Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today.
In my opinion, several details about fundraising are insufficiently clear or are still misunderstood. Of course, most members engage in fundraising. I could also add that most members do not enjoy doing it. Indeed, it is far from the favourite part of our jobs.
Regarding fundraising, these are usually events attended by party members and people who support the party and share its values. Often there are close friends and family members who help and encourage us by making a few contributions. Quite often, the amounts are far from the $1,500 donated for special access. That is what happens when it comes to most MPs. They organize local events for people who share their values.
The problem is that the Liberal Party holds events attended by the Prime Minister and ministers, which includes just about everyone seated in the front row of the Liberal benches. In order to attend these events, people pay up to $1,500 so they can speak with ministers and the Prime Minister. These are exclusive events attended by about 10 or 15 people.
Everyone can understand the difference between an event attended by only about 15 people who each pay $1,500 to get in, and an event attended by 600 people with a ticket price of only $20 or $30. Those are two completely different events. That is the first distinction that must be made.
It is important that candidates and donors alike remember that we are under no obligation to accept donations. If we believe that accepting a donation from a certain person could raise an ethical problem, we are entitled to refuse the donation.
Some individuals might want to meet with us because they really stand to gain something. If they are not motivated to meet us because we share the same values, because they are really satisfied with our performance, or because they want to encourage us to keep up the good work, then we are most likely talking about individuals who want preferential access. This is where the problem arises.
This can also become an ethical issue. Personally, if Maurice “Mom” Boucher wanted to give me $1,500, I would refuse, obviously. If someone wanted to give me money and that person was somehow directly involved in a bill I had introduced, I would refuse because that would raise an ethical problem. I think it is important to understand that limits are needed. However, limits often have more to do with personal ethics than the law. We need to be able to set limits. Since we cannot anticipate every possible scenario, common sense is needed. That is what is missing entirely from the Liberal Party's current practices. Some people clearly have a hidden agenda. Anyone who has any common sense knows that the fact that these individuals are attending fundraising events is completely inappropriate.
People are condemning the Liberals' fundraising methods. There have been a lot of allegations. The Liberals said they would put a stop to these activities, that they would be a thing of the past, but in fact, this bill is purely cosmetic. They can keep holding these events, they just have to advertise them ahead of time. If it is a ticketed event, the tickets might just happen to be sold out by the time it is announced. It has to be advertised ahead of time, and it has to happen in a public place. A private home can be considered a public place as long as anyone can go there, but what difference does it make if the event is sold out?
These are just cosmetic changes that will not put a stop to anything. This is a big problem because we are talking about people with vested interests. Anybody would jump at the chance to spend $1,500 of their own money to meet the Prime Minister and get the ball rolling on some project that is worth millions to their company and hence to themselves, through dividends. Plus, that $1,500 is not a total loss, especially for millionaires who get a $600 tax credit. Worst-case scenario, they are just out $600. That is not a huge loss.
Obviously, people are interested in meeting with members of the governing party. The Conservative government did not have the same dynamic as the Liberal Party, but these events have nothing to do with party values and everything to do with the ruling party. People will donate money to whichever party is in power to advance their interests. It is not about a party and its values; it is about business. That is why this is such a big problem.
My riding happens to be home to the dean of the Quebec National Assembly, the longest-serving member, who has been a member for 40 years. I was not even born yet when he was first elected. We are fortunate to be able to consult a walking encyclopedia on Quebec's political history, and he and I talk about it often. He witnessed all those fundraising activities first-hand and noted that some members were no longer even doing their job; all they did was raise money.
We have even seen instances where ministers were given fundraising quotas, although unofficially of course. Ultimately, all they want to do is raise money, because that is what matters most if they want to keep their position, rather than simply doing a good job in order to stay in the role. This is a serious problem.
With the Charbonneau commission in Quebec, we saw what a complete mess political financing had become, which is why we decided to take a serious look at the problem in Quebec. We decided to restore a system of public financing and limit individual donations to $100. We also cut the ties between federal and provincial parties. Now they are completely separate entities, and there is no sharing or exchanges between them. Sweeping changes were made.
When I spoke to Mr. Gendron again, he said it had really changed the dynamic. Now, MNAs no longer spend their time running around fundraising for their party and can focus more on their work as MNAs. There are still fundraising events, but they are much less important and do not become their primary task. They can do their jobs effectively without being stressed because they have to raise funds at all costs, even if it means compromising their ethical principles and values.
This has also greatly increased the level of transparency. All the details about the donors are now known. The system may not be perfect, but it has greatly changed the dynamic of political financing in Quebec. This leads me to believe that we would do well to follow Quebec's example instead of introducing a purely cosmetic bill that allows a little more openness but is useless in the end since it changes nothing to the fact that people can pay for privileged access.
We ought to have changed political financing from the ground up, which would have been much more significant, to have had the courage to rethink the way we do things and to find ways to neutralize money's influence over politics.
This could have been done, for instance, by studying what is being done in Quebec and not just the bill. Indeed, what led to the bill was the topic of much discussion. We have things to learn from these discussions, and we could have applied them in practice to introduce a much more meaningful bill. That way, once at committee, we would have been a lot further ahead.
What we are currently proposing will not change the dynamic. People will continue to try to buy ministers or even the Prime Minister. This will not mean that elected officials will devote more time to their work as MPs, especially the ministers, who are in great demand for this kind of event, as far as I can see from the dynamics of the Liberal Party. I believe they should focus much more on their work.
As members, we are paid by all taxpayers to help Canadians and talk to them. When we hold political fundraisers, we are compromising our work a little because our primary duty is to talk to these people, to be available for them, and to do that without asking for anything in return. It is part of our job, and it is what we get paid to do.
I would like to digress for a moment. This reminds me of something that the Prime Minister used to do, which may have been legal but was extremely questionable from an ethical standpoint. When he was an MP, organizations used to pay him thousands of dollars to be guest speaker, on top of which he was able to claim his travel expenses if the travel was related to his Parliamentary duties. He could easily have chosen not to charge the organizations, which were charities at that. From an ethical standpoint, he had no problem at all getting his travel and meals paid for, while also getting paid extra to speak, even though what he was doing was actually part of his job.
There are still a lot of questions about what is being done. I find the government's approach totally inadequate. It lacks vision. The government should have thought much bigger and tried to resolve, once and for all, the issue of money's influence over politics. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. There is a clear lack of political will, also. Not a single Liberal MP managed to convince me that they had actually thought things through and were really looking for a solution.
The Quebec system may not be perfect, but at least there is an attempt at finding solutions. Here, were are content with doing a bit of damage control in order to legitimize an activity that makes no sense to begin with.
The money always flows to the party in power. We saw it in Quebec. It just so happens that the Liberal Party was the one raking in the most money when it was in power. Then, it was the Parti Québécois's turn to get paid. The same thing happens over and over in federal politics, as well. The Liberal Party rakes in the most money when it is in power, and then the Conservative Party takes over.
We need to get our heads out of the sand. Some people choose a party because it reflects their values, but there are those who are interested in party politics and hope to meet MPs and ministers of the governing party in order to gain favour. We need to step up and pull our heads out of the sand.
I would like to remind you that we are not obligated to accept donations if we believe them to be ethically questionable. This is an important point, and yet, people will still gleefully take money from anyone just to line their pockets.
I would really like us to come up with solutions. I would like us to do better and consider, once and for all, introducing a system acceptable to all the parties and solve the influence problem for decades to come, rather than make cosmetic changes to political financing that basically will not change anything at all.
I look forward to my colleagues’ questions.