The House resumed from February 7 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill , which is important legislation.
I am a little surprised that the Conservative Party has opted to vote in opposition to the legislation, which does not make sense. I listened to them talk at great length, attempting to explain why they were opposed to it.
If they were to read the bill, I think most Canadians would have to question why the Conservatives have made this decision. I hope to maybe explain, at least in part, why I believe the official opposition has decided to vote against it.
The New Democratic Party has taken a little different approach. The New Democrats are reiterating a lot of the their Conservative friends have highlighted. I have often made reference to the unholy alliance between the two parties. They like to work together, fairly closely, and we can hear that at times with their speaking notes. However, the New Democrats have the wisdom to recognize something the Conservatives have not, and that is that this is good legislation and is worth supporting.
What are we asking of the House? The essence of the legislation is that not only do we want the to be more accountable and transparent with respect to who he meets with and who pays for these $250-a-plate meetings or gatherings, whatever type of reception it might be, but that same principle also apply to cabinet ministers, and I think this is really where the catch is, the , and other leaders.
It is a step forward in government legislation and the types of things that could improve accountability and transparency. It all boils down to wanting to amend the law so there is a legal obligation for political entities, those leaders, the , and cabinet ministers, to indicate who shows up at these receptions. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that. I see that as a strong positive.
We have seen many reforms over the last couple of decades to improve the Canada Elections Act and the Financial Administration Act, and this is yet another piece of legislation to do just that.
One has to question why the Conservatives are in opposition to that. The only thing I have discovered is the current leadership within the Conservative Party seems to believe Canadians do not have any business knowing with whom the is meeting.
It is interesting, because last year there was a fundraising event, and we knew it was a fundraising event, but the Conservatives denied it. It was with the current , the Conservative Party. When we made some initial inquiries in regard to it, we were told that the event never occurred. The Conservatives were formally asked whether there was an event and we were told no.
That puts things at odds with the individuals who actually attended the event. One of those individuals said “No, I did pay”. I believe the opposition leader met with realtors and some business leaders, but I do not know the actual price that was paid. It was over $250, and it might have been $500, although do not quote me on the price. However, it was a substantial amount of money to meet with the leader. The leader finally had to admit they did have the fundraiser. I do not understand the resistance in telling people this, but there was a great reluctance.
If we read the one published news story on the issue, it is interesting that the said, in essence, that he was not the prime minister, that he did not have to report it, that he would keep within the law. He implied that if it were the law, then he would report it. If we connect the dots, one could draw the conclusion that the Conservatives do not want this to be the law, and that is the reason they will vote against it.
Members across the way say that it is somewhat silly or possibly ridiculous, but think about it. The said if it were the law, he would report it. We now are introducing the law that would obligate him to report it and the Conservative Party will vote against it.
I do not quite understand how the Conservatives can justify that the leader of the official opposition, the person who wants to be prime minister some day, should not have to share with Canadians who he meets with for these big bucks. Instead of trying to explain or justify that, they are choosing use the line that they are voting against the legislation because of so-called cash for access, as if the Conservatives never did it when they were in government. Some of them across the way say they did not do it.
I can recall when former prime minister Stephen Harper would go to British Columbia for summer barbeques. The good news is that if people attended the barbeque, they could watch the prime minister walk into the big white tent. They could not go into the big white tent unless they paid at least $1,000, but if they paid that, it would give them two minutes with the prime minister and a photo. It is not like that was just a one-time event. I understand it was almost an annual event and it was very nice of a senator to put on that event. How quickly things have changed.
Do the Conservatives believe that former prime minister Stephen Harper did not raise money for their party, never attended an event where money was charged? I just gave an example of it.
Did Stephen Harper say that these ware all the people who were in that big white tent? I will suggest, no. If I am wrong, please tell us who was in the white tent with the prime minister, who paid that extra money to have the ear of the prime minister.
We know that whether one is a leader or a prime minister, leaders of political entities have a responsibility to assist their respective parties in raising money. Is it too much to ask that the individuals they meet with, who are paying over $250, at some point become public knowledge? I would suggest not.
This government has said no. The and the cabinet ministers have now been following the rules in this legislation. The Conservative Party still does not want to follow it. It reminds me of another situation, and my friends will recall this one.
I remember when the current was the leader of the Liberal Party, sitting back where the New Democrats are sitting today. We all remember those days. Personally, I am glad those days are over, and the biggest beneficiary of that has been Canada's middle class. I remember when he stood in the House and said that he believed in proactive disclosure. He asked for the unanimous consent of the House to implement “proactive disclosure” in regard to members of Parliament. I remember all the objections and the noes, especially coming from the then official opposition the New Democratic Party. However, those members were not alone at all. The Conservatives also objected to it. It was not like we just tried it the one time; we tried it on several occasions.
I believe the set into work good deeds that ultimately ensured there would be more transparency and accountability coming out of the House. That is what this legislation would do that.
I will go back to the proactive disclosure for MPs and what happened. We decided that even though it was not the law, we took actions and we imposed it upon ourselves, and that is what is happening with the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers today. It did not take that long for the Conservative Party back then to recognize it was offside, kind of out of touch with Canadians. I give the Conservatives credit. They recognized it, jumped on board and complied. My New Democratic friends went kicking and screaming. It ultimately took an opposition day where they were shamed into supporting proactive disclosure.
Today the New Democrats are recognizing that this is good legislation so they are supporting it. People will notice that even though they are supporting the legislation, they are still somewhat critical of the government but they recognize the value of good legislation, unlike my Conservative friends across the way. After the current convinced them that listening to Canadians was a good thing to do, they came on board with the proactive disclosure for MPs. However, now on this issue, the Conservatives do not seem to want to listen to Canadians.
I always thought we would not do any worse than Stephen Harper with respect to leadership, but on this issue, the Conservatives do not recognize something that even Stephen Harper recognized, which was being more transparent and accountable was what Canadians expected. That is why I do not quite understand their position on Bill . The good news is that it is not too late. It took the Conservatives a little while to come to their senses on proactive disclosure for MPs. I am an optimistic person. I believe the glass is half full. I would hope my friends across the way will actually see the merit of passing the legislation.
I know some Conservatives have argued in their presentations that we do not need the law to tell us what we should be doing.
An hon. member: Correct.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Mr. Speaker, one member across the way has said “correct”. That is not true; they do need the law.
Just prior to the House getting under way, I was hoping to find a news article. I wish I had it here because I am sure my friends would have been quite impressed by it. Due to the fine work done by Patrick, I had that quote but I do not have it with me right now. However, let me capture the essence of the quote.
The quote is from the current leader of the official opposition. One kind of has to chuckle when reading it. If members want it, I can provide the actual quote. The current Conservative leader admitted that he is a little different from the Prime Minister, but that is okay and he will follow the law. However, it is not the law today, so he does not have to abide by it. He feels that he does not have to share that information. In the article, he said that if it were the law, he would follow it and comply.
The question I have for the backbenchers of the Conservative Party is whether they believe in accountability and transparency, as the Liberal members of the House do. If they believe in accountability and transparency and improving the legislation, they should vote in favour of the bill. Some members are laughing about that.
Conservatives have talked a lot about the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner lately. Do they know what the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner had to say about the legislation? In essence, she said it is good legislation and that it would move us forward. I suggest that if my Conservative friends were to canvass on this particular issue, they would find that Canadians, as a whole, would support this legislation, because it is time that we have it.
I applaud the for taking the initiative in a relatively short time span and bringing forward legislation that I believe would ensure more accountability and transparency. These are important to be put in place as we continue to evolve our election laws and the way campaigns are financed. For me personally, some of the reforms over the years, in particular, getting rid of corporation and union contributions to individuals, have been strong and positive. It has changed the way many Canadians look at politicians. They do not perceive us as having been bought by interest groups.
In one of my earlier comments, I talked about how important finances are. There is no question about it. I would argue the best democracy in the world is right here in Canada. There is always room for improvement, and that is why I am glad to see this piece of legislation. However, on the financial, in essence, I believe Canada leads the way, in many ways, in the world. At the end of the day, one candidate in Winnipeg North would probably spend—I am not too sure of the actual dollar amount—somewhere around $80,000 to $100,000, and there could be four or five candidates. Where would they get that money from and how important is it that they get the money necessary for a full campaign?
The reason I raise that, to finish my debate on a personal note, is not to overestimate the importance of money, but rather, to emphasize how important our volunteers are. I can receive a donation, for example, of up to $1,500, but the real value of my volunteers far exceeds the value of a $1,500 donation. I do not believe we give enough credit to volunteers of all political stripes. Whether they are Green, Liberal, New Democrat, or Conservative, the efforts that our volunteers put into our campaigns, both at the local and national levels, are vastly underestimated.
From my colleagues and all members of the House, I would like to express appreciation to those individuals. They deserve just as much credit as anyone who would give any sort of cash donation. Having said that, donations are always appreciated too.
Mr. Speaker, the government is proposing to further regulate political fundraisers by requiring leaders and ministers to file a bunch of reports every time they hold one. To be clear, the names of donors and the amounts they give are already published. The bill would simply require more reports on where and when these donors attend gatherings.
Before we judge the merits of the proposal, let us go back to first principles and ask why restrictions on political fundraising exist at all. There is only one reason we restrict those donations. It is to prevent people from turning money into power. Political power is zero sum. There is only so much of it to go around. If a donor gets more, everyone else has less.
Why would donors be willing to pay for political power in the first place? The answer is the return on investment. Large-scale donors almost invariably want something in return for the money they invest in politics. Usually they want a grant, an interest-free loan, a contract, or a regulation or protective tariff to stop their competitors. They believe that the donation will help them get the government's assistance, and they calculate that the advantage gained is vastly bigger than the donation necessary to get it.
As an example, just yesterday we learned that the largest corporate donor to the Ontario Liberal Party gave the party $480,000, in exchange for which it got $160 million in government handouts. What a return on an investment. The company got three hundred times what it paid the party, smashing all stock market investing records set by Warren Buffett and John Pierpont Morgan.
Monied interests that donate are not, therefore, giving, at least in many cases. They are buying. They expect something in return. Will a bill that requires the publication of events they attend, events for which their donations are already reported and made public, prevent that from happening? Of course not. We are seeing that right now.
Monied interests have found other ways than just donations to purchase influence: paid lobbyists; massive, unregulated third-party advertising campaigns, in which tens of millions of dollars were invested in helping this government get elected in the last election; and gifts to the in the form of paid vacations or exorbitant speaking fees by organizations that had vested interests in how the then-leader of the Liberal third party would vote in the House of Commons.
If these restrictions on donations have not thus far been successful in getting money out of politics, at stopping people from converting their dollars into power, then how can we put an end to this tawdry practice? The answer is that we need to get government out of the economy. Government has become such a dominant part of the economy that those who wish to make money need the favour of government decision-makers to do it, so they invest in political influence to get that favour.
Nobel prize winning economist James Buchanan called it public choice theory. He wrote:
However, when governmental machinery directly uses almost one-third of the national product, when interest groups clearly recognize the “profits” to be made through political action, and when a substantial proportion of all legislation exerts measurably differential effects on the separate groups of the population, an economic theory can be of great help in pointing toward some means through which these conflicting interest may be ultimately reconciled.
His public choice theory has been described as political theory without the romance.
According to William Shughart, public choice theory “transfers the rational actor model of economic theory to the realm of politics.” Where people act rationally in a market economy, investing in order to get a return, Dr. Buchanan found that government-run economies have the exact same kind of calculated trade-offs: people investing in politics in order to get rich.
Socialists often decry corporate profiteers who make money in the private sector. As a solution, they believe in replacing the private sector with ever bigger government. However, when government replaces private business, what happens to these profiteers? Do these rapacious, capitalist vultures transform into selfless doves? When socialism replaces the free market, does it simultaneously remove all greed from human DNA? Do people stop wanting to make money? Of course not. In fact, the only thing that changes is the way they make money.
The way one makes money in a government economy is by winning the favour of the political decision-makers who allocate the resources. Instead of selling things people agree to buy, one buys the politicians who control the money. If all the money is in the great vault of the state, profiteers work at buying or renting the keys to that vault. They donate to politicians who give them subsidies. They offer luxurious vacations to prime ministers in exchange for grants to their foundations. They hire lobbyists to convince governments to shut down their competitors with more regulation and tariffs.
As Buchanan wrote:
The individual who seeks short-run pleasures through his consumption of “luxury” items sold in the market is precisely the same individual who will seek partisan advantage through political action.
In the book Welfare for the well-to-do, economist Gordon Tullock put it this way: “Today the individual who works hard and thinks carefully in order to make money in the market will also work hard and think carefully in order to use the government to increase his wealth. Thus, we should anticipate that effort and ingenuity would be put into using the government for gain, and if we look at the real world, we do indeed see such activities.”
The larger government becomes, the more we can expect profit-seekers to turn their money into power and to turn that money back into yet more money.
We see the evidence. In 2014, the last full year of the Conservative government, when government spending was on the decline, lobbyists registered 14,000 interactions with designated public office holders. Last year, there were 23,000 lobbyist interactions with designated public office holders, which is a 79% increase in just three years.
Why is it that businesses, unions, and others are spending so much more on lobbyists? The answer is that there is so much more money in the government to be had. Businesses, to see a return on investment, believe that if they invest in a lobbyist they can get more of that government money. The two fastest growing sectors in our economy are now government and lobbyists, which are two sectors that grow hand in hand.
There has been a payoff. Bombardier invested in lobbyists and got $400 million in interest-free loans from the government. Private equity funds and investment bankers that have invested in lobbyists secured a $15-billion infrastructure bank to protect their investments in megaprojects. Some tech companies have invested in lobbyists, and they have been able to secure a brand new billion-dollar corporate welfare fund that will create so-called superclusters. Money, of course, will go to the best lobbied-for firms.
Big government leads to more lobbying elsewhere as well. Strategas Research Partners produced a graph showing the correlation between U.S. government spending as a share of GDP and the amount corporations have spent on lobbying in Washington. In 2000, federal spending in the U.S. was about 19% of GDP, and there was about $2 billion of lobbying. By 2009, government spending had grown to 25% of GDP, and lobbying had nearly doubled, in inflation-adjusted terms, to $4 billion. More money in the government in Washington means more money spent on lobbyists to get that money in Washington.
When government decides who gets what, business buys a larger share of government. Who wins when that happens? Well, of course, it is those with money. They can hire lobbyists, promise future jobs to politicians, make donations, and schmooze with officials. The working class, by contrast, can afford to do none of these things. They are too busy trying to keep their heads above water, raise their children, and pay their bills to have the means to accumulate and leverage political influence.
Great big government brings economic oligarchs. It concentrates wealth in the state and in the hands of those most able to control the state: a privileged class of modern-day aristocrats.
If we want monied interests to stop pouring money into politics, we must remove the economic power of politicians to reward them for doing so, and that is done by reinstating the free market, a free market in which business makes money by pleasing customers, rather than a government-run economy in which business makes money by pleasing politicians; a free market economy in which people get ahead by having the best product, rather than a government-run economy in which people get ahead by having the best lobbyists; a free market economy in which people put their minds to work investing in products and services people would voluntarily buy with their own money, rather than one in which we put our best minds to work winning the favour of powerful politicians with the keys to the vault of the state; a free market economy based on a meritocracy, not a government-run economy based on an aristocracy.
If the government really wants to put an end to the excesses of money in politics, it must have the humility to surrender control of large parts of the economy over which it has no business being involved.
Mr. Speaker, it is no accident that today we are once again debating the Liberals' Bill .
Several scandals have put the spotlight on the Liberals' outrageous and questionable fundraising activities. They introduced Bill C-50 to improve their image. After breaking the electoral reform promise they made before, during, and after the 2015 campaign, they introduced this bill to cover up the fact that they had broken their promise.
The Liberals dangled this promise before a generation of young people, my generation, saying that our electoral system was obviously not very representative and that it did not necessarily reflect how Canadians voted. People believed this promise. The NDP believed it. At the end of the day, we were too naive. We were thinking that, for once, something constructive would be done.
Tens of thousands of Canadians testified and were consulted as the committee travelled across Canada, gathering ideas and suggestions from citizens. Eighty percent of Canadians said that they were in favour of a system with a proportional component. Furthermore, almost 90% of the experts who appeared before the electoral reform committee were also in favour of a proportional system for the next election.
About two weeks ago, the told the CBC that he was not convinced. When he put an end to the electoral reform process one year ago, everyone was devastated. What more do we need to do if the Prime Minister cannot recognize what is democratic, even though 80% of citizens and 90% of experts are on the same page?
At some point, the people stop believing the politicians, whom they mandated to represent the public. The Prime Minister himself repeated some 60 times that he would do what it took to ensure the 2015 election was the last under the first past the post system. He is now outright rejecting this and telling us that the current system works in his favour and that he will leave it as is, despite all the work done on this file.
The committee travelled across the country at great expense. All that work was done for nothing because, in the end, the Prime Minister did what he wanted and decided that the views expressed at all those consultations by all the experts and by all Canadians were meaningless.