House of Commons Hansard #153 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parties.

Topics

10 a.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received which is as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

November 7, 2003

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, will proceed to the Senate Chamber today, the 7th day of November, 2003, at 1:00 p.m., for the purpose of giving Royal Assent to certain bills of law.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Uteck,

Secretary to the Governor General

Message from the Senate
The Royal Assent

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that messages have been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bills: Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts and Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans.

Message from the Senate
The Royal Assent

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I seek unanimous consent to move to presenting reports from committees so that I may present the fourth report of the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations.

Message from the Senate
The Royal Assent

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent of the House to proceed with presenting reports from committees at this time?

Message from the Senate
The Royal Assent

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, as chair of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, concerning national parks regulations.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, your committee requests the government to table a comprehensive response to this report within 90 days.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved that Bill

C-51, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act

be read a second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open the second reading debate on Bill C-51, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

As we all know, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its ruling in the Figueroa case last June, throwing into question some of the key aspects of the Canada Elections Act relating to the registration of political parties. The issue is an important one, as it goes to the heart of our parliamentary system.

Today, I would like to briefly review the impact of the Figueroa decision and to outline the government's legislative response to the ruling, as set out in Bill C-51.

The rule requiring parties to field 50 candidates in order to be registered was enacted in 1970, when, for the first time, the Canada Elections Act recognized the existence of political parties and allowed party identification on the ballot.

Before that, just the candidate's name was given, never the party. If I remember rightly, this led to abuses. A party would try to find an independent candidate with a name similar to the one most likely to win, in order to try to confuse voters. The situation was clarified by adding the political party beside the name on the ballot.

This was the first step toward a more comprehensive regulation of electoral finances that would occur a few years later, in 1974, as a result of the Barbeau and Chappell committees.

In that context, the 1970 Elections Act provided for the registration of parties that endorsed at least 50 candidates in a general election. The 50-candidate rule reflected the particular role that larger parties had come to play in our system of parliamentary democracy, based on the principle of responsible government.

There were then very few benefits attached to registration, other than ballot identification. Things have evolved considerably since that time, and registered parties are now entitled to a number of benefits, including financial benefits. This is when the challenges started.

At the same time, I should add, parties are subject to a number of significant obligations, in particular the requirement to submit annual and post-electoral reports. Registration carries both benefits and burdens. There are of course financial benefits, along with identification on the ballot and so forth. But these are counterbalanced by the requirement to file reports and the like.

In the Figueroa case, it was argued that the 50 candidate rule was unconstitutional because it operated to exclude smaller parties from certain benefits under the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act. Three benefits were at issue.

First, was the right to issue tax receipts for political contributions. That, obviously, has a financial advantage to the donor and similarly a financial advantage for the recipient party. If the donor has an advantage, it increases the chance that the donor is going to give. That is the whole object of having the rule in the first place.

Second, was the right of the party to receive a candidate's campaign surpluses. As members will know, when there is a surplus in a campaign, the candidate is not entitled to bring the amount home. It can be provided to the consolidated revenue fund or given to the constituency association of the political party or to the political party directly.

Third, was the right to have a candidate's party affiliation listed on the ballot, which is the original proposition that I raised a while ago.

The government took the position that the 50 candidate rule served as a reasonable and politically neutral benchmark level of electoral participation that parties had to meet in order to gain access to benefits under the act, in particular, the Income Tax Act. We thought this was a reasonable proposition. A party must run 50 candidates in order to have some of them elected, and of course, at least 12 must be elected to this place from that critical mass in order to be a recognized political party.

The Ontario Court of Appeal largely agreed with the government's position--at least it agreed with that part--except as a requirement for party identification on the ballot. In other words, to be entitled to the benefits, 50 candidates was okay and in the case of smaller parties, the name of the party would at least be on the ballot.

That is the way we acted at the time. We provided a bill in the House and corrected those measures. However, the Supreme Court disagreed and unanimously struck down the 50 candidate requirement. It is even more complicated than that and I will get to that in a minute.

The court concluded that the rule was inconsistent with the right to vote in section 3 of the charter. In the court's view, the rule's impact on small parties infringed the right to meaningful participation in the electoral process. The court also ruled that this restriction on section 3 rights could not be justified under section 1 of the charter.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

An hon. member

Absolutely.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

A colleague across the way says absolutely. Yet, it was his party that moved, after 1993, to further restrict those who could receive the contribution under what is commonly known as the McClelland amendment. It was produced by his then colleague from Alberta to tighten up some of those requirements because some fringe parties were receiving benefits from the surpluses of elections, namely the natural law party. It was his party that moved to tighten this. Today he is saying absolutely and agreeing that the requirements should be loosened; however, that is a different proposition than his party moved and that the House supported, by the way. I think the House unanimously supported that amendment.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

He is now a Tory MLA.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I know he is a Tory MLA now, but notwithstanding that, we still liked him anyway.

While the court ruled the provisions in question unconstitutional, it suspended the judgment for a period of 12 months in order to allow Parliament time to amend the legislation. That is what we have before us today. Thus, if no legislative amendment is made by June 27, 2004, the 50 candidate rule will cease to have any effect, leaving a large void in the act.

It also means that it would be fairly easy for any group, if we do not do anything that is, to register as a political party and abuse the tax credits that are designed to assist true political parties. Of course, we do not want any group to fraudulently claim it is a political party only to get money from the taxpayers of Canada. That is why it is imperative that we act, and act quickly, to respond and ensure that the Canada Elections Act remains operational after June 27, 2004, to prevent any misuse of the system. The Supreme Court decision has left a gap and it is our duty to fill that gap while respecting the court's decision.

Before reviewing the key elements of the proposed legislation, let me take a moment to highlight the potential implications of the Figueroa decision, flowing from its impact on party registration.

Obviously, removing the candidate threshold in accordance with the ruling may well result in an increase in the number of registered parties. In theory, an increase in the number of parties could have an impact on the reimbursement of election expenses and other benefits.

However, parties must sustain a minimum level of voter support, that is to say 5% of the vote in the ridings in which they endorse a candidate, or 2% of the vote nationally, which is what we call the McCLelland amendment, in order to receive that allowance.

That particular provision is still valid because it provides us with some protection by not allowing a person to get money from taxpayers by simply creating a political party, running as a candidate and thereby drawing money from the tax system. Again, I give credit to the member who proposed that amendment at that time because it is very beneficial.

I would like to clarify that the Supreme Court did not rule on this issue, the McCLelland amendment or other issues like that, nor did it pronounce itself on any other requirements in the act. As a matter of fact, it specifically indicated that the decision did not mean that other thresholds in the act were unconstitutional. I believe that is quite clear.

The real risk is that there could be a number of groups calling themselves political parties and seeking registration simply for the sake of getting access to the tax credit system. They would only wish to get money from the taxpayers of Canada while not participating, save nominally if at all, in the democratic process.

The concern is that groups, including advocacy groups, could register as parties simply by fielding a paper candidate and complying with reporting requirements. These groups would then be able to issue tax receipts for contributions made to them, even though they have no intention of acting as a party nor even any intention of electing anyone. Not only is this objectionable as a matter of principle, it could well have considerable negative financial impacts. It is something we must address to ensure that the system is not misused.

Taking no action would leave our electoral system weaker and our fiscal regime vulnerable to abuse. Moreover, not legislating to comply with the court's decision could well mean that judicial intervention would be required after June 27, 2004, to either extend the suspension period--with no assurance of course that the court would grant it--or to provide guidance to the Chief Electoral Officer on the applicable rules from that day forward. We must be clear.

The absence of a timely legislative response would result in uncertainty as to the rules for party registration and may mean that at some point we would not have in place a fully operational electoral system, at least from the financial aspect.

Doing nothing is certainly not an option. It is incumbent on us as members of this House to do everything possible to avoid that.

The bill responds in a way that strikes an appropriate balance between fairness to parties on one hand and the need to preserve the integrity of the electoral system on the other, while of course, respecting the Supreme Court decision, which is what this does.

The bill consists of two key pillars: party registration and accountability provisions, and anti-abuse measures

We cannot have candidate requirements any more, except one. Anything beyond that, the court has ruled that we cannot do that. We cannot do 12 nor 11; we cannot do 9. We can do one because of course, if we do not run a candidate or put a name on the ballot, we are not a political party. We may be many things, but we are not that.

The second element concerns the series of anti-abuse measures. I want to touch on those two things before ending.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court indicated that candidate thresholds were problematic, leaving little for manoeuvre.

As I said, Bill C-51 would replace the 50 candidate threshold with a single candidate requirement. In other words, someone would have to run, but 12 candidates would not have to run because the Supreme Court has ruled that is not proper. We may regret it and we may think many things, but it is done and it was a unanimous Supreme Court decision, not that it changes much. However, we must respect it.

At the same time, the bill would add further registration requirements and other measures to ensure that parties seeking to register have a genuine interest in electoral competition.

First, The bill would, for the first time, add a definition of a political party in the act. Pursuant to that definition, a party would be required to have as one of its fundamental purposes the participation in public affairs through running and supporting one or more of its members as candidates. We cannot say a quantity of candidates because quantifying candidates has been ruled to be unconstitutional.

Second, the minimum number of party members would be increased from 100 to 250. A signed statement would be required from those members stating that they are members of the party and support its registration. If a political party is anything, it is a group of people. So, 250 was the number that we put in as identifying that critical mass of people. Some would argue that is still not a high threshold, but it is a bit higher than what we had before. We had 100 multiplied by several ridings, but we cannot multiply by several ridings any more so we have 250 overall.

Parties would be required to have three officers, other than the party leader, who would provide their signed consent to the act. In other words, to be a political party, there must be a total of four officers at least with hopefully many more.

With the removal of the 50 candidate rule, parties would be able to register at byelections. With a single candidate requirement, there is no logical need to allow registration only during a general election. If a party were only to have one candidate in a general election, and if there were one, two, or three byelections, why could a new party not be registered then? If we are going to respect the court's decision, we must allow registration at byelections. If a party were to fail to run a single candidate in a general election, it would automatically be de-registered.

The bill would also reduce from 12 candidates to 1 the threshold for party identification on the ballot. The court did not rule on that, but the fact is that if a party needs only one candidate to be a political party, why would it need 12 to have its name on the ballot? That provision has to go for reasons of logic if nothing else.

Overall, the party registration requirements would ensure that registered parties are genuine participants in the process.

In the few minutes I have left, I want to touch briefly on the anti-abuse measures. That is what we are left with now to identify political parties and to ensure that they do not do anything false, while at the same time, not creating anti-abuse measures that are so intrusive that the institutions cannot be created at all. So again we strike a balance.

First, the bill would include a new false statement offence for knowingly making false statements in relation to the registration of a party. The leader of a party is required to provide a declaration in this regard. In addition to the individual penalties attached to making a false statement, the provision would allow parties to be refused registration or even de-registered for making false statements.

Second, there would be a ban on the solicitation or receipt of contributions by a political party simply for the purpose of redirecting those contributions to a third party. In other words, if a political party is falsely created only as a front to feed money elsewhere, that would ban the solicitation of funds for that purpose.

A third measure would increase the powers of the Commissioner of Elections Canada who is responsible for enforcement of compliance under the act. Where the commissioner has reasonable suspicion that the party is not legitimate, for all the reasons I said, he could require the party to provide information to satisfy him.

Should the party fail to do so, the commissioner could apply for judicial deregistration of a party. It is of little good to identify that something fraudulent has gone on and then have to go through a six month court process to rectify it after one taxation year has gone by and after the taxpayers of Canada have been defrauded of a large amount of money. Therefore, we must give the commissioner the authority to do things rather quickly.

Further, when an application for deregistration is pending, the right of a party to issue tax receipts would be suspended. Judicial deregistration would also be available as part of the criminal sentencing process. In addition to deregistration, the judge could order the liquidation of the party's assets if it did all these things wrong. In other words, if that money was obtained fraudulently and used to buy goods for the party, then surely, the assets could be liquidated, because those funds belong to the taxpayers of Canada.

Finally, individuals, including party officers, could be held civilly responsible if convicted of offences related to or leading to financial abuse and they could be ordered to make restitution to the public purse. If someone creates a false entity to defraud the taxpayers of Canada, the officers could be held responsible personally for doing harm to the Canadian taxpayers.

Hon. members will see that this is what I consider a measured and balanced response. It is what we are proposing.

For these reasons I encourage all members to pass this bill. We could refer it to committee for an in-depth study, but it ought, of course, to be passed fairly promptly in order to meet the Supreme Court deadline.

I thank all my parliamentary colleagues in advance for their contribution to this debate today.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the government House leader's speech and I hope he will stay with us for a long time. Yesterday, when he answered the Thursday question, we weighed his every word when he said something to the effect of, “My colleagues, the House leaders, who have given me their support for all these years”. It sounded a lot like a farewell speech.

But we are not there yet. My question is mainly on the Supreme Court ruling in the Figueroa case. If I understand correctly, the government had no choice but to accept this Supreme Court decision because requiring a minimum number of candidates for an election was deemed unconstitutional.

Consequently, one candidate could be enough. With the 50-candidate rule no longer applying, the government has to adjust its legislation. That is what the government is doing with Bill C-51.

Later, I will have an opportunity to speak to this bill, but I would like the government House leader to reply to this question first. Would it not have been a good idea to take advantage of the Figueroa decision, which in a way amends the Canada Elections Act, to respond to a repeated demand from the Bloc Quebecois—from myself, as a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and also my colleagues from Verchères—Les-Patriotes and Laval Centre, who are associate members of that committee—to review the procedure for appointing returning officers?

The government House leader, insofar as I can read his lips, says that there is no connection. However, I am asking him if it would not have been a golden opportunity to clean up and modernize the way elections are run, to have returning officers chosen through an open, honest, transparent and public process. That is how it is done in Quebec.

I can see the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, who was a minister in the Quebec National Assembly. He was a minister of some stature, if you consider his height. He had it over me, because I am only 5' 6" tall. Well, I am not going to flatter him too much.

I would simply like to suggest that the government House leader consult the people involved. I use the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry as an example, because he is right in front of me, but I could also mention the hon. member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok, who also was a minister in the Quebec National Assembly, or the hon. member for Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies who also sat in that legislature. We remember one evening in the National Assembly, when the hon. member for Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies, after a few glasses of wine, decided to seize the mace and leave the chamber. The official record tells it all.

The government House leader could consult his colleague, the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who also sat in the National Assembly, to find out—there are some on our side, too, for instance the hon. member for Champlain—that the process of holding a public competition to appoint returning officers in Quebec works well and is not a source of patronage as it is here, where we get the list of 308 nominations for federal returning officers for our hasty approval. They are known Liberals and it is a process known for patronage.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, in fact, the hon. member has raised three issues. I will respond to them in the order raised.

The first concerns my statement yesterday, in which I told the other leaders how much I had enjoyed working with them in the past, and how I hoped to continue working with them in the future.

I had indicated during a public interview yesterday that, if the House is prorogued in a few months' time—naturally, a new government would be elected—I would like to remain in this position. And if luck, the leader and God are smiling on me, perhaps I shall.

That takes care of the first point. However, I thank the hon. member for his interest.

Second, with regard to the candidate threshold, the hon. member is correct. Whether we like it or not, that is the way it is. From now on, a party must run at least one candidate because, if there is no candidate, there is no party. However, any threshold establishing a minimum number of candidates, except one, would be unconstitutional.

Therefore, we can no longer control the threshold, and we have to respect that. As a result, other guidelines must be implemented to ensure the legitimacy of the process, but the number of candidates cannot be one of these guidelines.

With regard to the returning officers, this is completely outside the scope of this bill, and the hon. member made reference to this. I know that he is aware that this falls outside the answer provided in the Figueroa case.

That said, the commission on electoral reform tabled its report a number of years ago. The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform, or Lortie commission, make a specific recommendation to keep the system as it was and not implement the changes recommended by members.

Furthermore, this same system exists in at least seven other provinces. So it was not invented by the current leader of this government. This system exists, and it is working very well. In my opinion, it has ensured that we have returning officers who are extremely capable. In those instances where this is not the case, then corrective measures will be taken.

Finally, with respect to the alleged rushed appointment of returning officers, I disagree. I started the procedure to recruit candidates back in August; this is November 7, and we have appointed almost 290 of the 308 officers. The other appointments should be made within a week or two. The list will be complete.

I point out, however, that two-thirds of these were people who already held the job prior to the redistribution. They are the same people.

In my riding, the returning officer was appointed by the Progressive Conservative Party in 1988. My government has since reappointed her twice, last week and, previously, following the last redistribution. These appointments are not a source of patronage, contrary to what the hon. member said. That is clearly not the case.

In fact, I personally approached a number of members of this House to get the names of potential returning officers for their ridings. When I say a number of members, I am talking about members opposite. I approached at least a half dozen personally. Without naming them, I see some of them nodding. So, this is not a source of patronage. That is just not true. Respectfully, that is not the case.

I think I followed the procedure correctly. The Privy Council Office checks the candidates. Security clearances are required. All of this is done. Naturally, they then undergo training with Elections Canada. All this to say that the procedure is totally appropriate and legitimate. It works well and the Lortie Commission recommended keeping it.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

The Speaker

This is really the end of the time allotted for questions and comments. There are only 30 seconds left.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know you recognized the member yonder, and that is your prerogative, but I wonder whether I could ask unanimous consent, as a member of the official opposition, to pose a question to the minister and to get a response.