do have some concerns. It has been raised once and it will be raised again by both opposition parties. The minister is saying that there is no need to put any regime around banks or credit unions in terms of who they will loan to and who they will not. That could create a serious problem. If we are only allowing the money to come from one or two places, and those places are not democratized in terms of what the rules are, in terms of who they will lend money to, one does not have to be a political scientist to see the problem.

I would hope there would be some room and latitude to talk at committee about what kind of regime might be in place, what kind of safeguards could be in place, and maybe there is a backup by the government, maybe there is a role there. But any possibility where we are narrowing how Canadian citizens can raise money to participate in our electoral process, we need to ensure that not only is it fair but that we can actually access the money regardless of our political platform.

For the most part the platforms here are not scary. Some might argue the point from our different perspectives. But in a world view, I think members know what I am saying when I use that phrase.

If there is a legitimate, legal party that might have policies that scare certain segments of the population and part of that segment of the population could be the banks. It does not take a whole lot of analysis to realize that if a bank can find a way to legally, legitimately and free from harm say “no”, it is probably in the bank's interest to ensure that a party that has a platform that would hurt the bank would be helped by that bank to get more votes, and ultimately become the government that is then going to bring in rules and a regime that the bank thinks is not in its interest.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I applaud.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I am thrilled that the member is applauding. Really, it just warms my heart.

We want to have a look at that. We think that is a valid point. There may be other points coming from the third party since it is the example we are using of why we need to have a loophole. That needs to be taken into account, but again, regardless of how many times he heckles me these days, I have the greatest respect for the democratic reform critic for the Liberal Party. I believe that when we get to committee and if the minister if open-minded, we can start to do something about this.

However, I say to the minister, leaving some potential political parties vulnerable to not being able to access enough capital to mount a campaign is as undemocratic as allowing people with tens of millions of dollars to bankroll their good buddy. We need to be talking about that.

There is another real problem and I am going to come back to it again. I heard the minister's response when I asked if the Conservatives wanted to make it fair and keep it on a level playing field, but, quite frankly, how fair is it in a riding like mine where there are not as many wealthy people? I know the difference. When I was an MPP, my boundary ridings changed for a while and my riding encapsulated a part of the city where the demographic income was much higher. Boy, did it make a difference. Now I am back to my old boundaries and the standard problem. I would not raise it as a complaint other than it is in the context of this debate.

Is it really fair for an individual candidate? For instance, I did this in the last campaign, and again I will use myself as an example so nobody will think I am playing any games. I bankrolled my campaign with my line of credit and my house. That was not an institution or an individual, that was me as the candidate putting up my house as collateral, whereas this bill would have me go out and line up 20 or 30 people, each one having to put out $1,100 and my riding association would be denied that $1,100 because it is tied up backing up the loan.

Our point at committee is going to be whether there is some way that individual candidates can back up their loans, as I did. Then, after the election, my books were cleared up and the loan was transferred over to the riding association, but still backed up by my home. We may have to talk about what would happen in the case where a candidate does not win the seat and may move away, but those are still issues dealt with in any kind of collateral arrangement with a financial institution. They should not be so overwhelming that we cannot get over it.

I am kind of arguing the opposite of where I am coming from, which is to stop money from having an influence, but is the democratic process really harmed in terms of the financing of elections by virtue of me backing up a $20,000 or $30,000 line of credit with my own home? Not everybody has a home. Granted, it still has problems, nothing is perfect. The circumstances may be different, but could a close relative do that? Is there a way that we can do this, so that it does not create an unfair disadvantage to those of us who do not have wealthy demographic ridings?

This law does not matter much if someone has $100,000 in the bank. I believe there are some Conservatives and Liberals that do. I would be shocked if any of my colleagues did. They may, I am not aware of it, but I do not think it is that unusual on that side of the House or for some of the Liberals to have that kind of money, and so it is not a problem. I bring that as an element of fairness for us to look at, to see whether we can come up with a regime that meets the standards that the minister has set out but still allows fairness for individuals running for office.

My last point on this is that it may sound like $1,000 from 20 or 30 people is not a big deal. However, this is real world stuff. Does anyone know how difficult it is to find 20 or 30 people who have that kind of money to spare? Again, it may not sound like a lot to members in this place, but for many of my constituents, that could be all of their savings. Then a candidate has to co-ordinate the timing. Those 30 people have to go in and sign the documents before the candidate gets the money, which means time is lost, time when the campaign is going on. The candidate's opponents are already up and running and the candidate is still running around trying to get signatures 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30, so he or she can get a line of credit and get his or her campaign up and running.

Moving from a situation where I back up the loan with my home, and that is the way I have done it since I got here, versus the other way really is a huge disadvantage for some of us. I am hoping that we will be able to take the time to look at that.

I know my time for debate will expire, as it goes quickly. I do want to get my dibs in on the discussion about electoral reform. The minister used some very lofty language in his news release:

The current rules on political loans do not meet the high standards of accountability, integrity and transparency that Canadians expect in their political process.

That is all well and fine, but one of the most progressive steps, and government members should get ready to howl, that was ever taken in this place toward making elections fairer was providing the per-vote subsidy.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I told you, Madam Speaker. They are a little slow off the mark. They should have been quicker on that one.

I want to say to the hon. members across the way that I participated in an election observation mission in Morocco in the last few weeks. What is one of the most important things to the people of Morocco? It is a struggling, emerging democracy in northwest Africa. One of the most important components they felt they needed was subsidies for political parties from the public purse to level the playing field.

When the government talks about a level playing field, it is often like we all have the right to live under the bridge, that old example. When we stand back and look at the macro picture, at the end of the day, money will play a bigger role in Canadian politics after the government than it did before. That is wrong.

I have given, at every opportunity, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as much credit as possible. I think the president of his own party used the expression, that was about as dumb as a bag of hammers. Why? Because the Liberals used to get all their funding from corporations. That was to be set aside, in large part, and replaced with the subsidies.

That was a good thing to do. It did make our democracy better. I have had the chance to participate in six or seven election observation missions. Anyone who is involved in elections around the world either has that component, or the one thing they desperately want is to get private money out of their political system and replace it with public funding. They are either doing this because they know it is important, or they want to because they know the damage and corrosiveness that money can play in a democratic system like ours.

My next comment will be on the same quote, when the minister used the word “accountability”. I love this. When the Conservatives say that word a lot, I want to bring into the broader discussion, to put the context of Bill C-21 in a more enlightened form, that under their new elect-the-senator bill, there is no accountability.

In fact, the senators would be prohibited by law from being accountable because they would run on a platform of promises, as we all do. They would serve nine years, which we do not. If we look at the model all of us here live by, if we want to stay in office beyond our term, we go back to the people and say, “Here are the promises I made. Here is what I did, what I said, how I voted. Now I ask you, my boss, how did I do, and do I deserve to get rehired or re-elected for another term, yes or no?”

However, elected senators, and I use that term loosely, would be prohibited by law from running again after nine years. Where is the accountability? There would be no accountability at the beginning, only promises. There would be no accountability in the middle. They would not even have constituency offices so they would not even be meeting Canadians, never mind being accountable. At the point when they should go back at the end of their terms, they would be prohibited by law from running again. Where is the accountability?

The minister also said in that same quote, “integrity”. That is pretty rich, coming from the party that gives us the current Minister of National Defence.

The last point is on the Conservatives' use of “transparency”. We do not need to look any further than today's question period and the Canada-U.S. border plan. We do not even know what is in the plan. It may be taking away massive amounts of Canadians' rights.

I raise all of that because the minister sets all these standards and uses these lofty words in his news releases. When we start to analyze piece by piece what the government is doing, it is undemocratic reform on a whole host of files. The words “accountability, integrity and transparency” are the last ones that Canadians are thinking of when they look at the actions and the agenda of the Conservative government.

I will end there. We are in support of closing the loophole. However, we think that there is some improvement needed to make our system stronger.

We have some serious concerns about having banks and other financial institutions as the only ones that can provide capital, with no requirement to actually provide it to all parties no matter what the circumstances. That is a huge problem, but it is solvable. I believe, if we wanted to, we could find ways to bring in conditions that would be acceptable to everyone concerned and make that aspect even fairer.

We hope that we can do something about the requirements for 20 or 30 people to get that initial line of credit. Here is one idea. One could be allowed to spend up to a certain percentage of the maximum. If one's limit were $100,000, one might be allowed to borrow up to $40,000 or $50,000 on the signature or collateral of the candidate.

I am sure we could find a regime that would still meet the goals of the government to level the playing field in terms of money, but also to make sure that our election laws apply equally across the country. The laws should not give an advantage or disadvantage to one's opponents in a general election or byelection.

If these concerns are not resolved, then there is no guarantee what position we will take at third reading. However, with those caveats, we are prepared to support the bill going to committee.

I hope the minister will allow us the same flexibility and tone that we had when we reviewed the previous bill, which we are voting against. The process at that committee was certainly as fair as I could have hoped for. At no time did I feel that the government was using a hammer to shut down democracy. I hope that we can look forward to the same relationship at committee on this bill. I hope we can make the improvements we need as well as look at other improvements to make it even better.

I always say that on bills like this, the ideal would be if we could all be standing in support of it. Would that not say a lot about a good piece of election law?

That is our goal; that is our position. We will see what happens.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, it has been good to work with the hon. member. We will have good discussions on this bill.

The member raised the point about how some people have a house that they could possibly get collateral on, but others may not. He then said maybe a relative could provide a loan. Where does it stop? Where would those guidelines be?

The fact is, we are trying to stop wealthy individuals who have the ability to provide a loan but then have no real expectation of repayment.

For some established political parties, there is a possibility that the individuals could get 60% back on their cost. However, there are other political parties which do not have a chance of getting anywhere in an election. What if one of those candidates were to borrow money under the member's plan and then just walk away from the loan? Where does it stop?

At the end of the day, we need to have rules and guidelines. The bill that we presented has accountability and it is transparent. It says that the maximum one could borrow is the amount one could contribute. Anything over that would be considered a contribution.

I ask the member, how would he solve that issue?

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for staying, listening to my remarks and asking a question.

I am disappointed to hear that answer. What I heard was a defence of the bill. That is not the attitude we are looking for.

I was doing, for a moment, the kind of work that we do at the committee where we deal with these laws. I see my colleague has been working on a couple of the pieces of legislation and projects now for two or more years.

I enjoy working with the hon. member. He is very tough, but he is very fair. He is an hon. member and a good parliamentarian. However, when I give an answer like I did on the floor just now, I expect a response that says, “Well, I hear you on that. Is there a way we could tie it all in?” I may not have a perfect answer right now, but if I had all the perfect answers, I would not be here. I would be somewhere else.

Collectively, we can tie it all in. I am just disappointed the minister was being so dismissive. If the smart minds who want to work together rather than score political points on each other would turn their minds to that, we could find a way to solve our problem.

I hope the minister does not become so entrenched with, “It is my bill. It has to be my way or no way.” That does not get us anywhere. I really think there is an opportunity here, in talking about election laws, to come up with rules that are fair for everyone.

I was trying to suggest to the minister how we could approach that. I was disappointed in his response. I hope he will get back on his feet and indicate that that is not how he sees any kind of potential dialogue going on. I hope he will be a little more open-minded.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to tell my colleague that I agree with 95% of what he said.

I am puzzled by his conclusion, when he said that he has caveats with the bill. In fact, he is strongly questioning the core of the bill. For instance, he said that we should not give the financial institutions this kind of extraordinary power to pressure politicians and parties, but that is exactly the purpose of the bill.

The bill stipulates that citizens will not be allowed to give any loans, but financial institutions will. Why does he want to give this monopoly of power to financial institutions, big money in some ways, and ask them to have a political role they do not want?

Is it because the NDP is no longer socialist but social democrat? I expect the NDP will vote against this bill.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the first thing I would say is that if my colleague wants to have that much influence on the NDP caucus, we could find him a seat here. Then he would be welcome to attend meetings.

I do appreciate and respect that the hon. member has said he supports 95% of what I said. That is a good start. However, if the member wants to ratchet things up a little, I am game for that.

The fact of the matter is we do need change. The Liberals are more interested in leaving things the way they are because that has worked so well for them over the years. They have lots of rich friends who can bankroll their buddies. The reason we even have this bill in the first place is that in their leadership campaign, there is an issue of hundreds of thousands of dollars that have not been paid back. We in the NDP do not accept that.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to listen to comments from my colleague from Hamilton Centre.

I have to reciprocate. Not that this was supposed to turn into a lovefest here, but I do appreciate the work that the member for Hamilton Centre has produced at committee. In discussions, we are not always on the same page. We end up, from time to time, agreeing to disagree. I do believe that the member has the best interests of this bill at heart when he says that he believes there should be some changes.

I do not think I am going to end up agreeing with him on some of those points, but I do want to make a comment and ask the member to comment on one of the points he made that did not directly deal with Bill C-21.

The member talked about the need for public subsidies, public financing of political parties. I believe that we do not need that. We have so many other avenues through which the public can receive benefit. For example, as we all know, anyone who contributes $400 gets a 75% tax credit. There are also rebates to political parties and candidates.

I believe one of the fundamental aspects of democracy is, if people are running for political office, they should find support from like-minded people who wish to provide financing because they believe in the candidates and the democratic process.

I would ask my colleague to comment on that, please.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I would answer the member this way. If the government was all that concerned about not wanting tax subsidies to go in, why did it not go after the other tax credit part? Why did it not go all the purist way? Why? Because if we look at the numbers, I believe, and I stand to be corrected, it got more money back from that than it did from the subsidies and what it got back was more than all of our subsidies combined.

Conservatives want to have subsidies as long as they works for them. What they do not want to do is leave subsidies in place that help all democratic parties. They do not want to be that democratic.

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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his presentation. I thought it was very interesting.

The bill is interesting even though it has some shortcomings. Today, it seems that the government is focusing on opening the door to major corporations so that they can have a rather considerable weight in the democratic process.

Clearly, we have to change the way representation can be done in our country. I am intrigued by what my colleague said in his presentation. He said that we should give some serious thought to the demographic issues raised in the bill. For example, women in Canada are disadvantaged if we compare their situation to that of men. Could he expand on how we could improve the participation of women and change this bill to make more room for women?

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, my macro answer is this. Bring in proportional representation and we could correct a whole lot of problems that exist in our democracy right now. That is the cornerstone of where we ultimately think we need to go.

We know the other two parties do not agree, but proportional representation would do more to advance the interests of true democracy, to have every vote really matter, to have the voices and opinions that exist in our country reflected in the House, to have more women, more aboriginal members, more minority groups, more disabled groups. There are all kinds of people who are either not represented here or not represented sufficiently. Proportional representation is the answer to that.

I suspect this bill will not take us far enough to do that, which is why whatever we do to the bill, it has to be in the context of recognizing proportional representation and getting rid of the other place. These are the kinds of things that will bring real democratic reform to Canada and to the House of Commons. Those are the things that we will push when we get over there.