Hon. Tim Uppal (Minister of State (Democratic Reform), CPC)
moved that Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to political loans), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to continue with our democratic reform week and begin the debate on Bill C-21, the political loans accountability act. The bill is another one of our government's long-standing commitments and I am happy we are moving forward on it today.
As we have shown with previous bills, our government is pursuing a principled agenda to strengthen accountability and democracy in Canada. In this case, we are addressing the rules respecting loans to political entities.
Currently, there are no limits on loans that corporations, unions, or wealthy individuals can grant to political entities. It is unacceptable that the political loans regime does not meet the same standards of transparency, accountability and integrity expected of the average Canadian. Hard-working ordinary Canadians are expected to pay back loans under strict rules, whether it is for starting a business, going to school, or purchasing a home, and the same rigorous standards should also apply to politicians.
As it stands, there is a loophole in political financing legislation. We are addressing the loophole with this bill.
Our government, in its first bill in 2006, established strong standards for political contributions in the Federal Accountability Act. The act eliminated contributions by corporations and unions. It changed the rules to ensure that politicians would not be beholden to those with deep pockets and unions or corporations that give too much money. However, our law still allows those with deep pockets to lend too much money. The rules concerning political loans should be consistent with the rules for political contributions.
One major issue regarding the treatment of loans in the Canada Elections Act is the loophole in the current standards that fails to impose restrictions on the source and the amount of political loans in a way that is consistent with the rest of the rules for political financing.
A second important issue that our government seeks to address is the inconsistency in transparency requirements for political loans. As it stands, the inconsistencies on how political loans are treated unduly complicate the enforcement of the Canada Elections Act and do not provide for consistent transparency across the Canadian political finance regime.
This lack of rules may result in loans being used as de facto contributions. Clearly, it is a situation where politicians could be beholden to those who lend them large sums of money instead of being beholden to those who brought them into office with votes. This is unacceptable.
By limiting the amount of a loan a candidate or another individual can make to fund political activities, the political loans accountability act would increase integrity in the political loans process by ensuring that all candidates are on a level playing field, regardless of their personal wealth or their connections with elite interests.
The bill would also ensure that members of Parliament are accountable to their constituents first by removing the opportunity for undue influence by unions and corporations on elected representatives.
However, the bill would also ensure that parties, associations and candidates will continue to be able to secure sufficient financing for their electoral campaigns. Political entities will be able to borrow money from a wide range of financial institutions, including trust and loan companies, credit unions and insurers.
The bill is consistent with a recommendation from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. It reflects a legal approach to political loans already in place in several provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
To fully highlight the practical benefit of our proposed measures, I would like to discuss some of them in more detail.
The Federal Accountability Act established fixed contribution limits for individuals and completely eliminated contributions from corporations, unions and associations.
Following the passage of our flagship Federal Accountability Act, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs asked the former chief electoral officer to prepare a report on political financing issues with recommendations respecting the use of loans.
The Chief Electoral Officer's report was submitted in January 2007 with respect to the existing rules on political loans. He acknowledged that:
|| While Parliament has imposed an extensive regime to control the source and extent of contributions, it has not done so with respect to that other source of funding constituted by loans.
The Chief Electoral Officer suggested that loans to political entities by lenders that were not in the business of lending ought to be restricted, because such loans granted at non-commercial rates at terms and conditions that were available to the general public and without expectation of repayment may lead to the perception of abuse and undue influence by those with the financial means to grant these loans.
To prevent such abuse or unfair influence by those wealthy entities with the ability to make large loans or any perception of it, the Chief Electoral Officer made the following recommendations: that the limit on loans be made by individuals should be to their contribution limit; that political entities may borrow money in excess of the contribution limit only from financial institutions; that all loans by financial institutions be at commercial rates of interest; and that a separate regime for the treatment and reporting of loans be established in the act.
In response to these recommendations, our government introduced the political loans accountability act, which had it been adopted would have regulated the use of loans by political entities to ensure full disclosure and greater accountability in the financing of political campaigns.
This legislation was passed by the House of Commons as Bill C-29 in 2008 and was awaiting second reading in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved for the 2008 election.
The legislation we are discussing today is substantively the same legislation as passed by the House in 2008 as Bill C-29. Our government worked collaboratively with opposition members to pass Bill C-29, which was awaiting second reading in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved.
Some changes have been incorporated from its original version. For example, the bill now would exclude from the annual contribution limit any portion of a loan that was repaid to the lender and any unused loan guarantees, as proposed by our government during the committee's study period.
It would require the Chief Electoral Officer to hear representations from affected interests before making a determination about a deemed contribution, as proposed by the opposition.
It would establish contribution limits for leadership contestants on a per calendar year basis rather than a per contest basis.
These amendments demonstrate that our government developed the political loans accountability act in a collaborative spirit with opposition parties throughout the process. Indeed, when the political loans accountability act was introduced, with the amendments above during the last Parliament, in 2010, there was widespread support in the House, including among the NDP, for the updated bill.
We think these incorporated changes make the bill even better. The act we are discussing today is the reintroduction of this updated legislation from the last Parliament.
Here are some of the important changes brought by our bill to Canada's political financing regime.
The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political parties, associations and candidates, including the mandatory disclosure of terms, such as interest rates and the identity of lenders and loan guarantors.
Unions and corporations would be banned from making loans to political parties, associations, candidates and contestants, consistent with their inability to make contributions as set out in the Federal Accountability Act.
Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals cannot exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established under the Federal Accountability Act, which is currently $1,100 in 2011. Only financial institutions and other political entities can make loans beyond that amount. Loans from financial institutions must be at fair market rates of interest.
Rules for the treatment of unpaid loans will be tightened to ensure candidates cannot walk away from outstanding loans. Riding associations or parties will be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.
By prohibiting loans from unions and corporations and requiring that loans from financial institutions be granted at a market rate of interest, this bill would prevent corporations and unions from doing indirectly, through loans, what they are now prohibited from doing directly through contributions.
Together with the Federal Accountability Act, this measure will no doubt yield more fairness for electors. Politicians will now have to seek financial support from voters, not corporate entities or special interest groups. Politicians will be entirely accountable to voters as opposed to corporations or union interests.
Requiring a fair market rate of interest will allow all parties and candidates to be on an equal playing field by no longer allowing situations whereby favourable or entirely unknown terms of loans are granted without transparency. This change will also serve parliamentarians, riding associations and parties by protecting them from perceptions that they might be indebted to unions or corporate interests.
In addition, our government believes it is unfair that a candidate can walk away from his or her campaign debts. Everyday Canadians are expected to pay back their loans under strict rules, and the same should apply to politicians. This is why our bill proposes to transfer a candidate's unpaid loans to riding associations. This will ensure that the money borrow will be repaid.
Another important impact of the proposed bill will be to subject loans made by individuals to their contribution limits. This measure will prevent the current ability to bypass a contribution limit by lending large amounts of money without any expectation of ever being reimbursed. This measure will ensure greater accountability to citizens and enhanced transparency and integrity in our political financing regime.
The last, but not least of these changes that I want to discuss today is the increased transparency requirements for loans to all political entities. From now on, all loans will need to be recorded in writing and reported to Elections Canada. This change will increase transparency, especially in the case of candidates and nomination contestants who currently have only limited disclosure requirements. Putting in place effective transparency standards for candidates and nomination contestants will allow Canadians to know who is financing their campaigns and under what terms. I think these measures will find wide support in the House of Commons and among Canadians.
I would like to emphasize how the bill, in conjunction with the Federal Accountability Act, democratizes the political financing regime by focusing on grassroots voters. Wealthy individuals will be unable to bankroll their own campaigns by making large loans to themselves. Candidates will be unable to rely on a small number of wealthy contributors to finance their campaigns. They will instead need to seek support from those they wish to represent in the House of Commons.
Lending will not be limited to banks. Indeed, there will be a wide range of financial institutions still able to provide loans. What the bill does is preserve the important role for small community lenders and financing grassroots political campaigns, such as families, friends, supporters, credit unions and caisse populaires. By making political parties and candidates dependent on their supporters for financial support, parties and candidates now have a greater incentive to be responsive to the average Canadian.
What I hear from my constituents, and indeed many more Canadians across the country, is that they do not want to see parties and candidates using large loans from wealthy individuals, corporations, or unions to finance their campaigns. Large individual contributions are not permitted, so large individual loans should also not be permitted. Corporations and unions are not permitted to donate to federal political entities, so corporations and unions should be unable to loan large sums of money to political entities.
When our government was elected in 2006, we made the Federal Accountability Act our first priority, which among other things tightened the contribution limits to ensure corporate and union interests and wealthy individuals would not unduly influence politics.
With the introduction of the political loans accountability act, we are building on our flagship Federal Accountability Act by bringing greater transparency and integrity to political loans. The bill would strengthen Canada's political finance regime, already one of the strongest political finance regimes in the world. This is good news for Canadians and for the political process.
I encourage all parliamentarians to vote in favour of the bill.
Mr. David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter the debate. Let me first of all say that the reason why we are supportive of this is because there is a problem. We see the problem and I am not going to make this any more partisan than it sounds, that is not my intent, but merely the reality.
The leadership race that the Liberal Party had left huge debts. It would seem that some of those debts are not going to be paid off. If that is the result and a candidate was backed by individuals, effectively right now those individuals bankrolled a big part of the candidate's campaign and by virtue of just never paying it off, put that money forward, and did exactly what we are trying to avoid which is single individuals, single corporations, and single unions from providing tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to one candidate.
I agree with the minister in acknowledging that there is a problem. We accept that the minister is going in the right direction. That is why again, as always, we say we need to see the details at committee. We do have some concerns. It has been raised once and it will be raised again by both opposition parties. The minister is saying that there is no need to put any regime around banks or credit unions in terms of who they will loan to and who they will not. That could create a serious problem. If we are only allowing the money to come from one or two places, and those places are not democratized in terms of what the rules are, in terms of who they will lend money to, one does not have to be a political scientist to see the problem.
I would hope there would be some room and latitude to talk at committee about what kind of regime might be in place, what kind of safeguards could be in place, and maybe there is a backup by the government, maybe there is a role there. But any possibility where we are narrowing how Canadian citizens can raise money to participate in our electoral process, we need to ensure that not only is it fair but that we can actually access the money regardless of our political platform.
For the most part the platforms here are not scary. Some might argue the point from our different perspectives. But in a world view, I think members know what I am saying when I use that phrase.
If there is a legitimate, legal party that might have policies that scare certain segments of the population and part of that segment of the population could be the banks. It does not take a whole lot of analysis to realize that if a bank can find a way to legally, legitimately and free from harm say “no”, it is probably in the bank's interest to ensure that a party that has a platform that would hurt the bank would be helped by that bank to get more votes, and ultimately become the government that is then going to bring in rules and a regime that the bank thinks is not in its interest.
Hon. Stéphane Dion: I applaud.
Mr. David Christopherson: I am thrilled that the member is applauding. Really, it just warms my heart.
We want to have a look at that. We think that is a valid point. There may be other points coming from the third party since it is the example we are using of why we need to have a loophole. That needs to be taken into account, but again, regardless of how many times he heckles me these days, I have the greatest respect for the democratic reform critic for the Liberal Party. I believe that when we get to committee and if the minister if open-minded, we can start to do something about this.
However, I say to the minister, leaving some potential political parties vulnerable to not being able to access enough capital to mount a campaign is as undemocratic as allowing people with tens of millions of dollars to bankroll their good buddy. We need to be talking about that.
There is another real problem and I am going to come back to it again. I heard the minister's response when I asked if the Conservatives wanted to make it fair and keep it on a level playing field, but, quite frankly, how fair is it in a riding like mine where there are not as many wealthy people? I know the difference. When I was an MPP, my boundary ridings changed for a while and my riding encapsulated a part of the city where the demographic income was much higher. Boy, did it make a difference. Now I am back to my old boundaries and the standard problem. I would not raise it as a complaint other than it is in the context of this debate.
Is it really fair for an individual candidate? For instance, I did this in the last campaign, and again I will use myself as an example so nobody will think I am playing any games. I bankrolled my campaign with my line of credit and my house. That was not an institution or an individual, that was me as the candidate putting up my house as collateral, whereas this bill would have me go out and line up 20 or 30 people, each one having to put out $1,100 and my riding association would be denied that $1,100 because it is tied up backing up the loan.
Our point at committee is going to be whether there is some way that individual candidates can back up their loans, as I did. Then, after the election, my books were cleared up and the loan was transferred over to the riding association, but still backed up by my home. We may have to talk about what would happen in the case where a candidate does not win the seat and may move away, but those are still issues dealt with in any kind of collateral arrangement with a financial institution. They should not be so overwhelming that we cannot get over it.
I am kind of arguing the opposite of where I am coming from, which is to stop money from having an influence, but is the democratic process really harmed in terms of the financing of elections by virtue of me backing up a $20,000 or $30,000 line of credit with my own home? Not everybody has a home. Granted, it still has problems, nothing is perfect. The circumstances may be different, but could a close relative do that? Is there a way that we can do this, so that it does not create an unfair disadvantage to those of us who do not have wealthy demographic ridings?
This law does not matter much if someone has $100,000 in the bank. I believe there are some Conservatives and Liberals that do. I would be shocked if any of my colleagues did. They may, I am not aware of it, but I do not think it is that unusual on that side of the House or for some of the Liberals to have that kind of money, and so it is not a problem. I bring that as an element of fairness for us to look at, to see whether we can come up with a regime that meets the standards that the minister has set out but still allows fairness for individuals running for office.
My last point on this is that it may sound like $1,000 from 20 or 30 people is not a big deal. However, this is real world stuff. Does anyone know how difficult it is to find 20 or 30 people who have that kind of money to spare? Again, it may not sound like a lot to members in this place, but for many of my constituents, that could be all of their savings. Then a candidate has to co-ordinate the timing. Those 30 people have to go in and sign the documents before the candidate gets the money, which means time is lost, time when the campaign is going on. The candidate's opponents are already up and running and the candidate is still running around trying to get signatures 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30, so he or she can get a line of credit and get his or her campaign up and running.
Moving from a situation where I back up the loan with my home, and that is the way I have done it since I got here, versus the other way really is a huge disadvantage for some of us. I am hoping that we will be able to take the time to look at that.
I know my time for debate will expire, as it goes quickly. I do want to get my dibs in on the discussion about electoral reform. The minister used some very lofty language in his news release:
|| The current rules on political loans do not meet the high standards of accountability, integrity and transparency that Canadians expect in their political process.
That is all well and fine, but one of the most progressive steps, and government members should get ready to howl, that was ever taken in this place toward making elections fairer was providing the per-vote subsidy.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. David Christopherson: I told you, Madam Speaker. They are a little slow off the mark. They should have been quicker on that one.
I want to say to the hon. members across the way that I participated in an election observation mission in Morocco in the last few weeks. What is one of the most important things to the people of Morocco? It is a struggling, emerging democracy in northwest Africa. One of the most important components they felt they needed was subsidies for political parties from the public purse to level the playing field.
When the government talks about a level playing field, it is often like we all have the right to live under the bridge, that old example. When we stand back and look at the macro picture, at the end of the day, money will play a bigger role in Canadian politics after the government than it did before. That is wrong.
I have given, at every opportunity, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as much credit as possible. I think the president of his own party used the expression, that was about as dumb as a bag of hammers. Why? Because the Liberals used to get all their funding from corporations. That was to be set aside, in large part, and replaced with the subsidies.
That was a good thing to do. It did make our democracy better. I have had the chance to participate in six or seven election observation missions. Anyone who is involved in elections around the world either has that component, or the one thing they desperately want is to get private money out of their political system and replace it with public funding. They are either doing this because they know it is important, or they want to because they know the damage and corrosiveness that money can play in a democratic system like ours.
My next comment will be on the same quote, when the minister used the word “accountability”. I love this. When the Conservatives say that word a lot, I want to bring into the broader discussion, to put the context of Bill C-21 in a more enlightened form, that under their new elect-the-senator bill, there is no accountability.
In fact, the senators would be prohibited by law from being accountable because they would run on a platform of promises, as we all do. They would serve nine years, which we do not. If we look at the model all of us here live by, if we want to stay in office beyond our term, we go back to the people and say, “Here are the promises I made. Here is what I did, what I said, how I voted. Now I ask you, my boss, how did I do, and do I deserve to get rehired or re-elected for another term, yes or no?”
However, elected senators, and I use that term loosely, would be prohibited by law from running again after nine years. Where is the accountability? There would be no accountability at the beginning, only promises. There would be no accountability in the middle. They would not even have constituency offices so they would not even be meeting Canadians, never mind being accountable. At the point when they should go back at the end of their terms, they would be prohibited by law from running again. Where is the accountability?
The minister also said in that same quote, “integrity”. That is pretty rich, coming from the party that gives us the current Minister of National Defence.
The last point is on the Conservatives' use of “transparency”. We do not need to look any further than today's question period and the Canada-U.S. border plan. We do not even know what is in the plan. It may be taking away massive amounts of Canadians' rights.
I raise all of that because the minister sets all these standards and uses these lofty words in his news releases. When we start to analyze piece by piece what the government is doing, it is undemocratic reform on a whole host of files. The words “accountability, integrity and transparency” are the last ones that Canadians are thinking of when they look at the actions and the agenda of the Conservative government.
I will end there. We are in support of closing the loophole. However, we think that there is some improvement needed to make our system stronger.
We have some serious concerns about having banks and other financial institutions as the only ones that can provide capital, with no requirement to actually provide it to all parties no matter what the circumstances. That is a huge problem, but it is solvable. I believe, if we wanted to, we could find ways to bring in conditions that would be acceptable to everyone concerned and make that aspect even fairer.
We hope that we can do something about the requirements for 20 or 30 people to get that initial line of credit. Here is one idea. One could be allowed to spend up to a certain percentage of the maximum. If one's limit were $100,000, one might be allowed to borrow up to $40,000 or $50,000 on the signature or collateral of the candidate.
I am sure we could find a regime that would still meet the goals of the government to level the playing field in terms of money, but also to make sure that our election laws apply equally across the country. The laws should not give an advantage or disadvantage to one's opponents in a general election or byelection.
If these concerns are not resolved, then there is no guarantee what position we will take at third reading. However, with those caveats, we are prepared to support the bill going to committee.
I hope the minister will allow us the same flexibility and tone that we had when we reviewed the previous bill, which we are voting against. The process at that committee was certainly as fair as I could have hoped for. At no time did I feel that the government was using a hammer to shut down democracy. I hope that we can look forward to the same relationship at committee on this bill. I hope we can make the improvements we need as well as look at other improvements to make it even better.
I always say that on bills like this, the ideal would be if we could all be standing in support of it. Would that not say a lot about a good piece of election law?
That is our goal; that is our position. We will see what happens.
Hon. Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, although the Liberal opposition agrees with a number of the aspects of Bill C-21—I am going to repeat my sentence from the beginning because the minister was not listening.
Although the Liberal opposition agrees with a number of the aspects of Bill C-21 to amend the Canada Elections Act in terms of accountability with respect to political loans, we cannot support the bill in its present form because it contains a major defect. It gives financial institutions exclusive political authority that they should not have, that they do not want, and that will have the effect of discriminating against a large number of people, especially women. I first want to highlight the aspects we support, then the ones we do not support, before I propose a constructive amendment.
We support any legislative measure that seeks to ban the hidden power of money in politics. We also support any legislative measure that provides greater fairness and greater transparency in making loans for political purposes.
The Liberal Party strongly supports efforts to increase fairness, transparency and accountability in the electoral process. After all, we are the party that initially passed legislation limiting the role of corporations and unions in electoral financing and lowered contribution limits.
No loans should be made in secret and Canadians should not be kept in the dark. This is why under current legislation the details of all loans, including amounts and names of lenders and guarantors, must already be disclosed publicly.
We agree that all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors, must be uniform and transparent. These rules should encompass loans, guarantees and suretyships with respect to registered parties, registered associations, candidates, leadership contestants and nomination contestants.
Thus we agree that financial reporting should be as transparent as possible, which is why we support clauses 5, 11, 25 and 32, which require disclosure of information regarding loan amounts, interest rates, lenders and dates of repayment.
However, we also favour transparent rules that guarantee the right and ability of all Canadians to run for office. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that all Canadians of voting age must have the opportunity to run for office.
In consequence, financial institutions should not be put in the position to decide who can run for office. Yet the bill would give financial institutions too much power to decide who would receive political loans, a power that would expose them to accusations of politicization and discrimination, real or perceived. Making banks the sole lending authority under clause 7 could potentially limit participation in federal politics to only those who would be able to gain credit from a financial institution, as defined under the Bank Act.
It would be a serious mistake to limit to financial institutions alone the ability to make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals.
It would be a mistake to enable these companies to play a political role in deciding who would receive loans and the ability to marginalize certain applicants who did not fit particular criteria, or to discriminate against them.
Bill C-21 gives financial institutions a monopoly on decision-making that is completely contrary to the democratic values and principles of Canadians who do not want access to public services to be linked to a prospective candidate's financial status.
There is a fundamental difference between asking for donations or loans from people by appealing to their sympathy for the ideas or the qualities of a prospective candidate and lining up at a counter in a bank where strictly commercial lending policies are applied. You do not buy your way into a life of public service in the same way that you buy a washing machine or a snowmobile. We must not give Canada's financial institutions a political weight that they should not have and that they do not want, an unprecedented role that is dangerous on several levels. The role is dangerous for the institutions themselves. They are at risk of being accused of political favouritism or of discrimination in one direction or in another, either by turning a candidate down for a loan, or by approving one. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't, as the saying goes.
That is indeed a risk that financial institutions cannot allow themselves to take in these troubled times, when the financial sector is under the glare of the media and the scrutiny of citizens and a whole host of political and socio-economic groups. The reputation, independence and freedom of action of these financial institutions are essential to the proper functioning of our economy, our society and our democracy. The exclusive power that Bill C-21 grants them thus presents a twofold problem, a problem of perception and a real risk, the danger of politicizing our financial institutions and a risk of discrimination involving these loans.
Let us for a moment look at the criteria the banks would use to determine which candidates they would or would not lend money to. They could use a purely financial criterion based on the personal solvency of the candidates, which would favour the rich to the detriment of everyone else; or they could do a risk assessment based on the political probability that the candidate would obtain sufficient support, which would translate into a sufficient number of yearly contributions of less than a $1,000 in order to reimburse the loan. What this means is that we are asking financial institutions to make political judgments. Those institutions could even assess the probability of the candidate getting elected, and see that outcome as increasing his or her solvency. With all of this, we would be politicizing our financial institutions.
Let us now look at the problem of discrimination.
The bill would disadvantage lower income candidates who did not have the necessary credit history to receive loans. It would discriminate against people based on income and credit rating therefore favouring the rich and excluding many people from public service, notably many women, youth, newcomers and minorities in general.
Let me reiterate this. The lack of credit could potentially prevent not only low or middle-income Canadians, but also many women, aboriginal people and new immigrants from standing for office. The size of a wallet or bank account should not be an impediment to prospective candidates.
This is particularly worrisome as it applies to women.
This bill would disadvantage women candidates who had left the workforce for a period of time, resulting in a fluctuation of their financial status. The United Nations has stated that a critical mass of at least 30% women is needed in order for legislators around the world to produce public policy that represents women's concerns and for political institutions to begin changing the way they do business.
According to Equal Voice, Canada falls behind this standard. Despite enjoying economic prosperity and political stability, Canada has fewer women in Parliament than most of Europe and many other countries in the world. In Canada's Parliament, just about 24% of MPs are women. This places Canada 40th in the world on the Inter-Parliamentary Union, “List of Women in National Parliaments”. For Canada, 40th is not acceptable.
Further, Equal Voice notes that women encountered many barriers in seeking elected office at all levels, including lack of access to finances. This is the basic point. Restricting access to loans by financial institutions could disadvantage and create a new barrier to women entering politics.
This House should not do anything that would hinder women's success in politics. On the contrary, this House must do everything it can to promote women's successful participation in politics.
To conclude, the Liberal caucus strongly argues for full transparency and disclosure of political loans.
However, we are opposed to the idea of having financial institutions be the only ones that can grant loans in the political arena. That possibility must also be given to citizens, as long as transparency is made the hallmark of those loans. After all, it is much more legitimate for citizens than for banks to grant loans of a political nature, in keeping with their political convictions, and their confidence in the values or political credibility of a given candidate. We would be in favour of an amendment requiring that these individual loans only be granted at commercial interest rates.
I hope that this constructive proposal from the Liberal opposition will be well received by the government so that we can make our democracy more transparent and more open to everyone.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I think we have had a meaningful debate this afternoon. I know that we will end up agreeing to disagree on a number of points.
I am completely supportive of Bill C-21 and the elements contained therein. In the limited time that I have, I want to point out a few of the reasons, but I also want to use my time to try and refute some of the arguments that I heard from members opposite as to why they seem to disagree. Perhaps I will start there, because we only have about 10 minutes left before the debate has to end.
I have heard from a couple of members opposite that they believe individuals should also have the right to lend money and that moneylending should not be restricted to financial institutions. The bill came into play because of the situation where wealthy individuals could lend money. We have seen many times in the past where supposed loans have been given to political candidates and were never repaid. That is simply unacceptable. The potential and probability for abuse under the current situation without Bill C-21 is extremely high.
The situation, quite frankly, is simply this. As it stands now, any individual could be in a position where he or she knowingly lent money to a political candidate with no expectations of repayment. It is quite conceivable that individuals could have consulted with a candidate and agreed upon a mechanism by which they could circumvent the rules, by lending a certain amount of money with very favourable interest rates, as low as 0%, and basically nudge, nudge, wink, wink, told a candidate not to worry about ever repaying it because it is a loan and the lender will end up writing it off or forgiving it. That is not a loan. That is a contribution. That is a donation.
As a government we need to step in to ensure that the potential for that abuse is completely eliminated. Bill C-21 would do exactly that. It would put provisions in place which would prevent anyone from trying to circumvent the rules again.
We have heard many times before, in committee and in debate this afternoon, some of the problems with the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign. Like my colleague from Hamilton Centre I will try to be as non-partisan as possible, but it was because of the abuse that we saw and still see as a result of unpaid loans from that leadership campaign that our government felt that some bill had to be introduced to prevent that type of situation from occurring again. Bill C-21 would do that.
I also want to point out that despite the protestations of members opposite, borrowing money from financial institutions does not empower those financial institutions. It does not give them a monopoly over political financing. It does not give them any untoward power to influence political parties or candidates. It is simply a commercial transaction that we as Canadians deal with on a daily basis. Whether Canadians secure a mortgage for the purchase of a house, whether they secure a loan to purchase a car or a heavy appliance and so on, they have been using financial institutions to secure loans for generations.
I do not believe that any financial institution, by lending money, whether it be $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 to a political candidate or a political party, would feel that it had some undue influence over that candidate because it entered into a commercial transaction. It is simply not true. In my view it is silly. This is a normal daily activity that most Canadians perform and have performed for the last 200 years, as long as there have been chartered banks in the world. We need to discount the argument completely that suggests financial institutions would have more influence over political candidates and therefore we should allow citizens to make loans.
What we are trying to achieve with Bill C-21 is to ensure that there is accountability and that there can be no circumvention of election financing rules by disguising contributions as political loans. The financial institutions would be obliged, as they are obliged in daily transactions with Canadians, to provide clear terms for both the rate of interest charged on the loan and for its repayment, something that we saw sorely lacking in the 2006 leadership campaign for the Liberal Party. Five years have gone by, and some of those loans still have not been repaid. That is not a loan, in my view, but a contribution, and it should not be allowed.
With Bill C-21 we would not only be putting in clear, transparent rules that would make candidates and political parties accountable; we would also be giving confidence to the Canadian electorate that there will be no funny business or circumvention of rules, and that everything will be done in a transparent, accountable manner acceptable to Canadians.
One of the consequences of Bill C-21 is that if there are unpaid loans, the political parties themselves, whether as riding associations or federal parties, would be responsible for backstopping those loans and repaying the money. We have yet to see any activity by the Liberal Party of Canada in this regard. Has the Liberal Party of Canada stepped up to the plate and said it has a number of unpaid loans from some of its former leadership candidates back in 2006, that it does not think such a situation is acceptable, that it is going to repay them right now and then make its own arrangements with those leadership candidates to reimburse the party? I have seen no evidence and heard no discussion to that effect in this debate.
Members opposite in the Liberal Party have stood in this place this afternoon and said that they want accountability and transparency, but they believe that they can still play fast and loose with the rules. Where is the accountability when the once great Liberal Party that governed this country for many decades now does not even want to speak about repaying loans that some of its leadership candidates incurred?
We are not talking about candidates from a local riding association who might have been defeated in an election; these individuals tried to become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and the next prime minister of Canada, yet that party refuses to be accountable for the debts incurred by its candidates. Instead Liberal members stand here this afternoon and criticize our government for this bill, which is trying to bring accountability and transparency to the political process.
I do not care what arguments they bring forward at committee. I will be there to ensure that I have a question for them: as a party, what do they plan to do about the unpaid loans? What happens if another five years go by? Will they still be advancing the same arguments as they have this afternoon? It is totally unacceptable.
Had we not seen the rampant abuse by the Liberals, we might not have seen the need for Bill C-21. Nonetheless, it is before us. It is a worthy bill, and one that deserves support from other parties.
I understand and appreciate the comments made by my colleague from Hamilton Centre that he wants to discuss this at committee. I would certainly be more than willing to entertain suggestions. I will certainly not commit that I would accept any of his suggestions; I have heard some of the arguments, I understand what he is going to be advancing at committee, and I think that is worthy of debate, but on its own merits Bill C-21, as it stands, deserves the support of all members in this place.
I know it has the support of all Canadians.