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.