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.

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Message from the Senate

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed Bill S-15, an act to amend the Act of incorporation of Queen's Theological College, to which the concurrence of the House is desired.

Pursuant to Standing Order 135, this bill is deemed read the first time, and second reading will take place at the next sitting of the House.

(Bill deemed read the first time)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, as reported with amendment from the committee.

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10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have a ruling on Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act. There is one motion in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-3.

Motion No. 1 will not be selected by the Chair as it could have been presented in committee and it has not met the notice requirement pursuant to Standing Order 76(2). Consequently, the House will proceed to consider the motion to concur in report stage.

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10:10 a.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in and read the second time.

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10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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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

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

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10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

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10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion is carried on division.

(Motion agreed to)

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10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The government House leader on a point of order.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was rather hoping there would be enough time for me to ask some further questions because the minister really did not answer my question, although he seemed quite happy to roll over and play dead for the Supreme Court of Canada, as if this place does not matter.

This is supposed to be the supreme legislative body in the whole country. We represent the people of Canada. We are supposed to be making the rules, not the Supreme Court. We had agreement from parties that they would drop the legal challenge and accept 12 as the number for a registered party. There is no excuse for it. It was pigheadedness and it wasted probably millions of taxpayer dollars fighting that in court.

The minister should be ashamed because he at the time did not support the amendment.

The minister claimed he sent the bill to committee before second reading because he wanted us to give it serious consideration and see what amendments we should make to make it workable and so on. Well, it was a complete sham.

We sent the bill to committee. The very first day that it appeared in committee it was ready for clause by clause. All the talk by the government about dealing with the democratic deficit is just nonsense. The very minister who is supposed to be in charge of dealing with the democratic deficit in this place, with his very first bill to committee, tried to rush it through so fast we could hardly see it go through the room.

We got to committee to discuss the bill. The minister appeared as a witness. One of my first questions to him was, had he made any of the parties affected by the bill aware of its existence. I do not have time to look in the exact transcript, but his answer was along the lines, of to his knowledge, no, the parties affected by the bill had not even been told of its existence. This was a bill that was to go through committee at super speed, go through the House at super speed and the people who would be affected by it did not even know it existed.

Right after the minister appeared as a witness, we on the official opposition side tried to get permission from the committee to bring forward other witnesses. The Liberals on committee tried to go straight to clause by clause with no witnesses, even though they had just heard that the parties affected by the bill did not even know it existed.

It was only after the official opposition threatened to filibuster the committee that an agreement was reached to have some witnesses, and then we only got two. They were not even going to agree to have the chief electoral officer appear. The person who had to administer the bill would not be a witness. It was only after the official opposition insisted that we got the chief electoral officer and Mr. Miguel Figueroa of the Communist Party who was the entity which got us into this pickle in the first place.

A few days later at committee we had those two witnesses before us. Of course Mr. Figueroa was completely surprised by the phone call he received him to appear before committee because, as the minister admitted, he had no idea that the bill even existed.

When I made some phone calls to some of the other parties, they did not know either. It was a huge surprise to them. Unfortunately, they were not given the courtesy of appearing before the committee, but we did hear from Mr. Figueroa and the chief electoral officer.

During the testimony given by the chief electoral officer, he mentioned a part of the bill that disturbed him a great deal. It was the part of the bill that would require him to make judgments about the appropriateness of a platform or policies advanced by political parties before he could deem it appropriate to register a particular party.

As Mr. Kingsley quite properly pointed out, it is entirely inappropriate for a non-partisan chief electoral officer to be making such judgments or to be put in the position of having to even consider making such judgments. He requested that the committee remove those sections of the bill. In fact he had even brought legal counsel with him who had taken the time to draft amendments which would achieve that goal so that we would not have to think about that and do it within the committee structure itself.

After some discussion about that possibility, Mr. Figueroa came forward to be a witness. He also expressed similar concerns about the bill and supported the amendments proposed by Mr. Kingsley.

Both the chief electoral officer and Mr. Figueroa suggested that instead of rushing the bill through committee, as we were doing, we should spend a little time to get it right. This is what is so appalling about the situation. The minister just stood not five minutes ago and said that the bill was not perfect. Yet he had told us we were taking it to committee before second reading so we could get it perfect. Once it got there, he was not interested in having us do anything with it. It is an extremely frustrating situation because we could have made the bill into good legislation that truly would have dealt with the problem and fixed it once and for all.

Frankly, the bill going through this place is no better than the pickle we were in before the bill was introduced. Yet we are between a rock and a hard place because we have to pass the bill before the end of next week. If we do not, the Canada Elections Act falls apart in June.

Because many sections of the Canada Elections Act are affected by the Supreme Court judgment in this case, the act will cease to function on what I think is June 27 of this year. We obviously have to pass this before the end of next week to keep the act intact. Otherwise we cannot go to an election, and I know the government wants to do that. What a nasty position we are in.

The government, in its haste, thought it could get this bill through the House really quickly, without amendments. It has tried to persuade us to put it through because the Canada Elections Act will fall apart. Frankly, it would have gone through the House a lot more quickly if the Liberals had been willing to listen to the amendments and suggestions that were brought to them. If they had been willing to hear a few more witnesses and if they had been truly willing to address the democratic deficit, as the minister keeps saying he wants to, we could have fixed the bill, got it perfect and it would have already been passed.

In committee I asked the chief electoral officer a question about of the Supreme Court ruling. Members will recall the Supreme Court ruled that sections of the elections act requiring the 50 candidate rule, that is a party to be registered must have 50 candidates in an election, were unconstitutional. My question to the chief electoral officer was that if an election was called in the spring, even if this bill had been passed, the Supreme Court had stayed the effect of its ruling until June 27.

Again the chief electoral officer is in another pickle because he has to work under an electoral law that has been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada, and does not become fixed until June. How will he rule on the registration of parties over the next few months? Does he rule using the defective law that has been ruled unconstitutional or does he rule based on good will, that is with the knowledge that this other bill will be coming down the pike, which will fix the problem?

How would you like to be in that position, Mr. Speaker, where you do not know whether to apply an unconstitutional law and try to enforce it or to apply a law that does not even exist yet and which you know will fix the problem? It is a horrible predicament for the chief electoral officer. Again, we could have fixed it in committee. We had the opportunity to properly amend the bill and the act, to fix it, and the minister was not interested.

The government would have us believe that this bill is simply about the definition and registration of political parties in Canada. As I have mentioned, the truth is it only exists due to a Supreme Court ruling that came about because of the meanspirited oppression of small parties by the government opposite. Bill C-3 is designed to put the government into compliance with a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. It was handed down on June 27, 2003.

It is important to note that it was a unanimous decision. There was no hesitation in terms of the Supreme Court ruling that what the government was trying to do with its 50 candidate rule was completely anti-democratic and unconstitutional.

The court ruled that the 50 candidate threshold for registration of a political party was unconstitutional and that fact had been obvious to just about everyone except the government. Maybe it really knew, but it wanted to keep that rule in place as long as it possibly could to prevent competition from smaller parties. That rule greatly affected us in the early days of the growth of the Reform Party.

As the House knows, I am one of the original members of Parliament elected under the Reform banner. In 1992 and 1993, as we were building for a possible 1993 election, we knew we would be penalized greatly. We knew we would not even to have our name on the ballot if we could not get 50 candidates to run across the country. I know the Bloc also was being targeted at the time because there was a growth of the Bloc in Quebec and it perhaps would not be able to get 50 candidates on the ballot either. That was an attempt by the established parties to prevent any threat from the growth of a smaller party that may affect them.

Luckily, we were able to build support regardless and irrespective of the 50 candidate rule and that is why we are in the House today as official opposition and perhaps now about to take the government benches in the next couple of months.

I guess the real shocker for the government was when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down sections of the Elections Act. However, instead of saying that perhaps the number 12 or some other number would be satisfactory, it said that one person constituted a party. The government was complaining when the court in Ontario ruled that two persons was a party. That was the basis, I believe, for the amendment that was being proposed today by the NDP. In Ontario the government, after having had the chance to accept the 12 candidate rule, which it rejected, had an opportunity to accept a two candidate rule from the Ontario court ruling, but no. Pigheaded as it was, on it went spending other people's money to challenge it in court until it ended up with a one candidate rule. What a ridiculous situation we find ourselves in that one person constitutes a political party. I guess they reap what they sow.

What the government is trying to do in Bill C-3, which was formerly Bill C-51 prior to prorogation, is to provide some additional conditions for registration of a party to try to get around the potential problems that can occur if just anyone walks in off the street and registers as a political party in order to get all the benefits of tax receipts for donations and rebates if they run an election, and so on.

The government has tried to increase the amount of bureaucracy that goes along with registering a party to counter this thing that only one person constitutes a party. One of the bits of bureaucracy it has put in there is the one I just mentioned a few minutes ago, which requires the Chief Electoral Officer to determine whether or not a party is a political entity based on its platform and its policies.

To try to deal with the problem that way is really inappropriate. I feel that it is a real pity that the government is proceeding with this. The Chief Electoral Officer warned that his office could be open to a legal challenge, to lawsuits, because of rulings he makes under clauses of the bill. Someone who is dissatisfied with a ruling that he has made will obviously take it to court and we may end up mired in years and years of court challenges again, all the way to the Supreme Court, based on this ridiculous clause that the Chief Electoral Officer should be partisan in some way and make judgments about political parties coming for registration.

The bill also requires that the party must have three officers, in addition to its leader, must have appointed a chief agent and an auditor, and must have a total of 250 electors who are members of the party. Those electors must sign declarations confirming their support.

The leader of the Communist Party, who started the original legal challenge, when he came before the committee as a witness, asked us if we would consider lowering that threshold of 250 members down to 125. His argument I think from memory was based on just the logistics of trying to get people across the country to sign declarations and that it would be a lot easier if it were a smaller number.

I do not have any strong feelings about that particular aspect but I did want to get it on the record because it was presented by a witness to the committee.

In addition to the various requirements for registration, part of the ruling by the Supreme Court was that the assets of a suspended party no longer needed to be liquidated and paid to the Receiver General. When we think about that, what an evil provision that was in the previous part of the Elections Act. If a party could not run 50 candidates in a general election it was required to sell all of its assets and turn them over to the Receiver General.

That was a mean-spirited type of law that was aimed clearly at the Reform Party of Canada and the Bloc Quebecois in 1992-93 to try to take away their ability to fight a subsequent election if they were not able to get 50 candidates in that 1993 election. What a mean-spirited attempt to keep control right there on the government side.

Luckily, the Supreme Court saw through that mean-spirited attempt to suppress smaller parties and eliminated that. Small parties no longer need to sell off all their assets and turn them over to the Receiver General if they cannot run 50 candidates in an election.

I should point out that we on this side of the House have consistently supported a lower registration threshold. As I mentioned, I have tried consistently, in my role as critic for these electoral issues over the last decade, to get the government to accept the number 12 as being the appropriate number but without success to date. Perhaps when we come back here after an election and I am the minister, we will actually get it done, but we will see whether that actually happens.

I would like to give a bit of history about the way the registration of political parties does work under the Canada Elections Act. The registration process was first advocated in 1966 by the commission on election expenses, known as the Barbeau committee. It concluded that political parties should be recognized as legal entities to encourage the development of the democratic system.

It is interesting that before 1966, the Communist Party, and anybody who just wanted to get a few people together and call themselves a political party, actually did not even need to register anyway. That is an interesting observation. It is only since 1966 that it has been necessary.

In 1970, rules for the registration of political parties were introduced in the Canada Elections Act and political parties that fulfilled certain administrative requirements were admitted. In 1974, the Election Expenses Act introduced spending limits for registered political parties and candidates.

That leads me into an interesting sidebar which is the spending by third parties. We are currently waiting for another ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada which I think will shake the government once again because it deals with spending by third parties. I have no doubt that members are well aware that the present leader of our party was involved in the challenge by the National Citizens' Coalition of the government's right to control the spending of third parties.

I would confidently predict that the Supreme Court will strike down that part of the Elections Act. It has been struck down at every other court level. It has been struck down three times in Alberta and twice I believe in British Columbia. It has been struck down in Ontario and it is going the way of the dodo. When that happens, what a mess it will make of the Elections Act because it will blow wide open all the controls on expenses that we as candidates have during an election campaign. I am not sure how many of my colleagues are ready for that eventuality, but we will be faced with a situation where the cap will be blown right off the top of our expenditure limitations.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak today at third reading of Bill C-3. I look forward to answering any questions that come my way.

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10:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from North Vancouver for his work over the years on this important issue and certainly the insights that he has provided the House this morning.

One aspect of the bill that I find especially troubling is the administration of it. The new process in the bill would allow for the registration of single person parties but it seems to me that underlying that very simple statement is a host of issues. How do we police this matter?

Theoretically, there could be single person parties in every riding in this country and maybe more than one. How will the electoral officer police this? Is it not a nightmare, as I suspect, or does my hon. colleague suggest that there may be a way out?

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10:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it was quite apparent in my speech that I feel some compassion for the Chief Electoral Officer who would be faced with the problem of trying to administer a bill that would not only put him in an almost partisan position of making judgments on people who are registering, but would also have him dealing with the very complicated administration of the bill in order to determine whether a person should be registered as a party.

Yes, the committee heard the concern that individuals could try to take advantage of the bill to get themselves into a position where they could become an entity that received political donations, with the very generous tax credits that go along with that, and that in time would be able to build quite a large organization whose purpose would be to get huge donations with nice tax rebates and everything little else. If they managed to run a few token candidates and got a percentage of the vote, then they would also get election rebates, which would help foster even more growth and fill their coffers.

Therefore, it is definitely a nightmare. It makes me think immediately of the other bill, Bill C-24, that we passed recently, under protest, which had to do with the registration of electoral district associations, the reporting of nomination contests and so on.

Just in talking with many of my colleagues around this place who have gone through nomination contests over the last couple of months, many of them are completely ignorant of the new rules and have already broken the law, inadvertently, in terms of what is required for their nominations.

I have discovered that many of my colleagues did not even know that they had to appoint an official agent, that they had to have a financial agent who opened a bank account and deposited all the money for the campaign into that account, that they could not spend without taking money out of that account to then spend it and that it had to be documented, that if any candidate took in more than $1,000 or spent more than $1,000, he or she will be required to file a report with Elections Canada.

I have come across a widespread ignorance of that provision in Bill C-24. Even though everyone on the government side stood and supported it, they obviously did not know what they were supporting. That certainly is an administrative nightmare for Elections Canada as well.

I heard an example today of a nomination contest in British Columbia where one of the candidates had a donor give money to the riding association, which then voted at its board meeting to send the money on to the candidate's financial agent. That cannot be done under Bill C-24. That is an illegal transfer of assets. The bill would require that money to be refunded.

It raises the interesting prospect that the riding association has to refund the money to the donor, but does the candidate have to refund it to the riding association? I do not know. I think once the Chief Electoral Officer or his department officials start to look at those records there will be quite a problem in sorting out that administrative mess.

In terms of the administrative problems in Bill C-3, there is much less of a problem than there is in Bill C-24. I would hate to be administering Bill C-24 right now, especially after 308 nominations for several parties. If we were to multiply that by at least three parties, we would have over 1,000 nomination contests. That will be an absolute mess.

It is supposed to be reported in 90 days. I suspect it will take 90 years to sort it out. Time will tell.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague's speech. He reminded the House of an interesting phase in the Bloc's evolution, when it first came here in 1993 as the official opposition with over 50 members.

We brought Quebec's experience to this public forum, as well as the conditions under which there could have been an interesting result in terms of Quebec's sovereignty.

Indeed, parties may be able to emerge as ours did, and the legislation before us will ensure the emergence of ideas, if not parties. But there are limitations. This is a British parliamentary system, which tends to restrict the number of parties.

In fact, traditionally, parties in such a system tend to be moderate. As a result, the kind of representation found in a proportional system does not exist here.

I would like to ask my colleague if he believes that, despite its faults, the bill before us will ultimately stand up to the Supreme Court test.

In any event, can we expect ideas and new parties to emerge, parties that may ultimately be represented in the House? Will there not be a second phase to this legislation, which should be developed as soon as possible to allow these parties to be recognized and have sufficient means of expression in order to contribute to the democratic debate?

It is important in a parliament for all voices to be heard. That fundamental principle explains the Bloc's presence here. Sovereignists represent about 45% of all Quebeckers, and we have always claimed that they had the right and the desire to be represented in this House, and that for a tool such as the Bloc Quebecois to exist was a democratic advantage.

Does the member believe that there should be a second phase, with rapid implementation, to ensure that this legislation not only allows for the emergence of new parties but also gives these parties the means to make their ideas heard?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Yes, Mr. Speaker, the 1993 election certainly changed the face of this House.

I thank the member for his question and I congratulate the Bloc Quebecois for using the democratic system to grow and actually have a presence in this place. I do not agree with its policies, but I can certainly recognize that it took advantage of the democratic process to come here.

The member briefly mentioned proportional representation as a way of getting more variety in the House. Our party's position has always been that we would need to put that type of question to Canadians in the form of a referendum and ask them if they would like to change the system. Personally, I would hope they would answer yes to that question. The second stage would be to select a system and I would not like to prejudge what that would be.

Finally, in terms of the bill itself, we have reluctantly accepted the reality that this bill has to be passed before the end of next week. We will allow the government to eventually pass it and make it law. Otherwise, the Canada Elections Act will fall apart. We look forward to producing a second generation, as the member suggested.

The Environment
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, some people believe environmental policies are bad for the economy and that jobs are lost because of environmental policies. Yet, the contrary is true.

For instance, in the eighties, acid rain reduction did not cause job losses despite predictions by some. The same happened when lead was removed from gasoline. The same can be said with the removal of chlorofluorocarbons from certain products to protect the ozone layer. As to Kyoto and climate change, again the spectre of job losses is raised by ill-informed sources.

Energy efficiency, conservation and innovation will make us more competitive, create jobs, and reduce pollution and waste. Environmental and economic policies can go hand in hand and build on each other.

A polluted environment is an economic and social burden. Canadians can strive towards a clean environment which forms the foundation for a healthy society and economy.

Gasoline Prices
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, gas prices rose 7¢ per litre last week and crude oil futures soared to a 14 year high. British Columbians pay some of the highest gas prices in the country. Forecasters predict $1 a litre by the summer, yet the government does nothing.

As finance minister, the Prime Minister promised his 1.5¢ per litre gas tax hike was a temporary measure to balance the books. The books are balanced, but he is still hosing us at the pumps. He is collecting $7 billion in gas taxes, with more than $1 billion coming from B.C. motorists, yet less than 3% is spent on roads and infrastructures. Now he is weaseling out of his promise to send gas tax revenues to the cities.

It is time for the tired and scandal-ridden government to eliminate the deficit fighting gasoline tax, stop charging GST on gas taxes, and dedicate more gasoline taxes to highway spending.

Volunteers
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the very positive and generous qualities in the budget for charities and the voluntary sector reminded me of some great charities and volunteer organizations in Yukon.

First of all, the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre has been helping aboriginal people in the urban centres of Yukon for generations. The Yukon Volunteer Bureau has provided volunteers for all the organizations in Yukon that are looking for volunteers. The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has people who have dedicated many hours of their family and personal time to help those most in need. Finally, the United Way of Yukon has increased its collections in Yukon for many years to help all the organizations in Yukon that applied to it for assistance.

Thanks to Steve Robertson of the Yukon News who pays all their administration costs. Every cent raised goes to these charities. I would like to congratulate them again for their successful AGM which will be held this week.

Justice
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Bramalea—Gore—Malton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw attention to the seizure of thousands of guns by the Peel Regional Police. The knowledge that illegal guns are so readily available has led to increases in armed robberies and gang shootings.

As quoted in the Mississauga News :

“The use of weapons in the commission of crime is going up, no question,” said Constable Steve Rowe, officer in charge of Peel Crime Stoppers...“Getting illegal handguns is easier and there is less hesitation to use them,” said Peel Homicide Inspector Mike MacMullen.

Already this year there have been 59 robberies within the Peel region where weapons were used, up from 29 similar incidents last year. In an attempt to deal with this problem, a program called Gun Stoppers has been created where people can call toll free to report issues related to guns or other weapons at 1-800-222-8477.

Elk Island Constituency
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, for totally unwarranted reasons, the Alberta Boundaries Commission has decided that the Elk Island constituency will cease to exist. This may be my last opportunity to give tribute to all of the wonderful people of my riding.

The editor of the Sherwood Park News , a major small-town paper in the riding, referred to me and my beloved riding of Elk Island. It is true that I have grown to love the people of this riding over the past 10 years. Their kindness to me has been overwhelming.

When I inherited the north part of the riding in 1997 from the member for Beaver River, I had a hard act to follow. She served the people so very well and I have tried to do the same.

While I will be seeking re-election in the new riding of Edmonton--Sherwood Park, I know that the people of rural Elk Island will be well served by the present members for Lakeland and Athabasca.

So, with nostalgia, I say thank you to all of the people of Elk Island. It has been a privilege to serve them.

The Budget
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, budget 2004 provides a great opportunity for our government to highlight our fiscal record since 1993.

This includes one of the best performing economies in the industrial world; seven consecutive balanced budgets, the first time this has happened since Confederation; over $52 billion in debt repayment, and this repayment translates into annual savings of $3 billion that can be used to fund the priorities of Canadians like health care and education; tax cuts of $100 billion that are still flowing today; a debt to GDP ratio that is projected to fall to 42% this year from a high of 68% in the mid-1990s; inflation has been held in check resulting in low interest rates; and a strong record of job creation in Canada, over two million jobs since 1993.

I believe that our government's track record is a good indicator that public funds will be properly managed in the future.

The Budget
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

André Harvey Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the opposition is telling people all over the country, particularly my friends in the Bloc Quebecois, who are so delighted to be here in the Parliament of Canada, I must point out that one of the most important features of the latest budget is the $31 billion drop in taxes, including $24 billion in personal income tax.

In health, we have injected $2 billion. We are going to invest not 14¢, but close to 40¢ on each dollar.

As for the municipalities, the government has begun providing structural support through the GST rebate.

The Government of Quebec has been allocated $330 million for R and D and training.

One important aspect of the last budget—and I know this drives my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois a little crazy—relates to the social economy. This is a new initiative to provide support to all the stakeholders in the social economy. An amount of $160 million has been allocated to support—

The Budget
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

Rural Communities
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, a few days ago, I organized an evening of discussions on the future of our rural communities, in conjunction with Solidarité populaire and the Sans-Chemise Richelieu-Yamaska. Our exceptional guest speakers were Jacques Proulx, president of Solidarité rurale, Msgr. Lapierre, Bishop of Saint-Hyacinthe, Denis Marion, municipal councillor for Massueville, and Jean-Paul Saint-Amand, of Solidarité populaire.

This important event was attended by over 125 decision makers from the RCMs of Maskoutins and Acton. What is facing rural communities is not so much problems as particular challenges. There is a common denominator among all rural people: the desire to defend their difference and to refuse to allow themselves to be considered as second class citizens.

Twenty percent of the population is rural, but that 20% feeds and clothes the other 80%. The rural community therefore plays a vital societal role.

The Government of Quebec has understood this for some years now, and has systematically adapted its policies to rural specificities. It is high time the federal government did the same with its programs and policies. The Bloc Quebecois is solidly committed to fight for recognition of this rural reality, and support for it.

Salon du livre de l'Outaouais
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, the 25th annual Salon du livre de l'Outaouais has begun, and the Outaouais region is extremely proud to greet spring with its book fair.

I want to congratulate the Salon du livre de l'Outaouais for the work it has accomplished over the past 25 years. Each year, the Salon attracts more than 30,000 visitors. It is an excellent opportunity for readers to meet a great many authors.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the 250 volunteers who have devoted so much of their time to organizing this event, particularly its chair, Estelle Desfossés.

Reading is essential to the development of children, the future builders of Canada. Since our country's future depends on knowledge, I am pleased to support an event that, year after year, fosters the acquisition of knowledge.

The Salon, which runs from March 24 to 28, is a major event in the publishing world. I invite all my colleagues and the public to visit the Salon du livre de l'Outaouais and to “lire aux éclats”, which alludes to the great joy of reading.

Foreign Affairs
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, we are approaching the one year anniversary of an exciting campaign to rebuild Iraq that originated in Edmonton. It is called “Rebuilding Iraq...One Town at a Time”.

Each city in Canada is asked to support a sister city in Iraq. Edmontonians have chosen to adopt Abul Khaseeb, a city of 160,000 people which was on the front line of the Iraq-Iran war and suffered horrible retribution from Saddam Hussein following the 1991 Gulf War.

Last year, a fundraising rally was held in Edmonton's Hawrelak Park to launch this campaign to help the people of Abul Khaseeb. I would like to thank Dr. Yarub Al-Shiraida, an Iraqi native and resident of Edmonton since 1979, for his efforts in leading this campaign.

This is a positive initiative, and I would encourage all Canadians to visit www.liferelief.org to find out how they can adopt a town and help Iraq rebuild.

World Theatre Day
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Serge Marcil Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, March 27 is World Theatre Day, a day to reflect on the importance of this performing art in the lives of all Canadians who love theatre, particularly our young people.

Theatre allows communities to bring their dreams to life. Its numerous forms respect individual tastes, from classical to avant-garde, popular to abstract.

Energy and diversity are the trademarks of theatre in Canada. It fills us with emotions, laughter and magic. It stimulates our imagination, helps us see the world from a variety of perspectives, and contributes to our country's cultural diversity.

I would like to thank everyone who works on stage and behind the scenes to enrich our lives through this vibrant art form.

I invite my colleagues and all Canadians to take part in organized activities in their regions in celebration of this day.

Jacob Daniel Edelson
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, Jacob “Jake” Daniel Edelson passed away in his sleep on March 24, leaving behind his mother, Miriam, his father, Jim, his sister, Emma, and thousands of people who knew him and were touched by him.

In his 13 years of life this young man made a huge difference in the world. He was born with lissencephaly, a condition which presented challenges every hour of the day to his caregivers, his loved ones and of course, to Jake himself.

His mother, Miriam, fought fiercely and publicly for quality care for her son and for recognition of his rights to a dignified life. She spoke out for the need for strong public policies that support families of children with special needs.

Last summer Jake had his bar mitzvah and it was a jubilant occasion for all who attended.

Last weekend his sister, Emma, and his mother visited Jake at Susie's Place, his home away from home, the excellent group home where he lived in Belleville, Ontario.

Jake gave back so much to the world around him. Today in the House we wish to celebrate his birth and his short precious life.

Official languages
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, recently the Official Languages Commissioner tabled a report that confirmed what the Bloc Quebecois has been saying for years about bilingual services provided by federal institutions in the National Capital Region.

The results of the study show that in Gatineau, telephone and in-person services are exemplary. In Ottawa, however, the results are, and I quote, “disappointing and there is plenty of room for improvement”.

Yet, according to commercial tenants, providing bilingual services has business advantages because it helps increase market share and, in general, the overall advantages outweigh the cost.

The federal government, as the landlord, must comply with the requirements of the legislation and ensure that language clauses are respected in its buildings. The facts are clear. On the Quebec side we obey the law. We expect the same in Ottawa.

International Aide
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada has always taken part in peacekeeping efforts throughout the world and with the 2004 budget, this tradition continues.

The budget adds $248 million to the 8% increase in international assistance already allocated for 2004-05 in the last budget. This represents a new increase of 8% for 2005-06.

This money will allow us to provide humanitarian assistance in such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan, and help citizens rebuild their country. Of course, this is in addition to the $50 million to assist with peacekeeping in Haiti, and an extra $250 million to assist with peacekeeping in Afghanistan for two years.

We can continue to be proud of Canada's role on the international stage.

Friendship Hockey Tournament
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, a contest of sporting excellence has taken place in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The Friendship Hockey Tournament between the Brocton Boxers and the Valley Graphics Canadians is international peewee hockey at its best.

Young 12 and 13 year old American hockey ambassadors from Boston met their Canadian counterparts in Fredericton by special invitation of Premier Bernard Lord.

Last year's immature, shameful adult anti-American protestations, learned from Liberal parliamentarians, directed against young American team members are being forgotten by this year's mature 12 year old sportsmen.

Who will win the series is not in question. Both Canada and the United States will win by the much needed renewal of mutual respect and friendship.

Let us thank those responsible for the organization of this international friendship contest and congratulate the real heroes, the peewee players of both countries.

Perdita Felicien and David Ford
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Lanctôt Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to two exceptional Canadians, Perdita Felicien and David Ford, who were named Female Athlete of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year 2003 at the most recent Canadian Sport Awards, held Tuesday evening in Toronto.

Perdita Felicien won world recognition in August 2003 as the gold medallist in 100-metre hurdles at the International Association of Athletics Federations world championships in Paris, at the same time breaking the Canadian record for that event.

David Ford won a silver medal in the senior slalom world championships in Germany and was grand champion of the 2003 World Cup ranking event in kayak slalom.

We will continue to encourage David and Perdita in their quest for gold medals at the Athens Olympic Games this August.

I would also like to congratulate all the other award winners who were honoured for their exceptional performances and their contributions to Canadian sport.

Whistleblower Protection
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, current hearings being conducted by the public accounts committee into the sponsorship scandal make clear how much government waste could be avoided if we had some way for employees in each department to get their concerns dealt with. Instead, conscientious employees who see things not being done right often must put their jobs on the line to get action.

Canadians and their federal employees urgently need a new law. According to the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, “Canada is still the only major industrialized democracy without adequate whistleblower protection for public servants”.

This government has proposed Bill C-25 but it needs amendments. I urge the government in the strongest terms to consult with the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the public service integrity officer, Dr. Edward Keyserlingk, to develop the amendments needed for conscientious federal employees to get wrongdoing corrected quickly.

Canadians and whistleblowers deserve no less.

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government is out of control and the unity fund is just the latest example. The finance minister cancelled the secret fund because of all of the problems with it. Even the Prime Minister's own official called it a honey pot.

Yesterday the Prime Minister called the fund a normal operating procedure. Who represents the government's position, the Minister of Finance who rejected the fund, or the Prime Minister who is defending it?

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, when this government came to power in 1993 there were a number of reserve funds across government which had been put in place by the previous Conservative government. This one was used to fund programs in the interest of national unity, about which the government has been clear, that we intended to take a different approach on those issues.

We are taking a different approach in the new government which was sworn in on December 12. That is why we are doing away with this reserve.

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Calgary Centre laid bare that lie yesterday. That just is not so. The Prime Minister is defending this secret fund. He continues to do that.

Eddie Goldenberg, the top aide to the former prime minister, said that the current Prime Minister knew about the fund all along. Even the Auditor General had no knowledge that the half a billion dollars was spent with no rules or program criteria.

Why did the Prime Minister, the former minister of finance, continue to let this fund go unchecked under his watch for 10 years?

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman should be a great deal more cautious in his language. The fact is the hon. member for Calgary Centre did not state as the gentleman has stated in the House. The quote is not his.

When we came to power there were a number of reserve funds across the whole government which had been put in place by the previous government, a fact admitted by the former prime minister, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre.

With respect to Mr. Goldenberg's comments, it has been quite clear and was indeed made clear in a response in the House by the Prime Minister some two weeks ago. He responded by saying that he had never used the fund and that in fact--

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Peace River.

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, the old trick of smoke and mirrors is no longer working. Canadians do not believe the government on this issue.

The finance minister cancelled the Prime Minister's secret Liberal fund because it failed to meet sound fiscal management. The Prime Minister knew about the program for the past 10 years yet chose to hide it from the Auditor General and Canadians.

Why did it take him a decade to cancel this fund? Who really speaks for Canadians these days and the Liberal government in the House, the finance minister or the Prime Minister?

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, once again the hon. member is not telling the House the true situation. The fact of these funds was well known throughout the government. The Prime Minister responded in the House two weeks ago and made it perfectly clear that the existence of such funds was well known, as it was to the previous Conservative government. What he did say, however, with respect to this particular fund, which he has never accessed as Prime Minister, was he did not see the need for it and to abolish it.

Again, the hon. member should once more check what the Auditor General has said because his comments do not reflect the true spirit of the words she used.

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, what is outrageous is that the government took 10 years to cancel the same fund that existed. The finance minister axed the national unity reserve because it fell outside the bounds of normal accounting practices. It was a honey pot for Liberal cabinet ministers. In direct contradiction the Prime Minister has said that it was a normal program adhering to normal accounting practices. In reality it was a program that seeded ad scam.

Either the reserve is a honey pot of corruption or it was a normal program. Who are we supposed to believe, the finance minister or the Prime Minister?

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General was aware and her predecessor was aware of the use of reserve funds. That is something that governments do, both at the federal and provincial levels, this government, the previous government of the previous prime minister and indeed the previous Conservative government used such funds. They are used by individual departments. They report their spending in their annual statements to the public accounts and therefore to the public accounts committee. There is nothing secret about such a process. It is all in the open.

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, what is secret is the way the government abused those funds. That is what the secret is.

Let us see some facts about this unity reserve. One, it was used as seed money for the sponsorship scandal. Two, the finance minister, now the current Prime Minister, had to sign off on the usage. Three, it cost taxpayers half a billion dollars. Four, its existence was hidden from even the Auditor General.

The Prime Minister claims that it was nothing more than “a normal accounting procedure”. If so, why cancel it?

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, first of all the facts as outlined by the hon. member vary from the true facts of this situation by a considerable margin. It would be helpful in the House if more accuracy were used.

He has asked a direct question: Why was it abolished? Because, as the Prime Minister made clear in his responses to questions in the House during question period, he has not accessed that fund and does not intend to. Therefore, the fund, in his mind, had no further purpose and he axed it. I should add that Treasury Board is looking at all such submissions from 1992 to identify the funds of this type that were used.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, Huguette Tremblay confirmed that the President of the Treasury Board regularly telephoned Pierre Tremblay, the director of the sponsorship program. The President of the Treasury Board himself acknowledged this, adding that he had never exercised any pressure to help a communications firm secure a contract.

Can the President of the Treasury Board tell us whether he followed the same policy of non-interference when he was the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport and a senior official wrote, “The firm the secretary of state wants hired is Everest”?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I think the answer to that has been given a hundred times in the House, and I will not waste my time on it.

The second thing that strikes me as important is that the party opposite, which is so keen on transparency, never called for a public inquiry into the Oxygène 9 affair in Quebec. It never called for a public inquiry into the collusion or, at any rate, the suspicions raised by the fact that the head of the SGF was the husband of Quebec's finance minister.

There were never any questions forthcoming from that party on the integrity of all this. They had nothing to say. They played dead. Now they have taken on a holier than thou attitude.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, in an e-mail dated March 17, 2000, the director of the national sport policy task force, Roger Farley, wrote, “The firm the secretary of state wants to hire is Everest”. There it is in black and white. The President of the Treasury Board did indeed interfere in the contracting process in favour of Everest.

How, in that context, can we believe the President of the Treasury Board when, in connection with the sponsorship scandal, he claims to have never told Pierre Tremblay, “You will take this or that agency, this or that contract. You will give it to this or that person”? How can he be believed?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, he can be believed because I think that, in a democratic system such as ours, people are presumed innocent, and not guilty, particularly when the presumption comes from someone seeking direct political gain by sullying the reputation of a member of Parliament. This is totally unacceptable.

How is it that they have a double standard, depending on whether it involves what goes on here, or what goes on where they come from?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I hope that, when the minister says they, he includes himself. The Prime Minister stated that he had questioned each of his ministers about their integrity before appointing them to cabinet and that he was satisfied with their answers.

Can the President of the Privy Council tell us whether he informed the Prime Minister that the firm he wanted to hire at the time was Everest?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister made it very clear in this House that he put the question to all his ministers, that he got satisfactory answers and that, as far as he is concerned, the question was very clear.

As for including myself when referring to where he comes from, I disagree. Like him, I am a Quebecker. But, unlike him, I am not going to sit on the Conseil de la souveraineté, I am not paying for studies by LeHir, and I am certainly not paying to promote Quebec's sovereignty.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us get back to the main issue. Does the Prime Minister still trust his minister, now that he is aware of the existence of this e-mail, which clearly shows that the President of the Privy Council got personally involved to help Everest secure the contract?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister trusts all his ministers, and particularly the minister to whom the hon. member is referring.

Health
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, the real scandal is not sponsorship. It is the privatization of health care.

After 11 years of starving the system, now we read today that the Liberals want to reopen the Canada Health Act to make it easier for premiers like Ralph Klein to privatize health care. We hear of a secret Liberal plan to help corporate friends own their own hospitals.

How happy is the government today to learn that Ralph Klein thinks the secret federal Liberal privatization plan is a good thing?

Health
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte
Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the pretext of the hon. member's question comes from an anonymous report that there are changes being considered to the Canada Health Act. Let me say very clearly that the Canada Health Act will remain public, comprehensive, universal, portable and accessible, the five pillars. It will remain so.

Health
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

But not accountable, Mr. Speaker, which was the sixth principle that people wanted.

The fact of the matter is that the privatization of health care has grown exponentially under this government. The Liberals have already changed a law to make it easier. In fact, the lead B.C. staffer in the Prime Minister's office was a lobbyist for health care privatizers days before entering the PMO.

Did the B.C. Liberal premier know in advance of this secret Liberal plan to privatize health care? Did Gordon Campbell let private clinics grow because he knew the Liberal government in Ottawa would not stop him?

Health
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte
Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, we remain committed to the Canada Health Act. We will remain vigilant to the principles of the Canada Health Act. We will continue to enforce the Canada Health Act and will remain so.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister keeps claiming he grilled his recycled cabinet about its knowledge of or involvement in the sponsorship campaign. We now know the President of the Privy Council failed his polygraph test.

Either the Prime Minister, who defends this minister, or the President of the Privy Council himself is misleading Canadians. Which one is it?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, these allegations are quite uncalled for and quite out of keeping with the traditions of the House.

The fact is that the hon. member has in no way misled either the Prime Minister or the House on this matter and allegations to the contrary simply demean the opposition and demean every member of this chamber.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are all used to the member for Bourassa feigning indignation, but now it is spreading down the front bench. Whenever he gets caught omitting the facts, he just goes over the top. He was screaming wildly last year when he denied he even knew Claude Boulay of Groupe Everest. Then it turned out he lived in Boulay's condo for a while.

Is the President of the Privy Council indignant again because he forgot to mention he was up to his neck in the sponsorship scandal or is he angry again because he got caught?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it would be helpful if this hon. member stuck a lot closer to the truth. The fact is that the hon. minister in question clearly stated that he had never spoken to Mr. Guité and accusations to the contrary are quite uncalled for and untrue.

Second, he was equally clear that he did in fact speak with Mr. Tremblay, but he was responsible for amateur sport and that was the appropriate thing for the amateur sport minister to do. One can hardly fault the minister for doing his job effectively and doing it in accordance with the rules.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, after denying that he enjoyed Claude Boulay's hospitality it came out that the President of the Privy Council stayed at chez Boulay of Groupe Everest. Then, after denying he had anything to do with the sponsorship scandal operation, yesterday we found out that he was intervening and exercising political interference to get contracts out of that operation.

I would like to know, did the President of the Privy Council interfere to get contracts that ended up going to the ad scam firm Groupe Everest? I would like to know.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, time after time we have answered questions on this particular point and the fact is that no matter how often opposition members misrepresent the facts in their preambles to their questions, their questions show clearly they do not have a single issue with the government on the issue of the budget or any other aspect for Canadians.

They simply go back to question after question based on preambles which they know are not factual. Why do we not get down to factual issues that are important to Canadians?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, this minister, like this government, oozes arrogance.

Here are facts. Groupe Everest was involved in the ad scam. Groupe Everest took money from Canadian taxpayers and did not provide anything in return, and this minister, the President of the Privy Council, is a friend of and owes something to the president of Groupe Everest, Claude Boulay.

We would like to know, and maybe he could tell us, whether or not any of the contracts he lobbied for end up in the hands of Groupe Everest, yes or no? Why does he not answer?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, we have here once again a skilful mixture of some fact and total fiction in an attempt to smear the reputation of an hon. member of this House. I honestly wish the opposition would recognize how much damage it does to confidence in Canadian democracy by this scurrilous and underhanded approach.

St. Lawrence Seaway
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Tuesday the member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière questioned his Liberal colleague, the Minister of Transport, about whether the government was in favour of the widening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The minister said no.

How can the Minister of Transport deny that the government is seriously considering this project, when Richard Corfe, the president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation himself, says exactly the opposite?

St. Lawrence Seaway
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Scarborough—Agincourt
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the question that my hon. colleague across the way brings forth was discussed in the committee. The answers were given clearly.

St. Lawrence Seaway
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary should read La Presse , because it contains an article in which the president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation quite simply states the exact opposite of what he just said.

If the minister refuses to disclose the government's true intentions with regard to the widening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, is it not because of the serious environmental damage this project could do to the river, in addition to seriously compromising Montreal's advantage as a container ship port?

St. Lawrence Seaway
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Scarborough—Agincourt
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the environment is something I am really concerned about. Not only must we be stewards of the environment today, we must make sure that we are stewards of the environment tomorrow. The hon. member has received the answer time and time again and he goes back to fiction, reinventing the wheel.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, Canada has requested an exemption from the Montreal protocol to protect the ozone layer, in order to continue using one of the most damaging pesticides in this respect, methyl bromide.

Why is Canada reneging on its commitments under the Montreal protocol when researchers confirm that the hole in the ozone layer has never been as big and that the use of this pesticide contributes directly to making the situation worse?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, Canada wants the protocol to be respected. Naturally, discussions are underway on the continuing debates, and as anyone who reads a newspaper knows, some countries do not have exactly the same point of view as Canada.

This is not a question of Canada abandoning its principles. Not at all. We know the importance of protecting the atmosphere, as the hon. member has indicated. We agree with him on the importance of this duty.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, by refusing to enforce the Montreal protocol, this government aligns itself with George Bush, who wants to continue and even increase the use of this dangerous pesticide.

Does the Minister of the Environment not agree that following the American example in this matter amounts to wiping out 15 years of efforts by the international community to protect the ozone layer?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for pointing out that it was another country that really created the problem we are now facing.

If he is asking me whether we are going to follow the Americans on principle, I will tell him that we have serious difficulties with the American position. That is why we are having these talks and discussions, to try to protect the environment of our continent and of the entire world.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, because of serious financial irregularities, Nortel Networks has suspended its chief financial officer. This is the standard and the norm for Canadian corporate governance.

In our parliamentary system, the finance minister is our chief financial officer. When internal government audits revealed the extent of Liberal corruption with the sponsorship program, why was the finance minister at the time not held accountable?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, we have gone through this time after time. We have set up a committee of the House, the public accounts committee, which is now examining witnesses and which perhaps has been missed by the hon. member. We have an inquiry under a judge, which is taking place over the summer and into fall. We indeed have an individual who will be looking into recovery of money. We have an RCMP inquiry that has been going on for some two years.

These processes will bring us, we trust, to a full understanding of the problems that there are and that is why we have set them in process and why the former finance minister, now the Prime Minister, is so determined to get to the bottom of these things.

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, they have not gone through this enough. Trusting a Liberal government to control and audit its own spending is like trusting the arsonist to come back and put out the fires. This is a sad commentary on the state of our democracy. It is the clearest sign that we have a democratic deficit not only with this old, tired Liberal government, but also with its leader and Prime Minister.

I ask the government again, other than the defence of ignorance, how can the Prime Minister escape responsibility for this government's corruption?

Sponsorship Program
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has very clearly taken full responsibility for the concern, getting to the bottom of it, and dealing with this issue.

With regard to the comment made by the hon. member that somehow, as I understood, the auditor would not be able to look into this properly, the Auditor General is doing a good job of looking into it independently. She works at arm's length from the government in that regard.

I really cannot see the slightest evidence out there, provided by the opposition or anybody else, that she is somehow working to protect the government.

National Defence
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, the nation of Denmark has laid claim to Canadian territory. Its military, from its warship, hoisted its flag on our arctic territory without permission, without warning, and without any fear of being stopped.

This embarrassing situation shows that the Prime Minister was wrong when he was underfunding our national defence while he was finance minister. He was wrong in not stopping the hemorrhaging of hundreds of millions of dollars in scandal and fraud while he was finance minister, and he is wrong today in leaving Canada exposed and embarrassed.

Why will he not do the right thing and immediately announce there will be a restoration of funding for our navy so it can do its job of keeping our true north strong and free?

National Defence
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Liberal

David Pratt Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, a significant amount of money has been put into the navy over the last number of years. Since this government took over, significant investments have been made in the armed forces overall.

We have had $3.1 billion in terms of the maritime helicopter project. We have had $700 million in terms of the mobile gun system. We have had $1.3 billion in terms of fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. We are continuing to rebuild the Canadian Forces.

National Defence
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, one military expert said yesterday that all we can do is send a dog team to the Arctic this summer.

The scandal and fraud that has paralyzed this collapsing Liberal regime has left it in utter chaos. The government is now incapable of responding to even its most basic responsibility: the protection of our borders.

The government's utter disarray is underlined by the fact that the scandal has led to the recall of our ambassador to Denmark, the very nation that is challenging our sovereignty.

We want to know, is the government so bogged down in its own scandal damage control that it cannot replace Mr. Gagliano? Or is it secretly keeping that spot open for his eventual return?

National Defence
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford
Ontario

Liberal

Aileen Carroll Minister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, Canada has consistently defended its interests in the past and it will continue to do so.

Hans Island constitutes part of the national territory of Canada. No assertion by the Danish ambassador or other Danish officials detracts from the absolute sovereignty that Canada enjoys over Hans Island.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. It concerns the biosafety protocol.

In view of the fact that Canada signed the biosafety protocol in the year 2001 but has not yet ratified it, could the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food please tell us when Canada will finally ratify the biosafety protocol?

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Speller Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is aware that 45 countries have now ratified the biosafety protocol. It takes 50 countries, in fact, to implement it.

The Government of Canada is presently consulting with stakeholders which is very important. The hon. member knows there were concerns by stakeholders. We are drawing up an action plan based on those consultations.

I can assure the hon. member that we are on the path toward ratification; however, first and foremost, we want to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in that process.

Government Expenditures
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Auditor General spoke in committee about the purchase of the two Challenger jets in 2002 and said that the government could not demonstrate that it exercised due diligence in awarding this contract or that it achieved best value.

The Prime Minister, who speaks at great length about fiscal responsibility, was the finance minister at the time the decision was made to spend $100 million for jets that neither National Defence nor Transport Canada needed.

Could the Prime Minister explain why these jets were purchased instead of other much more needed military equipment by our armed forces?

Government Expenditures
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Liberal

David Pratt Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister has indicated in the past, not all of the cabinet processes were followed in connection with the purchase of the Challenger jets.

Having said that however, there was a need, and there is a need, to upgrade the Challenger fleet. The addition of these two jets is certainly an important addition to the capability of the Canadian forces.

We also, in defence, did not suffer as a result of the purchase of these particular aircraft, in the sense that the money was provided by the Department of Finance.

As I indicated before, there have been, and there will continue to be, more investments made in the Canadian Forces.

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, the finance minister's budget is a recipe for privatization. There are no Liberal targets to create home care or cut pollution, but there is an artificial target for the debt to GDP ratio.

Assuming the Liberals' rosy predictions are correct, they want to spend $30 billion to meet this target in 10 years. Balancing the books, which the NDP supports, would meet this target in 11 years.

Why does the Liberal government want to spend at least $30 billion to meet an artificial target one year earlier?

The Budget
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

John McKay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the government has set as a target that in the next 10 years the debt to GDP ratio will be 25%. That has gone from somewhere in the order of 68% to what is now 42%.

By the payment of absolute moneys off in the order of $52 billion, we actually save somewhere in the order of $3 billion, which in this particular year was extremely important. It enabled us to fund the $2 billion to health care and the further $1 billion to mad cow.

The fiscal prudence in this particular instance worked very well indeed.

Fisheries
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday a majority of the House of Commons voted in favour of my motion that called on the government to take immediate action to extend custodial management over the nose and tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap.

What instructions has the Prime Minister given to officials in the Departments of Fisheries and Oceans, Foreign Affairs, and International Trade as a result of this action taken by the House?

Fisheries
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Hillsborough
P.E.I.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to congratulate the hon. member for having his motion passed in the House on Wednesday.

Since the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was appointed on December 12, there were a lot of things done on this issue. This is a top priority with him.

This country has ratified the United Nations Law of the Sea. The European Union has ratified the convention on straddling fish stocks. The minister has put $51 million more into air surveillance. He has put $17 million more into sea surveillance. Most recently, there has been a meeting between the Prime Minister and the president of the European Union where this was a top item on the agenda.

Fisheries
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, after all of that there has not been one fish saved or one boat reprimanded.

Is the Prime Minister still of the view that the House of Commons is where the public will must be heard, articulated and exercised as he stated in his Osgoode Hall speech on democratic reform last October?

If so, in view of Wednesday's vote, when will the government introduce legislation to implement the will of the House of Commons?

Fisheries
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Hillsborough
P.E.I.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I am not exactly sure if the hon. member has been following the things that have been done on this issue over the last three months. I will repeat them.

There has been $51 million more allocated to additional air surveillance. There has been $17 million more allocated to additional sea surveillance. There has recently been a high level meeting between our Prime Minister and the president of the European Union where this was a top item on the agenda. There were good discussions and these discussions will be followed up.

Transportation
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian boating community is just beginning to find out that the government has created a huge problem for them as they prepare their boats for the new season.

Thanks to an exclusive contract awarded to Nautical Data International by the Liberals, users of Navionics and C-Map navigation equipment no longer have access to digital maps. This is a critical safety issue.

Why did the government grant a monopoly to NDI, and what will the minister do about it to get rid of this nasty sweetheart deal and make digital maps available to users of that equipment?

Transportation
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Hillsborough
P.E.I.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for the question. This arrangement has been in place since 1993.

Generally, it has worked well, but recently, and the hon. member is quite correct, certain problems have developed. The minister and the department are aware of them and they are trying to resolve them as soon as possible.

Transportation
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the owner of NDI has a Liberal donation record as long as my arm, so no surprises there.

The minister has already admitted he has known about the problem for a long time and has still done nothing. Spring is here. The boaters are getting their boats out of the sheds and back into the water, and still nothing has been done on this critical safety issue.

When will the minister end this outrageous NDI royalties sweetheart deal and put maps back into the hands of the boaters?

Transportation
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Hillsborough
P.E.I.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, as I stated previously, this arrangement has been going on for 11 years now. It has worked well, but the minister and the department are aware of the problems that the hon. member has brought up. They are presently dealing with the problems. We expect the problems to be resolved in the very near future.

Trade
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, manufacturers in the already very vulnerable textile and clothing sectors now find themselves in an extremely precarious situation, partly because they have to face unfair competition and also because in January 2005, all quotas on these imports will be lifted.

Does the Minister for International Trade realize that the some $26 million in customs duties that will be paid back over a three-year period are just a drop in the bucket compared to the $300 million in tariff duties that the clothing industry will pay on its textile imports?

Trade
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Brome—Missisquoi
Québec

Liberal

Denis Paradis Minister of State (Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, we presented a bill to extend customs tariffs for an additional 10 years. At the same time that we introduced this legislation, our colleague, the Minister of Industry, submitted a proposal to invest $60 million over the next three years, in both the clothing and textile sectors, to help our industry.

Trade
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, does the government not think that, instead of adopting measures that apply across the board to all textiles, it would be wiser to simply lift customs duties on textiles that are not manufactured here and to take strict measures to protect our textile and clothing industry?

Trade
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Brome—Missisquoi
Québec

Liberal

Denis Paradis Minister of State (Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, as regards the amount of $60 million over a three-year period to which I just referred, about half of that money should go to the clothing sector. One of the purposes of that amount of $30 million or so is indeed to see if we could not lower tariffs for fabrics that are not produced here.

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of ACOA continues to encourage the president of ACOA to promote a Liberal policy paper called “The Rising Tide: Continuing Commitment to Atlantic Canada” with scarce mention and no funding in the budget. This policy paper, in the words of the minister, “will remain part of the Liberal platform in the next election”.

Will the minister now reign in the president of ACOA who is, by the way, a senior public servant, or is it politics as usual at the agency in a pre-election warm-up?

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Fredericton
New Brunswick

Liberal

Andy Scott Minister of State (Infrastructure)

Mr. Speaker, those of us who were responsible for both “Catching the Wave” and “The Rising Tide” are very proud of the work we have done on behalf of Atlantic Canadians.

Rather than this being a political document, the fact of the matter is that we have consulted with APEC, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, and university presidents. It has been endorsed by mayors in small and large communities throughout the region. We are very proud of this document. It is good for Atlantic Canada.

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, the government may be proud of it, but there is no money in the budget to fund it.

The interesting thing is that the president of ACOA is still promoting it. She is a public servant and totally in contradiction of the ethics act, the code, if I may. This is how the government put itself in trouble on the ad scam issue with public servants refusing to say no or unwilling to say no to their political masters.

Does the minister want to see politicization of ACOA until finally the government is defeated at the polls?

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Fredericton
New Brunswick

Liberal

Andy Scott Minister of State (Infrastructure)

Mr. Speaker, we are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish in Atlantic Canada in terms of getting the agenda for the economic revitalization of our region on the national stage. Any time any public servant talks about Atlantic Canada, we are proud of that too.

Health
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of State for Public Health.

It is common knowledge that provinces and territories across Canada have varying levels of coverage for immunizations. In my own Province of Ontario, many parents cannot have their children vaccinated because they cannot afford the fees.

Now that federal funding has been allocated to assist the provinces and territories with immunization programs, when will the government provide these funds so that Canadian children will have equal access to vaccinations?

Health
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

St. Paul's
Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Minister of State (Public Health)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question on this federal-provincial-territorial success story in our national immunization strategy.

The $300 million of funding announced in this week's budget exemplifies the government's commitment to the shared goal of equitable access to the newer vaccines for all Canadians no matter where they live. Given this priority, the funds will be accounted for in this fiscal year and we will ensure that the money will be available to the provinces and territories as soon as the legislation is passed.

I know I can count on the support of all in the House to ensure its timely passage, and I know we find unacceptable as Canadians that any family physician, pediatrician or nurse practitioner in the country should have--

Health
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Perth—Middlesex.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the strongest possible terms I want to express my disappointment in the new BSE package offered in the budget. It appears as though dairy producers have been either forgotten or abandoned. The guaranteed figure of $56 per dairy heifer is absolutely unsatisfactory. Tomorrow I will be meeting in my riding with area stakeholders concerning agriculture.

How would the government suggest I go about explaining to dairy farmers in Perth—Middlesex that they are being ignored?

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Speller Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, that is just simply not the case. In the fall we brought in a $200 million cull cow program that certainly helped the dairy sector. In fact 10% of the dollars that will go out, will go into the dairy sector, close to $100 million. The member can tell his dairy producers that the Government of Canada is fully committed, and we are fully committed behind supply management.

He might want to try to argue that point with his dairy producers.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us not give our farmers false hope. We all want to see the border open as soon as possible. Domestic aid programs, while needed at this time, do nothing to address the real issue, opening the U.S. border to Canadian livestock.

Last week we saw the Prime Minister totally interested in a campaign style photo op. Why is he not more interested in meeting one on one with the American president? At least then he would get his photo op in the rose garden.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Speller Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I would think that would be more appropriate for the hon. member's leader. What my leader is doing is sitting down and working with the industry.

I was in Washington yesterday. I met with Secretary Veneman. We are working through, very well, the process with regard to opening up the border. Once their legal process is done on April 7, we believe very strongly that there is absolutely no reason why that border should not open.

The Prime Minister has said that directly to the President, and he will continue to work through the Prime Minister's Office.

Social Housing
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, during a recent visit to Quebec, the Prime Minister raised expectations and high hopes with respect to social housing. Lobby groups such as FRAPRU have expressed their great disappointment at having to wait for election promises in order to find out what the government's true intentions are for social housing.

How does the Prime Minister explain that there is not one cent in his budget for the development of social housing?

Social Housing
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Fredericton
New Brunswick

Liberal

Andy Scott Minister of State (Infrastructure)

Mr. Speaker, in the last three years we have announced and are actively putting in play a billion dollars for affordable housing. As the hon. member would know, a significant portion of that is in the province of Quebec which has responded very quickly, and I am happy to say it is among the leaders in the country. However, we still have more money to get in play with other provinces. We are in the act of doing that now.

Multiculturalism
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Sophia Leung Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women.

Over the past few years racial profiling has emerged as one of the primary issues facing African, Asian, Arabian and Muslim Canadians and the aboriginal communities, in cities across the country.

How does the Government of Canada address this concern surrounding racial profiling?

Multiculturalism
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore
Ontario

Liberal

Jean Augustine Minister of State (Multiculturalism and Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada considers the selective treatment of individuals solely on the basis of ethnic or racial characteristics as unacceptable. The Department of Multiculturalism has been engaged in progressive work on the issue of profiling.

Just last week I spoke to about 100 leaders at a consensus conference on racial profiling in Toronto. I will have the chance this weekend in the Atlantic region, in Fredericton, to speak with the Atlantic Region Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies to discuss this important matter.

Public Service
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, it has come to our attention that Edith Gendron, a federal public servant in the official languages support programs branch, is being blackmailed and threatened with losing her job, simply because she is an active sovereignist.

Will the government assure Ms. Gendron and this entire House that no threats will be tolerated and that no one's job will be at stake because of their political convictions?

Public Service
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Bourassa
Québec

Liberal

Denis Coderre President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Mr. Speaker, a serious question deserves a serious answer.

The rules governing the conduct of federal public servants are found in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service. These rules outline situations where there could be real or apparent conflict of interest within the public service.

If there is a conflict of interest between personal interests and those related to public interest, the conflict must be resolved in favour of the public interest.

Ms. Gendron's case is now before the administration and internal management of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Therefore we will let the process take its course.

Pension Funds
Oral Question Period

Noon

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, Devco pensioners, widows and children are being robbed of $27 million in pension funds because the government needs the bucks to make up for $4.4 billion in tax cuts delivered to corporate Canada and the hundreds of millions of dollars squandered in patronage scandals.

Now the government congratulates itself for appointing an arbitrator to rule on this outrageous clawing of funds from 6,750 Cape Bretoners struggling to survive in a tough economy

Where is the fairness here? How does this square with the earlier claim that this is a government committed to Atlantic--

Pension Funds
Oral Question Period

Noon

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. Minister of State.

Pension Funds
Oral Question Period

Noon

Fredericton
New Brunswick

Liberal

Andy Scott Minister of State (Infrastructure)

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question from the member for Halifax, and will refer it to the Minister of Labour for a quick response.

Government Programs
Oral Question Period

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is now some 470 days since the softwood lumber community adjustment program was announced. Out of the $55 million for B.C. communities, $5 million has already been used to fund an increased level of federal bureaucracy. Very little has actually been paid out to the communities.

I ask again, when will the cheques be written to fund already approved community projects?

Government Programs
Oral Question Period

Noon

Vancouver Quadra
B.C.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for that important question, certainly in his constituency and throughout British Columbia. So far in British Columbia 83 projects have been approved worth $32 million of the $55 million coming to British Columbia, which has levered another $68 million, totalling $100 million for projects. There is another $20 million of projects to come.

At least the money is now starting to roll. The projects have been approved, and these are permanent economic adjustment projects. They are not quick fixes. The due diligence has been done and the cheques are now rolling.

Government Programs
The Royal Assent

Noon

The Deputy Speaker

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

Rideau Hall,

Ottawa

March 26, 2004

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 26th day of March, 2004 at 11:01 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Uteck,

Secretary to the Government General

The schedule indicates that royal assent was given to Bill C-6, an act respecting assisted human reproduction and related research; Bill C-13, an act to amend the Criminal Code (capital markets fraud and evidence-gathering); and Bill C-18, an act respecting equalization and authorizing the Minister of Finance to make certain payments related to health.

House of Commons
The Royal Assent

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I also have the honour to lay upon the table the report on plans and priorities for 2004-05 of the House of Commons administration.

Canada National Parks Act
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Brome—Missisquoi
Québec

Liberal

Denis Paradis for the Minister of the Environment

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have two reports to present.

First, I have the honour to present the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In accordance with its order of reference of Tuesday, February 24, 2004, your committee has considered Vote 25 under Privy Council in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2005, and reports the same.

Second, I have the honour to present the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the list of members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. With the unanimous consent of the House, I intend to move concurrence in the fourteenth report later this day.

Employment Insurance Act
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Lanctôt Châteauguay, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-504, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code (employee taking care of a disabled person)

Mr. Speaker, this enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act and the CanadaLabour Code to provide that an employee who is absent fromemployment because of an obligation to care for a disabled person is notdisqualified from receiving employment insurance benefits and may notbe dismissed, suspended, laid off, demoted or disciplined.

The enactment also replaces the twelve-week period of absence set outin the Canada Labour Code with an indefinite period. It also allows thepension, health and disability benefits and the seniority of an employeewho is absent from work to care for a disabled person to accumulate.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the House gives its consent, I move: That the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House earlier this day, be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table, on behalf of the men, women and seniors in my riding, a petition which reads as follows:

“Whereas poverty is a plague that seriously affects seniors;

Whereas any measure that changes the financial situation of seniors poses a real threat to their physical health and their autonomy;

Whereas most seniors are living below the poverty line;

Your petitioners are asking Parliament to increase the basic amounts of the old age pension, the widow spouse allowance and the guaranteed income supplement, since we feel that the current amounts are clearly inadequate to allow our seniors to maintain an acceptable quality of life.

Your petitioners are also asking that low income individuals not be subjected to a diminution of the supplement already granted when they take money from an RRSP, a RRSF or when they get another temporary cash inflow.

Lastly, they are asking Parliament to take the necessary measures to adequately inform seniors, so that they do not lose the amounts to which they are entitled and to make eligibility rules more flexible by reducing penalties for all those who were not informed of their rights”.

This petition was signed by 2,800 people from municipalities located in the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, namely Brownsburg-Chatham, Lachute, Saint-André d'Argenteuil, Wentworth-Nord,Lakefield, Gore, Harrington, Saint-Placide, Mirabel, Morin-Heights, Saint-Adolphe-d'Howard, Grenville, Boileau, Lac-des-Plages, Lac-Simon, Duhamel, Saint-Eustache, and from municipalities located in—

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, but the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis has the floor.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present.

The first petition is from people in my riding stating that there is a loophole in the Income Tax Act which allows businesses in Canada to deduct from business income for tax purposes the fines and penalties imposed on them for breaking laws and regulations intended to protect the public interest, such as environmental laws, consumer protection laws, workplace safety laws, et cetera.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a second petition to present on behalf of the people of my riding.

The petitioners pray that Parliament pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I have a petition on marriage.

The petitioners, in dealing with this after a long preamble, pray that Parliament pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being a lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two petitions today.

The first petition is from my constituents of Okanagan--Shuswap stating that marriage is the best foundation for families and the raising of children.

The petitioners want to remind the House that a motion was passed in June 1999 that called for marriage to continue to be defined as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Therefore my constituents call upon Parliament to pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition I am pleased to present has over 450 signatures calling upon Parliament to instruct the National Parole Board to not release any offenders into society until the recommendations of the 2002 report become policy.

The petitioners state that parole should be the exception and not the rule. Parole should be limited, earned and tightly monitored when balancing the interests of an offender and public safety. Public safety must be the first priority and family violence assessments must be completed on all offenders before granting parole.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege today to present a petition with several hundred signatures in which the petitioners are recognizing that marriage is the lasting union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of others.

They call upon Parliament to take whatever action is required to maintain the current definition of marriage in law and to prevent any court from overturning or amending that definition.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to present a petition on marriage.

Whereas marriage is the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament, the petitioners pray that Parliament pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord
Québec

Liberal

André Harvey Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before I give the floor to the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, the hon. member for Elk Island on a point of order.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, is it not true that there was some time left for questions and comments on the previous speaker?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I did take notice, and no reflection on any one member, that when I did ask to resume the debate I took account of who was in the House. I can assure the members that there was very limited time left. I do not think it would have given anyone a real opportunity to ask a question and also expect a response within that same timeframe, within that very limited time that was left.

The hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, retuning to the speech by my colleague for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, you know you can always count on me even if, despite your great care, you did not give me the floor to ask a final question during question period. Obviously I do not hold that against you. I know you follow the Standing Orders to the letter, and more power to you for that.

That said, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-3, the purpose of which is to reflect the provisions of the Figueroa ruling in the Canada Elections Act.

The Bloc Quebecois will be supporting this legislation, though I will point out immediately that we are motivated not so much by enthusiasm or support of all the provisions and implications of the bill, but rather by lack of choice. If we opposed it, and if an election were called this spring, it would mean we would end up with a legal vacuum at the end of June as far as the registration of political parties is concerned.

So this is an interim measure, as has already been clearly explained earlier today, and one that will likely be followed with another piece of legislation to definitively amend the Canada Elections Act.

My colleague from North Vancouver has made it clear that, whatever the government may say, this bill has been rushed through. Nevertheless, in committee, it was still possible to write a sunset clause into the legislation, and I think it is a fine idea.

Before getting into the heart of the matter, I would like to say a few words about the process. This process has shown that, despite repeated affirmations by the new Prime Minister and his government, whatever happens, with a Liberal government, it is same old, same old.

They promised us, with their hands on their hearts, that they would take the suggestions and proposals of members of parliament into consideration, listen to the opposition parties and to give MPs a greater role. But what really happened? As soon as the government House leader had an opportunity to introduce legislation, he sent it to committee before second reading, apparently so that we could really improve it.

But he rushed the committee's consideration of the bill, so much so that, at the first meeting, government members were ready to proceed with clause by clause study without even having heard a single witness. Does this really exemplify a political party that wants—or so it claims—to consult parliamentarians by taking pains to send this bill to committee before second reading, supposedly to be able to make amendments? The answer is no.

In fact, no substantial amendments were made to this bill. It came back in nearly identical form, despite the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer himself, who is giving a speech at the National Press Club as we speak, expressed a number of reservations with respect to the bills provisions.

We could have made the amendments necessary to satisfy the reservations of the Chief Electoral Officer, reservations we share, as it happens. Nevertheless, the government refused to consider our recommendations and our suggestions, and the bill came back as is.

The problem the Chief Electoral Officer has with this is that the bill contains provisions providing him with discretionary authority over determining whether each political party's purpose is to participate inpublic affairs and whether it is indeed pursuing the fundamental mission it has publicly assumed.

This officer of Parliament, who must be an independent and objective judge of the application of the Elections Act, would thus find himself with the right to interfere in the conduct of the internal affairs of political parties. Obviously, this raises a number of concerns on our part, as well as on the part of other parties in this House, and even government members.

We would have liked to have seen these provisions removed, as suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer. That, however, did not happen. The government wanted to proceed rapidly, for partisan and electoral purposes. The government is hoping for a spring election and it needed absolute assurance that Bill C-3 was going to be passed before the election call, in order to avoid the legal vacuum that would have resulted as soon as we got to the end of June.

This double talk from the government, and its specious attitude, as it claims, on the one hand, that it will consult Parliament more, while, on the other, it is tenaciously sticking to the old ways we had gotten used to under the previous Prime Minister, are regrettable.

This was obvious—and this is an aside prompted by the presence in this House of my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche—in the matter of the deportation of the Acadians, which I have been shepherding through this House since 1999.

That was to be expected from the previous government, with the atmosphere of confrontation that seemed to be the order of the day, although I was not in the least expecting it at first. I was, moreover, greatly surprised at the first speech given in this House on that subject by a colleague from the Liberal Party, that self-same member for Madawaska—Restigouche. The very negative attitude from the government party toward my motion was a great surprise to me.

However, although Motion No. 382 was, I admit, a bit out of date given the royal proclamation of last December, I was even more surprised to see that the government did not even bother to agree to speak to me, listen to me and discuss this with me, if only to reach an agreement so that, with the unanimous consent of the House, I could withdraw or amend the motion, and thereby favourably acknowledge the government's very honourable gesture of last December, which was the royal proclamation.

But no. They are saying, “There is no way we will agree to talk with that evil separatist!” So, the House is resigned to voting against a motion on the Acadian people in a year we should be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia.

They would rather vote against the motion by the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes than take the time to speak, even briefly, with him to reach a solution that is fair to everyone and prevent this motion on the Acadian people from being defeated in this House in the year of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia.

And they would have me believe that this government wants to enhance the role of parliamentarians, to really listen to parliamentarians and make a real effort to consider the opinion of the opposition parties. This is nonsense. There was more proof of this today with Bill C-3.

To avoid a legislative vacuum, we have to vote in favour of deficient and poorly crafted legislation. I feel like this is a case of déjà vu. It is Back to the Future .

I rose in this House during a previous review of the Canada Elections Act. I told the government House leader at the time that if the government did not change the 50-candidate requirement for political party registration in the Elections Act, that we would, in any event—in addition to having spent taxpayers' money to defend our case in court—eventually end up here in this House adopting new legislation to reflect the court rulings.

But no, defeat after defeat in the courts, the government went all the way to the Supreme Court only to be told what we already knew: that the current 50-candidate provisions in the Elections Act were unconstitutional.

Taxpayer dollars were spent when we already knew that we would eventually wind up back in this House changing these provisions of the Elections Act, but no one wanted to listen to the opposition. No one wanted to listen to us then, any more than they want to listen to us now.

This is deficient legislation, as I was saying, that we will have to support in order to avoid a legislative vacuum. Moreover, it is unfortunate that, for procedural reasons, at report stage, we were unable to address the motion by my colleague from Palliser, which seemed most desirable and legitimate.

Despite the arguments presented this morning by the government House leader, I still find that a political party, to be registered as such, must field at least two candidates. Otherwise you end up with an individual who runs for an election and agrees with himself.

A political party implies an association, a group. There cannot be a group with one individual. The provisions of the current bill state that there must be at least 250 members, and at least 3 party officers in addition to the party leader. However, this principle, the notion of association or group, also has to be reflected in the number of candidates the party fields during a general election.

I think that this point could easily have been defended before the courts. Indeed, it would have been preferable to be able to debate the amendment of the hon. member for Palliser and possibly adopt it. Unfortunately, because of technicalities and procedural details, we will not have had an opportunity to deal with this proposed amendment. The result is that the act remains unchanged, with the possibility for a party to present only one candidate.

This seems totally ridiculous, considering the very principle whereby a political party is an association of people, and that this association or group should have a number of candidates run for it in an election. In my mind, in the minds of Bloc Quebecois members—and, I would assume, in the minds of members from other parties in this House, including the New Democratic Party—it takes at least two candidates for a political formation to be recognized and registered as such.

This is another flaw in the proposed legislation. Despite the very legitimate points that I just mentioned, we will have no other option, as I said earlier, than to support this bill.

We will do so responsibly, while keeping in mind that if we did not support it, we would find ourselves in a very undesirable legal vacuum.

Again, we will support this motion, but we will not do so with great enthusiasm.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member finished his speech, he mentioned how reluctantly the Bloc will be supporting this motion. Unfortunately, we are in the same position here. The Conservatives will also be reluctantly supporting the bill. We have all of the same concerns that have been expressed by the member.

I thank him for confirming the point I made during my speech, that the government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. The bill is a good example of how the Liberals told us they were interested in serious input, that they were taking the bill to committee before second reading so they could hear our input and make changes, but as soon as it got there they just reverted to the old ways. They tricked us into thinking we would have some input and in fact we had none. When it got to committee, they tried to ram it right through.

The member and I were together during the revision of the Elections Act in 1999 and 2000. I would like him to tell me whether he could see any difference between the way we were treated at that stage to the way we are treated today, with supposedly the new minister getting rid of the democratic deficit. It looked like exactly the same treatment to me. I would be interested to hear if the member feels the same way.

Also, could he tell me whether he believes, as I do, that if the minister had given us the opportunity to give meaningful input, the bill would now be moving much more quickly through the House because we could have made it much better?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from North Vancouver for his questions. We indeed had the pleasure, he and I, to sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for a period of time, including during the revision of the Elections Act in 1999-2000, which I referred to in my speech.

At that time—as I also indicated in my speech—we pointed out to the government that its insistence on maintaining the current provisions of the Elections Act, requiring a political party to run at least 50 candidates during an election in order to be recognized and registered as a party, was utterly irresponsible.

We knew full well that we would lose this case, even if we had to go as high as the Supreme Court. Indeed, we would needlessly spend public money trying to defend this case. I am sure that a number of lawyers were quite pleased, but I am not so sure that this was such a good idea in terms of careful management of public funds.

Moreover, we must also recognize that we are back to square one. If we had done this work at the time, as we had suggested to the government, we would not be in this position today of adopting this deficient legislation.

In that respect, I would also like to reiterate the fact that the government's attitude has not changed one iota. Despite the solemn affirmations by the Prime Minister and his ministers, the attitude has not changed. Very frequently, the ministers come in and put on a show for the House. They give their little speeches and leave right afterward, not listening to the proposals or suggestions—the input as the hon. member of North Vancouver put it—that might come from the other political parties in the House. They are no more interested in the viewpoints expressed here in this House than the previous government was.

Earlier, I said “it is same old, same old”. I hope that the print and electronic media will get the information out, because I would like to speak to the people, to those listening to us today, whether here in the galleries or at home.

I would like to tell them that if the thought should ever have crossed their minds that the government headed by the current Prime Minister is a government of change, I hope that this week's budget, the bill before us, and this government's attitude since the beginning will have succeeded in convincing them of the fact that this is not a government of change; it is a government of continuity. It is a government that does things exactly the same way the previous government did.

It is not advisable to believe the solemn statements of the Prime Minister and his ministers that they want to change things. That is not the case at all. This is still the land of cronyism. We do not understand how it is that for all their solemn statements that they want to shed light on this business, there is no one on the government side who appears to have the slightest memory of what might have happened. It is very clear that this government is doing things the old way, with old methods that only exist for the purpose of being good to the friends of the party in power.

Basically, in Canada's modern, contemporary history, these people have been in power most of the time. They have come to consider the Canadian government as their property. I think that a little holiday in opposition would be very good for them. It would enable them to see things from another, completely different perspective. They might then have the humility needed to eventually come back before the people of Canada, later, and have the decency to try to represent the public properly and not to try to profit from their situation or to favour the government's cronies.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments and concerns of my colleague from the Bloc. I must say that in a sense, my colleague comes from a similar tradition to ours, although our objectives are different. His party sort of sprang from nowhere as did my former party, the Reform Party of Canada.

One of the concerns I have with the proposed legislation was addressed by the Chief Electoral Officer when he talked about being the guy who has to make the decision on whether or not someone who is applying for party status actually fits the bill. Among the issues that he has to determine is the party's political program and its advertising material and policy statements. As well, he has to evaluate information about the nature and extent of the party's activities and information about the interaction of the party with other entities.

Is this not really putting the Chief Electoral Officer in the position where he is going to be excluding Canadians from coast to coast in the political process if he does the job that is asked of him in this bill?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He has just touched on another aspect of my speech, the reservations expressed by the Chief Electoral Officer concerning this legislation which will have the effect of placing him in the very awkward position of having to intervene, as an impartial, independent and objective referee, in the internal affairs of political parties and of having to apply criteria that are not objective or set out in regulations and legislation, but rather strictly subjective in nature.

The Chief Electoral Officer will have to make subjective judgments on the fundamental objectives of the parties. He will have to ask himself whether this or that political party is really pursuing its fundamental objective, to determine if its registered status should be maintained.

Hon. members will understand that this presents a problem to someone who is meant to be an impartial and independent judge. Such an independent and objective judge wants to have clear and precise rules on which to base his judgments, but now he will have to depend on total subjectivity.

There are no parameters. There are no guidelines. I can understand the Chief Electoral Officer's misgivings. We proposed to the government that these subjective provisions be removed.

However, as I said earlier, in its haste to call an election, its haste to get this legislation passed, and its concern that we not drag the committee stage out any further, the government chose not to accept our proposed amendments.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I am not sure if the debate is going to continue after I am finished my speech, but I am serving notice that I probably will not be using all of my time. Therefore, anyone else who is intending to speak should be prepared.

I had the opportunity to speak to this legislation on February 18 before it went to committee. I did not participate when the bill was at the committee stage. However, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle was an important member of that committee.

Part of the reason for not needing all of my time today is that the member from the Bloc, as well as the member for North Vancouver have put the case very well as to what the problems are and what the reality is with this piece of legislation.

We are debating the Figueroa decision. The Supreme Court struck down some time ago the requirement for a political party to find at least 50 candidates and put the names of those 50 candidates forward in a general election as a condition of being registered as a bona fide party. The court in its wisdom ruled that the 50 candidate rule treated small parties unfairly by denying them three key benefits that are granted to larger parties. They are: first, the right to issue tax receipts for political contributions; second, the right to receive unspent election funds from candidates; and third, the right to have a candidate's party affiliation listed on the ballot. This treatment was found to be unequal by the court and to infringe upon the rights of citizens to participate in a meaningful way in the electoral process as protected by section 3 of the Charter of Rights.

The court suspended the impact of its judgment for one year, which expires on June 27. That was in order to give Parliament an opportunity to bring forward the necessary changes to the Canada Elections Act.

The bill has gone through the committee stage. The government has basically, as others have said, brought back the bill in the same form that it went to committee. The argument here is that the number 50 is too large, and we do not disagree. As a matter of fact, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle introduced a motion at committee, which was narrowly defeated, that would have reduced the number from 50 to 12. That, as others have said in the debate prior to question period, would have made some logic and some sense, but it was voted down.

I attempted this morning to put forward another figure, simply because we agree that 50 is too large a number. It is under-inclusive, but the number one, in the opinion of the New Democratic Party, is certainly over-inclusive. It is too small a number.

I put forward today the suggestion for two, but it was ruled out of order. We would have thought that would have been at least twice as good as having just one member making it a bona fide party entitled to all the accoutrements that come with that, and having three other officers of the party.

I will not go over the concerns I have raised previously in debate on this as to my unhappiness with that particular number. We think it is a wrong number. We are concerned that the government thinks it is a wrong number and that is why it has included a sunset clause in the bill. We will come back here in the next Parliament and we will be debating this all over again.

I thought the member for North Vancouver made a very good point about the amount of money that has been wasted. If the government had agreed back in 2000 to set the limit at 12 as opposed to 50, we would not be in this position. That was apparently acceptable to the Communist Party of Canada, which is the party that has brought this concern forward, but it was ignored at that time. It is unfortunate that this was the case, because I think this could all be behind us and we would have a good piece of legislation that is supportable and happily supportable. I find myself and my party in the same position as the other opposition members who have spoken here today. We will support the bill, albeit very reluctantly.

Although I did not participate in the committee, I have read the arguments and positions that were put forward by the Chief Electoral Officer. I agree with him that as a result of this legislation we are putting him in a rather delicate position as the person who enforces the Canada Elections Act. In fact, in response to a question, Mr. Kingsley, the Chief Electoral Officer, said that he did feel uneasiness and he tried to convey that in his comments. He said, “I am trying to tell the committee that there is an authority underlying the bill to which I want to draw the committee's attention”.

I think it is really unfortunate that the government has allowed this to get to this stage instead of dealing with it in a more appropriate fashion and, indeed, in an earlier fashion. We had the prorogation of the House last November 8 or thereabouts. The bill was here and died on the order paper. It has been resurrected sometime since February 2 when we reconvened, but there has not been due care and attention paid to it. The amendments were not acceptable at the committee stage and, as I said a moment ago, we are back here dealing with a very unsatisfactory piece of legislation, but one that we need to get through in terms of the approaching election campaign.

On the business of just one person, the minority of one, so to speak, there is nothing that would prevent a leader of that party from continuing to raise money, to retain any unspent election funds and to continue in a way that may not be terribly productive. It could be more destructive than productive in the parliamentary process.

I take real exception to the government House leader saying this morning that somehow this will improve democracy. I do not see how it could possibly improve democracy by having the numbers so low; in fact, it is the lowest common denominator.

In conclusion, I think it is a temporary and totally inadequate solution. It is going to be rushed through the House in order to clear the decks for an election. The proof that it has many shortcomings is the fact that it has this two year sunset clause. We will be back here again to debate this. Like the other parties that have spoken in debate and in opposition on this, we will be supporting the bill, albeit most reluctantly.

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his intervention and for his interesting points expanding on much of what has already been said.

I would like to ask the member a couple of questions as I make comments about what he just said. One of those questions would be on the point of whether or not the member found it surprising when this bill went to committee that the minister revealed no effort had been made either by him or by his department to make those affected by the bill aware that it even existed.

That came as an absolute surprise to me. I just could not believe it. When we actually contacted Mr. Figueroa, he expressed such surprise. He did not even have the faintest idea that the bill had been produced.

With respect to the number of persons required to constitute a party, the number two, as suggested, was of course suggested in a ruling of the courts in Ontario. The courts there used much of the same logic that the member who just stood has used in justifying two as the number. Had he been able to get his amendment onto the floor today, we could have had a good discussion about that and determined whether that was a much better solution than the single person.

Unlike the minister, I am not afraid to try amending this number upward, because most laws are to a great degree based on good faith. If the people who wanted to challenge the legislation previously are no longer interested in challenging it because there is a number that suits everybody, then the courts will not strike it down because they will not get the opportunity to do so. So that is a shame.

In closing, I do just want to mention that unfortunately, as the member indicated earlier today, we lost an opportunity during the committee hearings to amend the bill to the number 12. I feel quite bad about that. I usually sit on that committee. Unfortunately there was a critical situation away from Ottawa which I did have to attend and the government refused to postpone the meeting for me. There was some confusion with the substitute and unfortunately a situation arose that we feel bad about. Anyway, that is water under the bridge, but I did want to get that on the record just so that the member did not feel there was some ill will toward what was being proposed at the time.

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12:50 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for North Vancouver for that clarification.

On the matter of two people to constitute a party as opposed to one person, I think it would have been a good discussion. I am not sure how it would have gone, but I wish we could have had that debate. I am repeating myself here now, but I believe it would have been much more acceptable to a majority of Canadians if we had had that figure. The discussion on the Ontario legislation is instructive in that regard because it had the same number, as the member for North Vancouver pointed out.

It is quite unbelievable with regard to Mr. Figueroa, the leader of the Communist Party, that he was not even made aware that this bill had been resurrected and had gone to committee. He indeed had very short notice to come before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to discuss that legislation. I guess it is a comment not only on that particular department of the government but perhaps overall. The government looks to be, since February 2 when we came back, a little helter-skelter in many areas as plans and priorities seem to change abruptly on the government side.

With regard to the committee, of which I was not a member when this suggestion of going from one to two was defeated recently, I think democracy would have been better served, I think this would be a better piece of legislation, and I think the opposition members would be happier to support this particular bill had we had that figure of two rather than one.

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12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-3 for the second time. I would like at this time to acknowledge my colleague, the member for North Vancouver, who has put a tremendous amount of effort and time into this complicated bill and has been one of those big sources of information to us in the caucus as well as being here in the House debating and laying out what exactly is wrong with the bill and how it should be addressed.

This morning when he spoke again on the bill, he again outlined our party's position. We are supporting the bill, but we know there are flaws in the bill and we are trying to highlight those flaws to make sure the message goes out about those flaws. However, because of the urgency of time, the election coming up, and the Supreme Court of Canada's decision hanging over our heads, we need to have this legislation go through.

We are supporting the bill, but as he pointed out, supporting it despite the fact that work done by him and through the committee was ignored, as was that of the other parties, which all agreed to the initial proposal of a 12 man rule. As was pointed out, the former minister who was looking after this bill was absolutely adamant about any changes to his bill. He stuck to his guns despite the fact that all information indicated that the Supreme Court of Canada would throw out this bill and ask Parliament to fix it. The minister refused all kinds of compromises on anything. As the member for North Vancouver pointed out, it was a total waste of money. The bill went to the Supreme Court and we are now back here debating the bill, with the one man rule as well as what a party should consist of.

Last time the government House leader spoke to the bill, he talked about the points. He said it strengthened democracy but he wanted to make sure there were more views and henceforth they brought in several administrative issues. But the essence of the bill still remains that it is to register political parties.

Registering political parties is a very important aspect. In a democracy, people express their points of view through a party system. That is the way they do it. Where there is no party system, then it is a different system, but nevertheless, parties are essential to democracy. Therefore, it is very important that we recognize how parties are registered and how they play an important part in one of the pillars of democracy, which is direct elections.

I agree that we do not want abuse of the political system. Otherwise we will lose the trust of Canadians. They will become detached. As it is, with the current state and the way things are going, Canadians are becoming pretty cynical about politicians anyway. I hear this all the time. People write to us and talk to us and tell us that politicians are not held in that high a degree of respect, not as they should be.

How did we politicians come to lose that high degree of respect we had in the 1950s compared to the level now in the 21st century, where we have lost so much common ground? It is because of facts like these: there are a lot of flaws in democracy, many politicians have not handled themselves well, promises were made but not kept, all these things. There is a democratic deficit, as the Prime Minister likes to say.

Over a period of time the PMO became the driving force in the Parliament of Canada. It was making the decisions and the decisions started away from the other parties in the House of Commons.

Two things have happened in our democracy for the erosion of confidence with the public. One was the prime minister getting the power and then making his members of Parliament irrelevant by asking them to vote based on party lines. We saw the last prime minister many times declare votes of confidence for the government when really they were not. It was his own political agenda that he wanted to push through, bypassing his own backbenchers who were elected by the people. His members did not want this, but they could not vote their conscience for the simple reason that the prime minister determined votes of confidence in the government.

These kinds of things have a tendency of eroding confidence and that erosion carries on. When I am campaigning in my riding, people ask questions about what I can say or do. They put high hopes in their elected officials, that we can stand in the Parliament of Canada and speak what they feel is important because they elected us.

Is that really what has happened? No. The current Prime Minister talks about the democratic deficit and how he will improve upon it. We will wait and see. Honestly, he is not connecting well with Canadians on democratic deficit. We know that. The government and the Prime Minister have miserably failed to send out the message to the people in my riding that they are dealing with the many issues of which they talk, such as the democratic deficit, bringing confidence to the government and transparency.

My other point is the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has become so bad that there is a real erosion of power of elected members. As a matter of fact I have noticed that, based on the government's track record and the prime minister's track record. They tell their deputy ministers not to listen to members of Parliament or not to listen to the members of the opposition.

I have met so many bureaucrats from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the Department of Foreign Affairs, most important from Revenue Canada and others. Their senior bureaucrats have the least amount of respect for members of Parliament, forgetting the fact that in a democracy it is the members of Parliament who are the ones who represent the people. The bureaucrat's job is to listen and implement policies that the members of Parliament make.

What do we get? I have numerous examples of bureaucracy such as Revenue Canada in Calgary. I have not had good experiences with the bureaucrats there. The immigration office in Calgary does not talk to us. When we talk to the bureaucrats there, they have a habit of saying that they will not answer our questions.

I wrote a letter to the immigration officers in Damascus. They have not bothered replying, yet their office said that they should reply to members of Parliament so members could represent their constituents. The constituents depend on us. They want answers and they look to us for answers on issues. Sure, there are laws. We are intelligent enough to figure out that the laws are there. If the laws are not complied with, we are here to change them.

What happens to members with the bureaucracy is a simple fact. I have had people walk into my offices and say that bureaucrats have told them to go talk to their member of Parliament on small issues, not them. After seven years of this experience, I am have become exceedingly sure that another problem that needs to be addressed is the huge bureaucracy and the way it ignores the wishes of the people.

If government ministers tell their deputy ministers to listen to them only, then that message goes to the other bureaucrats, and they in turn think of a local member of Parliament as a nobody. The bureaucrats we have receive instructions from ministers.

Lo and behold there has been a change of prime minister and many ex-ministers now find themselves on backbenches. They now will get the chance to experience what they have instituted.

In order for democracy to work well, a balance needs to be met. I am not saying there are no good bureaucrats. There are excellent bureaucrats as well. However, like anyone else in any profession there are bad apples who give them a bad name. We need to find a balance among Parliament which makes the laws, the judiciary and the bureaucracy to have an effective way of governing.

Let me get back to the point of political parties.

I am the senior critic for international cooperation. CIDA gives a lot of money to promote democracies around the world. On many occasions I have had the opportunity to go to these countries. I even had the opportunity to be an election observer in Chiapas. However, that was before a former minister for international cooperation sent her own buddies to be election observers, what is called blatant patronage.

Canada has tremendous experience in elections. Elections Canada is a highly respected institution which has helped upcoming democracies. Elections Canada helped in the elections in South Africa. It has a high degree of respect in that country. Other countries ask us how democracies should work and how political parties should work. We need to set examples.

It is important that we highlight the fact that in our own Parliament we can debate issues with each other. However, it is also important to admit the fact that there are flaws in our own Parliament. The House of Commons is the institution of democracy.

It is a privilege for me to stand here today, having come from Africa 25 years ago and having adopted Canada as my country. I am very proud of that fact. I am thankful to the people of Calgary East for giving me the opportunity to represent them in this great institution, the Parliament of Canada. When I go back to my constituency, people tell me they have confidence in me, and they want me to talk about issues that are of importance to them. That comes out of the great institution of democracy.

Canada has had over 100 years of democratic experience. We can go around the world and be proud of our democracy. However, we should always strive to improve our democracy. We need to improve. We do not need to erode the freedom of speech and the freedom we have in democracy. We must be absolutely vigilant to ensure that we never lose that.

The government wanted to include the 50 member rule in the legislation. It puzzles me why we would want to restrict that. I do not know why we would want to restrict freedom of speech by having the 50 member rule. Thank God for the Supreme Court's decision that numbers are not acceptable.

My party proposed the 12 member rule, and other parties agreed with that. It would have fulfilled many of the objectives in the bill. The bill indicates that there now has to be 250 members and three people sitting in office. These are administrative issues. The 12 member rule would have met all kinds of issues.

It is with great pride that I stand in the House of Commons and debate the issue of political parties, which are in essence one of the vehicles by which to express in the House the views of the people.

In conclusion, as members know, my party has just merged, and we had a great convention. There is a new party called the Conservative Party of Canada, to which people now can express their views in the forthcoming election. I agree with the Prime Minister when he said in Alberta that there were clear views and Canadians had a clear choice. Canadians will make the choice in the next general election as to who will lead because now they have a clear choice, and I am a very proud member of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Once more, I want to just mention the great job my colleague from North Vancouver has done on this bill.

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1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, one thing that jumped out at me in the speech that my colleague just gave was a bit of a discussion about bureaucrats and their influence on what happens with bills and in this place, and probably happened in this case with the bill.

Although the minister appeared to be unwilling to do anything to change the bill, after having told us it would go to committee for serious consideration, I suspect he was really being persuaded by bureaucrats that it was not necessary to change the bill and he was being fed the line that he then passed on to us.

Although my colleague went to great lengths not to criticize bureaucrats, I would like to ask him to expand just a bit. Does he not find that in the committees, when we are dealing with these bills, there is this overwhelming feeling that the bureaucrats are driving the ministers' presentations, that the bureaucrats are really deciding behind the scenes what will be approved and what will not, that it is not the minister at all who is deciding these things and that in some respects these bureaucrats seem to think that they are in charge? I guess they are, by default.

I have noticed that in a committee that I am on, the Joint Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. Sometimes we find dreadful problems with some of the regulations that have been conjured up by these bureaucrats. They just ignore our requests for clarification or to fix these things until it gets to the point where we have to subpoena them to appear before our committee because they treat us with such disrespect. They truly think they are the gods in charge of everything and that Parliament is just this annoying thing on the sidelines that occasionally pricks them with a little pin.

Could the member perhaps expand a little on his experience with the bureaucracy and how it tends to interfere with our job as parliamentarians?

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1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, we have not discussed the role of the bureaucracy in what is happening in Parliament. We tend to look at bills and we tend to see that the backbenchers do not have power and so on.

My colleague is absolutely right. As I mentioned, I am getting so frustrated with the bureaucracy and with the disrespect the bureaucracy has for members of Parliament that I am becoming an ineffective representative of the people who I was sent here to represent. The bureaucrats think they run the show.

Yes, all of us who have been on committees know that parliamentary secretaries who come to committee have been briefed by the bureaucrats and are told what to say. We all know that after parliamentarians from all sides of the House have reached an agreement on how something should go because of what we have heard, the bureaucrats suddenly interfere.

I want to explain to everyone how the bureaucrats interfere. There is a system in the committee. The government always says that it listens to the committee. What we have now are parliamentary secretaries who are running the agenda after they have come from the bureaucrats. The bureaucrats will indirectly go through them in the committee and suddenly the whip will crack the whip, and boom, whatever is on the agenda is gone.

I do not wish to give the name, but sometime back in the House we moved a motion concerning Taiwan. However the views of the members of Parliament, on both sides of the House, on the motion were contrary to what the bureaucrats, the mandarins, in foreign affairs wanted. What did the mandarins in foreign affairs do? Parliament passed this resolution and boom, they put it off. They had the nerve and the gall to call the representative of Taiwan into their office and try to give him a hard time by asking him why he had lobbied for this when the views of Parliament were contrary to the views of the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is how deep the interference of the bureaucracy is in trying to pass its own agenda by bypassing Parliament.

The essence of democracy is that this is Parliament and this is where we talk and make our points of view. This is where we agree and the bureaucrats are supposed to do what? They are supposed to implement what we say, not just from their side but from our side as well. That is the way it is supposed to be in a democracy.

However that has all changed. Now it is from the other side coming down to this side. As we sit here I have been frustrated on many occasions, as have all the members of Parliament on this side and, surprisingly, on the government side. Many of the members of the government used to be on this side too. They know how the bureaucracy works but what do they do? They pander to the bureaucracy. Why do we have to pander to the bureaucracy?

To whom is the bureaucracy accountable? The way it is supposed to work is through a narrow window, which would be the deputy minister to a minister, and that is it. There is no other kind of distinction. When bureaucrats come in front of committees, I agree with my friend, we are nuisances and not many members of Parliament to do their job.

I am a critic for the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, and I do not even know the name of the new president or where he is. When I meet with the bureaucrats of CIDA they do not even know who I am. They do not even bother watching what we are doing or listening to what we are saying. It is as though I am irrelevant. The opposition is irrelevant. We do not have points of view. They know what is good. They know how to spend the money.

I am proposing that CIDA be accountable to the Parliament of Canada and be legislated. It is not legislated now but it keeps on running, and it will keep running with $3 million more.

Canadians and NGOs are frustrated. They cannot make CIDA listen because the bureaucrats do not have to listen to anyone now. Yes, somewhere, some time we will have to address the issue of the bureaucracy.

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I hope you enjoy saying Elk Island because after the next election that riding is gone. I hope not to be because I am running in the new riding of Edmonton--Sherwood Park and hope to win the election there.

Today we are dealing with Bill C-3. There are so many lessons that can be learned from the process in Bill C-3 that I think it is worthy of us to pay close attention to what is happening.

I have the difficult chore today of trying to persuade the members opposite, that huge crowd of Liberals sitting in their seats and listening to my every word and argument, to change their minds. However it appears to me that the best I can say is that they are dozing in their seats.

Let us look at the different aspects of the bill, the first being the process. The bill was to go to committee before second reading. The theory behind that was that the members of the committee could have some real input into the shaping of the bill.

I would venture to say that of all of the members in the House, including the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, I would place the member for North Vancouver even above him in terms of knowledge of electoral processes, general principles of democracy and how they can best be worked out.

It is incredible to me that when the committee came together, only ideas that came from the Liberal side were considered worthy of support and every idea that came from the opposition side was considered worthy of defeat.

We recognize that in a democracy the majority rules, and right now the Liberals have a majority in the House, that is at least on the roster if not presently in the House, but they do have the majority, which means that if a vote is held the majority carries the day. What I object to, though, strenuously, is the fact that in committee there is such an imposition of party discipline.

I have been here now for over 10 years. I was told by my predecessor, Mr. Brian O'Kurley, that the best work I would do would be in committee. When I was appointed to my first committee I looked forward to it. I felt that it was good because it was the place where we could have a democratic process. We could all give our points of view and try to persuade the people on the other side. I felt that being rationale people they would listen to my arguments and if my arguments were sufficiently persuasive that they would surely vote in favour of whatever I proposed.

In many committees over the last 10 years I have had to hang my head in democratic shame over what happens in this place because of the fact that the people with whom we are debating are not permitted to vote according to the persuasion of their mind or their conscience.

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1:15 p.m.

An hon. member

That is a shame.

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

That is not only a shame, as my colleague says, it is a serious and, I would venture to say, a fatal flaw in our democratic system. If we do not fix that I am afraid our democratic system here will increasingly become eroded and members of the public will have an increasing disillusionment with the need to support, with their tax dollars and with their votes, the democratic process.

I therefore chastise the government for imposing that on its members in committee. If members had been able to debate openly and freely and to vote openly and freely, we would have had amendments that would have prevented the serious consequences that will come about as a result of the passage of Bill C-3.

I would venture to say that there must be some Liberals over there as well who must feel badly about their participation in this, as they have gone along with it. As well, now we have a so-called new Prime Minister. During his leadership campaign, the new Prime Minister often used the phrase “democratic deficit”. I do not know where he got that idea from, because all the time the party over there of which he was a part and a member of the cabinet did not really practice democracy. I suppose he detected it. He heard it from us, from this side. He probably got it from some of his own members over there. He knew that it was a hot button--it certainly is for Canadians--and he campaigned on it.

What do we see now when Bill C-3 is introduced in this Parliament? Do we see the removal of the democratic fetters that were shackled around the ankles of all the Liberals and around their hands so that they could not raise their hands to vote at a certain time but had to at a different time?

I seriously chastise this Prime Minister and the government for shutting this down.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, from time to time I have mentioned that I am an amateur mathematician. I took training at university in mathematics and physics and taught math and computing for some 31 years, so I have a bit of a mathematical thing going on here as well.

The committee has eight members from the Liberal Party. It has seven from the opposition. I am not prepared to concede that only the Liberals have a positive IQ and the rest of us have a negative one. I am not prepared to concede that only the Liberals are capable of clear thinking and the rest of us only of muddy thinking. I believe it has to be, statistically speaking, about eight to seven.

I do not know what those fractions are exactly. I could have figured it out, but in eight to seven out of fifteen times, seven times the opposition would have an idea that would be superior to the eight on the other side. We just have to wonder about it when time after time all the opposition ideas, amendments and motions are put and defeated simply because they come from this side. That is a serious flaw.

I happen also in my lifetime to have been, I like to think, a serious student of the scriptures. There is a proverb which states that in the presence of many counsellors is great wisdom. The Liberals make an error when they say, “There are all these people on the opposition side and we will not listen to them at all”. They make an error because we are part of the team that wants to build good laws for this country. They should from time to time--I would say seven out of fifteen times on average--listen to us and they should adopt those ideas.

Enough of that, because next I want to talk about one of the very serious flaws of the bill.

Perhaps before I do that, because I am a guy who likes always to accentuate the positive and diminish the negative, let me say that there is one positive thing in this bill and I sure do support it. In order not to be guilty of the same thing I am accusing the Liberals of, let me say that I wholeheartedly support the removal in this bill of the requirement in the past that if a party went down to fewer than 50 candidates in an election it was required to turn in all its assets.

Let us say that there is a new party that works hard to try to get established with some ideas that a significant number of citizens believe in. It falls short of the 50 mark. What does the government do, this high-handed government? It says that the party started out in the race with the rest of us but did not reach the first quarter mile so it will make that party go back to the start line. That is what it does.

I would like to applaud the government for having removed that. It is totally wrong for a party that has 40 candidates in an election, let us say, to have to give up all its assets. I wish to say thanks to those Liberals over there for removing that very offensive clause from the present Elections Act and for at least providing a way out of it so that this party can re-register and not have to give up everything it has worked for.

In the little time remaining, I want to point out what to me is probably the most serious flaw in this legislation. As my colleague from North Vancouver so ably pointed out earlier today, it is the flaw of having some bureaucrat or politician determine whether or not another member can enter into the race as a political party.

I am not going to repeat all of the stuff that has been said here already about how this problem could have been avoided. Certainly it could have been avoided if the members opposite had not been so bullheaded in their ideas and had listened to some rational counter arguments.

The flaw is that if we do not pass this bill, the Canada Elections Act will fall apart at the next election, whenever that will be. I sincerely hope that it will be in the fall because this needs to be fixed before we go to the next election. To fix it the way the Liberals are proposing is no fix at all. All it will do is put into cement a problem which will perpetually dog us.

The idea that one person constitutes a party is offensive, indeed. That one person could run as an independent in any riding of the country. There is no residential requirement in the Canada Elections Act. He or she could choose to run in any riding in the country and put forward ideas as an independent. There is no discrimination against a person because that individual is not permitted to run as a party. That person could still run. Having only one person opens up a very serious problem in the next election. I can see it happening in many constituencies, having one member in a party.

For example, I know of a lady who is an avid pro animal protectionist. If she catches a mouse, it has to be caught live and released even though it may find its way back to the building before she gets back. She is going to start a party called the PM party. It does not stand for prime minister or member of parliament; it stands for protection of mice. She is going to start that party and she is legally entitled to do so. There are a lot of people who will support her. She will easily get 250 members.

We are going to have in our all candidate debates every one of the individual one issue candidates, maybe 18 or 20 of them. All of them will be entitled to the benefits of the legislation under Bill C-24.

Mr. Speaker is giving me a signal and I acknowledge that it is 1:30 on Friday afternoon. I would ask that I be granted the rest of my time when this issue is debated again.

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1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Certainly the member for Elk Island will have approximately seven minutes remaining in his intervention the next time this bill is before the House.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

Mr. Speaker, in the interest of time today I will be keeping my remarks very brief. Members of the chamber are very familiar with Bill C-212. The bill was passed unanimously at all stages and was sent to the other place. I thank members for that. It is now back in the House of Commons to consider amendments made in the other place.

The bill can pass into law today with members' support. I am going to comment briefly on three topics. I will give a brief background and reason for the bill. I am going to provide an overview of the amendments made in the other place. I am going to describe briefly the process to move this bill forward.

The intent of Bill C-212 is to bring greater transparency, accountability and parliamentary oversight to federal government departments and agencies when they attempt to recover costs through user fees. User fees take many different forms and are meant to defray some or all of the costs of services provided by government, presumably in the public interest, but which also provide a specific service to the client, for example, licence fees, registrations, et cetera.

As I said previously, I support the government objective of recovering the costs it incurs by charging fees for users of property and specialized services.

The bill that I introduced deals with the following issues:

First is the need to link the amount charged for user fees with the ability of a department or agency to meet agreed to performance standards.

Second is the need for greater stakeholder participation in the fee setting process.

Third is the requirement for more comprehensive stakeholder impact and competitiveness analysis when new user fees or fee increases are contemplated.

Fourth is the goal of increased transparency with respect to why fees are applicable, what fees are charged, what costs are identified as recoverable, what private benefits are being conferred and whether performance standards are being met. Also, there is the need for user fees to be internationally competitive and the need for more parliamentary oversight when user fees are introduced or changed.

There also needs to be a dispute settlement mechanism to resolve complaints or grievances from user fee payers, and an annual report that lists all of the user fees that are in effect.

I will now provide the House with an overview of the amendments made in the other place. These are amendments that I support and amendments that the President of the Treasury Board also supports. These amendments improve on the language in the bill and provide greater clarity on the intent and operation of the bill.

I should point out that these amendments do not alter the principles or main thrust and theme of the bill that was passed in the House a short time ago.

The first amendment includes a role for the Senate, one that will mirror the process for user fees that is enunciated in Bill C-212 for the House of Commons. I believe that this will enhance the parliamentary oversight over user fees.

The second amendment makes it clear that Bill C-212 does not apply to fees charged by one regulating authority to another.

The aim of the third amendment is to strengthen wording used in the original bill. It describes more fully how the independent dispute resolution process works through an independent advisory panel. Also, comparisons of fees with major trading partners will be limited to those of relevant trading partners.

Amendment four can be characterized as consequential. Because of an earlier change to the definition of user fees, this amendment is required to maintain consistency.

The purpose of amendment five is to clarify the period designated to compare the performance of a regulatory authority and the period for which the user fees would be reduced in relation to performance that does not meet the standard, as defined in the bill.

Amendment six deals with the following. The original language in the bill provided for a delay of 40 sitting days before a proposal is deemed to be approved if the committee fails to report its recommendation to the House of Commons. This delay could translate into as much as 80 calendar days.

This amendment takes into account workload and practices in this House. Twenty sitting days should provide enough time for the committee to provide the House with a report when it deems it necessary or desirable to do so. This amendment changes the review period to 20 sitting days.

Amendment seven is a consequential amendment relating to previous changes. Clause seven is no longer necessary as it is made redundant by previous amendments.

The aim of amendment eight is to allow the President of the Treasury Board to conduct a review of this legislation in three years' time. This is most appropriate, in my view.

Amendment nine is a consequential amendment.

Amendment 10 is another consequential amendment as clause 10 is no longer required.

As I said earlier, I support all these amendments.

I thank the members of the national finance committee and all the members in the other place for their important contribution to this bill.

Many other thanks are in order. I would like to thank all those who have participated to date in the debate on Bill C-212. The debate on this topic has been very constructive and productive.

I would also like to thank the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for the work they did on this bill, and all the witnesses who appeared to speak to this legislation in the House of Commons and in the Senate.

I would like to thank all the members of this chamber for their support of this bill.

I would like to thank the President of the Treasury Board, the hon. member for Winnipeg South, for all his advice and support and for encouraging and supporting the initiative of a private member. It has been like a breath of fresh air. Also, I would like to thank the minister's staff.

Furthermore, I also want to thank the clerk of the Standing Committee on Finance and the research staff of the committee. I want to thank my staff, as well.

Thanks also to the Business Coalition on Cost Recovery for its advice and support over the years.

Colleagues in the House of Commons, we have a historic opportunity today to pass this user fee legislation into law, bringing many years of hard work to a successful conclusion.

Some members in the House today may wish to speak to Bill C-212 again, or for the first time. This is quite understandable and cannot be denied. If the debate on this bill would collapse today, we could have user fee legislation passed into law today, or next week if the vote is deferred.

Time is not on our side. Should Parliament be dissolved to make way for a general election, Bill C-212 would disappear into legislative history, an unfinished bill and perhaps a worthy effort. I am sure that you will agree with me that this is not good enough for us in this chamber, nor is it good enough for all Canadians.

Should the debate not be terminated today, Bill C-212 would fall to the bottom of the Order Paper and would come forward, hopefully before Parliament dissolved, for a final hour and vote. There may not be sufficient time to accomplish this.

I urge members to end the debate today and to vote the bill into law. Members will be able to claim this victory. The alternative is to deal with user fees through government policies that have not worked in the past.

I urge members to embrace the legislative approach proposed by Bill C-212. The choice is a clear one. Vote for Bill C-212 and support accountability, transparency and the legitimate roles of members of Parliament.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is the possibility of five minutes of questions to the mover of the motion.

There being no questions, resuming debate, the hon. member for Peace River.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I understand the member's sense of urgency in wanting to get this passed today. We support this bill; however, I want to remind him that his government has approximately a year and a half left in its mandate. I do not see why an early election needs to be called. We need to be on record speaking to bills like this.

I am pleased today to support the bill. I have spoken to it many times in the past and have seen it evolve. I want to congratulate the member on his tenacity in championing this issue for several years.

Bill C-212 has changed quite a bit after going through the House of Commons and the Senate. Despite all of the amendments and the compromises, I believe the bill continues to embody the first steps to a fair and more responsive user pay system that better reflects Canadian democratic values. I truly hope that Bill C-212 would soon be put to a final vote, and that royal assent and proclamation would not be far behind.

User fees can be a responsible method of cost recovery for government services directed at specific clients and client groups; however, demands for fees can be and are sometimes abusive when there are weak controls. That is what this bill sets to correct.

In a democratic society, it is understood that fees charged by governments should reflect the actual cost of providing a service, which I am sorry to say has not always been the case. In addition, user fees should be set in coordination, conjunction and cooperation with all of the different groups that are subject to them, which seems to be a matter of common sense.

To say that Canadians deserve an accountable and transparent government must be more than just the chiming of the latest buzz words. It goes right to the heart of what we expect from a modern democracy. Empty rhetoric or window dressing will no longer do. Action and conviction are necessary and we must do the right thing in these kinds of cases.

Conservatives appreciate and hold in the highest regard the obligation of the state due to its vast power and authority over citizens to play fair. It is for that reason that the member for Medicine Hat introduced a similar private member's bill designed to reign in the power of the bureaucracy to charge for services in 1997, which was called Bill C-202 at the time. We are happy that the member for Etobicoke North has taken up this challenge to bring more accountability and transparency to the price charged for certain government services.

Expanded cost recovery had become a clear necessity during the early 1990s. We understand that; however, while the deficit is long gone, the user pay system still brings in over $4 billion to the federal coffers every year. Over 50 federal departments and agencies are currently levying over 500 different fees.

As responsible elected members, we must have a way to govern this mushrooming use of user fees, and respond to the serious concerns that a user pay system can and sometimes does take advantage of the users.

We agree with the member that safeguards and guarantees are needed. For example, greater parliamentary oversight should be required when user fees are introduced or changed. Increased stakeholder participation, including stakeholder impact and competitive analysis before fees, should be put in place.

Other long overdue changes would be: guaranteed performance standards for user pay services, annual reporting requirements for the government-wide user pay regime, and an independent dispute settlement process to deal with the complaints.

As I mentioned before, Bill C-212 has changed considerably from the version tabled by the member several years ago. In particular, the exclusion of crown corporations from these improvements is regrettable, which was the amended version coming back from the Senate, especially considering recent revelations that unscrupulous types can and have used the crown corporations to advance partisan political agendas and personal economic fortunes. The fact that crown corporations are no longer included makes that a bit of a problem.

Nevertheless, I believe this bill is a step in the right direction toward the struggle for increased government accountability and transparency. We may have to wait for a Conservative government to finish the job, which may not be that far away, but in the meantime we are happy to support Bill C-212.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will explain very briefly why we support Bill C-212, as the two colleagues who preceded me pointed out, and I will also indicate why we have a minor reservation.

We supported Bill C-212 when it was debated in the House of Commons. At the time, it was my colleague, the hon. member for Joliette, who was our spokesperson. We still support this legislation on the fees that may be imposed by regulating authorities on the various users of their services.

We have no problems with this aspect. Indeed, we think that Bill C-212 does meet the concerns and the needs of service users.

However, some amendments were made by the Senate. We deplore the fact that, because of these amendments, the power to review user fees could escape the House of Commons. Our researchers had to work really hard to find a little word. As we know, a little word can often make a world of difference in a bill.

Before, the bill provided that the power to review user fees was delegated to the House of Commons “and” to the Senate. Now, the wording provides that this review can be done by the House “or” by the Senate. This means that the House of Commons could lose its right to review user fees, simply because of the word “or”. This is a minor point about which the Bloc Quebecois is a little sensitive.

So, the minister responsible will have the choice between mandating either the Senate or the House of Commons to establish or increase user fees. We prefer the initial version of the bill, which gave the House the authority to deal with user fees.

The hon. member who presented this bill should take note of this warning to the effect that the initial bill clearly stated that the minister responsible would ask the House to review or increase user fees. Now, following the amendments made in the Senate, the House could lose, to the Senate, its right to review such fees.

This is the only thing with which the Bloc Quebecois does not agree, but it is not serious enough for us withdraw our initial support for Bill C-212.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

Although the bill is intended to ease the regulatory burden on businesses, the NDP would like to remind members of the House that user fees affect individuals. It is individual families who are struggling with the burden of user fees on a daily basis.

Like many other Canadians, I have noted the scourge of user fees creeping across all of the services that my family and I use. As governments cut taxes, user fees have become the de facto method of maintaining services.

User fees are a fact of life in the federal government, at both federal and provincial parks, for example. We find user fees for accessing any documents from the federal government. There are not many places we can turn where services that were once provided as a free function of government are now attached to a user fee.

Over the last 20 years the Conservatives under Mulroney and now the Liberals under the Prime Minister have moved more and more services to the private sector. User fees are a consequence of that. I would like to quote briefly from the Canadian Union of Public Employees which is a body that has watched user fees rise alarmingly.

User fees--individuals and families paying for access to a service that once was freely available--are a common feature of many privatization schemes. The government retreat from funding and delivery of public services has created a new regime, where services once universally funded by taxes and other public revenues are no longer low-cost or free. While many privatized services still receive public funds, private management often levies new fees to supplement that revenue and maximize returns.

The publicly funded service that most Canadians depend on is health care. User fees are often raised as a way of reforming our health care system. As Roy Romanow said in his final report, and I think it is important that we reference Mr. Romanow's report:

There is overwhelming evidence that direct charges such as user fees put the heaviest burden on the poor and impede their access to necessary health care. This is the case even when low income exemptions are in place. The result may be higher costs in the long run because people delay treatment until their condition gets worse. In addition, user fees and co-payments also involve significant administrative costs that directly reduce the modest amount of revenue generated from the fees.

One of the key features of the Canada Health Act was its effective ban on user fees for hospital and physician services. Given what we know about the impact of even relatively low user fees, the Commission feels that this was the right decision then and remains the right decision today.

User fees build and build, and they make it harder and harder for people with low incomes to maintain their health. It is not just the regular health care system, it affects all aspects of health: public health and the dental services that we all need. I am happy that we are seeing some consensus in the House on the bill.

In summary, I would repeat that user fees discriminate against our poorer citizens the most. We need to reconsider the whole concept of charging people an extra fee for services.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried on division.

(Motion agreed to, amendments read the second time and concurred in)

User Fees Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 1:50 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 1:50 p.m.)