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.