Mr. Pat Nowlan (Annapolis Valley-Hants):
Madam Speaker, I have the highest respect for the mover of this amendment, the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, who I said earlier is one of the hardest working members in the House and has certainly been very involved in the committee.
However, showing my independent stance, while I have agreed with him on a couple of his amendments and disagreed with him on another one which he moved earlier today and felt more in favour of the government bill on an earlier matter, I can understand what he is trying to do on this one.
My hon. friend for Gatineau said a couple of things in his oration which really stimulated me to rise in debate. It is the very fact that we are in a democracy that this amendment gets into one of the most contentious items in this electoral reform bill. That is the right of third parties, people who are not members of a registered party, not Liberals, Tories, NDPs, Bloc Quebecois, Green, Rhinoceros and not necessarily multinationals, who just happen to be Canadians. They just may not be too happy with any of the parties, people, issues or candidates.
I give full credit to the member for Kingston and the Islands for moving this amendment because I can see he is trying to tighten up what is in the present bill. The present bill has no logic to it in that as long as it is not directly for or against a candidate it can be an open sesame and the money can pour in, the way my friend from Gatineau explained and as happened in the 1988 election. There is no doubt big money was behind the government move for free trade. The newspapers were flooded with supplements and a lot of advertising. That
April 2, 1993
was multinational. Yes, that is an odious thing. It is the interesting red herring to move on something like this.
I just happen to have a very interesting Canadian in my riding who was basically a Liberal from a large family and very uptight on the free trade issue. I am not going to embarrass him by mentioning his name, although I do not think it would matter. He phoned me at the height of the campaign long before the multinationals became involved to try to help the polls for the Tories in the last three weeks. We all know how the polls went up and down like a roller-coaster in that 1988 campaign.
This elderly gentleman is very involved in the apple business, trucks his apples to Boston and has been doing it for years. He said: "Patrick, I am very disturbed. Yes, I used to have a heritage on the Liberal side but I believe in free trade". Quite frankly I had a lot of difficulty when I was a Conservative at that time on the free trade issue. It was the toughest election I ever fought.
I knew what free trade opened up. There was a lot of imprecise language, certainly nothing on subsidies or the question of the dispute settlement mechanism. One turkey producer in Pennsylvania produces more turkeys than all of Canada. It is the same for the vertical integration of some of the chicken farms in Arkansas, to mention a state that has become famous recently, and/or in the deep south. It makes our chicken production pale by comparison.
My farmers were very concerned about free trade, about having an open floodgate. In any event I fought the fight. I supported the party line and I had difficulty. This gentlemen wanted to put an ad in the paper and he put it.
This is why this House is almost irresponsible in debating this issue on a Friday afternoon before the Easter recess when there is only a handful of us here, and other members are doing their thing. We all know we have to get home on the weekends.
This is an issue that should be debated by all members. We know more than the national coalition. I have no love or no hate for the national coalition. Frankly I think it does focus on a lot of interesting issues affecting Canadians.
This is an issue that affects Canadians. They may not want this closed club of parties to say they are not going to be able to spend $1,000 with some friends and put an ad in the local weekly or daily and say that they are either for or against. I know this opens up perils to candidates and to members, because then we might get the single issue candidates. Let us forget about the multinationals. That was free trade, and I agree with my friend from Gatineau. Who knows, it might happen again but we have other issues in Canada.
It could be abortion, pro-life or pro-choice. It could be the gun lobby. There are many different interested Canadians who because of their frustration with the political process and because they think their members are not serving them certainly do not want this Parliament to take away their right to place an ad.
The member for Kingston and the Islands is facing the issue and points a finger not at the duplicity but at the double standard in the bill that the government has brought forward.
It says that there can be a restriction on direct advertising but if it is indirect then it is wide open. The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands is doing a service in that people either believe in the principle or they do not. I do not happen to believe that we should cut Canadians off from their potential choice.
For my friend from the Gatineau and members here, we are members of Parliament, members of registered parties. We have a few advantages going into an election. There is something called an incumbent advantage, an incumbent benefit. Most of us send out householders. If we do not we are rather crazy. We do that at public expense four times a year. We have free mailing privileges.
We have a lot of privileges long before the campaign begins to help plant little seeds with our constituents, our electorate, that hopefully will sprout into support during a campaign.
April 2, 1993
I really was quite surprised-and that is really what got me on my feet today, although I think I was going to speak on the motion anyway. Frankly I wish this House would adjourn, because then the House could come back after Easter when the House is full up with members.
On this basic issue members should stand up and speak and give their views. I respect their views. I know the Lortie commission wrestled with this. We have to wrestle with the rights of free speech and the fact that members and candidates in an election have limits.
How can we have Canadians come in the back door and get around the limit that confronts parties? My answer is that this is democracy. When I heard a colleague in this House say that no one should influence the electorate I was absolutely horrified. I do not think it was intended the way it came out, because that is the whole purpose of an election.
I will have propaganda and I will have subtle propaganda before an election through my householders, my mailings, and through keeping in touch with my riding. That is proper, and it is proper for every member here.
Goodness gracious to them. Kitty bar the door when the writ is issued and Canadians cannot do what they may want to do. The important point is one that the amendment does not address. Frankly, I wish the bill would address it and I think the Lortie commission debated it.
To me it is not the money. Yes, that could be a factor. I could fall by the wayside because of what I am saying here today, giving the potential of single interest groups to get involved in a campaign and still not be involved in a party.
Madam Speaker, you know from your experience the answer is disclosure. I think that is the matter in this proposal by the government for a hybrid restriction of no more than $1,000 for direct advertising against or for a candidate. If it is an issue then it is open season. Disclosure should be in that bill. If there is a supplement in the newspaper or an ad, they have to disclose who the people are who put the money up.
If it is the multinationals-and that has been raised as a bogeyman here; it was real in 1988,1 agree-well then okay. Canadians are not stupid.
Madam Speaker, you sat in the chair during the referendum debate when there were about six or eight of us back here who voted no on the referendum. We know what the Canadians did. We know as of yesterday or the day before, under the Access to Information Act, $7.4 million was spent for the yes side.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: CANADA ELECTIONS ACT