Bill C-63 (Historical)
An Act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
Mauril Bélanger Liberal
Not active, as of Nov. 18, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act by replacing its sunset provision with a requirement for a mandatory review, within two years, by a committee of the Senate and a committee of the House of Commons.
Law Commission of Canada--Speaker's Ruling
October 19th, 2006 / 3:20 p.m.
The Speaker Peter Milliken
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 3, 2006, by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh concerning funding cuts to the Law Commission of Canada.
I wish to thank the hon. member for raising this issue. I also wish to thank the hon. member for London West, the hon. government House leader and the hon. member for Vancouver East for their interventions.
In his question of privilege, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh expressed concern about the government's announcement on September 25 that it would be eliminating funding to the Law Commission of Canada, thus effectively dissolving the organization. He questioned the authority of the government to do so without parliamentary approval, contending that the House of Commons first had to pass legislation to repeal the Law Commission of Canada Act. In support of this argument, he referred to a 1993 precedent when Bill C-63, an act to Dissolve or Terminate Certain Corporations, was passed. In conclusion, he asserted that the actions of the government breached the collective privileges of the House.
The hon. member for London West contributed arguments in support of the question of privilege. She gave a brief summary of the history and mandate of the Law Commission of Canada, citing several sections from the Law Commission of Canada Act. The hon. member for Vancouver East also spoke in support of the question of privilege.
For his part, the hon. government House leader contended that this was not a question of privilege. He stated:
...the President of the Treasury Board and the Government of Canada are not obligated to continue to spend money in areas which the government has decided it does not want to spend....
The matter raised by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh is complex. The question on which I have been asked to rule is twofold. First, is the government's actions in conformity with existing legislative provisions respecting the Law Commission of Canada? Second, do the government's actions in eliminating the funding for the Law Commission breach the privileges of the House?
With respect to the first point, as my predecessors and I have pointed out in many rulings, where legal interpretation is an issue, it is not within the Speaker's authority to rule or decide points of law. Mr. Speaker Lamoureux's ruling, found at page 7740 of the Debates for September 13, 1971, deals with this question as follows:
Whether the government has an obligation under the terms of the existing law to make certain payments is not a question for the Chair to decide...This is a matter of judicial interpretation and is far beyond the jurisdiction and certainly far beyond the competence of the Chair.
Accordingly, if there is a legal problem, then the solution is to be found in the courts.
Now let me address the procedural issues that do lie within the Speaker's purview. The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh argues that the collective privileges of the House have been breached.
Generally speaking, the collective privileges of the House are categorized as the power to discipline; the regulation of its own internal affairs; the authority to maintain the attendance and service of its members; the right to institute inquiries, call witnesses and demand papers; the right to administer oaths to witnesses; and the right to publish papers containing defamatory material. In this particular instance, it is evident that none of these collective rights have been breached.
That being said, House of Commons Procedure and Practice states, at page 52:
Any conduct which offends the authority or dignity of the House, even though no breach of a specific privilege may have been committed, is referred to as a contempt of the House. Contempt may be an act or an omission; it does not have to actually obstruct or impede the House or a Member, it merely has to have the tendency to produce such results.
In short, the Chair is being asked to judge whether this action by the government has challenged the perceived authority and dignity of Parliament. Let me review briefly the parameters of that authority as they relate to this case.
Through the estimates and ways and means processes, Parliament authorizes the amounts and destinations of all public expenditures. Once Parliament has allocated the moneys, it is the prerogative of the government to manage these funds. On page 697 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice it states:
As the Executive power, the Crown is responsible for managing all the revenue of the state, including all payments for the public service.
Although responsibility for financial management belongs to the government, the House retains an important oversight role. Members, through the standing committee system, have an opportunity to examine how the government has managed these funds through their review of the estimates, the annual departmental performance reports, the Public Accounts of Canada and the reports of the Auditor General.
At this time ministers may be invited to appear before standing committees to defend these expenditures and the committees may report back to the House. In addition, as part of its responsibility for oversight of government activities, a committee may invite a minister to appear at any time to discuss administrative decisions.
Following such inquiries, committees are empowered to report to the House concerning any comments or recommendations they may wish to make. The House then has the authority to take up the matter and deal with it as it sees fit.
Thus, the duty of oversight goes to the very reason for the existence of Parliament and this range of activities represents the normal operations of this place. In this way, members who disagree with the course taken by the government on any particular issue can pursue such questions in a variety of ways. Since the avenues remain open to the hon. member, the Chair cannot conclude that the government's action on the Law Commission is flouting the authority of the House.
While members may have deep concerns about the decision to no longer fund the Law Commission of Canada, this decision does not constitute a breach of privilege. While the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh may feel he has a grievance, I cannot find a prima facie case of privilege in this case.
I thank the hon. member, however, for bringing this important matter to the attention of the Chair.
Business of the House
November 24th, 2005 / 3 p.m.
Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I see the hon. member across the way is displaying his charm once more.
I also think the hon. member understands clearly that the call for the election and, ultimately, if there is an election caused, it will be the opposition members who will have to take responsibility since they will be voting to dissolve Parliament and we will be voting to sustain Parliament in order to continue the work that I will now lay out.
This afternoon we will continue with the opposition motion.
On Friday we will call consideration of the Senate amendments to Bill C-37, the do not call bill; report stage and third reading of Bill S-36 respecting rough diamonds; report stage and third reading of Bill C-63, respecting the Canada Elections Act; and second reading of Bill C-44, the transport legislation.
We will return to this work on Monday, adding to the list the reference before second reading of Bill C-76, the citizenship and adoption bill; and second reading of Bill C-75, the public health agency legislation.
Tuesday and Thursday of next week shall be allotted days. There are some three dozen bills before the House or in committee on which the House I am sure will want to make progress in the next period of time. They will include the bill introduced yesterday to implement the 2005 tax cuts announced on November 14; Bill C-68, the Pacific gateway bill; Bill C-67, the surplus legislation; Bill C-61, the marine bill; Bill C-72, the DNA legislation; Bill C-46, the correctional services bill; Bill C-77, the citizenship prohibitions bill; Bill C-60, the copyright legislation; Bill C-73, the Telecom bill; Bill C-60 respecting drug impaired driving; Bill C-19, the competition legislation; Bill C-50 respecting cruelty to animals; Bill C-51, the judges legislation; Bill C-52, the fisheries bill; Bill C-59 respecting Investment Canada; Bills C-64 and C-65 amending the Criminal Code.
In addition, there are the supplementary estimates introduced in October that provide spending authority for a wide variety of services to the Canadian public and we the government would certainly like to see this passed.
Committees of the House
November 18th, 2005 / 12:05 p.m.
Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 52nd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding its order of reference of Wednesday, June 22, in relation to Bill C-312, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (appointment of returning officers).
The committee has considered Bill C-312 and reports the bill with amendments.
I also have other reports from the same committee. We have been very busy. I have the honour to present the 53rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding its order of reference of Tuesday, October 18, in relation to Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.
The committee has considered Bill C-63 and reports the bill with one amendment.
In addition, I have the honour to present the fifty-first report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the question of privilege relating to an inquiry conducted by the ethics commissioner.
Canada Elections Act
October 18th, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-63.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 1:45 p.m.
Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak at second reading of Bill C-63, an act to amend an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.
The purpose of this bill is to preserve the federal system for registering political parties, which might otherwise be rendered inoperative by a sunset provision. This provision was added to the bill through which new rules were adopted in 2004 on party registration in response to certain fears expressed when the rules were adopted.
I would like to say first that I share the concern expressed by the Deputy Leader of the Government in his speech at second reading of this bill: we are in danger of disabling a crucial part of our democratic system if we fail to act now to revoke the sunset clause.
This is the background against which I will speak today about the importance of political parties in Canada and the need to preserve a good system for registering them.
On the occasion of this debate, I would like to recall what the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing said in its 1991 report about the role that parties play in our system of governance. The royal commission stated, and I quote:
Comparative and historical experience demonstrates that parties, as primary political organizations, are best suited to performing a host of activities essential to representative democracy. Among the fundamental activities performed by parties are the selection and recruitment of candidates for elected office, the selection of political leaders and the organization of electoral competition.
The electoral and institutional successes of parties depend, in part, on their ability to establish meaningful linkages with citizens by articulating policy alternatives and ideas, and by establishing themselves as vehicles for political participation and education. Together, these many activities aim to provide parties with a capacity to represent different...interests in society and to structure and order choices for the purpose of governing.
In this paragraph of four sentences, the royal commission recognized the central role that political parties play in different aspects of our democratic life.
In addition to the obvious role played by parties during elections, the royal commission noted that they also played a role in matters of governance, public education and the public's level of civic awareness and commitment to public affairs and policy making. This is a broad range of roles affecting a number of aspects of democratic renewal.
Some may counter that modern political parties do not fulfil one or more of those roles properly. Too often we hear comments about their apparent neglect of certain aspects of their role in favour of preparing for elections. They are often criticized for being “vote-producing machines”.
I wanted to refer to those criticisms today because it is important to work toward achieving the full potential of the political parties, thereby enhancing our democracy. Despite those criticisms, in fact, there is no denying that political parties represent a vital foundation for our democratic system.
Moreover, given their central role in numerous aspects of our democratic life, political parties constitute a major item to be examined in any study with a view to improving our democracy.
Among other things, we need to encourage political parties to pay more attention to those important functions. Allowing the rules for political party registration to disappear would negate that statement, since they play an essential role in our democracy.
I would like to point out in closing that it is precisely because those rules for registration constitute an important component of our democratic infrastructure that we added a sunset clause back in 2004. The purpose of that was to try to keep the system in place until such time as the concerns raised about the new rules could be examined.
That process will begin shortly, as soon as the Chief Electoral Officer has tabled his recommendations report on political financing. Meanwhile, as the first step in that process, we are being called upon to take the necessary steps to ensure the continuation of a valid registration system.
Given the important role the rules for registration of political parties play in our democratic system, this is a vital first step, and that is why I will be supporting this bill.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 1:45 p.m.
Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade
Madam Speaker, my colleague's last comments made reference to the minority situation in Parliament. Earlier we discussed how imprudent it would be for us not to pass Bill C-63 given the tenuous nature of this Parliament. We do not know if an election will happen in the fall or the spring, and to count on a short term solution to this and a friendly amendment or a bill may not take place. Given the tenuous situation of Parliament, I believe it is prudent for us to act in this fashion.
Could my colleague comment on that?
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 1:30 p.m.
Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON
Madam Speaker, the bill before the House today, Bill C-63, would make permanent an earlier law, Bill C-3, which came into force in May 2004 on the understanding that it would be a temporary law. Because it was meant only to be temporary, Bill C-3 contained a sunset provision that would cause it to lapse on May 16, 2006, two years after the day on which it had received royal assent. Bill C-63, which is the bill we are debating today, would remove that sunset clause.
The earlier law, Bill C-3, was enacted in response to the 2003 Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case, which struck down certain provisions of the Canada Elections Act as being in contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, the provisions were seen by the Supreme Court, quite correctly, as an unconstitutional attempt to limit free speech by placing unreasonable restrictions on the ability of new political parties to compete on an equal footing with the existing major parties.
The Supreme Court stated in its ruling that the offending provisions of the Elections Act would be allowed to remain in place for six months, until June 2004, in order to allow Parliament the necessary time to design amendments that would ensure the smooth functioning of a new charter compliant election law.
Bill C-3 was hurriedly drafted in the spring of 2004 when it became clear that the Prime Minister's rush to call an early election would not leave the House with sufficient time to hold the hearings necessary to meet the looming June deadline set by the Supreme Court and still, within that deadline, properly design a new law.
Thus, when he introduced the bill to the House of Commons, the then minister for democratic renewal, the predecessor of the current minister, made it clear that Bill C-3 was an imperfect stopgap intended solely for the purpose of getting us through the impending election. After the election, a more considered and thoughtful law would be enacted.
I would like to read what the minister, the predecessor of the current minister, said in the House in 2004:
Bill C-3 represents the government's proposed response to the immediate consequences of the Figueroa ruling. This bill does not, however, necessarily constitute a permanent solution. The Figueroa ruling is highly complex, and a more thorough study of its impact is required.
This is why I have written to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to encourage a broader examination of the Canada Elections Act. I have asked the committee, moreover, to present all of its recommendations in the form of a draft bill, within a year's time
Then he added as an editorial:
This is a concrete example of application of our democratic reform.
In order to buy itself a year's grace in which to design a proper law, the government added a sunset clause to Bill C-3, which causes the law to lapse after two years from the date at which it was enacted, which will be May 16, 2006, eight months minus one day from today.
After the election a new minister for democratic reform was appointed. Then he was supplemented by a second minister for democratic renewal, whatever that might be, and they in turn were supplemented by not one, not two, but three parliamentary secretaries for democratic reform and democratic renewal, the hon. members for Beauséjour, Peterborough and Bramalea—Gore—Malton.
I am not sure what the Prime Minister's point was in inventing so many new posts for so many new ministers and secretaries. A surplus of ministers will not solve the democratic deficit. It will create organizational chaos, the same chaos that has caused the government to so completely lose its grip over the electoral reform file, arguably the most important aspect of democratic renewal or democratic reform to face the House of Commons in the 38th Parliament, and that both ministers claim that it is me, not the other minister, who is responsible for this key aspect of the democracy agenda.
In fact, when it comes to electoral reform, the two ministers are so confused as to who is in charge that they have proved incapable of acting on the recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee, which last June unanimously recommended that the minister, or one of them anyway, set up a consultation process by October 1. That was 17 days ago. Then, having missed the deadlines, the ministers told us they would be ready to have a response for the House by October 20, according to the minister for democratic reform, or else by October 14, according to the minister for democratic renewal.
In the end they wound up proposing a response and bringing it to the House on the Friday before the break. I think they were so embarrassed by it that they did not bring it to the Table. I was in the House that day. I only learned that they had submitted a response when I got a call from a reporter about it. They had submitted the response through what is called the back door. They had taken it directly to the Clerk's office. This is a highly irregular process and one which I think was designed to ensure that there would be no attention to their report, or their non-report, in which they made a serious of outrageous claims about being unable to meet the deadlines set by the committee. This is a committee that negotiated its terms with the full cooperation of the Liberal members of the committee, including one of the three parliamentary secretaries responsible for this.
The confusion was so bad that in late September I had to propose a motion at the procedure and House affairs committee to require the two ministers to appear side by side before the committee to explain who was actually in charge. As to the three parliamentary secretaries, let us look at the grandiose mandate that they were given according to the Prime Minister's action plan for democratic reform in February 2004. It stated:
Parliamentary Secretaries will now play a more active role in ensuring meaningful relations between Ministers and Parliamentarians. In Committees, they will support productive dialogue by sharing departmental information and acting as the Minister's representative to address political issues--
The procedure and House affairs committee held its first meeting of the 38th Parliament over a year ago. One might think that with three parliamentary secretaries charged with responsibility for ensuring meaningful relations and sharing departmental information, the government would have been able to find the time to initiate permanent legislation and make its proposal to the committee, as the former minister for democratic reform had promised before the election. He was, after all, the minister for the same Prime Minister who is in office today.
But as the months that had been purchased with the passage of Bill C-3 last May dribbled away, not a word was breathed on the issue, at least not until early October, when Bill C-63 was introduced by the minister for democratic reform in the House of Commons.
This bill does not propose the necessary improvements or changes anticipated by Bill C-3. Instead, it eliminates the sunset clause, thereby making this inadequate and temporary stopgap law permanent. It proposes and I quote from the text of the projected law:
Within two years after the coming into force of this section, the committee of the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters--
In other words, the procedure and House affairs committee:
--shall undertake a comprehensive review of the amendments made by this Act and submit a report to Parliament containing its recommendations concerning those amendments.
This means that the six month grace period granted by the Supreme Court in 2003, which had already been extended by two years in 2004 because the Liberal government had frittered away the allocated time, preparing for an early election, when it thought it could capture the polls, without launching a review process to produce adequate legislation, will now be extended for a further two years to provide room for further dithering. This time there is no sunset clause.
If the government does not initiate the review within the next two years, that it has failed to initiate in the past two years, no consequences will ensue. Bill C-3, which was enacted as a legislative band-aid, will become the permanent law of the land.
The small army of ministers and parliamentary secretaries responsible for this portfolio will no doubt protest that this law contains a legal binding requirement for committee review of the provisions contained in the old law. I would have to take off my shoes and socks to count on my fingers and toes all the legally mandated legislative reviews that this government has failed to meet.
On some occasions, mandatory legislative reviews have been dealt with by means of pro forma discussions that are so brief as to be an insult to the legislative process. I will take one example, the Referendum Act contained a provision requiring a mandatory review by the procedure and House affairs committee to take place within three years. The review that took place took less than one minute.
Even if the Liberals permit a review to take place, what guarantee do we have that these two ministers and three parliamentary secretaries or their successors will not treat the recommendation of the procedure and House affairs committee with the same disregard they have just treated the most recent recommendations of this very same committee regarding electoral reform?
Today the government is caught in a bind of its own making. It really will have to conduct the legislative review made necessary two years ago by the Supreme Court's Figueroa decision or else the provisions of Bill C-3 will expire next May, not replaced by any new statute.
This means that if parliamentarians defeat Bill C-63, the government will have no choice but to allow the committee on procedure and House affairs to proceed with the review that the government promised in early 2004, but was too disorganized in 2005 to initiate. If we parliamentarians let the government off the hook by enacting Bill C-63, unless we put a sunset review clause into that bill, this much needed review will never take place.
There are still eight months left prior to the expiry of Bill C-3. That is two months more than the original six month grace period granted in 2003 by the Supreme Court for remedial legislation to be debated. That is plenty of time to bring witnesses, to suggest amendments to the Canada Elections Act and to complete the job that the government with its surfeit of quarrelling ministers seems incapable of initiating on its own. It should be possible for the procedure and House affairs committee to produce a bill and for both Houses of Parliament to pass a new and better act prior to that date. Even if an election intervenes and the House does not resume sitting until after May 16, the sunset provision of Bill C-3 allows an additional 90 days prior to the expiry of that law. If the 38th Parliament cannot complete all stages of the new law, there would still be time to reintroduce what is likely to be a non-confrontational bill.
Nobody disagrees with the basic premise of the bill which is to ensure that a party cannot masquerade as a political party, collect donations, get tax receipts for it and proceed to use them for other purposes. A non-confrontational bill could be dealt with quickly and move through all readings in the 39th Parliament and become the law of the land, assuming of course that we engage in that review process in this Parliament.
With these considerations in mind, I ask that all members of Parliament oppose this bill.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 1:30 p.m.
Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade
Madam Speaker, it is important for us to get back to the bill at hand which is Bill C-63. The minister spoke earlier about the fact that it was very important to link Bill C-3 and Bill C-24. Would my hon. colleague agree with that? It seems to me that it would be reasonable for the process to be done at the same time. When we are talking about the government not allowing the review to take place, the opposition has a majority on the committee and in fact control the outcome of the review. Maybe the member could respond to that.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 1:20 p.m.
Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON
Madam Speaker, the hon. member's comments were not mostly about the bill at hand. They were mostly about electoral reform.
He is quite right to be frustrated and a good deal more over the way the government is not dealing with electoral reform. He is quite right in his assessment that we can kiss any prospect of electoral reform or any serious discussion of it in this Parliament goodbye as a result of the way the government has gone about frittering away the available time.
He is right also about the general lack of interest. I do not know whether it is insincerity or just a lack of interest in democracy on the part of the Liberals. Whatever it is, we can certainly see nothing happening.
Given these facts, I have to admit that I am a bit surprised that the member indicated that his party will be supporting the bill. I ask why it would be doing this for this reason.
There is a required legislative review of Bill C-3 that is currently in place. There is enough time over the next eight months to engage in this review and to hear the witnesses necessary to learn how other jurisdictions have dealt with this problem. We could have the chief electoral officers of other jurisdictions come before us. This is actually longer than the six month grace period that the Supreme Court originally gave for legislation to be drafted when it passed its Figueroa decision in November 2003. There is plenty of time to deal with this.
Moreover, if an election occurs, the sunset clause says that a further 90 days will be added. There is no prospect of an election occurring during which there would be an absence of law. We would either have Bill C-3 in place, the current provisions, or the new improved provisions that could be put forward if the proper review and sunset clause and therefore new legislation were to come forward as opposed to merely saying, as the Liberals are saying in Bill C-63, “Let us just not have the sunset clause and leave the review in place. We will get around to having a review whenever. Trust us, we will take care of this. Just remove anything that would make us comply with our word”.
Given the Liberals' history with that committee, the member and myself, why on earth would we trust them again? I am wondering if I misunderstood the hon. member when he indicated that his party would be supporting this bill, given the abominable record of the government in so many parallel cases.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 1 p.m.
Christian Simard Beauport, QC
I would appreciate it if certain people could speak less loudly in this House so that I can concentrate.
In regard to partisanship, what was found was quite serious. In his fine speech on Bill C-312, the Bloc Québécois whip also mentioned cases in which Liberals were actually hired to work together with the returning officer, who was himself appointed by the Liberals. There are systemic problems of incompetence and sheer partisanship. That is unacceptable. The member I mentioned has made quite an impressive list of them.
One of the matters that the Chief Electoral Officer has mentioned is the fact that it is virtually impossible for him to fire incompetent returning officers who can defy him and be insubordinate. He noted some cases of this. I see the interest that the hon. member for Gatineau shows in this subject. I am convinced that her returning officer was appointed by her party: this should therefore be very interesting to her.
These basic problems must be corrected. In regard to the party of the hon. member for Gatineau and others—there are not many other representatives of her party in the House at the moment—it is important to note that there are still aberrations, including the resolution of the Liberal Party youth trying to discriminate in political financing in order to try to hurt a recognized political party and make it so that a Quebec voter is not worth as much as a voter elsewhere.
I am referring to what youth in the Liberal Party wanted. Unfortunately, that resolution was passed. I think it is extremely disturbing, from a democratic point of view, that a governing party would try to harm its opponents by disregarding the principles of natural justice.
We could hardly imagine that the Supreme Court would not consider as discriminatory a clause saying that a political party with a certain number of voters would have less funding than another political party with the same number of voters, because it was in one province or another, or had not fielded candidates in all the ridings.
If the Supreme Court has ruled that 50 candidates constitutes a discriminatory minimum number, we can imagine that such an approach would constitute huge discrimination. This clearly shows that a political party is capable of putting into legislation a requirement for the appointment of 308 returning officers who are partisan because they are appointed by the governor in council, when things are done differently, not only in Quebec, but also in four other provinces, if I am not mistaken, where the position of returning officer is advertised in the newspaper and selection is based on competence and on a guarantee of independent opinion and voting.
We are willing to cooperate with the government by passing Bill C-63 to provide for a two-year extension, but we hope that some very fundamental issues will be given serious consideration. Bill C-312 is at the committee stage. It was well received and was approved in principle by the House. Now we must go beyond the principle and pass, without delay, a bill that would correct a democratic abomination, that of appointing partisan returning officers. Many people do not know that those who are appointed returning officers have ties to the party. Most of them are former candidates or supporters. There are cases of incompetence, and the Chief Electoral Officer himself cannot do anything about it. He cannot fire a returning officer who is incompetent. That decision has to be made by the governor in council, which is not very practical during an election campaign, when things are not going too well. In fact, it is impossible.
So that situation needs to be addressed. We need to resist the partisan and almost fanatical temptation to consider that, in terms of election financing, a voter from one party is worth less that a voter from another party and hope to get away with it. I think that the extremely partisan resolution that was adopted at the last convention of the youth wing of the Liberal Party of Canada will have to be set aside for moral and ethical reasons.
In this case, we will cooperate because it is in everyone's best interests. However, to avoid subjecting the House to ridicule, we would not accept another two-year extension after the first one. We are expecting the government to propose a solid reform based on principles. I know this government has a problem with principles, but we will be glad to help if need be.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 12:55 p.m.
Christian Simard Beauport, QC
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the current debate on Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.
In fact, this is a very technical bill that contains only one page, but an important one. Any bill to amend our electoral system, which is the foundation of our democracy, must be taken seriously. Such is the case here, even though this is a sunset amendment that, by definition, provides for a time limit before considering a bill that will constitute a more thorough and overall reform of the Elections Act itself.
The background of this bill, we may recall, replicates another two-year sunset bill, which followed the Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case. The Supreme Court ruled that it was discriminatory to impose a minimum number of candidates that a political party had to nominate to be registered as such. Previously, the act had put this number at 50. However, the Supreme Court ruled that this measure was discriminatory. While awaiting a thorough reform that would result in a more integrated and thoughtful piece of legislation, the House passed a bill that received royal assent in May 2004, if I am not mistaken, just in time for the June 2004 election. That bill filled the legal void created by the Supreme Court decision.
The bill allows a political party to nominate only one candidate in order to be registered. Of course, there are other conditions, such as a minimum number of members, which has been set at 250, I believe, and also a minimum number of leaders. This measure is aimed at preventing a person from suddenly proclaiming himself or herself a political party. There has to be a minimum number of rules.
It must be recognized that these rules are an absolute minimum. Of course, we must think about a better way to monitor the registration of political parties in Canada. However, that is not the purpose of this bill. Rather, it seeks to prevent a situation from occurring. The previous legislation was going to expire two years after being passed, that is in May 2006, which is a time when an election may be called again. Therefore, it was important to extend the provision, since the government has not yet completed its homework and the report of the Chief Electoral Officer has not yet been tabled—it will be in the fall. So, some elements were missing to conduct this in-depth reform.
We prefer to extend the original legislation in extenso and still provide for a two-year period. However, the government would be well advised not to do this again, otherwise the House will become a laughing stock if the same bill comes up again in two years. So, it will be important to present a more general bill, as opposed to sunset legislation.
The Bloc Québécois will not oppose this change. It was never our strategy to resort to democratic obstruction. It is important that elections take place under a legal framework. Therefore, it would be irresponsible to oppose this bill, which allows for the next election to be held in a calm, clear and transparent legal context. Since it is important that this be the case, we will not oppose this legislation.
However, we cannot help but comment on the Canada Elections Act as a whole, which is targeted by the bill before us. The act provides that the registration of political parties is subject to a minimum number of candidates. Should we set such a minimum or not? What would be discriminatory and what would not be discriminatory? Of course, since this is about the registration and recognition of political parties, the issue of political party financing quickly comes to surface. Since these issues are related, it is important to discuss them.
My comments will deal with the democratic history of the party in office, as it relates to the Canada Elections Act.
We hope it will not be the case when this reform comes to pass—one that has been long-awaited, hence the need to pass Bill C-63 now—seeing that the House is not prepared. The government was not prepared, nothing new about that.
It is really important now to ensure that, when this reform is being studied, two problems will already have been solved. Indeed there is a problem. My colleague, the whip for the Bloc Québécois and member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, has introduced Bill C-312, which is now in committee.
The intention of that bill is to remedy a democratic aberration in Canada's electoral process: the appointment by the government—that is the party in power—of 308 returning officers on a purely partisan basis. Huge problems arise as a result. The Chief Electoral Officer has spoken out about this on numerous occasions. These returning officers are appointed for 10-year periods, and often have no qualifications other than having been either active in the Liberal Party or former Liberal candidates. This creates problems as far as qualifications and partisanship are concerned, and casts a shadow over any electoral system worthy of the name.
A spade must still be called a spade. An electoral system with such a clause is a tainted system. It causes problems. I am not the one who says this. The Chief Electoral Officer's report after the last election was quite clear in this regard.
Allow me to quote him. On page 1 of his report, the Chief Electoral Officer said:
I know that about 10 cases of insubordination, three problems involving conflict of interest, about 14 problems of incompetence, some 10 cases involving a lack of computer skills, which is a different area. The document—I imagine he is referring to a document that he submitted—includes the names of the returning officers and the ridings.
I will let other speak about their political perception when they are candidates for a party other than the government party, which appointed the returning officers
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 12:45 p.m.
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's comment and the respect he showed me by not rising on a point of order. Of course, what I was doing was citing many examples of why the opposition distrusts the government when it comes to a bill like this that is going to commit the House to a review to take place in two years.
As I pointed out through all my examples, when it comes to parliamentary and electoral reform the government has come up short time and time again. This is just the latest example. I am sure when my colleague speaks to the bill he will as well cite some examples of how the government consistently comes up short.
The issue at hand is the government's suggestion, followed by some suggestion from the committee, that somehow we should link the review of Bill C-3 with Bill C-24. As my colleague from Lanark—Carleton addressed during questions and comments to the minister, once the government knew it had the responsibility to conduct this review in a timely manner and understood that it would be unnecessarily delayed by linking it to Bill C-24, it certainly had the wherewithal, as I indicated, to come before the procedure and House affairs committee, on which it had members, and suggest, in the strongest possible terms, that if the House must adhere to the law then the committee should undertake the study right away.
As my colleague said, there is no reason that the committee could not be seized with this and do it between now and the deadline of May 16. We do not need this legislation to remove the deadline and establish instead this potential two year time period, which once again could be ignored. In fact, if Bill C-63 were to pass, it would not surprise me at all that in two years from now, if I am lucky enough to be re-elected by my constituents, I might still be standing here and the government will be bringing forward a new Bill C-63 to once again extend the deadline.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 12:45 p.m.
Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade
Madam Speaker, I would like to indicate to the hon. member that I was going to rise on a point of order to bring him back to the topic at hand. However, as I know he is the opposition House leader and should know better, out of respect for him I did not do that.
However we should come back to the bill at hand. It is very important that we focus on Bill C-63. I did not hear my colleague disagree with the minister in terms of the importance of interlinking, for instance, Bill C-3 and Bill C-24. We feel they are very closely related. I learned, however, that my hon. colleague watches too much TV and too many Monty Python movies.
The mandatory review would be done by the procedure and House affairs committee. In fact, the opposition has a majority on that committee. It seems to me that we should be sending this mandatory review to committee and allow it to do its work. Maybe he could comment on that, please.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 12:25 p.m.
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today and add some comments on Bill C-63. As we have just heard from the minister responsible, the deputy House leader for the government, Bill C-63 is a response to Bill C-3, adopted in the third session of the 37th Parliament, which replaced the Elections Act requirement that a party field 50 candidates in one election in order to qualify for party status in the next election.
With much more relaxed criteria for the establishment of party status, Bill C-3 was a response to the Supreme Court's 2003 Figueroa decision which ruled that the 50 candidate requirement was indeed unconstitutional.
Bill C-3 was intended to be temporary and therefore included a sunset clause that will cause the law to cease to be in force on May 16, 2006, as we have just discussed. The purpose of Bill C-63 is to replace the sunset clause with a comprehensive review of Bill C-3, to take place within two years of the passage of the new law.
I have my doubts as to whether or not we can trust the government to ensure that this review takes place. On September 12, the Ottawa Citizen reported that under the stewardship of this Liberal government Parliament is breaking its own laws while shirking self-imposed obligations to watch over rights and freedoms of Canadians.
The article disclosed that Parliament sometimes fails to make a timely study of contentious and sensitive statutes, which the committees of the House of Commons or Senate are legally obliged to review within a set timeframe, usually within three to five years. A spokesman for the Canadian Bar Association was quoted in the article as saying, “If a review has not been undertaken as required by law, one must question the value of the oversight mechanism”.
At the same time, a House of Commons official was quoted as saying:
Everybody has got egg on their face. Even if (a mandatory Parliamentary review) is in a statute, it's virtually unenforceable. If you or I broke a statutory provision that is mandatory, the forces of law and order would come after us and probably inflict some penalty, but in fact with the Senate or the House no one can inflict any legal penalty.
The article pointed to a number of specific examples, including the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, whose five year review was supposed to begin in a committee of either chamber by last July. The mandatory five year review of the new Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's operations also began six months late.
The justice minister has yet to refer for legislative scrutiny the bill that gave police what is arguably the western world's most sweeping immunity from prosecution. Even the parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister made the following admission in the article in regard to a mandatory review of new powers given to the RCMP when he said:
I can't justify the unjustifiable. Clearly if the act, which is an Act of Parliament, says that it has to be reviewed within three years, we should be doing that.
Thus, while ministers are ignoring laws left, right and centre, the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, in response to a question about the Chief Electoral Officer suggesting that he might violate the Canada Elections Act, preaches to the House that no one is above the law; maybe he meant to say no one who is not a Liberal cabinet minister.
There is another contrast. While the government pitches these mandatory reviews, the parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister told the Ottawa Citizen :
Frankly, and this would be my personal opinion, I think that sometimes it's a bit of a cop out to say we will review (a given law) in three years. If (a bill) is right, then it's right.
Then we have the NDP. That party supports the government and is responsible for its continuation in office, making a mockery of Parliament and the doctrine of responsible government. At the same time, the member for Ottawa Centre accused the Liberals of backing down on a promise to launch consultations this fall on electoral reform. On September 28 he stood in the House and asked:
Is this not another extraordinary example of the cynicism and empty rhetoric of the government that the people of Canada want removed...?
I think the member for Ottawa Centre should direct that question to his own leader.
The Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has known for a year about his obligation to come before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, yet he has done nothing, nothing, I might add, other than revealing that he did write a letter almost a year ago. Either he has been knowingly in dereliction of his duty or he has just been unaware that he had to do this, which arguably is even worse since it betrays a lack of competence.
In his annual report to the House of Commons, the Chief Electoral Officer endorsed the idea of a new bill to put off the expiry of Bill C-3. However, his report states that it is only because there has been no action that a rush bill to cancel the expiry of Bill C-3 is necessary.
The minister may suggest that it is the obligation of the committee to initiate new legislation, which I suppose would free him from taking responsibility for having failed to act for a year; however, the minister's parliamentary secretary sits on the committee, so why, for a full year, has the parliamentary secretary failed to point out to the minister that nothing is happening at the committee, at least nothing on this issue, or to remind the committee that the minister would like something to happen?
The fact of the matter is that this government has a terrible track record on following through with meaningful democratic reform, whether it be electoral or parliamentary reform. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Liberal leadership cannot even respect the rules that are currently in place and is making a mockery of Parliament on a daily basis.
Let us remember what took place in the spring session, when the government House leader held back scheduling opposition days because he was afraid we might hold his government to account. We suspected that they would try to break from past practice of generally scheduling one opposition day per week, so I presented a motion on April 18 that essentially scheduled one opposition day per week. When the government House leader got wind of my intentions, he immediately rushed into the chamber, cancelled the day and refused to schedule another opposition day for something in the order of five weeks.
It then became clear: there was enough evidence that the government might not enjoy the confidence of the House and, as a result, the matter of confidence had to be settled. We made several attempts, in committee and later through the adoption of committee reports in the House, to try to place a motion of non-confidence before the House. Through procedural tactics, the government avoided a vote until May 10.
The May 10 confidence vote took the form of an amendment to a motion to concur in a committee report. It carried by a vote of 153 to 150. It was similar to an amendment moved in 1926 against the government of Mackenzie King. The Mackenzie King situation was considered a matter of confidence. Even the Speaker ruled that our May 10 amendment and the 1926 amendment were not significantly different.
Notwithstanding that fact, the government ignored the outcome of the vote. It was absurd, and if it were not so serious, it would have made a wonderful comedy skit.
Come to think of it, I believe that skit has already been done. Did it not remind members of the dead parrot routine from Monty Python? When the government was defeated, its House leader tried to pull the wool over everyone's eyes by saying, “No, no, the government is not dead. It is just resting”.
The public and constitutional experts then said, “Look, we know a dead government when we see one and we are looking at one right now”.
“No, it is not dead; it is resting. There. See? It moved,” said the minister.
“Now look here,” we said, “we have definitely had enough of this. This government is definitely deceased. We discovered that the only reason it has been sitting on its perch in the first place is that it has been nailed down”.
“Of course it was nailed down”, said the government House leader. “If I had not nailed the government down, it could have exposed its members to an election”.
In the Monty Python skit, the humour was in the audacity of the salesman thinking he could get away with selling a dead parrot. The government House leader expressed the same boldness in pretending that his government was not defeated, but Canadians know better.
The government House leader finally got the message and the drama ended on May 19, when the government promised that it would respect the outcome of confidence votes on two budget bills. Of course by that time a certain member was enticed to cross the floor to sit as a Liberal cabinet minister, and the NDP was bought off with billions of Canadian tax dollars.
What was alarming about the whole affair was that the government acted illegally for nine days, from May 10 to May 19, and used that time and Canadians' money to secure enough votes to win the second vote.
The scenario of ignoring the outcome of a vote and waiting for another opportunity is discussed in Eugene Forsey's “The Question of Confidence and Responsible Government”, where he states, “to allow such a principle is to make a mockery of the doctrine of confidence”.
The government House leader is once again making a mockery of Parliament this fall. He is using the same tactics he used in the spring. The only thing new this time around is his excuse. He said that the Prime Minister had fixed a date for the election, which he promised would be called 30 days after the final report of the Gomery commission expected in February. Obviously the minister does not understand the parliamentary system of government. Even if we had fixed election dates in this country, in a parliamentary system there is always the potential to trigger an election outside of a fixed date due to the government losing the confidence of the House. Furthermore, the government House leader has an obligation to provide the Leader of the Opposition with the opportunity to put that to a test.
The 22nd edition of Erskine May states:
From time to time the Opposition put down a motion on the paper expressing lack of confidence in the Government--a 'vote of censure' as it is called. By established convention the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of such a motion. In allotting a day for this purpose the Government is entitled to have regard to the exigencies of its own business, but a reasonably early day is invariably found. This convention is founded on the recognized position of the Opposition as a potential Government, which guarantees the legitimacy of such an interruption of the normal course of business. For its part, the Government has everything to gain by meeting such a direct challenge to its authority at the earliest possible moment.
While it is the government's prerogative to schedule the business of the House, it would be unethical and against convention to suggest that the government could abuse its authority in order to avoid a confidence vote and govern illegally. If the Leader of the Opposition feels that the government has lost the confidence of the House, the government is obliged to schedule a day to settle the matter. We cannot have another situation like we had in the spring. It was a sham and should never be repeated.
When the government responded to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs called “Democratic Renewal”, it indicated that the committee's recommended timeframe was unrealistic. The government then suggested a timeframe that will not allow this special committee to finish its work. The Liberals forgot that they have a minority and that this Parliament is not long for this life. In fact, it already technically died once.
The response also attempts to establish some government achievements that have been made in strengthening the role of Parliament, including the creation of an independent ethics commissioner reporting to Parliament. The Prime Minister sat on that promise for over 10 years. He even voted against an opposition motion that called on his government to implement that very promise which came straight from the Liberal red book. The Liberals had to be embarrassed into implementing that change and only after being pressured by the opposition for over 10 years.
The government also crows about its commitment to democratic renewal that was set out in the October 5, 2005 Speech from the Throne where it pledged “to examine the need and options for reform of our democratic institutions, including electoral reform”. What about the commitment in the Speech from the Throne that promised to allow members an opportunity to consider all public information pertaining to the missile defence agreement and to vote prior to a government decision? The government completely ignored that commitment.
The response also stated:
In February 2004, as the Prime Minister's first order of business, the Government tabled its Action Plan for Democratic Reform. The initiatives outlined in the Action Plan were developed to ensure that Members of Parliament play a significantly larger role in the decision-making process.
Those are nice words, but as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Well done is better than well said”. How does ignoring the wishes of the majority of members help the government play a significantly larger role in the decision making process in this place?
We all remember when the Prime Minister was running in a leadership contest and portrayed himself as the man who would slay the democratic deficit. He was successful at creating and popularizing the phrase “the democratic deficit” but that was his only success. He created words and expectations. That was it. He had no intention of slaying the democratic deficit, nor did he have any plans to respect this House and its members.
If actions speak louder than words, let us review some more of his actions. On November 30, 2004, the House supported a motion sponsored by the Leader of the Opposition that called on the government to take the appropriate measures to sell the 11,000 acres of arable land back to families and farmers whose land was expropriated to build the Mirabel airport. The Prime Minister refused to comply with the wishes of the House.
This affront to Parliament was repeated on February 8 regarding a motion to farmers.
I could go on and on listing other motions. Indeed, I have questions on the Order Paper now dealing with the inaction of the government in respecting the wishes of Parliament as expressed by the majority of members when they voted on these motions.
I want to get back to Bill C-3. The need for such a bill is a mystery since there is plenty of time, as my colleague from Lanark—Carleton pointed out, for the committee to draft replacement legislation between now and when Bill C-3 expires on May 16, 2006. Moreover, an election in the intervening period would not throw off this process, as my colleague just pointed out. The sunset clause in Bill C-3 states that in the event that Parliament is not in session when the bill expires, the bill will continue to function for an additional 90 days after the first sitting of the new Parliament. Thus, a new Conservative government could easily deal with this legislation if an election were to take place prior to May 2006.
There is no reason that we cannot provide Canadians with a Parliament and an electoral system they can be proud of. It has so much potential and so much to offer. Unlike the Liberals, the Conservative Party has clearly shown that it respects and recognizes this potential. It demonstrated that it is prepared to diligently and aggressively create more opportunities for democracy within the parliamentary structure. No party has pursued democratic reform in Parliament more than the Conservative Party in the last 10 years.
We have been successful at making improvements to private members' business, accountability in getting questions answered by the government, secret ballot elections at committee and democratic selection of senior officers of Parliament, such as the Privacy Commissioner, the Access to Information Commissioner and the Clerk of the House of Commons. Thanks to the initiatives brought in by the three opposition parties at the beginning of this Parliament, recommendations that flow from committee reports will no longer be shelved by the government but instead will be taken up by the House. We now have more opposition members chairing standing committees. The nomination of the Deputy Speaker is no longer selected by the Prime Minister but is now the prerogative of the Speaker himself. We now have question and comments that follow every speech, including speeches by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Many of these successes did not come easy. When the Liberals had their majority it took 10 years of persistence to change the process for private members' business. First, the Liberals ignored our suggestions, then they ridiculed them, and then their own backbench began to embrace them. Then the fight was on with the front bench. They were eventually outmanoeuvred and proposals were reluctantly adopted.
The issue of secret ballot elections at committee followed a similar path but did not take quite as long. We managed to get support of some Liberal backbenchers after we reminded them that in the 19th century, prior to secret ballot voting in general elections, all kinds of methods of coercion were used to influence voters. Parties often hired bullies who moved from riding to riding in fact.
The government then realized that was exactly what the government whip did each September during the chairmen elections at committees. The chief whip, his or her deputies and staff, moved from committee to committee to ensure their members voted the right way. The tactics used by the government whip during the election of chairmen and vice-chairmen of committees were not that different than those tactics used to influence elections in the 19th century.
Who in their right mind would not want to change that? Against all rational thinking and common sense, the front bench of the Liberal caucus fought tooth and nail against any such change.
The then government House leader, after we had introduced a motion that would have allowed for secret ballot elections at committee, performed procedural aerobatics and employed shameless bullying tactics, much like what is taking place today with the current House leader. Once again their motives are to hold on to power at the expense of democracy.
Nothing positive has changed under the Prime Minister and the leadership of the House leader and deputy House leader. If anything, the situation has grown worse. The democratic deficit is greater today than it was under Jean Chrétien.
On the inevitable day when the Prime Minister must let go of the reins of power, he will wake up in a cold sweat and plead, “Don't let it end like this. Tell them I did something”. However it will be too late.
In summary, Bill C-63 is an affront to the House and its members. It is a perfect example of how not to legislate and is indicative of the way Liberals manage the business of Parliament. They give themselves a deadline, ignore the deadline, wait until the last minute and then declare an emergency. That is no way to legislate or to govern.
Canada Elections Act
October 17th, 2005 / 12:20 p.m.
Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON
Mr. Speaker, as my colleague opposite said, I wrote to the committee in November 2004 suggesting that it made sense to deal with the review of Bill C-3 at the same time that we were dealing with Bill C-24. None of the members of the committee, government members or opposition members, disagreed with that.
Only in August of this year did we find out that the Chief Electoral Officer's report vis-à-vis Bill C-24 would be tabled in the House later on, perhaps in December. Given that, we did the responsible thing and we suggested a course of action. If the committee wishes to act otherwise, it has the entire discretion to do so.
This course of action now is taking us into a situation whereby we could end up in May of next year with a vacuum in terms of rules for registration of political parties, which is an untenable situation, so the government is acting responsibly by presenting Bill C-63, which would add two years and oblige the committee to do a review of Bill C-3.
No one on the committee, government members or opposition members, disagreed with the notion that Bill C-3 and Bill C-24 are tied and interrelated and that the revision of both together would be a good thing to do.