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 elections.

Topics

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.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

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.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

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.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

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.

Canada Elections Act
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March 26th, 2004 / 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?

Canada Elections Act
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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.

Canada Elections Act
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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.

Canada Elections Act
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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.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

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.