Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was farmers.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as NDP MP for Palliser (Saskatchewan)

Lost his last election, in 2004, with 35% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act September 17th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words on Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003.

As we are all aware, the bill has the effect of speeding up the redistribution of federal electoral constituencies so that the new boundaries will come into effect not in August of 2004, but by April 1, 2004. Under the boundaries redistribution act which was proclaimed last summer, the August 4 date was indeed the date that it was to come into effect.

Whatever the timing, the redistribution process has largely been completed and will increase the number of seats in the House of Commons from the current 301 to 308 with three seats in the province of Ontario and two each in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. The extra seats will result in more effective representation for the western part of Canada particularly but also in Ontario, three provinces which are growing more quickly than other regions and other provinces.

However I want to make some observations about the shortcomings that I think accompanied the process of redistribution and some deficiencies in the electoral machinery as we gear up for another election, in all probability an election that will be waged next spring.

It is really important that we underscore the fact that this matter is being pursued with such haste by the government because it suits its agenda, timetable and transition from the current Prime Minister to the prime minister in waiting, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the heir apparent to the Liberal throne.

It is likely that when he is anointed in November, he will want to call an election as quickly as he can after he inherits the chair, whenever it is vacated by the incumbent. I think he is wanting to get that election out of the way because he has been avoiding taking issues on any controversial stands as much as possible and I think he will want to have a cabinet, introduce a budget and go to the people as quickly as he can before people get to know him as well as some of us already do.

To achieve that, the government has gone to the chief electoral officer, Mr. Kingsley, and his staff and wondered aloud if the process could be sped up and could we not get this redistribution process completed earlier just in case the member for LaSalle—Émard, when he becomes prime minister, wants to call an election. The chief electoral officer has responded that yes, indeed, the machinery could be oiled and geared up a bit faster and this could be accommodated. Hence, we have the government House leader introducing this bill that is under discussion today.

With no disrespect to the chief electoral officer or Elections Canada, I think we need to pause and recognize that the situation is not perfect in terms of permanent voters lists that were begun in 1997. I think all of us in this House, regardless of party, have stories about what happened in the 2000 election. I know there were people who I am aware of who waited in line for more than an hour to vote in November of 2000 and finally left the voting hall or wherever the ballots were in frustration because they were not on the permanent voters lists and the lines were long to go through the process of getting on.

I think one could make a pretty cogent, convincing argument that time would be better spent for Elections Canada staff to go out and perhaps consider redoing or going over that permanent voters list prior to another election and prior to the frustration that will inevitably follow because that work has not been done.

The electronic lists, those permanent lists, may be a way of the future but we certainly have not got all the bugs out of the system. To say that we could have an election in April is a shortsighted view. Perhaps they should be thinking about working on a permanent voters list and doing the fine tuning that I think all of us here would welcome.

It is certainly worth noting that often it is the people who are transient and moving quite a bit from one location to another who are having most difficulty getting on the lists. If people were going out, knocking on doors, finding out who they are, where they live and getting all the information, the provincial health cards and income tax returns, et cetera, that would help an awful lot.

The other thing that is important to note, and I think this is the time to raise it, is the whole matter of redistribution that comes along roughly every eight or ten years and the method by which people are appointed to serve on the committees. They are usually eminent people. I am not here to quarrel about the people who are appointed. I am here to take issue with the way in which those people are appointed.

I am specifically referring to cabinet ministers who are the lead ministers for each of the provinces of Canada. I will use my own province as an example. The member for Wascana is the political minister for Saskatchewan. We have ascertained and he has admitted that he made recommendations for the appointment of two of the three people who served on the Saskatchewan boundaries redistribution committee.

We as parliamentarians need to look very seriously at a situation like that. Regardless of the qualifications of two of those three people, inevitably there is the suspicion of political intrigue and political influence when the appointment system is that way. Incidentally, the third person is appointed by the chief justice in the province.

I do not necessarily today have a better solution to offer to the Speaker and to Parliament, but what we are doing now is deficient. Canadians have a right to be concerned. Inevitably there will be charges when a political minister is seen to be involved in the appointment of two of the three people looking at boundary redistribution. People such as myself and many others will ask if the fix was in before the debate ever really took place or the boundaries were originally laid out.

I will carry on with the example of Saskatchewan. The three member group came out in its first draft with a fairly radical shift. What had happened in the last set of boundary redistributions was a combination of urban and rural ridings in the province. What the three member commission in Saskatchewan attempted to do this time was to separate out and make them either urban or rural. In a province such as Saskatchewan it simply did not work. Basically everyone stood up and told the commission at the public hearings that it did not work. To the credit of the commission, it threw out its original draft. The commission came back and essentially the boundaries in Saskatchewan remained exactly the same as they were constructed back in the early 1990s.

This notion of how boundary commissions are established and the political appointments that occur needs to be carefully considered by the Speaker, by the chief electoral officer and, most important, by the government.

Petitions September 17th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise and present a petition on behalf of people from Cape Breton, folks from Sydney, North Sydney, Sydney Mines and New Waterford who are concerned about the future of Canada's health care. The petitioners specifically request Parliament to adopt the Romanow report on the future of health care in Canada. They ask that Parliament ensure that the next federal budget fully incorporates the proposals to provide adequate, stable and predictable funding so that health care and medicare will be protected for all Canadians in the future.

Request for Emergency Debate September 15th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed applying under Standing Order 52 for Mr. Speaker to grant permission for the House to debate a matter that merits immediate and special consideration by the House. I am referring of course to the continuing crisis that arose through the discovery of a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Alberta this past May.

The crisis began four months ago but continues to threaten the livelihoods of tens of thousands of farmers, ranchers and beef industry workers across the country, as I noted the member for Peterborough commented on in his petition a few moments ago.

A BSE recovery program announced in mid-June ended in late August, but the crisis remains with us. The borders of the United States and dozens of other countries remain largely closed to our beef and beef products so there is an urgent need to discuss what further actions the federal government should take to alleviate conditions surrounding a crisis that threatens the very existence of our beef industry in Canada. That is why I am applying under Standing Order 52.

Agriculture September 15th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, the mad cow crisis continues to threaten the livelihood of tens of thousands of farmers, ranchers and packing house workers throughout Canada. The federal response has been half-hearted at best. The BSE recovery program ended last month but the hurt and devastation remain, especially for the smaller operator. Cattle on pasture when the borders first closed are returning to barns and feedlots, with higher maintenance costs.

Would the Prime Minister please inform the beef industry what his government is going to do and when, before we witness the utter devastation of the Canadian beef industry?

Points of Order June 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, in response to a question from the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, the government House leader indicated incorrectly that the members of the New Democratic Party had voted against Bill C-24, the election financing act. In fact, the government House leader will know that all NDP members present last night voted for it, unlike the Liberals across the way of which 10 abstained. I just want to point that out and invite the government House leader to correct the record on this point.

Agriculture June 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Agriculture knows that cattlemen indicated very clearly last week that interest-free loans simply will not cut it, yet a story that has just moved on the Canadian Press wire says that the federal government is set to present a mad cow aid package to beef farmers: interest-free loans to beef farmers, feedlot operators and renderers.

Could the Minister of Agriculture please confirm that this is the case and would he tell us what else is being planned by the federal department of agriculture to assist people in the beef industry?

Canada Elections Act June 11th, 2003

It is repugnant, and as the House leader considers those remarks I think he owes an apology to people in the trade union movement in this country.

I listened to the member for Elk Island a couple of days ago on this subject in debate on the bill. He was expressing his distaste for the fact that as a former member of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees he had no choice in that some of his dues went to the New Democratic Party of Alberta. He was insisting how unfair that was. Let me say to that member of Parliament that it was a decision made by the local union of AUPE at the institution at which he apparently worked in those days.

The obverse of that is to suggest that a board of directors at Bombardier, for example, is giving $100,000 of shareholders' money to the political party of its choice. Does he really think there is more democracy in that situation than in a trade union local deciding by a democratic vote of its members at a general meeting which political party it chooses to support? I think the member for Elk Island needs to reflect on that matter.

On the matter of public funding for elections and between elections, which is an important aspect of the bill, if we take corporate and union money away from parties, as Bill C-24 would do, then some of that money, we believe, has to be replaced. For the last almost 30 years, individuals have received a tax deduction when they donate to political parties but Bill C-24 would also provide for an annual public grant for parties based on each vote they received in the previous general election.

The previous proposal, up until last weekend, provided for an annual public allotment to parties of $1.50 per vote, per year, for every vote they received in the previous general election. Based on the election in November 2000, the Liberals would have received $7.8 million annually, the Canadian Alliance $4.9 million, the Progressive Conservatives $2.4 million, the Bloc Québécois $2.1 million, and the New Democratic Party $1.6 million.

We were assured that this had been looked at by the government, that it was revenue neutral and no party would suffer as a result of this $1.50 per vote, per year, to replace moneys lost from corporations and trade unions. Now suddenly it has come back in at $1.75. We have difficulty with that. We felt that if $1.50 was good enough and revenue neutral in March when the bill was introduced, then surely it is good enough in June. We do not understand why the price of democracy has suddenly risen by 25¢, but that is what we will be voting on today at third reading.

We think it occurred because various Liberals rebelled. They sent their president to testify before the committee on procedure and House affairs, which was looking at this issue. They said it was not enough and they needed more money. As a result this amendment was pushed through and introduced early this week. We think the Liberals are used to relying on a rich corporate diet and seem concerned about being weaned away from it in any way. They apparently fear perhaps going out and having to go door to door to raise money from people on the doorstep and elsewhere. We believe that a public contribution of $1.50 per vote to each political party is a fair and reasonable replacement for the loss of corporate and political donations.

As an aside, I note that the Canadian Alliance opposes this modest amount of money going toward political parties. I think it had an amendment to reduce the 43¢ roughly per quarter that would go to each party to 1¢. I just do not understand it. These folks stand up every day and grill the government about the latest scandal of Groupaction in accepting government money on one hand and getting a contract on the other. Perhaps the Canadian Alliance is concerned that it will actually have to get out and do some of its own research as a result of this cleaning up of the Canada Elections Act and the introducing of public money, which will have to be transparent at the local level and at the national level on a regular basis. But we can be sure that in any event, like the gold plated pension plan, the Canadian Alliance will vote against it but certainly take the money. On the matter of pensions, we happen to believe that people are fully entitled to pensions but the hypocrisy of the Alliance members on that issue, and again on this issue, is breathtaking.

I have only a couple of minutes left, and we are under time allocation, but we are saddened that we are unable to deal with current trust funds. I know that come January 1 everything will be transparent under this bill and trust funds will no longer be able to exist. We felt there should have been a way to have some reporting from the relatively few members of the House, as I understand it, who are in the business of trust funds, some reporting of trust fund money flowing in. We wanted to reinstate clause 71 on that. We debated it at report stage yesterday and we were ultimately unsuccessful in persuading the government.

On third parties, we all know about the destructive effects that third party money and interventions have had in the United States where groups like the National Rifle Association and others have intervened in a very undemocratic and unaccountable way in the political process. We all know about the soft pacts that have occurred there. Earlier I mentioned the enormous, unbelievable amounts of money that it takes to run for and win political office in the United States. In this country, the National Citizens' Coalition, just as secretive and unaccountable, has made similar interventions.

Bill C-24 does not deal with third party expenditures in any way. The assumption is that third party expenditures are going to be dealt with at the court level and the government is convinced that it is going to win that debate. I am not as confident, but we will have to wait and see. There was no opportunity to deal with that because these are amendments to the election financing act.

Once Bill C-24 comes into effect in January 2004, it will confine political parties to accepting only individual donations. Accordingly, it should follow that judges will find it more difficult to rule against legislation limiting spending by third parties in election campaigns. We hope that is the case but certainly there are no guarantees. I look forward to the first review of Bill C-24, and I hope and expect that by the time the courts will have ruled, the National Citizens' Coalition will have a much reduced role in the Canadian political electoral system.

In conclusion, the New Democratic Party believes that big money should be removed from politics and it largely will be removed from politics. Our party passed just such a resolution at its leadership convention in Toronto five months ago. Canadians are tired of a political system where money has bought influence. They want the government and political parties to clean up their acts, and I fully concur.

The bill is not perfect. We think there are obvious flaws in the bill. We tried to get those flaws dealt with in clause by clause and at other stages, but there is no question that overall this will provide a big improvement over the system as it exists now.

On balance it is a significant step toward getting big money out of politics. It also provides for greater transparency and accountability for our political system. For that reason the New Democratic Party will be supporting Bill C-24.

Canada Elections Act June 11th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, first I want to heartily thank the hon. member for Roberval, who is the Bloc Quebecois House leader, for having allowed the other parties to have a few minutes to speak on Bill C-24.

In the final moments of this debate I want to say to the House leader of the Bloc Quebecois that I appreciate that he shortened his remarks in order to give the member for Saint John and me an opportunity to speak, because of course the bill is under time allocation.

I am pleased to speak at third reading of Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act. It is a bill that changes how we finance elections and political parties in Canada.

We as a political party have long called for the removal of big money from politics, so we have supported this legislation in principle throughout. Having said that, we recognize and will be pointing out that we still find there is some unfortunate and glaring errors with it, but on balance we believe it allows for better democracy and certainly greater transparency.

Prior to the clause-by-clause proceedings, when the committee on procedure and House affairs was meeting to discuss this in the spring, we heard from more than 70 witnesses. A number of them came forward and said that on balance this is good, supportable legislation. Many Canadians will have read the remarks of Ralph Nader who said that it is another example of Canada being first and should be quickly emulated in his country, the United States of America. When we see senators running for that institution in the United States, spending $30 million and $31 million to get themselves elected, Americans certainly need to see some urgent reform of their elections act.

The legislation goes a good distance toward getting big money out of politics. There has been a lot of big money in politics over the years. In the last election campaign, campaign 2000, the Liberal Party, which was returned as the government, took in almost $12 million from corporate donations. Sixty per cent of the total that the Liberals raised was from the corporate side. They received almost $700,000 from the chartered banks alone, another $100,000 from Bombardier, almost $100,000 from Canadian National and the list goes on. I would not want to lose sight of the fact that the Canadian Alliance, which claims to be the grassroots party, raised $7 million from corporate Canada in that same election campaign.

The equation is quite simple, especially when a party is returned to the government benches. The companies hand out big money and they expect something in return. They hand a cheque to the Liberal bagman with one hand and expect to receive a lucrative contract almost immediately with the other. The Prime Minister has admitted as much with his ethics package of a year ago. Indeed, the heritage minister, who is seeking to replace the Prime Minister, has said from her perch within cabinet that the ratification of the Kyoto accord was delayed in this country because big money does matter and does talk at the cabinet table.

The Liberal Party has been the party of big business. As I mentioned, big business accounts for 60% of its donations. The situation is somewhat reversed for the New Democratic Party. It is significantly reversed perhaps because we received 60% from individuals. They are modest amounts in the range of $50 or $100 for the most part.

If we look at the financial returns that parties have to post every year, we will see that the New Democratic Party has far more individual donors than any other political party in this country. That will come as a surprise to those who claim that the New Democratic Party is financed only by big labour. We have a long and proud tradition with the labour movement. That is certainly true. When the party was founded in 1961, it was founded on a partnership between the old Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and the Canadian trade union movement. That has remained and it will continue to remain as a partnership, I am sure, once Bill C-24 takes full effect.

Labour will continue to work with the New Democratic Party and vice versa, but the focus in future I believe will be to encourage union members to become more directly involved in the party and, if they so choose, to make donations on an individual basis.

The New Democratic Party supports getting big money out of politics. Our party convention in January instructed us to pursue that.

The legislation before us today allows individuals to donate $5,000 a year to a party. It was set at $10,000, which was reduced. We would have preferred a more modest amount of $3,000, which corresponds to the limits that are permitted in the province of Quebec and the province of Manitoba, the two other jurisdictions in Canada that have legislation along these lines, which essentially prohibits corporate and trade union donations from going to political parties. We would have preferred $3,000, but certainly reducing it from $10,000 to $5,000 is a step in the right direction and is certainly supportable.

Our concern, however, is that if they so choose, people with deep pockets can donate $5,000 to the Liberal Party and donate another $5,000 to the New Democratic Party or the Alliance or any of the other registered parties. We would have said that this should be an amount in total, an aggregate amount of $5,000, and all in and not spread around. I tend to agree with those who say this is unlikely to happen, but nevertheless it would have been better to close the gate before any chance of the horse getting out of the barn. Overall, this is a good improvement in the Canadian political system, because before this anybody with deep pockets could really have a significant influence on an election campaign and certainly in an individual election campaign.

As I mentioned, there is a prohibition on contributions to political parties from corporations and trade unions or associations, but there is a small exception. This legislation does permit organizations to contribute a maximum of $1,000 annually to the aggregate of candidates, local associations and nomination contestants of a registered party so that all the contributions are combined under the $1,000 limit.

Our first preference would have been that this not be in there at all. We do not think this is required. This is something that was not in the Prime Minister's mind when he floated this bill last fall. I think it is fair to say that some backbench members of his party were concerned, so this came back as an opportunity for trade unions, associations and corporations to still participate, but to a much more limited extent than they have been able to heretofore in the political process.

Our first inclination was to get rid of that altogether. We were not successful. Our second suggestion, then, was to level the playing field. We said that if franchised corporations like Dairy Queen or Tim Hortons, with units owned by different franchisees, if that is the right legal terminology, could each give $1,000 then trade union locals should be able to give $1,000. However, we have been unable to persuade the members opposite of the wisdom and the good sense of having that level playing field. As a result, unions are considered as one unit for the purposes of donations no matter how many locals they may have, but corporate franchises like Tim Hortons or Dairy Queen or car dealerships are each considered as separate units for purposes of political donations and each of them is able to make a separate $1,000 donation.

The effect of all this has been to weight this class of political donation heavily in favour of corporations as opposed to trade unions. We think that will be proven very quickly when we look at this as the procedure and House affairs committee or some other committee to see the ramifications of Bill C-24. This will stick out like a sore thumb.

There are 16,000 locals in total in national and international unions in this country and the vast majority of them, we believe, will be excluded from contributing to and playing a part in the political process. We have put forward amendments on this, as I have indicated, and they have been voted down by members opposite. To add insult to injury, the House leader said in debate yesterday in this chamber that there is a fundamental difference between union locals and corporate franchises when it comes to exercising local control and independent judgment. I think in effect he was saying that local businesses have minds of their own and that local unions are simply sheep that follow the edicts of their national or international offices.

Canada Elections Act June 10th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, what we are attempting to do here, as you so eloquently read into the record, is to reinstate a clause that was deliberately deleted from the proposed bill when we were debating clause by clause last week, we being the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The clause that was deleted in its entirety was clause 71, which was, we believe, placed there initially to deal with transitional provisions for this act to come into force. It dealt with contributions received by the registered association since the last general election in November 2000, and prior to the coming into force of the Bill C-24 amendments to the election financing act and the Income Tax Act.

It proposed to obtain the amounts of money donated by individuals, businesses, commercial organizations, governments, trade unions, corporations and unincorporated organizations that donated over $200, as well as the total amount they donated.

It demanded, in the case of a numbered company, for example, the name of the chief executive officer of that company or the president. It warned or cautioned registered associations of all parties that transferring money was illegal unless it had filed a report, and that a registered association was in contravention if it had not filed that report and was guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a $2,000 fine or imprisonment of up to one year, or both.

The proposed amendments were placed there to simplify reporting requirements for candidates and registered parties.

Under the act, this clause would require that candidates and parties must report details of contributions received through a constituency association, or what is referred to in this act as an electoral district association.

All of this was in clause 71 to ensure that the information concerning contributions flowing through a constituency association would be accounted for. It preserved the status quo by continuing to require a registered constituency association to provide information about contributions, where those contributions came from that were forwarded on to candidates and the party that the association gathered in the period between the most recent election in the riding and the coming into force of the act. As I said before, it was provisional.

The transition provision would have ensured that Elections Canada would continue to receive the information concerning contributions that flow from an association to a party or a candidate and that the information would not be lost in switching from one set of reporting requirements to another.

As indicated, penalties and punishment were laid out for failure to provide the information requested, and then, out of the blue, the recommendation from the member for Halifax West was to drop clause 71 in its entirety. The question that must be asked is, why?

I would say, in response to that question, and it is really rather pathetic, that the government members opposite were so embarrassed by it that they did not really want to talk about it. I believe on good grounds that it was deleted because the Liberals decided they did not want to embarrass a few of their colleagues who have been accepting money in trust, some to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. I think it is a matter of public record that the member for Trinity—Spadina has a trust fund in excess of $260,000. They do not want that revealed and they do not want to have that money reported in any way, shape or form.

If clause 71 had remained, the Liberals with trust funds would have to disclose the sources of the money before they could be rolled into the constituency association account. By deleting the clause, the money can now be transferred any time between now and December 31, 2003, the day before the legislation would come into full force and effect, without having to disclose the source. It is, purely and simply, money laundering and the government is making it perfectly legal by hoisting this particular clause 71.

The president of the Liberal Party, Mr. LeDrew, has said that this legislation is as dumb as a bag of hammers. I think Mr. LeDrew should have taken the blame, as the president of the national Liberal Party, for not stopping this practice several years ago.

It seems to us that it is only a few members, and I want to emphasize it is certainly not all members, on that side of the House who are guilty of setting up and having established these trust funds. The money is not circulated through. There is no percentage that goes to the Liberal Party of Canada, and the Liberal Party has just chosen to ignore this over the years. Now all of a sudden they are going to be embarrassed by it and have decided that they better deep-six clause 71 so they will never have to report the sources of the income. Leaving clause 71 intact would have, at a minimum, allowed constituents to learn the source of their donors since November 2000, the date of the last general election.

All we are doing is requesting that section 71 be reinstated in its entirety to prevent those few MPs with trust funds to escape the disclosure provisions.

The Prime Minister is on record as saying that big money influences politics. He should follow through and insist that there be full disclosure on this bill coming into effect by reinstating clause 71.

It is true, under other terms of the changes to the election financing act, that trust funds will no longer go undetected after December 31, and that obviously is a good thing. What we are requesting is that politicians who have engaged in this questionable practice be required, under the law that is now coming into effect, to publish their donors list and the amounts received since that last general election. That provision was in the bill until last week. Then it was deleted. In our opinion, it is unconscionable that this has been done and it should be reinstated immediately.

There is no valid reason why the vast majority of Liberal MPs do not want to see the same basic transparency for all MPs in this House. That, in the final analysis, is what Bill C-24 is all about.

Finally, if a member of Parliament with a trust fund at the moment is so embarrassed that he does not want to disclose his donors list, there is even a way out that is provided for in clause 71.

If an association did not wish to provide the basic information about contributors, clause 71 provided that it could elect to spend the contribution in some other way than transferring it to a candidate or a riding association. I assume that means it could, for example, give the money to the victims of SARS in Toronto, or the beef industry in western Canada, or the homeless, or the EI.

There is absolutely no excuse that these trust funds should not be reported. Unfortunately, as a result of the clause by clause provisions that were voted on last week, that can only happen if clause 71 is reinstated.

In conclusion, this is money laundering, pure and simple. We want to let the sunshine in on all aspects of the election financing act. In my opinion what has happened on clause 71, is it taints what we are trying to do in terms of going forward on this legislation. The purpose of this report stage amendment is to reinsert clause 71. I urge all members of the House to support it.

Canada Elections Act June 10th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I have just a couple of brief questions for the government House leader.

The first one is on the rationale for raising the public moneys in lieu of corporate and trade union donations from $1.50 to $1.75. I would just observe that the minister, when he came before the procedure and House affairs committee, indicated that $1.50 was adequate and that no political party was going to be injured as a result of that stipend to offset the trade union and corporate loss of donations. That is question number one. What is the rationale for raising it by 25¢?

The other one deals with the fact that the vast majority of trade union locals will not be able to contribute to the political process, while corporations, or at least many franchise corporations, will be treated much differently. I am asking for the minister's response.