House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parties.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, with leave, I would like to ask for unanimous consent of the House to proceed to the third reading of Bill C-3, which was just concurred in at report stage.

Canada Elections Act
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10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the government House leader have unanimous consent?

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10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is no consent at this time. I believe there could be further discussions.

Canada Elections Act
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10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you were to ask again, you would find that there is unanimous consent to immediately proceed to the third reading of Bill C-3.

Canada Elections Act
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10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the government House leader have unanimous consent of the House to immediately proceed to the third reading of Bill C-3?

Canada Elections Act
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10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to begin debate at third reading stage on Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

Bill C-3 responds to the Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case, just in time for us to keep our electoral system fully operational. In the Figueroa case, the court determined that the 50-candidate requirement was in violation of the charter because it is detrimental to small parties. However, the court gave Parliament one year, that is until June 27, 2004, to change the legislation. Therefore, we must act now in order to meet that deadline.

Bill C-3 replaces the existing 50-candidate requirement for political party registration with a new purpose-based definition of “political party”. It also introduces new rules concerning registration and accountability, and additional measures to protect the integrity of the political financing system.

In developing these measures, we have taken into account the fact that parties must have a considerable degree of autonomy in order to perform their essential role in Canadian society. At the same time, of course, it is important to ensure transparency and accountability. This is a delicate balance that must be achieved to allow the parties to develop without excessive regulation, while making certain that they do not the system and that they remain accountable.

Bill C-3 makes it possible to achieve this. Bill C-3 may not be perfect and is not intended to be a definitive solution, but we think it is fair and balanced, while meeting the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court.

If I may, I would like to speak briefly about the issues raised during the debate on this bill. There were questions about the fairness of the proposed measures. For example, while recognizing that a requirement to have 50 candidates was too high, some people wondered whether the new rule requiring only one candidate to be presented was sufficient. These are legitimate questions.

I will reply that the Supreme Court was very clear: imposing candidate thresholds is not an appropriate way to evaluate party legitimacy, and thresholds should not be used to exclude any voices from the political debate. The court's reasoning is convincing.

Canada is a plural society in which diverse opinions are reflected. Our system for the registration of political parties ought to be open to this reality. Therefore it follows that we must seek other ways to define which entities deserve to be recognized as political parties. That is what the bill will allow.

In this respect, the need to respond to the Supreme Court's decision in the Figueroa case has given us an opportunity, a chance to rethink the party registration system so that it will be more accessible to legitimate parties, while preventing abuses by those who are not. This approach is in line with government objectives in the framework for action on democratic reform.

The growth in the number of political parties resulting from this new requirement that only one candidate need be presented will open a broader range of perspectives. More choice for the voters should result in a situation where Canadians are more interested in the political process. This system could thus make a contribution to efforts aimed at halting the decline in voter turnout.

That is particularly true of young Canadians and groups where participation is low. The existence of more parties, and thus a wider range of viewpoints, should incite the parties to review their traditional approaches and take more interest in the people overlooked by the system.

While I strongly believe that Bill C-3 strikes an appropriate balance and is the best solution to the Figueroa ruling at the present time, it is not the end of the discussion.

The issues raised are of great importance and legitimate concerns have been expressed. This is why the government amended the bill to add a two year sunset clause. This ensures that the issues addressed by the bill will be revisited in the near future. In fact when Bill C-3 was introduced, I wrote to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs inviting it to undertake, after passage of the bill, a review of the wider implications of the Figueroa ruling and other aspects of the electoral process. The bill provides us with a bridge to that broader review.

Electoral reform is critical to the continued strengthening of our democracy. Parliamentarians are at the heart of this debate and I look forward to the committee's views. I have asked it to bring forward recommendations in the form of draft legislation within one year. This will allow further study of the issues surrounding party registration and, combined with the sunset clause, will ensure that parliamentarians can continue to examine these matters and will have the opportunity to suggest refinements and reforms. At the same time, the Supreme Court's deadline will be met.

The bill that is before us today is critical. We need to ensure that the Canada Elections Act remains operational after June 27. We also need to ensure that parties are genuine and accountable, and that our electoral system is not open to abuse. Bill C-3 achieves these goals in a fair and balanced way. It respects the fact that political parties are on the front line of our democratic system and must be allowed to develop and compete openly and operate freely. At the same time, the bill ensures that our electoral system remains fair, accountable and transparent to all, and that it is not open to abuse.

While not the final word, Bill C-3 strikes this balance in a way that satisfies our twin imperatives. It meets the June 27 deadline while guaranteeing an ongoing role for parliamentarians in examining these matters in the future.

I would like to appeal to all my colleagues to support this bill, which is extremely important to all of us and to our democracy.

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10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask a couple of questions of the minister.

I would like to preface my questions with the comment that we would not be standing here today if the government had approached this entire problem from a different perspective many years ago. It was its meanspirited attempt to keep in place a 50 candidate rule which has brought us to this position today.

Over the years the Reform Party and then the Canadian Alliance encouraged the government to adopt a 12 candidate rule, which was consistent with the numbers required for recognition in the House. In the year 2000 when we had a major revision of the Elections Act, I personally met and negotiated with Mr. Miguel Figueroa of the Communist Party who, at the time, was taking the legal challenge against the government, plus the smaller parties, including the Green Party. We came to an agreement that 12 was acceptable. Mr. Figueroa said that he would drop the legal challenge if the government would agree to 12.

I approached the then minister who rather pig-headedly refused to accept 12. He decided he would rather waste millions of taxpayers' dollars continuing the challenge all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is why we are now faced with this ridiculous number one for registration of a party.

My first question for the minister is, why did he not support me and my colleagues back in the year 2000? He was on the same committee as I was, although he was not a minister at the time. Why did he not support the 12 candidate amendment that was proposed by me at that committee in the year 2000, which would have avoided the necessity for him to be standing here today?

Second, why did the minister refuse to accept the amendments proposed by the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley? When he appeared before the committee he expressed the concern that the bill requires him to make judgments about the platform and the purpose of a political party applying for registration. Most fair-minded people would think that is a completely inappropriate position in which to put a non-partisan, independent person. The Chief Electoral Officer does not want to be in the position where he has to make judgments about the appropriateness of a platform advanced by a political party. He suggested amendments which would take care of that problem in the bill.

I am well aware that the minister says that we will revisit this thing, but there is no guarantee he will be the minister or that the Liberals will even be the government after the election in two months' time. We should have got the bill right the first time.

Why did the minister reject the amendments suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer, which would have removed this very objectionable portion of the bill?

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10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me go directly to the substance of the matter and not comment the political allegations made about my predecessors or myself.

On the substance, I believe the issue is clear. A proposal to recognize a 12 candidate party would have been rejected by the Supreme Court. The problem would not have been solved.

My problem and our problem, as a democratic society, is not the fact that Mr. Figueroa made a complaint and that the matter was brought before the Supreme Court. The question that was raised is the substantial question as to how to define a political party in Canada.

The Supreme Court said very clearly that the number of candidates cannot be an objective or a factor in defining a political party. Whether one, two or 50 candidates are proposed, it is not the number of candidates that must be the determining factor in the existence of a political party.

As for the allegation made by my colleague about an agreement with Figueroa, I am sorry, but it seems to me that an agreement between an MP and a complainant in a court case has less weight than a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Concerning the second allegation, I think a very clear distinction must be made between a political party and an independent candidate.

A political party under Bill C-3 would need to have 250 members that support registration of the party. It must have three officers in addition to the leader, in other words it cannot be a person alone. The party which is registering implies that the party accepts the burdens of reporting quarterly and annually which independent candidates do not have to face. The bill therefore makes a difference between independent candidates and a registered party. Once this is established, then in this case every individual concerned by the application of the bill will have to assume responsibility for the job they have to do.

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I guess I do not need to remind the House of the legal requirement which led to this bill, but there is a sunset clause in this bill. Everybody realizes that we might need to amend this bill within a reasonable time.

I would like the government leader to tell us if, in fact, the government intends to quickly follow up on this bill. We will probably have an election campaign soon, which could prove to be an interesting test. Several elements of this bill probably deserve to be considered more seriously and thoroughly, but we do understand the legal requirement before us.

So, what does the government leader plan to do to ensure that the sunset clause is not simply extended when the deadline is reached, but that whatever steps necessary have been taken to develop legislation that is consistent with the reality of our electoral environment and the requirements of the Supreme Court and the law?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for having asked this important question.

Indeed, this is a transitional bill in order to avoid having a gap in our Elections Act. It is clear that this bill—as I acknowledged in my speech today—is not necessarily perfect. I would remind my colleague that the bill did not originally include a sunset clause. It was the parliamentary committee, upon studying the bill, that raised certain doubts. However, it did not want to reject the bill for that reason. Everyone is well aware that it is our responsibility to have legislation that continues to work, to avoid anarchy when it comes to creating political parties. Meanwhile, the committee had expressed a concern about what would happen afterward. That is why I accepted the amendment that would allow for a sunset clause.

Political interests aside, regardless of the government in power when this sunset clause comes into effect, decisions will have to be made on what amendments to introduce.

I have one last thing I would like to say. It was on our government's initiative, as this bill was being introduced, that I asked the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to take one year to look at the Supreme Court ruling and all its consequences for the entire Elections Act. I asked it to look at this within a year and the sunset clause within two years, to allow enough time to do what it takes to find a solution that satisfies everyone.

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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I find myself in agreement with the member for North Vancouver on this issue. The government has itself in a pickle because it did not accept the motion several years ago, indicating that 12 members would constitute a party. It is unfortunate that his colleague from Fraser Valley did not vote for it in committee because the vote was lost seven to six. Had the member voted the other way, this would be part of the bill today.

The government House leader said in his remarks that having parties with only one candidate would improve the democratic process in the country and in the House of Commons. Thinking about the member for Saskatoon--Humboldt who is in a party of one because no other political party in the House would accept him, how does that kind of example prove the democratic process in the House of Commons and indeed Canada?

Canada Elections Act
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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me express my deep understanding of the concerns expressed by my colleague in the last part of his statement.

It is a matter of balance between the obligations that are imposed to exist as a political party and the possibility for Canadian citizens to have as much of a choice as possible in terms of a party representing them.

How do we strike that balance? The Supreme Court has said that we should not use numbers because that is not an acceptable criterion. One of the objectives of a political party should be to aspire to be represented in Parliament. If one of the objectives is the intent to present at least one candidate, then that criterion is fulfilled.

The question is very legitimate. Whoever wants to create a political party will have to fulfil a number of conditions, and I have already said the conditions are 250 members reporting obligations on a quarterly basis, on an annual basis. If the party is not good enough, then it should campaign to ensure that voters are not interested in it.