Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues. I appreciate that very much.
Following the last election, the government, when its ministry was sworn in, claimed that it would be the most open and accountable government in history. Ministers were issued letters that instructed them to ensure that they conduct themselves in a manner that would withstand the greatest public scrutiny. The government gave a Speech from the Throne that contained a very clear and specific commitment on electoral reform.
The wheels came off all of these assertions almost immediately. Within the first few weeks of the government, it came to light that its ministers were fundraising from their own lobbyists and their own stakeholder groups, in secret, with the cash-for-access fundraising regime. We also saw how the promise of being the most open and transparent government in history quickly gave way to repeated assertions in this House, especially from its House leader, that it was acting in accordance with the law.
It went from the highest possible scrutiny to, “well, it is a loophole and it is not illegal, so what we are doing is okay”.
This is important because it goes to the heart of the principal problem, and there are many problems with this bill but I am going to focus on the one that I am most concerned about, and that is money. The governing party has demonstrated that it struggles to raise money from regular Canadians motivated by ideas and motivated by things that are simply important to them for the good of the country.
For its own reasons, the governing party relies on fundraising from lobbyists and stakeholders, people who have something directly in the game in their relations with the government. This has spilled over into the realm of third parties, and reliance on third parties to also act as proxies for the government and to help it win elections.
The first bit of business under this minister's predecessor was its promise on electoral reform. This was part of the Speech from the Throne. It was a campaign promise, although not one that the Liberals really led with in my part of Canada, in my riding. I do not recall my Liberal opponent bringing it up at all in the forums I attended with her. I do not recall hearing about it at the door. However, I know it was brought up, and the Liberals did campaign on it in other parts of the country.
The Liberals were deliberately cultivating support from the people who might be traditionally expected to vote for the NDP. These people voted for the Liberals and they helped elect them, and they expected that promise to be kept. We know what happened. Under the previous minister, the Liberals were surprised to find that opposition parties were not going to quietly roll over, let them rig the game to their advantage in the next election, nor was the Canadian public, for that matter, interested in doing so.
The government established a special committee, asked for its recommendations, and when it realized the committee was not going to tell it what it wanted to hear, it established a bizarre parallel rigged game of consultation. Finally, when the committee did make a recommendation that the Liberals could not accept, they buried that election promise and instructed the new minister to table a less ambitious bill.
In fact, there was already a bill at that time, which my colleague, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley pointed out, that was tabled under the previous minister. It sat there for two years without anything happening on it, until this spring when we got into Bill C-76.
With this history on democratic institutions and electoral reform, I cannot imagine why any of my constituents would expect me to give credit to the government and to support the legislation before us. As far as the specifics of this bill and the current conduct of the government goes, there are still very serious problems with this bill.
There were some minor amendments that were proposed at committee that may have made some subtle improvement, but right now foreign, third party entities can still fund their Canadian proxies and participate in our democracy with foreign money.
The parliamentary secretary said it was an amendment that was dealt with at committee, but it is not so. There is no provision for audits outside the writ and pre-writ periods. A foreign third party entity can give money to its Canadian proxy, which can advertise or conduct itself in opposition to a particular party or a particular issue. There is nothing to prevent the Canadian entity from using that money perhaps for administration or legal purposes, freeing up its other resources to participate in public discourse in politics.
I have real concerns about this, and it is not something we are making up. The Tides Foundation brags about how it influenced the last Canadian election. On its website, it takes credit for helping to defeat the last government. It sent millions of dollars into Canada. It sent money to LeadNow, which in its Harper report, talked about how it paid organizers to go out and campaign in the last election and how in 26 out of the 29 seats it targeted, Conservative candidates were defeated. It is not a secret. They openly boast about these activities and about the ability to influence a Canadian election.
Until we get this right out of politics and take a clear stand, with audit provisions that span the period between elections, we are going to be at risk of this type of activity. I used the examples of Tides and LeadNow and some of the groups they funded, because that is real and it happened in the last election. However, who knows, in the next election, which other organizations or governments might use the loopholes in this law? The government has very little credibility on this entire file, and I will not support the bill for that reason.
One other thing I want to point out in the minute or two I have left is that we saw this week that there was an expectation that four by-elections would likely be called this past Sunday, and in fact, only one was called. If the bill passes, the Prime Minister will not be able to call a by-election within the nine months that precede the fixed date that exists for next October.
Three seats are still vacated from the resignations of Peter Van Loan, September 3; Tom Mulcair, August 2; and Kennedy Stewart, September 16. If the Prime Minister does not call these by-elections soon, they will not be able to be called if this bill becomes law. That would be a real shame. Citizens of three ridings would go over a year without a member of Parliament. That nine-month prohibition against calling a by-election before a general election is scheduled, when added to the six months of flexibility the current Prime Minister has, will actually allow the non-representation of constituents for potentially 15 months. I hope that is not what is happening right now. I would hope that with the leader of a federal party nominated in Burnaby, the Prime Minister is not deliberately preventing this by-election from happening, but we will have to see how this eventually plays out.