Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise on Bill C-364 to discuss election financing law.
To start with, I will not be supporting this bill. That is not because I do not believe in a stronger role for public financing; I do believe that. It is because the alternative is a stronger role for private financing.
The key question I want to address in our democracy is a complete re-evaluation of political fundraising itself. Is fundraising necessary, and if so, what should it look like? Conventional wisdom is that it is. However, I want us to ask the question honestly and objectively.
Political parties need funds to operate and campaign. That is a given. However, what is a fair way to achieve that funding?
First, parties and riding associations should not have to fundraise in competition with each other. The fundraising should come from the riding, with a share sent to the party in order for it to remain a part of the party, with the specific details left up to each party or riding association to figure out. A party is not a party, after all, without ridings and representatives. The parties themselves are only meant to exist as a vehicle for like-minded members to work together, not as a means for members to become like-minded. That is a discussion for another day.
I disagree with the current fundraising model of 100% private funds, coupled with non-refundable tax credits and expense reimbursements that do not give equal ability to all members of society to participate, which is a fundamental tenet of any democracy. Those who have money can participate and get tax credits. Those who do not have money to participate are not eligible for the tax incentive to do so. Therefore, having less means that each dollar costs less fortunate individuals more in absolute terms, and prohibitively more in relative terms. Once again, those who need are at a disadvantage compared to those who do not, and politicians, with their insatiable need for funds, must necessarily gravitate toward those who have.
Many donors donate because they believe in the cause. However, I think it is naive to believe that all donors do. I am sure most of us have received an angry email or phone call at some point from someone who has given money to either our riding or our party saying, “I am a donor and I am angry.” Personally, I do not take well to this kind of message. I want people to donate because they believe in what we are doing and want us to continue, not in order to tell us what we need to do. If they are angry, I want to know that, not because they are donors but because they are citizens. I want that fact detached from the comment, and I want people who did not donate to express themselves with equal fervour. I am here to represent and work for all of my people to the best of my ability, not just those who supported me or may do so in the future.
I also disagree with the concept of annual per-vote funding, the primary objective of Bill C-364, for the simple reason that how people voted in 2015 may not reflect where they want their financial support to go. At that, it may not be the same in 2016, 2017, 2018, or 2019. If people vote for a Liberal candidate to block a Conservative candidate when they actually support the Green Party, why should the money go to the Liberals and not the Green Party in that circumstance? It does not make sense. If we do have per-vote funding, we should also have a preferential ballot so that the money we assign goes to our first pick, even if we have specified additional choices in order to prevent the unfavourable results that can sometimes come from not voting strategically.
On the other hand, I also do not believe that just because one has registered a political party it is automatically entitled to some funding or an equal level of funding as all the others. It must be tied to that party's actual support in some way. Giving the Rhinoceros Party $18 million simply because it is registered may not necessarily serve the interests of democracy, and providing per-party financing may motivate some people to register political parties for the purpose of simply collecting the money without any actual interest in the electoral process. I think these risks are fairly self-evident.
While I know I am very much in the minority on this, my preferred model for addressing all these concerns is to put a question on the tax returns of Canadians that would go something like this, with the numbers being completely arbitrary for the sake of demonstration here today.
With respect to let us say tax return line number 500, an answer to this section is required for my tax return to be accepted as complete. Therefore, the questions might be, “Question 1, I am entitled to direct $25 to a party registered in my riding or to be held in escrow for an independent candidate to be returned or forfeited if the candidate I name does not register to run in the next election: a) Yes, I would like to exercise this right, or b) No, I do not wish to contribute to any political party or independent candidate at this time.” If we check off no, then we are finished and have met our obligations under this section of the return. If we answer yes, that we do wish to direct $25 to a political party, we have three more questions to answer.
The first question would be, “The party or independent candidate I wish to support in my riding is”, then there would be a blank space or drop-down menu with data provided by Elections Canada for electronic filers. The second question would be, “I would like this money to: a) come from general revenues, or b) be added to my own tax assessment.” The final question would be, “I would like the origin of this contribution to be: a) disclosed to the party or independent candidate receiving it, or b) kept anonymous and confidential.”
Splitting up the questions like this allows those who believe it must be their own funds that contribute to political parties to put their money where their mouth is. However, more importantly, it means that someone who does not have two cents, and someone who is a millionaire, have the same weight in the fundraising process.
Everybody has the option but not the requirement to do so anonymously, so the data cannot be automatically used by political parties. Allowing people to say no to donating at all, and not knowing who, should help force all parties to retain a more positive message. Divisive dog-whistle fundraising will not work on an anonymous tax-assessment-based fundraising model. Being negative would serve to discourage people from contributing to political parties overall, with them answering no to the question of whether to give before seeing the options of who to give to.
The pie can be pretty big if Canadians all have a positive view of political parties, rather than the negative views promulgated today by some elements of our political system to sew division and make people hate, rather than to want to work together.
While the Canada Revenue Agency will no doubt be less than excited to get involved in this manner, and there must be careful and specific controls to protect the privacy of the responses to this question, in my view it is the fairest possible way to ensure that political financing is put on an equal basis by all citizens for those they support here and now, at all times, in all parts of the country.
There are no doubt other models and solutions that could be looked at, but I firmly believe that the question must be asked, and I thank the member for Terrebonne for bringing public financing reform forward for us to discuss.
This legislation also reduces the fundraising limits significantly in conjunction with the reintroduction of per-vote funding. The amount of the donation cap is largely irrelevant if there is still an inequity between donors who have means and donors who do not, and so the cap at $500 or $1,500 is largely immaterial to me. Someone who makes enough to pay taxes giving $400 is still out of pocket only $100, while someone who does not make enough to pay taxes giving $400 is out of pocket the full amount, not to mention possibly out of a home or a few meals. Therefore, I find the particular change proposed in the bill to be fairly meaningless. It would not solve any existing problem.
Finally, the member for Terrebonne's bill has an absolute rather than relative coming into force provision. Given that the bill is only at second reading here in the House and has yet to get through the Commons committee, report stage, third reading and referral to the Senate, second reading at the Senate, Senate committee, Senate report stage, Senate third reading, and royal assent, it is not realistic to suggest that the bill could be in force 24 days from now.
Over the past two years, we have made strides forward on these matters. I do not believe my views on fundraising reflect those of very many of my colleagues on any side of the House, but we are seeing changes both here and in several provinces.
Conservative Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, reformed fundraising in a whole lot of ways that were detrimental to democratic society, including removing fundraising costs from capped expenses in an election campaign, and upping the donation limit by 25%, and then indexing it by $25 per year instead of by an an inflation-based formula.
I do not wish to re-litigate that particular bill. As the assistant at the time to the Liberal critic for democratic reform, I had more than enough sleepless nights trying to grok every word of that act once, and it certainly contributed to my motivation to seek a seat in this place so that this kind of abuse of democracy could not happen again.
Our own government's Bill C-50 brought in strict reporting requirements for fundraising events involving the key power brokers of government, and those working hard to replace them, which I think is genuinely important.
The thing about fundraising, and public financing of political parties, of course, is that there is no such thing as a perfect answer, only a balance of imperfect solutions. What I am sure of, though, is that Bill C-364 does not address the fundamental inequalities within our existing fundraising and public financing structure for our political system.