Hon. Allan J. MacEachen (President of the Privy Council) moved
that Bill C-211, to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act in respect of election expenses, be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections.
He said: Mr. Speaker, before beginning to set out the details of this particular bill I might make one or two comments about the question of election expenses, the background to this bill and my approach in bringing the bill before the House of Commons. As you will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, every member of this House in a sense is an expert on election expenses because each member has met the difficulties and responsibilities in a financial way of contesting a general election. Therefore, everyone here has knowledge that probably is at least equal to the advice that is received from all other sources concerning what we ought to do about this difficult problem.
First of all I might mention that this bill follows in the main, if not entirely, the recommendations of the Special Committee on Election Expenses which reported to this House in June of last year. That was an all-party committee which met frequently and heard witnesses. In so far as can be determined, its recommendations to the House of Commons were unanimous. That report in turn benefited from the study which had been made previously by an expert group, a committee which had been appointed by the Pearson government and headed by Mr. Barbeau, known as the Barbeau committee. The membership of that committee included two former distinguished members of this House, Mr. M. J. Coldwell and Mr. Arthur Smith. In addition to the three gentlemen I have mentioned, the other members were Mr. Norman Ward and Mr. Gordon Dryden.
To a great extent, as did the report of the special committee, this bill for its guiding principles rests on the main recommendations of the Barbeau committee. There are some divergencies. I will perhaps later be prepared to explain why I am not recommending to the House the implementation of every single item that was put forward either in the Barbeau committee report or in the special committee report, although I repeat that we have followed in the main the principal recommendations.
We are keeping an open mind in respect of the details of this bill. I shall be listening to the views of hon. members on all sides of the House, and if perhaps persuasive arguments can be made and if gaps can be revealed in the bill, then certainly I will be ready to accept changes to it. As an example of that approach I might mention that the Barbeau committee recommended that in the disclosure provisions, registered political parties be obligated to report contributions received from foreign sources. There was no reason given at any point in the report concerning the basis for this recommendation, the extent to which in the view of the committee it felt political parties were financed by foreign sources or, indeed, why from a public policy point of view foreign sources ought to be segregated from domestic sources.
The special committee did not follow the Barbeau committee in that regard but recommended that non-resident individuals, corporations and unions be prohibited from making contributions to registered political parties. Again, in the report of the special committee I have been unable to find any reasoned argument in support of this particular proposal. In the absence of any compelling argument in favour of either of these approaches, I have not included any such provision in the bill. However, I certainly will be listening to the observations of hon. members on this point and if good arguments can be brought forward indicating the inclusion of such a provision would be an improvement to the bill, I would be prepared to accept an amendment along those lines: likewise in respect of other details of the bill, except that I am not prepared to depart from the main principles which underscore this bill.
The bill itself incorporates three main principles which have been widely discussed since the last electoral reform on this subject in 1920, namely, the limitation of election expenses, the disclosure of sources of contributions and the need for financial assistance by candidates and politi-
May 18, 1972
cal parties. The piecemeal electoral reforms between 1871 and 1920 all suffered from the twin difficulties of failure to recognize the existence in the law of political parties and failure to recognize that political parties and candidates require fairly large amounts of money in order to carry on their activities.
In the modern world very large amounts of money are required to conduct election campaigns and to communicate effectively with the electorate. Hopefully, this bill will overcome the problems imposed by these earlier failures and as well will bring the question of political finances to the attention of the public. Hopefully, also, it will place candidates seeking public office on a more equal footing.
I am sure hon. members will be asking why we are bringing this bill before the House at this particular time. There is no sinister motive at all behind the timing. Members will recall that the report of the special committee was presented last June, and as the person principally responsible for the scheduling of government business I can say that had I had the bill in my pocket on that date it would have been quite impossible, because of other legislative priorities, to have brought it before the House much earlier since it would have meant removing from the legislative program items to which the government attached priority.
Last fall, as hon. members will recall, we spent much time on the employment support bill, on the tax reform bill and on the farm products marketing bill, just to mention the three main items along with budget bills that had to receive the attention of the House. Also as hon. members know, in this session we have been occupied with legislation of considerable importance. That is why I invite members not to speculate that there is some sinister motive which has induced the government to bring the bill forward at this particular time, unless it is to support the speculation which exists in all our minds that elections are necessary and probably will overtake us at one time or another.
Subtopic: ELECTION EXPENSES BILL
Sub-subtopic: AMENDMENTS TO CANADA ELECTIONS ACT AND INCOME TAX ACT