Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I note that the parliamentary secretary and I agreed on ground rules for the fundraiser I held. We agreed that we would not talk about cannabis, despite a mutual interest in discussing it. Also, just so the record is clear, the cost of that event was $150, or $20 for monthly supporters, which might make it the cheapest cash for access in the history of Canadian politics. I also note that the individual who was quoted in the Globe bought a ticket under a different name, and we refunded the money as soon as we found out who she was.
Bill C-50 would improve our political financing rules, which are already some of the strongest in the world. Our stable democracy, including our open and fair elections, in many ways depends on these rules, enforced as they are by a truly independent watchdog in Elections Canada. Of course, while the rules that underpin our elections are fair, our electoral system more generally remains less fair than it could or should be. Under first past the post, there will always be a significant gap between election outcomes and voter intentions.
I did not think it fair for the Harper administration to hold 100% of the power in government, including complete control in this House, with less than 40% of ballot box support. I do not think it is any fairer for us, as Liberals, to do the same. As our lives have moved online, we have seen communities of people from different geographies coalesce around different issues and common experiences, yet our electoral system largely ignores this reality and these communities.
I recognize that this government does not intend to revisit this issue, but I want to lend my voice in support of current efforts in British Columbia. I hope that BC shows us a way forward, bringing the same leadership to our country on electoral reform they have brought on carbon pricing.
In contrast to the sweeping change of electoral reform, Bill C-50 is a series of tweaks, thankfully in the right direction. We already have political financing rules to be proud of here in Canada. No one can buy an election here. We ban corporate and union donations. We cap annual personal donations at $1,550, with a set escalator of $25 a year, and we have strict spending limits. In a traditional writ period, the expenditure limit for local candidates is around $100,000.
I played baseball in Oxford for a year while completing my master in laws. I was a pitcher, and our catcher was from Mississippi. He had volunteered on the Obama campaign on the west coast, perhaps because it was lonely in Mississippi. We talked about our mutual interest in politics and about the idea of elected office. When I explained the hard cap on riding spending, he could not stop laughing. He joked that the same amount of our spending limit is one bad radio spot for them.
As a member of the board of young MPs for the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I helped organize a conference of young MPs here in Ottawa this past November. We were joined by 120 MPs from over 50 countries. In between sessions, we compared notes on political financing rules. If our rules were emulated around the world, the ideal of democracy would be significantly strengthened in practice.
A fair and participatory democracy depends on the rough equality of the strength of our voices in the political process. As Ronald Dworkin has put it, in calling for a more ambitious conception of democracy, it is “one that understands democracy as a partnership in collective self-government in which all citizens are given the opportunity to be active and equal partners”. As our Supreme Court has put it, “The advancement of equality and fairness in elections ultimately encourages public confidence in the electoral system.”
We need only look south of the border to see what can take place absent such rules. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see positive and lasting change in our American ally until Citizens United is revisited. Again, in the words of Dworkin:
The most effective way to prevent money from dominating politics, and to prevent powerful corporations, unions, and other groups from receiving favors for contributions, is to lessen politicians' need for money, and the most effective way to do that is to limit what politicians may spend.
Given the importance of our strict political financing rules, it is necessary to revisit them on occasion, with a view to strengthening them further. Such is the case with Bill C-50. Bill C-50 rightly addresses public concerns about large donors receiving preferential access.
The bill would improve transparency. For political fundraising events at over $200 a ticket, Bill C-50 would require the attendee list of the event to be disclosed publicly. It would ensure that fundraising events would no longer be held informally or privately, where a minister or leader is concerned, as Bill C-50 would require that all such events be posted publicly in advance of the event's scheduled date. This is as it should be. It would not be a major change, but Bill C-50 would make a set of strong rules even stronger.
Having listened to the debate here in the House, and having read the testimony at committee, I am struck by how lucky we are to live in Canada. In Iran, thousands of protesters have recently taken to the streets. Women have been arrested for defying a law that requires them to wear headscarves. I stand with all defenders of democracy around the world, including in Iran, who exercise the basic human right of free speech in the name of democracy.
The right of political participation is, as Jeremy Waldron notes, the “right of rights”. We should defend such participation at every opportunity and equally defend demands for such participation where it is currently absent.
I just received an email this morning from a constituent, who has been involved with the elections in Kenya. He writes, “a senior political leader in the Kenyan opposition...was arrested last Friday after administering the presidential oath of office to the opposition leader...Later in the day, a court ordered that [he] be released on bail. To date, the Kenyan government has failed to do so. This morning, it defied a court order that he be brought to court. As a consequence, the Inspector General of Police has been found in contempt and ordered to produce him tomorrow.” This is outrageous, and the Kenyan government should act expeditiously to respect the rule of law and the separation of powers.
Again, we must stand firmly in support of these ideals and in support of activists around the world who demand a voice in the political process, the right to vote, and other core rights and freedoms.
Here we are debating, among other things, the difference between a $100 or $200 ticket price threshold for public disclosure of attendee lists. It is not a trivial debate by any means, but it is a luxury of living in Canada.
Of course, we should not turn down an opportunity to improve our rules simply because the rules, and the enforcement of the rules, are worse elsewhere. Therefore, I will add my own suggestion for improving political financing for our government to consider. We should cancel all political tax credits and direct all such funds through restoring the per-vote subsidy.
The Department of Finance estimates that the total tax expenditure for political tax credits is $30 million per year. As we remind our supporters every December and in every over-the-top email blitz, political tax credits are incredibly generous, exceedingly and unnecessarily more generous than the credits available for charitable donations. Meanwhile, the federal cost of restoring the per-vote subsidy to its pre-phase out level, adjusted for inflation, is estimated at $39.2 million as of 2017, according to a Library of Parliament analysis conducted at the request of my office.
The simplest solution would be to restore the per-vote subsidy in an amount equal to that saved by the cancellation of the political tax credit. Our balance sheet remains the same, but political financing becomes fairer. While it is not electoral reform, it would, in its own way, make every vote count.