Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to talk about Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, specifically on the issue of political financing.
Like the member opposite who just spoke, I have a great sense of pride when it comes to speaking about Canada's political financing and its corresponding election laws, which have kept big business and unions out of government decision-making. Of course, individual donors were the bedrock of Canadian politics.
I had the opportunity a number of years ago, in Panama City, during a Summit of the Americas, with ParlAmericas, to do a presentation having to do with transparency in politics. In that particular discussion, one of the things I spoke of was the lack of dollars from business and the lack of dollars from the unions and that the reality is that anyone can come into the House of Commons without having a lot of money behind them. When we go into Central America and talk about election financing there, we realize that most people are looking at how many dollars are spent on U.S. elections and the constant campaigning that takes place there.
The difference between how Canada conducts itself and how some of the other countries conduct themselves is something they felt was rather intriguing. I was a former teacher, and the amount of money we could spend would probably be about the same amount as my salary for the year. That put it in perspective so that people could understand exactly how much involvement there is and how the community could stay associated with what is done in a political campaign. For that I felt that as Canadians, we could be extremely proud.
However, here we are today specifically debating the bill before us, because Liberal elites got caught organizing unethical activities, which proved that their promise of openness and accountability to Canadians was just a sham. The Prime Minister, throughout his campaign, said that the Liberals were going to do things differently; that they would govern with openness and transparency; and that, after a juvenile statement that budgets would balance themselves, they would grow our economy from the heart out. They made a campaign promise of small, temporary, $10-billion deficits and a return to balanced budgets in a few years. We now see what that heart is made of. We are specifically debating Bill C-50 today because the Liberals could not keep their promise of openness and accountability to Canadians.
The member for Papineau was elected in 2008, at the same time I was, and sat way back on the Liberal benches. Very few people heard much of him in those days. Some perhaps thought him a bit aloof, with maybe his head in the clouds as a young guy just trying to find himself. However, the reality was that he was often out on the road, similar to what he is doing in his present position, but on a professional, paid speaking circuit. That in itself is of no concern to me, but the media report from January 16, 2014, in the Ottawa Citizen indicated that he was forced to repay money that had been inappropriately charged to his member's operational budget during his off time as an MP. This went way back to 2009 and 2010.
I know that such expenses arise for many of us on reimbursed expenses. I remember a situation of my own where a community advertisement of an event happened to include a commentary later thanking all the sponsors for the event. Well, we know what the word “sponsor” means to everyone. Therefore, when it was looked at, the answer was no, we are not paying for that. There was one person who ended up paying for that, and it was me, because I wrote the cheque. It happens, and it happens to everyone. When they realize that there is a problem, they go back and correct it.
It was also the case for the member for Papineau. He had received $217,000 in speaking fees as an opposition MP, which is a number curiously familiar to a number we use right now. A mistake was made, and he repaid the expenses that were associated with that type of activity. This is the same type of thing that many of his cabinet ministers have had to do as they have reached into their pockets to make things right.
Now the Prime Minister, after two years, has broken federal ethics laws; has a Minister of Finance embroiled in transparency and ethics scandals; and is touting economic progress, which is solely related to a buoyant U.S. economy and is poised, due to our regulatory burdens and unwise policies, to come crashing back down. This is even before the generational malaise that will affect us all because of the Liberal culture of uncontrolled deficit spending.
Again, we are here today talking about integrity and respect for the Canadian taxpayer and opening up the reality of the Liberals' promise of openness and transparency.
After the election, fresh from their sunny-ways glow, the Prime Minister publicly displayed the mandate letters to his ministers in which he clearly said that his cabinet ministers should hold themselves to a higher standard and that there should be no undue influence and no perception, real or otherwise, of any political interference. Not even halfway through their mandate, the Liberals were caught organizing cash-for-access events for Liberal insiders and deep-pocketed lobbyists. The Prime Minister and his senior ministers were effectively raising millions dollars for the Liberal coffers at private fundraisers where donors had access to government ministers.
This is not what Canadians see as ethical. The Liberals' favourite defence seems to be, “What could be wrong with that? It is what we Liberals have always done.”
We need to establish some very clear distinctions. Political fundraising is part of our political process. Everyday Canadians donate to political parties or political candidates because they believe in what those parties or candidates stand for. Donating to the party or candidates of their choice is their way of supporting the activities of those parties or those candidates, and they are doing so out of pure conviction. On the campaign trail, political party leaders and candidates are expected to hold fundraisers, and people buy tickets to come to those fundraisers. That is part of what makes our great democratic system so good here in Canada.
Here is the thing. As the government, the Liberals are going to rewrite legislation with the pretence of openness and transparency. They hope it will deflect from their bad behaviour and put the onus on other politicians that have followed the normal rules, with the hope that they will trip up, so that these types of negative stories about them will be deflected somewhere else. This is very, very sneaky. This, at its very core, is unethical influence. Then again, what else can we expect from a Prime Minister who holds the record of being the first Prime Minister in Canadian history to violate federal ethics laws? Caught red-handed, the Liberals are now trying to save face.
The question many people have with respect to this bill is whether Bill C-50 would change anything. Unfortunately, it would not. This bill would not stop the cash-for-access fundraisers. In fact, it would mandate that the Liberals publicize such events ahead of time, but reporting such events ahead of time would not make them transparent. Bill C-50, despite making the events public knowledge, would not stop cash for access. The Prime Minister and his ministers could still be at events. The staff of cabinet ministers could be at events without it even being disclosed under Bill C-50. There would be no transparency about a senior government official being at an event, only people who were candidates or party leaders or cabinet ministers.
The bill would not stop cash for access. It would not stop the influence of big money in Canadian politics. What this bill would do is formalize and institute a system in which the richest, most connected individuals would have undue influence on the reins of power in Canadian politics.
The Liberals are legitimizing their unethical schemes. This bill would not address the Prime Minister's promise of openness and accountability, and it would not deter undue influence over government decision-making.
My final thoughts are that Canadians believe that a prime minister should not need a bill to tell him what is right or wrong. The Prime Minister himself can stop this practice of letting the richest and most connected Canadians influence government. If the Prime Minister wanted to end cash for access, all he ever had to do was stop having these fundraisers. It does not take legislation to do what is right.