House of Commons Hansard #255 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

The House resumed from consideration of Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing), as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions has four and a half minutes remaining in his speech.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Halifax Nova Scotia

Liberal

Andy Fillmore LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, when we left off before the welcome and scintillating interruption of question period, I was talking about the comments of acting Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs meeting on Bill C-50. It is quite clear from Mr. Perrault's testimony at committee that he felt Bill C-50 is accomplishing the goal that it set out to do, which is to make political financing more transparent for Canadians.

Last fall, I wrote a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, regarding his own fundraising activities. I wrote to him after reports surfaced that he was refusing to disclose his own fundraisers and keeping his fundraising activities hidden from Canadians. What was deeply concerning was that his party's senior spokesperson initially denied that the Leader of the Opposition had attended a private fundraiser, but after being presented with evidence to the contrary, the Conservative Party of Canada finally acknowledged that its leader had in fact held a private fundraiser.

It was, frankly, astounding that his initial defence to this was to state that he does not believe he should be held to the same standard as the Prime Minister. I felt obliged, in the letter, to remind him that he is also a public office holder and aspires to be Prime Minister and, as the leader of a party, he has the responsibility to uphold the highest of standards. To date, I have not received a reply to my letter. No pen pal is he. On this side of the House, we are deeply disappointed that the official opposition does not feel the need to support this legislation, when it claims to value openness and transparency in political fundraising.

Regrettably, it is not just the Conservatives who are refusing to be open and transparent about their fundraising. The new NDP leader is also refusing to disclose higher-value fundraisers that he attends. We know that he attended such fundraisers when he was a candidate for leadership, but now will not follow the Liberal Party's open and transparent example.

In addition to Bill C-50, the Minister of Democratic Institutions is working diligently to ensure that more Canadians have the ability to exercise their right to vote. We are expanding the voting franchise to more Canadians by reversing elements of the previous government's so-called Fair Elections Act, which actually made voting more difficult and resulted in fewer Canadians getting to the polls.

If passed, this bill will enable Canadians to vote more easily and in greater numbers while strengthening the integrity of our electoral system and people’s trust in that system.

The issue of cybersecurity has never been more important. In accordance with her mandate letter from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Democratic Institutions presented a threat assessment from the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, to analyze the risks to Canada's political and electoral activities from hackers.

The Minister of Democratic Institutions also has a mandate to bring forward options to create an independent commission or commissioner to organize political party leaders' debates during future federal elections. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is currently studying this and has gathered valuable feedback from witnesses and stakeholders with interest and expertise in this aspect of Canadian democracy. The Minister of Democratic Institutions shared her own views on this important issue with the committee last fall. Additionally, the minister and I recently completed a cross-Canada tour to meet with stakeholders to hear their thoughts on how a commission or commissioner could be established to organize federal leaders' debates.

We also invite all Canadians to share their views on the future of leaders' debates in Canada by visiting the Democratic Institutions website by February 9, 2018.

Be assured that our government, this minister, and I will never stop working to further protect, strengthen, and improve our democracy, which I hope will be with the help of all members of the House, and to acknowledge that better is always possible.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, that speech reminded me of one of my favourite Fleetwood Mac songs.

The member said that voter turnout went down after the Fair Elections Act was brought in. Maybe the member knows that the turnout in 2011 was 61.4%. Voter turnout in the 2015 election was 68.5%, a more than 7% increase. When it comes to giving speeches and relating facts in speeches, I would agree with the member that better is always possible.

He said that the leader of the official opposition should follow rules that the Prime Minister does not follow and never has. I would ask the member if he thinks it is reasonable for ministers to attend private fundraisers with the stakeholders they regulate, a minister of justice attending a fundraising with aspirants to the bench, for example. Is it reasonable for ministers to do that, or should the ministers only do fundraising events outside of the context of private meetings with stakeholders?

Under the rules in the proposed legislation, the Prime Minister and ministers would still, and very much seem to intend to, continue with those kinds of fundraisers.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his great question and attention to this matter.

Of course, I must agree that voter turnout did increase in 2015, as Canadians were greatly motivated for a change in government and turned out in wonderful numbers. Sadly, the turnout among certain marginalized groups did in fact fall due to some undemocratic elements of the unfair elections act.

In response to his other question, we are taking concrete actions through this bill to improve our already strong and robust rules around political fundraising. For many Canadians, contributing to a political party and attending a fundraising event is an important form of democratic expression, and we are pleased to be able to debate this important piece of legislation in the House.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure my friend heard the previous question, which is strange because I thought it was pretty straightforward.

When a minister of the crown, justice minister or finance minister, holds a fundraiser and people who have business with the government attend that fundraiser, people who have certain aspirations with that particular minister and that minister's office, while Bill C-50 has improvements on transparency, it would do nothing to prevent that activity. Therefore, the finance minister could continue to meet with Bay Street executives and raise money from them. The justice minister could continue to meet with lawyers who are seeking appointment to the bench and raise money from them. The Prime Minister can meet with people, or vacation on their islands from time to time, who have direct dealings with the government under this proposed legislation. That stays perfectly fine.

The member might wish to address that. If he is comfortable with it, then he should just simply say so. If he is not, then why did the Liberals not address it in the bill?

My specific question is on clause 4 of the proposed legislation, which has a loophole that would allow anyone who is donating to any of the parties to show up at conventions, drop $1,550 at the convention, and simply not be reported publicly. It seems like a loophole the Liberals would want to close. We tried to. We are trying to do it now at report stage.

Does my friend not agree that, first, ministers should not have that conflict of interest through their fundraising activities; and second, that this glaring limo-loophole that the Liberals baked into this proposed legislation should be closed?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, my friend for Skeena—Bulkley Valley described in his question the state of political fundraisers as they have been for many successive governments over many years. It is important that with Bill C-50 we are improving on that. We are making it much better. We are taking concrete action to improve our already strong and robust rules around political fundraising. However, as I said before, contributing to political parties and attending fundraising events is an important part of democratic expression for Canadians.

With regard to the proposed amendment at report stage to delete clause 4, that is actually the implementation of one of the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations, A36 I believe, which would increase transparency and openness in our fundraising regime.

I welcome the member's comments and hard work, and I look forward to working with him as we pass Bill C-50.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2018 / 3:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I enjoy this debate because a lot of Canadians look toward elected office, toward politics, and sometimes they have to then look away again, because some of the activities, both in reality and that portrayed through movies and such, do not accurately reflect what many of us are trying to do in politics, which is to simply represent people to the best of our ability.

The timing of Bill C-50 was interesting. It landed just after the Liberals broke their promise on electoral reform. We all remember it well because the Prime Minister repeated it so often before, during, and after the last election that 2015 was going to be the last election under first past the post.

Just a few days ago, he gave an interview here in the Library of Parliament to the CBC where he said, “Nobody was able to convince me”. Not all of the experts, not the tens of thousands of Canadians were able to personally convince him that what all the evidence pointed toward was a good thing for Canada. In his not humble opinion of himself, he needed that convincing that none of the evidence was enough on changing our system and evolving it into the 21st century. The timing of the bill was interesting.

We also see within Bill C-50, which is broadly-speaking supported by my colleagues, myself, and the New Democrats in terms of the listing of donors beyond $200. It is subjecting the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, and those aspiring to become party leaders to a higher level of disclosure.

Of course, all of this comes about because of Liberal fundraisers. The idea of the bill was borne out of the crisis of Liberal cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister himself holding secret fundraisers in private homes of billionaires and millionaires, where there was no accountability at all. The justice minister and finance minister were actually holding meetings that were fundraisers, $1,000, $1,500 to get in the door, and the people being invited to these meetings had direct dealings with these cabinet minister's departments. Just screaming conflict of interest all over the place.

The fact that the Prime Minister was then later found to have broken four of our ethical rules of Parliament by accepting a trip with the Aga Khan, who the Government of Canada has had long dealings with, showed a moral and ethical code that was completely warped within the Liberal leadership. My grandmother used to say, “Don't ever waste a good crisis”. If there is a problem, do not just simply have the crisis and then forget about it, and Bill C-50 is the result of Liberals going through the very public and political exposure of their ethical compass being totally off from what most ordinary Canadians would see as right behaviour.

The Minister of Justice should never, ever be accepting donations of any kind from lawyers who are also on the list of joining the bench. Why? Because it is the Justice Minister who is ultimately going to approve their ascension to that bench and become a judge. It seems obvious to me and to most people who have that kind of ethical core, but it was not obvious to the Liberals.

The finance minister should not be meeting with Bay Street executives, and accepting large donations from the very same people over which he is the regulator. He is the ref. He is the one who is supposed to be making it fair for everyone, not just those who can pay the $1,500 and get into his private fundraiser. However, Liberals did not see a problem with this.

The Prime Minister was holding private fundraisers in the homes of wealthy billionaires, so that millionaires could show up and give him $1,550, and then have dealings with some of their very specific issues that went ahead.

All of this was borne out of the Liberals, and this is not easy to do all the time. They were embarrassed. It is not always easy to embarrass a Liberal, but it happened. The result of this is Bill C-50, which says we now have to publicly declare who is showing up. Wait, the Liberals wanted to leave themselves a loophole, the Laurier Club loophole. If people donate to the Liberal Party to the maximum amount, particularly at a convention, under the bill their names do not appear. How fortunate is that, that the five-day declaration that exists under Bill C-50, if the maximum donation to the Liberal Party is made at the convention, then people do not have to worry about it.

The only filings that come out are the filings that come out right now which is when end of the year reporting happens. All of this transparency stops right at the door of the Laurier Club, this special donor elite club that the Liberals have set up to make sure the money keeps coming in from their top donors. We tried to close it. As New Democrats, we do not just want to oppose, we want to propose.

We asked why they put this loophole in. It accomplishes nothing. It does not help in terms of transparency, and it seems to be almost handwritten by the chief Liberal fundraiser to say, “Do not embarrass anybody by having to put them on a public list when they show up at our conventions as Liberals, and donate the maximum amounts.” We said to fix this.

We also said to allow the Chief Electoral Officer investigative powers. It seems about right that the person who guides our elections, and tries to make sure our elections are done fairly should have investigative powers. We moved amendments to allow that to happen.

In fact, we heard from a former Chief Electoral Officer about the $1,000 penalty that exists within this bill that was done away in the nineties. It was seen as a non-deterrent, because there are large incentives to do these sketchy fundraisers, as the Liberals have proven. A person can make a lot of money. If there were a penalty on it, one would think the penalty would be more than $1,000, which is far less than the maximum donation someone could make at these potentially illegal fundraising events.

Through all of this, we see the intention of the government. We see that the Liberals want to bring more openness to these private, very exclusive fundraisers, where people in some cases are giving a great deal of money. We welcome that.

We would like the Liberals to show a little of that contrition that is so hard to find around here, and to acknowledge that it was borne out of the controversy surrounding the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet who were engaging in fundraisers that were suspicious, at best, if not unethical. We would also like the Liberals to acknowledge the central problem.

What Canadians, and specifically the people who I represent in northern British Columbia, say is that there should not be privileged access for those who have money. The wealthy and the well-connected should not simply get FaceTime with the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, who have so much power under our system, simply because they are rich. Yet, this bill maintains all of that.

Nothing is actually done about the elephant in the room walking around, which is if someone is loaded, he or she can get personal one-on-one time with the Prime Minister, and virtually anyone in his cabinet, to move agendas forward, to say he or she knows the person, and use that for their own personal advantage. That is all maintained. None of that so-called tradition is threatened at all by this. We wondered just how far the Liberals were willing to go, and we found out.

Bill C-50 aims to address certain aspects of the problem of rather unethical donations. The Liberals have made an effort. We will support most of the elements of this bill, but there are some things that need improvement, going by the testimony we heard in committee. The Liberals, however, have ignored and rejected every amendment proposed by the NDP to improve their bill. That is that party’s new attitude, now that they are in government. When they were in opposition, it was different.

In conclusion, the aspects of Bill C-50, on the whole, accomplish a stepping up of transparency. The concern we have is with regard to cash for access, that tradition where if one has a lot of money, one will get personal time with the Prime Minister. The Liberals will now jump up and say, “Oh, but he does town halls.” Congratulations. We all do town halls. Good for him. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, the Liberals still have the tendency where if someone has a lot of money, he or she does not have to line up for a town hall to sit in the crowd, and maybe ask a question. If one has $1,550 to donate to the Liberal Party, then the Liberals will get that person FaceTime and that sacred selfie, and make sure he or she has time with whichever minister is chosen, right up to the Prime Minister.

The Liberals maintain that practice, and they allow a loophole in this bill, which they are well aware of, that will make these very large donations not be transparent if they take place at a Liberal convention. That is a missed opportunity. However, like so many opportunities when it comes to ethical behaviour, the Liberals are only too happy to sit on their hands and miss them.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Halifax Nova Scotia

Liberal

Andy Fillmore LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, members will recall that after the last election in 2015, then Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand produced a report. That report was characterized by a number of recommendations on how we might do better in this place.

One recommendation, A36, of the report said we should “make leadership and nomination financial transactions fully transparent and the political financing regime applicable to contestants more coherent.” That recommendation, A36, is implemented in Bill C-50 in clause 4.

However, in a puzzling motion that the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley put on the floor, the implementation of recommendation A36 would be deleted. What is even more puzzling is that members from all parties of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs unanimously supported the recommendation from CEO Marc Mayrand.

Could the member help us understand why he would like to eliminate from Bill C-50 the implementation of the CEO's recommendation around transparency?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, my understanding is that our amendment would strike out the clause which allows the Liberal Party to continue to fundraise in secret essentially, as long as it takes place at a convention.

We have asked a number of Liberals, both at committee and here in the House, why we have this loophole. I have yet to hear from my friend, the parliamentary secretary or any other Liberal, the rationale for why, if a donation is sent to the Liberal Party in a cheque for $1,550, or they show up at an event, that is made public, but if that event takes place at the Liberal convention, then it is not made public. It makes no sense.

The exercise is the same. If they are trying to be transparent, then be transparent. We know many of the top level Liberal donors choose to make their donations at the Liberal Party convention for various reasons, and one of them is if they are members of the Laurier Club, they get private time with the Prime Minister. That is convenient. Again, cash for access is the problem.

This goes toward moving some transparency to the issue, but the Liberals keep loopholes in place that make no sense at all and have no justification. Not once have I heard a Liberal member be able to defend it. At some point they are going to have to square that circle, probably well after this bill is passed into law.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for his speech, and for reminding us of this horrific, for me particularly and for many Canadians, anniversary of the February 1 breaking of the promise on electoral reform. I will have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-50 in a few moments, so forgive me for asking a question on electoral reform of my colleague.

The Prime Minister says that no one was able to convince him. I have been racking my brains. I know this issue well, and I know the Prime Minister well. I do not know of a single person who was ever given the opportunity to try to convince him, an opportunity to sit down and listen to the evidence, have it presented to him.

Does my hon. colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley know of any opportunities that were afforded either to members of his party or any other experts, or anyone at all? If we failed to convince him, I would like to have thought we had a chance.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the quotes from the Prime Minister today are rather astounding.

It is revelatory for me and for many others, that lo and behold, through all of the conversations that went on for months, the tens of thousands of Canadians participating in town halls, online surveys, engaging in good faith with the electoral reform committee and parliamentarians, some of which were Liberal held events, where the majority came out saying they wanted proportional representation, that all of that conversation never got to the Prime Minister.

All the evidence that was brought forward from virtually every democratic expert we have in this country, and many of the leading global experts, showed that proportional representation leads to more women being elected, more diverse parliaments being elected, and better outcomes in terms of economic, environmental, and social legislation. All of that evidence never made its way to the Prime Minister's mind.

He somehow closed and cloistered himself off from this. That is his argument now. That, coupled with the fact that he felt it was his decision and his decision alone to make. That is just not true.

I do not know how Liberals actually maintain this. I know a number of my Liberal colleagues were greatly disturbed by the betrayal of the promise that was oft repeated by this Prime Minister and by them. It is just unfortunate. I think it is unbecoming, frankly, of a Prime Minister who is an intelligent person to suggest that he just simply was not convinced, that no single expert, no single Canadian was ever able to get through to his mind that the leading forms of voting that most of the successful democracies around the world employ would be somehow suitable for Canada.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise at report stage to deal with Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act in dealing with fundraising.

I had the opportunity before committee to attempt to make amendments to the bill. Certainly there was excellent testimony from many expert witnesses, particularly from our former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, of ways in which the bill could be strengthened.

The bill generally makes improvements. It is not that it is a bad bill; it is that there are lost opportunities here, particularly lost opportunities in closing those loopholes around what is now known as cash for access.

Let me speak to the bill, and then I will turn my attention to the fundamental problem we have in Canada when we talk about political fundraising. That is a more general conversation.

On Bill C-50, I put forward Green Party amendments and had them voted on, but unfortunately they were all defeated. They may be seen by some as relatively minor, but they matter. For example, one was mentioned by my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley. I attempted to increase substantially the punishment for violating any of the provisions around notice, publicity, reporting, and so on. Section 500 of the act would be amended to create a penalty of not more than $1,000.

The evidence from Jean-Pierre Kingsley, our former chief electoral officer, was:

The $1,000 penalty for a summary conviction, I found to be low. The entities that would be charged are entities...that effectively have money or should pay more for that. I don't think there's anything left that's a penalty of $1,000 under the statute...we're certainly not talking about a deterrent. The deterrent of course is the summary conviction, but still there should be a penalty.

In the amendment I put forward, I hoped to see that if the party broke the rules, that it would be dealing with a penalty of twice the amount of what the party raised at that event. That would become a significant deterrent because it would undo all the damage of its event. The party would have to pay twice as much as was raised as a penalty.

I also, like the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, agree that it is a loophole in section 4 of the act. One does not have to report at all on fundraising and donations made in the course of a national convention. We know a lot of fundraising goes there and should be reported.

The bill certainly does not make things any worse. The problem with this, the notion of cash for access and the way it is described, is that until someone dubbed it cash for access and ascribed to it a label nobody would want, this is how political parties of all stripes have always raised money. The star performer, the leader of the party or someone else who is well-known in the party is is someone people want to meet, comes to an event. That is the draw to get other people to show up and spend a lot of money. I usually like to joke that in the Green Party it is not so much that we have cash for access, it is that I show up in people's homes for potluck suppers, so our provisions are basically tofu for access.

The situation of political party financing makes setting up a series of rules that cover all eventuality, sort of a mug's game. I would rather attack this directly. When will we take the leap other countries have and eliminate private financing for political parties? I know that goes contrary to the direction of the previous government, which said it was getting rid of taxpayer funding for political parties but really did not. Taxpayers fund political parties to a great extent in our country. It is just not sufficient to meet the perceived needs of the parties, which is why they go forward and do all these other kinds of fundraising.

Our system of democracy would be cleaner and everything would be much more above board if it were a fair, impartial system of public financing. For those who might not know how taxpayers fund political parties, certainly everyone in this chamber knows, there are very generous rebates for the amount of money spent during an election campaign. If the party gets more than 10% per riding, it gets back 50% of what it spent. Nationally it gets back 60%.

For the party that spends the most on attack ads, for instance, in other words the party that annoys the Canadian public the most with attack ads during the Super Bowl, its rebate is the largest just because it spent the most. The biggest-spending parties get the most back from the Canadian public because that is our Elections Canada rebate rule.

What if we do not do that anymore? What if we say we will just provide a pot of money based on what we have seen on average over the last five elections that the Canadian public has spent on having those elections, what we actually gave to political parties, and develop a fair system of sharing that out? What if we did what England does, what Brazil does, and what many countries do and ban electronic advertising, radio and T.V. for political parties? That is the biggest ticket item in the spending budgets of most political parties during elections, to have money in the bank to run all those ads. What if television ads from political parties were not allowed, but every party was given non-profit, public broadcasting time on a fair and equal basis?

One thing about attack ads that we will never see is someone running for office doing his or her own ominous voice overs. The attack ad bread and butter is that so and so plans to steal babies, that it has been heard here, or so and so beats kittens or something loathsome like that. When people are on-screen, looking at the Canadian public, they do not say things like that. They say that they are standing there because they want to serve the people or their platforms are about people's lives, their families, and communities. They want to say the positive things when it is their own face.

Public funding and public provision of public interest broadcasting for political parties instead of paid advertisements would save the taxpayers a bundle because we would not be paying back for all that ad time in the proportions that political parties now receive under the Elections Act. We then could also look back at what the provisions were before former prime minister Stephen Harper reversed them.

The fairest and the least cost support of political parties from the public purse was always Jean Chrétien's innovation of the per vote subsidy. It is an incentive to vote, by the way. I have had people say to me over the years, when this existed, that they lived in a safe riding for the Grits or Tories, a party they did not want. Therefore, the only reason they voted was because they knew the $1.75 would go to the party for which they had voted. That amount changed eventually when the Harper administration killed it. I think it had gone up to $2 a vote, but it was $2 a year to the party that individuals voted for, directed by their votes.

We do not get to direct at all other taxpayer funding of political parties. The biggest one is the rebates for election spending. The second-biggest one is the rebate for the income tax deduction people get, which is so much more generous than donating to Oxfam, or Sierra Club or a church. All of their charitable giving to other organizations is never rebated at the highest level, but to give $400 to a political party costs people $100. Of course, it is obvious why the rules benefit political parties. They were written by people in this place to assist their parties.

Is it not time we pulled the plug on all of it, and not worry about whether someone is meeting with donors in someone's fancy house or meeting with people at a potluck supper? All of this is driven because we are not willing to bite the bullet and do for our democracy what is really required, which is to take the money out of it and allow the Canadian public, based of what we are already spending, to have election campaigns and funding for political parties directed by a fair and equitable formula.

Bill C-50 can only go as far as it can go. There is always going to be a loophole. We are always going to find out that somebody is a big enough draw that he or she will get donors in the room. Let us not forget that was why Senator Mike Duffy was appointed. He was a good fundraiser because people wanted to write the big cheques to go into the room to meet him. We need to think about what motivates our democracy and get the money out of it by going to the real root of the problem.

I ask my colleagues on that side of the House to bring back the per vote subsidy. It was fair and directed by the voter. Take big money out of politics.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Halifax Nova Scotia

Liberal

Andy Fillmore LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, for her ongoing care and attention to democratic institutions in Canada.

I would like to dwell on the section of her remarks regarding conventions. Any fundraiser within a convention for which a person walks through a door and pays over $200 to spend time with the class of folks we already have identified would be captured by the new rules. Therefore, that kind of event is not exempt at a convention. What would be exempt under Bill C-50 is the kind of appreciation event for folks who have already paid a convention fee and will be present there.

To that, our acting chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault said at PROC committee:

There is also an important exception for party conventions, including leadership conventions, except where a fundraising activity takes place within the convention. The convention itself is exempted, but if there's a fundraiser that meets all the conditions within the convention, then that is caught by the new rules. Again, this reflects a concern to achieve a proper balance and I think it is wise.

Could the member reflect on the CEO's statement that it does actually capture a good balance?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have read proposed section 4 over and over again. Perhaps it is bad drafting, which is a terrible thing to say at the point where we are at report stage. However, despite proposed subsection 3, a regulated fundraising event does not include any event that is part of a convention and is organized to express appreciation. Therefore, it could be organized to express appreciation, but that kind of event does indeed give access to key decision makers, which does not end up getting reported and is not open to the media.

Even after hearing the explanation from the acting chief electoral officer, which I have heard before, I am baffled by his position. Of course, I respect him, but in the context of what Bill C-50 is trying to deal with, special access for people with lots of money to key decision makers, the exemption for conventions does not sit right with me. I am hearing what my hon. colleague is saying, but I am not persuaded.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about missed opportunities in the legislation and the hidden costs that not many taxpayers were aware of when it came to financing political parties.

One of the other big loopholes is the fact that under our current legislation, there is no hard limit on the length a campaign can be. We all know from 2015, with its 78-day campaign and the changes that were made by the previous Conservative government, it ballooned the cost to taxpayers. Not only did the election cost $443 million, but it allowed parties to spend huge amounts more, therefore, getting even more tax breaks.

I proposed a private member's bill to put a hard cap on the length of elections. I would be curious to hear my hon. colleague's thoughts on that, which is probably another missed opportunity the House could be looking at.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, we also have another really important piece of electoral reform legislation that has received first reading in this place, but has not yet gone to committee, which is Bill C-33. It would do away with a lot of what was done under the previous administration's, what we called, the unfair elections act. It has a lot of really good provisions in it to bring back the rights of the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with Canadians and educate Canadians. It has a really cool provision to allow young people at age 16 to be registered to vote, so they are already registered by the time they turn 18. I would love to see something in there, and we could go back to that when it gets to committee. What former Prime Minister Harper did in the unfair elections act was create, for the first time, additional money, depending on how long the writ lasted.

We had a very long writ period in 2005. My friends here with the memory will remember that on November 28, 2005, the Liberal government of Paul Martin fell, but the election was not until later in January. There was the feeling that between Christmas and Hanukkah there had to be some time allotted. However, that was in the days before we had additional spending limits during a writ period. Stephen Harper changed it so parties could get more money back by having a longer writ period. That election campaign went from August 3 to late October.

I agree entirely with my friend. I do not know that we want to put a hard cap on the length of an election. There may be reasons we would want to extend it, like if a government falls right before Christmas, as in the case of the November 28, 2005, fall of the government. However, we need to ensure that long writ periods are not an excuse to get more money from taxpayers because the game has already been rigged so parties can spend more money and get more money. The party that had the most money at the time engineered those changes.

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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House and debate the important pieces of legislation that come before us.

Before I do so, if the House will give me a brief indulgence, I would like to thank and congratulate everyone who was involved in yesterday's launch of the third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, now lovingly referred to as Bosc and Gagnon. Like all members, I spent last night going page by page through this exciting document. It was a real page-turner. I made it to page 1324, and I look forward to finishing the rest of it tonight. It is a great accomplishment.

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An hon. member

Get a life.

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Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

My colleague is telling me to get a life.

It is an excellent piece of work. I am thankful to all those involved. It will stand the test of time as an important document.

Let us go to the subject at hand, Bill C-50.

The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands briefly mentioned in her comments Bill C-33, and I was intrigued today in question period when the Minister of Democratic Institutions mentioned Bill C-33. In fact, I will quote her from the blues. She said, “My job is to strengthen and protect our democratic institutions and ensure they represent the values of Canadians. Through the introduction of Bill C-33 and Bill C-50, we are moving to accomplish that mandate.”

How important is Bill C-33 to the government? It received first reading on November 24, 2016, 14 months ago. Where is that bill today? It still sits at first reading, having never been brought forward for second reading. This is reflective of the entire government's legislative agenda. It introduces certain pieces of legislation to great fanfare, yet there they sit 14 months later, unmoved, at the same stage as they were when they were first introduced. This is reflective of the entire government's agenda, but most particularly of the democratic institutions' agenda.

Let us contrast that with our former Conservative government's agenda. The very first piece of legislation introduced in 2006 was Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act. What did that do? It banned corporate donations and union donations, and placed a hard cap on the maximum that an individual could donate.

The Liberal government, in the introduction of Bill C-50, is simply trying to legitimize its cash for access events. It is trying to legitimize its pay-to-play events. It is trying to legitimize that which it should not have been doing in the first place, by its own rules and its own document “Open and Accountable Government”.

I would like to quote from this document. The prelude states:

Open and Accountable Government sets out core principles regarding the roles and responsibilities of Ministers in Canada’s system of responsible parliamentary government.

Under Annex B, “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries”, the very first paragraph states:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.

This legislation would not have been needed had the Prime Minister accepted his own words, and had he and his ministers followed their own document and simply done what they were asked to do.

It goes on to state:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.

On this specific point, the Liberal government, the Prime Minister, and his cabinet have failed to live up to the standards that the Prime Minister himself set in “Open and Accountable Government”. The Prime Minister laid out his vision. He promised to be open and transparent, and then the Liberals broke their own rules.

This is not the first time we have seen this. We have seen it time and time again over the two years this government has been in office. The Liberals are constantly placing themselves in the appearance or potential of conflict of interest. All week in this House we have heard questions asking the Prime Minister and the government House leader about the Prime Minister's unethical trip to the Aga Khan's island, for which he was found guilty on four separate counts under the Conflict of Interest Act.

The government, in only two short years, is achieving a level of ethics lapses that took the Chrétien-Martin Liberals a full 13 years to get to. It has accomplished that in two years.

Let us talk about this piece of legislation and some of the exemptions and exceptions that the government has brought forward in Bill C-50. There is one particular exception, what I like to call the Laurier Club loophole. This legislation applies to donor appreciation events, except when those events take place at conventions.

People may be wondering, what exactly is the Laurier Club? I have an answer. I went on the Liberal Party's website and found a little information about it. For the low price of $1,500 a year, anyone can become a member of the Laurier Club.

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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Wow, where do I sign up?

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Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I believe people can sign up on the Liberal Party website.

What do people get for becoming members of the Laurier Club? They get this: “Invitations to Laurier Club events across the country, hearing from leading voices on our Liberal team”. They get access to senior members of the Liberal Party and the Liberal government. In fact, there is a Laurier Club event tonight in Edmonton. For those who are interested, I am sure there is still time to register for that event. My colleague from Edmonton West says that perhaps both Edmonton Liberals will show up at that event.

I find this interesting. Just last week, the chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence tweeted about the convention the Liberal Party is having later this year in Halifax. She said, “if there was a time to join Laurier Club, now is the time”. She was highlighting the Liberal convention.

I am sure we could all read different options into that, but I believe the testament there is very much that if people want to meet senior Liberals, they should join the Laurier Club and attend the national convention, and they will have access to senior decision-makers within the Liberal Party of Canada. That is accepted. It is exempted from this piece of legislation. The Laurier Club loophole allows that to happen.

There is another exception in this piece of legislation. I like to call this exception the Joe Volpe clause. It prohibits the publication of names of people under the age of 18. I know that all members of this House recall the 2006 Liberal leadership race and Joe Volpe's endeavours to raise money, including from those who were 11 years of age. In honour of Mr. Volpe, we should refer to that clause as the Joe Volpe clause.

I am not going to get into any clauses about those who have passed on. I believe that this would perhaps also be called the Joe Volpe clause, but it is not dealt with in this particular piece of legislation.

There is also a part of the legislation that requires five days' notice. The notice has to be placed on the website five days in advance. Publicizing these events is a positive step. It is not a bad thing. However, another loophole comes into place. There is no provision for a long-standing event to be sold to party members and encouraged, and then at the last minute, lo and behold, the Prime Minister is attending, under the five-day limit, or the Minister of Finance or another senior Liberal minister is attending the event within the five-day period.

There is no provision in the bill to remedy that. This is a matter that I brought up at the procedure and House affairs committee, and it was not dealt with in this legislation. While the minister and the government hold this piece of legislation out as a great step forward in openness and transparency, it is simply window dressing to cover up the Liberals' past cash for access events, their pay-to-play events, and their way of getting $1,500 out of senior donors and high donors to their party and giving them access to senior people within the Liberal Party, including the Prime Minister.

This is unneeded. We will be voting against this piece of legislation. I am sure hon. members will join me in doing so.

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4 p.m.

Halifax Nova Scotia

Liberal

Andy Fillmore LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member for Perth—Wellington could share with the House why he feels that his party's leader should be entitled to such secretive fundraisers.

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Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us be very clear. Our party and our leader follow the rules that are on the books and that are legislated by the House. The member opposite is talking about an event that took place several months ago, before this legislation was even dealt with by committee. It is like saying that the Magna Carta does not exist because King John was not given five days' notice of the event. We cannot retroactively legislate.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions is just trying to sling mud at our leader with his comments, because he and his party know that we are going to be working hard in the next two years and that in 2019 we will be forming the next government.

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4 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his remarks. I would like to hear his comments on what seems to me to be a lamentable failure of Liberal promises regarding electoral reform and the Democratic Institutions file as a whole. The Liberals have almost no record to present. To date, the only accomplishment they can show Canadians since their election in 2015 is this bill, which is quite modest, not to say bad, given their promises.

What does my colleague think about the Liberal record on electoral reform and democratic institutions, when expectations were so high? After the 2015 election, expectations were very high that the Liberal government would produce results by the next election.