Bill C-9 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.
Don Boudria Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business
December 4th, 2001 / 6:30 p.m.
Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise tonight to speak on the bill, which would provide that every ballot would include a category for voting for “none of the above” candidates. I would like to thank the hon. member for Davenport for his ongoing interest in electoral issues and for his many contributions in this area.
Today's discussion relates to the fundamental matter of how Canadians choose their representatives in government. The right to vote is of course a fundamental right in our system of parliamentary democracy. Indeed, few responsibilities of democratic citizenship are more important than the exercising of that right. Through the exercising of this responsibility, Canadians send members to parliament to sit in the House and choose a government.
The government has been very active in improving our electoral laws in recent years. These changes have in large part sought to facilitate Canadians in exercising their democratic responsibility to choose members of parliament.
In 1996 parliament passed Bill C-63, which created the National Register of Electors. Bill C-63 also changed the polling hours so that the polls would close at the same time in the western provinces as in Ontario and Quebec. In 1999 parliament debated and passed Bill C-2 ,which thoroughly overhauled and modernized the electoral law of our country. The bill updated the tax credits for individual political contributions and made it easier for people to run as candidates by making the candidate deposit fully refundable on the filing of financial statements. Earlier this year parliament passed Bill C-9, which made it much easier for parties to qualify to have their party names on the ballot.
Under the bill before us today every ballot printed by Elections Canada would include the line “none of the above”. It seems to me that this would be at odds with the very purpose of elections, that is, to send members of parliament to the House. My concern is that the bill could be seen by Canadians as saying that they should have the option of avoiding their democratic responsibilities.
Democracy is not easy. In fact, Sir Winston Churchill, as many or perhaps all members in the House would know, said, as we recall, that democracy is the worst system there is except for all the others. That is clear. In other words, it is not a perfect system. It is a difficult system. It requires citizens to take an interest in what is going on and make difficult choices sometimes, but that is what voting is all about and that is our responsibility. We do not get to choose the exact person and party we might ideally like to have as our candidate or as a government. We have to choose among the alternatives. We choose among people who are doing the best they can as individual human beings and that is what democracy is all about.
The bill could also lead to cynicism about democracy and about our parliamentary institutions. I would like to point out to the hon. member for Davenport that Canadians already have ways to avoid participation in choosing their government and representatives. Canadians can avoid participating in the electoral process by spoiling their ballots. In every election Elections Canada records the number of voters in each riding who choose to spoil their ballots, so there is in fact a record kept of those people. Canadians can also simply choose to stay at home on election day, as we all know. This is unlike the situation in many countries around the world, such as Australia, where all citizens are required by law to vote. The bill, then, would present a third route of non-participation.
The bill is also unnecessary because our system ensures that Canadians have many alternatives from which to choose in elections. As we know, there are five political parties currently represented in the House and in the last election there were 11 political parties with candidates on the ballot. In total, 1,808 candidates ran for office across this great country.
These candidates and parties spanned the ideological spectrum and took different views on all kinds of issues. Advocates of the right to vote for none of the above may suggest that it is a way to give people an outlet where they are starved for choice, but we Canadians are not starved for choice as we are given a wide range of visions of the future at election time.
In any event, it is now even easier for parties to be recognized so that they can get their names on the ballot during an election campaign. There was a time when a party had to have 50 candidates to have its name on the ballot. Now, thanks to the changes introduced earlier this year in Bill C-9, that number is 12. To get official recognition as a party and to have its name on the ballot, a party needs only 12 candidates across the country. As a result, we can expect that in future elections Canadians will have even more choice on their ballots. I also point out that the proposal would be inconsistent with our own traditions and I am not aware of any other country providing this option in national elections.
I note that last year the people of California considered a measure similar to the one presented in this bill and in a referendum 64% of them voted against including a category of none of the above on ballots in that state. I am not suggesting that what the people in California do should determine what we should do here, but it is interesting that California, which is often considered to be avant-garde in many ways, was not supportive of this measure.
In conclusion, I believe that our current system encourages Canadians to exercise the right to vote and provides a range of possibilities for doing so. The option of adding a new category to our election ballots seems to me unnecessary, potentially harmful to our parliamentary institutions, not in keeping with our electoral traditions and not shared by other major countries for national elections.
I applaud the hon. member for his commitment and efforts at pursuing electoral reform, although in this case I feel that there may be alternatives that would be more in keeping with our traditions and practices.
Points of Order
Oral Question Period
September 19th, 2001 / 3:15 p.m.
John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC
Mr. Speaker, the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough said that he talked to other House leaders and whips. As the House leader of the official opposition I have had no official meeting with that group about how they should sit in the House.
I had one phone call last Saturday evening from you, Mr. Speaker, about seating, to which I agreed. I have no disagreement with where they are sitting right now. I checked with my whip and he has had no official meeting. If you put the onus on yourself, it is the onus of that group and not of my party.
If you are at all tempted to grant this status and arrangement that the members of the DRC are seeking, you will be creating a parliamentary enigma in deciding a matter that is the proper decision of the House.
To comply with the member's request for a coalition, this group must be recognized as a separate entity. For official parliamentary purposes a separate entity can only be defined as a party. I will address the party issue first.
The concept of a political party, and particularly the funding of smaller political parties, is a relatively recent phenomenon. For example, in 1944 Prime Minister Mackenzie King argued that in consulting the opposition he was obliged only to deal with the leader of the opposition, not the leaders of other parties. He said, at page 554 of Hansard from February 16, 1944, “If the opposition wish to be divided into groups, that of course is their own affair”.
The granting of money to the leaders of smaller parties did not begin until 1963. It was also at that time that the so-called 12 member rule was established. It is here where I will begin examining some of the history of these types of requests.
In 1963, 13 members of the Social Credit Party split off and declared themselves a separate party under the name Ralliement créditiste. The matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections. In committee the issue was not treated merely as a matter of applying the 12 member rule but rather as one determining the validity of the claim by the Ralliement créditiste to be a political party.
The committee looked at the legal and electoral evidence that would support the Ralliement créditiste claim. The committee refrained from committing itself to a full definition of the requirement that would be needed to be met in order for a group to be recognized as a political party.
In the Canadian Journal of Political Science of March 1978 in reference to the 1963 case, John Courtney states “A pragmatic solution was brokered amongst the existing party and groups in the House”.
On page 33 of Marleau and Montpetit it states “Speakers have been clear in rulings that it is up to the House itself to decide such matters”. This references the 1963 case as well as February 18, 1966, October 11, 1979, November 6, 1979 and June 16, 1994.
On September 30, 1963, at pages 3008 and 3009 of Hansard , the Speaker explained it in this way:
I cannot conclude this statement without some reference to the significance of these events for the future of the definition and status of parties in this House. It is not my place to evaluate the significance of these matters for the future of every changing structure and character of political parties; yet it is my duty, I believe, to bring to the attention of the House the novel character of the situation now before it, and more particularly the payment of allowances and the effect on the organization of parliament and parties and of the work of this House that naturally must be reflected by the emergence from time to time of new groups that invite the House to accord them the status of parties. Profound constitutional questions arise; for example, can a group of members which did not exist as a party at the time of the election of a parliament be recognized as a party before it has submitted itself to the electorate?
There are few precise rules regarding the recognition of parties in the House. Much depends on the will of the House.
In 1988, when members of the Conservative and Liberal caucuses quit their parties to form the Bloc Quebecois, they were not granted party status even though they went on to register under the elections act and managed to have a representative elected in the 1990 byelection. They were denied party status because the House was guided by the 12 member rule.
On the other hand, in the 1974 general election the Ralliement créditiste were reduced to 11 members. Even though it did not qualify for a research budget it continued to receive funds because its members were elected in a general election and the House made that decision, not the Speaker.
The first step in becoming a registered party under the elections act is the application process. There are a number of items to be included in the application such as the names, addresses and signatures of 100 electors and the names and addresses of party officers and the leader. Once a party has become eligible it becomes registered after it has obtained candidates whose nomination has been confirmed in 50 electoral districts. So far the DRC does not qualify under the elections act as a party.
It should also be noted that these requirements under the act are fairly new. They were made with the passage of Bill C-9, which received royal assent on June 14, 2001.
If anyone wants to know how the majority of members in this parliament might feel about the issue of a party status, they need to look no further than to the recent changes to the elections act. The passage of Bill C-9 made it more difficult for small fringe parties to emerge and be recognized under the elections act.
It would be inconsistent for the House to make it more difficult for small fringe parties to be recognized through the elections act and easier through the parliamentary procedure.
Another aspect of the law to consider is the bylaws of the House, specifically bylaw 302. This bylaw defines a recognized party as a party recognized by the House that has 12 or more persons elected to the House as members of that party.
The members of the DRC, by their own admission, are not an official party. According to the elections act they are not a party. The recent decision by the House with the passage of Bill C-9 would suggest there is no appetite to make them a party. Pursuant to the bylaws of the House of Commons they do not qualify as a party.
Without party status, they cannot apply for a coalition arrangement with a recognized party. The reason is that there is nothing official to coalesce with. We cannot expect the Speaker to depart from convention and grant this group special status.
In the September 30, 1963 Hansard , at page 3008, in reference to the 1963 party status debate, the Speaker stated:
It is not one where the Speaker ought by himself to take a position where any group of members might feel that their interests as a group or a party have been prejudiced. Nor should the Speaker be put in the position where he must decide, to the advantage or to the disadvantage of any group or party, matters affecting the character or existence of a party, for this surely would signify that the Speaker had taken what was almost a political decision.
As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the members of the DRC are still card carrying Canadian Alliance members. What political party will they claim to belong to when asked?
If that question were put to the hon. member for Prince George--Peace River, for example, his response would be “I am a card carrying member of the Alliance Party. In parliament I am a member of the democratic representative caucus, and the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has just appointed me whip”. The hon. member is obviously suffering from some multiple parliamentary party disorder.
Most political parties would find it unacceptable for any of its members to be part of another federal party or caucus. It was not that long ago that former Liberal cabinet minister Doug Young bought a membership in the Canadian Alliance. The Liberal Party leadership reacted quickly and revoked Mr. Young's Liberal membership.
If members get ejected from their party, that should be as a result of the decisions of the political players involved. A Speaker's decision should not be the cause for a member's ejection from a party.
It could be argued that either way your decision may bring about a political action. The possible result of your not granting the members the status they desire could be that they quit the Canadian Alliance altogether in order to better qualify for special status. The difference is this: maintaining the status quo is the traditional position taken by Speakers.
I will go back to when the Reform Party was tied with the Bloc Quebecois in the House with 50 members each. The Reform Party asked to be the official opposition because it represented provinces right across Canada and the Bloc represented only one province. The Tories of that day, there were two of them, could have joined and made that a better argument. It was not to their advantage at the time so they did not try to do that to make sure that the opposition in Canada was a party that would represent all of Canada.
The same party, with the House leader for the Conservative Party who has just made his argument without any precedents, which I find amazing for a lawyer, lost five Tories in the last parliament. I did not hear them get up once and offer the Canadian Alliance a few more questions in question period, or the Liberals who gained four of the five members. They kept the same number of questions. That was the rule at the start of that parliament and it was the rule at the finish of that parliament. They cannot have it both ways.
You should not feel responsible for what may happen, Mr. Speaker, if you turn down the member's request. If a preacher refused to marry a couple because one was already married, the preacher could not be responsible if a divorce resulted in his decision.
On the other hand, he would feel very responsible for the sequence of events that followed a decision to marry the couple. I will put that aside for now, Mr. Speaker, and ask you to consider another point.
Assuming that all the conditions were met to entertain a request for a coalition, it is up to the Speaker to unilaterally allow a party to form a coalition with another party. I would argue that it would be a departure from convention for the Speaker to make a decision on behalf of the House. It would be a giant departure from convention to allow small group without party status to form a coalition with any party in the House.
The only coalition at the national level in Canada was Sir Robert Borden's 1917 union government. Faced with strong opposition to conscription and with other major difficulties during World War I, Borden brought several conscriptionist liberals into his government. The political party system has come a long way since 1917. The groups in 1917 were not vying for funding and increased resources. It was a matter of a coalition government, the first world war and the issue of conscription. It was not an issue of organizing or re-organizing the opposition. A coalition is necessary to govern but certainly not necessary to oppose.
As I said in my argument regarding the party's status, the concept of a political party, and particularly the funding of smaller political parties, is a relatively recent phenomenon. The granting of money to the leaders of small parties did not begin until 1963. Even if the members of the DRC had the so-called magic number of 12, they are not registered under the Canada Elections Act. There must be some cohesion between parliamentary law and the common law with respect to party recognition.
Before I wrap up I want to discuss briefly the issue of other jurisdictions because we are members of the Commonwealth and we have taken our lead all through the centuries from the mothers of all parliaments.
The funding of opposition parties in the U.K. is based upon votes received in the last general election. This is known as Short money, so named after a previous leader of the House. The DRC received zero votes in the last election. According to the practice of the United Kingdom they should receive zero money and zero consideration.
In New Zealand the rules regarding party status and coalitions are spelled out a little clearer in their standing orders. The relevant standing orders of the New Zealand house of representatives are as follows. Standing order 34(1) states that every party in whose interest a member was elected at the preceding general election or at any subsequent byelection is entitled to be recognized as a party for parliamentary purposes. Members who cease to be members of the party for which they were originally elected may be recognized as a party for parliamentary purposes if they apply to the speaker and their new party is registered as a registered party by the electoral commission. Once again, even if the DRC had 12 members they would not qualify.
Standing order 35(2) from New Zealand deals with a coalition. It says that a coalition between two or more parties must be notified to the speaker but each party to the coalition remains a separate party for parliamentary purposes. Again, the DRC does not qualify as a party in the House.
In Australia, coalitions have been an important part of Australian political life since the 1920s. In 1923 a nationalist party coalition government was formed which lasted until 1929. Since that time most non-labour governments have been coalitions between the major conservative party and Australia's rural party. As with the New Zealand example, each party to the coalition remains a separate party for parliamentary purposes. The DRC would not have a chance in the Australian parliament either. The same concept holds true for the U.K.
The other consideration is that coalitions are creatures of governments, not opposition. We can debate these examples from other jurisdictions all we want. The bottom line is that the Speaker has clear Canadian precedence and has no choice but to rule that it is the House that must decide this matter. The House could consider the New Zealand, Australia or U.K. models if it wanted. It could choose not to decide at all and maintain the status quo. That is its prerogative.
Maybe the House should seriously consider the private member's bill sponsored by one of the members from the DRC, the member for Saskatoon--Humboldt. In his February 21 press release that launched one of his many initiatives, he said that the bill would end official party status in the House of Commons for political parties with less than 30 seats or without representation from at least three provinces or territories.
For several years parliament's time has been wasted on fringe political parties that are not national in their effectiveness or appeal. With 4% of seats in parliament, the NDP and Progressive Conservatives do not deserve the financial resources that go along with official party status. Maybe the member has changed his mind.
In conclusion, I would like to comment briefly on the impact of the minor fluctuations in the size of party issue in the course of a parliament. Since 1963, when funding for parties began, parliamentary resources for parties remained stable, regardless of any change in the numbers of each party. Even when there was significant fluctuation, resources would not be distributed. I use the example that I mentioned earlier, the Conservatives in the last parliament lost five members. They did not ask to have their numbers reduced, their questions reduced.
There were other examples. In 1983 and 1984 the Liberals went from 147 to 135 elected members. In the 34th parliament the Conservatives went from 169 down to 151 elected members. Despite these changes, resources remained stable. In the 35th parliament we had a situation where a tie occurred between the two largest opposition parties. In that situation the Reform Party claimed the title of official opposition. The Speaker ruled that the status quo be maintained, preserving the Bloc Quebecois as the official opposition.
As Speaker MacNaughton said, the Speaker should not be put in the position where he must decide to the advantage or disadvantage of any group or party or that would signify that the Speaker has taken what is almost a political decision.
In the U.K. during the passage of the European Community's finance bill, 1994-95, the Conservatives expelled eight MPs, with a ninth voluntarily resigning. With this change, the government lost its majority. The House debated the composition of standing committees on January 11, 1995. It concluded that the composition of the committees would not have to be altered. There were no further repercussions over this situation.
In conclusion, the present distribution of resources for the opposition parties must be maintained. An official coalition between the PC Party and the DRC cannot be entertained because the DRC has nothing official to bring to the table with which to coalesce. The DRC can only be recognized officially as independent members for parliamentary purposes.
I am not saying that parties, groups and independents cannot co-operate with each other in parliament. It is far from that. They are welcome to co-operate all they wish. In fact, the Alliance co-operated with all opposition parties in the last parliament. The Reform Party co-operated with other parties in the parliament before that. It could be said that technically the opposition is always setting up a coalition of parties for the purposes of opposing the government with the leader of the opposition taking centre stage. Our rules would appear to reflect that.
We have two principal leaders in the House: the Prime Minister, who leads the government, and the Leader of the Opposition, who leads the opposition. To boldly recognize the arrangement being sought today would be a departure from our practice. Accordingly, the matter should be left for the House to decide, not the Speaker.
Message From The Senate
The Royal Assent
June 14th, 2001 / 5 p.m.
The Deputy Speaker
I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
Bill C-12, an act to amend the Judges Act and to amend another act in consequence—Chapter No. 7.
Bill S-24, an act to implement an agreement between the Mohawks of Kanesatake and Her Majesty in right of Canada respecting governance of certain lands by the Mohawks of Kanesatake and to amend an act in consequence—Chapter No. 8.
Bill C-8, an act to establish the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and to amend certain acts in relation to financial institutions—Chapter No. 9.
Bill S-17, an act to amend the Patent Act—Chapter No. 10.
Bill C-17, an act to amend the Budget Implementation Act, 1997 and the Financial Administration Act—Chapter No. 11.
Bill S-16, an act to amend the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act—Chapter No. 12.
Bill S-3, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Transport Act, 1987 and to make consequential amendments to other acts—Chapter No. 13.
Bill S-11, an act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act and the Canada Cooperatives Act and to amend other acts in consequence—Chapter No. 14.
Bill C-13, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act—Chapter No. 15.
Bill C-26, an act to amend the Customs Act, the Customs Tariff, the Excise Act, the Excise Tax Act and the Income Tax Act in respect of tobacco—Chapter No. 16.
Bill C-22, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, the Income Tax Application Rules, certain acts related to the Income Tax Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the Customs Act, the Excise Tax Act, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act and another act related to the Excise Tax Act—Chapter No. 17.
Bill C-3, an act to amend the Eldorado Nuclear Limited Reorganization and Divestiture Act and the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act—Chapter No. 18.
Bill C-18, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act—Chapter No. 19.
Bill C-28, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act and the Salaries Act—Chapter No. 20.
Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act—Chapter No. 21.
Bill C-25, an act to amend the Farm Credit Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts—Chapter No. 22.
Bill C-4, an act to establish a foundation to fund sustainable development technology—Chapter No. 23.
Bill C-29, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2002—Chapter No. 24.
Bill S-25, an act to amend the Act of Incorporation of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada.
Bill S-27, an act to authorize The Imperial Life Assurance Company of Canada to apply to be continued as a company under the laws of the Province of Quebec.
Bill S-28, an act to authorize Certas Direct Insurance Company to apply to be continued as a company under the laws of the Province of Quebec.
Pursuant to order made on Wednesday, June 13, the House stands adjourned until Monday, September 17, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28 and 24.
(The House adjourned at 5.26 p.m.)
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
May 15th, 2001 / 1:10 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, first I want to say that the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to the bill before us, Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Being opposed to Bill C-19 is in line with the position traditionally taken by representatives from Quebec.
Since 1992 and even before that, the federal government has been trying to get involved in environmental assessment, an area that falls under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction and in which the province is doing very well.
Quebec has the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, which does environmental assessments based on criteria that were accepted and approved by successive legislatures in Quebec.
Once again, we must speak up in the House. It is not an easy task, but it is not easy either for all those who are watching us, particularly Quebecers, who do not often have the chance to see the kind of duplication that a bill dealing with environmental assessment can create.
Quebec has always been and still is at the forefront in the area of environmental assessment. What the bill before us says is that, whenever the federal government invests money in the form of loans, loan guarantees or direct grants, or whenever it leads a project, an environmental assessment will necessarily be done.
All that in spite of the fact that Quebec has its own Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, a concept that is totally independent from political decision makers. We saw the BAPE in action recently with regard to major projects by Hydro-Québec. The BAPE went against the major orientations of the agency. This is a system that works well in Quebec.
Once again, here we have federal duplication. If there was no representation by Quebec at the public hearings that were held, there was a good reason for it. There has been none since 1992 purely and simply because, that year, the government of Robert Bourassa had passed a unanimous resolution in the National Assembly, stating as follows, and I quote:
That the National Assembly strongly disapproves of the federal government bill—
I have dropped the number.
—, an act to establish a federal environmental assessment process—
This was an act identical to the one introduced today. The resolution continued:
—, because it is contrary to the higher interests of Quebec, and that the National Assembly opposes its passage by the federal Parliament.
This was a resolution unanimously passed by the Quebec National Assembly in 1992, under the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa.
It is, therefore, a matter of integrity and honesty for all Quebecers in this House, to defend the interests of their constituents.
The federal government is too quick to interfere in provincial jurisdictions for all kinds of political reasons.
The only thing that should guide a government when adopting a legislation is the protection of the interests of the citizens. In this case, the interests of the citizens are well protected by the Quebec government's Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement which, I repeat, is a non political, arm's length organization. Historically, it has had a very good record and rendered very good decisions.
It is difficult to understand how Liberals representing Quebec can defend a bill which constitutes a direct interference into Quebec's jurisdiction.
The federal government has so much money that it could invest to help develop road infrastructure. We have an infrastructure program in which the federal government, the Quebec government and municipal governments pay one third each. This program was announced with great pump by the federal government, and received the support of the provinces, the Quebec government and the municipalities.
Once again, that infrastructure program will cover projects in this area.
Since the federal government is contributing one third, through subsidies, to several of these projects, environmental assessments will be made by it, even though Quebec has its own environmental assessment service, namely the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement. This is a striking example of duplication that is extremely costly to Quebec taxpayers because we already have a good service.
As I said, in 1992, the National Assembly, under the leadership of Robert Bourassa, unanimously adopted a motion rejecting a similar bill, which was to be passed in the House of Commons at the time. That motion was adopted unanimously.
During the public hearings on this bill, no one came to represent Quebec, for the simple reason that we have our own environmental assessment service.
It is because of examples like this one that an increasing number of Quebecers are fed up with the federal government. It interferes in jurisdictions in which it has no business. The federal government should let Quebecers do their own thing, since they have an environmental assessment system that reflects their needs and that has proven successful. The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, or BAPE, is very helpful because it conducts environmental assessments for many projects. It is a Quebec agency that works well and that Canada is trying to copy for the benefit of the other Canadian provinces. That is fine with us, but leave Quebec alone with its own resources and structures.
We have something that works well, namely the BAPE. Why impose a new level of assessments that will generate additional costs? Instead, the government should put that money in the tripartite infrastructure programs involving the municipalities, the Quebec government and the federal government. Or let them invest more than the mere $600 million they said they would invest in highways throughout Canada. In the election campaign, this Liberal government promised Quebec alone over $3 billion in investment, when there is only $600 million in the federal budget. We have just looked at the votes in the Standing Committee on Transport, and only $600 million is available for the next five years.
Rather than waste energy and money and spend resources on adding another service to the one that is very well operated in Quebec, the government should keep this money, invest it in municipal infrastructure projects, and government highway infrastructure projects in Quebec and Canada. It should leave the organizations and institutions that work well in Quebec. The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement is one Quebec institution that works well.
It is hard for the public, for Quebecers watching us, to hear us discuss a bill that has a pleasing title, the act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, except that it pleases the Canadian provinces that do not have environmental assessment procedures in place.
We in Quebec do have one. We are proud of it. I repeat, in 1992, the government of Robert Bourassa, unanimously called on the federal government to withdraw from this area of jurisdiction, environmental assessment, because it is a provincial jurisdiction.
There is good reason no Quebec organization appeared before the various committees studying this bill. The Bloc Quebecois cannot support this bill, which is a blatant example of interference. It is because of measures like this one that an increasing number of Quebecers no longer believe in this Canada. The federal government is only investing in an attempt to gain political popularity. It is trying to achieve that by duplicating services that are already provided by Quebec agencies. This is unacceptable.
I cannot understand why Liberal members in this House, who are aware of the problems associated with infrastructure programs and the constant needs of municipalities and of Quebec's road network, support a bill that will create a new level of environmental assessments.
Whenever the federal government will invest, lend or guarantee even the smallest amount, it will be in a position to set up an environmental assessment program that will be in addition to the one that already exists and that works so well in Quebec. There are such aberrations in this Canada. I hope people will remember that, and the sooner the better.
Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act
May 15th, 2001 / 12:15 p.m.
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central, I am pleased to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-10, the Liberal government's attempt to create national marine conservation areas.
The objective of establishing marine conservation areas is to protect and conserve marine ecosystems found in the ocean environments of Canada and in the Great Lakes. The purpose of the bill is to establish rules that would allow the creation of national marine conservation areas.
The bill is actually unfinished business from the last Mulroney government. It took the weak Liberal government more than 13 years to tinker with the idea of creating marine conservation areas. It is still at step one after feeble attempts to introduce legislation in previous parliaments, namely Bill C-48 and Bill C-8. It shows the lack of commitment of the Liberals to protecting and conserving our environment.
In addition to preserving marine areas for the benefit and enjoyment of Canadians, the bill strives to establish a framework for regulating marine ecosystems and maintaining biological diversity. It is important to note that while environmental protection and sustainable development are important issues, they do not fall within the administrative responsibility of the Department of Canadian Heritage.
The bill makes provision for two schedules that are intended to include the names of marine conservations areas and reserves. The minister has identified 29 marine conservation areas and the intent to create new national parks, but in Bill C-10 the two schedules are blank. The actual locations of all 29 parks have not been identified.
As a past co-chair of the scrutiny of regulations committee I would imagine these lists could be filled in by regulation and we would find the 29 locations somewhere in the thousands of pages of regulations that no doubt accompany the bill. That is governing through the back door, not through the front door and not through the voices of elected members in the Chamber. The bill should describe the location of each park and that information should be inserted in the two schedules. I hope the matter is fleshed out during the committee hearings.
Bill C-10 would limit parliamentary input by giving cabinet the authority to create a new marine conservation area on crown land without going through the normal legislative process. Currently the government is required to come before parliament any time a new national park is to be established or an existing park is to be changed. The legislation would remove the power from parliament and would allow parks to be created or changed by order in council. That is ridiculous.
The minister states that activities such as commercial fishing and shipping would be appropriate in conservation areas. However all fishing, aquaculture, fisheries management, marine navigation and marine safety plans are subject to the approval of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Similarly regulations affecting navigation or safety rules under the responsibility of the Minister of Transport must be made on the recommendation of both the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Transport.
Disposal regulations pertaining to sections 127 and 128 of the Environmental Protection Act require the joint approval of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of the Environment.
What is to be done about these contradictions and overlapping responsibilities? Clause 13 of the bill would limit or prohibit the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons, minerals, aggregates or any other inorganic material in all marine conservation areas. I anticipate hearing from stakeholders about this clause at the committee hearings.
There are considerations with respect to private property and reasonable search and seizure. Clause 22 of the bill states that, in the discharge of their duties, marine conservation area wardens, enforcement officers and persons accompanying them may enter and pass through private property. This is an invasion of the property rights of law-abiding citizens.
The weak and arrogant Liberal government has shown its pattern of disrespect for privacy rights and interference with personal property. We have seen that in Bill C-5, the endangered species legislation, where the arrogant Liberal government refused to offer fair compensation to Canadians.
Enforcing regulations is a serious issue and it is not addressed in the bill. In reference to Parks Canada, the director of the organization suggested that the RCMP be allowed to be involved in enforcement activities. Currently Parks Canada is involved in a labour dispute with its park wardens over personal safety. The bill contains the same deficiencies as the National Parks Act. It does not give park wardens sufficient authority to enforce the law.
Since 1993 there have been three separate reports recommending that sidearms be issued to wardens in order to fulfil their responsibilities. With park wardens off the job and other law enforcement agencies overburdened with enforcing criminal code violations, wildlife is being slaughtered in our national parks. The bill does not address any of these situations.
The Canadian Alliance affirms the federal government's role in the preservation of Canada's natural and historical heritage such as national parks. It supports sustaining and developing national parks and marine conservation areas that exist for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone. It also supports sustainable development and environmental protection regulations that have been fully debated by parliamentarians, not through the back door but through this Chamber.
The bill would strengthen the power of cabinet while diminishing the effectiveness of elected representatives. The bill is virtually unnecessary because the regulatory framework already exists to accomplish what the bill purports to achieve. It is just a power grab by a department that understands that it has a weak minister who does not understand that the new regulations are not required.
The legislation would clearly limit the ability of parliamentarians to consider all options when new marine areas are introduced or existing areas are expanded, with no input whatsoever when new parks are being created. The weak and arrogant Liberal government, time and again, abuses the Chamber and uses elected members as a rubber stamp. It does not give enough opportunity for debate by elected officials. There is no reason for this tight fisted form of control and undemocratic manner of proceeding. Like the bogus changes the government is proposing to Bill C-9, the Elections Act, Bill C-10 is also virtually anti-democratic.
The scope of the bill, as it relates to fishing, aquaculture and transportation, is such that changes to any schedule should require an act of parliament. Affected communities would be at the whim of the minister. The bill would give the Minister of Canadian Heritage a free reign to create unlimited advisory committees for each marine conservation area.
Limitations on the size and structure of each committee should have been established in the legislation. Will the committee that hears the bill allow these limits and rules to be established? I doubt it very much.
These advisory committees would give the government an opportunity for patronage in the way membership is composed and would serve no other purpose than that of a rubber stamp under the guise of public consultation. What we have here is yet another job creation program for failed Liberal election candidates and their supporters.
If marine wildlife and ecosystems are to be protected, park wardens should have exclusive jurisdiction in the enforcement of laws and regulations relating to each conservation area. Unfortunately, wardens are increasingly finding that they cannot do a proper job due to interference from Ottawa.
The decision by Parks Canada management to transfer responsibilities from park wardens to law enforcement agencies like the RCMP is Ottawa's way of centralizing tight fisted control away from the frontline officers who have the practical experience to know what does and does not work in Canada's national parks. What a shame.
The bill is a mess. It is as much an assault on our environment as an assault on the stakeholders in the regions that will be affected by it. My heart goes out to my colleague the Canadian Alliance heritage critic because I cannot see how the bill can be fixed or amended during committee stage.
On the one hand, the bill is not required because everything it does can already be done under regulations. On the other hand, it is a power grab by the minister and should be stopped 100%. Those concerned about preserving the environment can see that after 13 years of trying to bring the bill forward for debate in the House the government does not care about the environment.
I hope the bill looks significantly different when it comes back before the House following committee hearings. However, knowing the government's record, I doubt it. I hope the minister's secret agenda of power grabbing is exposed. I hope Canadians see clearly how little the government cares about the environment.
Canada Elections Act
May 1st, 2001 / 5:45 p.m.
The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at third reading stage of Bill C-9.
Business Of The House
Oral Question Period
April 26th, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.
Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place among all parties and I believe you would find consent for that if a recorded division is requested Monday, April 30 on a motion to refer Bill C-16 to committee before second reading, pursuant to Standing Order 73(1) it shall be deemed deferred until the end of government orders on Tuesday, May 1.
Discussions have also taken place among all parties and there is agreement pursuant to Standing Order 45(7) to further defer the recorded divisions requested earlier today on third reading of Bill C-9 and third reading of Bill C-3 from Monday, April 30 until the end of government orders on Tuesday, May 1.
Canada Elections Act
April 26th, 2001 / 11:55 a.m.
John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON
Mr. Speaker, this is an occasion for which I as a parliamentarian am deeply grateful that this institution exists and I have an opportunity to express myself when I have serious misgivings about legislation that is passed through the House.
By coincidence, the member who spoke before me, the member for Brandon—Souris, touched precisely on the area of concern that I wish to devote my remarks to, and that is the question of third party advertising and how it was dealt with in Bill C-2, the previous legislation, and how it should be dealt with in the future.
I have to give some background just so people will understand what happened. The member for Brandon—Souris in fact gave some of the background and I am grateful that he has done so because it saves me going over that ground.
I think the general public should understand that the Canada Elections Act sets limits on campaign spending by candidates. In each riding it varies a little according to geography, size and population, but most candidates for a federal election are restricted in their spending during the campaign to usually around $60,000. I think my campaign ceiling for election expenses is around $65,000.
Going back a little, during the 1993 election campaign, which was my first experience in running as a candidate, the law was such that there was a limit under the law on third party advertising expenditures. There was also a blackout period.
What is being referred to there is the idea that people or groups who are not related to the political party or the candidate might wish to buy advertising during an election period to support one candidate or another, or one party or another, or to advance a controversial issue during an election campaign, hopefully to get a debate going among the candidates.
In its wisdom, parliament, prior to the 1993 election, put restrictions on third party advertising. The idea was that the limit of expenditure on groups who wanted to take out advertising during election campaigns supporting one candidate or another was restricted to $1,000. Indeed there was a very long blackout period.
The theory behind that limitation was that if candidates were restricted in their spending, they were restricted in their spending so that there would be an even playing field. Whether one is a candidate from the government in power, an incumbent, a candidate from a party in opposition or a candidate from a small fringe party, everyone faces the same amount of potential election spending. It is relatively modest at $60,000. Most groups and organizations can raise the amount of private donations necessary to reach that objective in spending, so it is quite reasonable.
However, when we add third party advertising into the equation, as it exists in the United States where there is a great deal of soft money around during an election campaign, then there is a danger of distorting the process. There might be a situation where a special interest group, a corporation or whatever else—and this does happen in the United States—spends enormous amounts of money, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars even in a single riding, to run advertising election material with the specific intent of seeing that one particular candidate, whether it is an incumbent or otherwise, does not succeed in the election. The restriction in my view in 1993 was very appropriate.
As was described by the member for Brandon—Souris, that provision was challenged prior to the 1997 election by the National Citizens' Coalition on the charter grounds that it limited the right to free expression during an election campaign. This provision prior to the 1997 election campaign was suspended.
This was my second election campaign, Mr. Speaker, and I should tell you that in my first mandate as a member of parliament I undertook quite an initiative to bring special interest groups that were receiving public funds to account. I put out several reports calling for transparencies of such groups and I named some of these groups.
Needless to say, during the 1997 election, when the limit on third party advertising disappeared, what happened was that I was enormously attacked by television ads, by print ads and by radio ads. The spending to attack me as the candidate by these special interest groups, some of them charities but most of them not for profit organizations linked to various charities, was easily far more than I spent. In fact in the 1997 campaign, even though my election spending ceiling was about $65,000, I only spent $32,000.
The reason is that I am very much a grassroots candidate. I have no corporations behind me. I have no big interests behind me. My campaign donations are exclusively from the ordinary people in my riding who have confidence in me as an individual. It is more their confidence in me as an individual than my party affiliation that has enabled me to raise the money in my riding that permitted me to run the campaign. I have received no money even from the party during my election campaigns, not only in 1997 but in the year 2000.
After the 1997 election campaign the government undertook, through Bill C-2, to address the challenge that the National Citizen's Coalition had succeeded in. When the Alberta court ruled that the limits on third party advertising expenditures were unconstitutional, the government undertook to redraft the law in Bill C-2 in which it defined limits on third party advertising expenditures.
What it said basically in Bill C-2 was that third parties that wanted to engage in buying advertising during an election campaign should be required to identify themselves and they would be limited to only spending $3,000 in each riding, to a maximum of $150,000 across the country.
There is the problem, and that is why I am here speaking today and why I am so very concerned. When Bill C-9 came forward it was an attempt to correct the problems that exist in Bill C-2, but there was no opportunity to address the problem of third party advertising because Elections Canada had still not reported on the effect of third party advertising under the new rules, who indeed had registered and what they had done.
I have here a printout from Elections Canada that describes the registered third parties that participated in campaign 2000. I got this only when Bill C-9 was in committee, so there was no opportunity to discuss it before committee and I have to bring it before the House. What we have here is the name of the registered third party and the name of the applicant who submitted an address, and that is the complete information.
Not surprisingly, what we have here is a number of special interest groups and organizations. We have unions. We have the Canadian Medical Association. We have an animal rights organization. None of that is surprising. We also have third party organizations that identify themselves only by name. We have Rick Smith of Red Lake, Rod Gillis of St. John's and Liz White of Toronto. That is all we know about them.
Bill C-2, the law that exists, requires no more information. It is sufficient to register a personal name. The people who are making the application are the people who take the name of the third party that is actually buying the advertising, presumably to take one stand or another for or against a candidate or for or against an issue that may be before the electors.
There is one set of third party registrants that I would like to draw to the attention of the House. The first one is the coalition for the Liberal member for Edmonton West. The next one is the Edmonton supporters for the Liberal member for Edmonton West. The third one is Edmontonians for the Liberal member for Edmonton West. The official titles of these third party organizations contesting this election name the member for Edmonton West. That member is the sitting justice minister.
Here is the problem. I am pleased to be able to say that there was no attempt to hide anything. These three organizations made it very clear that they were taking out ads under the law to support the Liberal member for Edmonton West. The problem is that under the current legislation, given that each third party organization that wishes to take part in the election campaign in a riding can spend $3,000, these three organizations were enabled to spend $9,000 in advertising to support the member for Edmonton West, the justice minister.
Indeed, had there been 10 such individuals who wished to be third party organizations buying advertising during an election campaign, they would have been able to spend $30,000 supporting the hon. member for Edmonton West. Twenty individuals would have been able to spend $60,000 supporting the hon. member for Edmonton West.
We can see the problem is that there is no control whatsoever on individuals, separately indeed, deciding to support an individual candidate in a riding and investing more money than that candidate himself or herself would spend in the riding. We have a problem there. The whole spirit of a ceiling on candidates' expenses could be circumvented by all the members of a riding association, for instance, deciding to take out third party advertising.
This is a dramatic example. I am actually very grateful that these people who were supporting the justice minister were upfront so that I can actually present this very dramatic example of what is wrong with the act.
Mr. Speaker, if you do not think that is meaningful you should be aware that the hon. member for Edmonton West won her seat by a single vote in 1993, and that in the year 2000, when these three third party organizations were buying ads in support of her, she won her riding by only 730 votes. If anyone should think that third party advertising does not have a bearing on an election campaign and cannot influence an election campaign, I assure them they are wrong, particularly if the campaign is closely contested.
When campaigns are closely contested, the real problem is that Bill C-2, as it exists now, makes it possible for organizations that we cannot clearly identify as to intent to spend enormous amounts of money to support one particular party or candidate in an election. In other words, Bill C-2, because it is loosely written, opens up the same opportunity for abuse in election spending as now exists in the United States.
I should say that it is not just a case where, as in the case I cited, an incumbent is getting support. There is also another organization which very amusingly calls itself the Zap-a-Rock organization, and it was obviously raising money in Etobicoke and we presume that it was aimed at the health minister.
What we do not know is the intentions of organizations like the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is a very aggressive international for profit animal rights organization that makes a great deal of money by promoting animal rights causes. We have even here the Christian Heritage Party of Canada which has taken out third party advertising spending status and it, in the previous election, was a registered political party.
The point always comes down to this. As the legislation is written now, we have no guarantees as individual candidates that there cannot be spending on advertising in our riding by a dozen, 60, 50 or 100 special interest groups whose combined spending can more than overpower the campaign ceiling on expenditures that we are required to meet ourselves as candidates and that is defined by the Canada Elections Act.
It something so fundamental to our democracy that anyone in this country should be able to run for high office, for federal office, and not have to curry favour among outside organizations to enable them to spend money on advertising either across the country or in their ridings.
In my particular case, as someone who had alienated an entire sector, the not for profit sector, by criticizing numerous charities and by criticizing numerous non-profit organizations, in the election of 1997 they banded together, they grouped together and brought out advertising against me. The current legislation prevents that from happening, but there was nothing stopping every organization that I criticized from separately taking out $3,000 worth of advertising and going after me.
That is a chill on a member of parliament doing his duty, whether it is not for profit organizations or for profit organizations or any other special interest group out there. If members have to worry about organizations being able to buy more advertising against them during an election campaign than members are entitled to spend on the entire campaign, then I am afraid sitting members of parliament will think twice before they speak their minds in the House, will think twice before they aggressively go after those organizations they feel are not doing a proper job in this society or, indeed, are even questionable in the most literal sense.
We as members of parliament need to have a situation whereby the spending limits during an election campaign are known, are precise, and if organizations are dissatisfied with individual candidates, then the way they should go after those individual candidates is by investing in the parties in opposition to those candidates or in the candidates themselves of those parties, but, Mr. Speaker, it is very, very wrong, very, very wrong and dangerous if we have a situation where individuals, be they individuals as groups or individuals as persons, can separately, buy advertising during an election campaign, separately, that cumulatively might be an expenditure in the hundreds of thousands of dollars against an individual candidate. This is a very serious threat to our democratic process.
I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that when it comes to the charter and freedom of speech, it is understood that there have to be reasonable limits on freedom of speech. If freedom of speech is interpreted as allowing an open field of election spending against candidates when the candidates themselves are restricted in that spending, then I think we are all in serious trouble.
Canada Elections Act
April 26th, 2001 / 11:40 a.m.
Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB
Mr. Speaker, I doubt very much if I will take the full 20 minutes, therefore leaving time for members of the government side or opposition benches.
I am very pleased to be able to put forward our party's position on the third reading of Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.
I would also like to commend and congratulate my colleague, the House leader of the Conservative Party and the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, who has the carriage of this piece of legislation. In my opinion he does yeoman's duty in making sure that positions are put forward. In fact maybe even the government could take notice of the quality of the suggestions put forward.
Perhaps it could even accept some of those suggestions for the future because, as was mentioned earlier by the previous speaker, the government has a part to play in this piece of legislation. The part that it has to play is to look at the process used to put forward Bill C-2 prior to the last surprise election called in October 2000. Bill C-2 came forward and there were many problems with that piece of legislation, as we have now identified. There were many difficulties with that legislation.
Had the government listened to opposition members and looked at the very valid amendments that were put forward, it would not have had to rush through a very bad piece of legislation that now has to come back with another amendment, Bill C-9, to be able to fix the myriad of problems that it faced.
I will deal specifically with Bill C-9 as it is before us. The bill reduces from 50 to 12 the number of candidates a party would have to field for purposes of having its candidates' party affiliation indicated on the ballot. It also clarifies and harmonizes certain provisions in the act and proposes one amendment to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
I should also say that we in the Progressive Conservative Party will be supporting the legislation for any number of reasons, one of which is that the Senate still has the opportunity of reviewing it and perhaps making some clean up changes that are necessary.
Also, despite the work accomplished by parliamentarians in a very short period of time when Bill C-2 was under consideration, the government admits that certain translation and concordance errors between the English and French versions slipped through into the new elections act. It was sloppy workmanship and I am sure the government will accept its full responsibility for that.
When Bill C-9 was debated at second reading, the government House leader said that the application of the new legislation had revealed a number of irregularities that had to be rectified. That is in Hansard at page 1053. Some of these could have caused problems because, as we see further on, they went beyond a simple act of concordance between the English and French versions.
A member of the government said that the government did not have to worry about that because it was not its job. Well it is the government's job to make sure that legislation is in fact the right legislation for Canadians, particularly when it deals with the Canada Elections Act. This is what is at the heart of our democracy and at the heart of what we as parliamentarians in the House should be dealing with, where the electorate, the public of the country, have the right to put the people who they want in the House for a particular time.
The legislation is too important to simply say that it was not the government's fault. It was the government's fault and we are trying to fix it now.
The integrity of the electoral system is important to Canadians. There is no doubt that errors could have been avoided if the Liberal government had given parliament more time to consider the provisions of the new Canada Elections Act with greater care.
I would like to spend a few minutes outlining some of the specific amendments that are dealt with in Bill C-9. As has been mentioned before, and I am sure I will repeat some of the comments that were made, I will touch briefly on some of the areas that are of particular concern to me and certainly to my colleague for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.
The first part that we heard about earlier was party affiliation on the ballot. When Canadians go into a polling booth and look at the ballot they know that my name is associated with a particular political party, as are other names of people sitting in the House. The amendments proposed in Bill C-9 are due in large part to the court ruling in the Figueroa case.
In response to the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, clause 12 of Bill C-9 would amend subsections 117(2) of the act reducing from 50 to 12 the number of candidates required for their party affiliation to be indicated on the ballot. This new provision would apply only if the nomination of the 12 candidates had been confirmed for the general election or, as in the case of a byelection, in the immediately preceding general election.
While the Lortie commission report recommended 15 candidates as the minimum, the Liberals have chosen 12 because that is the number of members of parliament that a political party requires to be officially recognized in the House of Commons.
The fact that this legislation deals with 12 as being the number for party affiliation is accepted by our party. Certainly most of the parties in the House have been represented by substantially more candidates than have run in previous elections. The fact is that we do have party affiliations. I am very proud of my party affiliation with the Progressive Conservative Party.
Therefore, I believe, and my party accepts the fact, that the affiliation should be identified on a ballot so that when Canadians go to the polling booth they will know exactly who and what party they are voting for to sit in the House of Commons.
Currently section 18(1) of the act currently provides that the CEO may carry out studies on voting, in particular with respect to alternative voting means, and devising and testing an electronic voting process for use in a future general election or byelection.
The use of such a process must be approved in advance by a committee of the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters. This is an accepted part of the legislation but I do put a caveat on that. We must be very careful when dealing with any type of alternate way of counting ballots. As we have seen just recently in the United States election, there are a number of different processes used and some of them are not quite as competent as perhaps others. We should be very careful when suggesting that an improvement to the system will make it better because in some cases it does not necessarily do that.
During the consideration of Bill C-2 by the Senate, a number of senators, both Progressive Conservative and Liberal, said that they were disturbed to see that the Senate was excluded from this process.
Pursuant to the commitment made by the government to members of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs during the consideration of Bill C-2 in May 2000, Bill C-9 would amend section 18(1) to include in the approval process the Senate committee that considers electoral matters. Normally such matters are referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The input from our colleagues in the other place is an important aspect of this process and one which I am pleased to see included in Bill C-9.
We heard comments from my colleague from the Bloc who suggested that his party will put forward an amendment or subamendment to change this particular clause. Our party agrees with what has been put forward in Bill C-9 which was not put forward in Bill C-2. We can sit in the House and debate the legitimacy and the necessity of the other House but I am not prepared to do that right now. What I would like to say is that there must be a backstop when a majority government puts forward legislation in this House. There must be a second opinion of the legislation.
A perfect example of that particular situation was when Bill C-2 came forward. It was pushed through with very little discussion, if any, and no changes were made to a very bad piece of legislation. It has now come forward again because of that. This is a prime example of why the Senate must have an influence on this legislation. Bill C-9 speaks to that and we are very pleased that the government has corrected this very glaring error.
Another part of the bill deals with the registration of the electors themselves. Subsection 44(1) of the Canada Elections Act requires the CEO to keep a register of electors, in other words, a permanent voting list containing the names of all Canadians qualified to vote.
Under subsection (2) of the act, the list shall contain each elector's family and given names, sex, date of birth and civic and mailing addresses, as well as any other information that the CEO may require under section 55 of the act. Section 55 allows the CEO to communicate information in the register to a province when it decides to establish a list similar to the federal one.
Information compiled by the CEO under section 195 of the act, statement of ordinary residence by an elector belonging to the Canadian forces, may not be communicated to the provinces because the wrong provision is cited in subsection 44(2).
Clause 4 of Bill C-9 would amend subsection 44(2) to correct that error, an error that should not have gone forward but did. It is subsection 195(7) and not subsection 195(3) that allows the CEO to communicate to a province information about the ordinary residence and members of the military.
A substantial amount of Bill C-9 deals with third party spending reports. Subsection 353(1) of the act requires third parties to register with Elections Canada once they have incurred election expenses of more than $500.
Subsection 359(1) requires third parties to file a report documenting the value of expenses and advertising, as well as their funding sources during the campaign and for the six month period prior to the issuing of the writ.
Clause 20 of Bill C-9 would amend subsection 359(1) to specify that only third parties required to be registered with the CEO must file such a report.
When Bill C-9 was tabled, several observers thought that the government would propose amendments dealing with the ceiling on expenses imposed on third parties during election campaigns.
Under section 349 of the act, a third party is defined as “a person or a group other than a candidate, registered party or riding association of a registered party. It could mean an unincorporated trade union, trade association or any other group of persons acting together by mutual consent for a common purpose.
The Canada Elections Act passed in May 2000 provides that, during a general election, the ceiling on third party election spending is $150,000 at the national level and $3,000 for each electoral district. In a byelection a third party may spend $3,000.
On October 23, 2000, Mr. Justice Cairns of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench granted an injunction prohibiting Elections Canada from enforcing the third party election advertising spending limits in the Canada Elections Act.
Originally the injunction was to be in effect until Judge Cairns handed down his ruling on the main matter before him, that is, the constitutionality of provisions relating to third parties in the new elections act. The injunction was upheld shortly afterward by the Alberta Court of Appeal.
The injunction was granted in response to legal action undertaken by the National Citizens' Coalition led by a former Reform Party member, Stephen Harper. The coalition is currently contesting the new provisions.
However, on November 10, 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada lifted the injunction in its ruling in Canada vs. Stephen Joseph Harper. Eight of the nine justices were in favour of staying the injunction until the constitutionality of the contested provisions could be ruled on or by the courts. Only Mr. Justice John Major opposed this decision.
In paragraph 11 of the judgment, the majority opinion of the court held that:
—the public interest in maintaining in place the duly enacted legislation on spending limits pending complete constitutional review outweighs the detriment to freedom of expression caused by those limits.
In response, Elections Canada announced that the provisions regarding third party spending would not be enforced for the period from October 22, 2000, the date that the writs were issued for the general election, to November 10, 2000. They would however be enforced after that up to November 27, 2000 which was polling day.
The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has still not ruled on the constitutionality of the Canada Elections Act provisions with regard to third parties.
While we welcome legislation, perhaps this should have been avoided if the government had not done such sloppy work on Bill C-2.
We will be supporting the legislation going forward for a number of reasons, as I have tried to indicate in this dissertation. We would also suggest very strongly that one of the reasons we support it is that it will have an opportunity to be heard on the Senate side. We will have an opportunity to discuss, debate and perhaps put forward amendments to legislation that could be better enforced and put forward better in the Senate.
I hope we have learned some lessons from the inconsistencies and problems that came forward with Bill C-2 and do not repeat them with Bill C-9. Hopefully, when we bring in legislation, put them to a committee, and listen to legitimate concerns, complaints and suggestions as to how they could be made better, that maybe the government will listen to those concerns and suggestions openly and honestly, and make those changes at that point in time, as opposed to taking forward legislation that is inaccurate.
Canada Elections Act
April 26th, 2001 / 11 a.m.
Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased in turn to speak to Bill C-9 at this final stage.
I would like to indicate right away that our political formation will support this legislation, but without any great enthusiasm. I would even say that we do it out of pique, in a way, because we recognize that parliament must abide by the court decision in the Figueroa case.
We also recognize that there are in the current Canada Elections Act, resulting from the reform adopted in the last parliament, a number of mistakes, all in all minor, that could nevertheless have had some rather dramatic effects in certain respects.
There are problems of agreement between the two texts, of poor translation from English to French since this bill was obviously first drafted in English.
There are also a number of mistakes in the numbering of some subsections and paragraphs. Again, this may seem trivial at first sight, but on closer look this could have had in the last election effects that although not dramatic could certainly be described as prejudicial.
Basically we should correct these difficulties, these small problems, these technical mistakes as I call them, in the Canada Elections Act.
If some technical mistakes were introduced in the elections act, I think we have to recognize that it is simply because we have proceeded hastily—unwillingly, I may add—with the elections act reform in the last session of the last parliament.
We proceeded with too much haste and this haste was dictated to us by the government, whose motives were—we saw it later, but we had suspicions at the time—essentially political and partisan. The government wanted to campaign under the new act, and since the government party was planning an early election we had to pass the new elections act as quickly as possible.
We had to proceed hastily, which prevented us from doing the work as conscientiously as we wanted to or as we should have, and the main result was that we were unable to make substantive changes to the elections act.
There were certainly very interesting changes, which had the effect of improving the act or the Canadian electoral system. However the fact still remains that we should have certainly examined changes that were much more substantive, but with the limited time available we obviously were unable to do so.
I must tell the House that as representatives of the people of Quebec and Canada in this House we should be deeply troubled and concerned by the rate of participation in elections, which is constantly declining.
We were able to see, particularly during the last federal election, that the rate of participation was dramatically low. We were able to see, particularly during the last federal election, that the rate of participation was dramatically low in spite of all the efforts made by the chief electoral officer to inform Canadians and Quebecers of the procedure to be registered on the voters' list and to exercise their right to vote.
This drop in the rate of participation also occurred in spite of the many changes made to the act to make it easier to vote. In fact, it is possible to vote under almost all circumstances in Canada and abroad. Some would even say that the Canada Elections Act is written in such a way that makes it easy, and a few journalists demonstrated this in the last election, to vote fraudulently.
We facilitate as much as possible the exercise of people's right to vote. In spite of that the participation rate is getting lower at each election. As I said, as parliamentarians I think this worrisome trend in our democracy must be cause for great concern.
If people are losing interest in politics and in the election process, we must draw certain conclusions and make certain changes.
We must carry out a reform of parliament that takes the expectations of the people we represent into account. They must be absolutely convinced that what we are doing here is being done on their behalf, that we are representing them, that we are protecting their interests and that we have a real say.
There is cause for concern with regard to for what I would call the democratic drift that threatens the process of globalization we are going through and the negotiation of the FTAA in which parliamentarians are definitely not involved.
We do need to change our parliamentary system, and that includes an indepth reform of the Canadian electoral system.
When we examined Bill C-2, which was supposed to be one of the most major reviews of the Canada Elections Act, we could have made substantial changes. We agreed with those changes but for political and partisan reasons we did not make them. That resulted, as we know, in the participation rate during the last federal election being one of the lowest since 1867. We missed a unique opportunity to carry out an indepth reform.
We must recognize that since the beginning of this new parliament the government has been dragging its feet somewhat on parliamentary and electoral reform. With this bill we could have started afresh, but no, the government has chosen to make cosmetic changes, to correct some technical mistakes to which I alluded and to abide by the court's decision in the Figueroa case. I will come back to these two issues a little later.
I would like to talk briefly about what we could have done. I hope the government House leader is listening to what I am saying. I hope we will have the opportunity very soon, after the chief electoral officer tables his report or his recommendations following the last federal election, to review, amend and reform much more thoroughly the Canadian electoral system so that our fellow citizens will feel that this system is relevant to the decision making process.
We might examine the voting procedure and the representation system. We had a debate in the House some time ago and we discussed the possibility of striking an all party committee to look into all these issues. The government has unfortunately shown very little interest in the idea of even discussing a more thorough reform of the electoral system.
I was surprised to hear the government House leader say that we would have the opportunity to examine more thoroughly the issue of the electoral system once the chief electoral officer has stated his position on the subject. I must say that he missed an excellent opportunity of showing tangible interest in this when we debated a motion brought forward by the New Democratic Party.
We might examine the representation system. Would it be relevant or not to integrate into Canadian legislation an element of proportional representation in our electoral system? Should we adopt a purely proportional electoral system? Of course there are pros and cons. We have already had an opportunity to discuss this.
As for the advantages, there is the fact that it would eventually allow for a better representation of women and young people in parliament. As far as the electoral process is concerned, minority groups would be better represented, and election results would better reflect the various points of view and ideologies in society, including some of the more minority ones.
With a proportional representation component the system will avoid the distortions sometimes created by the first past the post system which makes it possible for a government to gather almost 100% of the power with only 40% of the votes. A proportional representation system would allow for better co-operation with the opposition and would encourage government to take into account the opinions of the opposition.
Of course, there are some disadvantages to such a system. We will have to take them into consideration when we consider the system so that the necessary corrective mechanisms can be put in place. Instability can result from pure proportional representation and sometimes from a system with a proportional representation component.
There is also the risk that a proportional representation component could also create two classes of members: those who have ridings and constituents to whom they are accountable and to whom they must provide services and those who are appointed from the party lists.
To whom are the members accountable? To the people who elect them or to the party who puts them on the ballot? Those are questions that still need to be asked if we at some later point come to question the appropriateness of integrating proportionality into the Canadian electoral system.
We could have examined the system of appointing returning officers, a system that gives Canada the image of a democracy that is somewhat behind the times, somewhat aging, somewhat archaic. I, an opposition MP, am not the only one who says so. Canada's chief electoral officer said the following when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on October 28:
—when I go out on the international scene I do not recommend that the Canadian system be emulated where it comes to the appointment of returning officers I clearly indicate, as I do in Canada, that the appointment of returning officers under the present system is an anachronism.
The Lortie commission, in volume I of its report at page 483, stated as follows:
A cornerstone of public confidence in any democratic system of representative government is an electoral process that is administered efficiently and an electoral law that is enforced impartially. Securing public trust requires that the election officials be independent of the government of the day and not subject to partisan influence.
It must be acknowledged that in the present system returning officers are appointed by the governor in council, that is to say the government. They are not appointed as the result of a call for nominations. They are not appointed as the result of an independent examination where they will be selected on their intrinsic abilities, their own qualifications. They are appointed as the government sees fit. They are appointed according to their political stripe.
In my opinion this is basically undemocratic and archaic in a democracy that claims to be modern. Returning officers need to be appointed by the chief electoral officer. They need to be dismissable by that same officer. They need to be appointed after a public call for nominations and selected in an independent process of examination of their ability to carry out their duties. They need to be answerable to the chief electoral officer.
I trust that we will eventually have an opportunity to address such an amendment. It is high time we brought this change in the Canada Electoral Act. It will be noted that all opposition parties agree with this and that the only one against it is the government, because incidentally it has the privilege of appointing returning officers.
I hope we will also have the opportunity to examine the whole issue of political party financing, which is a basic issue in a democracy. In a democracy it is one person, one vote; not one dollar but one vote.
It is important that we consider the facts. This government has been elected on a platform of honesty and integrity and of condemnation of the previous Progressive Conservative government for its spending and mistakes, but experience has shown that, with the present government there is sometimes a very strong link between contributors to the Liberal Party of Canada and people who are awarded contracts by the Liberal government.
It is strange and surprising. This patronage system where contracts are awarded to contributors to political parties is a remnant of the past.
That system should be influenced only by those who are entitled to vote on polling day. If the influence must also express itself with a monetary contribution, those who are entitled to vote on polling day should be the only ones to be able to exercise that influence in between elections and during election campaigns by giving money to political parties. Only the voters should have the right to finance Canadian political parties.
That is what we have in Quebec: financing of the political parties by the public. Quebec's party financing system is held up around the world as one of the most modern systems, since we can be absolutely sure of its probity because only voters can contribute.
Members on the other side might tell me “Yes, but it is well known that this legislation encourages people to circumvent the law, since businesses may well contribute to a party through an individual”. The Quebec election act clearly prohibits this. Penalties are therefore imposed for contravening not only the letter but also the spirit of the law.
The Quebec election act also provides for a cap on election contributions. In Canada the people watching us and the people in the gallery will be perhaps surprised to know that there is absolutely no ceiling. A company can give any amount to a political party. There is no limit to contributions in Canada. There are limits to election expenses but not to contributions. In Quebec contributions are limited to $3,000 per voter. There are therefore two components to public funding: the contribution ceiling and a clear definition of who can contribute, that is voters only.
At the very least we might have expected that the federal government would agree to set a limit, a ceiling, for contributions if it did not want to set very strict limits on the source of the contributions, but even that is too much to ask it. Why would the government deny itself generous contributions when it can count on them year after year? The major banks give the party in power tens of thousands of dollars. It would certainly not deprive itself of this manna falling in its lap which it generously repays, as the facts indicate.
We would also have the opportunity perhaps to consider, or we might have had the opportunity if we had made the effort to really do so last time, incentives to increase the proportion of women involved in the electoral process and consequently taking part in public affairs and the political process.
France has just passed legislation requiring half the assembly to comprise women, which will mean that half the assembly will comprise women. Some of the Scandinavian countries have established legislation setting a minimum for the proportion of women in their legislatures.
There could be this sort of legislative incentive or financial incentives to encourage political parties to promote the entry of women into politics, which might encourage them to increase the number of women candidates in the running at elections. I want to point out in this regard that it was the government House leader himself who, during the review of Bill C-2 introduced in the last parliament, urged members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to propose such an amendment to the Canada Elections Act. At the time the hon. member for Longueuil presented an amendment, but it was subsequently rejected by the government.
Where is the consistency when the government House leader asks members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to propose measures to increase the number of women involved in the political process, only to then have the government defeat an amendment to this effect? There is a lack of consistency and there is a problem in terms of real political will to make substantial amendments to the Canada Elections Act.
We also raised a number of lesser issues such as the tax credits for contributions to political parties. The policy currently followed by the government is fundamentally discriminatory because the tax credit program is unfair to low income taxpayers making contributions to political parties.
If a low income taxpayer makes a contribution to a political party, chances are that the tax receipt which he gets will make absolutely no difference. If his income is not taxable, his tax receipt is absolutely worthless.
What is the value of a contribution by a low income taxpayer who takes the trouble to donate part of his savings to a political party and to make a financial contribution to the exercise of democracy? The state generously rewards those who make handsome contributions and have sufficient income to claim a tax credit but does not encourage in any way low income earners who wish to take part in the electoral process by making contributions to political parties.
We raised this inequity but the government refused to remedy it. The elections act contains another inequity. It was acknowledged by everyone in committee, even the Liberal members, yet they refused to make any changes to the elections act relating to the participation of self-employed workers in an election campaign.
If I am a self-employed carpenter with my own company the elections act does not allow me to work for one candidate or another, for example to make lawn signs, because that would be considered a contribution or a campaign expense.
There is something abnormal about treating the self-employed differently from any other citizens when they want to take part in the electoral process. If a carpenter working for a company does the work, this is allowed provided he does so as a volunteer. Yet if a self-employed carpenter wants to do the same in order to be part of the electoral process on behalf of one or another candidate, he is not allowed to do so because this would be considered a contribution or a campaign expense.
Clearly there are flaws in the Canada Elections Act. Certain features must be completely overhauled. The government has shown no interest in moving ahead with this until now. I hope that it will demonstrate a much more open attitude in the future, considering the fact that the public's interest in politics is now declining.
We must take note of this and have the courage to make the decisions required under the circumstances so that the electoral system the political system and the parliamentary system better respond to the expectations of the people we wish and claim to represent in the House.
Let us now get back to the central features of the bill under consideration. First, Figueroa forces the government to reduce the number of candidates that a party must nominate in order to have its name appear on the ballot.
Obviously this has no impact on the 50 candidates that a party must have nominated in a general election to qualify for tax benefits, financial benefits, from the government. Now, however, only 12 candidates will be required in order for the party's name to appear on the ballot.
Obviously there is a rationale behind this. The rules used were those that apply in the House, which require that in order to have party standing a party must have at least 12 members. Similarly a minimum of 12 candidates is required for a political party to have its name appear on the ballot. Fine. This is a formula whose value we can certainly recognize and accept.
This being said, it must also be recognized, as pointed out by Canadian Alliance members, that for all intents and purposes we are creating a new category of recognized political party. Of course this is not what the wording of the bill says, but this is what it means. Political parties that can have their names on ballots and those that run a number of additional candidates may be entitled to the benefits enjoyed by the government.
It must also be understood that this new provision, which seeks to comply with the court ruling in the Figueroa case, has one major flaw regarding byelections. A political party can be created between two general elections and be recognized by the public as such, but under the rule just proposed by the government that political party will not be allowed to put its name on the ballot. This is under the ruling of the court itself a violation of the rights of citizens to be informed of the party being represented by the candidate running for office.
We have a prime example of this in the case of a member now sitting in the House. In 1990, when the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie became the first Bloc Quebecois member to get himself elected, no one in Quebec would have challenged the fact that the Bloc Quebecois was a political force, a political party in the making but a political party nevertheless.
The rules that prevailed at the time did not allow the current leader of the Bloc Quebecois, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, to put the name of his political party on the ballots. However, under the government's proposed rules, he would still have been in the same position because his party would not previously have had 12 candidates running in a general election.
I proposed an amendment to the government House leader that could have corrected this discrepancy. It must be understood that this discrepancy leaves the government open to new legal challenges, which will again be very costly for taxpayers and which it again risks losing. According to the words of the judge in Figueroa, the voter's right to be fully informed of a candidate's political affiliation must be maintained. This applies in a byelection as well.
What I proposed point blank to the government House leader was that a party be officially recognized as a political party as soon as it agrees to present 50 candidates at the next general election. Naturally the reply was “Yes, but what if it does not present 50?” The elections act must provide a way for the government to recover the money it would have given this party. Provision must be made for this, of course.
However this would at least mean that this party's candidate could put the name of his or her party on the ballot in the meantime. The advantage of this proposal was that different categories of parties would not be created and the discrepancy that will remain in the elections act after Bill C-9 is passed would have been removed.
There is also another provision that is somewhat disturbing to us. Before dealing with it I would simply like to say concerning the proposal we made that members of parliament will have understood well what I said, that is that the government House leader rejected this proposal out of hand, saying “You know, this goes beyond the scope of this bill” and so on. The result was the same: the government refused to consider a substantive proposal from the opposition. This is probably because simply it had not come up with the idea itself, as seems to be its way of running things since 1993.
I was going to say there is another provision in clause 2 that seems unacceptable to me. It is the one aimed at ensuring that when the chief electoral officer wants to test new voting systems, and in this case we are thinking more particularly about electronic voting, he will not be able to proceed without the prior approval of the procedure and House affairs committee which has to examine all matters related to the Canada Elections Act.
The government, after a Liberal senator woke up and said “They forgot to include the Senate”, said “Yes, this is true. Oops, the Senate has not been included. We should also ask the approval of the Senate committee responsible for electoral issues”.
When an unelected institution demands to be given a voice we realize how outdated the Canadian political system is. Maybe we would have agreed, and we moved an amendment to that effect but it was defeated by the government, that the Senate could express its views. There is something of a paradox here when the approval of an unelected house is required for a proposal of the chief electoral officer on the exercise of the right to vote.
Once again the government's argument has been that as long as the Canadian constitution has not been amended in order to reform or abolish the Senate both houses have to be included in any legislative process.
This is not a legislative process but a consultation process. The chief electoral officer needs the approval of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This is not a legislative process in any sense. We are talking about consultation.
We might have agreed to let the Senate express its views, but that is a far cry from giving it the right to approve a proposal by the chief electoral officer who is responsible for the implementation of the elections act and who is very knowledgeable about our electoral system and the exercise of the right to vote. He would have to present his proposal for approval by senators who are not elected but appointed by the government of the day.
The government's desire to include the Senate committee in this provision of the bill is certainly questionable because this is not about a legislative process. We are talking about consultation on whether the chief electoral officer should go ahead.
Bill C-9, which we are considering, also raises a number of questions relating to the possibility for an independent candidate to have access to the revised electoral list.
Questions were raised and some are still unanswered. There are still many reservations about the bill. I think the government, if it has clear answers, did not give them to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Maybe there was once again too much haste because several members came out of the committee process with unanswered questions and concerns.
According to several of us, every candidate in an election, no matter whether he or she is associated with a political party or independent, must be on a level playing field and have the same tools as any other candidate. In this regard there are obviously unanswered questions in Bill C-9.
I can hear the government House leader saying “No, no”. As I said before, if the government had clear answers on the question, it neglected—I will put this politely—to give them to members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, because some members still had some concerns after the minister appeared before the committee.
Obviously for the government, we disagree, because we have missed the point. For the government the failure to understand always lies with the other party. It is always the opposition which has failed to understand. This is perhaps an indication of one of the problems we have in the Canadian parliamentary system, one which makes us think about the changes that should be made. That is another matter entirely.
In conclusion, since we indicated our willingness to vote in favour of the proposed legislation from the start, we might at least have expected the government to demonstrate a certain degree of openness to our proposals, given that we showed openness by indicating from the start that we were going to vote in favour of this legislation.
In the case of Bill C-2 the government was completely unreceptive to any substantial amendment that might come from opposition members, particularly Bloc Quebecois members since, as I said, we indicated that we were going to support the legislation proposed by the government.
Outside the Liberal Party there is apparently no salvation. If a party other than the Liberal Party makes a substantial proposal, and we have seen this in the past, not in connection with this bill, that proposal can only be a bad one. Regardless of how positive and worth while it might be, it absolutely must be rejected.
I see this as evidence of this government's narrow mindedness and arrogance once again. It attaches little importance to members of the opposition, although they were elected just as democratically as the members of the government, and any differing views expressed in the House.
In closing, to give credit where credit is due, despite the reservations I have just been expressing, I must thank all those who made consideration of Bill C-9 possible.
I would like to particularly thank and congratulate the committee members and the MPs from our party and others who have expressed their views in the House on Bill C-9. I also want to thank those who appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the committee staff who provided us with a great deal of support in our consideration of this bill.
I also want to thank all those who were involved in the drafting of this legislation, the Privy Council staff, Michael Pierce, Ms. Mondou and their team; the people at Department of justice; and of course those at Elections Canada.
Again I thank the staffs of our party and other parties who made a contribution. I would be remiss in not noting the contributions of my own staff, particularly Patric Frigon, for so much support in my consideration of this bill.
I will conclude on that note, with the comment that I hope the government will learn something from the speed with which we put electoral reform through in the last parliament, which now obliges us to make changes, cosmetic ones in some cases because of that excessive haste. I also hope we will be able if the opportunity arises, and I hope the House leader is open to this, to carry out an indepth reform of the Canada Elections Act to bring it in line with the expectations of our fellow citizens.
Canada Elections Act
April 26th, 2001 / 10:40 a.m.
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central, I am very pleased to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-9, the Liberal government's proposed changes to the elections act.
Before I begin my remarks I want to commend the hon. member for Lanark—Carleton for his significant contribution to this debate. His comments are highly appreciated.
The bill has two main focuses. First, Bill C-9 would amend the Canada Elections Act so that candidates, other than those of registered parties, may have the option of indicating their political affiliation on the ballot. Second, it provides for various technical amendments that would correct certain details of the new Canada Elections Act. The bill is supposed to amend the Canada Elections Act that became law on September 1, 2000 in the last parliament.
The Liberals passed the bill only a few months ago. The bill we are debating today is the Liberal government's attempt to correct the mistakes they made in the previous bill in the 36th parliament.
The official opposition is continuing to try to force the government to do its work, as we asked it to do in the 36th parliament. I spoke to that bill in the last parliament and I warned the government about the pitfalls which it did not prevent.
As I said at second reading of the bill, I do not mind helping the Liberals to do their homework. I will present some ideas which the government can listen to and adopt amendments to the bill so that it does not have to amend it again after a little while.
The chief electoral officer appeared before the procedure and House affairs standing committee that conducted hearings on the bill last month. He said that these technical amendments did not raise any administrative concerns, apart from the fact that they were not exhaustive. The chief electoral officer also said that he had discovered other provisions that would warrant revision since some of these technical amendments created undesirable effects. The light is flashing, but I do not know if the Liberals are listening.
For example, Bill C-9 does not resolve the incongruity of the situation in which eligible and suspended parties are considered exactly like third parties. There should be some difference between a small political party and one that has been suspended. These two types of party status are seen as the same. However they are different and our laws should reflect that. At this late stage of the bill's progress, that is third and final reading, I ask the government what will it do about the fact that suspended parties are treated the same way as a small party. It is unfair.
There is also a concern that parties, which are not represented in the House regularly, raise questions about their participation in the electoral process. The chief electoral officer is concerned about the frequency and wide range of complaints about how smaller parties are treated and the obstacles they face trying to compete with large, more established political parties like the governing Liberals. Our electoral system should be fixed so that everyone is treated fairly and equally. The weak Liberal government that lacks vision is not addressing these problems in the bill.
The chief electoral officer will be tabling a report in the fall of 2001 wherein he will suggest ways to improve the current system. We look forward to his report, but I am sure that members on the government side do not.
The bill's provisions regarding the identification of political affiliation on ballots raises another question. It creates a two tier political party system, with different kinds of benefits accruing to political parties, depending on whether they are large parties with 12 or more candidates or small parties. The Liberals are only passing the bill because they want to limit their competition. That is undemocratic.
During the debate at second reading we heard many speakers indicating the problems they had experienced with Elections Canada during the last election and in the previous election. The government could make improvements to the way we conduct our elections. The Liberals have refused to pass Canadian Alliance amendments proposed at committee stage. Those amendments would have made the bill more acceptable to smaller parties.
For example, leaders of Canada's smaller political parties testified before the procedure and house affairs standing committee on the invitation of the Canadian Alliance critic for intergovernmental affairs. Ron Gray, leader of the Christian Heritage Party; Chris Bradshaw, leader of the Green Party; and Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party testified to the discriminatory spirit of the bill.
Under the bill proposed by the Liberals, large parties with 12 or more candidates or registered parties would have the right to receive final electors lists, issue tax receipts, reimbursement of partial election expenses, broadcasting time on national TV and preferential rates during prime time. Smaller parties and independent candidates are barred access to those resources.
At committee stage of Bill C-9, the Canadian Alliance tried to have several amendments passed but the Liberal dominated committee refused them. We tried to have the Liberals adopt the following amendment:
The Chief Electoral Officer shall deliver a printed copy and a copy in electronic form of the final lists of electors for each electoral district to each candidate.
We wanted to change the word party to candidate. This would make the act more democratic. There is no reason to prevent any candidate from receiving that list. It would be undemocratic if candidates were not treated fairly and equally and were not given the electors list so that they could do their campaigning. How could we prevent them from having access to the final electors list while candidates from established larger political parties have access to that list? That is very unfair. The Liberals refused to accept that amendment.
Another amendment submitted by the Canadian Alliance would strike the phrase, in the preceding election, from subclause 12(2)(d). In the case of a general election a party has candidates whose nominations have been confirmed in at least 12 electoral districts.
The way the clause reads now and would continue to read prevents a candidate in a byelection from having the party name with which he or she is affiliated appear on the ballot unless the party was qualified to have its name appear on the ballot in the previous general election. This again is an unfair situation that new political parties would face in a byelection.
The Liberals should not be afraid of new political parties. The government should be careful not to put any barriers in the way of new parties. This would encourage democracy to flourish, but the Liberals do not want that.
In clause 17 of Bill C-9 we tried to have subsection 335(1) of the act replaced with the following:
In the period beginning with the issue of the writs for a general election and ending at midnight on the day before polling day, every broadcaster shall, subject to the regulations made under the Broadcasting Act and the conditions of its licence, make available, for purchase by all political parties for the transmission of political announcements and other programming produced by or on behalf of the political parties, six and one half hours of broadcasting time during prime time on its facilities.
Once again, the official opposition was pleading the case of smaller or newer political parties. We wanted to remove the word registered from appearing before the word party so that any party could have access to broadcasting time, thus giving all parties an equal opportunity.
We tried to make it possible for a party to become a registered party if it could obtain the names of 5,000 electors who were members of that party or who supported the right of the party to be a registered party. It would be fair and make our democracy more open and transparent. However the Liberals refused it.
Most Canadians feel that under our electoral system every candidate in Canada must have equal access to the electoral list and the ability to issue tax receipts regardless of political affiliation, but the Liberals do not want that. They are so arrogant and heavy-handed and into power and control that they want to crush even the smallest voices in our electoral system. The bill is all about incumbency protection.
It is apparent that the Liberals would go to any length to protect their seats and even deny the democratic rights of other Canadians. We must not forget that the bill is the government's response to the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling on Communist Party leader, Mr. Miguel Figueroa's challenge to the limitations imposed on smaller parties as a result of Bill C-2 that came into effect in November 2000.
Bill C-2 was flawed. The Liberals did not listen to the opposition, other Canadians and witnesses who appeared before the committee. I spoke in the debate on that bill in the previous parliament and I warned the Liberals that their phony bill would be challenged in the courts. I warned them that they would lose the case. It was challenged and they did lose the case.
The Communist Party has pledged to sue the government as soon as Bill C-9 is passed. I warn them again. I may have to speak again when the bill comes back before the House. I remind them that it is the opinion of the four political party leaders who testified before the committee that the Liberal government is only grudgingly complying with the Ontario court's decision. It is doing so in the narrowest possible sense. Anyone supporting Bill C-9 is pulling up the drawbridge to the House of Commons.
If these measures had been in place 10 years ago, new parties like the Reform Party of Canada would have been barred access to the vital resources that facilitated its rise to the office of the official opposition and now the Canadian Alliance Party.
Among other technical matters Bill C-9 also stipulates that if the chief electoral officer wishes to examine alternative voting processes such as electronic voting, the alternative cannot be used without the approval of both the House and the Senate committees. Under the current legislation only approval of the House of Commons committee is required to give the chief electoral officer the freedom to examine alternatives that are innovative and could help modernize our electoral process, which is a good thing.
However on this side of the House our ears perk up when we hear the word Senate. Are the Liberals preparing to have the Senate kill any innovative ideas the chief electoral officer wants to propose? We know for sure that we cannot trust the government.
At committee hearings the Canadian Alliance proposed to amend this part of the bill but our amendment was again struck down. We know that the Senate is not elected. How could it interfere with the election process when senators are not elected? It is very unfair and undemocratic. The Canadian Alliance policy declares:
To improve the representative nature of our electoral system, we will consider electoral reforms, including proportional representation, the single transferable ballot, electronic voting, and fixed election dates, and will submit such options to voters in a nationwide referendum.
Bill C-9 does not go far enough to democratize our electoral process. We believe all parties should be treated equally and fairly, not merely those with 50 or more candidates or 12 or more candidates.
It is unfortunate that when the House was debating Bill C-2 in the last session the Liberals ignored the Reform Party's recommendation to drop the 50 candidate rule. As usual, the Liberals were forced into action not by the wishes of Canadians but by a court ruling.
When Bill C-2 was before the procedure and House affairs committee, constitutional lawyer Gerald Chipeur made it clear to the Liberals that the 50 candidate rule would be struck down. The Canadian Alliance always rejected the Liberal's claim that the 50 candidate rule was designed to protect voters from frivolous parties.
The Canadian Alliance believes that voters and not the government, this arrogant, weak Liberal government that lacks vision, should decide whether a party or candidate is worthy of their vote. If Canadians feel a candidate or political party is worthy of their vote then they should vote for them. It should not be up to the government to tell Canadians which candidate or party is worthy of their vote.
The Canadian Alliance is very unhappy that Bill C-9 creates two classes of political parties. There should be an equal and fair opportunity for each party and candidate in the electoral process. However the bill denies that. It creates two classes of parties.
The Canadian Alliance believes the Canada Elections Act should be neutral and treat everyone equally and fairly. Bill C-9 is not neutral because of the reasons I have mentioned. It creates two classes of political parties and does not give equal opportunity to all candidates. We are therefore left with no option but to oppose the bill.
The government still has time to give Bill C-9 a second thought. I know it is late, but the government should have given it a second thought and accepted the amendments, listened to the witnesses in committee and given every candidate and party an equal opportunity.
The bill is not only undemocratic; it is anti-democratic. We have an elected dictatorship in Canada and that will not change if the bill is not changed. Let us see how Canadians feel. We on this side of the House oppose the bill.
Canada Elections Act
April 26th, 2001 / 10:10 a.m.
Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
moved that Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak briefly today on the bill which proposes a few amendments to the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
As members of parliament will know, from time to time we need to revisit our laws to make sure they keep up with the changing needs of Canadians.
Sometimes this entails introducing totally new legislation as happened with Bill C-2, the Canada Elections Act, in the last parliament.
While the impetus for change usually comes from the public or this House, it can also be the result of rulings by the courts. An example is the Figueroa case heard recently by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
In this case the plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the provisions in the Canada Elections Act relating to the registration of political parties. He argued that requiring a party to nominate 50 candidates before it could be declared a registered party, and thus before having tis name appear on the ballot, violated section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since smaller parties could not achieve this threshold and were therefore denied some of the financial benefits accorded to registered parties.
In its ruling, the court ruled that it was in fact reasonable to require parties to have 50 candidates before they qualify for financial benefits. I repeat that the court said it was okay. The reason it did so and I quote the court. It said that the requirement “is a reasonable method of distinguishing between parties whose involvement reaches the appropriate level of participation and parties whose involvement does not”. That was a quote from paragraph 88 of the court's decision.
The provision of the Canada Elections Act pertaining to the eligibility for financial benefit remains unchanged.
The plaintiff also challenged those provisions requiring parties to have 50 nominated candidates before their names could appear on the ballot.
The argument was that having a candidate's political affiliation on the ballot was desirable since it provided voters with important information they needed before making an informed choice. In other words, if there were two John Does on the ballot and one of them was John Doe from such and such party, as opposed to John Doe, independent, voters would have the right to know that it was John Doe from such and such party.
In this case the court ruled that this use of the 50 candidate threshold was not valid and represented an unjustifiable limitation on the right of voters to make an informed choice since it denied them important information about candidates, as I have just shown.
As such, it violates section 3 of the charter. Consequently the court referred the offending portions of the act back to parliament and gave it a specific time frame to take remedial action. This is why it is important to respond to its ruling.
The bill before us responds to this part of the ruling by proposing to lower the threshold for including party affiliation on the ballot, in other words the informative part, to just 12 candidates, which is less than a quarter of what it would have required before.
I spoke in committee to why the number 12 was used. It was used because it is a threshold with which we are familiar. It is one that exists elsewhere for political parties, namely 12 is the minimum number of members of parliament to be recognized by the Speaker as a party for the purposes of the House. That would suppose that a party with 12 candidates would elect all of them all of the time. Although that is unlikely it is at least possible, and that is the number we used.
We could have used a slightly higher threshold, namely 15, because it was the one recommended by the Lortie commission. The Lortie commission, appointed by the previous Conservative government, had made such a recommendation in the past. In any case, certainly if 15 works 12 is a number that is even less onerous and therefore would work not only as well but some would argue even better.
All these issues were studied by the parliamentary committee. I thank the committee for the excellent issues that were raised. I did not always agree with everything that was raised by some hon. colleagues in committee, but largely they were very constructive, as they usually are. I hope my responses to them in committee were as equally informative as their questions were interesting.
During these hearings the question of how many candidates should be required was discussed at length. There were members who called for a far greater number than 12, while others wanted to lower the number. As a matter of fact, there is a private member's bill before the House by a member of the Canadian Alliance arguing for a stronger threshold.
There must be a threshold some place. The court spoke to this eloquently. It said the designation on the ballot had to be what it called a party in the real sense of the word. That was the expression used by the court. One person is not a party. I, running under my own party, would not have the status of a party. A party that would bear only the individual's name would not satisfy that criterion. Again the court referred to that in its decision.
The balanced approach was required. To use a threshold that had foundation in law, the number 12 certainly has that and the number 15 as well. Both were reasonable and we used one of them. It is the balanced approached. Mr. Speaker, you will be very familiar with the government's usually balanced approach to most things, if not everything.
Voters could be, as I said, misled if a ballot indicated a candidate was affiliated with a political party that was in fact not a political party. That would not serve to make the system more transparent but could arguably make it less so.
As a matter of fact, one colleague was very concerned about the fact that people could put their names on a ballot for the purpose of giving publicity to a commercial enterprise. In other words they could simply satisfy the criteria for the ballot and advertise. One hon. member gave the example of her real estate office or something like that. That is not what the ballot is designed to do. It is difficult to reconcile all these things, but we tried to use the number that would make it all work.
As I mentioned, the rationale for choosing 12 is already found in our parliamentary system. Once passed, this measure would allow political parties with at least 12 candidates to have their names appear alongside those of their candidates. In other words the ballot would say that John Doe is running under the XYZ party, if that happened to be the name of the particular group of people.
As to the other provisions, I will mention them briefly before concluding. These tend to be technical amendments designed to correct a few anomalies that have become apparent since the new Canada Elections Act came into force and terminological changes aimed at making the English and French versions more consistent. As such, they should make our existing electoral laws even better.
I wish to thank parliamentarians from all parties who took part in this exercise, and I mean this sincerely. I also wish to thank those who worked hard on drafting Bill C-9: the people at Elections Canada, the Department of Justice, Privy Council, my own team, and of course all those working on the bill right now.
I will conclude by repeating the promise I made to the parliamentary committee. What we have before us today is not an overhaul of the Canada Elections Act. It is simply a response to the court and the correction of certain technical details, certain anomalies.
Nevertheless, we remain committed to again overhaul the Canada Elections Act, as must be done, particularly on the heels of an election and following the report and recommendations of Canada's chief electoral officer, which will probably be released shortly.
Later there will have to be consultations with the political parties, not just in the House but within the parties themselves because sometimes political parties have important things to say and they are not just said by parliamentarians. There will have to be this kind of consultation with them and with the general public in due course.
That is not what is before us today. We are looking only at the corrections I have just mentioned, but the firm undertaking to improve the Canada Elections Act in general remains and I wanted to take this opportunity to reiterate this in the House, as I did in committee a few weeks ago.
On that note I will close because I know that parliamentarians will soon want to move on to Bill C-24. In order to speed things up a bit, I will conclude my remarks here.
I thank my colleagues in advance for the contribution they will make to this debate.
Canada Elections Act
April 23rd, 2001 / 6:30 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
It being 6.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded divisions at report stage of Bill C-9.
Call in the members. Before the taking of the vote :
Income Tax Amendments Act, 2000
April 5th, 2001 / 3:50 p.m.
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to state our case in opposition to Bill C-22, the Liberal government's proposed changes to the Income Tax Act, the income tax application rules, the Canada pension plan, the Customs Act, the Excise Tax Act and many other acts.
Earlier this morning I spoke in opposition to the Liberal's proposed changes to Bill C-9, the Canada Elections Act. That act creates a two tier electoral system. Among other things, it discriminates against smaller political parties. The Liberals are eroding our democracy with that bill and we cannot support it.
Bill C-22 seeks to amend the Income Tax Act and statutes originally included in Bill C-43 and to put into place key aspects of the last two budgets. The bill has 31 amendments touching on a number of tax deductions and their definitions.
There are three main reasons the official opposition and my constituents oppose the bill. First, the bill fails to address the enormous complexity of the tax code. It adds further complexity to an already complex tax code.
Second, it undermines the family, particularly one income families.
Third, the tax cuts provided for in the bill fall far short of what the Canadian Alliance proposed and what the government must do to increase our nation's productivity, competitiveness and standard of living. I would like to elaborate on those three points beginning with the complexity of the bill.
The government should be moving toward simplifying and broadening the base of the tax code. Lowering the taxes of all Canadians would be easier and it would have a far more positive impact for everyone. If the tax code were simplified and if it had less exemptions, further clarification would not be necessary.
The bill adds to the enormous complexity of the Income Tax Act with its numerous amendments. Rather than simplifying the act as the Canadian Alliance would do, the Liberals continue to maintain a costly and complicated tax code.
Another reason for my opposition to the bill deals with measures in the bill that assist the tax position of families with some minimal tax reductions. Nothing is done to address the longstanding inequality between single income and dual income families. The bill increases the inequity by increasing the child care tax deduction which is only available to high income or dual income families.
The bill also erodes the legal position of marriage. By changing references of spouse to common law partner it is including same sex partners.
Even after the changes proposed in the bill, Canadians would continue to pay far too much in taxes. The mini budget claimed to cut taxes by $100.5 billion over five years. However here is the reality. It is a bit technical so I would like to go into a little detail.
From the $100.5 billion claim of gross tax relief we must subtract $3.2 billion over five years for social spending, chiefly the child care tax benefit. The child care tax benefit is a spending program delivered through the tax system. The increase in the tax benefit should not be confused with being a tax decrease as it is a spending increase. The figure above excludes indexation because indexation is accounted for separately.
We then have to subtract $29.5 billion over five years for increased CPP premium hikes. We then have to subtract $20.7 billion over five years for cancelled tax hikes, namely indexation. Indexing the personal income tax system is meant to hold the tax burden constant over time so it should not be counted as a tax reduction.
Therefore when we take into consideration all those deductions, the net tax relief is only $47.5 billion provided over five years, not immediately.
The reality of the Liberal Party's 2000 tax relief package is that it is less than half of what it claims it is and half of what the Canadian Alliance proposed during the election.
These are the realities when we do a little math and we go into detail. This is how the tax relief would work in contrast to the image of tax relief the Liberals are projecting through their propaganda. We are watching a smoke and mirrors show by the government with respect to the bill.
Bill C-22 is a 500 plus page bill. I will read it later on because it will take too long. The Liberals say the bill is concerned with administrative, technical and implementation measures. They say it implements about $100 billion in tax cuts over five years. As I demonstrated it does not. It is less than half of that amount.
The more people study the bill, the more problems they will find. The more people study the bill the more complexities it creates in the minds of Canadians. I will take the time to go over some of the points.
There are 31 amendments in the bill. One amendment is about non-resident film and video actors. It would apply a new 23% withholding tax on payment to non-resident film and video actors and their corporations, with an option to have the actors and corporations pay regular part 1 tax on the net earnings instead. This provision alone hurts my beautiful province of British Columbia where film making has become popular and is contributing to the economic well-being of my province.
Canada Citizenship and Immigration has also imposed restrictions on issuing visas to those who are trying to come to Canada to make films and make the best use of the beautiful British Columbia scenery and its facilities. This hurts B.C. Those people then go to other countries to make films. Why should they come to B.C. to make films? Many people are hoping the film industry will contribute to the prosperity of my province.
The bill deals with limited liability partnerships, replacement property rules, types of property to be considered, stop-loss loans and a capital tax. An additional capital tax would also be imposed on life insurance corporations. Foreign affiliate losses would determine the affiliate or accrual property income for a particular taxation year. It deals with a foreign affiliate held by a partnership with simultaneous control in a chain of corporations and the control of their stake. It deals with advertising expenses concerning periodicals and magazines between Canada and the United States. It also deals with trusts and the tax treatment or property distribution from a Canadian trust to a non-resident beneficiary. Further, it deals with mutual fund trusts, RRSPs and adjusted retirement income funds.
When we go into the detail of the bill, we will notice that there are more complexities, more anti-family type situations and many other things.
There is taxpayer migration which is the ability to tax the gains accrued by immigrants. It will affect the projection of the country's image with respect to future immigrants.
With reference to foreign branch banking, there would be a 15% investment tax credit for certain grassroots mineral exploration. There is the foreign exploration and development expenses and the value of foreign resource property owned. It would impose a 30% restriction for the annual deduction of new foreign exploration and development expense benefits.
There are many other points. Here is another one. There would be a foreign tax credit on oil and gas production sharing agreements. Another one is weak currency debt that limits the deductibility of interest expenses and adjusts foreign exchange gains and losses in respect of weak currency debt and associated hedging transactions.
There are many points in the bill which will further make the tax codes very complicated.
Since capitalization, it reduces the acceptable debt to equity ratio from 3:1 to 2:1 and it repeals the exemption for manufacturers for aircraft and aircraft components.
As far as CPP contributions on self-employed earnings, these amendments introduce a deduction from business income for one-half of CPP contributions on self-employed earnings with the other half of the contributions remaining eligible for the CPP tax credit.
Here is something regarding students and scholarships, fellowships and bursaries. The exemption would be increased by $3,500 for scholarships, fellowships and bursaries received by the taxpayer in connection with the taxpayer's enrolment in a program and in respect of the taxpayer claiming the education tax credit.
Here is another one for the education tax credit. It would double the monthly amounts the tax credit allows to full time and part time students based on $400 and $120 respectively.
It also affects the medical expense tax credit.
There is not one area that does not affect families, caregivers, infirm dependant tax credits, disability tax credits, child care expense deductions and so on. Therefore, I assume this bill will not only be affecting families but also those individuals and low income people.
The Canadian Mining Association supports some aspects of this bill. It supports the definition of mining property, yet it was not aware of the changes until the official opposition contacted it. The association was not consulted. It had to learn from us that the definition of mining property was being tinkered with by the government.
This is a government from behind closed doors. Surely if the government was sincere in its intention, it would have contacted stakeholders and various groups in Canada. It would have listened to Canadians. It should have understood that Canadians want the tax credits to be implemented sooner rather than up to 2005.
The bill guarantees that the basic personal exemptions will hit a minimum of $8,000 by the year 2004. The credits and relief provided in the bill are a step in the right direction, but they are baby steps nonetheless.
Efforts have been made to reduce the capital gains tax, deficit surtax, marginal rates, raise marginal income thresholds and tighten up various other rules surrounding deductions. The bill would increase and clarify the disability tax credit.
There are some good points and some bad points.
In conclusion, Canadian Alliance members would restore public confidence in the fairness of the Canadian tax system by reducing its complexity. We would restore indexation and move toward a simpler tax system built around a single rate of taxation to ensure lower taxes for all Canadians. We believe all Canadians above a minimum income level should share in the cost of the services provided by the government, which benefit all of us irrespective of income.
We hope the government will consider the amendments and what witnesses have said at the committee hearings on this bill. At this point the Canadian Alliance will not be supporting this bill.
Canada Elections Act
April 5th, 2001 / 11:35 a.m.
Dick Proctor Palliser, SK
Mr. Speaker, I too should like to participate very briefly in the debate today on Bill C-9. I support the modest proposal put forward by the Bloc to restrict the power of the unelected Senate to have a veto over elections. It is impossible to escape the irony of an unelected Senate somehow having a veto over what we do to further democracy in the land.
I have listened to some of the previous speakers. I agree with the speaker who immediately preceded me regarding the almost absolute power of the Prime Minister's Office. It has far more power than that of the president of the United States where there is a system of checks and balances.
We are aware that many attempts have been made over the years to reform the Senate and that all attempts to date have met with abject failure. I see this proposal as a very modest one to limit the power of the Senate. It proposes to consult the Senate on issues rather than give it a veto.
The Bloc has made a reasonable suggestion. I listened with care as well to the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough who cautioned against doing anything in a piecemeal fashion.
The concern of a number of us in this party is that past attempts to make broad changes and to have an elected Senate, as we have seen in Charlottetown, Meech Lake and other attempts, have all ultimately met with failure. We are grappling with the need to do something.
Members get up from time to time to talk about an elected Senate and they ask the Prime Minister, when a vacancy occurs, whether he would allow an election in the province where the vacancy has arisen. The answer is always no, with some qualifiers about Meech Lake and about Charlottetown.
What is proposed here is simply a modest way to curtail the power of the Senate. As I said, it is totally ironic that unelected senators should have a veto.
A previous speaker from the government side questioned whether a conjunction existed in English or whether the bill was lacking a conjunction. If that is his only problem why does he not move a friendly amendment and let us get on with it?
Earlier this week I had occasion to meet with someone from Bolivia, which we would normally consider a third world country. He was very interested in our political system. He wanted to know about elections to the House of Commons and then he innocently asked how our senators were elected and for what term of office.
It is embarrassing for most parliamentarians, and probably for many Canadians, to have to say that we appoint senators rather than elect them. We do not do the appointing. The Prime Minister appoints the Senate and each member therein.
He looked at me in a strange way, as do a lot of guests to our country when we reveal that we have one of the few bicameral systems in the world where one House is elected and the other is appointed. The upper chamber is appointed by one individual and has no checks and balances. There is no opportunity for a committee to decide whether a Senate candidate is suitable.
The Prime Minister can simply wake up one morning and say it is time to appoint so-and-so. That is why people like Gordon Robertson and Donald Savoie are concerned about the absolute power of the Prime Minister's Office and the almost total absence of checks and balances.
To come back to the amendment, it is a very modest one. It is trying to address the difficulty we have in dealing with electoral reform and whether we should have a Senate. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle makes a very good point. He has come full circle on this issue and now believes that the way to go is to abolish the Senate.
In answer to the previous speaker, that would only give more power. If we were to have a system of proportional representation where we would perhaps have a first past the post system for some members and then proportional representation for some others, we could achieve the best of both worlds. However, we would do it in one institution, in the House of Commons, as opposed to having a House of Commons and a Senate.
I very much support this modest amendment made by the Bloc this morning and I encourage other members to do so as well.