Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, political financing, which we feel will help to raise the bar that we, as parliamentarians, are held to when it comes to the important issue of openness and accountability in political fundraising.
We know Canadians value our democracy. While Canada already has one of the strictest electoral finance systems in the world, we recognize we can do even more to increase the transparency in the way that political parties finance. That is why Bill C-50 would contribute to enhance trust in our democratic institutions by providing Canadians with more information than ever before.
Canadians will know who is going to fundraisers, when they are going to be held, and the amount required to attend. Canadians deserve to know that their elected representatives are playing fair. Bill C-50 would not only help achieve this goal by implementing new rules to make political financing even more open and transparent, but it would also allow those across our country to know more about how the political fundraising that the parties conduct is undertaken so they can continue to have confidence in our important and valued democratic process. It will also allow them to make up their minds about who they will vote for in elections and how they can be better informed for that purpose.
As my hon. colleagues know, key regulations, such as spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and a ban on corporate and union donations, are already in place when it comes to political financing in Canada. At the national level, all Canadian citizens and permanent residents have the ability to contribute up to a maximum of, this year, $1,550 annually to the registered party and then of course an equivalent amount to the riding association for the local candidate.
Additionally, contributions to a federal political party are reported to elections Canada and donations of over $200 are already published online with the information, including the contributor's name and address.
Canadians elected our government on a promise of openness and transparency. Canadians have a right to know even more than they do now when it comes to political fundraising. It is our responsibility, as parliamentarians, to serve those we represent. By taking action to make our political fundraising system more open and transparent, we are raising the bar on an informed choice in our political process.
Our government understands that many actions, such as attending a fundraising event, play a very important role in our democratic expression. Choosing to financially support a political party is not only a recognized right, protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also accounts for a valuable form of civic engagement. As a society that values democratic engagement, we must continue to uphold and protect this essential right.
Furthermore, our government knows that Canada's current political party system plays an important part in our democracy. It has contributed to our status as a model for many other democracies around the world, it is a key attribute of our democratic process, and it allows like-minded Canadians from all across the country, from diverse regions, social classes, religions, ethnic groups, and gender identities, to work together on a common purpose.
With this in mind, we must remember that political parties require funding to operate. We must continue to respect the right of all Canadians to choose how to financially support the party of their choice, while ensuring we are providing Canadians with open and transparent information about how this is done. This means taking significant steps to ensure that those across the country can view and understand how political fundraising works and plays a role in our democratic process.
Canadians will be able to determine, as a result of this law, when a political fundraiser is happening, who attended the fundraiser, and how much a person contributed or paid to get into it. Under the proposed measures of Bill C-50, all political parties that currently have seats in the House of Commons will have 30 days to report to Elections Canada the names and addresses of those who attend any fundraiser covered by the legislation.
Who is covered? Any fundraiser attended by the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, or party leadership contestants with a seat in the House of Commons where over $200 is required to attend will be subject to these rules. This is commensurate with our current disclosure requirement.
Furthermore, under the proposed legislation, these events will be advertised at least five days in advance, with the date, time, and location of the event. This will all be made clear on the party's website. This information, along with the names and addresses of those attending and the cost of event, will be published online.
As a former volunteer with a political party, as someone who has served as a treasurer of a provincial part, and a treasurer of a riding association, if somebody attended a political fundraising event but someone else had purchased a ticket or he or she attended as a guest, for free, the information might not appear online, whereas for someone who paid the full $200 cost, it did appear online.
This information was obscured, and this has come up in debate in the House. This legislation addresses that gap and makes the event reporting more transparent and open for Canadians so they can make a decision about whether there is some perception of undue influence.
Political parties will be responsible for ensuring this information is properly reported within the necessary time frame. If these rules are not followed, the party or candidate in question will be required to return all contributions from the event and there could also be a fine to a maximum of $1,000.
When it comes to our democracy, we know that balance is important. Under the measures brought forward by the legislation, we are successfully balancing the important charter right of democratic expression, while increasing openness and creating even more transparency in political fundraising. We are doing this to allow the electorate to make more informed decisions.
These measures will not only help strengthen and improve our democratic institutions; they will provide Canadians with more information than ever before when it comes to political fundraising events.
I believe all my hon. colleagues will see the value and importance of improving the openness and transparency of our political institutions. As a result, I encourage all members of the House to welcome the legislation so we can raise the bar when it comes to accountability for political events and to strengthen our continued democracy.
It was interesting to listen to some of the other comments. I want to talk a bit about some of the things my colleagues from Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston and Victoria raised with respect to some of the objectives of the act, what was covered, and what was not.
One section in the act states:
at least one person who, in order to attend it, is required...to have made a contribution or contributions of a total amount of more than $200 to the registered party or any of its registered associations, nomination, contestants, candidates...
It is not just events where a ticket price is included. Events like an appreciation event are covered under this act. There is another opportunity to close a loophole where some parties may have held events and said if people made their donations to the party three months ago, they would not report that they attended the event. We will close the loophole to ensure people are on an even footing when they attend events as to whether and how their information is recorded and made public to Canadians.
There are some interests in the background. Again, we already have very strict limits. I do not think anyone believes that a colleague in the House is going to be unduly influenced by the low levels of donations made by the limits set forth in our existing Canada Elections Act. Donating $1,550 among donations in the tens of millions of dollars to parties is not material. It does not go to affect and influence anyone. I do not believe Canadians feel that a de minimis amount of money in the overall scheme of things will affect public officials. I believe they have confidence in them. I do not believe they felt that $1,500 donations to the Conservative Party unduly influenced the Conservative Party, or that $1,500-a-year donations to the NDP unduly influenced the NDP. I also do not believe they feel that $1,550-a-year donations to the Liberal Party unduly influenced the Liberals. These are de minimis in the grand scheme of things when compared to the overall amount that parties fundraise.
However, there have been gaps, and we have seen that with respect to certain types of donations and certain types of political participation. We would not see in the record what clearly happened. At times, this leads to a perception that something is wrong.
I remember reading about events with Dean Del Mastro, a former member of the House, who held fundraising events. The reporters on the events did not seem to understand that when certain people from the party attended these events, they did not pay the ticket price. There were concerns within the articles about there being 300 people at the event, but it only raised a certain amount of money. It cast aspersions on the event that perhaps in that instance should not have been there.
If people understand how the finance laws and the reporting work, which is quite arcane, they will understand that some people were not allowed to pay for a ticket because they had already paid the cap. This change will allow the media and Canadians to understand that when people attend fundraisers in accordance with the rules, it does not always mean people pay the same price. Some people are prohibited from paying an additional amount to attend.
Advertising in advance is important for public scrutiny. Canadians will lose confidence if they only learn about things after the fact. It provides an opportunity for shock and awe type media events and media exposure in respect of events. It is this sort of perception by the media that something inopportune is happening. This has happened for years in Canadian reporting, when in fact nothing untoward has happened. This is a totally normal practice.
Advertising publicly in advance that these events are occurring provides the opportunity for the media to understand and prepare and then report more accurately on the events.
However, of course, every time we go and try to interfere with the type of publication that we are engaging in with respect to political finance reform, we have to recall that under our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, thought, belief, expression, peaceful assembly, and association. All of these are implicated in the political process. They are right there in section 2 of the charter. Of course, these can only be limited, in accordance with section 1, when they can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
We feel that we have achieved the right balance here. We are not going to require volunteers' names be disclosed or those of minors under 18 years of age. Journalists in the media will not need to be disclosed if they attend events, if the events only cost $200 or less, either at the event or including all previous donations for the right to acquire a ticket to the event. People providing hospitality and other services at the event will not have their names disclosed. This protects the freedom of association that Canadians hold so dear.
At the same time, for those donors in the over $200 up to $1,550 range, there is going to be some public openness and transparency and accountability to provide confidence that nothing untoward has happened, although generally, I think the members of this House will agree that $1,550 is also quite a low limit.
When it comes to other aspects of the political process that might be interfered with, we will note that during election campaigns, the particular rules about the timing of the promotion of the events will not apply. I think we feel that this would be unduly restrictive.
If we look at the smaller political parties that do not hold seats in this House, we see they do not necessarily have the resources to comply with all the rules in this act. Their access to influence, which could be peddled, is also quite limited. I think everyone would find that it would be fair that they should not have to comply with some of the rules about the promotion of their events, the disclosure of individual attendees, and the amounts donated, provided that they do comply with the limits, of course.
Any donation to a political party of $200 or more is going to be published, regardless of which party. It is not that Canadians do not have visibility into the electoral financing of the smaller political parties. They do, but this additional administrative burden is going to apply to those who hold seats in the House.
Then there are leadership contests. This is a subject that comes up time and time again in terms of the level of disclosure and the level of accountability in a leadership contest and how that affects the public perception of politics in Canada.
I know right now it is in the media about Mr. O'Leary and whether he appropriately financed his leadership campaign. Although they will not affect Mr. O'Leary or the people who are seeking the role of leader of the New Democratic Party, for future leadership contests, these rules would apply. These rules apply so that Canadians can have the information at their disposal within 30 days of the event to know plainly and simply who attended these events and how much they paid. Canadians themselves can come to an informed decision about whether they feel anything untoward has happened, and they can cast their vote accordingly.
I think we balanced the charter, and I think we have learned about the events of recent history. So much to do has been made about nothing, in some cases. Then, in other cases, there may be a situation where something untoward is happening, and promoting and publishing not only who has paid for tickets but also who is attending events, even if they have not paid for the tickets, would allow the opposition parties and the government party to examine exactly what has happened and if anything untoward is occurring in our political finance system.
I have already mentioned the fact that we are covering off appreciation events. I know that earlier in the debate there was some confusion about that. It seems very clear from my reading of the legislation that appreciation events are covered and that if people attend an appreciation event and their attendance is contingent on a donation that solely or in combination amounts more than $200, their names will need to be disclosed and published. I think this is appropriate.
I myself found, in connection with my role in political finance reporting as a riding association treasurer and as a treasurer of a provincial party, that those gaps exist. This act does a great job of closing those gaps, not only so that people are fully aware of what is happening and everyone is on an equal footing when it comes to their donations to a political party, but also so that in this place the opposition parties can review the lists and hold the government to account. I think that is an important feature of our democracy.
I know they like to do it almost every question period. This would provide them with a little more information. That is wonderful.
Bringing leadership and nomination campaign expenses in line with the current regime for candidates is an important aspect of the changes to the rules. Another thing that we found in the last election was that the rules associated with nomination contestants and candidates for a campaign and in the leadership contest are all a bit of a smattering and a bit of a mix, in terms of making sure that we have the same coherent information being provided across the political finance spectrum for all the ways in which Canadians are engaging in the process.
We would allow Canadians to have a better sense of what is going on. The more loopholes there are in our law, the more ways there are for people to provide donations and not have their name published, the more it seems there is something wrong with our system, and it lowers the credibility of the system. I think we have managed to close that off here.
I understand that the NDP is at least going to be supporting the bill at this stage. I am very thankful for that. It points to the fact that New Democrats feel the bill addresses something. I know they are asking for more. I look forward to hearing more from the members of the NDP, as to what they would like to see in the bill.
I look forward to hearing from the Conservatives, as well, even though they are not supporting it. They talked earlier about putting on a fig leaf, and I think we are really talking about pulling the fig leaf away. Let us lay everything out on the table. Let us see what is on the table, in terms of donations, and let Canadians make up their minds with respect to the issues that are of importance to them.
This was important to me before I entered politics, and I am glad to see that, now, as a result of the legislation that is being put forward by the minister, we are achieving on our election campaign commitment to make our electoral finance system more open and transparent. That is something that I hope earns the support of all members of the House.
With respect to advertising by political parties on websites, this will be an opportunity. This should not impose too much of an administrative burden on political parties. Most political parties, at least the ones represented in the House, have well-functioning websites that include the opportunity to host and show events. We have not heard anyone stating today that their party would not be able to comply with this aspect of the bill. From a compliance perspective, this should not put any undue cost or burden on the parties. It is something they are able to do already.
Perhaps it is not something that they are always doing, but this would provide a strict and clear standard on what needs to be done in terms of promotion of events on websites, to make sure that everyone is playing ball fairly, and that when events occur, the media know about them in advance, the public knows about them advance, and people are able to make up their own minds as to the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the particular type of event, its location, its costs, and what the party is trying to achieve in hosting it.
In addition to the promotion in advance, there is also an accelerated timeline for reporting the results of the event after it has already occurred. Now there would be a 30-day timeline in which the event organizers would need to provide to the parties the list of the attendees at the event, subject of course to the limits of not reporting minors, volunteers, media, and people providing support to the event; but for all the other attendees of the event, their names need to be provided, along with their addresses, to Elections Canada within 30 days of the event.
I think this is important, because it would provide timely access to information for Canadians. The lack of timeliness of the information is another way by which Canadians lose confidence or faith, or they have a perception that there might be something untoward or inappropriate happening. By accelerating the timelines for this reporting and ensuring that the reporting is done within a month, that would give confidence to Canadians that things truly are on the up and up.
I am sure when Canadians see the results of this bill come forward, if it gets passed in its current form, they will see the benefits of this public reporting. It would help them have confidence that political fundraising is not some type of evil that has to be undone. It is an important part of our political process, and it allows us to do the work we do here every day. It allows Canadians to engage in a fair and balanced way in the political system.
If it has a negative perception as a result of some of the discourse in this place, the bill allows us to overcome that.