Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and join the debate today. I have 10 minutes to talk about the government's ethical challenges, which is far too little time for a topic like this, but I will do my best.
We are talking about the issue of political fundraising. Of course, this is a sensitive subject for the Liberals after the fourth quarter of 2017 results. It is surprising that they want to have a discussion about political fundraising, because the Conservative Party has done so much better despite being in opposition than the Liberal Party has in fundraising.
The Conservative Party benefits from fundraising that relies on smaller, individual donors, and people who believe in what our party stands for. Obviously, we are in opposition, so there is no conceivable benefit that they could get in terms of a quid pro quo type of thing. People donate to our party and, generally, people should be donating to political parties because they believe in what those parties stand for and want to express their support for the ideas that those parties represent. However, Liberal ideas are not so popular right now. Therefore, the government has had to rely on other ways of fundraising, and here we come to their dubious cash for access fundraising program.
What appears to have happened, and there has been a great deal of criticism about this, is that we have had ministers and the Prime Minister meeting with people, in the context of fundraising, who have done business or are looking to do business or to get some kind of benefit from the government at these very high-dollar fundraising events. In some cases, the maximum is $1,500. People pay this money presumably in the hope of being able to talk to a minister or to the Prime Minister about the specific issues that they are dealing with the government on.
This is very different from what was done under the previous government. I know the guidelines, because I was a candidate at that time. We had very strict guidelines in terms of how and to whom we could advertise any fundraising event. We could not even highlight the area that a minister was working. We had to simply advertise him as an MP. They were events that were not dealing at all with the specific subject matter of their ministry. Yes, we had fundraising events where ministers spoke, but they were open, low-dollar events, and provided opportunities for anyone to come. Specifically, they were not about trying to bring in people that were potential clients or people who had some kind of special economic relationship with the government.
As I recall, there was one exception, and it is the exception that proves the rule. There was one minister who made a mistake. Actually, it was not even the minister but somebody else who organized an event for, I believe, the heritage minister. As soon as the mistake was identified, an apology was given and the money was reimbursed. This was the only case, and it was immediately rectified. It was something the Conservatives recognized should not happen.
On the other hand, we have the current government that thinks this practice is acceptable. The Liberals think it is acceptable for, hypothetically, the justice minister to have a $1,500-a-person event where the minister is speaking about how to get a judicial appointment. “Come and pay $1,500 and hear the Minister of Justice speak about how to get a judicial appointment” or “Come to this $1,500 event with the heritage minister where we will talk about how to access art grants,” and it is only advertised to people who are in the artistic community. There are myriad other possible examples. The Minister of National Defence could speak to those involved in making defence equipment, and one has to pay $1,500. These are hypothetical examples, but the government does not see anything wrong with the idea of explicitly fundraising to people who are involved in doing business and want to pay for that preferential access.
Very clearly, it is legitimate for government to be meeting with industry, to be sharing information with key stakeholders, but it needs to do that outside of the context of party fundraisers. These things have to be separate. This is the position that we have taken. It is what the Conservatives did when we were in government. As I have mentioned, we were able to have a very strong fundraising program, because we asked people to donate not because they were getting something in return, but because they believed in the ideas that we were standing for. However, the Liberal Party has a different approach to how they have done this, and I think we have seen time and time again that they have a lack of concern for conflict of interest.
Whenever issues of conflict of interest are raised, they will say, “Do you not trust the Ethics Commissioner? Let us leave it for the Ethics Commissioner.” Then when the Ethics Commissioner ruled that the Prime Minister broke the law, when the Ethics Commissioner ruled that the finance minister had to pay a $200 fine because of his failure in terms of his disclosure, when those things happen, they say, “Let us just move on, and by the way, trust the Ethics Commissioner.”
However, voters of this country are going to hold the Prime Minister, the finance minister, and other members of the government accountable for the choices they have made in those cases where the Ethics Commissioner has shown in reports that they have behaved inappropriately.
The government, in response to its problems with ethics, came forward with Bill C-50, the political fundraising bill. This is an insubstantial public relations exercise, and I might add, not a very effective public relations exercise. Conservatives and New Democrats have spent all day speaking about and highlighting the government's ethical problems. Next time the Liberals try to devise a public relations exercise to cover their lack of ethics, maybe they should go back to the drawing board.
Nonetheless, this is a public relations exercise, a very insubstantial bill that aims to deal with cash for access fundraisers, but it does not in any way prevent the government from continuing with the practice it has been doing. Instead, it requires some greater degree of financial disclosure in the context of these things, but it still allows them to happen. It still allows for situations where the Prime Minister or ministers can charge $1,500 to people that are directly dealing with the government, with their department, and then discuss issues related to the business of government in the context of fundraisers. There is nothing in this law that in any way changes that. It just requires some marginally greater degree of the release of information.
The government has been saying that there has been criticism of its practices, so it will continue with those practices but it will pass a law that does not in any way materially change those practices and hope people will think that something has changed. I have a suggestion for the Liberals. Rather than put forward this public relations bill that does not substantively change anything, why not focus on changing their behaviour to bring it in line with the standards that Canadians would expect when it comes to conflict of interest? That is the problem. The problem is not the law. The problem is the actions of the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet.
If the government members are going to try to respond to their own ethical failures with new legislation, frankly, they can do a lot better. Here is a proposal that I would have for a change in the law to deal with ethics. Why do they not introduce meaningful sanctions for people who break the law? That is the biggest question I get from Canadians with respect to the Prime Minister's behaviour. They say if they drive too fast, if they park illegally, they have to pay a fine. However, the Prime Minister cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in security costs that should not have been incurred, as a result of an illegal vacation that the Ethics Commissioner found to be illegal, yet there are no sanctions.
Most of my constituents think that if we are going to change the law with respect to the government's ethics in response to these issues, let us have a law that introduces meaningful sanctions for those who break the law, especially for the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers. For his troubles, the finance minister was fined $200 which, not to delve too deeply into his personal finances, does not seem like a lot of money. It does not seem like it is going to have a big deterrent effect in terms of future behaviour. Maybe that is something that the government should consider in future legislation.
Certainly with respect to the problems around the fundraising, the government's cash for access program, the bill absolutely changes nothing. It does not address the fundamental problems and the government has clearly indicated that it does not think there is a problem, that it will persist with the kind of behaviour it has undertaken until now. This is completely different from what we saw under the previous government and it begs the question, why does the government not think that people who are not paying for access would be willing to donate? Why do people think it is necessary to engage in these shady types of practices?
We had one suggestion at least from an NDP member musing about the possibility of a return to the per-vote subsidy. I want to say that, on this side of the House, we certainly do not support having taxpayers subsidize political parties.
Let us be very clear. It was the Conservatives who lowered the contribution limit substantially and eliminated corporate and union contributions. We did that as part of the Federal Accountability Act, one of the first pieces of legislation that was brought forward by Stephen Harper. Also, we eliminated the per-vote subsidy. Our democracy is doing fine. We are well-served by the present system and there is no need to return to taxpayers giving money to political parties.