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.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleagues from the other side that the Canadian public only two months ago gave their verdict on that party and that is why those members are sitting at the other end of the Chamber, almost on the way out. Perhaps they will understand, since they are sitting here talking about democracy, that it was the Canadian public that made them lose their seats to the other party. Let us keep that in mind.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

An hon. member

You guys did well in Ontario, did you?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

We went up. You went down. Perhaps they can understand that the Canadian public has made its choice. The public has said where those members are going to sit.

Let us go back to Bill C-9. It is a pleasure for me to rise and speak on Bill C-9. This is a bill the government brought in because of a court ruling. It seems to me, and I can never understand what the government seems to be doing, that this bill is destined to go back to the courts. It came from the courts and it is destined to go back to the courts because it is a flawed bill.

The bill is saying, based on the ruling from the courts, that the government will recognize a party with 12 or more candidates. The government will recognize that party only on an election ballot. The government will not recognize it as a registered party. The difference between being on the ballot and having registered party favours the old parties, including my party—the Canadian public has chosen us to be the official opposition, contrary to whatever the members opposite want to say—and it favours the government.

It seems to me that the government is trying to protect itself. If the trend carries on and the NDP and the other parties keep losing ground, then the bill will apply to them too. If they lose one or two candidates, they will lose party status in the House as well.

We are talking about registered parties. Let me tell the House what a registered party gets. A registered party gets electoral voter lists. A registered party gets the ability to issue tax receipts, which allows it to do fundraising. It is also allowed to provide rebates on election expenses. Most importantly, if for some reason the party is suspended, the bill would allow the party to have its assets liquidated.

What is happening here is that we are creating two classes of parties in the country, registered parties and eligible parties. I do not understand why we would want to do that.

Smaller parties ran in my riding in the November election: the Marijuana Party, the Communist Party and the Natural Law Party. There were also five from the other registered parties.

The Marijuana Party was running on the basis of getting out its message. That is fine. I thoroughly enjoyed having their members as my opponents and debating with them on the issues. They had one simple message they wanted to get out to the public, which was that marijuana be legalized for medicinal purposes. That was their only message, because a Mr. Krieger, who is in jail at this time, was and is using marijuana as a medicinal purpose to counteract pain. He wanted this message to get out. That was fine. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get out one's message. After all, we do talk about freedom of speech. We cherish freedom of speech.

Why can we not have these eligible parties become registered parties? Perhaps the government can give me a good reason. If it is good enough to recognize a party's official status in this esteemed House, why can we not recognize anyone who is putting up 12 candidates as a registered party? Why are we creating two systems here? I will never understand this.

We have a lot of things we can do, but here is a bill that is destined to go back to the courts. The bill addresses nothing, yet we have important issues to be addressed. There are issues about reform. There is the reform of the Senate, and my friend talked about reforming the House so that members of parliament can speak on behalf of their constituents. As is evident and as has been stated time after time, the power of what is happening in the House is with the Prime Minister's office.

We are on the committees, but we know they are irrelevant because at the end of the day everything comes from one person. Democracy in parliament has been eroded over the years, a legacy from past governments of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. That is why the Conservative Party has been relegated to the back rows of the House. This is the legacy that party left, a legacy of the eroding of democracy, of all aspects of power being concentrated in the hands of the PMO.

These issues need to be addressed. The Alliance has put forward a lot of good proposals for debate. The other parties even agree with us on this, in regard to a private member's bill. We are elected by the people of Canada. We are their voice. However, this is my second term and, based on experience, I can tell my colleagues that our voices here are not heard, nor are the voices of government backbenchers.

Let us address the issues that are important. Let us address the fundamental points of freedom of speech, transparency and the ability to allow those who want to speak on behalf of Canadians speak. Let them be allowed. The bill before us does not do that. For these reasons we are opposed to the bill.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I made my first address in the House yesterday. You were not in the chair at the time, so I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election. I wish you well in your position and I wish you the best in terms of dealing with the stress that the job creates.

With regard to the legislation before us I wish to make several points. We are in support of the thrust of the bill to provide party status to those groups that can muster 12 members to run on their behalf.

Our concern is much more with the inadequacy of the bill on a number of other points. Recognizing the time I have, I wish to address the lack of updating the permanent enumeration list from the perspective of the experiences I have had. I have now ran on three occasions, and on each occasion I was confronted with similar problems that resulted in the inability of people in my riding to vote on election day.

I will use one example. As a result of the unfortunate death of Shaughnessy Cohen, there was a byelection in my riding in 1999. There was construction going on at the time in the town of Tecumseh in one of the suburban areas.

When I ran again in the November 2000 election, I happened to be canvassing door to door in that area. I was knocking on doors of some people that I had met in the previous two election campaigns, but then I crossed the street and I began consistently running into residents that had clearly not been put on the voters list. I was with a couple of supporters and we decided to cover the whole area to see who was not on the list. It turned out that it was a new subdivision and well in excess of 100 voters were not on the voters list.

The point I suppose I should emphasize is that at this stage it was only about seven or eight days before the election and all these people had some significant difficulty voting on November 27. If a regular enumeration had been conducted prior to the vote and during the election period, these people would have been easily picked up and they would have had minimal or no difficulty on election day.

I should make a point that the returning officer in our area was not somebody who neglected her responsibilities. In fact I thought she was quite positive in the way she did her job. She did it as effectively as she could but was hampered both by the shortness of the election period and by the other tools that she did not have.

There were other areas where we had trouble. The one of particular concern to me was with immigrants to Canada who had only recently achieved the ability to vote under the Canada Elections Act. We have had a major in-migration in my riding, particularly from the Middle East. There are some difficulties with language. As a result a number of people in two areas of my riding where they tended to settle were not on the voters list. If an enumeration were conducted we would have been able to identify those people, get them on to the voters list and facilitate their ability to vote.

In many cases, when these individuals did go to the polls, they had particular difficulty because of language. Often they spoke English or French but they had difficulty with the language. They needed extra support in order to work their way through the system and had to bring the proper identification in order to vote on election day. Again, a good number of them ended up being disenfranchised.

There are certain areas in my constituency with people who are of low income. We have, as is the case in a number of other major municipalities, a housing problem. These individuals often have difficulty affording housing and are moving on a regular basis. The lack of enumeration of these individuals during the election period again tends to disenfranchise them. They end up being disenfranchised almost on a class basis because they are forced to move often due to the cost of housing. We are caught in a situation where we disenfranchise them.

A number of these people often have difficulty with their identification and are not able, even if they are determined enough to go to the polls on election day, to produce the necessary identification.

In one area of my riding it is a financial issue. If people show up at the poll and do not have their identification with them, they have to actually take a bus, because the poll is so large, go back home, get their identification and then come back. Those few dollars that it cost them is often enough to dissuade them from voting on election day. So we disenfranchise them.

The University of Windsor, although not located in my riding, has a number of students who come in from outside to vote in the riding where they may be residing while they go to school. The lack of enumeration restricts a number of them and they often have difficulty on election day producing identification that would make it possible for them to vote. They end up being disenfranchised.

We all know the figure that has been publicized, the one million plus voters who were not on the voters list on election day on November 27, 2000. That, by any standards, is unacceptable in a democratic country.

We would ask the government to reconsider the legislation and to provide additional amendments that would make it possible to have enumeration conducted during the course of the election.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, throughout the debate today and yesterday, I could not help but notice that the flow and the subject of the debate involved issues way beyond the scope of the bill that is before the House for discussion.

I am a little disappointed in the debate because there are some important issues that lie behind the court decisions that the House is now acceding to in considering the bill. I am not referring to the speaker who just spoke, but most of the previous speakers have wanted to address issues like the voters list or other issues related to democracy and the effectiveness of the electoral machinery that we use in Canada.

In an attempt to bring our record closer to the issues that are in front of us, I would ask the member a couple of questions. Hopefully he has had a look at the bill and knows the issues that are in there. There are of course the technical issues and a few amendments that are referred to as technical amendments. However, there is also the issue of allowing individuals, who are part of political parties that do not meet the 50 candidate threshold, to show themselves as members of parties.

I am trying to elicit an acknowledgement from the member that the proposals in the legislation to allow an individual and at least 11 other candidates to show themselves as a party on a ballot is fair, and that the 12 person threshold is fair.

This has not come up very often, but sometimes the House and the government are called upon by the court to reconsider an issue based on the court's opinion. In this case, the proposed amendments are as a direct result of court of appeal decisions and opinion. The government has introduced a bill to do that.

I am asking the member to comment on the appropriateness of the House responding directly to an exhortation or an opinion from a court to revise our laws so that they are more charter compliant.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the outset of my comments today I made it clear that I was in support of the number 12. I felt that the legislation as far as it went on that point was appropriate. We need to have some number. I think as a House we have accepted that, and the Ontario Court of Appeal has made it clear that the number 50 was unreasonable. The use of 12 seems to be appropriate. It is in keeping with the acknowledgement of party status in the House if that many members are elected.

Should the number be 10, 14 or 15? I suppose arguments could be made in that regard, but 12 seems to be accepted because of the historical significance of elected members within the House. I thought I had made that clear at the start of my comments but if I did not, I apologize to my friend across the House.

I will go back to the point the member raised about the way the debate has gone and the fact that so many people have raised other issues. I think that is the inadequacy of the legislation. It does not address a number of other very crucial issues, some of which I have spoken to. Enumeration, in particular, should have been addressed. I thought we had some sense of that from the House leader earlier in the session, that something more extensive would be forthcoming.

I reassert all the comments that I made in my original address, but to address his particular question, I made it obvious that we do support the number 12 in order to achieve party status for electoral purposes.

Akd International
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to rise today to congratulate AKD International, a business in my riding which participated in the team Canada mission to China.

AKD International signed a contract valued at $2 million with an educational bureau in Shenzhen to deliver high school and community college programs using an integrated Chinese-New Brunswick curriculum. It signed a contract valued at $3 million to establish a broadband information technology infrastructure at the Beijing Concord College.

AKD International also signed a memorandum of understanding and letters of intent for projects worth $22 million, of which $7 million is Canadian content. I want to congratulate AKD.

I also commend the Prime Minister for raising the important issue of human rights while on this trade mission. The recognition of fundamental human rights must be a prerequisite for any form of interaction between civilized societies.

Transportation
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 1992 the Minister of Transport surrendered control of the Vancouver International Airport to a privately controlled airport authority. This authority learned well from the government that created it. According to a Vancouver Board of Trade report, the authority operates with a lack of explicit accountability, something that has become a trademark of the government.

Calls from the business community at the airport for the authority to make itself more accountable to the users of the facility have been dismissed as unnecessary. The authority is quite happy to leave things as they are.

No wonder. Its biggest decision last year was how to spend a $49.5 million surplus, yet it continues to overtax passengers with its terminal user fee. Taxing when there is a surplus, where have we heard that before? The authority must be Liberal.

It is way past time the federal government took a second look at just how autocratic this authority has become. The contractors and thousands of employees who work for it deserve more accountability.

Estonia
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, on February 24 Estonians mark the 83rd anniversary of the declaration of Estonian independence.

This is not only a day of celebration for Canadians of Estonian heritage, but also an opportunity to thank Canada and Canadians for offering Estonians refuge in a new homeland in the aftermath of World War II.

It is an opportunity to thank Canada for its steadfast support of Estonian independence through the dark days of the Soviet occupation of Estonia. It is an opportunity to thank Canada for its support in rebuilding Estonia after the re-establishment of Estonian independence in 1991. Finally, it is an opportunity to thank Canada for its support of Estonia's aspirations to join NATO in the very near future in order to secure a lasting peace and stability in Europe.

On this special day, Canadians of Estonian heritage look forward to the future with hope and optimism for both Canada and Estonia, and for even closer economic, political and diplomatic ties between these two countries.

To this end, I am pleased to announce that on February 22 Estonia officially opened its embassy in Ottawa.

Aviation
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier this week I had the opportunity of commenting on scientific achievements of last week, including landing a satellite on an asteroid and installing a lab in the International Space Station.

Those two achievements in and of themselves are quite astounding, but they are also rooted in other achievements of note. For instance, 92 years ago today, on February 23, 1909, the Silver Dart, designed by Canadian engineer John McCurdy, made the first powered heavier than air flight in Canada, in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, to be precise. A few years before that, in December 1903, the Wright brothers had achieved the first ever controlled powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

I would like to suggest that the 100th anniversary of the first ever powered flight, December 2003, would be an ideal time to officially open the long delayed new wing of the National Aviation Museum and dedicate it to the indomitable spirit of the men and women who gave us this marvellous adventure of human flight.

Long Distance Charges
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Quebec government's bill 170 will force the merger of the cities of Hull, Aylmer, Gatineau, Buckingham and Masson-Angers on January 1, 2002.

Unfortunately, a number of the 220,000 residents of the big new city will have to pay long distances charges if they want to phone each other. This is the case between Aylmer and certain areas of Gatineau, as well as between Aylmer and Buckingham-Masson-Angers.

All these fellow citizens of the newly created municipality will not be able to speak to each other without paying long distance charges.

I have therefore made representations so that they will not have to phone each other long distance, from the very first day of the existence of the new city of Hull-Gatineau.

I invite the management of the CRTC and of Bell Canada to co-operate in this matter and to abolish these long distance charges.

Canada Customs
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, almost a year ago the minister for customs publicly announced to smugglers and cross border criminals that he planned to increase security at 32 of our 147 border crossings in Canada.

The minister went a step further and listed the 32 crossings and what he planned to do at each site. I compliment the minister on giving this practical guide to criminals on which border points to avoid.

The only thing these initiatives have accomplished is to increase traffic at our unmanned border crossings where criminals know they can cross into Canada without even slowing down.

The government has single handedly created a punishment free zone for all international criminals. We have loosened our border to the point where our American neighbours no longer trust our citizens travelling south, where jets are free to land without inspection and where international felons know that our justice system is reluctant to extradite.

Only Walt Disney himself could have designed this resort for criminals that Canada is fast becoming.

Nunavut Trade Show
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, on March 1 the 10th annual Nunavut trade show will take place in Iqaluit. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, retailers and government organizations from all over Nunavut will enjoy opportunities to promote their goods and skills to the public. Interesting workshops will take place.

I thank my friend, the hon. member for St. Catharines, who will be attending the Nunavut trade show to learn about the unique challenges of northern businesses and to share his expertise on small and medium size enterprises.

I look forward to this dynamic trade show which highlights the energetic and creative businesses that populate Nunavut.

Employment Insurance
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, the auditor general is clear, and I quote:

The employment insurance act does not specify how decisions on eligibility are reached or how appeals are to be carried out. This situation has gone on for several years now, and to date no steps have been taken to make the process transparent. Employers and unemployed workers are still at a disadvantage when dealing with the federal bureaucracy.

It is a regular occurrence for people who have been treated unjustly to be deprived of benefits for years. The Liberal government's attitude is unacceptable and disdainful.

By neglecting to follow up on the constructive criticism by the Auditor General of Canada, the government is demonstrating how little importance it attaches to treating workers fairly.

Job Creation
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada announced this week that the number of people on employment insurance had decreased by an average of 7.2% since last year.

This fact shows the enormous job the federal has done in creating jobs. The throne speech pointed out, in fact, that at least 2 million jobs had been created since the Liberals took office.

It must be said that this announcement occurs in a particular context. We note that Canada has experienced the longest period of economic growth since the 1960s.

The federal government is doing everything it can to make Canada a leader in the economic community. And it has met its objectives. Even the boldest.