House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The recorded division on the motion stands deferred.

The next vote is on Motion No. 25. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The recorded division on the motion stands deferred.

We will now move to Group No. 4 for debate.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Stephen Harper Calgary West, AB

moved:

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-63, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 28 on page 2 with the following:

"polling day in the case of a general election or the forty- seventh day in the case of a by-election."

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise on Motion No. 6 which stands in my name. The motion concerns the length of a campaign for byelections under the new proposed regime.

Let me reiterate what has been said on the length of the election period. Our party has indicated that we are prepared to support in principle the shortening of an election campaign. I have said that is my preference.

The proposal in this bill is that we move to a 36 day election calendar. That is one of the three main features of Bill C-63. This has been a longstanding proposal in that for a number of years there has been some pressure from the public and from political parties to shorten the election campaign period if possible. In the past, technical difficulties in terms of the ability of Elections Canada to implement a shortened electoral period have prevented the shortening of the period below the current 47 days. Mr. Speaker, you may recall in your political life that the campaign was longer than 47 days.

The Lortie commission heard a lot of submissions on this subject. At that time my party was not particularly supportive of shortening the campaign period although many who made submissions to the commission were. The Lortie commission had suggested it was possible to move to a 40 day election campaign.

What is the origin of the 36 day campaign in this bill? It is the implementation of the computerized register of electors and the ability to implement it prior to the next election by virtue of a pre-election enumeration. Thirty-six days in effect is the shortest campaign that Elections Canada felt could comfortably be executed by the people who run the campaign nationally. It is fair to say that this will cause some problems for some parties. It will certainly be a new experience for most parties but I suspect that most major political parties will be able to adjust.

There are some advantages to the new calendar. However even if one supports a 36 day election campaign there are other problems that are raised by the way it is implemented in this piece of legislation. One was addressed by the hon member for Saanich-Gulf Islands, the expense of running an initial pre-election enumeration to start the register. I will have more to say about that later in this debate.

The government is going about the implementation of this shorter period in a way that in our opinion will actually be much more expensive initially than it needs to be. This is a significant problem. Another significant problem that we raised repeatedly before the bill came to committee and in committee has been the problem of the implementation of a shortened election period for byelection campaigns. That is what this motion addresses.

There have been two kinds of problems with byelections in the past. The first is the problem this motion seeks to address and which we witnessed in this Parliament. That is the sudden calling of a byelection in a riding that was occupied by a sitting member on the government side for which there was no expectation whatsoever of a vacancy but which occurred overnight and then a snap byelection was called to deal with the situation. These have always been in ridings that are very favourable to the government. In the case of this Parliament they have freed up members and freed up ridings to bring in new people and to move other people on to greener pastures, be they appointments, Senate seats or whatever.

There is much to object to in this process. Obviously there is the unnecessary expense, the patronage angle and a number of things that are quite infuriating about this particular practice. It is fair to say that in the case of byelections this does create some considerable difficulty for the opposition parties even under the present calendar.

Last winter byelections were unexpectedly called in safe government ridings. They were also called at a time of the year when nobody was anticipating campaigning, in the dead of winter just at the end of the Christmas period. These situations create serious enough organizational problems as it is without moving to a 36 day campaign.

The other problem with byelections is something the Reform Party has been concerned about for years. It is the opposite problem, that byelections are held off indefinitely and ridings are kept open for extremely long periods of time for other reasons. If the government thinks it will be defeated in a particular riding it does not want to have a byelection and therefore the riding unnecessarily goes unrepresented for months and sometimes for over a year. In the last Parliament the government deliberately called byelections for a date so far into the future that it knew there would be a general election before the byelection ever occurred. There are snap byelections but this is the opposite problem.

The Reform proposal deals only with the problem of a snap byelection and deals with it only in the most peripheral way. What we propose is simply that the new 36 day campaign period would not apply to byelections. Instead the 47 day campaign would remain in effect for byelections.

I should say that our ideal proposal on this particular problem would be quite different. Our ideal proposal would give a a significant period of time between the occurrence of a vacancy and the calling of a byelection on the one hand and on the other hand it would set a maximum period of time within which a byelection must be called.

Frankly the time we have in mind for that would be something in the order of 60 days between the occurrence of a vacancy and the actual holding of a byelection and no more than six months between the occurrence of a vacancy and the holding of a byelection at the other end. The minimum period would provide the opposition parties with some assurance that a byelection will not be

called just to surprise the opposition and return a government supporter. The other provides the reasonable expectation that voters will be represented in Parliament within a reasonable period of time.

The reason we have not proposed it in this amendment is that the actual calling of a byelection as opposed to the campaign period falls under the Parliament of Canada Act rather than the Canada Elections Act. That makes it impossible for us to put forward our ideal proposal in this particular piece of legislation.

It was pointed out during our discussion in committee that technically speaking, because it is in the Parliament of Canada Act, our ideal proposal falls outside the scope of this legislation. It does fall outside the scope of this legislation and the principles of this legislation, but it certainly does not fall outside the subject matter of the legislation because this bill affects the process for byelections in quite an intimate way. However as the legislation is drafted, this falls outside its scope.

I return to the comment I made on Friday which is that this House has not approved this bill in principle. It has only approved it for committee study. The bill went to committee. The purpose of committee study before second reading is supposed to be to examine all aspects of the bill including material that while within the subject matter of the bill may fall outside of its scope.

I am disappointed that this issue was not addressed during the committee hearings. I still hold out some hope that we will consider this issue before we complete our deliberations on this bill here in the House.

I urge the House to support this particular motion which improves the bill in a very small way. It does not force a byelection to be held. It does not even force a byelection to be delayed. It simply says that a byelection campaign should be at least 47 days in length. I put that to the House for its consideration.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

François Langlois Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Calgary West for bringing up the important issue of byelections and especially the period within which these are supposed to be held.

Generally speaking, when we are looking at a byelection, especially from the opposition's point of view, we mainly want to know when it will be called. The government should not wait too long. But the reverse is also true, as the hon. member for Calgary West pointed out. The government should not be able to call a snap election that catches the opposition parties off guard.

We could consider something like a minimum of 90 days after the vacancy occurs, up to a maximum of 180 days, in other words, between three and six months. Actually, in committee, because of the gruelling pace, it was impossible to discuss this aspect. In fact, it was hardly possible to discuss anything at all.

We will probably have a second opportunity, as I pointed out earlier, to look at all these questions, now that everyone has simmered down, and I am referring to voting hours, byelections and establishing a register of electors. Since today is Monday, the beginning of the week, perhaps I may explain what the debate is about, for the benefit of those who were not listening Friday.

We are now talking about shortening the electoral period to 36 days, down from 47. Is anyone opposed to this? Not many people. A few members from large ridings object, but a large majority of members are in favour.

Earlier, we saw that the hon. member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley did not agree with his colleague from Saanich-Gulf Islands on the subject of voting hours. It would probably be the same in our own caucus. The issue of voting hours came up all of sudden, and now we have to take position on the matter. Perhaps it could be left out of the debate, but there are many other things that should be left out as well.

If we can have an election within a shorter period of time, it is only due to a procedural trick. There would be a pre-election enumeration, probably during the first three weeks of April, so that as soon as the writs were issued, the chief electoral officer would have enough information so he would not have to order a second enumeration but could proceed immediately with revision as necessary.

We agree with the principle, but as we pointed out on Friday, not at this stage, not in the last year of the government's term. None of these last minute changes in the rules of the game. What we would like is one last election with the current rules, which everyone knows, with one last census, which would be held during the election campaign and would be valid for the election of the 37th Parliament.

I raise the point the hon. member for Calgary West raised earlier. There are problems in our system, which can be fairly easily fixed and which cause the powers of the government to be blatantly out of proportion with those of the opposition. Our preference would have been elections on a set date, which probably does not require an amendment either to the Constitution or to the statutes or ordinary legislation.

The Prime Minister could simply announce from his seat at the opening of Parliament that the next general election would be held, say, five years from the last one, unless the government were overturned in the meantime. The current Prime Minister could have said, when the House began sitting in January 1994: "The next election will be on the third Monday of October 1998". Everyone would know the date of the election. Everyone-Liberals, Reform-

ers, Bloc members and others-could prepare for the third week of October 1998. This could have been done through a ministerial statement, without changing provisions of the law and the British North America Act of 1867 and without taking any powers away from the Queen by prohibiting her from dissolving Parliament if she so desires. We all know very well that Her Majesty does not intervene in this sort of thing, except on the recommendation of the government.

This constraint could easily be eliminated. A ministerial statement, rather than a major constitutional change, is all it would take. We would feel much more involved in the process, not to mention the fact that, in the last 18 months of a government's mandate, the opposition keeps wondering when a general election will be called. If we knew the date, we would all be on an equal footing, as has been the case for over 200 years in the United States, where Democrats, Republicans and Reformers all know that, on the first Tuesday of November, they elect all members of the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate every two years, and the president every four years. We could have exactly the same provisions without amending the Constitution. I believe a private member's bill to that effect was introduced and will be reviewed by a committee.

As for the date of a byelection, it goes without saying that there is a danger in putting it off for too long, as is currently possible. The government must, in the six months following a vacancy, announce the date at which a byelection will be held. However, that date does not have to be within the six-month period. We should follow the example of some Canadian provinces. I will take the example of Quebec, since I am more familiar with its legislation. In Quebec, a byelection must be held in the six months that follow a vacancy.

No one is caught by surprise, since the byelection is held within a set timeframe. An exception could be made whereby, in the last year of a government's constitutional mandate, that is to say, between its fourth and fifth year in office, a byelection would not have to be held.

Otherwise, given that the whole process requires a number of months, a member elected in the last year of a mandate might sit for just a few weeks. In fact, should the House adjourn, that member could be elected, sign the roll, be sworn in, and never actually sit in the House.

So, an exception could be made whereby, in the fifth year of a Parliament, a byelection would not be required if one or more seats became vacant. In the other four years, a byelection would have to take place between the 90th and the 190th day following a vacancy. Therefore, we will support Motion No. 6 in Group No. 4, tabled by the hon. member for Calgary West.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Kootenay East, BC

Mr. Speaker, this motion is rather important one from the point of view of maintaining balance and democracy. For example, if the chief government whip were to be appointed ambassador to Minnesota-well, that is hockey they say-all of a sudden that would happen in the same way that it happened with our ambassador to Israel or any number of the other wonderful appointments the Prime Minister has bestowed on members.

In terms of keeping a balance in democracy, we all recognize that within any contest, which politics truly is, we want to have a set of rules that will not create the outcome but will see that the outcome is fair and balanced and that everyone has an equal chance to participate.

My colleague from Calgary West was mentioning that there is a provision under the Parliament of Canada Act for the government to call an election within six months. However, that does not mean that it has to be held within the six months.

Again, we address the problem then for the people in the constituency where the vacancy has occurred as opposed to this situation of the government whip's going to Minnesota. We have other situations where things are less controlled, where there is perhaps illness or even the death of a member of Parliament and people are simply not represented.

I would like to speak specifically to the issue of a 36 day campaign period, particularly for the opposition party, where we have a situation such as the heritage minister's being hounded from this House on the basis of her GST promises. It is widely reported that she made that decision after seeing an opinion poll which showed that she would be re-elected in her own constituency. So boom, that was it. She was gone.

Other vacancies have occurred. I am thinking primarily of the vacancy that was created so that the person who now fulfils the role of minister of immigration could come to this House. Those vacancies occurred, as it were, at the whim and at the direction of the Prime Minister.

Everyone in the House will be aware of the fact that every political party has its own specific set of rules, but there is, after all, a nomination process. Therefore, we would have the government members of the day, in this case the Liberals, who will have absolute control over what is to be going on. They will have all of their ducks in order. If we need any evidence that in fact the Liberals did have the ducks in order, on the day the heritage minister resigned and then was going to be coming back to this Chamber by way of the vote in Hamilton, all of a sudden she was appearing at a political rally that evening with all of the signs, banners and organization, everything completely in place.

I am not speaking to that particular election. I am just pointing out that clearly she and the government had absolute control over that situation. With a 47 day campaign that absolute control ends up being somewhat diluted by virtue of the fact that as the other parties have to go through a nomination process, a fundraising process and a team building process, they could have up to 30 of the 47 days. In other words, they could have virtually a full month to go through that entire process and then conduct a very aggressive political campaign in the last 17 days.

What would happen if we were to reduce the byelection period to 36 days? If in fact it did take 30 days, and clearly it can very easily take 30 days to go through the nomination, fundraising and team building processes, then the other parties would have less than a week to get themselves organized. There would only be six days left in the election campaign for those parties to try to affect the results.

All members of the House are aware of what goes into an election campaign. Signs must be printed. Offices have to be organized. Telephones have to be installed. Billboards have to be organized. Advertising time has to be purchased. All of these things having to be put in place in a 36 day period clearly puts the advantage in the hands of the government of the day.

Motion No. 6 calls for a sense of fairness and a sense of balance. Motion No. 6 must be supported by all members of the House. This motion will provide fair and balanced political competition for the important role of member of Parliament.

Many of the proposed amendments to this bill demonstrate clearly that collectively, with a minimal amount of partisanship, we are creating rules which are fair, balanced and, above all, equitable. Democracy will be protected through this process.

Isis Canada
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, one of the untold stories of the University of Manitoba is the existence of ISIS Canada. Part of the Canadian network of Centres of Excellence, ISIS Canada technology works to develop solutions to Canada's infrastructure problems.

Headquartered at the University of Manitoba, the ISIS network brings together researchers from universities in every province of Canada who are designing the new composite materials which will build the smart structures of the future.

Using carbon fibre for reinforcement and optical fibres for sensing, they are creating structures which are stronger, lighter, which last longer and which monitor themselves.

Thanks to the ISIS network, Canada leads the world in the development of this technology, a fact which will allow Canadian businesses to become leaders in a $900 billion global market.

This is only one of the many stories which can be told about the University of Manitoba, one of Canada's great universities.

Old Age Security
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Osvaldo Nunez Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, in September, I invited the retirees and preretirees in my riding of Bourassa to attend a meeting to exchange ideas and information on the old age security system, where the new seniors benefit was discussed.

I wish to extend my warmest thanks to the 200 participants, and particularly to the AQDR of Montreal North and the Regroupement des personnes à la retraite CTM-FTQ. I listened to what my constituents had to say. They are very concerned and they raised several points the Minister of Finance would do well to look into, including preserving the universality of the old age security system, reviewing the tax system in favour of low income seniors, and maintaining the retirement age at 65.

I urge the government therefore to take into account the demands made by retirees and preretirees in reforming the Canada Pension Plan.

Communications
Statements By Members

November 25th, 1996 / 2 p.m.

Reform

Bob Ringma Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I live on a small island on the coast of British Columbia. In common with my fellow islanders and hundreds of thousands of other rural Canadians, I can only receive two or three regular TV channels. We have no cable TV and no prospect of getting cable, but that is not our complaint.

Here is the problem. The air around us out there is filled with a cornucopia of good TV programs and movies but our government here in Ottawa says we may not receive those programs because it is illegal.

If a Canadian company were to make this programming available, my neighbours would be happy to buy Canadian but there is no such company. Therefore tens of thousands of rural Canadians

are being made to do without or break the law by receiving American signals.

It is just as wrong for the Canadian government to deny its citizens the ability to legally receive TV signals as it is for the Government of North Korea to dictate to its people what they will hear and see on radio and TV.