Madam Speaker, although the Liberal opposition agrees with a number of the aspects of Bill C-21—I am going to repeat my sentence from the beginning because the minister was not listening.
Although the Liberal opposition agrees with a number of the aspects of Bill C-21 to amend the Canada Elections Act in terms of accountability with respect to political loans, we cannot support the bill in its present form because it contains a major defect. It gives financial institutions exclusive political authority that they should not have, that they do not want, and that will have the effect of discriminating against a large number of people, especially women. I first want to highlight the aspects we support, then the ones we do not support, before I propose a constructive amendment.
We support any legislative measure that seeks to ban the hidden power of money in politics. We also support any legislative measure that provides greater fairness and greater transparency in making loans for political purposes.
The Liberal Party strongly supports efforts to increase fairness, transparency and accountability in the electoral process. After all, we are the party that initially passed legislation limiting the role of corporations and unions in electoral financing and lowered contribution limits.
No loans should be made in secret and Canadians should not be kept in the dark. This is why under current legislation the details of all loans, including amounts and names of lenders and guarantors, must already be disclosed publicly.
We agree that all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors, must be uniform and transparent. These rules should encompass loans, guarantees and suretyships with respect to registered parties, registered associations, candidates, leadership contestants and nomination contestants.
Thus we agree that financial reporting should be as transparent as possible, which is why we support clauses 5, 11, 25 and 32, which require disclosure of information regarding loan amounts, interest rates, lenders and dates of repayment.
However, we also favour transparent rules that guarantee the right and ability of all Canadians to run for office. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that all Canadians of voting age must have the opportunity to run for office.
In consequence, financial institutions should not be put in the position to decide who can run for office. Yet the bill would give financial institutions too much power to decide who would receive political loans, a power that would expose them to accusations of politicization and discrimination, real or perceived. Making banks the sole lending authority under clause 7 could potentially limit participation in federal politics to only those who would be able to gain credit from a financial institution, as defined under the Bank Act.
It would be a serious mistake to limit to financial institutions alone the ability to make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals.
It would be a mistake to enable these companies to play a political role in deciding who would receive loans and the ability to marginalize certain applicants who did not fit particular criteria, or to discriminate against them.
Bill C-21 gives financial institutions a monopoly on decision-making that is completely contrary to the democratic values and principles of Canadians who do not want access to public services to be linked to a prospective candidate's financial status.
There is a fundamental difference between asking for donations or loans from people by appealing to their sympathy for the ideas or the qualities of a prospective candidate and lining up at a counter in a bank where strictly commercial lending policies are applied. You do not buy your way into a life of public service in the same way that you buy a washing machine or a snowmobile. We must not give Canada's financial institutions a political weight that they should not have and that they do not want, an unprecedented role that is dangerous on several levels. The role is dangerous for the institutions themselves. They are at risk of being accused of political favouritism or of discrimination in one direction or in another, either by turning a candidate down for a loan, or by approving one. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't, as the saying goes.
That is indeed a risk that financial institutions cannot allow themselves to take in these troubled times, when the financial sector is under the glare of the media and the scrutiny of citizens and a whole host of political and socio-economic groups. The reputation, independence and freedom of action of these financial institutions are essential to the proper functioning of our economy, our society and our democracy. The exclusive power that Bill C-21 grants them thus presents a twofold problem, a problem of perception and a real risk, the danger of politicizing our financial institutions and a risk of discrimination involving these loans.
Let us for a moment look at the criteria the banks would use to determine which candidates they would or would not lend money to. They could use a purely financial criterion based on the personal solvency of the candidates, which would favour the rich to the detriment of everyone else; or they could do a risk assessment based on the political probability that the candidate would obtain sufficient support, which would translate into a sufficient number of yearly contributions of less than a $1,000 in order to reimburse the loan. What this means is that we are asking financial institutions to make political judgments. Those institutions could even assess the probability of the candidate getting elected, and see that outcome as increasing his or her solvency. With all of this, we would be politicizing our financial institutions.
Let us now look at the problem of discrimination.
The bill would disadvantage lower income candidates who did not have the necessary credit history to receive loans. It would discriminate against people based on income and credit rating therefore favouring the rich and excluding many people from public service, notably many women, youth, newcomers and minorities in general.
Let me reiterate this. The lack of credit could potentially prevent not only low or middle-income Canadians, but also many women, aboriginal people and new immigrants from standing for office. The size of a wallet or bank account should not be an impediment to prospective candidates.
This is particularly worrisome as it applies to women.
This bill would disadvantage women candidates who had left the workforce for a period of time, resulting in a fluctuation of their financial status. The United Nations has stated that a critical mass of at least 30% women is needed in order for legislators around the world to produce public policy that represents women's concerns and for political institutions to begin changing the way they do business.
According to Equal Voice, Canada falls behind this standard. Despite enjoying economic prosperity and political stability, Canada has fewer women in Parliament than most of Europe and many other countries in the world. In Canada's Parliament, just about 24% of MPs are women. This places Canada 40th in the world on the Inter-Parliamentary Union, “List of Women in National Parliaments”. For Canada, 40th is not acceptable.
Further, Equal Voice notes that women encountered many barriers in seeking elected office at all levels, including lack of access to finances. This is the basic point. Restricting access to loans by financial institutions could disadvantage and create a new barrier to women entering politics.
This House should not do anything that would hinder women's success in politics. On the contrary, this House must do everything it can to promote women's successful participation in politics.
To conclude, the Liberal caucus strongly argues for full transparency and disclosure of political loans.
However, we are opposed to the idea of having financial institutions be the only ones that can grant loans in the political arena. That possibility must also be given to citizens, as long as transparency is made the hallmark of those loans. After all, it is much more legitimate for citizens than for banks to grant loans of a political nature, in keeping with their political convictions, and their confidence in the values or political credibility of a given candidate. We would be in favour of an amendment requiring that these individual loans only be granted at commercial interest rates.
I hope that this constructive proposal from the Liberal opposition will be well received by the government so that we can make our democracy more transparent and more open to everyone.