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Results: 1 - 8 of 8
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
View Alupa Clarke Profile
2018-10-26 10:49 [p.22876]
Madam Speaker, it is always an honour to rise to speak in the House.
I would like to say hello to the people of Beauport—Limoilou who are watching us now on CPAC or watching a rebroadcast on Facebook or Twitter.
Without further delay, I would like to address the previous speaker's comments. I find it interesting that he said their objective was to prevent foreign influence from third parties.
The bill will pass, since the Liberals have a majority. However, one problem I have with the bill is that it will allow more than 1.5 million Canadians who have been living outside of Canada for more than five years to vote in general elections, even if they have been outside Canada for 10 or 15 years.
These people have a privilege that even Canadians who have never left the country do not even have. The Liberals will let them randomly choose which riding they want to vote in. This is a massive privilege.
If I were living in the United States for 10 years and saw that the vote was really close in a certain riding, thanks to the new amendments made to the bill, I could decide to vote for the Liberal Party in order to ensure that a Liberal member gets elected. That seems like a very dangerous measure to me. It will give a lot of power to people who have been living abroad for a very long time. That still does not make them foreigners, since they are Canadian citizens.
For those watching us, I want to note that we are talking about Bill C-76 to modernize the Canada Elections Act.
This is an extremely important issue because it is the Canada Elections Act that sets the guidelines for our elections in our democracy. These elections determine the party that will form the next government of Canada.
I am sure that the people of Beauport—Limoilou watching us right now can hardly believe the Liberal government when it says that it wants to improve democracy or Canada's electoral system or allow a lot of people to exercise their right to vote. The Liberals' record on different elements of democracy has been deplorable the past three years.
Two years ago when the House was debating the issue, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The Liberals introduced a parliamentary reform that included some rather surprising elements. They wanted to weaken the opposition, thereby weakening roughly 10 million Canadians who voted for the opposition parties, including the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Green Party.
They wanted to cut speaking times in the House, which is completely ridiculous. I have said it many times before and I will say it again. An MP currently has the right to speak for 20 minutes. Most of the time, each MP speaks for 10 minutes. Through the reform, the Liberals wanted to cut speaking times from 20 minutes to 10 minutes at all times. The 20-minute speaking slot would no longer exist.
I have a book at home that I love called The Confederation Debates. It features speeches by Papineau, Doyon, George-Étienne Cartier, John A. MacDonald, Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, among many others that I could name. These great MPs would speak for four, five, six, seven or eight hours without stopping, long into the night.
With their parliamentary reforms, the Liberals wanted to reduce MPs' speaking time to 10 minutes. They wanted to take away our right to speak for 20 minutes. All this was intended to minimize the opposition's speaking time, to stifle debate on various issues.
What they did yesterday was even worse. It was a clear-cut example of their attitude towards parliamentary democracy. They imposed time allocation. In layman's terms, they placed a gag order on a debate on the modernization of the Canada Elections Act. No example could more blatantly demonstrate their ultimate intent, which is to ram the bill through as fast as possible. It is really a shame. They want to ram this down our throats.
There is also what they did in 2015 and 2016 with their practice of cash for access.
When big-time lobbyists want to meet with a minister or the Prime Minister to discuss an issue, they just have to register and pay $1,500, or $1,575 now, for the opportunity to influence them.
These are not get-togethers with ordinary constituents. These are get-togethers arranged for the express purpose of giving prominent lobbyists access to top government officials and enabling them to influence decisions.
Here is a great example. The Minister of Finance attended a get-together with Port of Halifax officials and people closely connected to the Port of Halifax. No other Liberal Party MP was there. That is a blatant conflict of interest and cash for access.
If Canadians have a hard time trusting the Liberals when they say they introduced this bill because they want to enfranchise people or improve democracy and civic engagement, it is also because of all of the promises the Liberals have broken since their election in 2015.
Elections and electoral platforms form the foundations of Canadian democracy. Each party's political platform contains election promises. Personally, I prefer to call them commitments. The Liberals made some big promises. They said they would run small $10-billion deficits for the first two years and then reduce the deficits. Year after year, however, as they are in their third year of a four-year mandate, they have been running deficits that are much worse: $30 billion, $20 billion and, this year, $19 billion, although their plan projected a $6-billion deficit.
They broke that promise, but worse still, they broke their promise to return to a balanced budget. As my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent has put it so well often enough, this is the first time we are seeing structural deficits outside wartime or a major recession. What is worse, this is the first time a government has had no plan to return to a balanced budget. It defies reason. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, an institution created by the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, said again recently that it is unbelievable to see a government not taking affairs of the state more seriously.
Meanwhile, with respect to infrastructure, the Liberals said they were introducing the largest infrastructure program in Canadian history—everything is always historic with them—worth $187 billion. What is the total amount spent to date? They have spent, at most, $7 billion on a few projects here and there, although this was supposed to be a pan-Canadian, structured and large-scale program.
The Liberals also broke their promise to reform the electoral system. They wanted a preferential balloting system because, according to analyses, surveys and their strategists, it would have benefited them. I did not support that promise, but it is probably why so many Canadians voted for the Liberals.
There is then a string of broken promises, but electoral reform was a fundamental promise and the Liberals reneged on it. It would have made changes to the Election Act and to how Canadians choose their government. That clearly shows once again that Canadians cannot trust the Liberals when they say they will reform the Election Act in order to strengthen democracy in Canada.
Let us now get back to the matter at hand, Bill C-76, which makes major fundamental changes that I find deplorable.
First, Bill C-76 would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize the use of the voter information card as a piece of identification for voting. As one of my Conservative colleagues said recently, whether we like it or not, voter cards show up all over, even in recycling boxes. Sometimes voter cards are found sticking out of community mailboxes.
There are all kinds of ways that an individual can get hold of a voter card and go to the polling station with it. It is not that difficult. This Liberal bill enables that individual to vote, although there is no way of knowing if they are that person, unless they are asked to provide identification—and that is not even the biggest problem.
It does not happen often, thank goodness, but when I go to the CHUL in Quebec City—which is the hospital where I am registered—not only do I have to provide the doctor's requisition for blood work, but I also have to show a piece of ID and my hospital card.
View Luc Thériault Profile
BQ (QC)
View Luc Thériault Profile
2018-03-01 17:18 [p.17567]
Mr. Speaker, the last time I spoke, I tried to convince my Liberal and Conservative colleagues of the merits of the bill introduced by my colleague from Terrebonne on political financing.
I would like to give an overview of this bill for the benefit of voters. This bill seeks to introduce or reintroduce per-vote party financing. This small measure would cost very little, benefit democracy, and produce a number of worthwhile results.
We have had several discussions and many questions in question period about the cash for access dynamic of political fundraising, or in other words, privileged access to the government and the Prime Minister. I am talking about private dinners that will now be advertised. People will be invited, and it will be announced that a private dinner will be held at the cost of $1,500 a person for those who can afford to attend and who have things to say to the Prime Minister about the interests of lobby groups. The Liberals think that this is a big step for democracy because they are now going to advertise these events.
At this moment, however, how many of the viewers watching this debate on television can afford to donate $1,500 to a political party, seeing as, unlike lobbies, they have no interests to advance by donating to the Prime Minister's riding of Papineau through a fundraiser being held in Vancouver? These people attended a $1,500-a-plate dinner and told the Prime Minister what they wanted, and the same day their bank was approved, poof, $70,000 magically found its way to the coffers of Papineau, 5,000 kilometres away. What a way to finance an election.
The mere suspicion and appearance of a kickback is enough to damage our democratic institutions and undermine public trust in democratic institutions.
When it was in opposition, this government said it wanted to restore the per-vote subsidy. Now that it holds the purse strings, it is backtracking under pressure from multiple lobbies. Right now, its coffers are full, as are the coffers of the Conservative Party. It is well known that power alternates between these two parties. They are two sides of the same coin. It comes as no surprise today to see these two parties joining forces to wipe out the per-vote subsidy.
This flies in the face of the Liberal government's apparently empty promise to reform the Canada Elections Act and introduce a fairer voting system, but it is not the first time the government has said one thing and done another. One of the reasons we wanted a fairer voting system was to give Canadians an opportunity to express a broader range of ideas in the House by giving smaller parties a voice and seats in the House and enabling them to participate in democratic debate. Since that did not happen, we think the least the government can do is encourage people to express their political views by providing per-vote funding.
Per-vote funding would enable voters to vote for what they believe in so that a vote for, say, the Green Party, which is a minority party in the House, would not be a total waste. It would give such minority parties a say in the democratic debate of a democratic society for four years. It would enable small parties to participate on a more level playing field in the democratic debate of a democratic society as expressed in an election campaign.
The government wants to backtrack on this. I am disgusted at the government's failure to keep yet another promise.
It is disgusting.
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
NDP (QC)
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
2018-02-09 12:15 [p.17009]
Mr. Speaker, since we are still talking about Bill C-50, let us all agree on why we are here.
We are talking about this bill, the main goal of which is to restore the Liberals' reputation, which was tarnished by certain ministers and the Prime Minister. We are not talking about the Prime Minister's vacation to the Aga Khan's island. He was severely chastised by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner recently for that. We are talking about political party financing.
As we all know, politics and the exercise of democracy requires funding. Funding is needed to run an election campaign. In order to raise that money, some members of the Liberal government sold privileged access. At what price? It seems that the maximum amount that can be donated to a federal party is $1,500.
In May 2016, the Prime Minister went to the home of a wealthy businessman, where 32 guests paid $1,500 each for exclusive access to the leader of the government.
We also learned that the Prime Minister was present at receptions hosted by the wealthiest people and business people at $1,500 a plate, in order to meet people interested in the infrastructure bank. There were also Chinese nationals hoping to buy Canadian telecommunication companies in B.C. Other people had interests in cannabis, for example. All of these very influential people with a lot of money managed to land a private evening with the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister cannot deny it. This has been made public, so Canadians would know, which put him in an awkward position, much like the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice.
If that does not constitute selling access to ministers or the Prime Minister, I do not know what does.
In October 2016, as I said, it was the Minister of Finance who was hosting a cocktail party at $1,500 a plate with wealthy people from Bay Street. The Minister of Finance is supposed to be an arbiter and show fairness to all Canadians, since he regulates Canada's financial sector. However, he had no problem taking money from some of the world's wealthiest people.
The activities of the Minister of Justice have also been the subject of much discussion. What exactly is the problem? How is the Minister of Justice in conflict? Certain lawyers hoping for judgeships attended the Minister of Justice's fundraising events, which were held not in her riding, but in various places across the country. Since the minister is the one who approves judicial appointments, there is clearly a conflict of interest there.
Certainly political parties need to hold fundraisers to generate revenue and to have a platform for candidates' ideas during election campaigns. The problem is the lack of transparency with respect to who attends, what they talk about, and access to ministers.
“Open and Accountable Government” states the following:
There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions...
That is exactly what we are talking about today.
Let me be clear. Very few of our constituents, such as the people of Salaberry-Suroît, can afford to spend $1,500 to attend a private event. When someone is prepared to do so, they obviously expect something in return. In the case at hand, it is the possibility of becoming known to a minister or getting one's name into an address book, which could help get an idea or a project off the ground. It goes without saying that there is always the possibility of putting a word in or making a recommendation to the right person.
The only way to make these events less secretive is to make them more transparent. To that end, we have to allow the media to publicly report on the goings on at these events and to name who was present. One might think that that is the goal of Bill C-50 . However, as my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley said, the Liberals invented the Laurier Club loophole.
In some cases, specifically during party conventions, people might donate the maximum amount of $1,500 to the Liberal Party, but the names and addresses of those donors do not have to be made public. Under Bill C-50, every donation of $200 or more will have to be recorded in a report sent within 30 days to Elections Canada, which could publish that report on the Internet. Again under Bill C-50, any fundraising activity that involves ministers, the Prime Minister, and party presidents has to be announced five days in advance, a measure we applaud. In fact, that is why we support this bill. However, that does not stop people from avoiding disclosure by buying a $1,500 ticket under the pretext of attending a Liberal Party convention, for example.
This is just another bill that allows the Liberals to have it both ways. They claim to want to improve transparency, but with a bit of game-playing and an open back door they can continue to provide Liberal Party donors with a bit of discretion to ensure that they do not have to disclose their names and addresses, except in a final report at the end of the year. They also get to keep organizing questionable events providing special access to the Prime Minister and ministers.
Is that loophole fair? Should it be removed? The NDP thinks so. We made this recommendation in committee and the Liberals rejected it outright. Every time we make a recommendation in committee, the Liberals take great delight in rejecting it. Why? If the recommendation improves a bill, if it improves transparency, if they are looking to be accountable to the public, and to be fairer, more equitable, and more ethical, why do they refuse to prohibit privileged access at conventions? No one knows. We suspect that the Liberals are not opposed to that revenue stream.
We are also asking that the Chief Electoral Officer be given investigative powers to ensure that political financing during elections is fair and equitable and that he has the public's trust. Once again, the Liberals rejected the NDP's recommendation out of hand. The NDP has made many recommendations in committee, but the Liberals have ignored them, even though that is part of the democratic process. What is the point of having committees if we cannot make sensible recommendations based on the advice of experts and common sense and if the Liberal majority, which refuses to listen to reason or to be open to other ideas, always prevails? What is the point of hearing from one witness after another, if in the end the government does not listen to any of their suggestions?
The Liberals are the champions of excessive consultation. They are doing the same thing to farmers. The Liberals keep saying that they want to know what to do to protect supply management and maintain family farms in Canada. They keep telling farmers that they are going to consult them and listen to them and that farmers are important, but when it comes right down to it, the Liberals are using farmers as a bargaining chip.
Getting back to the matter at hand and Bill C-50, it is the same thing. Once again, fair, sensible, and significant recommendations that would make Bill C-50 more than just a charade will not be acted upon because, unfortunately, the Liberals rejected them.
Bill C-50 still allows parties to hold fundraisers and makes it even harder to fight corruption. This is an opportunity to strengthen our democracy and prove to all Canadians that their elected representatives live up to moral and ethical standards, but that is not where the Liberals are going with this.
Clearly, the bill does not go far enough. There is an effort to be more transparent, but it still allows cash for access events to be held. Those kinds of events, which we oppose, have been making headlines for the past six months. They will stay in the headlines because certains parties will maintain this practice, as the Liberal Party is doing now.
I want to reiterate that this was a Liberal promise in 2015. This is a betrayal of the people who voted for the Prime Minister, who then decided to give up on the electoral reform that Canadians, especially young Canadians, so desperately want.
We are trying to get young people more involved in politics, not just as candidates, but more interested in political activities, in the debates, in social issues. We want young people to know what is going on, to propose ideas, and to become engaged.
There was one idea that really united young people, gave them hope, and might have won them over, but in the end, they were told “never mind”; the old system was too advantageous for the Liberals, and our young people were robbed of that hope.
What effect will that have? Youth voter turnout has declined by 30% over the past 30 years and no one seems to mind. The Liberals do not seem to think it is important to remedy the situation. They are in power. They have a majority. That means that they are going to continue to dash the hopes of these young people who believed them. These young people will be told to have faith because there may still be some authentic people who keep their promises and bring integrity to politics. Nevertheless, with every broken promise, it becomes harder and harder to show people that there can still be honest politicians worthy of our trust.
Electoral reform was not just a simple election promise. It was a commitment made by the Prime Minister to everyone. Again, we are nowhere near it. The Prime Minister has done a complete about-face and left people with their shattered dreams of a better world.
It is 2018 and there is nothing left of the promise that brought the Prime Minister to power. He made people believe that legislators could not agree. However, as I mentioned, 90% of the people did agree. The Conservative Party, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party, everyone agreed that there was a need for electoral reform and that proportional representation had to be part of the next system. That was not enough for the Liberals.
Clearly, a mixed member proportional system resonated with MPs, Canadians, and experts alike. It would have given a voice to every Canadian.
For all these reasons, I find that Bill C-50 is poorly thought out. It does provide some additional transparency, but there is so much more to be done. The Liberals could have gone further. We hope that they will listen to reason and will be open to the NDP's recommendations and those of the other parties and the experts.
Under the bill, any party that does not follow the rules would be fined $1,000. However, according to a former chief electoral officer, this fine would not deter parties from breaking the law. If donors can donate up to $1,500, the parties are still making money and still manage to fill their coffers. It is not hard for them to pay a $1,000 fine. That is ridiculous.
This really is a smokescreen. The Liberals are trying to restore their public image, but this is mostly fluff.
I think the Liberals should go back to the drawing board, improve this bill, and make it genuinely ethical and moral.
View Richard Cannings Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, as the previous speaker said, something I will repeat, elections are central to our democracy. Through them, the people of Canada give us here in the House of Commons the huge privilege and responsibility of representing them. If people feel elections are not fair, are biased in any way, it erodes the confidence they have in us and in all the work we do here.
This bill is about political financing. It arose in response to the cash for access fundraisers that Liberal cabinet ministers were organizing. There are a lot of things wrong about these events. First and foremost is the conflict of interest: lawyers paying to lobby the Minister of Justice or bankers paying to lobby the Minister of Finance. They are paying the Liberal Party. It would be bad enough if one had to pay a government user fee to gain access to cabinet ministers to recoup the cost of their salaries or whatever, but this money went directly to the Liberal Party. Finally, is the secrecy. Events were usually private. The public did not even know about them so could not attend them if they had wanted to or were wealthy enough. As well, we did not find out who donated until the year-end reports.
This bill would only fix the last problem. It entirely misses the point on the most serious aspect of cash for access. If we asked a reasonable person on the street about what they find troubling about the cash for access problem, they would not single out the lack of transparency. They would not say that if they only knew the names of the people involved they would feel okay, or that if only they had been invited it would be okay. No, they would say that the problem was the conflict of interest in asking people to pay big bucks to the Liberal Party if they wanted access to cabinet ministers.
We know lobbying happens every day on Parliament Hill without money changing hands. I was talking to one of my Liberal colleagues the other day, and he was saying how busy he was in his office with lobbyists. That is great. He is working hard and that is his job. However, cash for access is a different kettle of fish, and this bill should have put an end to it. Instead, it actually legitimizes cash for access, with a dollop of transparency.
Because of that added transparency, that extra step, the NDP will reluctantly support this bill, but will keep reminding the Liberals that the conflict of interest aspect of these events has to be dealt with. The Liberals say they are fighting inequality in our society, but cash for access entrenches inequality. It gives more power to the powerful. No wonder many Canadians are cynical about politics and politicians. If anything increases cynicism in politics, it is when politicians break promises.
People are smart. They know that governing is difficult and sometimes one cannot fulfill every little promise made during the election. However, when someone breaks a big juicy promise, a promise that got them elected, people feel completely betrayed.
Last weekend, a constituent emailed me about an issue, so I called her back and we talked about that issue. At the end of the conversation, she said how happy she was to hear directly from her MP. She said that she had lost confidence in politicians after the last election. She said that during the campaign, she and her husband had engaged their children in discussing party platforms and issues, and figuring out which were most important to them.
In the end, they actually let their children decide who they were going to vote for. In the end, they decided electoral reform was one of the most important issues. They did not want Canada to elect another Parliament where a party with 38% or 39% of the vote held 100% of the power. They were deeply disappointed in the Conservative government for taking us down a path that two-thirds of the country disagreed with. They were excited to see that three of the other parties made electoral reform a central plank in their party platforms. They were happy to hear those leaders, including the present Prime Minister, repeat time and time again that this would be the last election run under first past the post.
That is what I saw at the all-candidates forums during the election. The Liberal candidate stood beside me to repeat the mantra that this would be the last election run under first past the post, that the government would ask Canadians and experts what the best new system would be, and they would implement that. The audience would stand up and cheer. Those people are not so happy now. The woman I talked to was devastated. She told me her children were so disappointed with the Liberals for going back on this promise that they might not vote in the next election when they are old enough. This betrayal is going to breed cynicism across Canada.
All of us here knock on doors throughout our ridings. Some people are happy to see us. Some people do not agree with our party. However, the big disappointment for me when I began door-knocking was the number of people who told me that they do not vote. They told me to not even try to tell them to vote or why they should vote. That changed in the last campaign. Most people were engaged in issues and were going to vote. I think they were energized by the feeling of change sweeping across the country and the chance they had to make a difference.
Three of the parties had pledged to change the electoral system so that every vote would count and strategic voting would be a thing of the past. One could vote for one's favourite candidate and party and know that one would make a difference in the final result. Unfortunately, they elected the only party that would break that promise.
It started out well. The minister asked MPs to hold town halls to talk to Canadians about electoral reform to find out what they thought. NDP MPs answered that call. We held multiple town halls and asked people their opinions at the end of the meetings. We wrote down the numbers on the kind of system they wanted. We sent out questionnaires to every household in our ridings and tallied those numbers, and 80% of those responses were in favour of proportional representation.
Liberal MPs held town halls as well, but few, if any, asked people what system they favoured. NDP MPs started going to some of those meetings to find out if our results had been biased, and asked the crowd at the Liberal town halls for a show of hands on which system they would like. About 80% of those people wanted proportional representation as well.
The electoral reform committee met through the summer asking experts from across the country and around the world what the best system for Canada might be. Almost 90% of those experts said that proportional representation would be the best system.
The Prime Minister said that he broke his promise because he could not find a strong demand from Canadians for change and thought that changing would be bad for Canada. He is ignoring those experts. He did not ask Canadians. Instead, the government sent out a laughable survey that asked ridiculously biased questions around the margins of electoral reform. There was no question asking, “Do you want change?” or “Do you want seats in the House of Commons to reflect the proportion of a vote?”
Despite the silly questions, the survey did find that 70% of respondents wanted a government where several parties agreed before a decision is made. Almost two-thirds agreed that it is better for several parties to govern together, even if it might take longer for government to get things done, as the question said.
Canadians want political parties to work together in Parliament. Despite the way that last question was asked, things will actually get done faster if that happens. Just look at the snail's pace of the current government's actions, brought on by its uncooperative attitude with the opposition that has brought the system to periodic halts.
Canadians want a fair electoral system that produces results that accurately reflect the faces of this country. Canadians want more women representing them in the House. All of this could be achieved with a new electoral system that uses some form of proportional representation.
We must work constantly to maintain a healthy democracy in Canada and we must fight everything that breeds cynicism about our work here in this place. Many Canadians feel they have no voice, that their votes do not count, and that they do not have an equal opportunity to voice their concerns to the government. Real electoral change would do that.
Finding out sooner which lawyer paid $1,500 to the Liberal Party to get access to the Minister of Justice does not help much. Finding out in advance that there is a an event on Bay Street where one could meet the Minister of Finance with an admission fee of only $1,500 does not help. We need strong laws banning unethical conflicts of interest and we need true electoral reform to keep our democracy strong.
View Nathan Cullen Profile
NDP (BC)
View Nathan Cullen Profile
2018-02-05 15:39 [p.16763]
Mr. Speaker, the timing of the introduction of Bill C-50 was interesting in that it fell right as the Liberals were breaking their promise on electoral reform. It is the bait and switch of a party that was looking to get out from underneath the burden of having promised something and then blatantly betraying that promise.
One would wonder where this came from. The bill was born from the allegations, which I think were quite correct, that the Prime Minister and many of his cabinet ministers were finding themselves in an obvious, to everyone else, conflict of interest. We had the justice minister meeting with high-priced Bay Street lawyers, fundraising. We had the finance minister meeting with members of the financial industry, who have interests in his department. These were not just meetings. They were fundraising events. They were $1,500- and $1,200-a-person fundraising events.
If we all remember the Prime Minister's own much-vaunted mandate letters to his cabinet, which applied to him as well, not only could his cabinet ministers not find themselves in a conflict of interest, they could not even place themselves in the appearance of a conflict of interest. It is somewhat ironic now, because the author of those mandate letters broke our conflict of interest rules.
Bill C-50 does what the law already prescribes, which is that we have to make things public, but it does not do anything about cash for access, nor the appearance of or an actual conflict of interest. Is there any hope in the legislation that future fundraising events by the government would not create the same dynamic, the same scenario of ministers being lobbied and donated to by people who have self-serving interests?
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
View Michelle Rempel Profile
2018-02-05 15:40 [p.16764]
Mr. Speaker, I actually thought of my colleague last week, when, in a town hall meeting, the Prime Minister said, in response to a question on whether he would ever entertain questions on democratic reform or change the voting system, he said yes, as long as it was not proportional representation and a ranked ballot system. As long as it is him as a dictator defining what Canada's democracy looks like, he is good with it. It is that tone that would probably answer my colleague's question as to why the bill was introduced.
What is going to happen with this? Honestly, I think the system is going to get worse, because we have not addressed this glaring, huge loophole in our political financing system. Six million dollars entered the Canadian system, which I am sure any of my American colleagues would say they have to fundraise in five minutes, but that is a lot of money in the Canadian political context. Now that people are aware of it, it is only going to get worse. The bill should have dealt with that loophole. This is going to have a huge impact on the next election, and not for the better.
View Nathan Cullen Profile
NDP (BC)
View Nathan Cullen Profile
2018-02-01 15:20 [p.16654]
Mr. Speaker, I enjoy this debate because a lot of Canadians look toward elected office, toward politics, and sometimes they have to then look away again, because some of the activities, both in reality and that portrayed through movies and such, do not accurately reflect what many of us are trying to do in politics, which is to simply represent people to the best of our ability.
The timing of Bill C-50 was interesting. It landed just after the Liberals broke their promise on electoral reform. We all remember it well because the Prime Minister repeated it so often before, during, and after the last election that 2015 was going to be the last election under first past the post.
Just a few days ago, he gave an interview here in the Library of Parliament to the CBC where he said, “Nobody was able to convince me”. Not all of the experts, not the tens of thousands of Canadians were able to personally convince him that what all the evidence pointed toward was a good thing for Canada. In his not humble opinion of himself, he needed that convincing that none of the evidence was enough on changing our system and evolving it into the 21st century. The timing of the bill was interesting.
We also see within Bill C-50, which is broadly-speaking supported by my colleagues, myself, and the New Democrats in terms of the listing of donors beyond $200. It is subjecting the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, and those aspiring to become party leaders to a higher level of disclosure.
Of course, all of this comes about because of Liberal fundraisers. The idea of the bill was borne out of the crisis of Liberal cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister himself holding secret fundraisers in private homes of billionaires and millionaires, where there was no accountability at all. The justice minister and finance minister were actually holding meetings that were fundraisers, $1,000, $1,500 to get in the door, and the people being invited to these meetings had direct dealings with these cabinet minister's departments. Just screaming conflict of interest all over the place.
The fact that the Prime Minister was then later found to have broken four of our ethical rules of Parliament by accepting a trip with the Aga Khan, who the Government of Canada has had long dealings with, showed a moral and ethical code that was completely warped within the Liberal leadership. My grandmother used to say, “Don't ever waste a good crisis”. If there is a problem, do not just simply have the crisis and then forget about it, and Bill C-50 is the result of Liberals going through the very public and political exposure of their ethical compass being totally off from what most ordinary Canadians would see as right behaviour.
The Minister of Justice should never, ever be accepting donations of any kind from lawyers who are also on the list of joining the bench. Why? Because it is the Justice Minister who is ultimately going to approve their ascension to that bench and become a judge. It seems obvious to me and to most people who have that kind of ethical core, but it was not obvious to the Liberals.
The finance minister should not be meeting with Bay Street executives, and accepting large donations from the very same people over which he is the regulator. He is the ref. He is the one who is supposed to be making it fair for everyone, not just those who can pay the $1,500 and get into his private fundraiser. However, Liberals did not see a problem with this.
The Prime Minister was holding private fundraisers in the homes of wealthy billionaires, so that millionaires could show up and give him $1,550, and then have dealings with some of their very specific issues that went ahead.
All of this was borne out of the Liberals, and this is not easy to do all the time. They were embarrassed. It is not always easy to embarrass a Liberal, but it happened. The result of this is Bill C-50, which says we now have to publicly declare who is showing up. Wait, the Liberals wanted to leave themselves a loophole, the Laurier Club loophole. If people donate to the Liberal Party to the maximum amount, particularly at a convention, under the bill their names do not appear. How fortunate is that, that the five-day declaration that exists under Bill C-50, if the maximum donation to the Liberal Party is made at the convention, then people do not have to worry about it.
The only filings that come out are the filings that come out right now which is when end of the year reporting happens. All of this transparency stops right at the door of the Laurier Club, this special donor elite club that the Liberals have set up to make sure the money keeps coming in from their top donors. We tried to close it. As New Democrats, we do not just want to oppose, we want to propose.
We asked why they put this loophole in. It accomplishes nothing. It does not help in terms of transparency, and it seems to be almost handwritten by the chief Liberal fundraiser to say, “Do not embarrass anybody by having to put them on a public list when they show up at our conventions as Liberals, and donate the maximum amounts.” We said to fix this.
We also said to allow the Chief Electoral Officer investigative powers. It seems about right that the person who guides our elections, and tries to make sure our elections are done fairly should have investigative powers. We moved amendments to allow that to happen.
In fact, we heard from a former Chief Electoral Officer about the $1,000 penalty that exists within this bill that was done away in the nineties. It was seen as a non-deterrent, because there are large incentives to do these sketchy fundraisers, as the Liberals have proven. A person can make a lot of money. If there were a penalty on it, one would think the penalty would be more than $1,000, which is far less than the maximum donation someone could make at these potentially illegal fundraising events.
Through all of this, we see the intention of the government. We see that the Liberals want to bring more openness to these private, very exclusive fundraisers, where people in some cases are giving a great deal of money. We welcome that.
We would like the Liberals to show a little of that contrition that is so hard to find around here, and to acknowledge that it was borne out of the controversy surrounding the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet who were engaging in fundraisers that were suspicious, at best, if not unethical. We would also like the Liberals to acknowledge the central problem.
What Canadians, and specifically the people who I represent in northern British Columbia, say is that there should not be privileged access for those who have money. The wealthy and the well-connected should not simply get FaceTime with the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, who have so much power under our system, simply because they are rich. Yet, this bill maintains all of that.
Nothing is actually done about the elephant in the room walking around, which is if someone is loaded, he or she can get personal one-on-one time with the Prime Minister, and virtually anyone in his cabinet, to move agendas forward, to say he or she knows the person, and use that for their own personal advantage. That is all maintained. None of that so-called tradition is threatened at all by this. We wondered just how far the Liberals were willing to go, and we found out.
Bill C-50 aims to address certain aspects of the problem of rather unethical donations. The Liberals have made an effort. We will support most of the elements of this bill, but there are some things that need improvement, going by the testimony we heard in committee. The Liberals, however, have ignored and rejected every amendment proposed by the NDP to improve their bill. That is that party’s new attitude, now that they are in government. When they were in opposition, it was different.
In conclusion, the aspects of Bill C-50, on the whole, accomplish a stepping up of transparency. The concern we have is with regard to cash for access, that tradition where if one has a lot of money, one will get personal time with the Prime Minister. The Liberals will now jump up and say, “Oh, but he does town halls.” Congratulations. We all do town halls. Good for him. There is nothing wrong with that.
However, the Liberals still have the tendency where if someone has a lot of money, he or she does not have to line up for a town hall to sit in the crowd, and maybe ask a question. If one has $1,550 to donate to the Liberal Party, then the Liberals will get that person FaceTime and that sacred selfie, and make sure he or she has time with whichever minister is chosen, right up to the Prime Minister.
The Liberals maintain that practice, and they allow a loophole in this bill, which they are well aware of, that will make these very large donations not be transparent if they take place at a Liberal convention. That is a missed opportunity. However, like so many opportunities when it comes to ethical behaviour, the Liberals are only too happy to sit on their hands and miss them.
View John Brassard Profile
CPC (ON)
View John Brassard Profile
2017-06-15 10:21 [p.12738]
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in this House today to speak on Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act with respect to political financing.
I will just provide a little background on what the bill represents. It provides that fundraisers requiring a contribution of over $200, at which party leaders, ministers, or leadership contestants will be in attendance, must be advertised online by the party five days in advance, regardless of which party or non-party entity is hosting or is benefiting from the event.
It requires a report on each individual fundraiser. Fundraisers inside an election period are not subject to pre-reporting; conventions or leadership debates are not considered fundraising events for this bill's purpose; donor appreciation events are caught within the bill's provisions, except appreciation events that are held at conventions; fundraisers at conventions are caught within the bill's provisions; penalties for contravening these new rules include returning or paying to the Receiver General all contributions received in respect of a regulated fundraising event, and a fine of up to $1,000.
The definitions of leadership campaign expense and nomination campaign expense have been harmonized with those already in force respecting election campaign expenses of candidates.
On the surface, these may seem like honourable and noble changes to the Canada Elections Act. The reality is that this is an attempt by the Prime Minister and the Liberals to gain credit for solving a problem that they created. It is as simple as that. It is effectively smoke and mirrors, a red herring to try to provide some cover for something in a situation that they created. That situation is cash-for-access events and fundraisers.
Members will recall how we got here. The Prime Minister, throughout his campaign, spoke about the fact that the Liberals were going to do things differently. He said that they were going to be more open and more transparent. As I have said in this House many times, he held his hand over his heart, which makes it so, makes it sincere, and said he was going to do this.
The reality is that shortly after the election he gave mandate letters to his ministers, where he said unequivocally that there should be no undue influence, no perception, real or otherwise, of any political interference, and that ministers of the crown, and in fact he himself, should be held to a high standard when it comes to political interference, political influence, cash-for-access.
The words were very clear, when the Prime Minister wrote those mandate letters, that they were not going to do it. We found out, not long after the fact, that indeed cash-for-access fundraisers were occurring. Some of the highly publicized ones included the Minister of Justice showing up to a law firm on Bay Street in Toronto, where presumably there was a bunch lawyers who paid a certain amount of money to be there, to have the justice minister there, which was a complete contradiction and complete contravention of what the Prime Minister had stated in his mandate letters, in that appendix talking about perception, real or otherwise, of undue influence. It became known publicly.
The media picked up on it. Certainly the opposition parties picked up on it. Again, the House dealt with this issue for several weeks. It became a bad issue for the Liberals. The public perception of what they were doing with respect to cash-for-access was not playing well for them in the media, publicly, or in the House.
There were others that were publicly highlighted, only because people who had attended these fundraisers were talking to the media. They were actually saying that they were talking about government business with the Prime Minister. There were several that were held in Toronto and Vancouver that we are aware of. It became a bit of a cash cow for the Liberals. They actually did very well at these cash-for-access fundraisers, these private events where people could bend the Prime Minister's ear or bend the ears of ministers of the crown.
Presumably if people had business in front of the government, they could, for the price of upwards of $1,500—and I suspect they probably took the max—talk to ministers, talk to the Prime Minister about the business that was in front of the government.
Why is this important? Oftentimes during debate, we will hear members say that the opposition side did this. From my understanding, the opposition did not do anything similar to this, but it is important because ministers of the crown in one fell swoop can allocate millions of dollars in a direction or to an area where a lot of this influence may be going on. That is why this is important.
I think the Prime Minister probably understood that when he wrote those words in his mandate letters to his ministers, but the words were hollow, meaning nothing. We saw by the action of the ministers and the Prime Minister that they continued to do something that they said they were not going to do.
I can go through a list of things that the Liberals promised to do that they have not done, such as electoral reform, but I certainly do not want to get my colleagues in the NDP worked up on that. However, there are many things that the Prime Minister said he was going to do differently, which in fact the Liberals are not doing differently.
It is no surprise to any of us from Ontario why this is going on here in Ottawa. For years, the Ontario Liberals have been doing cash-for-access fundraisers, and it has worked out really well for them. In fact, ministers were provided with quotas. There were certain amounts of money that they were expected to raise through these cash-for-access fundraisers. In some cases, it was a quarter of a million dollars throughout the year, in others it was $500,000, and for the premier I am sure it was more.
I remember one time there was a cash-for-access event in Barrie. There were 12 people there. Each one of them paid $5,000 to sit around and have dinner with former premier Dalton McGuinty, and that night the Liberals raised $60,000. That is $60,000 in one evening. That is what cash-for-access meant in Ontario. Why is it no surprise that this is going on here in Ottawa? We have heard those names many times in the House: Gerald Butts and Katie Telford. It was the same situation that went on in Ontario, just like the moving van that came here to Ottawa, that same playbook that the Ontario Liberals used for all those years until again there was public backlash and the opposition highlighted this situation. It ended up with Ontario changing the rules.
It is no surprise to any of us in Ontario that this is happening, because that same failed playbook—not just cash-for-access, but other failed policies like debt and deficit that have handcuffed the economy of Ontario—is the same thing that is going on here. There is a common denominator throughout this whole thing, and that is Gerald Butts and Katie Telford.
What would this legislation do? In effect, in spite of the Liberal assertion that it would bring it out of the shadows and somehow legitimize and formalize this process of cash-for-access, it actually would change nothing because cash-for-access events can still go on. It would do nothing in terms of addressing issues of private fundraisers in houses. It would do nothing in terms of what the government committed to as far as holding these in public spaces. It would not formalize that at all, so what we would see is more of the same, more of these cash-for-access events where the Prime Minister and the ministers would be the stars of the show, where for $1,500 people would get to bend the Prime Minister's ear presumably because they have business in front of the government.
A quick search of the Liberal Party website shows that there is a cash-for-access event that is happening next Thursday. I apologize to my colleagues that I was searching the Liberal Party website, but it is important that we stay on top of this stuff. When we look at what is happening next Thursday, an evening with the Right Honourable Prime Minister, we see the price of the event is $1,500. If one is a youth aged 25 or under, it is $250. Nothing has changed. The Liberals are still having these cash-for-access events.
The government purports to be all about the middle class and those working hard to join it, but how many middle-class Canadians would be able to afford $1,500 at this cash-for-access event? I suggest not many. I can say that my friends cannot afford $1,500. If they could afford it, they would be giving it to our local EDA so that we can be a lot more powerful heading into the next election against the Liberals. They give what they can afford: $250, $300, $200, or $50 sometimes. Here is the Right Honourable Prime Minister in Mississauga a week from tonight asking for $1,500 at this event, and a youth would have to pay $250 to be there. That is a lot of money, and nothing has changed.
My hon. colleague from York—Simcoe said it best last week. What this would do is provide the Liberals cover for something they are already doing. It would be legitimized and formalized by these changes in law. If we look at the mandate letter provided to the new Minister of Democratic Institutions, we see the Prime Minister said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant to concerns about our political process”. If that is the case, the Liberals better have SPF 100 available, because there is a lot of sunshine being put on the government.
This piece of legislation would not do anything to change the issue of fundraising in private residences. This would continue to go on. Adding publicly accessible spaces, which the Liberals said they would do, would not change anything. Also, media access is still in question. Little would change with this piece of legislation, because cash-for-access would still exist. Cash-for-access, what people pay to bend the ear of the Minister of Justice or other ministers of the crown because they have business in front of them, or the Prime Minister himself, will still go into Liberal Party coffers.
Some people must be sitting at home wondering why we are arguing about $1,500 because it seems like a little amount, and questioning how anyone could be influenced by $1,500. I would suggest that it is not just the $1,500 but the potential for multiples of $1,500 being paid by stakeholders, perhaps with one organization, or with a Chinese investment firm looking to invest in retirement homes, looking for approval from the government for retirement homes in B.C. As we have heard recently, that is not working out very well. Perhaps it is for the sale of Canadian technology, which could impact our national security. Perhaps it is multiples of those $1,500 amounts that can make a difference with respect to the decision-making of our government and the ministers. With one swipe of the pen, they can allocate millions and billions of dollars into stakeholder interests, and also sell some of our assets by approval mechanisms, which they are doing.
The $1,500 is one thing, but I think the Minister of Democratic Institutions had a real opportunity here to deal with not just this issue but also the issue of third-party electoral financing. That is not addressed in this piece of legislation.
It is a shame it is not. The single biggest threat to democracies around the world and the principle of democratic institutions is that these third parties tend to influence, outside the scope of Elections Canada, rules on fundraising and financing. Many raise their eyebrows on this issue, raising the issue publicly.
Recently a new report alleged significant outside influence in Canada's 2015 federal election. Reading from a newspaper account, in the 2015 annual report of the California-based Online Progressive Engagement Network, OPEN, Ben Brandzel, one of Leadnow's founders, said, “We ended the year with...a Canadian campaign that moved the needle during the national election, contributing greatly to the ousting of the conservative Harper government.”
That is the elephant in the room. The fact that there is outside influence from other countries and organizations that can directly impact our democratic process needs to be addressed by the minister.
The Senate is dealing with this issue. Senator Frum introduced a private member's bill to look at the third party financing. I was also proud of my colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, who recently wrote a letter to the chief of Elections Canada in which he talked about the issue subsequent to that report coming out.
I will give an example of the impact third party influence can have: the Council of Canadians donated $67,000, money that came from the Tides Foundation; the Dogwood Initiative, $238,000; Ecology Ottawa $36,000; Équiterre, $97,000; Greenpeace Canada, $174,000; Toronto 350, $9,800; West Coast Environmental Law Association, $53,000; and the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation, $15,000, for a total of $693,000. Under election rules and laws, that money did not need to be noted by these campaigns. That money could be targeted directly against individual candidates and in a broader degree, against parties as well. There is nothing in the legislation to address that problem.
The legislation would fix a problem and provide cover. It would legitimize and formalize what the Liberals have been doing. It would give them an opportunity to do it legally, but that still does not make it right.
One of the issues my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton put forth in his letter, and several facts taken together, with respect to third party influence on elections, was that together the third parties received a substantial amount of foreign money from the Tides Foundation in 2015, and none of those funds were reported to Elections Canada. This is a real threat to western democracies and to our democratic institution and processes.
The legislation will not change anything. It is quite mind-boggling that we are dealing with this. The Liberals created another problem for themselves, so they are trying to provide some cover by legitimizing the process through legislation.
What used to be brown envelopes that influenced in the past, and there is certainly a history on that side of this having happened, yesterday's brown envelopes are today's cash-for-access events, where significant influence can be borne on ministers and the Prime Minister to make decisions that are in the best interests of special interest groups, not in the best interests of Canadians.
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