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

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-51, particularly on this Friday, possibly the last day of this session, to talk about enhancing and restoring democracy in Canada, which we must not take for granted.

Bill C-51 is an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act. I believe members on this side of the House have many questions, and hopefully we will have further opportunity, but it would be nice if we could ask the government House leader questions.

We know why the bill is before us. The bill is designed to address the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in what is known as the Miguel Figueroa case. Miguel Figueroa is the leader of the Communist Party of Canada that was founded in 1921, and had been registered as a party under the Canada's Elections Act since registration first began in 1974.

In the 1993 federal election, however, that party lost its status as a registered party and all the benefits because it failed to nominate at least 50 candidates. As a consequence of deregistration, the party was forced to liquidate its assets, pay all its debts and remit the outstanding balance to the Chief Electoral Officer.

Mr. Figueroa commenced an action against the attorney general seeking a declaration that several provisions of the Canada Elections Act infringed various provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and were therefore of no force and effect.

The original decision in the case was rendered in March 1999 by the Ontario Court of Justice that described the requirement to field 50 candidates as draconian and held that it was in violation of section 3 of the charter, which guarantees the right to vote and to run as a candidate. However that decision was not what the Liberals wanted to hear so they appealed the judgment and won.

In August 2000 the Ontario Court of Appeal declared the 50 candidate requirement was within the bounds of reasonableness. Mr. Figueroa then took his case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in his favour and struck down the 50 candidate threshold. According to the court, this requirement treated small parties unfairly by denying the benefits granted to registered parties. This unequal treatment was found to infringe on the rights of citizens to participate in a meaningful way in the electoral process as protected by section 3 of the charter.

The court has, however, suspended the application of the judgment until June 27, 2004, in order to allow Parliament time to bring forward the necessary changes to the Canada Elections Act.

It is interesting how when it comes to the Canada Elections Act the government keeps appealing court decisions that suggest Canadians' democratic rights are being violated but when same sex marriage is the issue, these same Liberals are quick to say that the courts have spoken, and immediately alter legislation.

For the sake of restoring and enhancing democracy, they keep on appealing decision after decision to the courts. It seems that taking away the constitutional right of Canadians to voice their opinions in federal elections is worth appealing to a higher court but destroying eons worth of common law governing holy matrimony is not worth the bother. Give me a break.

According to departmental documents, the primary objective of Bill C-51 is to strike an appropriate balance between fairness to parties and the need to preserve the integrity of the electoral system. We therefore find that while the bill drops the 50 candidate rule, it also proposes new requirements applicable to all parties. These new requirements are meant to exclude from registration entities that do not intend to participate in the electoral process.

The new registration requirements include the following: that the party have at least 250 members who have signed statements declaring that they are members of the party and support its registration; that one of the party's fundamental purposes be to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election, and that the party leader make a declaration to that effect; that the party actually endorse a candidate in an election. Parties that do not endorse at least one candidate during a general election will be automatically deregistered. The last requirement is that the party have at least three officers in addition to the leader.

The legal recognition and registration of political parties is a relatively recent development. Registration was introduced in the early 1970s as part of various changes to Canada's electoral legislation.

Registration does convey significant benefits and opportunities to a party. Benefits include: entitlement to issue tax receipts, reimbursement of election expenses, access to broadcasting time, access to copies of the voters' lists on an annual basis, and continue to have their candidates identified on the ballots.

In 1993 the government of the day responded to the report of the royal commission on electoral reform and party financing, known as the Lortie commission, with amendments to the Canada Elections Act. It was Bill C-114 that made it mandatory rather than discretionary for parties to be deregistered for failing to nominate at least 50 candidates in a general election. The bill also made life more difficult for smaller parties by raising a candidate's deposit from $200 to $1,000. This effectively became a $50,000 obstacle for parties wishing to participate in the democratic process.

The bill, which also put in place the limits on third party advertising, which were recently found unconstitutional, became commonly known as the “gag law”. The bill had been debated for only 15 minutes in the House and was cunningly passed at the end of the day, on a Friday, before a two week recess.

The Globe and Mail referred to the bill as “the worst violation of Canadians' rights of free expression in years” and suggested it was an attempt by federal politicians, particularly on that side of the House, “to perpetuate themselves in office”.

If the 50 candidate rule was meant to eliminate small parties and their dissenting voices, it was a resounding success in stomping on democracy.

More and more Canadians were becoming disaffected by government and the old line political parties. One result was the emergence of fringe or protest parties. They served, and for that matter continue to serve, although to a lesser degree, an important function. They allow for the expression of ideas important to some voters. They allow Canadians to be heard, giving them a voice that might be lost in the larger parties.

The protest vote is more substantial than most would think, even in this House. In the 1988 federal election precisely 584,521 Canadians voted for fringe parties or independent candidates. To put that in perspective, only 540,941 Canadians voted in the Manitoba election.

Eleven fringe parties ran candidates in the 1988 election, including such old parties as the Social Credit and the CCF, and one new party that would soon become an important player in federal politics, the Reform Party of Canada, which had made a significant contribution to the political arena.

With the stricter enforcement of the 50 candidate rule, the 2000 election results showed considerable change. Only six fringe parties ran candidates but they collected about 300,000 votes.

Every time there are amendments to the Canada Elections Act the government seems to make it more difficult for Canadians to organize new political parties. The Liberals have shaped the act to perpetuate the monopoly on power of the major parties. The result is that it has a prejudicial effect on small parties and independent candidates.

For real debate and democracy, we need parties representing a broad range of interests. Many Canadians abstain from voting because they feel alienated by the mainstream parties. Voter turnout has been falling steadily since the 1980 federal election from 75% turnout to just 61%, a new low in the 2000 federal election. What about the other 39% of potential voters? This is a serious concern.

If we are truly interested in voter participation the system should be fair. We should make it easier for small parties to get on the ballot, participate in the debate, get media coverage and receive public funding.

The Liberals are dismissive of small parties. It is part of their arrogance. They fail to realize that there is more to democracy than winning power. Democracy is also about sharing ideas, respecting and protecting the rights of others, particularly minorities or minority opinions. Members of small parties are not under some false illusion that they will win the next election. However just because they will not be forming the next government, just because they are unlikely to even win a seat, does not lessen their enthusiasm for participating in the democratic process.

Participating in elections allows smaller parties to demonstrate the popularity of their platforms. In that way they might gain more adherents or their ideas might be accepted as a policy of a major political party. These parties also provide an opportunity for those dissatisfied with the major parties to register protest votes, which can tip the scale in a closely contested election.

Democratic reform has been a core principle of my political party, the Reform Party of Canada and now the Canadian Alliance for the last 16 years. Unlike the party opposite, we did not develop a temporary itch for democratic reform when we were seeking approval of backbenchers, or in a leadership struggle, or when we go to the voters every three and a half years. It has been a constant theme of this party since 1987.

Democracy is something in which everyone should participate, including the small parties. The 50 candidate rule of the Canada Elections Act not only attacks small parties but seriously infringes and endangers the public's right to free political expression and association, both rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It seeks to perpetuate the dominance of big political parties by hampering the establishment of small or new political parties.

The government's attempt to wiggle around the 50 candidate rule decision suggests that the Liberals are downright hostile to democracy; in fact, it seems like an elected dictatorship in Canada. We all know how the incoming leader of the Liberal Party staged a slow coup within his party. He and his cronies took over the control of the riding associations. They bullied their caucus, including the Prime Minister. They scared away the competing leadership candidates. Eventually the Prime Minister will be forced out prior to the end of his mandate.

The Liberals have been trying to make it as hard as possible for any political group to challenge them at the ballot box. Despite all this, still the incoming leader of the Liberal Party is doubting democratic reform. I do not know how he can say he stands for democratic reform.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Speaker

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member but he will have four and one-half minutes remaining when debate resumes after question period.

100th Anniversary of Aviation
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, 60 seconds are what we are given to make statements before question period. Some people may think this is too short a time to say or do anything significant. I offer the following as proof to the contrary.

On December 17, 1903 Orville Wright got into the motorized plane he had built with his brother Wilbur and flew for 12 seconds over a distance of 36.5 metres, or about 120 feet. The Wright brothers manned another three flights that morning, the longest one lasting 59 seconds. I dare say that those initial 12 seconds changed the world.

On the offchance that we may not be sitting beyond today and the certainty that we will not be sitting on December 17, I want to take this occasion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' amazing achievement.

On the100th anniversary of aviation, I hope that the world will underline it as an achievement that has changed the course of human history.

Liberal Government Policies
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government's attempts to deceive Canadians have no limits. At every opportunity the Liberals pay lip service to Canadians by saying one thing but doing something quite the opposite.

In 1999 the government voted to support the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. Within the past few months we have seen it not only reverse this position but to actively campaign against it.

Last week the Liberal government supported our motion unanimously to protect children against child pornography. Bill C-20 is the government's answer to protect children. The bill takes out the outrageous defence of “artistic merit” and replaces it with “the public good” which, given recent court rulings, could mean anything.

The government promised Canadians a sex offender registry but continues to avoid giving us an effective registry.

Is it any wonder that Canadians are losing confidence in government. Canadians deserve better.

Niagara Municipality
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Tony Tirabassi Niagara Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Debbie Zimmerman, the outgoing chair of the Regional Municipality of Niagara.

Debbie began her political career in 1978 when she was elected to the Grimsby town council where she served until 1989. Debbie then served on regional council and was elected chair of the Regional Municipality of Niagara in 1997 and again in the year 2000.

Debbie has been an active member of a diverse number of corporate committees with the Regional Municipality of Niagara, as well as external committees and panels at the provincial level.

Debbie served as a member of the Team Canada 2001 trade mission to China and led the 2002 Niagara business trade mission to Ireland.

Debbie has been rewarded countless times for her outstanding contribution to the Niagara region.

I want to thank Debbie for her 25 years of exceptional public service and extend my best wishes to her in her future endeavours.

Seniors
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Beth Phinney Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the Canadian government's greatest achievements has been its retirement income system for seniors. However, there are still areas of concern.

Seniors who live alone, particularly women, continue to experience higher rates of poverty than other older Canadians.

The current federal support for a senior with no dependants is a maximum of $13,176. However the current income level in Ontario that is used as a marker to measure poverty is $18,849. This is a shortfall of $5,673 annually.

I am asking the seniors in my riding of Hamilton Mountain to fill out a brief anonymous survey indicating the adequacy of their federal financial assistance.

I congratulate the Prime Minister for creating a caucus task force on seniors to assess the federal pensions and the provincial and municipal services to ensure that our seniors are not just getting by, but are living their lives with dignity.

Sikhism
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Bramalea—Gore—Malton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Sikh community in my riding and around the world is celebrating the 534th birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first guru of the Sikh religion.

The teachings of Guru Nanak are a model to all people. Sikhs believe in non-violence, peace, human equality, justice and democracy. Guru Nanak taught the importance of selfless service, tolerance, compassion, love, equality and well-being for all people.

The goal of a Sikh is not only the spiritual growth of the individual but is also the advancement of every human being regardless of creed, colour or race.

International Cooperation
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the official opposition's senior critic for international cooperation, I would like to pledge the Canadian Alliance's support for yesterday's announcement of the federal government's introduction of legislative changes to implement the August 30 agreement on access to medicines for developing countries at the World Trade Organization.

This important step taken by Canada to make a sincere commitment to fight the ravages of the HIV-AIDS pandemic is a great feat in the never ending struggle to combat this horrendous disease.

By supporting this legislation, the Canadian Alliance joins the war against HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases. We owe it to future generations to ensure that diseases such as HIV-AIDS which have ravaged so many countries are brought under control.

Down Syndrome
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, November 1 to 7 is Down Syndrome Awareness Week, an annual event sponsored by the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. At this time we take the opportunity to highlight the unique abilities, strengths and needs of fellow Canadians with Down syndrome.

Now is the time to demonstrate to each other and the rest of the world that Canada is a nation of people committed to ensuring that all individuals have opportunities to succeed and grow. About one person in every 800 is born with Down syndrome. Each one is a person first and a person with Down syndrome second.

Down syndrome presents challenges for a child or adult in all stages of development for the child's parents and family members and for professionals in the fields of health, education and social science. It is vital that these challenges be met to ensure that all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to develop to their full potential.

As Canadians, we celebrate our similarities as well as our differences knowing we are richer as a result.

Angèle Malaison
Statements By Members

November 7th, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, November 8, will be a very special day at the Résidence Georges-Hébert in Jonquière, where Angèle Malaison will celebrate her 100th birthday. This milestone will be matched by another, equally exceptional event, the 75th anniversary of her marriage to Eddie Lapierre.

Mr. and Mrs. Lapierre are remarkable people and, despite their advanced age, always have a twinkle in their eyes that leaves us in no doubt that they are just as alert and just as much in love as they were 75 years ago.

I want to wish a happy 100th birthday to Angèle Malaison and a happy 75th wedding anniversary to her and her husband. Your love is a shining example, and I wish you both many more years of happiness together.

Remembrance Day
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

David Pratt Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, next week on November 11, Canadians will be taking time out to remember the men and women in uniform who for well over a century now have steadfastly stood on guard for their nation and the world in times of peace and in times of war. They will also remember the over 100,000 Canadians who paid the ultimate price.

The call to remembrance was made just that much sharper in recent weeks with the tragic loss of two of our finest in Afghanistan. Their sacrifice was a stark reminder of the risks faced by our brave young men and women in uniform.

Even though the business of maintaining peace and security can be perilous, our Canadian Forces personnel are superb ambassadors for Canada and carry out their duties with courage, dignity and the utmost in professionalism. All Canadians remain so very grateful and proud of the service and sacrifice of the members of the Canadian Forces.

Rail Crossings
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, in nearly every small town in Canada many streets are intersected by level rail crossings. Most such lines are used for freight transportation, and from the viewpoint of town residents, they represent a danger and inconvenience with no offsetting benefits.

One particular danger is the inconsistent markings of these crossings. In my hometown of Carleton Place, there are 10 crossings which are marked in three different ways. A motorist entering and leaving the town by different routes will encounter different rail warning markers. This goes a long way toward explaining why small town Canada continues to experience car-train collisions.

However, federal regulators have offloaded much of the cost of changing such markings to the cash-strapped towns and away from the railroads which are the sole beneficiaries of these lines. This amounts to accepting a high level of risk to motorists as an integral component of federal rail policy.

The Minister of Transport has announced a large financial package in aid of Canadian rail. Why not divert some of that money toward consistent marking of rail crossings in order to protect the safety of Canadians?