moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I open the debate today on the accountability with respect to loans bill.
This legislation builds on our groundbreaking Federal Accountability Act in ushering in a modern era of clean politics, an era when it will no longer be acceptable for any political entity, including candidates and leadership contestants, to mortgage themselves to powerful, wealthy individuals. This bill is modern, accountable and realistic and it would strengthen our democracy.
Canada's new government fought the last election campaign on a commitment to eliminate the influence of big money in the political process and, since our very first days in office, we have been delivering on that commitment with an active agenda of meaningful democratic reform.
The Federal Accountability Act brought in tough new campaign finance rules. In it, corporate and union contributions were banned. Anonymous contributions and trust funds were banned. A strict limit on annual donations to a political party of $1,100 was established to put an end to the influence of big money.
With these reforms we have closed the door on those who tried to exert influence by signing large cheques.
It has been said, “Think what you do when you run into debt; you give another power over your liberty”. Unfortunately, last year it became apparent that the Liberal leadership candidates were all too willing to relinquish their liberty by mortgaging themselves to a handful of wealthy individuals.
When Liberal leadership candidates started financing their campaigns with big loans from a few wealthy individuals, Canadians saw that big money had found a back door. It had found a way around the Federal Accountability Act. Big money saw political loans as an opportunity to buy back the influence that the Conservative campaign finance reform had blocked. And they took that opportunity, big money did.
The leader of the official opposition mortgaged himself for almost half a million dollars to rich and powerful people like Rod Bryden and Stephen Bronfman.
Bob Rae accepted a whopping $720,000 from his brother, an executive vice-president and member of the board of directors of Power Corporation. The member for borrowed big cash to the tune of $200,000 and the member for borrowed almost $.5 million as well, all of it either from wealthy individuals or guaranteed by a handful of powerful interests.
In total, Liberal leadership candidates are on the record as owing over $3 million, almost all of it to wealthy individuals. To put that figure in context, that debt is six times the total amount raised by the entire Liberal Party in the first three months of 2007.
Big money found an easy way to get around the Federal Accountability Act by giving huge sums of money to their favourite candidates and simply calling them loans. I do not think that arrangement sits well with Canadians. It is inconsistent with the spirit of the new Federal Accountability Act that sought to eliminate the undue influence of big money on politics.
Canadian democracy does not breathe easy when the country's leaders owe millions of dollars to a handful of rich and powerful people.
The accountability with respect to loans bill would ensure that politicians are accountable to the people who elect them, not the rich and powerful people who want to bankroll them. Today we are acting decisively to put an end to that kind of old style, backroom politics. With this legislation, our government will kick down the doors of political back rooms and turn the lights on.
The bill would regulate all loans made to political parties, candidates and associations in Canada. The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities. It would require mandatory disclosure of terms and of the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors.
Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals would not be able to exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Federal Accountability Act, which is set at $1,100 for this year, 2007. Only financial institutions and other political entities would be able to make loans beyond that $1,100 limit and then only at commercial rates of interest, the same rates all other Canadians would get from their banks or credit unions.
Under the accountability with respect to loans bill, unions and corporations would be unable to make loans, just as they are now unable to make contributions. This brings our campaign finance rules for loans in line with the rules for political contributions.
Finally, the rules for the treatment of unpaid loans would be tightened by this legislation to ensure candidates could not walk away from unpaid loans. Riding associations would be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.
In short, the accountability with respect to loans bill is modern, realistic and effective. It would strengthen our democracy and public confidence in the integrity of our political system.
The accountability with respect to loans bill builds on the agenda of democratic reform our government has undertaken since being elected. Canada's new government has taken action to modernize Canada's political system by introducing realistic legislation that strengthens accountability, strengthens our democracy and makes the entire political process more accountable.
First we introduced Bill , which implemented a review of the requirements for the registration of political parties.
As I mentioned, the Federal Accountability Act, which included provisions to reduce the influence of big money on politics, was passed before Christmas. Bill , another bill, strengthens our democracy by improving responsibility, transparency and equity. It establishes fixed election dates every four years on the third Monday in October.
Fixed dates take the guesswork out of the electoral process and level the playing field for the chief electoral officer, for political parties and, more important, for voters. It also encourages participation in the democratic process by allowing Canadians to plan to participate in their nation's electoral process.
I am very pleased to report that Bill finally received royal assent despite becoming the target of unelected Liberal senators to obstruct and delay every aspect of the government's democratic reform agenda, as has been their habit.
As members will recall, Bill was passed in the House of Commons without amendments. It underwent exhaustive debate in the House of Commons as well as in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
After being passed in the House of Commons with support on both sides of the House, the fixed dates for elections bill was sent to the Senate where it was examined in detail by the Senate's committee on legal and constitutional affairs.
After a lengthy period of scrutiny and detailed process, that Liberal dominated committee supported the passage of the bill without any amendments.
While neither the House nor the Senate committees found it necessary to amend the term limits bill, at the 11th hour, the very last minute, an amendment was passed by the Liberal Senate, a frivolous amendment that watered down the legislation, which was never subject to any level of scrutiny, and compelled it to come back to the House of Commons, effectively delaying and obstructing the bill further.
Finally the delays and obstructions in the Senate stopped and we will now have fixed date elections.
Our government has also moved to modernize the unelected Senate and to make senators more accountable to the people they serve. We have acted to strengthen accountability in the Senate with legislation that finally seeks to give Canadians a say in who they want representing them in the Senate. The involvement of citizens is fundamental to any democratic institution. Unfortunately, until recently Canadians have had little involvement in the selection of their senators.
The Senate election bill recognizes that it is the citizens of the country, not big money or backroom boys, who are best qualified to advise the on who should speak for them in Ottawa.
We, on this side of the House, are anxious to see the passage of this groundbreaking legislation and that brings us to Bill The tomfoolery that Bill was subjected to in the Senate pales in comparison to what has happened to Bill the legislation that seeks to limit Senate terms to eight years.
Bill was introduced in the Senate on May 30, 2006, almost a year ago.
Remarkably, even though the says that he supports term limits for senators, Bill remains mired in procedural limbo thanks to Liberal senators bent on obstructing and delaying any meaningful democratic reform.
Bill is a simple bill and just 66 words long. According to my calculations, the senators, who are not elected, have spent more than five days on each word in this bill.
As I have already done several times, I am asking members of the official opposition to urge their colleagues in the upper chamber to respond to the wishes of Canadians and pass Bill I know the Liberal leader has tried to do that. I know the Liberal senators tend to defy him and just simply will not listen to him. I wish he could muster some authority, some strength regardless of his overall weakness, at least the strength to lead his own caucus on this one issue and get them to pass it.
Our government rejects the tactics employed by some senators to delay an agenda on democratic reform that is endorsed by the Canadian people and we are taking action to respond to the wishes of Canadians to make their national institutions stronger, more modern, more accountable and more democratic.
The accountability with respect loans bill is the latest of these reforms and I look forward to introducing more legislation that will strengthen accountability in the days ahead. The accountability with respect to the loans bill delivers on the commitment of Canada's new government to rid our nation's political system of the undue influence of big money. It shows Canadians that their vote is mightier than the big bank accounts of a powerful wealthy few.
With the passage of this bill, Canada's new government will create an airtight system of political financing, a system that will eliminate, once and for all, the influence of the rich and powerful, of big money, on our political process. It will create a system that Canadians can trust.
The accountability with respect to loans bill would ensure that the 2006 Liberal leadership race was the last time the influence of big money and powerful friends played a role in the selection of a leader of a political party in Canada. Most important, the bill is modern, accountable, realistic and will strengthen our democracy and public confidence in the integrity of our political system.
For all these reasons, I am making an urgent appeal to all the members in this House to support the bill on accountability with respect to loans and guarantees.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Liberal opposition and address Bill . I must say at the outset that the government House leader was not able or willing to answer my earlier question about the disclosure of the 's leadership funders in 2002.
He did not address that topic, but I think this House needs to know that, particularly in relation to the comments that the government House leader made about the open disclosure of all loans, of all lenders and all amounts by the Liberal leadership contenders last year. Clearly they were acting beyond what the Canada Elections Act required, in good faith and with full disclosure. Everybody knows both what is going on there and the rules that apply to it.
As for the bringing forth this legislation, I think the government House leader suggests that he is somehow on the road to Damascus, leading this House in some epiphany in terms of loans and the way they are treated. Perhaps he was waylaid, misled or turned around and is actually on the road to perdition, because this bill of course has a perverse consequence. It is a non-accountability act. Again, it is Orwellian in many of the impacts that it will have. I will take some time to explain exactly why this will make democracy weaker in many ways in our country if it goes ahead as it is written, without amendment.
The Liberal Party is certainly very much in favour of transparency and accountability and will be looking toward a bill that properly and effectively tightens up the application and the use of loans in political financing in this country wherever it might be necessary. However, we certainly will also want to ensure that as the bill goes forward the proper amendments are made so that it does not, whether consciously or unconsciously, create a barrier to entry to the political process for those who do not have access to funds or friends who have access to funds, or to financial institutions that reflect their willingness to give loans because they realize that these people already have money, or they have people who will sign for them and back them up with money. We have to be very careful that this is not a barrier.
Let me go back to January 2004, when the former Liberal government brought in the most dramatic changes to electoral financing in this country's history with Bill , and indeed perhaps the most dramatic change than had happened in any democratic jurisdiction in the world, which of course reduced the union and corporation donation limits per year to a mere $1,000. That is almost meaningless when we are talking about a nation this size. To suggest that a $1,000 donation by a corporation could buy favour across this country in an electoral process is beyond imagination. In any case, we effectively took that out and left the donations at a $5,000 level for individual members of the public, who are of course the basic building block and the basic unit of democracy. That is where it should be. That was an extremely important step. It was a dramatic step in the political history of this country.
Bill also did some other things. It introduced an aspect of proportional representation. I know that many members in the House in all parties are interested in seeing us proceed with consultations and consideration of that. However, when the private money was taken out to such a dramatic degree, Bill C-24 provided for public funding of electoral processes by providing $1.75 for every vote that any party received in the general election nationwide.
That allowed for a proportionality that corrected some of the difficulties with the first past the post process, where often the number of seats in this House achieved by parties bears very little relation to the proportion of the vote they get. As an example, the Green Party got 600,000 votes in the last election. Under that provision, it received over $1 million, which allows its members to express the views of the people who voted for them through the financing of their political activity, although not yet representation, across the country. That is a first tentative but important step. It was part of that groundbreaking electoral financing legislation.
Let me correct a perception that the government House leader gave, which was incorrect. He suggested there were no rules now covering loans and the disclosure of loans. In fact, the current statutory provisions require the disclosure of all loans. They require the disclosure of the lenders and the guarantors of those loans.
Another misconception is that there are no consequences if these loans can be written off. In fact, there are consequences. Those loans must be repaid within an 18 month period or they fall under the political contribution rules, which are very strict.
It is not a way to have money given. It is money loaned for a period during an electoral process, either a leadership process, as was involved last year with the Liberal leadership, or perhaps a nomination process where someone does not have access to party funds or riding association funds. If people were unable to take a loan, that might well be a barrier to entry into the political process for people who were not of independent means. There are consequences. Those must be converted and that is an important aspect to it.
Who owns the ? The government House leader raised the issue of the Liberal leadership candidates and the influence of big money, but we still have not had an answer about who financed the leadership bid of the Prime Minister in 2002.
Why do we want to know that? We want to know that for the very reason the government suggests we need the bill. We already have provisions in the Canada Elections Act that cover both disclosure of loans and repayment of loans and consequence if we do not. In any event, why do we want to know? It is an immensely important question. Is it U.S. gun lobby? Is it big oil? Who made those contributions to the 's leadership race in 2002? We will come back to that until we get a proper answer, until the Canadian people get a proper answer. These are important issues.
Let me talk about the name of the act, the accountability with respect to loans act. It could be called the new Conservative bank of Canada act. It is big money that would get more influence because of the way the act is written currently. We will seek amendments to ensure it does not simply limit the influence that can be exerted to those with money or have access to big money. Let me tell members why.
Financial institutions are the only ones that can make big loans to individuals. If people are maybe from a disadvantaged group or an under-represented group who have not been in politics before, who seek a nomination in a riding, those people do not have independent wealth, they do not have a riding association yet to loan them funds, as is allowable under this bill, and they do not have, perhaps, credit worthiness to go to a bank. What does that person do? The individual is left out. They simply cannot, effectively. With the limits under this, there is a barrier to entry into the nomination process.
If we look at the Liberal leadership process that went for nine months of fulsome discussion and debate across the country, presenting 11 candidates for scrutiny by the public in a highly open and democratic process, those were expensive. We cannot do that in a country the size of Canada without having some funds to expend for it.
Those should be under rules, and there are rules. There may be some tightening up that the bill can do, and that is fine. However, to say that people taking out loans so they can exercise their right to take part in the democratic electoral process for leadership, for nomination, is going down the wrong road.
In fact, the bill, as written, does not, as Bill previously did, take out corporate money and put in public money that was properly and evenly distributed according to the proportion of the vote achieved by each party that ran candidates. This cuts out the public and brings in the big money.
Who can get a loan from a bank, from a financial institution? It is someone with a lot of money or property to put up as collateral, or someone to co-sign or support the loan. Those are people of influence and money. This is letting the money in. It is not keeping the money out. That is what we will have to see. I look forward to working with members of the Bloc, the NDP and the government to see if we can get some amendments so we do not create a barrier to entry for people who have no means and are not yet part of the political process. That transparency is immensely important.
We have an organization called Equal Voice. All members of the House will be well aware of and knowledgeable about it. The organization seeks to encourage women to enter the political process so we can rise above the deplorable disproportion of men to women in the House of Commons, with 20% representation by women.
The leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has pledged that in the next election one-third of the Liberal candidates will be women. We are well on the way in the nomination process to achieving that. This is a demonstrative move to try to get a proper proportion of gender equity into the House.
If this goes to committee, I am sure Equal Voice, representing all parties and all people across the political spectrum, will be very interested to come to talk the committee and to give evidence, as will many other groups who represent disadvantaged or under-represented sectors of this society. They will want to come and give their evidence on it. I hope we will take instruction from them as to how, perhaps unintentionally, the unavoidable consequence of this will be, to exert more power, not less, in those who have access to large amounts of funds.
This new Conservative bank of Canada act is interesting. It may tighten up the rules a little. It is not so that the Canada Elections Act now does not require loans to be repaid or be converted into contributions under the very restrictive rules. It is not so that contributors, lenders or co-signers do not have to be disclosed for political loans. They do have to be.
I am as anxious as anyone else in the House to see that this process is not abused, and if we can tighten it up, all the better. However, we have to ensure there are no unintended consequences of creating barriers to disadvantaged and under-represented groups.
The government House leader took some time to describe a number of what were called democratic reform bills, or statutes, in the House as brought forward by the Conservative government, and it is worth talking about a few of those.
One is Bill , the Federal Accountability Act. Members of the House and the committee of the House spent a great deal of time on this as did members of the Senate. In fact, unencumbered by a set deadline that was forced on the House committee in the House, the Senate put forward dozens of amendments through its careful review of that act, even under the constant shrill criticism of the government that it was slowing things down.
Regarding slowing things down, royal assent was given to the Federal Accountability Act on December 15, 2006. Here we are, almost five months later, and one of the central parts of that act was the appointments commission. Amendments by the NDP sharpened that up. We had two choices. The Liberal opposition put forward amendments. The NDP put forward amendments. All of them would have been effective, and will be effective, as it was finally passed, but all these months later, all of these appointments later, dozens of them, and we still do not have the appointments commission. This was one of the key things that was said by the government to be so important about the Federal Accountability Act. We do not even have a commission.
We continue without the proper controls. We had suggested that the Public Service Commission take over this role, that there be amendments to its mandate to apply the same rules, competitive process and objective criteria used in the public service for any order in council appointments, but we still do not have that.
I would be very interested to hear from the government when it is going to proceed with that important part of Bill . There were so many complaints about it being delayed when in fact there were a very large number of responsible, thoughtful and careful amendments suggested by the Senate, and actually passed into law.
Bill deals with fixed dates. We supported that on this side of the House. There was no delay. There was careful consideration in the Senate. There was a thoughtful amendment put forward. It was brought back to the House with that amendment. We on this side offered the government, before the Easter recess, to pass the bill through all processes in the House, back to the Senate, hopefully, for royal assent in the day before we broke. That was rejected. We would have needed unanimous consent, but we did not get it from the government.
Bill was mentioned by the government House leader. It is not a Senate elections act; it is a consultation act, with provincial elections. It is being put forward as a great democratic reform. I think all members of the House believe, as do probably all members of the other place, that the Senate needs reform in becoming a fully democratic legislative chamber, and we should all work toward that. This is going at it piecemeal. We get criticisms of trying to block the incremental reform of the Senate, but the fact is it all fits together and it must be dealt with at once.
There are three critical aspects of the Senate that have to be considered together.
One aspect is the selection process, which could include elections or involve terms. The term limit is suggested in Bill .
Another aspect is the mandate. In the future how does the mandate relate to the mandate of the House of Commons? Will it be a mirror legislative body with the same electoral validity that will then lead to gridlock. We have to do to deal with that area of comprehensive reform is to have some kind of dispute resolution mechanism whenever the legislative powers mirror each other in the House and the other place.
Then we have the distribution. We cannot do anything else with the Senate until we work out the distribution. It is amazing that the , and all members of the government, would consider doing something to give a greater validity, greater power to the Senate without fixing the very unfair, inequitable distribution of seats to western Canada, particularly to British Columbia and Alberta.
For all of us from British Columbia and Alberta, it is extraordinary that we might think of increasing the power of that body without fixing the horrible lack of fair distribution to western Canada.
Bert Brown has been mentioned in the House by the as being the senator in waiting, to be appointed sometime this summer. He has played a very important role in the political life of Canada. He did not play that role by plowing one E into his barley field or a wheat field. He plowed three E's into it. To try to deal with just one E at once in a piecemeal incremental way, as the Prime Minister says, is not in the favour of Alberta, from where that fine gentleman comes. Nor is it responsible reform in the comprehensive way to properly bring the Senate into the modern age of a democratic legislative chamber. We have to work together to do that.
We often hear about the ghosts of Meech Lake and the ghosts of Charlottetown. We also hear that we cannot go near the Constitution because, my goodness, we might all get distracted and not be able to do anything else in this country and we will never get anywhere. Thank goodness the Fathers of Confederation were not so shy about dealing with the Constitution. We should take on that responsibility ourselves.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill , which specifically addresses accountability with respect to loans. The Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which seeks to prevent individuals from bypassing campaign financing rules.
As we all know, this bill seeks to correct and clarify a few things that Bill left out. Members may recall that Bill , which the government touted as its key piece of legislation, as the foundation for cleaning up campaign financing and governance, had a number of shortcomings that had to be rectified. Among other things, Bill introduced new restrictions on campaign contributions, limiting any individual's annual contribution to a registered party or candidate to $1,100 and prohibiting contributions from unions and businesses.
As unbelievable as it might seem, individuals could still get around these restrictions by taking personal loans. For example, several candidates in the recent Liberal Party of Canada leadership race took out big loans from individuals and financial institutions. Bob Rae, who was defeated by the current leader of the official opposition, owes $580,000 to John Rae, the vice-president of Power Corporation. The current leader of the opposition borrowed $430,000. The current deputy leader of the Liberal Party borrowed $170,000, and Gerard Kennedy borrowed $201,000. The cunning, discreet use of loans gave candidates access to enormous sums of money.
Some may be tempted to question the figures I just mentioned, so I will reveal my source, which was a table printed in La Presse on November 18, 2006.
This bill will also rectify another problem with Bill on government accountability. During the study of Bill , it became clear that the Conservative government was much more interested in passing the bill quickly than in correcting the kind of ethical problems that have plagued both this government and its predecessors.
I would remind the House that, at the time, the opposition parties, the media and the Democracy Watch group raised the issue and the government refused to act. This bill corrects the problem of loans that circumvent limits on political contributions. I will probably not have enough time to cover both points in great detail, but I would like to emphasize that we are not satisfied with what the Conservatives have done about protecting whistleblowers and in terms of reforming the Access to Information Act.
As for protecting whistleblowers, as we all know, during the last election in January 2006, the Conservatives made a number of election promises dealing with this issue.
These aspects were not included in the accountability act. Allan Cutler, one of the whistleblowers originally involved in the disclosure of the sponsorship scandal and a former candidate for the Conservative Party during the election, was somewhat critical of Bill . Yet, Allan Cutler was an ally of the Conservatives. He maintained that Bill was far from perfect and had some problems that needed fixing, especially with respect to the provisions for protecting whistleblowers.
Bill has another flaw that has to do with the Access to Information Act. I would remind the House that, on April 5, 2005, the Liberal government presented a discussion paper on access to information reform. That paper was criticized by all observers, including the Conservative Party. In addition to doubling the minimum administrative fees required of the public, the bill introduced by the former Prime Minister, the hon. member for , maintained all the exceptions included in the act. The Liberal Party never managed to bring about a viable reform of access to information, despite its 13 years in power.
The Conservative government promised during the last election campaign—we remember the holier than thou promises of this government—to reform the Access to Information Act. This is what was said at the time:
|| A Conservative government will:
|| Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act.
We are still waiting for this reform. The truth is—in this case and so many others—that once in power, the Liberals and the Conservatives are one and the same. When they are in the opposition, the Conservatives criticize the Liberals and make a big fuss about ethics and governance. Once in power, the Conservatives use pork barrel politics and put both hands in the cookie jar, as my grandmother used to say.
The information commissioner recently observed that this is a common trait in all governments. He also said that the reason we need to take action instead of conducting more studies is that governments continue to distrust and resist the Access to Information Act and the oversight of the Information Commissioner.
The proposed changes are fourfold. First, the bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political parties, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors.
The second change proposed by this bill is that unions and corporations would now be banned not just from making contributions as set out in the Federal Accountability Act, but also from making loans.
Third, total loan guarantees and contributions by individuals could not exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Federal Accountability Act, namely $1,100 in 2007.
Only financial institutions, at commercial rates of interest, and other political entities could make loans beyond that amount. Rules for the treatment of unpaid loans would be tightened to ensure candidates cannot walk away from unpaid loans: riding associations will be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I have to say that the Conservative Party is not a bastion of transparency, even though it is the party you belong to. You sit in that chair as the guardian of democracy and the person who makes sure debates are conducted properly. I look in your eyes, and I know that you cannot corroborate what I am saying and that, as deputy speaker, you cannot openly support what I am saying. But since you are a responsible member, I am certain that you would agree with me that the Conservative Party is not a bastion of transparency.
In a few short months, this party has built up a track record that shows a lack of political will to obey the rules and put an end to what Mr. Justice Gomery called the culture of entitlement. Besotted and obsessed with power, we come to believe that the money entrusted to us belongs to us personally. It is as though we were running our own business.
I am sorry, but that money is entrusted to us as managers, custodians of the taxes Canadians pay, and it belongs to the taxpayers, who are sick and tired of paying taxes.
In Quebec, we had to file our federal and provincial income tax returns by May 1. I am sure that most of the people who are watching are tired of paying taxes and feel that they pay far too much for the services they get in return.
Public money, taxpayers' money, must be managed openly and transparently. Denouncing the sponsorship scandal that involved the Liberal Party, Mr. Justice Gomery said that it was time to do away with the mentality behind the culture of entitlement and the attitude people in government have that they can do anything they want and they do not care about the people. This is not the way things should be.
There is a proverb that says that he who lives in a glass house should not throw stones. I would like to point out that the current , leader of the Conservative Party, admitted, in December 2006, that he omitted to disclose to the Chief Electoral Officer the collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars because he believed they represented registration fees paid by Conservative delegates attending the party convention in May 2005. The party was forced to record the registration fees for the convention as donations. The report states that the party then discovered that three delegates, including the Prime Minister, had exceeded their annual limit of $5,400 in contributions to the party. Consequently, the Conservative Party was forced to return $456 to the Prime Minister and two other delegates.
There is something else. This government denounced the lobbyist culture associated with the running of the Liberal Party. In and of itself that is a good thing. However, we must recognize that when the Conservative Party was in opposition with us, it denounced this culture that sought to enrich lobbies and the fact that the Liberal Party paid more attention to lobbies than to citizens. We agreed with our colleagues from the Conservative Party when they were in opposition.
However, once in power, they did the same thing. I will provide two small examples. With regard to the current , I do not know what happened but, after the opposition asked questions about Afghanistan and the mistreated and tortured Taliban prisoners, he lost his voice. We know that a good dose of laryngitis lasts a few days.
There are great medications for this, and eventually the laryngitis goes away. The lost his voice three weeks ago. This is worrisome. What is going on with the Minister of National Defence? Why does he not want to answer our questions? If he is no longer able to do his job, the should seriously consider replacing him. He is a completely useless minister. We have to wonder about the wisdom of the Prime Minister's decision to appoint a former lobbyist as head of the Department of National Defence.
Let us remember that when he was a lobbyist with Hill and Knowlton, he spent a decade working for the largest military equipment, arms and weapons dealers. His clients included BAE systems, Raytheon Canada and General Dynamics. He is now responsible for awarding military contracts worth about $20 billion. Let us remember the tour taken last year when Parliament was not in session. They went to Fredericton and announced the purchase of aircraft. They went to Valcartier and announced the purchase of jeeps. They went to Ontario to make other announcements. They went to Alberta or Manitoba, I cannot remember which, and made even more announcements.
They did all of their shopping without engaging the House of Commons in debate. It just so happened that they waited until the House adjourned for the summer to go on a big tour making military spending announcements. The chief lobbyist is also the , who awarded over $20 billion in military contracts.
Can we be sure that the , who has remained silent on the subject, is working in the best interest of taxpayers rather than in the best interest of his former clients? The question is a good one, and the answer is obvious.
What is more, the current made Sandra Buckler his director of communications. The auditor general produced a devastating report about the Royal Lepage relocation services saga. Apparently, in 2005, Ms. Buckler, a lobbyist, met with members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, who had serious doubts about how Royal Lepage was using public funds. As a reward, the Prime Minister made her his director of communications. One might well wonder whose interests were being served in the Royal Lepage relocation services file: Ms. Buckler's or those of taxpayers?
One might also question contracts awarded to political friends. The Conservative government awarded a communications contract to Marie-Josée Lapointe, who was part of the current 's transition team. One might also wonder about partisan appointments and appointing judges and immigration commissioners on the basis of their political beliefs. Much could be said on the topic.
Unfortunately, I have only about a minute left. I will have to wrap things up unless I have the unanimous consent of the House to speak until it is time to vote. I would be happy to do so, but I believe it is my NDP colleague's turn to address the House.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois supports this bill. I think that the government should seriously consider doing something about certain major loopholes that are still around despite Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I should begin my comments on Bill by recognizing and paying tribute to the former leader of the New Democratic Party who most recently sat in the riding of Ottawa Centre, because it was he who blew the whistle on the fact that the political donation regime in this country left a loophole that was so outrageous it was bound to be exploited and abused.
Mr. Broadbent had the sense to recognize that even though the amounts of money that can be donated to a political campaign or to a political party had been reduced, by allowing these huge loans, which never really have to be paid back, it was obvious that somebody with a lack of ethical standards would take advantage of that loophole and would begin to act as if there were no financial limitations. I recognize Mr. Broadbent for raising this issue for us in his ethics package.
I am gratified that today we are dealing with a bill in the House of Commons that will close this last remaining loophole, one of the most serious loopholes in our election financing laws, because we start with the basic premise that nobody should be able to buy an election in this country, or a politician, for that matter. When we are dealing with such massive amounts of money, the point that was made by the House leader of the government was that a politician or a political party is going to owe somebody a great deal. They are going to owe somebody an obligation, a debt, and it is not healthy for the interests of democracy to have some corporate sponsor pulling the strings of politicians through this enormous debt of gratitude that is owed. That is the fundamental principle here. That is the direction in which we believed we needed to go.
These loans were a loophole that simply had to be plugged. The most egregious example, I suppose, and what really caught the public's imagination, was during the Liberal leadership campaign. Even though businesses and unions were not allowed to donate a single dollar, they could loan tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and individuals could loan far in excess of what they were allowed to donate.
Then, through the very loosey-goosey standards and rules that exist in terms of the repayment of those loans, if the loan was not paid back within 18 months it was deemed to be a donation, albeit an illegal donation. We allowed this contradiction to exist in our election finance regime. Some would say it was by design that the rules put in place by the previous government to put limits on election financing left this convenient loophole there, with it knowing full well their people would stumble upon it, seize on it and use it.
The other example that turned people's heads and simply sounded the alarm that this had to be addressed was the member for . Even though a business is not allowed to donate anything and a union is not allowed to donate anything, his business loaned the Mississauga--Streetsville riding association $176,000 in one loan, I believe it was, and another $60,000 in another loan.
How can that be? It is a contradiction that we have allowed to evolve, because if that loan is not paid back within the 18 months, it is deemed to be a donation, and then we will have allowed a business to make a donation, which it is not allowed to at all, and a donation in the amount of a quarter of a million dollars, which is clearly in excess of anything contemplated when we set the donation limits for individuals at $1,100 per year.
This had to be done. I do take some recognition of the fact that we played a role in bringing this about. It was the NDP that moved this as an amendment during the Federal Accountability Act debates, but I also caution that we perhaps have not gone as far as we could. There are two things in the bill that worry me somewhat.
Even though we cannot pass legislation retroactively to give us some satisfaction on the debacle of the Liberal leadership loans or the loan of the member for , we can have legislation that is retrospective in nature. We can look at ways to address these loans that drew the public's attention to this issue to make sure there is some compliance with at least the existing regime.
The second thing that we find fault with regarding this legislation is we cannot understand for the life of us why the date of implementation will be six months after the bill receives royal assent. My colleague, the , suggested that perhaps there is a way we could speak to the Chief Electoral Officer and garner support for the idea of a more rapid implementation date. I would urge the government to do so, because as the bill is currently drafted, it is possible we could have another federal election under the current set of rules which allow these political loans.
Now that it is common knowledge that there is no law against lending someone $100,000, even though the donation limit is only $1,100, a lot more people will be doing it if it is allowed. It would be morally and ethically wrong to allow another federal election to take place under the current set of rules. Therefore, I would urge members when the bill gets to committee, to look favourably on the idea of an amendment, which we would be happy to put forward, that the date of implementation should be when the bill receives royal assent.
This is much in the same spirit that we looked at the Federal Accountability Act. We did not see any reason to delay the implementation of the election financing rules associated with the accountability act, even though the Liberal Party urged us strenuously to delay and delay and delay because the Liberals wanted to get their leadership convention out of the way. That is certainly one of the things we would like to see.
I heard my colleague from the Liberal Party try to make arguments against this bill. Even though I do not take this remark seriously, I do give him credit for at least having the courage to try to be creative to find some reason why this bill is a bad idea.
I do have to counter one of the arguments he made which was completely spurious. He suggested that by banning these loans or putting severe limits on these loans, it would actually act as a barrier to those who do not have access to friends with money from entering into politics. It is like arguing night is day, because that is absolutely 180 degrees the polar opposite of what any cursory reading of the bill would tell us. In actual fact, the idea is to take big money out of politics and to take away the unfair competitive advantage that people who are well connected currently enjoy. The idea is to level the playing field.
That was the purpose of Bill , which the Liberals introduced when they first put limits on donations. The idea was to get big money out of politics so that nobody could buy influence. That was certainly the argument put forward under Bill when we further reduced the donation limits to $1,100.
It is courageous to argue that this is actually the inverse. It takes a lot of guts to stand there and try to make that argument, but we cannot let that go unchallenged. If anything, this is an enabling measure that does level the playing field so that all of us, if we need to borrow money to get our campaign started, have to go to a recognized lending institution. No single person would be able to underwrite or co-sign a loan to an extent greater than the person would be allowed to donate in that year. It is eminently sensible because if there is a default on that loan and the loan becomes deemed to be a donation later on, then the donation would not be in excess of what the person would have been allowed to donate. It seems common sense to me.
A further innovation and protection here is that we do not want the precedent set by Paul Hellyer and the Canadian Action Party to set the tone. In that case, he simply wrote off the $800,000 debt to the Canadian Action Party. We do not want to see John Rae writing off the debt to Bob Rae. We do not want to see Mr. Mamdouh Stephanos writing off the $200,000 debt which was loaned to the That would be fundamentally wrong because then those guys would have made a $200,000 loan which became a donation which they then forgave. Talk about buying influence in a campaign. What about the $100,000 that Marc de la Bruyere loaned to the leader of the official opposition?
We have every reason to believe that the will probably pay back those debts because he will have the ability to fundraise within the $1,000 limit and because he is in a fishbowl and everybody is watching what he is going to do with his campaign debts.
What about the losers in that race? For instance, I used the example of John Rae, a senior executive with Power Corporation, being able to simply write off and forgive the $840,000 that he loaned to his brother, Bob, to run in that campaign. That would be a travesty. That would be an absolute abuse of the election financing laws as we know them today.
With this bill, it is deemed that if the loan is not paid back in an acceptable period of time, or the time frame negotiated between the lender, a bank, and the borrower, or 18 months, whichever comes first, it would be the riding association and the political party of the riding association that would have to assume that debt. That would make sense. In fact it would help from an equity point of view for the person borrowing the money, because the person is actually borrowing the money with the guarantor of the political party that the person belongs to. The financial institution would have some comfort. The person would not have to find a financial backer to co-sign that loan; in fact, the person would not be allowed to.
If, as I have done, one needed to borrow $20,000 to get the campaign started, one would need to find 20 guarantors at $1,000 each. No one person could co-sign the loan. That is the way it should be. If the person cannot find 20 people to sponsor his or her entry into politics, perhaps that person should rethink whether he or she should be going into politics or not because the person is not going to get very far anyway.
I think this is eminently fair. It has covered the three conditions that the NDP raised during the debate on the Federal Accountability Act. I completely reject the Liberals' argument that there could be perverse consequences which would limit entry into politics.
Again my colleague from very cleverly planted the idea that perhaps Equal Voice would be disappointed with this initiative, as if this would somehow be a barrier for more women to enter politics. I would argue that the absolute inverse would be true, because this will level the playing field so that well-connected people with corporate sponsorship, like we saw in the Liberal leadership race, will not have a competitive advantage over a woman without those connections. Again it levels the playing field. We have not had any indication how Equal Voice would react to this bill, but from what I know of the people in that organization, I think they would support this idea.
I wish we would not reform the election financing regime in such a piecemeal fashion. There are a number of other things that the NDP has been calling for. One I will speak to briefly is that now that Bill has passed very quietly and without fanfare over in the other place, it is now law and we have fixed election dates, I believe we should have year-round spending limits. Now that we know elections will be held every four years on a fixed date in the month of October, there should be some regulation on the amount parties can spend on advertising not just during the writ period but outside the writ period as well. That is a necessary natural consequence of having fixed election dates. I would look forward to some movement from the government in that regard.
I also wish we had done something about the age of political donors. I am very critical of the idea that we can actually launder money through our children's bank accounts in a way to exceed the donation limits allowed by law. That seems to be acceptable in that when it happened in the Liberal leadership race and we filed complaints with the elections commissioner, nothing came of it.
I guess if an 11 year old wants to donate $5,000 to a political candidate, nobody thinks twice. When it is twins and they both decide to donate $5,400 each to the same candidate, nobody thinks twice. Throughout the whole country Canadians shook their heads when they saw that. I would like to see us have the courage to move forward and say that this is simply wrong.
It is wrong to launder money through anybody's bank account if the purpose is to defraud the system and exceed the donation limits allowed by law, whether it is one's mother-in-law or brother. A person is not allowed to donate the maximum himself or herself and then sneak a cheque under the table to his or her buddy and say, “Send this along to the Liberal Party for me too”. It is against the law to conspire to defraud the system. We are silent on that and even when we file complaints on that, the elections commissioner seems to be silent on it.
The NDP tried to move an amendment to Bill which said that underage people could donate money, but if they did, it would be deducted from the total amount their legal guardian was allowed to donate. In other words, if a 14 year old felt strongly enough about politics and wanted to donate $100 of the money he or she earned at the burger joint, more power to him or her, but that meant the child's parents or legal guardians would donate $100 less that year. If people get a tax advantage from being children's legal guardians, they have to be legal guardians in this era of politics unless and until the children reach legal age as well. That would have been a courageous move and would have cleaned up one of those embarrassing situations that we allow in our system currently.
Let me speak briefly about the outstanding issue that we are all worried about, which is the issue of the member for , who is not a Liberal any more, but when the loans took place he was. Now he is a Tory.
I do not know how we are going to address this, but we should remind everybody, and maybe through this speech we will serve notice, that no one's sweetheart can bail out somebody like that. If someone borrows $50,000, as many of the people did in the Liberal leadership campaign, and it is not paid back quickly, the candidate cannot pay it off because he or she would be exceeding the limit. The candidate cannot have a guardian angel donor show up out of nowhere and bail him or her out. The money has to be paid back within the donation limits.
The money was raised within the donation limits of the act, which is $1,100 per year. I do not see how some of these candidates are going to do so. The burden of proof is on them to pay it back in compliance with the law. Some of these failed leadership candidates are now raising money for the next federal election and they are still asking people for money to pay off the debt they incurred.
As I say, it is not that tough for the winner to pay off the debt. It is a lot tougher for the losers, the ones who did not win. It has to be the $1,000 limit. We are watching. These people are in a fishbowl and we will be filing complaints. If they do not pay it back at all and it is deemed to be a donation, then what? I will tell the House what.
Under the current election laws, and this should be fixed too, they can take out another loan to pay off the first loan and buy themselves another 18 months. Then the debt gets lost in the sands of time and we will have been complicit with somebody conspiring to defraud the election system. Those are the people on this list that I have right here.
Some of the people in the Liberal leadership campaign might find themselves in that situation. It would be wrong, but they may be leaning that way and our Elections Act is not tough enough to stop that from happening. I was disappointed, in fact I was shocked to learn that would be allowed, that they could take out a second loan to pay off the first loan and buy themselves another 18 months. Who is going to be around to police whether the second loan gets paid off three or five years down the road? This is really not satisfactory.
If we are serious about levelling the playing field, about taking big money out of politics and about making sure that nobody can buy an election in this country, we have to go all the way. We should put together an election financing regime that we can all be proud of. We could be an international centre of excellence. That would make me proud.
I take some pride, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, that it was the former leader of our party, the hon. Ed Broadbent, who brought this issue to light and said, more or less, that no further federal elections should take place until we clean up the election financing regime in this country. The NDP tried to do it during the debate on the Federal Accountability Act. It seemed to take a little longer than we thought to resonate with the ruling party, but it seemed to have at least accepted the need for this now.
We are critical that there will be a six month wait after the bill receives royal assent. We expect this to get a rough ride from the Liberal Party. I am not trying to state the obvious, but if one cannot raise or borrow money, one is not going to be in any hurry to pass this bill.
We hope the Liberals do not stall it unnecessarily, but I think the government should act quickly to take that six month proviso out of the way, implement it as soon as we can, and get it through the House, so that the next federal election can be run with equal opportunity for everybody and that no unfair competitive advantage go to those who might enjoy a corporate sponsor or guardian angel donor.