House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

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The House resumed from February 22 consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, be now read a second time and referred to a committee

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10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak this morning. I have but a few moments left to discuss Bill C-9 before the House.

Mr. Speaker, allow me to congratulate you for the deportment which you brought to this Chamber yesterday while you were presiding over the official visit of the British Prime Minister. I must say that you brought great humility, humour and your usual candour to the Chamber. You certainly carried yourself well in that role.

With respect to the bill, this is a piece of legislation that will go from this Chamber to the committee where there will be an opportunity to review some of the prevalent sections of the legislation itself.

We have been led to believe that the changes brought about by the bill, which, as I mentioned yesterday, resulted from a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal, will in fact set this matter right.

The past election demonstrated the need to examine in greater detail this issue of a permanent voters list. There were numerous occasions where many members of parliament encountered constituents who arrived at the polling booth and were sadly not able to vote. This of course comes at a time when there is declining participation in elections. Perhaps one of the most important exercises in the examination of the legislation is to ensure that this situation does not continue. We must ensure that we are encouraging not discouraging people from taking part in this important democratic process of voting.

Although this is a bill that is quite procedural in nature, there is a fundamental principle behind it that goes to the very heart of parliamentary democracy, that is, encouraging voters to participate in the electoral processes.

The definition with respect to the number of candidates that must run in an election to allow a party to have the official designation on the ballot is addressed. The situation surrounding donations and the blackouts that occur during elections is also addressed, so that information as to results in some regions is not brought into play as a factor in another region because of the width and breadth of this country and the attached time zones.

The Progressive Conservative Party, at this point, is certainly supportive of the legislation. We look forward to full participation at the committee level to bring forward possible amendments that would improve and enhance the bill which is our role as members of parliament.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member referred to voters lists and some of the problems we had with them. I think the hon. member will know that this was the first election under which we had permanent voters lists. I think all members would probably concur that there was substantive difficulty.

I wonder whether the hon. member has any comment with regard to the propriety and the feasibility of a good voters list using a permanent model, given what he knows from his own experience about what happened.

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10:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my remarks, I think that is perhaps the underlying most important aspect of the bill.

The difficulty, as the hon. member is clearly aware, is the nature of this country, the high level of mobility and the number of students, for example, who are attending university. The permanency of the residency I suppose is the very issue.

What I have found and I think the common experience of many members was the need for the checking and what was traditionally done prior to elections of having individuals go out and ensure the veracity of the current list, which, to my way of thinking, is tantamount to repeating the way the process was before.

This leads to questions as to how permanent the list is and whether we should examine the list by going back to the old way of doing things, which was to simply, with ample time prior to an election, going out and enumerating and finding out where people are and ensuring that the lists are correct.

Given the enormity of that job, it is natural that there will be some mistakes. There will never be perfection in this system, but to suggest somehow that a permanent list will capture everyone would be fooling ourselves, given the high levels of mobility. The enumeration process will be relied upon heavily in most instances, and it is a return to a system that we have had for many years.

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10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time I have spoken in the House since the resumption of parliament, but it is my first time participating in debate. I congratulate you on your election as Speaker. I very much respect and appreciate the job that you did as Deputy Speaker in the last parliament and I look forward to your favourable rulings in this parliament.

We are continuing the debate on Bill C-9 from yesterday when unfortunately the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle made reference to a private member's bill that I introduced in the House. My private member's bill would seek to change the current number of members required to be designated as an official party in the House. The proposal in my bill is that a party would require 10% of the seats in the House of Commons. I made the proposal on the basis that I thought it was a reasonable amount. If a party cannot achieve 10% representation then the benefits that accrue to official parties ought not to be available.

In other words we use taxpayer money to assist us as official parties in carrying out our duties in the House of Commons and, as in the case of the official opposition, holding the government accountable for its actions. I am not speaking about benefits available to each member of parliament to represent his or her constituents. I am not proposing that should in any way be changed or altered whatsoever, but I am referring to the parties in general.

The current rule is 12. If a party does not have 12 members it does not get those benefits. My proposal is that 12 is too low a number. It is less than 5%. My proposal is 10%. It was only a proposal.

If the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle would like to amend my bill and suggest 5%, I would be open to that. I do not think it is unreasonable to say that the benefits of being an official party and the financial resources made available to it will be allowed if the party has 5% of the seats in the House of Commons. Surely that is not too onerous a level to achieve.

What I take particular offence to is the manner in which the member, quite frankly, misled and misrepresented my bill and my position. First, let me make it very clear that he went to great lengths to say that this was official Canadian Alliance policy when in fact it is a private member's bill. He has been in the House long enough that he ought to know the difference. He should not misrepresent my private member's bill or misrepresent the official policies of the Canadian Alliance.

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10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am becoming somewhat concerned about the usage of the terminology misrepresented and misled in the context of the member referring to another member in this place.

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10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I do not think the hon. member has stepped over the line yet and I am sure that he will not. He knows the rules and I think he will exercise judicious restraint.

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10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Indeed I will, Mr. Speaker. That is exactly the type of favourable ruling I was referring to.

What I am saying is that it is a private member's bill which I introduced to engage members in debate on what number of MPs a party ought to have to receive the resources provided to officially recognized parties. I do not think 5% or 10% is an unrealistic number to have. However, I was pointing out that the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle tried to link that to the Canadian Alliance when in fact it was not fair for him to do so.

I took further offence when I reviewed Hansard today. Unfortunately I was not in the House to draw attention to the fact that the hon. member was misrepresenting my position. According to Hansard he made, quite frankly, vicious personal attacks on members of our caucus. He referred to us as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble people and then made disparaging comments about members of our caucus who wear cowboy hats.

I am sure there are many farmers and ranchers in the riding of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle who wear cowboy hats. Is he saying that they are somehow prehistoric people? That is what he was insinuating about members who have been elected to the House of Commons to represent their constituents.

It raises this question: Why was he engaging in that type of gutter politics and smear tactics? He was doing so to distract attention from the issue. He does not want to engage in the debate on whether or not 5% or 10% is a reasonable number to have in the House of Commons in order to receive official party status. He therefore engages in the longstanding New Democratic Party technique of trying to distract attention from the issue by engaging in personal attacks. It is highly inappropriate.

The member was confusing my private member's bill with Bill C-9. Bill C-9 is about the elections. It is about getting one's name on a ballot, what would constitute an official party and being able to put a party's name on the ballot. I am in no way opposed to the number of members being 12. I would support it being two. If two people want to run in a federal election and call themselves a party, they ought to be able to do that. Whatever rules and privileges we can extend to people who are running in elections, we ought to accommodate that and encourage people to participate and engage in the democratic process.

I want to highlight that my private member's bill in no way has anything to do with that. My bill is after the fact. Once the election is held, once we have accommodated people as much as possible to engage in the democratic process, to call themselves parties and to participate in elections, once the people have spoken, then we need to apply a certain standard. Indeed, right now we do; it is 12 MPs. I am simply suggesting it should be a percentage, and that 5% or 10% would not be unreasonable.

The purpose in that, further to what I have already said, is to eliminate official party representation in the House of fringe or marginal parties, such as the New Democratic Party, and to stop financial resources from accruing to them. If there is any doubt about that, we had the privilege yesterday in the House of being addressed by the prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, the leader of the labour party. I would like to quote from his speech. He said:

Finally on trade I just want to say this last point. It is time I think that we started to argue vigorously and clearly as to why free trade is right. It is the key to jobs for our people, to prosperity and actually to development in the poorest parts of the world. The case against it is misguided and, worse, unfair. However sincere the protests, they cannot be allowed to stand in the way of rational argument. We should start to make this case with force and determination.

Clearly the opinion of the leader of the labour party of Great Britain, the prime minister of Great Britain, is that the NDP's opposition to expanding our free trade zones is irrational and, in his words, misguided and unfair. That just highlights and underscores the type of fringe, marginal party that the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle represents. My private member's bill was simply designed to prevent resources from accruing to fringe parties.

I will also take the opportunity to criticize the Liberal government. If we are interested in electoral reform, why would we not extend the discussion and the scope of the bill to include Senate reform?

For decades regional alienation has been occurring in the country, and part of the reason is because of the poor democratic processes that are in place. We could undertake a lot of initiatives to improve democracy and improve the ability of members of parliament to represent their constituents. I will not get into all the things we could do in the House of Commons but I do want to talk about the Senate.

Why would we not elect our senators? It would obviously be more democratic and more representative of the will of the people. Senators supposedly represent people in the provinces they come from. They debate and review legislation that comes from the House. However, to have those people appointed is an affront to the very regions they are supposed to represent.

I have taken the initiative of writing to the former premier of Saskatchewan, Mr. Roy Romanow, on a number of occasions over the past several years while he was still premier. I urged him to enact a senatorial election act that could be done in conjunction with municipal or provincial elections in order to minimize cost and ensure efficiency. It would allow the people of Saskatchewan to choose who they wanted to represent them in the Senate as opposed to the current practice in which the Prime Minister appoints friends and people who have benefited the Liberal Party in some way. This is not a unique or even novel idea.

Alberta has a senatorial election act and has elected senators in waiting. Unfortunately the Prime Minister refuses to respect the democratic will of the people of Alberta and appoints people he has chosen to represent them in the Senate. Ideally we need to reform the system so that senators who are elected automatically become senators. However, as a first step, surely the Prime Minister could recognize and respect the democratic will of the people of Alberta and appoint their chosen and elected representatives, Bert Brown and Ted Morton, to the Senate.

My purpose in writing the premier of Saskatchewan was to encourage him to enact a similar piece of legislation in his province so that we could elect senators in waiting and increase the pressure on the Prime Minister to abandon his undemocratic ways and start appointing democratically elected senators.

Unfortunately the premier of Saskatchewan at the time, a New Democrat, refused to accede to my request and implement such an act. That was most regrettable, but it underscores some of the hypocrisy in the New Democratic Party. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle talks in the House about fairness and trying to improve the democratic process and yet the former New Democratic premier of Saskatchewan would not enact a senatorial election act that would let people choose who they want to represent them in the Senate. It is quite unbelievable.

I have taken the initiative to write to the new premier in Saskatchewan and I am waiting for his reply. I hope he is more favourable toward my suggestion. I hope he will be more democratic and try to assist the democratic process in Canada, something the former NDP premier was unwilling to do.

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10:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I could not help but notice the righteous indignation the hon. member cloaks himself in when he speaks of hypocrisy and of his efforts to bring about an elected Senate.

I hope that would include the newest member of the Senate under the reform alliance banner. In that other place, I would suggest it is only appropriate that, in keeping with official party stance, he would step down and run in British Columbia. I would hope the hon. member would encourage him to do so.

I also must refer briefly to the member's private member's bill, Bill C-273, in which the Progressive Conservative Party is referred to as a fringe or marginal party. I take exception to that and think the hon. member, in all humility, might rethink the wording of the bill.

The Progressive Conservative Party, as we all know, goes back to the very origins of the country. It has run candidates in every election since Confederation and has run candidates in every region of the country. I ask the hon. member to reflect with some hubris upon the roots of his own party, the Reform Party.

When his party first arrived in the Chamber many people used the same unkind words, fringe party or marginal party. From those humble roots his party has now achieved official party status and has become the official opposition.

I caution the hon. member to perhaps choose his words carefully and reflect a little bit more broadly on the origins of his own party when he starts castigating and using that type of inflammatory language in the Chamber.

I would be very interested to hear his comments.

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10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raised a couple of questions. First, of course, he drew attention to the fact that the former president of the Progressive Conservative Party, Gerry St. Germain, a very respected and noble Senator, is now a member of the Canadian Alliance caucus. We are very proud and happy about that.

The question though was whether, in keeping with our official party policy, I would encourage Senator St. Germain to resign his position and seek to be elected as a Senator. I very much encouraged him to do so, and he himself has offered to do that. Should the Prime Minister be willing to commit himself to appointing the democratically elected senator, Senator St. Germain would resign his seat and seek to be elected. I hope that adequately addresses the question from the hon. member.

The second point the hon. member made is that my private member's bill describes not only the NDP but the Progressive Conservative Party as fringe parties. I think he has a legitimate point. Although the NDP is very marginal and has ideas that are, in the words of the prime minister of Great Britain, misguided, unfair and irrational, I think that meets the definition of fringe.

On the other hand, I agree with the hon. member with regard to the Progressive Conservative Party. It has a proud tradition in this parliament. Unfortunately it has lost favour with the general public to quite a degree, although its principles and policies are very much consistent with our own. Very often members of both parties find themselves in agreement with each other.

Indeed, the PC Party does not meet the definition of fringe party. My bill perhaps is unfair in the sense that there is a lot of common ground between our parties and our principles. It does not make sense that such good progressive ideas are held in two parties divided. Seeking to find more and better ways of co-operating and working together against the regressive policies of the Liberal Party should be encouraged, and I would certainly welcome that.

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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I notice the member took offence to some of the things I was saying. People who are watching and listening today should realize that the Alliance Party, through the hon. member, has introduced a bill stating that an official party should have at least 10% of the members of the House, which is 31 members, or should have members in three provinces. The Bloc, of course, comes from only one province.

The member would classify as a fringe party 63 members of parliament: all the Bloc, all the Conservatives, all the New Democrats, the voices of one-third of the Canadian people. Those three parties received about 33% of the vote. Is that democracy? Is that inclusiveness? Is that empowering people? Is that what the Reform Party and the Alliance Party stand for? Do they stand for excluding the voice of the people in the House of Commons?

There is the party with a former leader who went across the country talking about the equality of people, saying “Let the people in. Let the west in. Let the people speak. Let us treat everyone equally”. Now those members have a bill in the House of Commons that would mute the voices of one-third of the people in the country.

People should know where the reform alliance party stands. Never has anyone in the history of the House of Commons moved such a draconian bill. No one has ever tried to do this before. It would mute the voices of one-third of the people.

The left in the country will be around here for a long time after the Reform Party disappears. I do not know whether the member has any sense of history in terms of the contribution of the CCF and the NDP in health care, social programs, the mixed economy and the charter of rights, all of these institutions. Maybe he was not a very good student of history.

I want to ask him this: why would he propose an idea that is so contrary to what his former leader used to say about the equality of the people, which was that everyone is equal and should have a voice in the House of Commons in the Parliament of Canada? He wants to exclude 63 MPs representing a third of the electorate. That is the most draconian idea I have heard since the ideas that came out of the era of Joe McCarthy in the United States.

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10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member is doing it again. He says “the Alliance Party through this member”. In another part of his missive he asks “Is this what the Alliance Party stands for?”

I tried to be as clear as I could in my speech. I will reiterate it. This is not official Canadian Alliance policy. It is simply a private member's bill. His question is, why would I propose such an idea? I proposed such an idea because in the words of the prime minister of Great Britain, the NDP is misguided, unfair and irrational. If such a fringe party is represented in the House, maybe we ought to examine the rules around that.

The member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough pointed out that his party is not really a fringe party, that it in fact has a proud tradition and often advocates very progressive ideas and policies which would improve the prosperity of all the citizens of our nation. I agree with him.

The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle takes offence to the number of 10% and the fact that my bill would also exclude the Bloc because there would have to be MPs from three provinces. My rationale, my purpose, in doing this is that a lot of Canadians are offended that the Bloc Quebecois gets financial resources even though it represents only one province and has as a specific purpose the splitting up of our country.

It is just a private member's bill. I am open to suggestions and amendments. If the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle wants to propose that we delete the three province requirement because it is unfair to members of the Bloc and that we lower the 10% to 5%, I am open to that proposal.

I therefore seek the unanimous consent of the House to make my bill votable with the proviso that the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle would propose an amendment to lower the 10% requirement to 5% and drop the three province rule.

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10:30 a.m.

The Speaker

I guess it is a proposal. I do not think the hon. member is asking for consent for all that, surely, at this point. We are not debating his bill today. We are on debate on a government bill at the moment. Given the complicated nature of this matter, I think asking for unanimous consent might not advance his cause.

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10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, we are on government business and I wish we would get back to that piece of legislation. However, it was the member himself who brought up private member's Bill C-273 at great length during his conversation.

I have a simple question. As one of those parties that he has deemed to be fringe, is the 10% requirement a defence mechanism that the member is putting forward because he recognizes that the official opposition has fallen down miserably in trying to put forward that opposition to the government and must depend now upon those same fringe parties that he refers to, that is, the NDP, the Conservatives and the Bloc members? Quite frankly, the credibility of the official opposition has been eroded to the point where no one will believe them or listen to them any longer. Is this only a defence mechanism to try to make sure we do not have the opportunity, with the limited resources and the limited questions we have, to in fact put forward questions in a much more effective manner than the member's party has been able to do?

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10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, first of all the hon. member says that he is representing a party that I have deemed to be fringe. I thought I clarified that and highlighted the idea that really the only fringe party in the House of Commons, by definition of the prime minister of Great Britain himself, is the NDP, because it is, in his words, misguided, unfair and irrational.

The other question the hon. member had was about why I am introducing the bill, whether is it a defence mechanism or something. In fact, I reintroduced the bill in the House of Commons. I introduced it in the last session of parliament. I think it is a good cause and is something the House of Commons should examine: what is a reasonable level of representation in parliament before an opposition party gets access to the resources that are provided to hold the government to account? That is the purpose of my bill.