Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise at third reading of Bill C-50 to offer some thoughts about the bill and about the issue of electoral reform, whether it is reforming finance, reforming the way we vote, or more generally.
I think it is important to start off with some reflections on why anyone listening at home might care about this debate, because if members looked at the bill, they would see it would not do a lot. It would add some measure of transparency to political fundraising events held by members of government in the formal sense, such as cabinet ministers, the prime minister, and party leaders.
Those Canadians who are on the Elections Canada website all the time and are interested in poring over these things, or those who watch political news shows with analysts who are more familiar with the names and data would benefit from understanding better some of the relationships around government, and understanding those things is not a bad thing. It is helpful to have more of that information in the public domain. However, I do not think that a lot of Canadians would think that Bill C-50 would make a big difference for them personally in terms of the way they relate to the political system.
The way a lot of Canadians relate to the political system is with a fair bit cynicism. They feel that it does not really matter whom they vote for as the issues of the day do not really get addressed. If they are going to see any kind of reform, it has to be big enough and bold enough to help them feel that their participation, even if it is only voting once every four years, is going to start to make them feel that it makes more of a difference than they feel that it does now.
I would say to a lot of Canadians that voting makes more of a difference than they know. They may not feel that it makes much of a difference, but it can make a lot more of a difference than they know. However, I would also forgive them for not feeling that way, particularly in light of a government that ran on a slogan of real change but is largely defending the status quo. We can see that with the bill before us.
The bill is not really about fundamentally changing the Canadian political system at all. A lot of Canadians who voted, and many more who do not ever bother to vote, would look at this and think that our political system is not working for them. They feel that it is hard for them to have their voice heard, and tinkering around the edges does not fix that.
A lot of Canadians voted for a government that promised real change, and not just real change generally, or real change on this or that, but it promised real change specifically on electoral reform. The big promise was that 2015 would be the last election fought under the first past the post system. Bill C-50 is really a status quo bill. It would not provide anything near the level of change that was promised in terms of electoral reform.
To the extent that I think all of us in this chamber have a stake in caring about how Canadians feel about the state of their democracy, and to the extent that some real change is required in order to get many Canadians who feel disaffected and disinterested in Canadian politics back to the table or to the table for the first time, we should be concerned that the bill, which was an opportunity for the Liberal Party and the government to present its vision on how we were going to bring some meaningful change to Canadian electoral politics, really is saying to let us keep on with the status quo.
Around 40% of Canadians do not find it is worth showing up to vote, and many feel that the system is, in some important way, broken. This is not a good status quo. It is not a status quo that the Liberals promised to defend in the last election. They said they were going to change it. They said that they heard that message, and that they were onside with Canadians who felt that way, and a reason to vote for them was that they understood that and they were going to bring meaningful reform.
When it comes to publishing the details of a fundraising event five days in advance, the lack of that information is not what has been driving Canadians away from the political process progressively more and more over the last 30 to 40 years. It was not that they did not get the five-day notice on the fundraiser. It was not that it did not apply to the leaders of political parties that are not currently in government. That is not what Canadians were calling for when they said that they wanted meaningful change in order to feel that the political process was working for them. However, that is all that is offered in the bill. That is fine. It is a step in the right direction. I do not have a problem supporting it. It is not that it is a bad measure because it is not enough, but it really does not meet the expectation that was set in the minds of Canadian voters for improving the electoral system.
Where are we four years from now regardless of who is elected as government in the next election? Well, we are in the same bloody place we were over two years ago when Canadians were dissatisfied and electoral reform was an election issue. How is it that we went through a whole election where that was a key election issue and there were key promises made on the part of the now governing party, and we end up in the same place with the same complaints and the same feelings of dissatisfaction? That is the problem with the bill. It is not a reason not to vote for it, but it is a real problem with the bill and it is a problem for Canadians who were rightly fed up with the status quo.
To some extent this does not just defend the status quo, but it actually legitimizes some of the worst aspects of the status quo that the Liberals have professionalized to an extent that no one foresaw or expected in terms of cash for access fundraising. Politicians of all stripes have always done fundraising and members of the governing party have always done fundraising. However, it was not until this Parliament that it became and issue. Believe me, it is not because we had more charitable opposition parties in former Parliaments that cash for access was not an issue; it is because there was not the same evidence of the professionalization by government of selling access to their ministers.
That is why we did not hear about the term “cash for access” even under the Harper Conservatives. It was not because there was a benevolent opposition party that was willing to let the Conservatives get away with that. Believe me, if they had been doing that, the NDP as the official opposition would have been calling attention to it and the Liberals as the third party would have been calling attention to it too. I disagree with my Conservative colleagues on many things, but I am not going to make up that they were doing something that they were not doing.
Cash for access was not a theme of the Canadian political discourse until these particular Liberals came to power. There is a reason for it. Nobody was as organized in seeking out members of the Canadian business community or different communities that would have an interest in getting the ear of a minister until the current government was elected and members made a science of it. They recruited those people and offered them special time in smaller venues at a high price in order to get the ear of ministers. That is wrong. I do not care what the law says, that is wrong.
To be going through the motions of passing a bill on electoral financing and fundraising and not address that issue, not by making that practice, which is a repugnant practice, more transparent is not what we need to do. It is a practice we need to put an end to. To the extent that we do not see any sign from the government benches that the repugnant practice of selling access to ministers is not going to end as a result of Bill C-50, there are serious problems with the bill.
It is a great step in the right direction. We could pass a law that says anytime we meet someone in the grocery store we should smile at them. That would make the world a better place. It would make everyone feel good. It would be a step in the right direction, but it would not solve a lot of the real problems that are facing Canadians today.
The bill does not do that and it does not solve the real problems that Canadians are facing today with respect to how they feel about their own political system. At the very least, it should do that. We do not expect the bill to fix the problems with pensions in Canada. We do not expect it to fix the problems with health care, but surely we could have expected that it would fix some of the problems that Canadians experience in the way they relate to their politics.
I am concerned that the government sees the passage of this bill as legitimizing a new practice in Canadian politics in terms of the level of sophistication of going out and selling access to ministers based on interests that donors have in the ministers' portfolio area. The government's defence of this practice does not hold up at all. It says that this is not so bad because the Prime Minister gets out there and does town halls. He talks to people, and if they write him a letter he will get back to them.
It is an offence to the intelligence of Canadians to pretend that the little old lady who comes to a town hall with 3,000 people and has to sit in the back because she got there by Handi-Transit and gets to wave at the Prime Minister is the same as a high-powered corporative executive who pays $1,500 to go to a small dinner in somebody's condo, residence, or whatever, to talk about whatever he or she is going to talk about. This bill does not give us any more insight into what is talked about at those events, what is said or not said.
To compare those two scenarios and expect Canadians to believe that they are comparable is just ridiculous. It is totally ridiculous, and kind of offensive. It offends me, and I think it probably offends a lot of Canadians. “When I sign up to go to a town hall,” says Joe Canadian, “I get it that I am not going to get the kind of experience that a high-powered corporate exec is getting when he pays $1,500 to go meet the Prime Minister in a mansion somewhere. I get that it is not the same thing.” However, the Liberals are trying to say that it is the same thing. Canadians have to ask themselves whether they want people in government who think they are that stupid. This is a legitimate question for Canadians to be asking themselves.
That is the issue as I see it. We have a really repugnant practice of cash for access. We have a bit of window dressing here to try to make it seem a little better, maybe kind of okay. I do not think it accomplishes that at all. However, in the absence of real reform, it is not worth turning down.
What a missed opportunity this is. The Liberals actually built a mandate for meaningful reform. They said they were not a status quo party and wanted change. Instead of talking about the quality of this window dressing and the colour of the drapes, we could be talking about what kind of new voting system we are going to have.
We could be talking about other measures that would have done a lot for Canadian democracy. Some measures we have talked about, because they have been presented in the form of various private members' bills. I am thinking particularly of my colleague from Burnaby, who had a great idea. We talked a bit about how political parties are already subsidized publicly in two ways.
One is that when these high-powered corporate execs buy that $1,500 ticket, Canadian taxpayers actually reimburse them almost half the cost of the ticket. There is something particularly perverse about that. Corporate execs, who can pay the $1,500 with the money in their pocket, are able to climb over ordinary Canadians, who also want the ear of the government to get special attention, and then actually have those same ordinary Canadians pay them back about half the cost of the special access they are using to steamroll Canadians. One can pick any issue, whether it is big pharma and jacking up drug prices, or energy companies that want to build a pipeline through this community or that community and want the ear of the government instead of having to go to the communities to get their permission. There is something perverse about the fact that those same people who are the victims of those bad policy decisions are being made to pay for the corporate executives' access to those dinners.
That is one way in which Canadians already subsidize political parties. There is another way, in that the costs that Canadian political parties incur during an election are rebated, in part, by taxpayers as well. Therefore, we already have different forms of subsidy. I am trying not to go off on a tangent too much.
It is completely legitimate to talk about a per-vote subsidy, and maybe even look at cancelling some of those other subsidies in order to pay that money. Allocating already existing public subsidies on the basis of the parties that people actually want to support makes far more sense than rewarding certain parties for having donors who have more money to give, and then forcing all taxpayers across the country to rebate those donors simply because they are the ones with more money in the first place. There is something perverse about that, too.
However, I will digress on that point. The point I want to make comes back to the excellent point made by my colleague from Burnaby. Because we are rebating a certain portion of the costs to political parties for what they spend during an election, we could use that as a tool in order to encourage political parties to nominate more female candidates so we can start to correct the serious gender deficit we have in the House of Commons. We have 26% or 27% women in the House of Commons, even though women make up more than 50% of the Canadian population. That is a great idea. That is the kind of bold thinking that might actually do something to change the status quo of Canadian politics. That would be in keeping with the kinds of promises the Liberals made in the last election, when they said that they would not be defenders of the status quo.
That is not what we see in the bill. The bill is simply a reimagining and reinstituting of the status quo. We have heard good ideas about how to really increase the participation of women in Canadian politics, and not just to encourage them more. That is good too, and it is something that also needs to happen, but it ignores the fact that there are a lot of systemic barriers in the way of women participating in politics. It is not just about calling up our female friends more to see if we can get them to run. We also have to take more concrete measures.
Earlier this week, I was listening to the member for Burnaby South speak to this bill. He said that Canada has slid down to 65th in the world for participation of women in its House of Commons. That is not a very impressive number. It is certainly not an impressive number for a government that styles itself as a feminist government and says it is very committed to increasing the participation of women in politics.
We know that the Liberal Party has assured its incumbents of being able to run again, and it has a disproportionately small number of women in its caucus. This means that if the Liberal Party is successful in the next election, in re-electing most of its members who are here, that would be a bad day for women, because there are not a lot of women, proportionately, in the Liberal caucus.
There are no real policy ideas coming from those benches to address those issues in any real way. It has been unfortunate that when we have had real ideas come forward, they have been quashed. Who quashes new ideas like that?
They could be ideas that came out of an all-party committee on electoral reform, which many pundits predicted would not be able to come to a majority opinion on how to proceed with electoral reform, but it did. It recommended a referendum on proportional representation. That idea got quashed, even though it took many people across many different political fault lines working together to make it happen.
Here we have a great idea on how to concretely take a measure that would not cost Canadian taxpayers any money. In fact, it would save them money, because the way it was going to work was through the rebate I was talking about. Parties that did not run a slate with gender parity across the country would have their rebate reduced by a proportionate amount. That would actually save Canadian taxpayers money and incentivize political parties to get more women involved in politics at the same time.
If we want to talk about policy innovation and good ideas, that is a good one. A lot of good ideas we talk about that would move us in the right direction do cost money. That is money worth spending, in many cases. I do not apologize for that. However, this is one that is actually more likely to save Canadian taxpayers money, and certainly would not cost them any more. We saw it quashed. Who would quash those things? Only a party and a government that, frankly, are satisfied with the status quo would do that. Where this leaves us is largely with the status quo. We have changed the drapes, but the house is the same.
We need to do a heck of a lot better if we are going to address the real democratic deficit in Canada. I look forward to passing this bill and then moving on to those real questions.