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
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.
Canada Elections Act
April 5th, 2001 / 11:20 a.m.
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
April 5th, 2001 / 11:10 a.m.
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
April 5th, 2001 / 11 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 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
April 5th, 2001 / 10:20 a.m.
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
April 5th, 2001 / 10:10 a.m.
Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC
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.