The Parti Québécois took another step in its fight against corruption with the tabling of legislation that slashes the amounts of allowable political contributions and increases government allowances to parties.
The PQ also fulfilled a campaign promise by calling for fixed-date elections that it said will take away power from the premier and give it back to the people.
Legislation tabled on Tuesday limits contributions by individuals to political parties or independent candidates from $1,000 a year to $100. An additional $100 donation will allowed during an election.
In order to partially compensate for the drop in revenues, political parties will receive more than double the current allocation in public funds. The annual amount will go from $0.82 to $1.67 per vote received based on the electors list used during the previous election. An additional $1 per voter will be paid to political parties during an election year.
The tax credit for political contributions will also be abolished in order to help cover the cost of the increases in publicly funded allowances.
Minister for Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville explained that the new measures will eliminate the practice of using straw names to camouflage illegal party contributions. Firms, which are barred from making political donations, often asked employees to make the maximum contribution and reimbursed them. Testimony before the Charbonneau Commission on corruption revealed that the practice was widespread and often involved influence peddling; Mr. Drainville said it would be eliminated.
"I think this is the best we can do right now to fight against the system of straw names and the influence of bagmen," Mr. Drainville said on Tuesday.
He added that it would be impossible to totally eliminate corruption. "Are we able to adopt a law that will turn those who are corrupt into honest people? The answer is no. But we can eliminate the temptation, tighten the laws, transform them, reform them, change them."
Then on Wednesday, Mr. Drainville tabled a bill on fixed-date elections calling for a vote to be held on the fourth Monday of September during the fourth year of the government's mandate.
The bill sets the next election for Sept. 26, 2016, but given the PQ's minority government status it will likely be defeated before then. If so, then the fixed date will take effect for the next election. But that would likely require the election of a majority government.
"People are tired of having governments juggle election dates," Mr. Drainville said. This bill does not prevent a government from dissolving the legislature and calling a snap election. But, Mr. Drainville said, "it would have to justify its case before the people – just as opposition parties would have to do if they defeat the government and force an election."
The Minister insisted the two bills should be adopted by Christmas. The revised party financing law needs to be passed soon in order to make sure that abolition of the tax credit be in place by Jan. 1, 2013, the minister said. Otherwise, he argued, the measures proposed in the bill will not take effect until the following year, which would further delay the need to eradicate corrupt political practices.
Mr. Drainville warned the opposition parties that the public opinion will not take kindly to effort aimed at delaying passage of the bill.
The Minister also wants to introduce tighter spending limits on political parties during election campaigns and leadership races. But this will have to come in another bill, Mr. Drainville said. He noted that political parties disagreed on what limits should be enforced and introducing them in the current bill would jeopardize its adoption before the end of the fall session.