An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (political affiliation)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Mathieu Ravignat  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Feb. 8, 2012
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides that a member’s seat in the House of Commons will be vacated and a by-election called for that seat if the member, having been elected to the House as a member of a political party or as an independent, changes parties or becomes a member of a party, as the case may be. A member’s seat will not be vacated if the member, having been elected as a member of a political party, chooses to sit as an independent.

Elsewhere

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

Votes

  • Feb. 8, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2012 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with a touch of humility that I rise here today in support of Bill C-306, introduced by my hon. colleague from Pontiac. I mentioned humility because Bill C-306 led me to reflect on my role as a member of Parliament, and more importantly, on the principles that motivated me to run in the last two elections. It has always been clear to me, but to sum it up in a speech and then articulate it here in the House requires some reflection.

According to this bill, if a member decides to change parties, this decision would automatically lead to a byelection in the riding of the floor crosser. Or else the floor crosser would have to sit as an independent until the end of that Parliament. The spirit of this bill, of course, is meant to protect the democratic choices of Canadians. In light of what has already been said about this bill on both sides of the House, it seems to me that there are two conflicting opinions regarding the role of an MP. Once again here today, these conflicting views will emerge, but no one dares to spell out what they are. I would like to identify these two categories from the outset. If the adjectives I use rub people the wrong way, I apologize. However, someone must have the courage to say them.

There is humble conception of the role of MPs and there is an elitist conception. Those two notions are at odds when it comes to this bill. Bill C-306 is the humble vision. The government's reaction, and that of the third party, is the elitist vision. There is a very clear line and, from what I have read, it is completely unyielding. Let us not forget that sitting in a seat here in this House and representing a constituency comes with tremendous privileges. These social privileges automatically place all federal members in the now-famous 1%. While the west is going through a period of economic difficulties and uncertainties, we, as democratically elected members of Parliament, are sheltered from that wave.

I think that is the very definition of the word “privilege”. This privilege is the result of our democratic responsibilities. We work hard in return; we represent the people of a constituency and we do our best to defend their interests. Careful, I detected some rude remarks in my colleagues' comments. We do not represent the people who voted for us; we represent everyone in our riding, regardless of what party they voted for or whether they voted at all.

Those who place this democratic trust in us deserve a minimum of recognition. The seat I am sitting on is not my seat; it belongs to the people of L'Ancienne-Lorette, Loretteville and Wendake. Louis-Saint-Laurent is not my riding, it is the riding that I represent. A majority of people in the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent voted for me to occupy this seat on their behalf. That is my job. Their commitment to me is instrumental.

A member is first and foremost responsible to the people. I am not invincible and I remain humble before the task entrusted to me by the voters of Louis-Saint-Laurent. I admit that some very talented people elected to the House can be elected merely on the basis of their reputation. That is the ultimate accomplishment of a career in democracy. These talented people can be found in all the parties represented in the House. We all admire a number of our colleagues—often without consideration of their political persuasion.

This is not the case for everyone. Many are elected because they represent a party. That is the political party system and, although this system does have some flaws, we accepted a long time ago that it has more pluses than minuses when it comes to the democratic process. And for good reason. Some members who were recently elected because they were members of a certain party will soon prove to be incredibly talented and may perhaps be re-elected later just on their reputation.

And since I am talking about humility and great merit, I would like to point out the excellent work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who introduced this bill about 15 years ago. Fifteen years, what does that represent? It represents 15 years of inaction on something that is so simple. We in the NDP have not changed our position. We fight for the principles we believe in. Respect is the guiding principle that directs our work. We are not here for the privileges; we are here because someone must shape and build our country. This bill reiterates that power belongs to the citizens of Canada and that this power is exercised during elections in order to send representatives to Ottawa. It reiterates that the power in our system comes from the bottom and not the top. The member does not choose; citizens choose through the elected member.

This bill, which would limit the ability of elected individuals to put their own interests ahead of the voters' democratic choice, reflects the NDP's view that our democracy can be improved. How does the fact that other Commonwealth countries, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, do not have such laws justify abandoning this idea? Can Canada not innovate in politics? Voters find this lack of flexibility discouraging. Everyone knows that. Everyone claims to be aware of and concerned about the crisis of legitimacy we are facing.

Fewer and fewer Canadians bother to vote. Voters feel alienated from government. Yet nobody is doing anything. The system does not change. What is the current situation? Anemic voter turnout and pervasive cynicism. Do we have to wait until voter turnout in general elections drops below 50%, which is what happened during the last provincial election in Ontario?

The system is fundamentally exclusive. Neither the government nor the third party are truly concerned about voter turnout. That is the only explanation. This way, they win. The situation does not bother them because they have a basically elitist view of an MP's role.

I have tried to make sense of their arguments, but I can see only one troubling conclusion: voters are not relevant to the debates. The people are secondary. The member of Parliament is the only one who really matters. As I understand it, elitism is the best word to describe what is going on here. These people think that members of Parliament are an end unto themselves. An election victory is proof of intellectual greatness, confirmation of brilliance, an A+ awarded by the nation. These MPs turn up in Ottawa like little monarchs because, clearly, the people in their ridings could see that they deserved a place in the 1%. I apologize if I have offended anyone, but not talking about this would be much worse.

At first reading of this bill, some members of the House very seriously stated the following by way of criticism:

In effect, the bill would require members who fundamentally disagree with their caucus or with the leader of their party to resign their seat or to sit as independents.... Such restrictions would strengthen the control of political parties over individual members by bolstering a party's threat of expulsion in order to maintain party discipline and limit the representative role of members.

I do not want to make a value judgment, but this was said by an elected member of a resolutely strict, closed and exclusive government whose thoughts are systematically expressed as a single voice as a result of blatant internal terror. I will refrain from commenting on its legitimacy.

A floor crosser often acts to save his own skin. The wind blows in a certain direction, the person loses the favour he once had and panic pushes him a little bit left or right, depending on the case.

At first reading of Bill C-306, many members searched the long list of former floor crossers in Canadian history to find exceptional cases that would justify the act. When they failed to find any truly glorious and memorable examples, they quickly turned to world history. Perhaps because Carthaginian leader Hannibal was too obscure, they decided to mention Sir Winston Churchill, who changed political parties several times. Any reference to Sir Winston Churchill in this context is extreme. The man made a direct contribution to the survival of western civilization through the force of his character, and he received a Nobel Prize in Literature. His case is in a class of its own. Let us not compare apples and oranges.

Some members are trying to confuse voters. They want to lead voters to believe that they are acting in the interest of voters when, clearly, they are acting in their own interest. Members get used to their privileges. They start to feel invincible and they will do anything they can to stay here. After all, they got an A+, did they not?

I am confused when some hon. members refute the intention of this bill by saying that it is ineffective, since it is really the court of public opinion that judges members of Parliament. Essentially, they are saying that the system regulates itself. Is neo-liberalism being applied to the political party system?

If we follow the hon. member's reasoning to the letter, a member of Parliament is completely disconnected from his or her electors and has to defend his or her record just once every four years. It is clear what the Conservatives' priorities are. This also suggests that the message sent during the previous election is quite meaningless for the Conservatives and the Liberals. The mandate that is given to a member of Parliament under a specific banner ideally should last until the next general election. We know that circumstances change. We know that people change their minds. However, we are not talking about whether we want rice or potatoes with our steak. We are talking about affiliation to a political party and the convictions of the voters who made their choice.

The New Democratic Party, as I was saying earlier, has strong principles. An MP is not a demigod whose opinion is worth more than that of the people who sent him or her to Ottawa. We are not talking about a mandate from heaven. Just because an MP believes that the ideology he or she once defended is no longer suitable does not mean that walking away is morally acceptable.

The MP is in Ottawa precisely because the people want him or her to be here. Leaving it up to the voters to decide in the next general election does not make crossing the floor morally acceptable. That is why we strongly believe that a member who crosses the floor, as honourable as it is, has to answer to the voters if he or she decides to change parties.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2012 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I take great pride in rising to speak in favour of Bill C-306, introduced by my colleague from Pontiac.

In the last parliament, I had the privilege of introducing a similar bill due in part to the experience that I had in my own riding, Vancouver Kingsway, which I will speak about in just a few moments.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore who has been a champion of this kind of legislation for many years in the House.

Fundamentally, the bill is about democracy. Fundamentally, the bill is about respect for voters. Fundamentally, this bill is about elections and the way Canadians choose their representatives in their parliaments and legislatures in this country. Bill C-306 proposes that byelections be called when an elected member of any political party in this House decides on their own to change to another political party than the one chosen by the voters in that member's riding during his or her term of office.

The bill proposes that byelections also be called when an independent member decides to join a political party during his or her term in office if he or she were elected as an independent. However, byelections are not called, according to this legislation, when an elected member of a political party decides to become an independent during his or her term in office. This exception is important because it allows a member of Parliament to make a principled stand against his or her party if they deem it appropriate, but removes the incentive to do so for personal gain or in violation of the clear expression of the voters of the riding.

What is floor crossing? It is essentially a betrayal of the trust that electors put in us when they send us to Ottawa. When candidates run under the banner of a party, they are saying that they agree broadly with the principles and leadership of that party. To expand on that, the reality of elections in Canada is this.

We have 100,000 to 150,000 voters in many of our ridings. We do not get to meet all of those voters. It is impossible for voters to come to independently interview each candidate running for office. Therefore, our country and modern democracies around the world have developed a party structure, allowing people to gather together and ascribe to broad and general concepts, philosophies and principles and to present that grouping of policies and principles to the public. Why is that important? It is important because that is how voters express their democratic will. They do not have to independently interview each candidate. They know that when someone is running as a Conservative, a Liberal or a New Democrat, they can trust that those candidates broadly represent a set of principles, policies and philosophies reflecting that voter's intention.

I have heard some highfalutin stuff in the House from the third party in particular that I think is utter nonsense.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2012 / 7 p.m.
See context

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-306, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (political affiliation). Like my colleagues who spoke before me, I would like to congratulate the member for Pontiac for his initiative. I would also like to congratulate the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for his excellent work; he has been working on this since 1999. In fact, since 1999, the NDP has asked that members who cross the floor during their term of office go before the voters to ratify their decision. We believe that this is fair and democratic, contrary to what members of the third party, for example, might say.

It is important that we mention it. This bill makes a lot of sense in terms of democracy because the general election campaign is always the moment when voters—every four or five years, or more often in recent years—have the opportunity to mark an X beside the name of the person who will represent them for those four or five years. In theory, parliamentary tradition says that the voter votes for the local candidate. That is just a theory. In reality, and I believe that we would all agree, people vote for many reasons. Some vote for the local candidate and others for the leader of a party or for a political party and its platform.

The most recent case is that of the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain who, less than eight months after the election, decided to switch parties. This case clearly showed that people are against this type of political shift. Immediately afterward, a poll was conducted by Leger Marketing in Quebec with more than 1,000 respondents. People who responded truly represented popular opinion. And yes, the poll was taken after the deed was done and reactions were heated. I can say that the opinion is the same when a public opinion poll is take before or after a similar event.

The poll indicated that 60% of the respondents felt that members of Parliament who were elected for a party should not change political affiliation. Only 32%, or less than a third of the respondents agreed with the principle, but 60% were against it. Nevertheless, since our parliamentary system currently allows it, respondents were asked whether a member of Parliament in this case should have their decision confirmed through a byelection and 70% of the people agreed. Only 22% said it was not necessary. The public wants this type of change and the latest incident clearly shows there is a public consensus in favour of an initiative like the one being proposed in Bill C-306.

I mentioned that people vote for a multitude of reasons and the hon. member for Winnipeg North said that people were voting for Jack Layton in the case of the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. That is true, just as they voted for the NDP and its policies, just as they might have voted for the local candidate. This was my fourth election campaign and I know that many people in Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques voted for me. I also know that if I had run as an independent, I would not have won this election.

If the hon. member for Winnipeg North, among others, who made all those comments during the earlier presentation by my colleague, is truly convinced that people only vote for the local candidate, as he suggested in his presentation, I challenge him to run as an independent in the next election and see what happens. He will not do it because running with a political party, benefiting from the resources available during an election campaign and an electoral platform that he promotes along with himself, is what got him elected, just as I was able to get elected for the same reasons.

To say that, in theory, people vote for the local candidate and that is how we should look at this, is incorrect. In practice, people clearly think differently.

It is important to understand that people vote only every four or five years and that they vote for all those reasons. If a member of Parliament changes parties, the people who voted for all those reasons feel betrayed, and for good reason. That is what happened in the riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, and that is what happened in the riding of Newmarket—Aurora, for example, when Belinda Stronach changed parties. That is also what happened in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway. Voters feel betrayed because they feel cheated out of their choice, particularly those who vote for the political party, the party leader or the platform. Many people do it. The Leger Marketing poll that I just cited also asked people what motivates them to vote for a certain person during an election.

According to the poll, close to 30% of people vote for a political party; 30% vote for the party platform; between 20% and 25% vote for the party leader; and only 12% vote for the strength or character of the riding candidate. During a general election, people vote a certain way for many reasons, and when a person who became a member of Parliament for reasons other than his own candidacy changes parties in the middle of his term, the people who voted for him feel cheated.

We also need to consider the absurdity of our system of electoral politics. The Canada Elections Act prohibits voters from selling their vote. It is completely prohibited, and fairly severe sanctions are imposed on anyone who decides to sell his vote or who receives undue benefits as a result of the way he votes. However, no such sanctions exist for a member of Parliament who decides to sell his seat. Examples of people who sold their seats have been mentioned. For example, there is the case of Newmarket—Aurora, where Belinda Stronach left the Conservatives to join the Liberal government in exchange for a cabinet position. In Vancouver Kingsway, David Emerson did the opposite when he left the Liberals to join the Conservatives in exchange for a cabinet post.

Are we supposed to believe that these individuals would have deserted even if the party in power had not offered such perks? Of course not. MPs can personally sell the value of their seats and receive undue benefits as a result of the position the voters gave them. Such MPs did not necessarily get the job on their own merits, but because of a variety of factors. That is the problem Bill C-306 would fix. That is what the NDP has been trying to fix since 1999.

We keep hearing about participatory democracy. Supposedly, that is how our voters want us to vote. It is difficult for each of us to talk to all of our voters. There are 85,000 voters in my riding. I have not yet met all of them. I hope I will have a chance to meet them all in the next four years, but that is a lot of people, and I feel for the MPs who represent more than 100,000 voters.

But in this case, this is a private member's bill. Every member should be able to vote in accordance with his or her conscience. But I can guarantee that if every one of us went back to our ridings to consult the people about whether the voters should have a say in this decision, which is supposed to be made by one person, the MP, the vast majority would be in favour of the MP's decision.This is important.

I see that there are very few government members here just now, and I see one member from the third party. I think that goes a long way toward explaining the problem. We have to consider a particular situation, one that arouses voter cynicism. Once again, in his presentation, the member for Winnipeg North said that we have to tackle the situation. Fine, yes, we have to deal with it. This is our chance to do that, to tackle one cause of voter cynicism. If we were to ask the people of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, they would say that recent events have made them cynical when it comes to politics.

That is why I urge members to do their job, to consult their constituents, to find out exactly what they think of this private member's bill. I would also invite them to vote according to this decision, because it is a decision that concerns them, concerns their right to vote and the value of the decision they make during the election campaign.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2012 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I will try to be brief. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-306, introduced by my hon. colleague from Pontiac, which has to do with respecting voters' choices when it comes to political affiliation. I am delighted to debate this here in the House. I have been talking about this with my constituents for several weeks now. Many things have happened, at both the provincial and federal levels. Quebec has seen many political floor crossings in the past few weeks.

I have been asked many questions on the matter. People were very worried. They wanted to know what became of their choice, why members were not respecting democracy and why they were betraying the people who had elected them. Many of my colleagues talked about this here today. A few comments struck me as particularly interesting, especially comments about those who criticize the NDP's bill.

We have heard a great deal about the fact that, in Canada, we vote for an individual. That is true. Our political system means that, in an election, we vote for the next person to represent us. But if we ask our voters, most of them do not necessarily vote for the person, but rather for ideas, a party, a platform. My colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques just said that only 12% of voters vote for the individual, and not for all the other reasons that influence how people vote. Unfortunately, I find this argument a little weak. It is sad to think our electorate is being disrespected in that regard.

Someone also talked about a member's freedom of expression. I would be very careful addressing that point. Do members not have a moral obligation towards the people who elected them? When one changes parties, there is a breach of trust. My hon. colleague from Pontiac is suggesting that when members no longer agree with the ideas of their party, they can sit as independents. If they definitely want to join another party, a byelection must be held. This shows basic respect for the people's freedom of expression. Besides, members are not above the rights of others. They must respect the rights of their constituents.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2012 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. members for their enlightened speeches. I want to again congratulate the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for the work he has done for so many years on this bill.

During the last election, Canadians voted to put an end to the old ways of doing politics in Canada and to change things in Ottawa.

For the past few weeks we have been hearing about politicians who change parties, provincially and federally, as though you can change political values the way you change your shirt.

This bill is reasonable and simply provides that a member’s seat will be vacated and a byelection called for that seat only if the member changes parties or if an independent MP becomes a member of a party, as the case may be. It is a matter of respecting the voice of the people. A member’s seat will not be considered vacated if the member elected as a member of a political party chooses to sit as an independent. This is a simple and reasonable proposal to protect our democracy.

In the recent case of the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, who was elected under the NDP banner and then, seven months later, turned around and joined the Liberals, the Liberals should also be ashamed for once again playing old political games. If my bill were to pass, and I truly hope it does, the voters of Mauricie would not feel today that they had been taken for a ride. They would not be so angry with politicians in general. The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain would have had to run as a Liberal and ask the people to re-elect her.

We know that people are increasingly disenchanted with politics. The three themes that people keep bringing up are members' honesty, their accountability and the waste of public funds. A growing percentage of the population thinks that politicians are lying to them, lack integrity and are wasting their money.

We can indeed talk about the growing political cynicism in Canada over the past 30 years. Since 1982, the honesty and integrity of MPs were considered to be low or very low and 10 years later, the percentage was barely 49%.

According to an article that appeared in La Presse in May 2010, in Quebec, the province where my riding is located:

The results of this survey...indicate that 87% of respondents choose adjectives such as “discouraged” or “disheartened” to describe how they feel about politics. One in five voters...is indifferent. Only 9% said they were “optimistic” and 11% were “passionate”.

Whose fault is that? Ours. We wonder why they are so disenchanted. The main reason is politicians' lack of integrity.

This makes me sad because I decided to get into politics and to become more involved in my community in order to help people fight for their causes. And I know very well that the people in the riding of Pontiac voted for me because they have confidence in my party's ideas. It is unfortunate that, in recent years, according to a number of polls on trust in various professions, politicians are always ranked at the bottom, in Quebec and in Canada. The floor crossings in recent months have only fanned the fire.

The results of a poll on the Democratize.ca site, show that, in the last two months, 80% support my Bill C-306 on political affiliation.

Therefore, I invite all Canadians to speak out about this and write to their MPs because the more Canadians who express their dissatisfaction, the better the chance that the government will vote for this bill.

We should remember that our ridings do not belong to us. They belong to the voters. The NDP has been clear: if members wish to cross the floor, they should first ask the voters. My bill to respect the voters' choice would make this mandatory.

Voters who have placed their trust in us deserve nothing less. This seat is not just an object: it represents the people of the riding of Pontiac in the House of Commons. It does not belong to us, the MPs, but to the people of the Pontiac and to our voters.

Let us honour our voters and respect our commitments.

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

moved that Bill C-306, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (political affiliation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, this evening we are debating Bill C-306, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (political affiliation), which concerns the foundation of our democracy. Before debating the bill, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore on his excellent work over the years to ensure that this bill was introduced in each new session of Parliament. It is an honour for me to introduce it once again and to have seconded it the first time.

The bill provides that a member’s seat in the House of Commons will be vacated and a by-election called for that seat if the member, having been elected to the House as a member of a political party or as an independent, changes parties or becomes a member of a party, as the case may be. However, I would like to point out that the seat will not be vacated if the member, having been elected as a member of a political party, chooses to sit as an independent.

I believe that this bill will help restore Canadians' faith in our democracy. For these reasons, I am asking members on all sides to support it. Recently, the government proposed certain political reforms, and we hope that it will show that it takes them seriously by supporting this bill.

This bill also reflects a fundamental objective of my party, which is to do politics differently in order to renew people's trust in elected officials. It is unfortunate that, in a number of surveys on Canadians' trust in different professions conducted in recent years, politicians were always ranked at the bottom. Politicians who crossed the floor in recent years only added fuel to the fire. Even though there has been a slight increase in political engagement in recent elections mainly due to our party, it is not difficult to see that the Canadian political system, in particular the politicians, no longer inspires the confidence of people in general. In the last election, few observers talked about Canadians' interest and engagement in the democratic process and what Canadians think of politics in general.

I will now fill that gap. To shed light on these issues the Association for Canadian Studies commissioned Léger Marketing to ask Canadians a series of questions that offer insight into political interest and engagement. The results show that Canadians have a negative view of politicians and that the vast majority of Canadians do not recommend pursuing a career in politics. Just over one in five do not think that most politicians can be trusted and a similar percentage would recommend a career in politics. In fact, the vast majority would not suggest pursuing such a career.

More specifically, when asked whether most politicians can be trusted, only 3.1% agreed. When asked whether they would recommend that a friend or family member pursue a career in politics, only 4.9% said that they would. The entire system is being called into question. When asked why they think Canadians choose not to vote in elections, most suggest it is the feeling that their vote has no impact. The second reason offered by Canadians as to why people decide not to vote is that they do not like any of the choices.

With regard to the choices offered, 26.9% of men did not like the choices as compared to 31.3% of women. We should all be wondering why they do not like the choices offered. Something is not working at the political level. In addition, when we look at the figures on politics in general from a language perspective, 40% of francophones did not like politics, as compared to 46% of anglophones and 41% of allophones. It is unbelievable. Voter turnout for Canadian elections is still a major challenge. For the past five elections, the trend has been down: voter turnout was only 61% for the last election.

Canada is now behind countries like Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and even Greece. Even if we are ahead of the United States, we are still behind Great Britain and New Zealand.

Over the past 30 years, political cynicism has been on the rise in Canada. For example, since 1982, the feeling that honesty and integrity among members of Parliament are weak or very weak increased in 49% of Canadians. In my province, Quebec, according to an article in La Presse:

The results [of the survey] show that 87% of respondents chose words like “discouraged” or “put off” to describe how they feel about politics. One in five voters, or 21%, said that they were [completely] indifferent. Only 9% said that they felt optimistic and 11% felt passionate about politics. Among Quebec voters of average age, 34 to 55 years, the proportion of those who felt discouraged or put off by politics climbed to 94%.

When respondents were asked whether they considered themselves to be disillusioned or cynical, 47%, and 50% of women, said that they did, 37% said that they did not and 16% were unsure.

When they were asked why they were so disenchanted, they responded:

Primarily because of integrity. That is the top reason given by 80% of the respondents to explain their disenchantment. Lack of effectiveness came in second, at 72%...Two-thirds of respondents, or 61%, said that “nothing changes in politics”. Lastly, 48% said that politicians have a “lack of ideas”.

I will go on, because it is important.

Nearly 80% disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that “politicians are honest”. Only 14% agree with that statement. Similarly, 88% of respondents disagree with the statement “politicians tell the truth”. [Unbelievable.] Only 9% think that politicians tell the truth. It should be noted that no respondents, or 0%, said that they strongly agree with the fact that politicians tell the truth. Some 69% disagree with the statement that "politicians care about the interests of the public”. However, nearly half, or 45%, acknowledged that “politicians work hard”.

At least we have that.

That is not a pretty picture. A number of articles suggest that the topics Canadians care about most when it comes to trusting politicians is sincerity, honesty, wasting money and lack of public interest.

This is a situation that should concern us all. In order for a democracy to be healthy and to thrive, it must enjoy the confidence of the vast majority of the electorate. If not, we may very well be headed for a democratic crisis such as exists in the United States, where only 49% of people vote in the federal elections. That is less than half of the eligible voters.

There is a clear need to restore the confidence of Canadians. Cases like those of David Emerson and Belinda Stronach have greatly contributed to weakening Canadians' opinions of our political institutions, but so have consistent governments that have done nothing with regard to political reform.

For example, in 2006, by defeating the bill introduced by my distinguished colleague, Mr. Stoffer, the Liberals, who were in power and were backed by the Bloc Québécois, simply maintained--

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 2nd, 2011 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, I am here to speak today to Bill C-306, introduced by the member for Pontiac, which addresses changes in the political affiliations of members of Parliament, or more commonly known as floor crossing. The bill would require the resignation of a member of Parliament and a subsequent byelection if the member crosses the floor to sit as a member of a different political party.

While I understand that the goal of this bill would be to ensure that a member's decision to cross the floor is endorsed by a member's constituents, the result of it would be simple. This bill would seriously undermine the independence of members of this House and I do not think that is something we should encourage or support.

This bill would have some practical negative consequences. The bill would impose restrictions upon members who wish to express a different position than the one endorsed by a majority of their caucus. This bill would also impede members of Parliament in representing the interests of their constituents, which is one of the fundamental duties under our Constitution.

I want to briefly go over the details of this bill and then explain in more detail why I believe restrictions on floor crossings would not fit with our Westminster parliamentary system and are inadvisable.

Bill C-306 would require a byelection whenever members join a different registered party than the one that has endorsed them for the previous election or if they were elected as independent candidates during the previous election and subsequently join a political party. However, Bill C-306 would not require a byelection when members leave or are expelled from their caucus to sit as independents, leave their party to form a new party that does not yet have registered party status under the Elections Canada Act or, and I stress, two parties that have registered status under the Elections Canada Act merge. According to the Elections Canada Act, a party obtains registered party status when it endorses at least one candidate for an election, provided it has made the proper application to the Chief Electoral Officer at least 60 days before the issue of writs for that election.

So here are the details. I have some concerns about the technical wording of the bill and not only with its principles. I will speak a bit about the bill's reference to registered parties. Our party system plays a fundamental role in our democracy but, in fact, there are a few statutory provisions regulating the role of political parties in Parliament itself, including the Parliament of Canada Act which Bill C-306 would modify.

In contrast, the roles, rights and obligations of individual members of Parliament are well established in Canada's legislation whereby members of Parliament are central actors in our Westminster system of government. Practically, the caucus system in our Parliament is joined with, but distinct from, the registered party system.

Bill C-306 would go against existing rules and traditions by allowing the party machinery to take precedence over individual rights and responsibilities of each member of Parliament and their caucus choices. This does not correspond to our system of government. As I stated earlier, I believe Bill C-306 would have negative and undesirable consequences on the roles of members of Parliament.

In effect, the bill would require members who fundamentally disagree with their caucus or with the leader of their party to resign their seat or to sit as independents. However, it would blur the line between party membership and caucus membership. Such restrictions would strengthen the control of political parties over individual members by bolstering a party's threat of expulsion in order to maintain party discipline and limit the representative role of members.

Therefore, the bill could discourage elected representatives from expressing their views in caucus debates and encourage party leaders to act without regard to their caucus members' best interests.

We should remember that members of Parliament have three competing but equally important representative roles in Parliament. They are to represent the interests and opinions of their constituents, to present their personal views and judgments, and to support and promote their political parties and party leaders.

By seeking to punish members of Parliament who disagree with their parties so fundamentally that they decide to change their political affiliation, the bill would focus exclusively on the party role of members. This would be detrimental to the individual roles of members, including their duties to act as trustees of the public interest and that of their constituents.

Moreover, the decision to cross the floor cannot be taken lightly. It is an important decision, often with significant consequences.

Of the six members who have crossed the floor since the 2004 election, only one has managed to be re-elected in a subsequent election as an independent candidate. The same premise applies to members of Parliament who have decided to leave or who were expelled from their caucus to sit as independent members. Of the six members who left their caucus to sit as independent members since the 2004 election, only one was re-elected in a subsequent election. What does this mean?

Members are subject to scrutiny by the public, by the media, by parliamentary colleagues, and most importantly, by their voters, their constituents back at home in the next general election. Therefore, I believe this bill is unnecessary as it is that court of opinion by which members are truly judged. To emphasize, general elections themselves are the appropriate mechanism to hold members of Parliament accountable for their actions.

According to the Library of Parliament, there have been approximately 194 floor crossings since Confederation. The floor crossing tradition reflects the importance of preserving the independence and mobility of members of Parliament to vote with their feet when they feel it is in the best interests of their constituents or the country to do so.

None of our provinces require a byelection when a member of their legislative assembly changes political affiliations, although Manitoba requires members who leave their caucus to sit as independent members until the end of their terms. Moreover, crossing the floor exists in other Westminster parliamentary systems. The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand do not currently impose restrictions on floor crossings.

When New Zealand went through a transition period from the first past the post electoral system to a mixed member proportional system, it had passed legislation to prevent floor crossings as a temporary measure in 2001. However, it did not renew these provisions after the 2005 election as they turned out to be ineffective.

This is consistent with the fact that laws banning floor crossing are rare in established democracies, but common in nascent democracies where they are defended as temporary measures designed to consolidate a parliamentary system. We are certainly not in that position here in Canada, nor are our peer countries. I simply cannot see the need for the provisions of this bill.

In conclusion, party affiliation is certainly an important factor when Canadians cast their vote, but they also expect elected representatives to act according to their convictions when they represent local interests at the national level. Ultimately, members are held accountable by their constituents at the next election. Therefore, I encourage all members to opposed Bill C-306

Parliament of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 2nd, 2011 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand in support of the Bill C-306 submitted by my colleague from Pontiac. I was here for some of the time that the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore gave some examples. I always find it interesting to listen to the comments from the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington. Once again, I do not agree. We usually do not agree, but we do enjoy the give and take. As often as I can, I say I have a great deal of respect for the member, but I disagree with him again.

I will deal with the core piece because I will not have a chance to deal with all of it.

At first blush, one aspect citizens think about when they want to choose their member of Parliament, whether it is in the legislature or in the House of Commons, is the candidate. I thought the point was well-taken that an awful lot of us believe we are the only ones who could get here on our own. We do not need anybody or party because they are a big problem more than they are a help. The reality is that most members do not get elected on their own name, recognition and reputation alone.

A lot of people, especially these days, do not have a particular allegiance to a political party. Rather they take it issue by issue, election by election. They will see what the issues are and the ones that affect them the most, determine how they feel about them and that often drives their decision, recognizing that citizens have the right to base their decision on anything they choose. That is one of the beauties of democracy and freedom.

Certainly a lot of people look at what the parties are offering. They might not even know the candidates or they do not care about the party label. Rather they care about one issue, they find the party that is closest to their heart on that issue and that is where they mark their ballots. That is fair enough.

Some folks have great allegiance to a political party. All members of all parties have active members in their riding associations. These are people who, with some exceptions, will likely vote for the candidate no matter who it is. They will vote for the candidate no matter what the platform is because they support the party.

All of that is entirely legitimate and acceptable.

Those people who vote for the candidates probably do not care much as to whether they are independents, or members of the parties they have run for, or have crossed the floor, or have re-rat, which has been brought back from history as former Prime Minister Churchill had said, and I am glad that is in there, or have re-rat over and over again. They really do not care.

However, those people who vote on platform or party are often devastated when the person they voted for crosses the floor. They told their friends to vote for that candidate. They put signs on the their front lawns in support of the candidate. They took all the heat from others who did not vote for that candidate during the election. They told people that was their candidate because of the platform or the party. Their whole reason for voting for that candidate is negated.

It is not a small matter. When I have stood for election for the four parliaments I have been elected to, I have stood on my own reputation and I am accountable for the decisions and the actions I have taken. However, make no mistake, in my riding a lot of my constituents voted for me because they liked our platform. As long as there was a candidate who would support the platform, they would be with that person. It is likewise for the party.

If we accept that is a legitimate, rationale, understandable and important reason for people to think about voting for a candidate, the platform or the party, if one then bails out, as did Mr. Emerson, which is the richest example, and I do not like to personalize, it takes one's breath away.

I do not think the writs were even returned. The ink was hardly dry on the ballots, and this man was already trotting across the floor to join another party. He believed that was the right thing to do, for him, but what about all those constituents who had a reason to believe that once elected, the member would actually go about enacting the platform and policies of the party that member belonged to?

By crossing the floor, in many cases a member is throwing away what he or she believed in to join a party that is 180 degrees in the other direction. How do we think constituents feel? They would sit there wondering what happened. Constituents went out and voted in good faith, as did all their friends, and they expected that the money they donated to that campaign and the sign that they posted were all to help get enough seats on a particular platform so that the way the constituent would have liked to have seen Canada shaped on a particular issue would have actually happened. Now that would be gone, because the member could just cross the floor in order to remain a cabinet minister. It really is problematic.

I have great respect for the other views. It is never easy to change things around here, and for good reason. We do not want to rush to change, but by the same token, we cannot be afraid of change. This is an evolving place, and the way we do business here does evolve.

It would seem to me that it is an appropriate restriction on members when they get to this place. Just as members cannot break the rules of the code of conduct or break the rules of the House—

Parliament of Canada Act
Routine Proceedings

September 30th, 2011 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-306, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (political affiliation).

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, for seconding this bill and for the excellent work he has done for a number of years on bills that are important to Canadians. I am honoured and very pleased to introduce my first bill in this House regarding political affiliation. This bill follows up on one of my party's election promises: to ensure that politicians are held accountable for the choice made by their constituents, and to prevent them from playing politics to benefit their personal careers by changing political parties when they feel like it.

With it we are helping to fix Ottawa.

The bill provides that a member's seat in the House of Commons will be vacated and a by-election called for that seat if the member was elected to the House as a member of a political party, as the case may be. However, the seat will not be vacated if the member, having been elected as a member of a political party, chooses to sit as an independent.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)