House of Commons Hansard #257 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-50.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, that question was a bit of a mixed bag and I would question the relevance of two-thirds of it. It started on whether this was an opportunity to legitimize cash for access events and it had a very partisan slant against the Liberal Party. I note that this bill is actually non-partisan in its very nature. By definition, it applies to the government and the opposition parties, no matter who is in government.

On the issue of the Prime Minister's accountability, I cannot help but note that he is currently on a town hall tour, visiting residents, and giving them access to him for free, with no opportunity to stack the room with partisan supporters of one kind or another.

The hon. member would seemingly suggest there should be a higher standard for the Liberal Party than for opposition parties. This should apply to every party in the House with an opportunity for somebody to influence the decisions today or in the near future. It is a perfectly fine approach. I note that the person the member referenced, the former Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, actually suggested this legislation is a good thing because it strengthens our democratic institutions.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his intervention. My question relates to the substance of the issue, the motivation for the bill, specifically the fundraising events that suggest the possibility of access to ministers and the Prime Minister in exchange for a substantial amount of money.

I am wondering whether my colleague is okay with that practice, since all Bill C-50 does is formalize the practice and make it more transparent. The bill gives the public more information, but it does not change anything about the fundamental issue, since it allows for the practice to continue.

Basically, I want to know my colleague's thoughts on a political party engaging in cash for access. Does he agree with this practice? My question refers more to the substance, rather than the form, of the bill before us today.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I address the question squarely, we have to ask ourselves if we want to recognize the political reality that campaigns cost money. I suggest that we do. The answer in my mind, then, is not to prevent certain people from raising money and meeting the people who donate to their campaigns, but to ensure there is transparency so that the public understands what is going on.

As I mentioned over the course of my remarks, we should not underestimate the intelligence of the public. If the public sees that there are 100 people making maximum campaign donations that are part of a particular lobby organization and the next day the recipient of the funds from those donors comes out with a new policy that caters to the interests of those people, Canadians will know that was a ploy to get elected and not to serve their interests.

I suggest the right approach is to put all of the information out there and mandate that those serving in government or those campaigning to be the leader of the Government of Canada are subject to rules that ensure Canadians know who their donors are and who was in the room when the donations of $200 or more were made, so that they can decide for themselves at the ballot box.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak today to Bill C-50.

I am in a unique position given the fact that I am a member of Parliament from Ontario. Having seen what went on with the provincial Liberals, I can speak to the issue of cash for access and how it relates federally given the examples that happened in Ontario.

As I was going about the last election, meeting with residents of my riding, engaging in town halls and all-candidates debates, I remember warning those who would consider voting Liberal of the fact that the same players from Ontario would be involved not only with the Liberal election campaign but also within the Prime Minister's Office, and that certainly has shown itself to be true. The cash for access scheme originated in Ontario. Ontario was ground zero for cash for access.

What does cash for access mean? It means that ministers, the premier, and parliamentary secretaries would sell access to themselves to those stakeholders who were willing to pay up to the maximum amount. Ontario had no maximum amount at that time. I recall some people at small intimate settings were paying in excess of $5,000. Imagine what a fundraiser that would be. Ministers in Ontario had the opportunity to sit in private settings and sell access to their time for $5,000, and in some cases, it was more than that. It was a heck of a fundraiser for the Ontario Liberal Party, which on some nights could get upwards of $50,000 to $100,000.

Let us fast-forward to after the election. Those same players who came from Queen's Park, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, who formalized and legitimized the plan in Ontario, came to the Prime Minister's Office and the first thing they did was to concoct the same plan federally, a plan that saw the Prime Minister and ministers of the crown engage in private cash for access fundraisers. The difference was that there was a limit here federally and the limit was $1,500, a bit more above that.

In Ontario, they called this “the system”. Ministers would sell access to themselves in most cases to stakeholders and those stakeholders would be able to bend a minister's ear for whatever project, whatever dealings, whatever issue he or she had with the government. The minister would be paid and that money would go directly into a Liberal bank account. The same plan happened here.

This amounts to political extortion. It is about extorting money from those who have business dealings with the government so that those individuals can gain access to ministers and in some cases the Prime Minister.

The issue was really one of hypocrisy on the part of the government and that is why we are in this position right now with Bill C-50. The Liberals are trying to correct a problem that they created. I will remind the House what the Prime Minister told his ministers in their mandate letters about perception, real or otherwise, and about undue influence. Cash for access provides undue influence.

The member for Central Nova said he could not see how $1,500 could influence a minister of the crown. It is not just the $1,500 but rather the multiples of $1,500. We saw examples of that during the height of this cash for access scheme. The height of public awareness of this scheme was when the Prime Minister was at a private event with some stakeholders from the Chinese community. A gentleman by the name of Shenglin Xian, along with the other people there, donated the maximum amount. Mr. Xian had business in front of the government. His business was that he wanted to open a bank. Mr. Xian received approval for the bank and it was opened shortly after this meeting.

It is important to understand that ministers of the crown are very powerful. They control multi-billion dollar budgets. With one fell swoop of a pen, a minister, the Prime Minister, and the government can approve whatever business those people have. Also, the money is going into Liberal bank accounts. It is not going into the coffers of the government. These are people who are paying for access to put money into the Liberal bank accounts.

We have seen examples of this happen with other ministers. The Minister of Justice held a meeting at a Bay Street law firm. There were lots of lawyers there. I do not think they were talking about the Blue Jays, or the Maple Leafs and how they were doing. They were talking government business. In some cases, some of those lawyers who would pay the $1,500 perhaps had applications for the bench. This is why this is wrong.

What the Liberals are proposing now is to take it out of the shadows, where it was and put it in public, but that legitimizes and formalizes it. Why are they doing that? It is so they can hide behind it, so if there are any further complaints, if anyone else has a problem with cash for access, they can say they changed the rules and that the rules are clear.

In Ontario, there was so much public backlash that they actually banned cash for access. They made it so that no more could ministers or members of the provincial legislature even go to these cash for access fundraisers. Therefore, if the government is truly showing some virtue on this, it should just ban them altogether and go back to the donation process that exists today.

Of course, the Liberals want to use every advantage they can to try to extort as much money as they can from these stakeholders, because they know from a fundraising standpoint that they lag far behind the Conservatives and our grassroots donors who support our party year in and year out because they agree with the policies, principles, and values of conservatism. The Liberals want to extort people. They want to say, perhaps to the marijuana industry, perhaps to more lawyers, “Give us money, and you can have access to us and bend our ears”. How is that going to apply to middle-class Canadians and those working hard to join them? It will not, because most of the people in my riding cannot afford to go to one of these Liberal fundraisers.

The other interesting part about this, and this is the thing that really concerns me, is that it does not include parliamentary secretaries. The bill says the reporting mechanism will happen for the Prime Minister and for cabinet ministers, but it will not happen for parliamentary secretaries. Why not? That is a fair question. In fact, when I talked to the member for Banff—Airdrie, this was one of the amendments that was put forward. In fact, it was a recommendation of the Ethics Commissioner.

I have heard the argument that the Ethics Commissioner agrees with most parts of this, but this is the one area she does not agree with. Why not include parliamentary secretaries in Bill C-50? One could speculate that perhaps the reason is that, if the Prime Minister cannot do it and cabinet ministers cannot have a cash for access event in private with stakeholders and people who have business in front of the government, they want to send their parliamentary secretaries, because they, through the line, will have the ear of a cabinet minister who will eventually have the ear of the Prime Minister with respect to those people who are involved.

There are significant challenges with Bill C-50. The fact is that the government wants to legitimize and formalize the cash for access scheme so it can use it as a shield later on. If something comes up, the Liberals could then say they changed the rules, everyone knows the rules, and they are applying the rules. If they were going to apply the rules in this case, they certainly should have done it when the Prime Minister wrote his mandate letters to say that the perception, real or otherwise, of undue influence should not happen within his government. They changed that.

There is no reason to believe they are going to follow the rules in Bill C-50. This is hypocrisy as its best. They are formalizing and legalizing what will continue to be political extortion on the part of the government of stakeholders and those having business with the government.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying how disappointed I am that the opposition members are not supporting this legislation, which I think is a tremendous move towards having greater openness and transparency and which is something they are asking for. I am wondering what is at the root of them not supporting it. Is it that they do not want the opposition to have to disclose the information that is being asked for in Bill C-50?

This is about openness and transparency. It is about ensuring that the website shows what events are going to be held. It is about ensuring that the attendees who have paid over $200 for events are noted and there is a list so that people know.

I do not understand. Therefore, my direct question to the member is this. Is he not supporting this legislation because the opposition members do not want to provide lists of who attend their fundraisers for over $200 or more?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that we do follow the rules. The Liberals did not follow their own rules. If the hon. member wants to talk about openness and transparency, there is an open and transparent process, which is the donations from grassroots Canadians who support political parties. Openness and transparency does not mean I extort people for $1,500 to come to a fundraising event that I am at so they can bend my ear, if I am the government, to make a decision that perhaps favours or benefits them.

It is not just the $1,500; it is the multiples of those $1,500 and what that represents with respect to influencing government policy that is troublesome on this. What they are doing is formalizing and legitimizing cash for access. If they have a problem with it, why do they not cancel it altogether, like the Ontario Liberals did?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, the current Prime Minister has a record of saying one thing and doing another. I am wondering if my hon. friend could comment on how the hundreds of cash-for-access events hosted by the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers square with the “Open and Accountable Government” document, the standards of conduct by which the Prime Minister and ministers are supposedly bound. It provides, among other things, that “There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access..”.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, it became very clear from the onset that the words the Prime Minister wrote on his mandate letters were not worth the paper they were written on. I say that as an example, because the first thing the members on that side of the House started doing was the same thing that happened in Ontario. They started engaging in cash-for-access events, and many of them were in the shadows.

If it were not for the media, or in some cases for the people who attended those events, none of this would have become transparent. In spite of all the platitudes and all the words about openness and transparency, the current government and Prime Minister are anything but that. Therefore, I say again that the words the Prime Minister wrote to his cabinet ministers in those mandate letters are in fact not worth the paper they were written on. It is concerning that the Liberals are still legitimizing and formalizing cash for access.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the times leading up to the election in 2015, we witnessed hermetically sealed government events that people went to. Lord knows who they were, what they talked about, and what they left behind in terms of donations to the Conservative Party of Canada. I want to ask my colleague across the way if he believes that the people who attended an event that Mr. Harper held were there to talk about what was happening in Calgary heritage, or if perhaps it was that member's position in government that attracted their attention.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly the Liberals' modus operandi to blame or accuse somebody else without accepting responsibility for their own actions. We see here another example of this accusatory tone from the member opposite.

However, when we have the example of a Chinese millionaire, I assume, attending a private event with the Prime Minister because he has business in front of the government of opening a bank and there are a multitude of donors there, and then all of a sudden that bank gets opened, I think it is a problem. It will continue to be a problem under this proposed legislation. It would not stop the problem; it would just formalize and legitimize the issue.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to on Bill C-50an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing).

Bill C-50, more particularly, would require require certain public notification and reporting in respect of certain political fundraising events. In that regard, Bill C-50 would require that where a cabinet minister or party leader or leadership candidate attends a political fundraising event, and where the ticket price for the event is more than $200, that public notification would be required and a report would be sent to Elections Canada on the event.

The government has sold this bill as a bill to increase transparency, accountability, and to strengthen Canada's political financing laws. I say that one should not buy into the bill of goods that the government is trying to sell to Canadians. This bill is not about increased transparency. It is not about increased accountability. It is not about strengthening Canada's political financing laws. Rather, what Bill C-50 is about is legitimizing and sanitizing the government and the Liberal Party's sordid cash-for-access racket. That is what Bill C-50 is about.

Why would the government, by way of legislation, seek to legitimize cash for access? As my colleague, the hon. member for Banff—Airdrie has pointed out, the government has found its hand caught in the cookie jar one too many times. The government has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and as much as the Prime Minister has said one thing, he has then done another. We have a Prime Minister who, after all, more or less disavowed cash-for-access fundraising and then proceeded to engage in cash-for-access fundraising. He not only engaged in cash-for-access fundraising but perfected cash-for-access fundraising.

To understand the degree to which the Prime Minister broke his word to the Canadian public, one need only look back to the 2015 election, when he told Canadians to elect him and that he would deliver the most open, most transparent, and most accountable government in Canadian history. To try to demonstrate that he meant what he said and said what he meant, the Prime Minister, upon appointing his cabinet, unveiled a document called “Open and Accountable Government”.

“Open and Accountable Government” was the code of conduct, the standards of conduct, by which the Prime Minister said that he, his ministers, and parliamentary secretaries would be held to. “Open and Accountable Government” did deal with sets of standards, standards of conduct, for cabinet ministers, for the Prime Minister, and for parliamentary secretaries, specifically relating to political fundraising.

It is important to speak to and review some of what “Open and Accountable Government” said to understand how blatantly and how flagrantly this Prime Minister has broken his word to the Canadian people. “Open and Accountable Government” says, among other things, “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.” However, it gets better. It says, “There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access..”.

Moreover, “Open and Accountable Government” states that department stakeholders, including lobbyists, should not be targeted for the solicitation of political funds. That is what “Open and Accountable Government” says. That is the standard the Prime Minister set for himself and his cabinet, so it begs the question: what did the Prime Minister do following the issuance of that standard? The answer is that the Prime Minister ignored “Open and Accountable Government”.

It was as if “Open and Accountable Government” had never been written. As my friend, the member for Barrie—Innisfil, said, it was not worth the paper it was written on, because almost immediately, the Prime Minister doubled down with cash for access event after cash for access event. Indeed, in 2016, the Liberal Party held more than 100 cash for access events, like one held in May 2016, in Toronto, with none other than Mr. Sanctimony himself, the Prime Minister, who was at the residence of a Chinese billionaire. There were other Chinese billionaires there, each of whom paid $1,500 to the Liberal Party of Canada. There they had an evening with the Prime Minister, making dumplings and having the ear of the Prime Minister, and, I am sure, spending a wonderful evening with him.

Among those in attendance was none other than the chief investor in the Wealth One Bank of Canada, a bank that was seeking a banking licence in Canada at the time of the cash for access fundraiser. What a sweet deal: $1,500 to the Liberal Party and an opportunity to spend the evening with the Prime Minister to talk about Wealth One Bank. Sure enough, the licence was approved.

At the very same event, there was a Chinese Communist official. He was not a Canadian citizen, so he could not send the money directly to the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party said not to worry about it. Two weeks later, that same individual wrote a $200,000 cheque to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. I guess we are supposed to assume that it was a coincidence that he would spend the evening with the Prime Minister and two weeks later decide to write a $200,000 cheque to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

My friend from Barrie—Innisfil says that we could not make this up. Well, we really could not, because it is just incredible. It speaks to the hypocrisy, to the lack of ethical conduct, on the part of the government.

Here we are today with Bill C-50. What does it do? It requires public notification five days before an event. I say, big deal. It requires reporting to Elections Canada of an event. I do not know if it occurred to the government, but every single political contribution is already reported to Elections Canada, so in terms of substantive improvements to political financing laws in Canada, the bill falls short.

It is nothing more than smoke and mirrors so that the Prime Minister can pretend that he is doing something about political financing, all the while giving himself a blank cheque to engage in the most sordid types of political fundraising activities. This is a cynical bill, and Canadians deserve more than a cynical bill from a cynical and ethically challenged government.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Karina Gould LiberalMinister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I can absolutely say that this is not a cynical bill. This is a bill that is making a substantial difference. It is unfortunate to hear from my colleague across the way on this topic in such a cynical manner, because to be perfectly honest, fundraising is an activity that all political parties undertake.

I want to make one correction. We know that no foreigner can make a contribution. It is against the law. That is something all political parties uphold.

Second is that parties would actually report who attended an event, when it took place, and where it took place. This is important, because this is information Canadians have not had before.

Bill C-50 aims to make fundraising events more open and transparent. All I hear from the opposition members is that they do not believe in more openness or transparency. We know for a fact that the Leader of the Opposition was holding fundraising events in secret this summer and refused to provide details.

Does my hon. colleague not believe that more openness and transparency about fundraising is a good thing? That is exactly what the bill aims to do.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think we have absolutely no lessons to learn from the government, because the consistent record of the government is to say one thing and do another. It is the Liberals who issued “Open and Accountable Government”, and it is they who almost immediately flagrantly violated their own ethical standards.

I remember standing in the House, day in and day out, in April of 2016, asking the Minister of Justice about the pay-to-play fundraiser at Torys LLP in Toronto, an event that was attended by lawyers and lobbyists, an event that was advertised as an opportunity for attendees to engage with the minister on matters that pertained directly to her role as Minister of Justice. That is called pay to play. That is called giving preferential access. That is called giving the perception of a conflict of interest. It is right in “Open and Accountable Government”, and instead of taking responsibility for it, the minister would not stand in her place to defend herself, leaving it to the then government House leader.

The minister was given forewarning about the fact that she was breaching the standard the Prime Minister had set, and she went anyway. She thumbed her nose, and that is what the Prime Minister has done. He has thumbed his nose, because he believes that he is above the rules, that they do not apply to him. They apply to everyone else, but he and his ministers—

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Victoria.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 5th, 2018 / 12:55 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member was accused of cynicism. I think one can do better. I have called this the bait and switch act; it looks like the Liberals are going after cash for access, but no, they are going to go for transparency, and now we can all know that there is cash for access. I have also called it the lobbyists despair act. Why would we now have to hire a fancy lobbying firm in Ottawa, when one can go right to the minister and the Prime Minister and ask about that job for one's brother-in-law or that contract for one's firm?

I would like to ask my hon. colleague whether he would agree with me that the government's claim that somehow it is exactly the same for government members, who actually give contracts, and opposition members, who do not, is, in fact, a joke.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would agree. It is an absolute joke for the government to try to conflate the power vested in ministers with that of a leader of an opposition party. It is simply a very different context and a very different set of circumstances.

I see that the member for Beaches—East York is in the House, which reminds me, in terms of how the government operates, that he had a fundraiser with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, the point man on marijuana. Lobbyists for the marijuana industry showed up. One of them was quoted in The Globe and Mail as saying that she really would have preferred to sit down with him, but if she had to pay a few hundred dollars to be there, that is what she would have to do.

That is how the Liberal Party operates. It is a real shame.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I will remind hon. members that they should stay away from referring to either the absence or presence of members in the chamber.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Beaches—East York.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I found the comments from the member for Beaches—East York concerning the per-vote subsidy and the tax credits available for political donations versus charitable donations interesting. I found it particularly interesting since there was a private member's bill before this place from the member for Provencher which would have brought charitable donations up to the level of political donations. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party voted against it.

I would ask the member whether his party supports the return of the per-vote subsidy.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, the Parliamentary Budget Office conducted an analysis, which was pretty clear that the cost of that private member's bill would have been quite large. The answer is not necessarily to increase charitable donations to where our political tax credits are, but to reduce the exceedingly generous nature of political tax credits. However, I did support that bill at second reading so it would be studied further at committee.

Second, I certainly support the per-vote subsidy. However, I do not speak for the government, as the member may know. Sometimes I do, but on this occasion, it is something the government should seriously consider. However, I cannot say that the government plans to do so at this time.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would ask my colleague for his thoughts on what I believe is a very progressive part of the legislation. For the first time, not only ministers and the Prime Minister would have to provide details of those who attend fundraisers, but opposition leaders of other political entities, the leader of the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party, would also be obligated to be transparent with respect to those who attend their fundraisers. These individuals have an incredible amount of influence politically, and Canadians have a right to know who meets with them, those who ultimately want to become Prime Minister some day.

Could he provide some of his thoughts on the issue?

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree that leaders should be subject to these rules. It is not only the power that leaders have, and there is no question they have power. Obviously there is a difference between a leader and a minister or a prime minister where taxpayer funds are allocated. However, these leaders may come into power in the future in all likelihood. We will not be in government forever. It would be the leader of the Conservative Party or perhaps the leader of the New Democratic Party down the road. Therefore, it is very important that leaders be subject to these rules, regardless of their party. However, it is also about the culture. It is important for leaders to abide by these rules, because if they do sit on this side of the House one day, they would have instilled in themselves and in their office a culture of transparency.

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1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to address Bill C-50 by articulating what I believe is its central purpose, which is not to remedy an absence in the law that has resulted in unlawful behaviour. Rather, it is to deal with an issue that was never unlawful; it was something that did not pass the sniff test and was not considered acceptable by Canadians.

Therefore, the goal of the bill is to put in some new and completely insignificant reporting requirements about who attends cash for access or pay-to-play fundraisers. It puts some minimal limitations on where they can be held, and has a few other little bells and whistles of that sort. It does so for the purpose of saying that the government has done something to address what the Canadian public regards as an ethical problem even though, strictly speaking, it is not a legal problem.

The goal here is to normalize or legitimatize a practice that Canadians have said is not normal and not legitimate, which is holding fundraising dinners at which individuals pay up to $1,500 a pop to meet someone as eminent as the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance, people who have a direct impact on issues of immediate importance to their enterprises. Sometimes we will see multiple people from the same company buying tickets, effectively grouping together, as a way of maximizing the potential interests that the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance would have in talking to them. In doing so, the government is saying that this practice, once it reports on it, will become legitimate, or at least it hopes Canadians will regard it as legitimate.

I want to make the suggestion that Canadians' rejection of this practice as illegitimate is well-founded. It is quite deep. I certainly hope the legislation will not overcome the concerns Canadians have.

Let me read a bit from an article by The Hill Times a few months ago. It talks about a particular event held at a prominent law firm in Toronto where the justice minister was present. The attendance fee was over $1,000 a ticket. The Hill Times wrote, “So [the] Justice Minister...wasn’t breaking any rule by being the guest of honour at the pricey fundraiser organized by a Bay Street law firm. It just smells really bad and violates the spirit of the government’s own code of conduct.”

Canadians think it is illegal, they are surprised to learn it is not illegal, and now, with this process of requiring some reporting, the government can say that it is explicitly legal. We heard it in the minister's response about those sneaky opposition leaders out there who were having their own fundraisers, with the same sort of things occurring. The minister who raised this earlier apparently believes or wants us to believe that leaders of the opposition or of third parties are capable of delivering favours and that people would buy tickets based upon that. Of course that is nonsense. It is a diversion from the fundamental ethical problem, which is that ministers can deliver favours. I am not saying that the ministers have delivered favours. How would I know? However, clearly, some of the people who have been buying tickets believe it is a possibility, and the Canadian public emphatically believes it is a possibility.

Maybe the Canadian public is all wrong and stupid. That is certainly a prominent theme in Liberal policy, or policy adjustments with the current government. I mean the Canadian public was all wrong about electoral reform, for example. Let me tell people what those stupid, poorly-thought-out Canadians think.

I will quote again. The Globe and Mail states:

A Nanos public-opinion survey, conducted for The Globe and Mail from Nov. 26 to 30 [of 2016] shows that 62 per cent of Canadians disapprove of the Liberal Party's practice of charging people $1,500 a ticket to meet in private with...[the Prime Minister] and senior cabinet ministers who oversee major spending or policy-making decisions.

Maybe 60% of Canadians are wrong again, but maybe there is the possibility that people are not wrong, that they are upset, and that this exercise of pulling the wool over their eyes is inappropriate, illegitimate in itself.

Why does this fail the sniff test? Why do Canadians think this is not the right way to do fundraising? The answer to that, I think, is illustrated by a number of examples I can offer of specific Liberal fundraisers. These were the source of the ethical conundrum.

Chinese billionaires, and when I say Chinese, I mean someone who is a citizen of the People's Republic of China, not a citizen of Canada, attended Liberal fundraisers even though they were not allowed to donate. They were not Canadian citizens. One such individual, Zhang Bin, who is also a Communist Party apparatchik, attended a May 19, 2016 event, at which a cabinet minister was present. We were told that Mr. Zhang and a business partner, just to sweeten the deal, donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and donated $50,000 to build a statute of the current Prime Minister's father.

Another example was on November 7, 2016, in B.C. B.C. multimillionaire Miaofei Pan hosted a fundraiser at his West Vancouver mansion. This was going on at the same time the federal government was in the process of reviewing the $1 billion bid by China's Anbang Insurance Group to purchase one of British Columbia's largest retirement home nursing care chains, which it did.

The government's behaviour also fails to live up to the highfalutin rhetoric in the mandate letters to all ministers, which say:

To be worthy of Canadians’ trust, we must always act with integrity. This is not merely a matter of adopting the right rules, or of ensuring technical compliance with those rules. As Ministers, you and your staff must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.

The mandate letters are publicly available and this can be read in every letter.

Clearly, having these fundraisers does not achieve that target. The Liberals are completely failing to achieve their targets, so they are trying misdirect, saying they have a new set of rules that make it all okay. I do not know, maybe this will work; maybe it will not work. The question is why the Liberals are trying it in the first place.

The answer is that this is the backbone of Liberal fundraising. Attendance figures suggest that the party brings in somewhere between $50,000 and $120,000 per event when the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance is in attendance. The Liberal Party needs these events to keep its fundraising up. It has not developed successively a mechanism for going after a large number of smaller donations or of getting this size of donation in the absence of this kind of event.

That is a problem for the Liberal Party, I grant that. However, may I suggest for the Liberal Party that developing a grassroots appeal will not be done by holding this kind of event and then trying to cover it up. On the contrary, a populist appeal necessarily involves trying to reach out at the grassroots level. The Liberals are doing better than they did in the past, in all fairness, but that is where they should be concentrating. They should not be concentrating on trying to epitomize pay-for-play or cash for access, something Canadians have spoken against so very strongly.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Karina Gould LiberalMinister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I am saddened that the hon. member is no longer the critic for democratic institutions. I have tremendous respect for him. I know the colleague who replaces him has big shoes to fill but I am sure will do a good job.

If these measures are so insignificant, why is the leader of the member's party refusing to disclose where, when and who attends fundraisers he has? If they are so insignificant, why are Conservatives not willing to abide by these measures in the interim?

The opposition is speaking a lot about why these are not important, yet they are not willing to participate in these measures. Openness and transparency with regard to fundraising is actually significant, otherwise the opposition would not be so remiss to participate in what we have proposed.

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I thank the minister for her kind words. I am confident that my colleague who has taken over the roll will perform as well as and possibly better than I did. Some might say that is an easy bar to clear.

I will respond to the substantive question this way. I do remember when that story came out about a fundraising dinner for the Leader of the Opposition. I heard about this before anybody else did, and the reason I did is I received a call from Marie-Danielle Smith of the National Post. She wanted to ask about a fundraising dinner, not one that my leader was at, but a fundraising dinner that I held in violation of this new, not yet in effect rule, at which Giant Tiger executives all gave donations of $1,500 each. As members may know, my family runs Giant Tiger. I am now the vice-chair of Giant Tiger and that is the reason I am no longer the critic on this file.

If members had been there, they would have seen my head explode. I was furious. I told her that there is no way she figured this out on her own, that Liberal opposition research was digging around and had noticed that a bunch of cheques came through on the same day and concluded it must be the result of a fundraising dinner. I told her she was being fed this story so she could put it out there and create a make-believe scandal. I pointed out the obvious, that surely she did not think I had to hold a dinner to encourage people from a company that my family owns to contribute.

If the Liberals want to say that having MPs' business contacts give money to them is a scandal, then they should say that. It would have a major impact on a whole group of people on the government side. Getting their research department to try to feed stories to reporters to create make-believe scandals in order to draw attention away from their own government's scandalous behaviour is abominable, but that is the way the Liberal government acts more and more and more.