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.

Sponsor

Don Boudria  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

April 5th, 2001 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is one of these occasions when I am a little puzzled by what happens in this place because if I were an opposition member of parliament I would be firmly opposed to this particular amendment.

Rather than serve the opportunities of parliament in general in making sure that the government does not dominate, what this does is it gives back to the government enormous power over whether or not an official vote using electronic means will take place.

Originally in Bill C-2, there was a clause, the clause that is under debate right now, which basically said that the chief electoral officer can experiment with electronic voting, but if he wants to actually undertake an official vote with electronic technology he has to get the prior approval of the appropriate committee of the House of Commons. That committee, incidentally, we would assume to be the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

What the amendment in Bill C-9 does is it takes away this exclusive power of the committee of the House of Commons to decide whether an official vote will be taken with electronic means and adds in a committee from the Senate. So now under Bill C-9 there would be two committee approvals required. The motion before the House would again revert us back to Bill C-2 by taking away the approval of the committee of the Senate.

I point out that what we are talking about here is an official vote. That is what the clause says, an official vote. That means somebody is going to be elected or not elected.

The way the original clause read, by giving the decision on whether electronic voting should be used or not in an official vote, it was giving it exclusively to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a committee that is dominated, always dominated, by the government. Basically, the original clause guaranteed that if approval was sought government approval would be given, either side. Or if the government disagreed with the possibility of using electronic voting, let us say it is a byelection, the government, using its majority on the procedure and house affairs committee, could stop it from happening.

This is where I get really puzzled. Basically, what the amendment does is it takes away some of that government power. It dilutes it by requiring approval to come from the appropriate Senate committee as well. That is not such a bad thing because the Senate is indeed not an elected body and it is not under the same direct pressure that MPs are from their own governments. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, on a standing committee it is very difficult for members on any side to buck the basic policy of their party, and you would not expect it to happen on the procedure and house affairs committee in this particular instance.

However, for a Senate committee, even if every member is appointed by the government, it would not matter because the senators are still unelected and when it comes down to a matter of having to use their conscience, their discretion on something that is extremely important, we are talking about someone being elected officially to the House by a certain means, so, Mr. Speaker, it seems to me, on the opposite side, on the opposition side, every MP should be opposed to the amendment.

I note that the Canadian Alliance speaker that spoke just before me made a mistake because he suggested that all opposition MPs were in favour of this particular amendment that is proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, but in fact I did note that the speech from the Conservative member was opposed.

I would suggest that the opposition members reconsider because, while as a government MP I am happy to give my government lots of power and lots of things, I can tell you I am very nervous about giving my government, which could be the government of another party in the future, any kind of exclusive control over deciding whether or not an official vote should be taken by one means or another.

I point out, and I emphasize this to all members, that we are talking about approvals that come in committee. We are not talking about something that is debated in this entire House. We are not talking about a vote in the House or a vote in the Senate. We are merely talking about approvals in committee and I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, the way the clause was written in the original bill, Bill C-2, was seriously flawed because basically it gave the power of approval to a committee of the House which is dominated by the government, which would have meant it would have been a rubber stamp approval anyway, and the amendment which the government itself is introducing goes a long way toward diluting this power and making sure that, as best we can, there is another calculation, another evaluation of the issue by the members in the other place, who I think we could trust in a situation like something as important as a vote that would bring a new member to the House of Commons, that we could count on the senators no matter what their original party affiliations to act in their very best judgment.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

April 5th, 2001 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to the motion in amendment put forward by my colleague for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. It seems to me that it is totally relevant.

During my speech I may have the opportunity to respond to a number of the assertions made by my colleague for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, which, notwithstanding all the respect I have for him, appear to be slightly false.

I think that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has best described a moment ago in his speech how things have been done so far and why we are putting forward this amendment.

He explained how this provision of the elections act, within Bill C-2, came to be, to ensure that if new voting techniques were to be tried it would be only after the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which normally looks into these matters, approved the implementation of such a pilot project.

Everything was going well. The amendment proposed in Bill C-2 was passed. It was included in the Canada Elections Act which was used, need I remind members, in the last general election.

Bill C-9 corrects a series of small errors that had gone unnoticed because Bill C-2 was passed in such a hurry. Again, I need hardly remind the House that if this legislation was rammed through in such a hurry, it was essentially due to political considerations as the government wanted amended electoral legislation as quickly as possible in order to call an early election, which is precisely what happened and which confirms our opinion in this regard. The government has now introduced Bill C-9 to correct a series of small errors that had gone unnoticed in Bill C-2 given the haste I have just talked about and also to correct another element of the bill that is more substantial as it gave rise to a court ruling.

I should also point out that certain recommendations were made to the government following the Figueroa case. The government preferred to take the case to court, at taxpayers' expense, rather than consider the opinions expressed. It lost the case. It is coming back to us now to introduce a more substantial amendment in order to comply with the court decision in Figueroa concerning the number of candidates a political party must field in order for the name of the party to appear on the ballots.

Among those technical amendments they proposed one, amendment No. 2, which modifies section 18.1 of the Canada Elections Act to ensure that before any pilot project can be implemented to modify the voting process, the chief electoral officer will have to obtain not only the approval of the House of Commons committee that normally considers electoral matters, that is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, but also the approval of its senatorial counterpart.

I submit respectfully that it is surprising that we would have to consult a non-elected institution to determine the relevance or the opportunity of any pilot project concerning an election. That is why we thought it was appropriate to propose that this reference to the Senate be removed.

Needless to say that this amendment which we proposed in committee was rejected because the government House leader argued that ours is a bicameral parliament. Therefore we have two Houses, and as long as there are two Houses, as long as we do not decide otherwise—which brings us back to the debate of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle—we must face that reality and take into account the fact that the Senate must concur in any legislation. Very well.

I am not particularly in favour of the Senate in its present form or of a second chamber within Canadian parliament, but I nevertheless agree that since we respect the institutions as they are right now we must involve senators in the passing of any legislation, until further notice. But this is not what we are debating now. What we are taking about is consultation, opinion and approval regarding the implementation of a pilot project, a new method of voting. If I have the time I shall return to this later.

This is simply a technical opinion. How is a group of unelected representatives in a position to provide an opinion on such a matter? I ask you, Mr. Speaker. I know that you are not going to give me any answer, Mr. Speaker, but I am asking anyway.

The question has to be asked eventually, as my colleagues for Regina—Qu'Appelle and for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough have suggested. Ultimately, we will have to look at the role of the Senate, at whether it is appropriate to maintain that institution. That is not however what interests us in this debate. The purpose of the amendment is not to exclude senators from the legislative process. It merely requires the chief electoral officer, when he wishes to test new voting methods, to consult those who being elected themselves are perhaps in a position of being able to provide him with appropriate feedback.

Recently, the government House leader has been doing the rounds and trying endlessly to convince us that the amendment presented by our colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière does not say what that member meant it to say.

I do not know if the government House leader has the extraordinary gift of being able to read people's thoughts and thus knows what my colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière had in mind when he drafted this amendment and when he introduced it in this House.

Personally, I think that this amendment says exactly what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House said earlier, namely that it seeks to ensure that before testing new voting processes, the chief electoral officer must get prior approval of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs of the House of Commons and must consult the Senate committee that considers these matters.

The claim made by the government House leader, which goes against the view of his parliamentary secretary but is supported, seemingly, by the Privy Council's learned legal officers, is that this amendment would require the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to consult its counterpart in the Senate before giving its approval to the chief electoral officer.

I respectfully submit that I cannot figure out which version makes Privy Council's legal officers come to that conclusion. Perhaps it is the English version which, incidentally, is a translated version since the motion was originally drafted in French.

In the French version a comma replaces the word “et” in an enumeration. In the current text, if we replace the comma with the word “et”, the amendment is very clear and specific. The purpose of this amendment is to provide that the chief electoral officer must get the approval of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and must consult its Senate counterpart before implementing a new voting process.

Unfortunately, I am running out of time and I will not have the opportunity to express my view on electronic voting. However I must say, with all due respect for the other place, that we chose not to exclude it from this technical process, but to get it involved through a consultation process. This is why I am asking all hon. members to support this amendment.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

April 5th, 2001 / 11 a.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central I am very pleased to participate in the report stage debate of Bill C-9.

Bill C-9 is an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

In the last session I spoke to Bill C-2 which was passed in the House. The Canadian Alliance or Reform Party at the time opposed the bill. The Liberals should be ashamed because Bill C-2 had so many serious flaws in it that it was not only undemocratic but almost anti-democratic. Bill C-2 made Canada look like a dictatorship.

Among other technical matters Bill C-9, which is an amendment to Bill C-2 passed in the last session, stipulates that if the chief electoral officer wishes to examine certain things like alternative voting processes such as electronic voting, the alternative cannot be used without the approval of both House and Senate committees. Clause 2, which we intend to amend, states:

The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting means, and may devise and test an electronic voting process for future use in a general election or byelection. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters.

The term Senate is used and that is why the amendment is being proposed. I congratulate the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière who moved an amendment which reads:

That Bill C-9, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 31 to 33 on page 1 with the following:

“committee of the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters, after consultation with the committee of the Senate that normally considers those matters.”

The Canadian Alliance supports the amendment because it takes the role of the Senate out of the bill. Our policy book, which is dictated by grassroots members of the Canadian Alliance, states in section 71:

We will support the election of senators who would then have a democratic mandate to carry out their constitutional responsibilities. We will further support the distribution of Senate seats on an equal basis determined through constitutional discussion with the provinces and territories.

The Canadian Alliance advocates Senate reform. Senators try to do their job the best way they can. As co-chair of the Senate and House of Commons Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations I had the opportunity to work directly with senators. There are senators who work very hard. There is wisdom in the other chamber and we look forward to the sober thought from the other place.

There are senators who want to have a veto in our elections act on how Canadians elect members to represent them in the highest chamber. The Senate wants to have a veto in the bill, a veto the weak and arrogant Liberal government is allowing in the bill. That is a serious concern. Senators are elected in other countries. Our largest trading partner, the U.S, elects its senators.

The point which would motivate us in the Chamber to support the amendment is that senators are not accountable to constituents because they do not have any constituencies. They do not represent constituencies. They are appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada and tend to be accountable to him.

I commend B.C. Senator Gerry St. Germain, who has offered, and who is prepared to resign from his senate seat provided the Prime Minister appoints an elected senator to the Senate. That senator has made a bold step and I appreciate his intention.

The Canadian Alliance members support the amendment. Under the current legislation, only approval of the House of Commons committee is required. Giving the Chief Electoral Officer the freedom to examine innovative alternatives that could help to modernize our electoral process is a good thing but it should be limited to the elected members who represent Canadians in the House of Commons.

On this side of the House, our ears perk up when we see the use of the word Senate, particularly in reference to it interfering in the election process. Are the Liberals preparing to have the Senate kill any innovative ideas the Chief Electoral Officer may propose? Maybe we cannot trust the Liberal government. The Canadian Alliance believes that the voters, not the government, should decide whether a party or a candidate is worthy of a vote.

As all opposition parties will be supporting the amendment, it is now up to the Liberals. If they do not accept the amendment, it would be another example of how they are making Bill C-9 anti-democratic.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

April 5th, 2001 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. By this amendment and by this motion, he is showing that he is capable of expanding his horizons and that he is an extremely versatile member of parliament. We know the work that my colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière has been doing in the shipbuilding area, in shipyards not only in Quebec but also in Canada. Our colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière has managed to get all shipyard owners and unions throughout Canada to reach a consensus.

I think the fact he has moved this amendment to Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, shows that he is capable of speaking out on other issues. Thus, the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière is not a one issue man; he is a versatile man.

That being said, during the short time that has been allotted to me I would still like to add for our viewers and for our colleagues here in the House who are listening very carefully to my speech, that this amendment is being made to page 1 of the bill. It would amend section 18.1 of the elections act and would boil down to changing the role of the other House with respect to adopting amendments to the elections act. Specifically, the chief electoral officer would be able to use an electronic voting process.

I sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. About ten days ago, Mr. Kingsley tabled his report on the last general election held on November 27, 2000. We will have the opportunity to come back to it and to suggest further amendments to the elections act.

But I can say that it is in several ridings of Quebec and Alberta— and I know this has not happened by chance because there is a majority of Alliance members in Alberta and a majority of Bloc Quebecois members in Quebec— that there were the most problems during the last election held November 27.

In only 10 minutes I do not have time to list all the problems with unco-operative returning officers and unsuitable polling stations.

In a space no bigger than 10 square feet there were six or seven polling divisions. According to the elections act, candidates can visit polling stations, shake hands with the representatives of all parties. We could literally see for whom people would be voting. Some polling stations were located very far from the homes of elderly people whose mobility is sometimes reduced and that was to discourage them from voting.

I must tell the House that the Bloc Quebecois is drawing up a list of the problems from the November 27, 2000 election and we will have an opportunity to come back to them. I personally advised Mr. Kingsley that there will have to be improvements.

This bill introduced by the government House leader gives returning officers authority to try alternative voting means, including electronic voting. The bill provides that the introduction of such a process would require the approval of both Houses, the House of Commons and the other chamber, whose members as we know are not elected.

We are being upfront. The purpose of our amendment is to take away the right of the Senate—the other chamber—to give its approval and amend the clause such that only consultation is required. We realize that there is a difference between consulting and obtaining approval. We are aware of this difference and we have moved this amendment deliberately.

We have done so because 301 members of this House, whatever their political stripe, recognize that members of this House were all democratically elected—some races were tighter than others—by the people of Quebec and Canada.

Contrary to what goes on in other countries, nobody in Canada or in Quebec voted in the November 27 election with a machine gun to their back. People expressed their choice freely. The result is the 37th parliament. In my view, the 301 members here are entirely legitimate, regardless of their political affiliation.

The problem arises when a non-elected House is given the power to decide how elected representatives will be elected. I do not know whether that is clear; I am getting lost myself. There may have been too many “elected's” in my sentence, but I think the House understands. The problem is giving to another appointed body—a body that is rewarded, therefore not elected—the power to decide how elected representatives will be elected. This makes no sense.

It should be consulted because it is supposed to be a House of sober second thought. We know that under British parliamentary tradition the House of Commons represents commoners. We are the representatives of the common people, while the other chamber represents the aristocracy, the lords in the British system.

I am sorry but I prefer to be a member of the House which represents the population, the ordinary people, those who every four years can tell us “You are doing a good job, we will keep you” or “You are not doing a good job, you are out”. This is democracy and this is why, in democracy, we go from one government to the other, which is called state succession.

It is therefore important to take away from the Senate the power to decide about electronic voting.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

April 5th, 2001 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

moved:

Motion No.1

That Bill C-9, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 31 to 33 on page 1 with the following:

“committee of the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters, after consultation with the committee of the Senate that normally considers those matters.”

Mr. Speaker, the aim of this amendment is to prevent our being obliged to consult or include the Senate in amendments to the Canada Elections Act.

It would be a bit of a paradox, in the case of a law that applies to elections that apply to members of the House of Commons, to have people not elected involved. I would point out that I personally have nothing against those who make up the other House. We meet them fairly regularly and many of those I have met are competent and nice.

But one thing must be remembered. We must not forget that they are often appointed by the Prime Minister of the House of Commons. Who does the Prime Minister appoint? Generally, he appoints people he knows well and whose work, often partisan, he values. One way to compensate them for the work they have done is to appoint them to the other House.

Of course, we cannot rule out the fact that they have experience in a number of instances, but sometimes the subjective criterion is left up to the Prime Minister. There was the vote we had yesterday calling for a public inquiry on the conduct of the Prime Minister in his riding, especially given the fact that he himself appoints the ethics counsellor who reports to him.

We think that the people in the other House should not be consulted on this. They are just more people who would offer an opinion on ways to change the ridings and electoral boundaries.

When an election is involved, members of the opposition are entitled to speak, but if the dice are loaded from the start, if things are decided by friends of the Prime Minister or by people he considers his supporters, in principle, these people will tend to support the recommendations of the party in power, the party of the Prime Minister who appointed them.

This is why I am moving this amendment. It is out of respect for the people and because I am concerned about the continuity of this institution, which in our opinion, has become obsolete.

This is not the first time we have taken such a stand. In 1993 it was part of our election platform. We have consistently held that position since we first came here in 1993. We have always been opposed to having joint committees that include elected members of parliament and non-elected people to discuss, particularly in this case, electoral issues. Most of these non-elected people are not former members of parliament. They have not been confronted to electoral reality and they do not know what they are talking about in this regard even though they may have contributed, in a partisan way, to getting someone elected.

This is why the Bloc Quebecois feels that the proposed amendment is very relevant. Mr. Speaker, we thank you for having accepted it and thus allowing the House to look at it.

We invite our colleagues from all political parties, and particularly opposition parties, to support it. I am thinking more specifically of Canadian Alliance members. Even though we do not necessarily share their view, we arrive at the same conclusion. They are hoping for an elected Senate while we want to get rid of that institution. But we agree on the problem which is that the people in the other place are not elected.

Hopefully we can get the support of the other two political parties, namely the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party. Members of these parties have already said that we should examine this issue among elected representatives and consult the public. We should get people's opinions because we work for them first and foremost. It is important to know what the public thinks because it is the public who elect us to this House. This must be done in the best possible conditions.

People must be confident that this parliament works in the best possible democratic spirit. Since I have a few more minutes, I might add in this connection that this government sees itself as the great champion of democracy on the international level. We must admit that it has acquired a certain reputation for this, so much so that some MPs, even opposition ones, are occasionally called upon to monitor elections in other countries.

As a member of the subcommittee on human rights, I know that Canada sees itself as a promoter of human rights. On occasion I have trouble adding my voice to those who say Canada is a champion in this field, when I see the major shortcomings that still exist within the country, particularly as far as campaign funding is concerned.

As the rules stand at present, big business can make campaign contributions. We have long opposed this and our last suggestion was that it at least be restricted to $5,000 or less.

I have no problem with the people across the floor, or anyone in this institution, ministers in particular, and the Prime Minister, making a contribution internationally with delegations or on other occasions making statements about how other countries ought to operate more democratically, ought to respect human rights more. However, we must ensure at the same time that we here in Canada really respect this evolution or, how shall I put it, this affirmation of these democratic concepts.

That is the reason behind my amendment this morning which was seconded by my colleague the hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans. That is the reason behind this representation.

I thank in advance all opposition members and those in the Liberal ranks as well who dare to support us. A number of them have often told me that they are not always totally thrilled—like last night—to toe the party line. They are sometimes obliged not to follow their convictions. In this case, since elections are concerned, I trust they will be faithful to their convictions and think of democracy.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

April 5th, 2001 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

The Speaker

There is one motion, an amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

I have examined the motion carefully. I realize that it is similar to a motion that was debated and defeated in committee. In spite of some apprehension in selecting the motion, I have decided to give the hon. member the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, Motion No. 1 will be debated and voted upon.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

April 2nd, 2001 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Given the motion that has just passed and the unanimous consent, I would like to clarify the business of the House because it has been changed. In any case, there have been consultations about future business which I would like to share it with the House.

After completing the debate on Bill C-2 at report stage, the House will return to third reading of Bill C-8, the financial institutions bill. After this we will call Bill C-18, the equalization bill; Bill C-17, the innovation foundation; and Bill C-22, the income tax bill, in that order.

Tomorrow shall be an allotted day, as already announced.

Wednesday shall be the day allocated for third reading of Bill C-2. I understand there will be some co-operation to ensure that all parties have a spokesperson on Wednesday. I intend to do my part on this side of the House in that regard.

On Thursday we shall resume the list from today, adding at the end Bill C-9, the elections bill. We shall continue the list on Friday, adding Bill C-12, the Judges Act amendment.

Business Of The House
Oral Question Period

March 29th, 2001 / 3 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we will continue consideration of Bill C-2, the employment insurance bill. We will then return to the second reading of Bill C-18, the equalization bill. That will be followed by Bill C-17 respecting the innovation foundation.

On Friday we will consider third reading of Bill C-8, the financial institution, and if necessary we will return to Bill C-18.

On Monday, we will return to Bill C-2. If it is completed at report stage, we will return to Bill C-18, C-17 or C-22 on the Income Tax Act, depending on which of these bills requires further consideration.

Tuesday shall be an allotted day, and I believe it is the Canadian Alliance's turn. On Wednesday, we will return to Bill C-2. We will also try to complete third reading of Bill C-12, the Judges Act amendments, and Bill C-9, the elections bill. If we have the time, I will also suggest completing Bill C-4, respecting the Sustainable Development Foundation, before adjourning for Easter.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

March 26th, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding its order of reference of Tuesday, February 27, 2001 in relation to Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

The committee has considered Bill C-9 and reports the bill without amendment.

Modernization Of House Of Commons Procedure
Government Orders

March 21st, 2001 / 7:50 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member who has just spoken for bringing a very serious matter to the attention of the House.

It will be a very interesting test when Bill C-9 comes before the House. The hon. government House leader is also the minister sponsoring Bill C-9. It will be the first bill back which will apply the recently adopted motion. We will see him occupying several roles I guess. We will watch with great interest to see how enthusiastic he is about allowing for a full range of debate in this place on potential amendments that were not brought forward in committee.

We will also be able to get a sense of the sincerity with which he is intending to apply the motion we are currently debating. To what degree is the motion sincere as opposed to the degree to which it is meant as window dressing, merely to divert attention from the ongoing erosion of democracy. That erosion is contained in Bill C-9 and the series of rather pernicious laws, of which it is merely the latest, designed to limit access of third parties during an election.

Bill C-9 is intended to restrict the ability of Canadians to participate fully in referendum campaigns, which can only be called at any rate at the behest of the government, and to limit the ability in the case of this law of small parties to participate in election campaigns on an equal footing with those larger parties represented in the Chamber. I hope we will discover that the government House leader is very sincere. I fear we may find the opposite, but we will find out and we will be watching with great attention.

The last member to speak did so on a very narrow but important topic. It is my intention to draw from some of the same themes but to speak in a very broad sense. I will also dwell upon some of the broad themes of democracy that the motion addresses or hopes to address.

I am thinking here of the spirit that motivates the 1867 Constitution of Canada and the words found in its preamble. It begins “...with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom—”. The Constitution of Canada is a written constitution, whereas that of Britain is not. The Constitution of Canada is federal and Britain is a quasi-unitary state and was entirely unitary in 1867. There were no regional assemblies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The essence that was being captured in that preamble was the notion that Canada would be similar to the United Kingdom in having certain understandings as to how Canadians would be treated by their government. It was an idea conceptualized in the imperial parliament at that time in a law called the Colonial Laws Validity Act, which attempted to make clear limitations on what colonial assemblies, including Canada at the time, could do in terms of restricting the rights of their citizens.

Any law that was repugnant would be repugnant to the laws of England as applied in England and would also be invalid in a colonial legislature. That was used with limited success as an argument against racist laws in Australia that were meant to exclude non-whites from immigration from other parts of what was then the British Empire.

The preamble was also meant to make it clear that Canada would be adopting many of the conventions that existed in Britain. The most important of those conventions was the party system which at that time was starting to gel in Britain. The convention that the ministry was responsible to, its House of Commons, and this had already taken place to some degree in Canada in the form of responsible governments. We are being true to our own independently developed traditions which paralleled those which developed in Britain.

This empiricist tradition is at the base of our political system and is the basis of the great success of our democracy or, as I like to say and have said on other occasions in this place, of our republic. I mean republic in the traditional Aristotelian sense; a mixed government in which there is a monarchial element, an aristocratic element and a democratic element. This is the basis of the success of our system and I worry when I see it eroding.

An alternative system has been used widely in the west and has done a great deal of damage over the past two centuries. This is the tradition that developed through Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This is the concept of a general will which is expressed not through institutions such as this one, not through rules of order and not mediated at all, but a will which is expressed. It is different from the mass of individual wills. It is, in some respect, a common will felt by the people which is interpreted almost intuitively by a leader who is in mystical union with the people.

We saw this developed by Rousseau and saw it actualized in France in the regime of Napoleon Bonaparte and later on by Napoleon III. We have also seen it in action in other countries. In Argentina, it was known as Peronism. We saw it develop into a cult of personality in a number of countries like fascist Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The danger is that these institutions, which have been developed so carefully in Canada and in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and also which in a very different way were jelled and set down in constitutional stone in the United States following its revolution, will erode over time. The American founding fathers worried a great deal that the natural course of things is for power to centralize in the hands of a few or eventually of one ruler.

The tendency has been for power over time, in the absence of some sort of cataclysm which resets everything back at its republican origins, to centralize.

We see this developing in the United States, for example, in the so-called imperial presidency in which to some degree, to a minor degree but to a growing degree, we have seen effectively an elected monarch with a four year periodic election of that monarch. This is something we have seen drawn to the public attention at various times. The phrase “the imperial presidency” comes from the time of Richard Nixon.

In Canada we see the centralization of power in the Prime Minister's Office and in the hands of the Prime Minister. We even see, to some degree, members of cabinet, except for those very central members of the inner cabinet, frozen out from power. We also see the House being turned into what amounts to an electoral college in perpetual session simply reaffirming the Prime Minister, who is in a very genuine sense simply our elected king, reaffirming him in office periodically through these forced votes.

This is something which absolutely must be fought against. Of course the first step in doing this is to try to create more democracy in the House. This is of course why I feel so strongly and why I do hope that the motion here is meant sincerely, that the committee will come back with some very practical suggestions which will indeed return some autonomy to the House so that it serves as the democratic check on the monarchical power represented by the Prime Minister.

As well of course, we would like to see the Senate turned into an aristocracy as it was originally meant, that is to say a natural aristocracy, the best among us selected to represent the wisdom by which the decisions made here are mediated before they become the law of the land.

Very briefly, because I know I have just a few moments left, I want to draw the attention of the House to one possibility that I think the committee should consider as it meets to decide how it will change the way in which this place operates, and that is the secret ballot. The secret ballot, of course, is used here only for the election of the Speaker. I think all members are happy with that system. I think it works well.

I wonder if we could not broaden the system and use it as well for electing the Deputy Speaker, chairs of committees and also commissioners reporting to parliament, who are after all, at least nominally, to represent the will of parliament and to be responsible to us as opposed to the government.

I also wonder if we could not perhaps solve the problem of supreme court justices being non-representative if they were to be elected by secret ballot in parliament from perhaps a list nominated by the government or proposed by some other method.

Finally, I wonder if patronage appointments could not be ratified, perhaps in groupings, by means of secret ballot.

I would suggest that if we do this we consider using some means of voting that is a little more expeditious than the method used in the election of the Speaker, that is to say something that takes less than a day to execute. Perhaps electronic voting is appropriate. Perhaps a single transferable ballot is appropriate.

I simply present those options for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, and for the consideration of the House.

Modernization Of House Of Commons Procedure
Government Orders

March 21st, 2001 / 7:45 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his quite alarming comments. We will soon find out whether his concerns will be realized.

Tomorrow I will be attending the committee dealing with Bill C-9 where I will be putting forward some amendments. Report stage will be next week and I will be watching, with as much interest as he, to see whether further proposed amendments can be brought forward at that time. I do hope that his concerns are unfounded, although I fear they are not.

What is the member's proposed or preferred method of dealing with report stage?. Would it simply be a return to the status quo ante, or would he make some other suggestion for change?

Modernization Of House Of Commons Procedure
Government Orders

March 21st, 2001 / 7:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the debate not to argue for more opportunities for backbench MPs, but to plead with you specifically, Mr. Speaker, to help us retain as backbenchers the little opportunity that we still have.

Mr. Speaker, I was alarmed today when I sat in this House and I heard your statement pertaining to Motion No. 2 that was passed in the House on February 27. Motion No. 2 referred to the streamlining of report stage, because it was perceived by all sides of the House that report stage was sometimes utilized in an abusive manner, and Motion No. 2, which was passed by the House, was designed to correct this problem.

I will read. Motion No. 2 says:

—the Speaker will not select for debate a motion or series of motions of a repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings at the report stage and, in exercising this power of selection, the Speaker shall be guided by the practice followed in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Speaker, today in replying—in making your statement to that motion that was passed, as I say, already by the House—you said,

I intend to apply these four criteria to all amendments at report stage, no matter which side of the House they come from.

And by that, Mr. Speaker, we understood you to mean that you would not select those amendments for report stage that were repetitive, frivolous, abusive or would unusually prolong debate in the House. But then, Mr. Speaker, you went on. You said:

I also intend to apply those criteria in the original note whose validity has been endorsed by the adoption of government Motion No. 2. Specifically, motions in amendment that could have been presented in committee will not be selected.

Let me just repeat that: “Specifically, motions in amendment that could have been presented in committee will not be selected” by you.

In supporting Motion No. 2 I never felt that I was supporting that proposition because, if I understand that proposition broadly, what it means is that any amendment that a member could have put in committee will not be selected by you. But, Mr. Speaker, that happens all the time. I am not at all committees. Sometimes I want to submit amendments at report stage and I am not a member of the committee. This would suggest that any report stage amendment that I submitted, if I could have put it in committee—and of course, as MPs we can always put an amendment in a committee—you would not select it.

Mr. Speaker, you go on and you seem to add to this proposition because what you say, you make a recommendation to MPs like myself, backbench MPs, and you say:

—I would strongly urge all members and all parties to avail themselves fully of the opportunity to propose amendments during committee stage so that the report stage can return to the purpose for which it was created, namely for the House to consider the committee report and the work the committee has done.

That is not my vision of report stage at all. Report stage, I always understood, existed to give members an opportunity who were not on committee, who had a differing opinion of what was going on in committee, our opportunity to propose an amendment in the House and to stimulate debate. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, in your own speech you make allusion to the 1968 special committee on procedure which said that it considered that report stage to be:

essential in order to provide all members of the House, and not merely members of the committee, with an opportunity to express their views on the bills under consideration—

While I can only believe, Mr. Speaker, that you will interpret, or I should interpret your words very narrowly because I can assure you on this side of the House, the government House leader and the leadership of my party assured we backbenchers that the Motion No. 2 would in no way restrict our opportunity to express ourselves at report stage, Mr. Speaker, and with good reason.

The reality, particularly as a government backbencher, is that in committee the government dominates. If we as backbench MPs want to move some kind of amendment that is not in keeping with what may be the government's direction of things, then we are not given an opportunity to push our amendment forward.

I can give you a classic example. In 1995 I was on the lobbyist registration committee—or the committee of industry studying the lobbyist registration act—and I made it known to the whip that I was interested in supporting an amendment that was being proposed by my opposition colleagues on the committee.

What happened was that when it came to clause by clause, the whip withdrew my voting privileges on that committee and substituted someone else. So the only way under those circumstances for me to advance the amendment I believed in would have been to submit it as a report stage amendment.

Furthermore, sometimes one wishes as a backbench government MP to utilize report stage to submit one's own amendment because one knows full well that the government will not support it. You know full well that the amendment will not pass. However, report stage gives a backbench MP an opportunity to present his thoughts, his concerns shall we say, before the entire House and before the entire nation.

The reality is that if we make a speech in front of committee, sadly even the Hansard of that committee is not available to the public until sometimes many weeks after the statement has been made, and indeed the media normally does not follow the debates in committee unless there is some incredibly important thing that is occurring which is of great media interest.

It becomes absolutely, dreadfully important to have this opportunity at report stage to draw the attention of the public to one's deep concerns as a backbench MP to some aspect of legislation.

For example, in the citizenship bill last year I proposed at report stage an amendment to the oath of citizenship. The committee and the minister made it very clear that they were not prepared to entertain a change in the oath of citizenship as it was in the legislation. I had to use report stage to actually get what I deeply, deeply believed in before the public.

I would like to believe, Mr. Speaker, that you are going to interpret the need to submit an amendment to committee very, very narrowly. I would assume that if you do want to give backbench MPs like myself as much opportunity for debate as possible, what you may choose to do is interpret what you said in your own words, perhaps interpret it as referring only to those members of committee.

If members of the committee do not propose amendments then perhaps there is a reasonable argument that they should not be allowed to then do it in report stage separately, but backbench MPs cannot be in more than one place at the same time.

I track the work of a number of committees and I can tell you for instance, Mr. Speaker, I have a possible report stage amendment for Bill C-9, the Canada Elections Act amendments, that I know the government will not like. If I put it in committee it will die instantly. If I put it in report stage then I put it for all the House to see and consider. I have not decided yet whether I want to do it but it is an essential privilege as a backbench MP. And if, in your interpretation of Motion No. 2, you deprive me of the opportunity to move report stage amendments as a backbench MP—if you confine me only to moving those amendments in committee—Mr. Speaker, you will have absolutely eroded the very essence of my role here as a backbench MP.

Quite frankly I do not know what I would do if that is the way you rule but, Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the next time we go to report stage. I will be looking closely at how you do select amendments for report stage. I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will remember my words that I said when I spoke to Motion No. 2. If I may read them, these were my concluding words before we passed the motion. I said, “But I end with one caution, because I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that whatever you do, you must protect the rights of the backbench MPs and the opposition MPs to have their say in debate on legislation at report stage”.

Mr. Speaker, it is not the government House leader. It is not an opposition leader. It is your responsibility to protect my opportunities and my rights as a backbench MP.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

February 27th, 2001 / 11:35 p.m.
See context

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made Friday, February 23, 2001, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-9.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

February 23rd, 2001 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak to Bill C-9, the Liberal government's proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act.

The purpose of Bill C-9 is to amend the Canada Elections Act which became law on September 1, 2000. The Liberals passed the bill only a few months ago, but we are correcting their mistakes.

We are doing the work today that we asked them to do in the 36th parliament. We do not mind helping them again to do their homework, but we are disappointed that Canadians did not choose to send us to Ottawa to do our work, because we would have done our work right the first time.

Bill C-9 will overturn the current law that requires a party to have at least 50 candidates before it can be identified as a political party on the election ballot. The Liberals will now require parties to possess 12 candidates in order to be recognized as political parties and be entitled to certain benefits and privileges.

Only registered parties are eligible to obtain the final list of electors, to obtain free broadcast time for political announcements and to issue tax receipts to donors on behalf of the party. Only registered parties are entitled to such benefits and privileges.

Canada's chief electoral officer confirms the number of candidates. The 12 candidate minimum conforms to the requirement that a party have at least 12 members of parliament to receive official status in the House of Commons, as the fifth party has.

Let me explain how the Liberals arrived at the magic number of 12. The Liberals are trying to make it as hard as possible for any political group to challenge them at the ballot box. In their twisted logic they have figured out that they would be too ashamed and embarrassed to make the required number of seats any higher than the number of seats required by the House for a party to qualify to be recognized as a political party.

I am sure that members will remember that in the last parliament the Liberals originally set the bar high at 50. It is a lot more difficult to field 50 candidates in an election than 12 or so. The Liberals like the number 50. They were crushing a number of parties and preventing them from qualifying for certain privileges and benefits. They have been forced to lower the bar and to allow smaller parties to have a greater level of participation in our democracy.

In the last parliament the Liberals kept the bar high at 50 candidates for what they knew would be the last time. In the most recent election the Liberals could put in a fix by denying parties with less than 50 candidates from being major political parties in Canada.

Before the Liberals passed the previous Canada Elections Act during the last parliament, the official opposition warned the Liberal government that the 50 candidate rule should be dropped. We told them upfront, but who listens on the other side? I spoke to that bill in various debates in the last parliament.

We had the approval of most of Canada's smaller political parties for the proposal, but the Liberals did not listen at that time. It appears perhaps that they are listening now.

Even so, parties with 12 candidates will be allowed to have their party's name on ballots but will still not be able, as will parties with 50 candidates, to provide donors with tax receipts, to access the list of electors or to obtain free broadcasting time on TV.

Those three things are crucial for a political party to be able campaign and to have its message communicated across the country. Those three things are very important, and parties with 12 members will not be entitled to such privileges.

With Bill C-9, the bill we are debating today, the government would create two tiers of political parties with different sets of privileges. On one hand, registered political parties with 50 or more candidates would possess all possible benefits. On the other hand, political parties with less than 50 candidates would possess few benefits other than having their name on the ballot if they have at least 12 candidates.

Bill C-9 continues to discriminate against smaller parties. It is not only undemocratic, it is anti-democratic as well. The Canada Elections Act should be neutral and should treat everyone equally and fairly. Canadian voters, not the government, should decide whether a political party or candidate is worthy of their vote. It should not be up to the government to decide, it should be up to Canadians.

The Liberals are trying to pass the legislation because a court case has necessitated changes to the Canada Elections Act. As the House will recall, in my speech in the last parliament I warned the House of possible legal action. I told the Liberals that they were exposing the Canada Elections Act to a legal tussle, and now here it is. If they had listened at the time this probably would not have happened.

The Ontario Court of Appeal decided the case in August 2000. The court decided that the Canada Elections Act provisions concerning the identification of political parties on election ballots was invalid. The court said that the provisions were invalid and suspended its decision for six months, until February 16, 2001, so that parliament could address the court's decision.

If this had been done right the first time we would not be doing it again. We could be spending the valuable time of the House, as well as of the court, on something more important.

Bill C-9 also clarifies the calculations of the electoral expenses limit. If the revised list of electors differs from the original list, the candidate's expenses will be adjusted accordingly.

The reimbursement of election expenses is also covered in the bill. Under section 435 of Bill C-2, which was a bill in the previous parliament, only registered parties, and not the small parties we must define today, will be reimbursed for election expenses providing they obtain either 2% of the national vote or 5% of the votes in the ridings in which they endorse candidates. Those are two conditions parties must satisfy before they get any reimbursement for election expenses.

Bill C-9 does not amend the reimbursement of election expenses provision that was in Bill C-2 in the last parliament. Therefore this section will be discriminatory against smaller parties.

Again I am standing in the House and warning the government. It should get its act together and correct these mistakes so that the Canada Elections Act is neutral, fair and treats everyone equally.

The Canadian Alliance, and my colleagues on this side, proposed election rebates. We do not believe it is fair that only registered parties, and not the smaller political parties, are eligible for these benefits.

Another important point in the bill is the fundraising activities. If Bill C-9 is not amended, as we are asking, it will be difficult for the smaller parties to engage in fundraising activities.

Bill C-9 does not make amendments to the income tax provisions of Bill C-2 which was debated in the House and passed in the last parliament. The provisions are discriminatory. Receipts can be issued on behalf of registered parties during and in between elections. Whereas, candidates of non-registered political parties, the ones we talked about earlier, can only issue receipts during the writ period. How can they prepare themselves to have their messages conveyed to Canadians when they do not have enough resources? They are not permitted have fundraisers between elections.

During those 36 or 37 days they can receive funds and issue tax receipts to donors. Other than the writ period, they are not entitled to raise any funds or issue tax receipts. When tax receipts are not issued, it is very difficult to get money donated from someone to a political party or a political cause. That is very unfair.

I will move on to another point about asset liquidation. Under clause 394 of the former bill, Bill C-2, with respect to registered parties which failed to run 50 candidates, they become suspended and the assets of a suspended party need not be liquidated if the party applies for re-registration within six months. However, if they do not apply within those six months then they are suspended. Bill C-9 does not amend this very important provision. The Canadian Alliance does not believe that a party should have to liquidate its assets under any circumstances, which is exactly what the Ontario Court of Appeal decided.

The Liberal government may be facing another court challenge over this if this clause is not amended. We are telling the Liberal government what to do about this bill to avoid any potential lawsuits. Whether or not it listens to us is another story.

The voting process is another issue. 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 the House of Commons and Senate committees. Why does the chief electoral officer, who is supposed to monitor elections in Canada, have to get permission for electoral alternative electronic voting, for example, or other alternative methods to make the process efficient and effective?

There are some other changes in the bill but most of them are housekeeping changes. Under the current legislation, only the approval of the House of Commons committee is required. This sounds to me like a way to prevent change, but I will reserve my comments and allow the committee that will hear this bill, and many witnesses over time, to decide what this section really means.

I look forward in seeing how the committee proceeds. I look forward to seeing whether it will give a fair chance to witnesses to come forward and whether or not its recommendations will be taken into consideration. The amendments to the former Bill C-2, which were discussed in the committee, were ignored.

Let me talk about the relationship of Bill C-9 to Canadian Alliance policy. Canadian Alliance policy states:

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 we will submit such options to voters in a nationwide referendum.

The government House leader is in charge of the bill. He was in charge of the last bill during the last session and did a very bad job. I apologize for making this comment, but all the good amendments which we proposed and those which were discussed in committee were not taken into consideration. Even when the red light was flashing signalling a warning that there might be some court actions, the House leader ignored it. Now, the House leader is heckling me on this.

While the bill does abandon the 50 candidate rule, it 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. All political parties should be treated fairly and equally. That is called real democracy.

The Canada Elections Act is a mess. Not only are the Liberals not learning fast enough, I do not know if they are learning at all. They do not have the political will to make a fair and level playing field for all political parties to contest an election.

The level playing field is very important. Equal opportunity for all political parties is very important but it is not there. The Liberals not only have it in the back of their minds but they also have it in the front of their minds to have an elections act that will benefit the governing party, which in this case is the Liberal Party. That is why they did not listen to the Alliance amendments in the last parliament and will try to ignore our amendments once again.

The bill maintains the most objectionable provisions of the Canada Elections Act. Our elections should be democratic, free and fair, offering equal opportunity to all candidates and all political parties. This would be a great way to start a new session of parliament.

The weak, arrogant and corrupt Liberal government that lacks vision is wasting an opportunity to modernize and democratize the patronage ridden Canada Elections Act. It has this opportunity again. Our election act is even worse than the election acts in developing countries and where this government's representatives go to monitor elections. If our own elections act is a mess, is not democratic, how can we send our representatives to developing countries to monitor their elections? I do not know if we are practising what we are preaching at home.

The members of the official opposition have proposed a number of worthwhile amendments to the bill. We will continue to do that. It is our job, not only to criticize the government, but also to propose amendments, suggest new ways and worthwhile change to open Liberals' eyes. As usual we are holding a flashlight for them but they are closing their eyes. They refuse to look when we shine the light into their intellectual darkness.

The Liberals resist change. That is why they do not want parliamentary reform. That is why they do not want to democratize our electoral system. The more I think about it, I am quite convinced that the Liberals' actions are not just undemocratic, they are anti-democratic. The government is the dictatorship of the 21st century. It is nothing short of a dictatorship when it will not accept amendments that would improve the system.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

February 23rd, 2001 / 10:35 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

We went up. You went down. Perhaps they can understand that the Canadian public has made its choice. The public has said where those members are going to sit.

Let us go back to Bill C-9. It is a pleasure for me to rise and speak on Bill C-9. This is a bill the government brought in because of a court ruling. It seems to me, and I can never understand what the government seems to be doing, that this bill is destined to go back to the courts. It came from the courts and it is destined to go back to the courts because it is a flawed bill.

The bill is saying, based on the ruling from the courts, that the government will recognize a party with 12 or more candidates. The government will recognize that party only on an election ballot. The government will not recognize it as a registered party. The difference between being on the ballot and having registered party favours the old parties, including my party—the Canadian public has chosen us to be the official opposition, contrary to whatever the members opposite want to say—and it favours the government.

It seems to me that the government is trying to protect itself. If the trend carries on and the NDP and the other parties keep losing ground, then the bill will apply to them too. If they lose one or two candidates, they will lose party status in the House as well.

We are talking about registered parties. Let me tell the House what a registered party gets. A registered party gets electoral voter lists. A registered party gets the ability to issue tax receipts, which allows it to do fundraising. It is also allowed to provide rebates on election expenses. Most importantly, if for some reason the party is suspended, the bill would allow the party to have its assets liquidated.

What is happening here is that we are creating two classes of parties in the country, registered parties and eligible parties. I do not understand why we would want to do that.

Smaller parties ran in my riding in the November election: the Marijuana Party, the Communist Party and the Natural Law Party. There were also five from the other registered parties.

The Marijuana Party was running on the basis of getting out its message. That is fine. I thoroughly enjoyed having their members as my opponents and debating with them on the issues. They had one simple message they wanted to get out to the public, which was that marijuana be legalized for medicinal purposes. That was their only message, because a Mr. Krieger, who is in jail at this time, was and is using marijuana as a medicinal purpose to counteract pain. He wanted this message to get out. That was fine. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get out one's message. After all, we do talk about freedom of speech. We cherish freedom of speech.

Why can we not have these eligible parties become registered parties? Perhaps the government can give me a good reason. If it is good enough to recognize a party's official status in this esteemed House, why can we not recognize anyone who is putting up 12 candidates as a registered party? Why are we creating two systems here? I will never understand this.

We have a lot of things we can do, but here is a bill that is destined to go back to the courts. The bill addresses nothing, yet we have important issues to be addressed. There are issues about reform. There is the reform of the Senate, and my friend talked about reforming the House so that members of parliament can speak on behalf of their constituents. As is evident and as has been stated time after time, the power of what is happening in the House is with the Prime Minister's office.

We are on the committees, but we know they are irrelevant because at the end of the day everything comes from one person. Democracy in parliament has been eroded over the years, a legacy from past governments of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. That is why the Conservative Party has been relegated to the back rows of the House. This is the legacy that party left, a legacy of the eroding of democracy, of all aspects of power being concentrated in the hands of the PMO.

These issues need to be addressed. The Alliance has put forward a lot of good proposals for debate. The other parties even agree with us on this, in regard to a private member's bill. We are elected by the people of Canada. We are their voice. However, this is my second term and, based on experience, I can tell my colleagues that our voices here are not heard, nor are the voices of government backbenchers.

Let us address the issues that are important. Let us address the fundamental points of freedom of speech, transparency and the ability to allow those who want to speak on behalf of Canadians speak. Let them be allowed. The bill before us does not do that. For these reasons we are opposed to the bill.