Bill C-50:  An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing) - The Senate’s Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Speech

Remarks for the Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions.

Ottawa, June 13, 2018.

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Introduction

Mr. Chair, I would first wish to thank you and honourable  senators for undertaking this study on Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing), and for allowing me the opportunity to address the Committee on this important piece of legislation. 

I am accompanied today by two representatives from the Privy Council Office’s Democratic Institutions Secretariat, Riri (Lily) Shen, Operations Director, and Jean-François Morin, Senior Policy Advisor.

Government of Canada Democratic Institutions’ Initiatives

The Government of Canada is committed to strengthening Canada’s democratic institutions and restoring Canadians’ trust and participation in our democratic processes.

In addition to Bill C-50, which I will discuss momentarily, Bill C-76 – the Election Modernization Act – is aimed at ensuring that our electoral process is transparent, accessible, reflective of modern best practices, secure, and defended against undue influence.  While this bill is currently being studied by the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, I would be happy to soon be invited by your Committee to discuss its content.

Transparency Measures for Political Fundraising Activities

The Prime Minister gave me a mandate to strengthen the openness and fairness of Canada’s public institutions and specifically to enhance transparency in Canada’s political fundraising system. Bill C-50 would amend the Canada Elections Act to create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency surrounding political fundraisers.

Canadians – and the Supreme Court – believe that political parties are a way for citizens to engage politically. Political parties provide opportunities for Canadians to get involved in our democracy and engage with the issues that matter to them.

Some individuals may choose to participate by volunteering, while others seek elected office in order to represent their constituents in the House of Commons. While some may choose to go to a rally or knock on doors, others choose to exercise their Charter right (sections 2b and 3) to support political parties financially.

Registered parties do benefit from public subsidies through an after-the-fact reimbursement of a portion of their election expenses, but political parties remain highly dependent on Canadians’ financial support to fund their activities.

Political contributions are strictly regulated under existing law, and only Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents – not corporations, third parties, or other entities – may contribute to political parties at the federal level.

To ensure the most well-resourced voices do not drown out all others, there is a limit to what Canadians and Permanent Residents can donate. In 2018, individuals may contribute a maximum of $1,575 each to:

  • A registered party;
  • All the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a registered party;
  • A leadership contestant, and;
  • An independent candidate at an election.

Honourable Senators, you will notice in this legislation that the framework for leadership and nomination contestants’ expenditures would now be harmonized with candidate expenditures. This is important to ensure a fair and level playing field in our political system.

To guarantee transparency in our political financing system – and to ensure this fair and level playing field – contributions are reported to Elections Canada and the name and partial address of those who contribute more than $200 are published online.  

Bill C-50 builds on and strengthens this existing regime.

Act C-50, which applies to all parties with representation in the House of Commons, is intended to provide Canadians with more information on political fundraising activities before and after they are held.

To ensure that fundraising activities are not held in secret, giving access to only a handful of select people, Bill C-50 would first require that parties announce their fundraising activities at least five days in advance when the contribution or price of the ticket to attend the event is over $200 and when Cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, or party leadership contestants are participating.

Canadians would know about a fundraiser before the event takes place, giving them an opportunity to inquire about a ticket, if they so choose.  

Bill C-50 ensures greater transparency in political fundraising by requiring political parties to file reports with Elections Canada within 30 days of each event with a ticket price or required contribution above $200. Then, much like with the system that already exists for political contributions, the name and partial address of each attendee would be published online.

To protect their privacy, young people under 18 years of age, volunteers, event staff, media and support staff for the minister or party leader in attendance will be exempt from this disclosure requirement.

This legislation would also make it easier for journalists to report on fundraisers, as events could no longer be held behind closed doors.  At the same time, political parties will retain the flexibility to set their own rules for providing media access and accreditation.

Moreover, Bill C-50 would also implement new compliance mechanisms and would require the reimbursement of money collected during an activity when the disclosure and report submission rules have not been followed.

Bill C-50 would also implement new offences for registered parties that do not comply with the rules. This offence would be associated with a maximum fine of $1,000 in the event of a summary conviction.

We go one step further in Bill C-76.

With this legislation, the Government of Canada is proposing to increase the Commissioner of Canada Elections’ investigative powers, and to create a new Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMP) regime aimed at furthering compliance with the Canada Elections Act.

Under this strengthened regime, we seek to provide the Commissioner with the ability to lay monetary penalties for political financing and minor voting offenses. Additionally, we will restore the Commissioner’s power to lay charges and compel testimony, in order to address more serious violations of elections law.

Conclusion

Mr. Chair, honourable Senators, the trust of Canadians in their democratic institutions can never be taken for granted.  The Government of Canada is putting several initiatives forward to ensure that our democratic institutions continue to be modern, transparent, accessible and secure.

I look forward to your questions.


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