moved that Bill , be read the third time and passed.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to speak to Bill . This bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency for political fundraising events.
Political parties are made up of Canadians from across the country who have different experiences and points of view. Political parties help the public learn more about their leaders and their politicians, as well as their policies and positions of principle. Political parties appoint and train candidates and volunteers, support them before and during elections, and coordinate the logistics for national election campaigns.
Unlike many organizations with mandates that are just as broad and vital, political parties must do their own fundraising to support almost all their activities. Donations pay for all activities, from daily operations to a national election campaign.
The system works. Canadians donate because they believe in our political parties, what they stand for, who leads them, and the candidates they empower to run for office.
A strict regime is in place to ensure fairness in this system. Existing regulations regarding political fundraising in Canada are among the strongest in the world. The existing regulations include strict spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and a ban on corporate and union donations.
Caps on donations have existed for 44 years in Canada, and governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have worked to strengthen our political financing system over this period of time. Bill would do just that. It would add an additional layer of openness and transparency in political fundraising.
Our government has stated that we must raise the bar for transparency, accountability, and the integrity of our public institutions and the democratic process. We also said loud and clear that we want to encourage Canadians to fully participate in our democracy. It is this last objective that I have been focusing on since the asked me to serve as the Minister of Democratic Institutions one year ago.
Our government has moved on several fronts to ensure a more open and inclusive democracy. We have changed the way we appoint senators and judges. More women have been appointed through our public appointments process. We are making elections more accessible and inclusive. We are taking steps to protect our democracy from cyber-threats and foreign interference. We take these actions seriously, because we know how deeply Canadians value and cherish our democracy.
Former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci said:
|| Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.
Section 3 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the right to vote. This article and the right to freedom of association are intimately connected. Canadian citizens and permanent residents also have the right to donate to a political party of their choice.
Many Canadians make financial contributions to election campaigns or participate in political fundraisers, since that is a way for them to actively participate in our democracy. It is also an important way for people to express their democratic will. We will continue to protect the right of all Canadians to provide financial support to the political party of their choice.
Canadians have been loud and clear. They want to know more about who funds political activities in Canada. Bill would shine a light on who is attending political fundraisers, where and when these events are taking place, and the amount required to attend them.
This bill would ensure that more information than ever before about political fundraisers was shared with the media and the public. This transparency would allow Canadians to continue to have confidence in our democracy, confidence that they could support a party with which they shared values, ideals, and policy positions and confidence that they, too, could actively participate, should they so choose.
Our laws, when it comes to political financing, are already quite strict in this regard. Bill would build on these existing strict laws. Specifically, it would see the following rules put in place. First, details about fundraising events involving the, cabinet ministers, party leaders, and leadership contestants of parties with a seat in the House of Commons, when over $200 per person was necessary to participate at the event, would now be required to be made public. Second, these events would be required to be advertised on political parties' websites at least five days before they took place, and political parties would be required to report a list of attendees to Elections Canada within 30 days after the event.
The bill would also make technical amendments, which would bring leadership and nomination campaign expenses in line with the current regime for candidates.
This bill takes into account certain privacy considerations with regard to the disclosure of the names of minors, volunteers, event staff, journalists, and support staff for people with disabilities or for any minister or party leader who participates in the event.
I would like to highlight some quotes from acting Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault, who said the following at a committee appearance on the subject:
|| I note that the bill offers a calibrated approach. Not all parties will be subject to the new requirements and I believe that is a good thing. Similarly, the rules will not apply to all fundraising activities, but only those for which a minimum amount is charged to attend and where key decision-makers are also present.
Later in his testimony, he elaborated, saying:
|| Generally speaking, the bill increases the transparency of political fundraising, which is one of the main goals of the Canada Elections Act. It does so without imposing an unnecessary burden on the smaller parties that are not represented in the House of Commons or for fundraising events that do not involve key decision-makers.
It is clear from Mr. Perrault's testimony at committee that he feels that Bill would accomplish the goal outlined in my mandate letter to “significantly enhance transparency for the public at large and media in the political fundraising system for Cabinet members, party leaders and leadership candidates.”
I believe that my hon. colleagues, like our government, want to provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising activities.
If Bill is passed, it will keep the government's promise to significantly enhance transparency in Canada's political fundraising system for both the public and the media. By improving transparency, we will also help build Canadians' trust in the political system. This is one of many measures that we are taking to improve, strengthen, and protect our democratic institutions.
I am proud to speak to this bill at third reading, as I strongly believe that it is one more step in our efforts to improve our political financing system, one that would strengthen the confidence Canadians have in how parties raise money through events.
I would like to close my remarks by thanking the officials in my department for their hard work in helping to put this bill together, the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for their diligent study of this bill, and the members of this place for their support in getting this bill to the next step in the parliamentary process.
Madam Speaker, the of Canada, the chairman of cabinet, the head of government is a very powerful position, one that only 23 people in the history of our country have had the distinct privilege of holding. While constitutionally this position serves at the pleasure of Her Majesty, it is Canadians who the Prime Minister ultimately is to serve.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, when we have newspaper headlines like, “[Prime Minister] defends cash-for-access fundraising”, or articles that state, “Prime Minister...says financial donation limits in federal politics are too low for wealthy donors to buy influence with his cabinet ministers”, are Canadians really being well-served and, specifically, are they being well-served by this legislation?
Today, as we debate Bill , those are the questions we have to answer. Perhaps this headline speaks to that, “Liberals’ fundraising bill fails to quell cash-for-access charges.”
Let us be perfectly clear why the Liberals introduced the legislation. It was because they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, and now they are trying to blame the cookie jar.
Bill came to fruition because the Liberal Party was selling cash for access to the at events where tickets cost up to $1,525 a person. What is worse, in the 's own “Open and Accountable Government” guide, under the fundraising section it states:
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.
The document goes on further to state:
|| There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
One wonders if Orwell's 1984 Ministry of Truth may have produced that document, given the actions we have seen from the Liberal members and the . The Prime Minister simply got caught for breaking the very ethics guidelines that he himself created. Now we get this legislation as a mandate, as an attempt to try to fix this self-inflicted Liberal wound.
Even after introducing Bill and promising to abide by these new rules, the June 19, 2017, Liberal fundraising event took place. This event featured the speaking at a Liberal so-called donor appreciation night for Laurier Club members. In order to join such a club, members must donate at least $1,500 annually to be a member. Just to get in the door, one needs to donate $1,500 to see the speak.
This is after the Liberals promised to abide by the rules of Bill , the legislation they had just introduced, and promised to be open to the media. However, instead, the following took place. Liberal Party staff restricted media access to Ottawa bureau chief at the Huffington Post, Althia Raj, as well as to Joan Bryden from the Canadian Press. Then, after a lot of representations on its own behalf, the media was actually allowed inside, cordoned off into one little area, and not allowed to mingle with any of the guests. Giuseppe Valiante, a Montreal reporter with the Canadian Press, was told to leave after the gave his speech.
Therefore, it is not quite clear why the Liberal government bothers to put these so-called rules in place when it is quite evident it just intends to break them anyway.
Legislation is not supposed to be about a PR exercise, legislating is not about a pair of the 's socks that BuzzFeed can write a kitschy article about. Legislation is supposed to be about making good policy that changes Canada for the better.
Legislation should not be a way for the PMO to try to spin out of the bad headlines the created through his bad behaviour. Some of those bad headlines include, from the National Post, “Ethics watchdog says [Prime Minister] vacation on private island broke conflict rules”; from CTV, “[Prime Minister] broke ethics rules, watchdog finds”; and from the Toronto Star, “[Prime Minister] violated conflict-of-interest rules with vacation to Aga Khan's island: ethics commissioner”. It is kind of like a greatest hits album for the , but it is not one he should be proud of.
In 2006, when our previous Conservative government came to power, we came in to clean up the corruption culture, the corruption that had taken hold in Ottawa after 13 years of Liberal rule. One of our government's top priorities then was passing the Federal Accountability Act. In that legislation, our Conservative government banned all corporate and union donations to political parties. If political parties wanted the ability to be heard and operate, they would be forced to go to ordinary Canadians on main street and make their case. That is a promise Canadians were and are on board with.
Clearly, that is not a concern for the Liberal Party or for the . Regular Canadians do not have billionaire friends who invite them to vacation on private islands. Regular Canadians usually cannot afford $1,500 for the privilege of bending the 's ear. After all, the Prime Minister should be equally accessible to all Canadians. However, we know that is not the case.
If this is something the actually believes in, then he should do the right thing and stop attending cash for access fundraisers. The ethical issue surrounding cash for access fundraisers is not solved because the event is apparently open to the public. At the end of the day, is the event really open to the public? Does publishing the list of attendees on some website a month and a half later make the event transparent? No, it certainly does not. For the Liberal government, it is apparent that it is “do as I say and not as I do”. Apparently, the thinks the law does not apply to him.
If the Liberals really wanted to end these sorts of practices, all they had to do was simply follow their own guidelines to stop attending cash for access fundraisers. It is really quite simple. If one is the , this means not attending the fundraiser with lawyers who are lobbying the government. If one is the parliamentary secretary who has been tasked with coming up with a plan for marijuana legalization, do not attend fundraisers with representatives from the cannabis industry, and if one is the , do not attend fundraisers with stakeholders who regularly and actively conduct business with the government. Those are very simple measures that even the Liberal Party should be able to follow, if it cared to bother following the rules.
Ethics is not a tricky thing, but I guess for a who views his role as merely ceremonial, there is really no reason for him to be worried about a conflict of interest. I have bad news for him. The office of the is not ceremonial. It requires more than selfies and signing autographs. As the head of cabinet and the head of government, the Prime Minister should go above and beyond what is stated in the law. He should follow his own guidelines.
The is most certainly not above the law, no matter how much he thinks he is, so he should lead by example. As public figures, we are all expected to lead by example. The should understand that, but it appears that neither he nor his government have plans to stop this obvious conflict of interest.
If someone does not have $1,500 to pay for access to a fundraiser, apparently that person's opinion does not matter to the , and that is simply not right. We are talking about the Prime Minister and his cabinet, the people who make our laws, create regulations, and raise our taxes. Is it right that they attend partisan fundraisers where they are being actively lobbied? How does the entire Liberal government not see that this is a serious conflict of interest?
I know the answer to that one. It is a classic case of Liberal arrogance seeping in yet again, the same type of arrogance that led to the sponsorship scandal. How quickly the Liberals forget that they were swept out of power previously during the Chrétien and Martin days because Canadians were simply tired of their arrogance and their unethical dealings. Now, after just two years as government, the Liberals have piled up a whole slew of ethical breaches already.
The introduced a bill that would rewrite pension laws while he still held on to a million shares of Morneau Shepell, a company that could benefit from these new laws. That led to an investigation by the ethics commissioner.
The Liberal's former Calgary minister campaigned with his father for a school board seat while using House of Commons resources. That also led to an investigation by the ethics commissioner.
Who can forget about the private island vacation that the took on an island of a billionaire who lobbies the government? That led to him making history as the first prime minister to have been found guilty of breaking the law, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times.
It is no wonder the Liberals have voted down the opposition's efforts to have the appear in front of the ethics committee to answer for his actions. He has even refused to answer the opposition's questions in question period in the House of Commons about these serious ethical breaches. Instead he leaves the to answer for him, for the mess that he made, while he sits there and signs autographs.
This is why it is so hard to take the and his government seriously when they claim that Bill would make political parties more accountable. The truth is it will not.
The barbershop owner, the mechanic, and the farmer in our ridings do not have time to go on the Internet to keep up with the fundraising activities of the Liberal Party. They rely on the and his cabinet having the moral integrity not to sell access to themselves to the highest bidder.
Fundraising is a perfectly normal activity for politicians and political parties. Asking Canadians to support us and our party's vision and our ideas is part of how democracy works. Political parties take their ideas to the people and if the people like them enough, they chip in a bit of money to help the message get spread. Selling government access for donations to a political party is not a part of being in a democracy. Maybe it happens in countries with basic dictatorships, which the admires so much. I do not know. Maybe that is where he came up with the idea that this was okay. I can tell him that it is not right and it is certainly not ethical.
As politicians we are expected to go above and beyond. I challenge the and his government to do just that. Stop attending cash for access fundraisers and all of these problems will be gone. No more publicity stunts. It is time to take real action and to make real change, not just lip service.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise at third reading of Bill to offer some thoughts about the bill and about the issue of electoral reform, whether it is reforming finance, reforming the way we vote, or more generally.
I think it is important to start off with some reflections on why anyone listening at home might care about this debate, because if members looked at the bill, they would see it would not do a lot. It would add some measure of transparency to political fundraising events held by members of government in the formal sense, such as cabinet ministers, the prime minister, and party leaders.
Those Canadians who are on the Elections Canada website all the time and are interested in poring over these things, or those who watch political news shows with analysts who are more familiar with the names and data would benefit from understanding better some of the relationships around government, and understanding those things is not a bad thing. It is helpful to have more of that information in the public domain. However, I do not think that a lot of Canadians would think that Bill would make a big difference for them personally in terms of the way they relate to the political system.
The way a lot of Canadians relate to the political system is with a fair bit cynicism. They feel that it does not really matter whom they vote for as the issues of the day do not really get addressed. If they are going to see any kind of reform, it has to be big enough and bold enough to help them feel that their participation, even if it is only voting once every four years, is going to start to make them feel that it makes more of a difference than they feel that it does now.
I would say to a lot of Canadians that voting makes more of a difference than they know. They may not feel that it makes much of a difference, but it can make a lot more of a difference than they know. However, I would also forgive them for not feeling that way, particularly in light of a government that ran on a slogan of real change but is largely defending the status quo. We can see that with the bill before us.
The bill is not really about fundamentally changing the Canadian political system at all. A lot of Canadians who voted, and many more who do not ever bother to vote, would look at this and think that our political system is not working for them. They feel that it is hard for them to have their voice heard, and tinkering around the edges does not fix that.
A lot of Canadians voted for a government that promised real change, and not just real change generally, or real change on this or that, but it promised real change specifically on electoral reform. The big promise was that 2015 would be the last election fought under the first past the post system. Bill is really a status quo bill. It would not provide anything near the level of change that was promised in terms of electoral reform.
To the extent that I think all of us in this chamber have a stake in caring about how Canadians feel about the state of their democracy, and to the extent that some real change is required in order to get many Canadians who feel disaffected and disinterested in Canadian politics back to the table or to the table for the first time, we should be concerned that the bill, which was an opportunity for the Liberal Party and the government to present its vision on how we were going to bring some meaningful change to Canadian electoral politics, really is saying to let us keep on with the status quo.
Around 40% of Canadians do not find it is worth showing up to vote, and many feel that the system is, in some important way, broken. This is not a good status quo. It is not a status quo that the Liberals promised to defend in the last election. They said they were going to change it. They said that they heard that message, and that they were onside with Canadians who felt that way, and a reason to vote for them was that they understood that and they were going to bring meaningful reform.
When it comes to publishing the details of a fundraising event five days in advance, the lack of that information is not what has been driving Canadians away from the political process progressively more and more over the last 30 to 40 years. It was not that they did not get the five-day notice on the fundraiser. It was not that it did not apply to the leaders of political parties that are not currently in government. That is not what Canadians were calling for when they said that they wanted meaningful change in order to feel that the political process was working for them. However, that is all that is offered in the bill. That is fine. It is a step in the right direction. I do not have a problem supporting it. It is not that it is a bad measure because it is not enough, but it really does not meet the expectation that was set in the minds of Canadian voters for improving the electoral system.
Where are we four years from now regardless of who is elected as government in the next election? Well, we are in the same bloody place we were over two years ago when Canadians were dissatisfied and electoral reform was an election issue. How is it that we went through a whole election where that was a key election issue and there were key promises made on the part of the now governing party, and we end up in the same place with the same complaints and the same feelings of dissatisfaction? That is the problem with the bill. It is not a reason not to vote for it, but it is a real problem with the bill and it is a problem for Canadians who were rightly fed up with the status quo.
To some extent this does not just defend the status quo, but it actually legitimizes some of the worst aspects of the status quo that the Liberals have professionalized to an extent that no one foresaw or expected in terms of cash for access fundraising. Politicians of all stripes have always done fundraising and members of the governing party have always done fundraising. However, it was not until this Parliament that it became an issue. Believe me, it is not because we had more charitable opposition parties in former Parliaments that cash for access was not an issue; it is because there was not the same evidence of the professionalization by government of selling access to their ministers.
That is why we did not hear about the term “cash for access” even under the Harper Conservatives. It was not because there was a benevolent opposition party that was willing to let the Conservatives get away with that. Believe me, if they had been doing that, the NDP as the official opposition would have been calling attention to it and the Liberals as the third party would have been calling attention to it too. I disagree with my Conservative colleagues on many things, but I am not going to make up that they were doing something that they were not doing.
Cash for access was not a theme of the Canadian political discourse until these particular Liberals came to power. There is a reason for it. Nobody was as organized in seeking out members of the Canadian business community or different communities that would have an interest in getting the ear of a minister until the current government was elected and members made a science of it. They recruited those people and offered them special time in smaller venues at a high price in order to get the ear of ministers. That is wrong. I do not care what the law says, that is wrong.
To be going through the motions of passing a bill on electoral financing and fundraising and not address that issue, not by making that practice, which is a repugnant practice, more transparent is not what we need to do. It is a practice we need to put an end to. To the extent that we do not see any sign from the government benches that the repugnant practice of selling access to ministers is not going to end as a result of Bill , there are serious problems with the bill.
It is a great step in the right direction. We could pass a law that says anytime we meet someone in the grocery store we should smile at them. That would make the world a better place. It would make everyone feel good. It would be a step in the right direction, but it would not solve a lot of the real problems that are facing Canadians today.
The bill does not do that and it does not solve the real problems that Canadians are facing today with respect to how they feel about their own political system. At the very least, it should do that. We do not expect the bill to fix the problems with pensions in Canada. We do not expect it to fix the problems with health care, but surely we could have expected that it would fix some of the problems that Canadians experience in the way they relate to their politics.
I am concerned that the government sees the passage of this bill as legitimizing a new practice in Canadian politics in terms of the level of sophistication of going out and selling access to ministers based on interests that donors have in the ministers' portfolio area. The government's defence of this practice does not hold up at all. It says that this is not so bad because the gets out there and does town halls. He talks to people, and if they write him a letter he will get back to them.
It is an offence to the intelligence of Canadians to pretend that the little old lady who comes to a town hall with 3,000 people and has to sit in the back because she got there by Handi-Transit and gets to wave at the is the same as a high-powered corporative executive who pays $1,500 to go to a small dinner in somebody's condo, residence, or whatever, to talk about whatever he or she is going to talk about. This bill does not give us any more insight into what is talked about at those events, what is said or not said.
To compare those two scenarios and expect Canadians to believe that they are comparable is just ridiculous. It is totally ridiculous, and kind of offensive. It offends me, and I think it probably offends a lot of Canadians. “When I sign up to go to a town hall,” says Joe Canadian, “I get it that I am not going to get the kind of experience that a high-powered corporate exec is getting when he pays $1,500 to go meet the in a mansion somewhere. I get that it is not the same thing.” However, the Liberals are trying to say that it is the same thing. Canadians have to ask themselves whether they want people in government who think they are that stupid. This is a legitimate question for Canadians to be asking themselves.
That is the issue as I see it. We have a really repugnant practice of cash for access. We have a bit of window dressing here to try to make it seem a little better, maybe kind of okay. I do not think it accomplishes that at all. However, in the absence of real reform, it is not worth turning down.
What a missed opportunity this is. The Liberals actually built a mandate for meaningful reform. They said they were not a status quo party and wanted change. Instead of talking about the quality of this window dressing and the colour of the drapes, we could be talking about what kind of new voting system we are going to have.
We could be talking about other measures that would have done a lot for Canadian democracy. Some measures we have talked about, because they have been presented in the form of various private members' bills. I am thinking particularly of my colleague from Burnaby, who had a great idea. We talked a bit about how political parties are already subsidized publicly in two ways.
One is that when these high-powered corporate execs buy that $1,500 ticket, Canadian taxpayers actually reimburse them almost half the cost of the ticket. There is something particularly perverse about that. Corporate execs, who can pay the $1,500 with the money in their pocket, are able to climb over ordinary Canadians, who also want the ear of the government to get special attention, and then actually have those same ordinary Canadians pay them back about half the cost of the special access they are using to steamroll Canadians. One can pick any issue, whether it is big pharma and jacking up drug prices, or energy companies that want to build a pipeline through this community or that community and want the ear of the government instead of having to go to the communities to get their permission. There is something perverse about the fact that those same people who are the victims of those bad policy decisions are being made to pay for the corporate executives' access to those dinners.
That is one way in which Canadians already subsidize political parties. There is another way, in that the costs that Canadian political parties incur during an election are rebated, in part, by taxpayers as well. Therefore, we already have different forms of subsidy. I am trying not to go off on a tangent too much.
It is completely legitimate to talk about a per-vote subsidy, and maybe even look at cancelling some of those other subsidies in order to pay that money. Allocating already existing public subsidies on the basis of the parties that people actually want to support makes far more sense than rewarding certain parties for having donors who have more money to give, and then forcing all taxpayers across the country to rebate those donors simply because they are the ones with more money in the first place. There is something perverse about that, too.
However, I will digress on that point. The point I want to make comes back to the excellent point made by my colleague from Burnaby. Because we are rebating a certain portion of the costs to political parties for what they spend during an election, we could use that as a tool in order to encourage political parties to nominate more female candidates so we can start to correct the serious gender deficit we have in the House of Commons. We have 26% or 27% women in the House of Commons, even though women make up more than 50% of the Canadian population. That is a great idea. That is the kind of bold thinking that might actually do something to change the status quo of Canadian politics. That would be in keeping with the kinds of promises the Liberals made in the last election, when they said that they would not be defenders of the status quo.
That is not what we see in the bill. The bill is simply a reimagining and reinstituting of the status quo. We have heard good ideas about how to really increase the participation of women in Canadian politics, and not just to encourage them more. That is good too, and it is something that also needs to happen, but it ignores the fact that there are a lot of systemic barriers in the way of women participating in politics. It is not just about calling up our female friends more to see if we can get them to run. We also have to take more concrete measures.
Earlier this week, I was listening to the member for speak to this bill. He said that Canada has slid down to 65th in the world for participation of women in its House of Commons. That is not a very impressive number. It is certainly not an impressive number for a government that styles itself as a feminist government and says it is very committed to increasing the participation of women in politics.
We know that the Liberal Party has assured its incumbents of being able to run again, and it has a disproportionately small number of women in its caucus. This means that if the Liberal Party is successful in the next election, in re-electing most of its members who are here, that would be a bad day for women, because there are not a lot of women, proportionately, in the Liberal caucus.
There are no real policy ideas coming from those benches to address those issues in any real way. It has been unfortunate that when we have had real ideas come forward, they have been quashed. Who quashes new ideas like that?
They could be ideas that came out of an all-party committee on electoral reform, which many pundits predicted would not be able to come to a majority opinion on how to proceed with electoral reform, but it did. It recommended a referendum on proportional representation. That idea got quashed, even though it took many people across many different political fault lines working together to make it happen.
Here we have a great idea on how to concretely take a measure that would not cost Canadian taxpayers any money. In fact, it would save them money, because the way it was going to work was through the rebate I was talking about. Parties that did not run a slate with gender parity across the country would have their rebate reduced by a proportionate amount. That would actually save Canadian taxpayers money and incentivize political parties to get more women involved in politics at the same time.
If we want to talk about policy innovation and good ideas, that is a good one. A lot of good ideas we talk about that would move us in the right direction do cost money. That is money worth spending, in many cases. I do not apologize for that. However, this is one that is actually more likely to save Canadian taxpayers money, and certainly would not cost them any more. We saw it quashed. Who would quash those things? Only a party and a government that, frankly, are satisfied with the status quo would do that. Where this leaves us is largely with the status quo. We have changed the drapes, but the house is the same.
We need to do a heck of a lot better if we are going to address the real democratic deficit in Canada. I look forward to passing this bill and then moving on to those real questions.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It is a pleasure to rise today to speak to this important piece of legislation that the government has brought forward, Bill , which would make political fundraising events more open and transparent for Canadians and enhance the trust and confidence in our democratic institutions. Transparency is so important because the public deserves to know what its elected representatives are doing, what information lies at the root of government decisions, and how influence is exerted in the government. Transparency is in the best interests of Canadian democracy and is much needed in our political financing process.
The previous government simply did not understand the importance of transparency. It was a government often criticized for its pervasive secrecy and categorized as one of the worst in history regarding access to information. In fact, reports from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression gave the previous government the lowest possible grade on transparency for a number of years running. Liberals were elected on a promise to restore a sense of trust in our democracy. At the heart of this is a simple idea: transparent government is good government. Through Bill , our Liberal government will establish the openness and transparency that political financing has been needing for so long.
It is important to recognize that fundraising is a significant part of political participation and democratic expression. Fundraising is a way for Canadians to show support for a party with which it shares values, ideals, and policies. Therefore, it is of vital importance that we get these processes right.
Canada already has one of the most robust systems in the world for political fundraising. This system includes strict spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and the banning of corporate and union donations. At a national level, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can contribute a maximum of $1,550 annually to a registered party. Contributions to federal political parties are reported to Elections Canada and donations of more than $200 are published online, including the contributor's name and address.
At present, Canada is the sixth best democracy in the world, according to the Democracy Index from The Economist's intelligence unit, with a score of 9.1 out of 10. Canada ranks particularly high on the process of financing political parties with a score of 9.6 out of 10. It is evident that our democratic system is strong, but the performance of our system is due to the constant work of assessment, evaluation, and improvement.
Our democratic institutions are the pillars upon which our democracy is built. As our society continues to evolve, these systems need be strengthened and improved. Measures within Bill are a step in the right direction. These measures ensure our system continues to evolve while furthering the principles of political participation and democratic expression.
Bill would improve the fundraising process and simplify the processes of accountability. In front of committee, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner mentioned her support for the direction of this proposed legislation with the following. First, this piece of legislation, via increased transparency, would also make it easier for her office to investigate complaints. Second, the ease of access to the names and addresses of attendees at fundraising events would be useful if her office were to look into an allegation that a stakeholder who attended such an event subsequently received a benefit from a minister or a party leader. Third, the bill would remove secrecy surrounding fundraising events.
It is these types of results that demonstrate our government's commitment to a fair, transparent process. These types of measures are how we seek to restore a sense of trust in our democracy. We recognize that these are important steps in improving the system and, as this government has said time and time again, we will work tirelessly with opposition members, the Ethics Commissioner, and other experts in making sure we get this right.
In examining this bill, Dr. Leslie Seidle, a leading scholar in this field, has gone on to say that transparency is a vital principle of our political financing system. In fact, for those who do not know, political financing regulations in Canada were created under the 1974 Election Expenses Act, which established a regime for the financing of federal elections in Canada. Seidle explains that since 1974 two critical developments have occurred to strengthen transparency in federal political financing. First was the extension of reporting requirements beyond parties and candidates to other entities such as constituency associations, leadership contestants, nomination contestants, and third parties. This was an amendment of the Election Expenses Act of 1974, and took place in the eighties.
The second development mentioned by Seidle took place in 2004. Since 2004, political parties must report on their contributions at the end of every three-month period rather than annually. According to Mr. Seidle, Bill fits into these two critical junctures as a third development, enhancing further transparency to our political financing system.
The reason I mention this is that it was under a Liberal government that the Election Expenses Act of 1974 was crafted. It was under a Liberal government that reporting requirements were extended. It was also under a Liberal government that enhanced transparency over political party contributions were established. It is now again under a Liberal government that transparency over political financing is further being strengthened.
Looking back in history, it is very easy to identify the pattern. Not a single Conservative government has enacted legislation to strengthen transparency in political financing. Not only have the Conservatives chosen to disregard this file time and time again, the Conservatives have chosen to omit making improvements to our democracy. The Conservatives are now refusing legislation that enhances public scrutiny.
I wonder why the Conservatives would continue to oppose strengthening transparency in our political financing system. Even though stakeholders such as the Ethics Commissioner clearly indicate that Bill is good legislation moving forward, the official opposition continues to reject it. It does not make any sense that the Conservatives are unwilling to support sound legislation that promotes transparency. It does not make sense that the Conservatives object to transparency, unless of course they have something to hide. Under the bill, measures would also apply to fundraising events held by party leaders, and in this case, as I have mentioned many times in the House, the Conservative leader specifically.
We know the Conservative leader, the leader of the official opposition, has refused to disclose details of his own private events in the past. However, moving forward under this legislation, he, along with all parties, would have to disclose these events. No longer would the leader of the Conservatives be able to hide who his donors are and who influences his agenda.
In sum, I am strongly supportive of Bill because it reflects the importance of transparency in democratic rule. Bill C-50 brings forth enhanced transparency to the political fundraising process. These changes are a step in the right direction. They complement and strengthen our democracy, and they contribute to fairness within the political fundraising system.
I encourage all members of the House to vote in support of Bill . Again, our party understands that when we bolster transparency, democracy wins.
Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the hon. member for for splitting his time with me and for the very passionate speech he made.
I rise today to speak to Bill . Under the leadership of the and the , we have taken concrete action to make the government more open so that Canadians can fully understand what their government is doing. A clear way to do this is to make political fundraising more transparent.
I am proud to say that Canada has been a leader in this since the former prime minister, the right hon. Jean Chrétien, banned corporate and union donations to political parties. Today Canada's strong fundraising and election laws are an example throughout the world, as foreign countries regularly visit our country to understand our system and learn from it.
We have one of the most robust systems in the world, which includes strict spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and a ban on corporate and union donations. Canadian citizens and permanent residents can contribute a maximum of $1,550 every year to a registered federal party. This is among the lowest in the democratic world. In fact, many other democratic countries have no limit at all.
These laws prevent big money from influencing our elections and policies and provide transparency, because any donation above $200 is published online with the information about who donated it. It is important for our democracy that the voice of every Canadian is heard and that decisions are made based only on facts, principles, and values. I have no doubt that every member in the house would agree with that.
I am proud of the work that has been accomplished to make our elections fairer, where big money plays no role. Our elections are about ideas, and we need to keep it that way. These laws are important to protect the integrity of our institutions. When the government or its policies are motivated by large donations from corporations or unions, that is when public trust in government begins to erode and Canadians become disinterested in the political process. This undermines the foundation of our country and the foundation of our democracy.
Many countries have no limits on how much one can donate. The result is that large interest groups control the conversation regarding policy because of their ability to donate large amounts of funds. This leads to the policy discussion changing from what is in the public interest to what is in the interest of raising enough money for the next election.
I want to be clear. There is nothing wrong with raising funds. It is an important part of our democracy, as it gives political parties and their candidates the ability to reach out to citizens through communication materials and other means.
It is also an opportunity for voters to express their support with their money, which is their individual right. I myself am very proud of the grassroots fundraising from thousands of people who have supported me over the many years I have been in public service. The value of those donations is much higher than those that come in large sums from single groups, because they bring real committed support along with them.
However, these laws need to be made stronger so that our bar for transparency and accountability is high enough to maintain the highest standards of trust in our election process. That is why we are introducing new actions that will increase transparency and give Canadians a new way to understand the fundraising by political parties.
Our promise to Canadians was to increase trust and accountability in Parliament and the democratic process. This is something we have continuously worked towards that began with our actions to strengthen our election system and to engage more Canadians, especially new and young Canadians. Bill would build on the existing rules and add a new layer of transparency around fundraising by making several changes.
First, fundraising events that had a ticket price of over $200 and were being attended by cabinet ministers, party leaders, and leadership candidates, would have to release the name and partial address of each donor, with the exception of youth under the age of 18, volunteers, staff, media, and individuals providing support services.
Second, parties would have to advertise the event to the public at least five days in advance so that Canadians would have access to where and when fundraising activities were taking place. After the event, political parties would have to release the names and partial addresses of donors within 30 days.
Third, to ensure that the rules for fundraising were followed, the donations collected would have to be returned if not reported within a set period of time.
Bill recognizes that even though Canada has world-renowned rules on political fundraising, we understand that this is something that needs to be continually addressed and improved.
This bill would allow Canadians to continue to place confidence in our democratic institutions. These amendments to the Canada Elections Act would give Canadians, including the media, more information than ever by letting them know who was going to fundraisers, when they were happening, who was attending, and the amount required to attend.
In closing, I urge all members to support this bill. Our democracy is the most important foundation of our country. Making fundraising activities more open and transparent has been a core commitment of this government, and we will continue to deliver on that promise.
Madam Speaker, today I will be sharing my time with the member for .
The Liberal Party's campaign platform literature attributes a quote to its leader as follows, “sunlight is the world’s best disinfectant. Liberals will shed new light on the government”. That quote by the now has proven prophetic, but not for the reasons he had hoped. A new light has, indeed, been shed on government in this Liberal era, and that light has been unflattering. In the space of less than two years, the government has tallied a litany of ethical failures.
Now, here we are today, against that background, debating Bill , a proposal to amend the political financing rules of the Canada Elections Act.
Context is important here, because the bill, at its heart, is one that addresses a question of ethics, namely, those surrounding the cash for access fundraisers in which Liberals engage. The Liberals are retroactively attempting to find political cover for a problem they created.
Bill is before us because the Liberal Party was selling cash for access at events where tickets were up to $1,500 per person. Many speakers before me on this issue have detailed the ins and outs of the cash for access scheme and the instances in which the Liberals benefited from it. Suffice it to say, the Liberals now want to legitimize the practice because they depend on it. The numbers have been crunched and they do not look rosy for the governing party.
The Conservative Party just had its best quarter and best year of fundraising results since 2015, but the Liberals logged their worst fundraising year since the current became the party's leader. The Liberals know that Canadians are responding to our positive Conservative vision and taking action to support that vision for Canada through their financial support for my party. The Liberals, for their part, have lost the support of their grassroots donors because of their unethical behaviours.
It seems many Liberal supporters are showing that they have had enough of their party's tax hikes, their government's continuous pattern of debt and deficits, and its failure to deliver results for middle-class Canadians. The Liberals, therefore, want to formalize the cash for access arrangement to help them make up for the loss of funds that have resulted from Canadians' loss of confidence in them. They view Bill as the answer to their problems. They want to change the rules to conform to their behaviours so they can tell Canadians they are following the rules when they organize these types of fundraisers.
The Conservative opposition, in the course of its duty to hold the government to account, has repeatedly stood to defend Canadians' interests against the cross-purposes of its own . We have consistently exposed matters linked to the unethical behaviour of the Prime Minister and others within the Liberal ranks. Every time we have exhorted their party to do the right thing and take responsibility for their actions, to apologize and change course for the sake of the Canadian people we are all here to serve, their leadership has responded, instead, by dragging out the issue, dodging legitimate questions Canadians have about their conduct.
Here we have Bill , which is the latest attempt by the party to avoid doing the right thing in favour of setting the rules up to give them more latitude. The Liberals know their cash for access fundraisers do not pass the smell test with many Canadians.
Canadians understand human nature and know how suspicious meetings could happen at events of the type that Bill C-50 governs, where people are paying a lot of money to attend and bend the ears of the powers that be. Rather than take the high road and forgo a practice many find objectionable, however, they choose instead to legitimize their bending of the rules so they can keep charging wealthy individuals to meet and discuss government business with Liberals.
We know what Bill means for the Liberals, but what does it mean for Canadians in general? In short, it means more government. Since the Liberals refuse to relinquish their cash cow, they have decided instead to bring in new rules, which come with new advertising, new reporting, and new administration requirements, which, under a Liberal government, we can bet means more costs for Canadians.
The Liberals prefer this avenue of new expenses for taxpayers so they can continue their sketchy events, rather than the obvious, honourable, no-cost alternative to simply call a stop to these types of fund raisers. That does not take legislation to do. That does not require making new rules to follow, and thereby creating more expense to administrate. The Liberals could just stop doing it. Instead, they opt for more red tape and to make a big bureaucratic mess out of more matters to regulate. The paternalistic answer for the Liberals is always a bigger government and new regulations, as opposed to making right choices. We need less red tape, less bureaucracy, less expense for the taxpayers in Canada, not new opportunities to grow all of those categories.
By now we have heard all the details and provisions of the bill many times. We know how Bill would provide, among other things, that fundraisers requiring a contribution over $200 and at which party leaders, ministers, or leadership contestants would be in attendance must be advertised online by the party five days in advance, and a report of each individual fundraiser, including the headline guest, individuals who attended, and how much each attendee was required to pay to attend, must be submitted to Elections Canada within 30 days of the fundraiser for public disclosure. These and other proposals in this bill are tailored to add a gloss of acceptability to the Liberals' tradition of such fundraisers that charge for proximity to their ministers.
A new law will not make these cash for access fundraisers ethical, however. What a cynical world view that represents. Canadians want to know that their representatives are honest, trustworthy, and scrupulous in their dealings. People are naturally leery of political fundraising, and Canadians want us to have not even the appearance of a conflict.
That is what some Canadians thought they were getting with the . They were led to believe so because the Prime Minister's own “Open and Accountable Government” guide under the fundraising section states, “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.”
Given such a directive from the , why then do Liberals need Bill at all, when they could just follow their own stated ethical standard? I think we know the answer. The answer is because the government is ethically challenged. I do not say that as an insult; I say it as a matter of unfortunate fact. It has been proven time and again.
The recent breaches of ethics we have seen from the Liberal Party cannot be characterized as simple mistakes or missteps, though the Liberals have certainly attempted to portray them that way. No, rather these breaches have been serious and even historic in nature.
Less than halfway through his mandate, the Liberal leader has the dubious distinction of being the first Canadian prime minister to break a federal law while in office, when he accepted a gift that the Ethics Commissioner ruled could have influenced his decision-making, a gift, I hasten to note, which also posed a cost of $200,000 to Canadians, a cost the to this day refuses to repay the taxpayer.
It has been evident from his actions for some time now that the does not think rules should apply to people like him. Every indicator points to his belief that there is one set of rules for Liberals and their friends, and another set for everybody else. We have seen this in the decision to wait nearly a year to apologize to Canadians for multiple violations of the Conflict of Interest Act. The Prime Minister genuinely did not see anything to apologize for until the Ethics Commissioner's report publicly pointed it out.
Bill shows us that the Liberals also do not see a problem with selling access to those who are willing to pay up to the maximum federal amount. I am reminded of the proverb “Physician, heal thyself”, an admonition to ensure we are not guilty of the faults we are attempting to correct in others. Cash for access events resulted in the Ethics Commissioner and the Lobbying Commissioner launching investigations against the Liberals, which, in turn, has resulted in Bill .
It shows us that these particular positions in the Liberal Party are choosing only to treat the symptoms rather than cure the disease. Bill —
Madam Speaker, I am here today to speak to Bill . We have heard a lot of comments from this side of the House noting that the bill really would not get it done. It is quite amazing that our cohorts in the NDP want to support it. I have to say at the outset of my remarks that it is so typical of the Liberals to introduce very complicated legislation and red tape instead of just being inherently ethical.
In the 's own open and accountable government guide, which we all know is “Open and Accountable”, under the fundraising section it states, “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.” It is pretty simple, straightforward, and sounds pretty good.
Why do the Liberals need such legislation if they could just follow their own rules? It just does not add up to me.
We all know that the Liberals broke the rules and they were caught. That is why we are here debating this legislation today. That is the only reason this legislation has come forward. Here we are debating Bill , which is basically a band-aid for bad behaviour, Liberal bad behaviour.
This legislation really is quite unnecessary. We do not need new legislation to tell us how to act and to tell us what to do and how to behave. It has been said here before, but it is worth repeating, that a new law will not make the 's infamous cash for access fundraisers ethical. Those famous, or maybe I should say infamous, Liberal fundraisers saw scores of people paying $1,500 a pop to have special access to the or cabinet ministers. It is really quite shameful.
Members on all sides of the House should know what is right and what is wrong. We have probably all known this since we were four years old or maybe younger. If we are caught with our hand in the cookie jar, there is a price to pay. The Liberal leader of Canada was clearly caught with his hand in the cookie jar. There is absolutely no doubt about that. He has admitted it, etc., etc.
Canadians tell me they believe the just does not understand basic ethics, and that is pretty evident. He does not like to own up to what he has done. He does not understand that when people do something or take something that does not belong to them, they have to give it back. We were taught that as children. We have to accept punishment. We cannot just say, “My bad, can't do it. Sorry about that. Sorry if I hurt your feelings.”
It is just like his trip to the Aga Khan's private island. The was found to have broken the law. He was found guilty of four ethics violations. We all know what happened. When we break the law, there is a price to pay. We cannot just say “sorry”. We all remember that famous song of the 1980s, Tears Are Not Enough. It rings true now.
We also know the is very good at crying on cue and appearing to be sorry, but he has to make amends and is just not willing to do so. He has said that again and again in the House. I guess he is just not ready. Where have I heard that before? I do not know. It is true that he has just not grown up yet. Maybe he was never punished before. I do not know.
Every Canadian knows that we just cannot take something, say sorry, and then not give it back. We learn that as children. It is especially not cool when someone is taking taxpayer money from hard-working Canadians. Now these are people who know what it is like to work hard for a dollar. That is precisely what the is doing. He is taking from hard-working taxpayers. He is even refusing to pay back more than $200,000 for his illegal family trip to fantasy island. That is what I like to call it. It was a fantasy.
Do not forget he is the first sitting Canadian found in violation of a federal statute while in office. That is quite a record. It is terrible. It is shameful. Here is something I think of all the time. Could we imagine the outrage if then prime minister Stephen Harper had broken the law in this way? They would be stringing up the gallows. However, I know that would never have happened. It did not happen and it could not have happened because of the fundraising rules already in place, as well as the fact that we, as Conservatives, followed them. That is the key. We followed the existing rules.
Canadians really deserve better than a who believes there is one set of rules for Liberals and his friends, and a whole other set of rules for everybody else, all the other poor schmucks. What is really at play here is that if the Prime Minister truly wanted to be ethical and end cash for access, all he needed to do was just stop doing these types of fundraisers. It is a no-brainer. It is cliché to say that it is not rocket science, but it is beyond that. I mean, it could not be clearer. It just does not take legislation to stop unethical behaviour. It just takes being ethical. It is ludicrous that we are even having to sit here and debate this kind of thing when we all know what the situation is. Just be ethical. All one needs is a good moral compass, and we are not seeing that from this .
I will transition for a minute to say a few words about the party I represent. The truth is that we approach things differently. We get a lot of smaller donations from regular Canadians, and we continue to get them. As a party, we do not rely on wealthy elites and pay-to-play events and such fundraisers. We really do not. In fact, I am told that opposition Conservatives just had their best fourth quarter ever and the best year since the 2015 election, without relying on these kinds of unethical fundraising practices the Liberals have employed. Now, the Liberals had their worst fundraising year since the became their leader, because they had to halt these unethical types of fundraisers. That is exactly why that happened.
These numbers support what we are hearing from all constituents and Canadians across the country. Canadians are really tired of the 's unethical behaviour, tax hikes, and failure to deliver results for middle-class Canadians. Conservatives will continue to follow the law, as we always have.