Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this bill that seeks to enhance confidence in our political system. This is particularly interesting because it allows me to discuss an issue of great importance to my constituents, namely, how we ensure that our political system reflects high ethical standards.
I would like to focus in particular on public financing measures included in the bill and their importance in this legislation which would enhance Canadian confidence in the honesty and openness of our political system.
The Canadian electoral system belongs to all citizens and the support of taxpayers for the maintenance of an effective electoral system is vital. Public funding of the federal electoral process is a longstanding principle in Canada. The reimbursement of party and candidate electoral expenses, and tax credits for contributions, have been around since 1974 when the Election Expenses Act established a new regime for the financing of federal elections in Canada.
The legislation was a response to a growing concern about the fundraising and financing of political parties. In addition to providing for improved disclosure and spending limits, it was recognized at that time that public financing was an important part of the political financing equation.
The importance of public financing to a healthy democracy is such that all provinces have introduced public funding measures to a lesser or greater degree. All provinces provide tax credits for donations, some nearly as generous as the tax credit that is proposed in this legislation and some less. Reimbursement of party expenses is provided in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
In Quebec, for example, the rate of reimbursement is 50%, as is proposed in this legislation. Reimbursement of candidate expenses is provided in all provinces except Alberta and British Columbia. Three provinces, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, provide annual public allowances to political parties.
Quebec in particular has been providing a public allowance since 1975. The current allowance is 50¢ per elector. New Brunswick provides an allowance of $1.69 per vote obtained in the last election. Prince Edward Island provides for an allowance of $2 based on the number of valid votes for a party's candidate in the previous general election.
When the Lortie Commission studied these issues in the early 1990s it noted that the value of candidate and party reimbursements to our electoral democracy had been clearly established.
At that time the commission focused in on candidate and party reimbursements and recommended that reimbursement be tied to a subsidy per vote received. In retrospect, this recommendation is interesting in the context of the current legislation which in fact proposes a public allowance for parties tied to votes received.
When the Chief Electoral Officer examined this issue in his report on the 37th general election he noted that the purpose of public funding was to increase access to the political process. Together with election expense limits public funding is intended to contribute toward a more level playing field in the electoral process.
In his report he recommended that the threshold for candidates to be qualified for reimbursement should be lowered to 5% of the valid votes cast in their electoral district in order to increase access to the political process and broaden national participation. I understand that, since then, the Chief Electoral Officer has also suggested that the rate of reimbursement for election expenses for parties should be increased from 22.5% to 50%.
Clearly, the measures that are proposed to prohibit corporate and union donations and to limit individual donations will have a cost, a cost that is justified to remove the perception of influence over the political process. If we ban corporate and union campaign contributions and restrict large donations by individuals, how do we make up for the resulting shortfall in revenues that parties and candidates might experience?
Candidates and parties need adequate funding to fulfill the important role they play in our political system.
How do we encourage individual Canadians to pick up some of the slack?
The financial measures introduced in Bill C-24 build on existing measures in the bill, as well as previous recommendations and practices in other jurisdictions, in particular, the provinces.
I would now like to speak a little bit about financing measures. The rate of reimbursement for electoral expenses would be increased, according to the bill, from 22.5% to 50%. This would cover in part some of the potential losses that registered parties would incur under the reform.
It would also provide parity between parties. The reform would also add polling expenses to the definition of allowance expenses for reimbursement and raise the ceiling for expenses correspondingly.
Also, according to the bill, the threshold for candidates to qualify for reimbursement of election expenses would be lowered from 15% to 10%. This reflects the reality of our multi-party system.
Also, the bill introduces amendments to the Income Tax Act to double the amount of an individual political contribution that is eligible for a 75% tax credit from $200 to $400.
One of the objectives of the government is to encourage transparency. I would submit that this is exactly what the legislation does.
By voting, citizens would be effectively directing to which party their tax money would go. This would provide a direct link between the voter and the party that the leader of the opposition has been calling for. This is well balanced legislation. I am surprised and shocked to see some of my colleagues standing up in the House and challenging the legislation.
In fact, members of other political parties have seen the merits of the legislation and have stood up and endorsed it because they knew it was the right thing to do.
In our democracy Canadians and taxpayers deserve better than the partisanship that is being advanced by members of the official opposition. It is high time they spoke about the facts in the legislation and moved away from the fiction that they have been talking about over the past few weeks.
I commend the Prime Minister on the leadership he has taken on these issues. I also commend the House leader who has continuously done everything he could possibly do in consultation with the other House leaders to ensure the fast passage of the legislation so it can pass through the other House and become law.
I would also like to see the legislation go further, or an amendment to the legislation go further by making it a law that every Canadian must vote, as is done in Australia, Brazil, Italy and other jurisdictions around the world.
It is high time for us to move forward with the legislation as it has been proposed. At the end of the day it would need the collective action of all of us in order to move forward with such wonderful legislation. I would like to see my colleagues voting for it.