Mr. John Harvard (Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-24 and the amendments under consideration at this time.
Let me say at the outset that I will be speaking in support of Bill C-24, not just because I happen to be a Liberal and a member of the governing party. I support Bill C-24 because it is the kind of issue that I have felt strongly about for a good many years. I have felt for a good many years that it is time for the public to take a much wider financial participation in our democracy.
I want to say some congratulatory remarks to the government for bringing Bill C-24 before the House at this time. I think it is an idea whose time has come. When the bill is passed and becomes law and when the law has been enforced for some years, I think it will be a model for many other countries around the world to follow. I believe it is that progressive.
I also want to congratulate the Prime Minister. In the months leading up to his retirement toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year he could have just sat back and done nothing, but he has not done that. He has been very active. Evidence of that is bringing forward Bill C-24, which I think in political terms and in legislative terms is a very bold act. I think he deserves our congratulations. This is going to be a long-lasting legacy in his name.
The particular amendment before us would allow for a review roughly a year from now, after the next election, let us say, and I think that is a good amendment. The opportunity to look at something that we parliamentarians have done in the recent past and to assess and evaluate the efficacy and value of the legislation is a good direction to take. Certainly I will be supporting not only the legislation but this particular amendment allowing for that kind of review. I think it is a good amendment and a good decision to take.
Now I want to ask myself a question and provide the answer. Why do I support Bill C-24? I happen to believe, and I have felt this way for a long time, that elections are at the centre of our Canadian democracy. Democracy belongs to all of us and we all have to take responsibility for it. That includes paying for it. There is no other way. If we are going to take financial responsibility for our democracy, that means we are going to have to take on our responsibility as taxpayers and share in the financial support for our democracy.
On the one hand we Canadians cherish our democracy, which I think is one of the best models of democracy in the world. We have had it for almost 136 years and would never want to give it up. Yet I find it passing strange that on the other hand, a lot of Canadians seem content and happy to surrender some control of that democracy to corporations and unions to save us a little bit of money. I think that is a dubious saving, to say the least.
There is of course this perception that big money involved in the financing of election campaigns bears with it or carries with it too much influence. We know, despite arguments to the contrary, that there is really no smoking gun in support of this perception. Nevertheless it is there.
I do not think there is any doubt that when it comes to big contributions to political parties, political campaigns and political candidates, they do to some extent provide access. Sometimes that is all we need: access. We do not have to be a direct participant with our money in a decision or in a process leading up to the decision. What we need is access. What we need sometimes is just the opportunity to present our case. From then on good things may well happen, not always, but they may well happen.
For example, well-to-do people can go to some classy fundraisers and pay $200 to $600 or maybe even more than that. With that, they have an opportunity to meet certain important people, particularly prime ministers. That is access. They may bend an ear for only half a minute or a minute, but perhaps there is some value to that. We always hear about the famous golf tournaments. One buys into a golf tournament and has an opportunity for a few rounds of golf with a cabinet minister, a deputy minister or someone else important. That is the kind of access we are talking about. I think anything that will offset that kind of perception is all well and good.
I want to deal with a particular matter that I think I heard the previous speaker talk about: the concern of some people that the money coming from the taxpayer in support of election campaigns would go to parties, as if somehow or another the money would actually go into the pockets of political parties for the pleasure and enjoyment of political parties, or that the money would be used for their profit, let us say. I do not think that is true. I think the money goes through the parties and the operative word is “through”. The money goes through the parties to enable them to express themselves and to communicate their policies and messages to the electorate. That is what the money is for.
Parties that have those kinds of resources from taxpayers will be able to express themselves better and more clearly, without fear or favour, as it were. I support the notion of putting the money through the parties. The parties, we can be sure, will spend the money, every nickel of it. In fact, another aspect of this which I think is important, and which the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca mentioned, is keeping a lid on spending, or in other words keeping control of spending. That is one of the great things we have under Canadian law. There are rigid, tight controls on election spending, and that it is the way it should be.
I hope that we always will keep a very careful eye on this control of spending. It is very important. It is one thing to get wider public financial participation into the process, but it is equally important to keep a tight rein on spending. I hope we never let that go.
I know that some people are not comfortable with asking taxpayers to participate in this way, but there is simply no alternative. It is either public support or private support and I think it is time for us to go to a greater scale of public support. Right now, considering rebates and other things that we use, around 59% of election spending is borne by the public purse. Under Bill C-24, that may go as high as perhaps 89% or 90%.
This kind of legislation is not new. The Province of Quebec has had it for a good long while, for many years now. There is an aspect of it in New Brunswick. In fact, in New Brunswick I think they fork over about $1.80 a head. Of course the Province of Manitoba has it and I think the legislation was enacted in 2000. It was put to the test for the first time in the recent provincial election in Manitoba on June 3.
Subtopic: Canada Elections Act