House of Commons Hansard #135 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague opposite said, I wrote to the committee in November 2004 suggesting that it made sense to deal with the review of Bill C-3 at the same time that we were dealing with Bill C-24. None of the members of the committee, government members or opposition members, disagreed with that.

Only in August of this year did we find out that the Chief Electoral Officer's report vis-à-vis Bill C-24 would be tabled in the House later on, perhaps in December. Given that, we did the responsible thing and we suggested a course of action. If the committee wishes to act otherwise, it has the entire discretion to do so.

This course of action now is taking us into a situation whereby we could end up in May of next year with a vacuum in terms of rules for registration of political parties, which is an untenable situation, so the government is acting responsibly by presenting Bill C-63, which would add two years and oblige the committee to do a review of Bill C-3.

No one on the committee, government members or opposition members, disagreed with the notion that Bill C-3 and Bill C-24 are tied and interrelated and that the revision of both together would be a good thing to do.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, people watching in TV-land may be misled by what the minister has just said. He made a factually incorrect statement. He said that we could be in a situation next May where we would go into an election and there would be no rules governing the conduct of smaller parties because this legislation would have run out. That is actually not so.

There is a well constructed sunset clause and what it says is that the legislation will run out on May 16 of next year. As I have mentioned, May 16 is seven months from now, which gives us plenty of time to deal with the matter at hand, with passing new legislation and having witnesses and so on. But in the event that Parliament is not sitting when the expiration occurs, the legislation is automatically extended for a further 90 days, meaning that in fact there would be legislation in place at that time. The danger the minister is describing is a non-existent danger. The fact is that this legislation will not put us in any danger.

The real point here is that going into the next election we should have a proper replacement for Bill C-3, something that takes care of the underlying problem of moneys potentially being collected and used for groups that are not really parties. This could be done by the next election if we pass the legislation that I am proposing we pass instead of simply having the sunset clause eliminated.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, if Parliament is sitting next May and this has not been addressed, then there will be a vacuum. That is a situation which should not be left to happen. Therefore, we are proposing an amendment to the Canada Elections Act which would give two years and oblige a committee to do the review that has not now been done, for the reasons I have explained.

There is absolutely nothing nefarious here. Everybody agrees that Bill C-24, political financing, and Bill C-3, political registration, are intimately linked and that the revision of both perhaps should be done at the same time. No one on the committee has disagreed with that and this is why we are now in this situation. There is absolutely nothing nefarious about keeping a window open for two years in order for a committee of Parliament and Parliament to reconsider the rules concerning registration of political parties.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today and add some comments on Bill C-63. As we have just heard from the minister responsible, the deputy House leader for the government, Bill C-63 is a response to Bill C-3, adopted in the third session of the 37th Parliament, which replaced the Elections Act requirement that a party field 50 candidates in one election in order to qualify for party status in the next election.

With much more relaxed criteria for the establishment of party status, Bill C-3 was a response to the Supreme Court's 2003 Figueroa decision which ruled that the 50 candidate requirement was indeed unconstitutional.

Bill C-3 was intended to be temporary and therefore included a sunset clause that will cause the law to cease to be in force on May 16, 2006, as we have just discussed. The purpose of Bill C-63 is to replace the sunset clause with a comprehensive review of Bill C-3, to take place within two years of the passage of the new law.

I have my doubts as to whether or not we can trust the government to ensure that this review takes place. On September 12, the Ottawa Citizen reported that under the stewardship of this Liberal government Parliament is breaking its own laws while shirking self-imposed obligations to watch over rights and freedoms of Canadians.

The article disclosed that Parliament sometimes fails to make a timely study of contentious and sensitive statutes, which the committees of the House of Commons or Senate are legally obliged to review within a set timeframe, usually within three to five years. A spokesman for the Canadian Bar Association was quoted in the article as saying, “If a review has not been undertaken as required by law, one must question the value of the oversight mechanism”.

At the same time, a House of Commons official was quoted as saying:

Everybody has got egg on their face. Even if (a mandatory Parliamentary review) is in a statute, it's virtually unenforceable. If you or I broke a statutory provision that is mandatory, the forces of law and order would come after us and probably inflict some penalty, but in fact with the Senate or the House no one can inflict any legal penalty.

The article pointed to a number of specific examples, including the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, whose five year review was supposed to begin in a committee of either chamber by last July. The mandatory five year review of the new Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's operations also began six months late.

The justice minister has yet to refer for legislative scrutiny the bill that gave police what is arguably the western world's most sweeping immunity from prosecution. Even the parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister made the following admission in the article in regard to a mandatory review of new powers given to the RCMP when he said:

I can't justify the unjustifiable. Clearly if the act, which is an Act of Parliament, says that it has to be reviewed within three years, we should be doing that.

Thus, while ministers are ignoring laws left, right and centre, the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, in response to a question about the Chief Electoral Officer suggesting that he might violate the Canada Elections Act, preaches to the House that no one is above the law; maybe he meant to say no one who is not a Liberal cabinet minister.

There is another contrast. While the government pitches these mandatory reviews, the parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister told the Ottawa Citizen :

Frankly, and this would be my personal opinion, I think that sometimes it's a bit of a cop out to say we will review (a given law) in three years. If (a bill) is right, then it's right.

Then we have the NDP. That party supports the government and is responsible for its continuation in office, making a mockery of Parliament and the doctrine of responsible government. At the same time, the member for Ottawa Centre accused the Liberals of backing down on a promise to launch consultations this fall on electoral reform. On September 28 he stood in the House and asked:

Is this not another extraordinary example of the cynicism and empty rhetoric of the government that the people of Canada want removed...?

I think the member for Ottawa Centre should direct that question to his own leader.

The Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has known for a year about his obligation to come before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, yet he has done nothing, nothing, I might add, other than revealing that he did write a letter almost a year ago. Either he has been knowingly in dereliction of his duty or he has just been unaware that he had to do this, which arguably is even worse since it betrays a lack of competence.

In his annual report to the House of Commons, the Chief Electoral Officer endorsed the idea of a new bill to put off the expiry of Bill C-3. However, his report states that it is only because there has been no action that a rush bill to cancel the expiry of Bill C-3 is necessary.

The minister may suggest that it is the obligation of the committee to initiate new legislation, which I suppose would free him from taking responsibility for having failed to act for a year; however, the minister's parliamentary secretary sits on the committee, so why, for a full year, has the parliamentary secretary failed to point out to the minister that nothing is happening at the committee, at least nothing on this issue, or to remind the committee that the minister would like something to happen?

The fact of the matter is that this government has a terrible track record on following through with meaningful democratic reform, whether it be electoral or parliamentary reform. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Liberal leadership cannot even respect the rules that are currently in place and is making a mockery of Parliament on a daily basis.

Let us remember what took place in the spring session, when the government House leader held back scheduling opposition days because he was afraid we might hold his government to account. We suspected that they would try to break from past practice of generally scheduling one opposition day per week, so I presented a motion on April 18 that essentially scheduled one opposition day per week. When the government House leader got wind of my intentions, he immediately rushed into the chamber, cancelled the day and refused to schedule another opposition day for something in the order of five weeks.

It then became clear: there was enough evidence that the government might not enjoy the confidence of the House and, as a result, the matter of confidence had to be settled. We made several attempts, in committee and later through the adoption of committee reports in the House, to try to place a motion of non-confidence before the House. Through procedural tactics, the government avoided a vote until May 10.

The May 10 confidence vote took the form of an amendment to a motion to concur in a committee report. It carried by a vote of 153 to 150. It was similar to an amendment moved in 1926 against the government of Mackenzie King. The Mackenzie King situation was considered a matter of confidence. Even the Speaker ruled that our May 10 amendment and the 1926 amendment were not significantly different.

Notwithstanding that fact, the government ignored the outcome of the vote. It was absurd, and if it were not so serious, it would have made a wonderful comedy skit.

Come to think of it, I believe that skit has already been done. Did it not remind members of the dead parrot routine from Monty Python? When the government was defeated, its House leader tried to pull the wool over everyone's eyes by saying, “No, no, the government is not dead. It is just resting”.

The public and constitutional experts then said, “Look, we know a dead government when we see one and we are looking at one right now”.

“No, it is not dead; it is resting. There. See? It moved,” said the minister.

“Now look here,” we said, “we have definitely had enough of this. This government is definitely deceased. We discovered that the only reason it has been sitting on its perch in the first place is that it has been nailed down”.

“Of course it was nailed down”, said the government House leader. “If I had not nailed the government down, it could have exposed its members to an election”.

In the Monty Python skit, the humour was in the audacity of the salesman thinking he could get away with selling a dead parrot. The government House leader expressed the same boldness in pretending that his government was not defeated, but Canadians know better.

The government House leader finally got the message and the drama ended on May 19, when the government promised that it would respect the outcome of confidence votes on two budget bills. Of course by that time a certain member was enticed to cross the floor to sit as a Liberal cabinet minister, and the NDP was bought off with billions of Canadian tax dollars.

What was alarming about the whole affair was that the government acted illegally for nine days, from May 10 to May 19, and used that time and Canadians' money to secure enough votes to win the second vote.

The scenario of ignoring the outcome of a vote and waiting for another opportunity is discussed in Eugene Forsey's “The Question of Confidence and Responsible Government”, where he states, “to allow such a principle is to make a mockery of the doctrine of confidence”.

The government House leader is once again making a mockery of Parliament this fall. He is using the same tactics he used in the spring. The only thing new this time around is his excuse. He said that the Prime Minister had fixed a date for the election, which he promised would be called 30 days after the final report of the Gomery commission expected in February. Obviously the minister does not understand the parliamentary system of government. Even if we had fixed election dates in this country, in a parliamentary system there is always the potential to trigger an election outside of a fixed date due to the government losing the confidence of the House. Furthermore, the government House leader has an obligation to provide the Leader of the Opposition with the opportunity to put that to a test.

The 22nd edition of Erskine May states:

From time to time the Opposition put down a motion on the paper expressing lack of confidence in the Government--a 'vote of censure' as it is called. By established convention the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of such a motion. In allotting a day for this purpose the Government is entitled to have regard to the exigencies of its own business, but a reasonably early day is invariably found. This convention is founded on the recognized position of the Opposition as a potential Government, which guarantees the legitimacy of such an interruption of the normal course of business. For its part, the Government has everything to gain by meeting such a direct challenge to its authority at the earliest possible moment.

While it is the government's prerogative to schedule the business of the House, it would be unethical and against convention to suggest that the government could abuse its authority in order to avoid a confidence vote and govern illegally. If the Leader of the Opposition feels that the government has lost the confidence of the House, the government is obliged to schedule a day to settle the matter. We cannot have another situation like we had in the spring. It was a sham and should never be repeated.

When the government responded to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs called “Democratic Renewal”, it indicated that the committee's recommended timeframe was unrealistic. The government then suggested a timeframe that will not allow this special committee to finish its work. The Liberals forgot that they have a minority and that this Parliament is not long for this life. In fact, it already technically died once.

The response also attempts to establish some government achievements that have been made in strengthening the role of Parliament, including the creation of an independent ethics commissioner reporting to Parliament. The Prime Minister sat on that promise for over 10 years. He even voted against an opposition motion that called on his government to implement that very promise which came straight from the Liberal red book. The Liberals had to be embarrassed into implementing that change and only after being pressured by the opposition for over 10 years.

The government also crows about its commitment to democratic renewal that was set out in the October 5, 2005 Speech from the Throne where it pledged “to examine the need and options for reform of our democratic institutions, including electoral reform”. What about the commitment in the Speech from the Throne that promised to allow members an opportunity to consider all public information pertaining to the missile defence agreement and to vote prior to a government decision? The government completely ignored that commitment.

The response also stated:

In February 2004, as the Prime Minister's first order of business, the Government tabled its Action Plan for Democratic Reform. The initiatives outlined in the Action Plan were developed to ensure that Members of Parliament play a significantly larger role in the decision-making process.

Those are nice words, but as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Well done is better than well said”. How does ignoring the wishes of the majority of members help the government play a significantly larger role in the decision making process in this place?

We all remember when the Prime Minister was running in a leadership contest and portrayed himself as the man who would slay the democratic deficit. He was successful at creating and popularizing the phrase “the democratic deficit” but that was his only success. He created words and expectations. That was it. He had no intention of slaying the democratic deficit, nor did he have any plans to respect this House and its members.

If actions speak louder than words, let us review some more of his actions. On November 30, 2004, the House supported a motion sponsored by the Leader of the Opposition that called on the government to take the appropriate measures to sell the 11,000 acres of arable land back to families and farmers whose land was expropriated to build the Mirabel airport. The Prime Minister refused to comply with the wishes of the House.

This affront to Parliament was repeated on February 8 regarding a motion to farmers.

I could go on and on listing other motions. Indeed, I have questions on the Order Paper now dealing with the inaction of the government in respecting the wishes of Parliament as expressed by the majority of members when they voted on these motions.

I want to get back to Bill C-3. The need for such a bill is a mystery since there is plenty of time, as my colleague from Lanark—Carleton pointed out, for the committee to draft replacement legislation between now and when Bill C-3 expires on May 16, 2006. Moreover, an election in the intervening period would not throw off this process, as my colleague just pointed out. The sunset clause in Bill C-3 states that in the event that Parliament is not in session when the bill expires, the bill will continue to function for an additional 90 days after the first sitting of the new Parliament. Thus, a new Conservative government could easily deal with this legislation if an election were to take place prior to May 2006.

There is no reason that we cannot provide Canadians with a Parliament and an electoral system they can be proud of. It has so much potential and so much to offer. Unlike the Liberals, the Conservative Party has clearly shown that it respects and recognizes this potential. It demonstrated that it is prepared to diligently and aggressively create more opportunities for democracy within the parliamentary structure. No party has pursued democratic reform in Parliament more than the Conservative Party in the last 10 years.

We have been successful at making improvements to private members' business, accountability in getting questions answered by the government, secret ballot elections at committee and democratic selection of senior officers of Parliament, such as the Privacy Commissioner, the Access to Information Commissioner and the Clerk of the House of Commons. Thanks to the initiatives brought in by the three opposition parties at the beginning of this Parliament, recommendations that flow from committee reports will no longer be shelved by the government but instead will be taken up by the House. We now have more opposition members chairing standing committees. The nomination of the Deputy Speaker is no longer selected by the Prime Minister but is now the prerogative of the Speaker himself. We now have question and comments that follow every speech, including speeches by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Many of these successes did not come easy. When the Liberals had their majority it took 10 years of persistence to change the process for private members' business. First, the Liberals ignored our suggestions, then they ridiculed them, and then their own backbench began to embrace them. Then the fight was on with the front bench. They were eventually outmanoeuvred and proposals were reluctantly adopted.

The issue of secret ballot elections at committee followed a similar path but did not take quite as long. We managed to get support of some Liberal backbenchers after we reminded them that in the 19th century, prior to secret ballot voting in general elections, all kinds of methods of coercion were used to influence voters. Parties often hired bullies who moved from riding to riding in fact.

The government then realized that was exactly what the government whip did each September during the chairmen elections at committees. The chief whip, his or her deputies and staff, moved from committee to committee to ensure their members voted the right way. The tactics used by the government whip during the election of chairmen and vice-chairmen of committees were not that different than those tactics used to influence elections in the 19th century.

Who in their right mind would not want to change that? Against all rational thinking and common sense, the front bench of the Liberal caucus fought tooth and nail against any such change.

The then government House leader, after we had introduced a motion that would have allowed for secret ballot elections at committee, performed procedural aerobatics and employed shameless bullying tactics, much like what is taking place today with the current House leader. Once again their motives are to hold on to power at the expense of democracy.

Nothing positive has changed under the Prime Minister and the leadership of the House leader and deputy House leader. If anything, the situation has grown worse. The democratic deficit is greater today than it was under Jean Chrétien.

On the inevitable day when the Prime Minister must let go of the reins of power, he will wake up in a cold sweat and plead, “Don't let it end like this. Tell them I did something”. However it will be too late.

In summary, Bill C-63 is an affront to the House and its members. It is a perfect example of how not to legislate and is indicative of the way Liberals manage the business of Parliament. They give themselves a deadline, ignore the deadline, wait until the last minute and then declare an emergency. That is no way to legislate or to govern.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Madam Speaker, I would like to indicate to the hon. member that I was going to rise on a point of order to bring him back to the topic at hand. However, as I know he is the opposition House leader and should know better, out of respect for him I did not do that.

However we should come back to the bill at hand. It is very important that we focus on Bill C-63. I did not hear my colleague disagree with the minister in terms of the importance of interlinking, for instance, Bill C-3 and Bill C-24. We feel they are very closely related. I learned, however, that my hon. colleague watches too much TV and too many Monty Python movies.

The mandatory review would be done by the procedure and House affairs committee. In fact, the opposition has a majority on that committee. It seems to me that we should be sending this mandatory review to committee and allow it to do its work. Maybe he could comment on that, please.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's comment and the respect he showed me by not rising on a point of order. Of course, what I was doing was citing many examples of why the opposition distrusts the government when it comes to a bill like this that is going to commit the House to a review to take place in two years.

As I pointed out through all my examples, when it comes to parliamentary and electoral reform the government has come up short time and time again. This is just the latest example. I am sure when my colleague speaks to the bill he will as well cite some examples of how the government consistently comes up short.

The issue at hand is the government's suggestion, followed by some suggestion from the committee, that somehow we should link the review of Bill C-3 with Bill C-24. As my colleague from Lanark—Carleton addressed during questions and comments to the minister, once the government knew it had the responsibility to conduct this review in a timely manner and understood that it would be unnecessarily delayed by linking it to Bill C-24, it certainly had the wherewithal, as I indicated, to come before the procedure and House affairs committee, on which it had members, and suggest, in the strongest possible terms, that if the House must adhere to the law then the committee should undertake the study right away.

As my colleague said, there is no reason that the committee could not be seized with this and do it between now and the deadline of May 16. We do not need this legislation to remove the deadline and establish instead this potential two year time period, which once again could be ignored. In fact, if Bill C-63 were to pass, it would not surprise me at all that in two years from now, if I am lucky enough to be re-elected by my constituents, I might still be standing here and the government will be bringing forward a new Bill C-63 to once again extend the deadline.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister earlier was constructing a narrative about why he had to put forward legislation that would remove the sunset clause in Bill C-3 rather than engaging in a review of Bill C-3, the legislation that deals with smaller parties and the potential for money to be given to organizations that masquerade as parties. That is the purpose of the bill.

Now his narrative goes like this. I use the word “narrative” because it has only a marginal connection to the truth. It is not a lie; it only has a marginal connection to the truth.

First, he said that the bill was passed days prior to the election of 2004 so there was no time for any review at that time.

Second, he said that the bill must be reviewed in connection with Bill C-24, the electoral finance law, which deals with among other things restriction of individual donations. He asked the committee in a letter he sent out in November 2004 for this to take place, and nobody objected. He got no response to the letter.

I have my researcher trying to find the letter, the existence of which I have to admit was a mystery to me. Perhaps I did not see that correspondence. The parliamentary secretary sits on the committee. One might have thought that at some point he would have said a response was needed to the letter. The minister could have done it. The minister crosses the floor to chat with me all the time. This was almost a year ago and I do not recall this. Anyway, nobody objected and therefore it must be done in conjunction with Bill C-24.

Finally, he said that the Chief Electoral Officer's report on Bill C-24 was delayed and it would not happen until later. Therefore, we could not review Bill C-24 so we could not review Bill C-3 either. This meant we would miss the legislative deadline, which meant it would be irresponsible to go ahead and not pass a law getting rid of the sunset clause, ensuring we could deal with Bill C-3 and its subject matter off at some distant time. I want to emphasize that this is nonsense, and I will ask my hon. colleague a question that relates to this.

However, first, with respect to the logical link to Bill C-24, one would expect to see this in the original letter that was sent to the procedure and House affairs committee. A letter was sent by the prior minister for the portfolio dated February 10, 2004. Members will note that this was not right before the election. It was long before an election. In it, he asks the committee to take a look at this. He makes no reference to any connection with Bill C-24. In the letter to the committee he says:

Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that the Bill is necessarily a permanent solution. The Supreme Court's ruling in Figueroa is complex and may well have broader implications, which the Committee should have a full opportunity to assess.

For this reason, I would invite the Committee, following its consideration and reporting of the Bill, [Bill C-3], to begin a more extensive study of the wider implications of the Figueroa ruling on the Canada Elections Act. I also welcome the Committee's views on other aspects of the electoral process that it believes warrant attention.

There is no necessary connection to Bill C-24.

The review could not begin until right before an election. However, the letter was sent out. That minister then became minister in June and proceeded never to bother following up. Where does the fault lie? Is it with all those incompetent members of the committee who just could not get around to it or is it with one minister who just could not remember to take care of his own portfolio until a year had gone by?

Canada Elections Act
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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, through the facts as laid out by my hon. colleague, he has revealed the answer.

One of the things that is most disconcerting to members on both sides of the chamber and from all four political parties is the continuation over the last number of years of government ministers neglecting their responsibilities. We used to have in Canada, in our democracy and in our Parliament, such a thing as ministerial accountability. We had ministers who took it very seriously before they would ever consider being in breach of the law.

Today we have a minister who has neglected his responsibility. He tries to cover it up with a very weak and feeble excuse that somehow he covered that off with a letter, as my colleague said. We do not even recall the letter. That is how much it was brought to our attention. However, I take him at his word that he wrote the letter to the committee. I am sure in due time we will be able to dig up a copy of it or maybe the minister will provide a copy to us.

Does that negate his responsibility? Can it be wiped out with a letter to a committee? I think most Canadians would take ministerial responsibility seriously. No one should be above the law. It does not matter whether it is a minister of the Crown. Ministers have an obligation, indeed a responsibility, to ensure that things are done or at least take all possible steps to adhere to the law, the legislation. The legislation says that a review would take place by May 16, 2006. The minister said that he sent the committee a letter, and that is the end of that responsibility. This is shameful.

As I outlined in my remarks, it just shows us how low this Parliament, through the administration of the government, has sunk in the sense that it is the extent of ministerial accountability.

Canada Elections Act
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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Beauport, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the current debate on Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

In fact, this is a very technical bill that contains only one page, but an important one. Any bill to amend our electoral system, which is the foundation of our democracy, must be taken seriously. Such is the case here, even though this is a sunset amendment that, by definition, provides for a time limit before considering a bill that will constitute a more thorough and overall reform of the Elections Act itself.

The background of this bill, we may recall, replicates another two-year sunset bill, which followed the Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case. The Supreme Court ruled that it was discriminatory to impose a minimum number of candidates that a political party had to nominate to be registered as such. Previously, the act had put this number at 50. However, the Supreme Court ruled that this measure was discriminatory. While awaiting a thorough reform that would result in a more integrated and thoughtful piece of legislation, the House passed a bill that received royal assent in May 2004, if I am not mistaken, just in time for the June 2004 election. That bill filled the legal void created by the Supreme Court decision.

The bill allows a political party to nominate only one candidate in order to be registered. Of course, there are other conditions, such as a minimum number of members, which has been set at 250, I believe, and also a minimum number of leaders. This measure is aimed at preventing a person from suddenly proclaiming himself or herself a political party. There has to be a minimum number of rules.

It must be recognized that these rules are an absolute minimum. Of course, we must think about a better way to monitor the registration of political parties in Canada. However, that is not the purpose of this bill. Rather, it seeks to prevent a situation from occurring. The previous legislation was going to expire two years after being passed, that is in May 2006, which is a time when an election may be called again. Therefore, it was important to extend the provision, since the government has not yet completed its homework and the report of the Chief Electoral Officer has not yet been tabled—it will be in the fall. So, some elements were missing to conduct this in-depth reform.

We prefer to extend the original legislation in extenso and still provide for a two-year period. However, the government would be well advised not to do this again, otherwise the House will become a laughing stock if the same bill comes up again in two years. So, it will be important to present a more general bill, as opposed to sunset legislation.

The Bloc Québécois will not oppose this change. It was never our strategy to resort to democratic obstruction. It is important that elections take place under a legal framework. Therefore, it would be irresponsible to oppose this bill, which allows for the next election to be held in a calm, clear and transparent legal context. Since it is important that this be the case, we will not oppose this legislation.

However, we cannot help but comment on the Canada Elections Act as a whole, which is targeted by the bill before us. The act provides that the registration of political parties is subject to a minimum number of candidates. Should we set such a minimum or not? What would be discriminatory and what would not be discriminatory? Of course, since this is about the registration and recognition of political parties, the issue of political party financing quickly comes to surface. Since these issues are related, it is important to discuss them.

My comments will deal with the democratic history of the party in office, as it relates to the Canada Elections Act.

We hope it will not be the case when this reform comes to pass—one that has been long-awaited, hence the need to pass Bill C-63 now—seeing that the House is not prepared. The government was not prepared, nothing new about that.

It is really important now to ensure that, when this reform is being studied, two problems will already have been solved. Indeed there is a problem. My colleague, the whip for the Bloc Québécois and member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, has introduced Bill C-312, which is now in committee.

The intention of that bill is to remedy a democratic aberration in Canada's electoral process: the appointment by the government—that is the party in power—of 308 returning officers on a purely partisan basis. Huge problems arise as a result. The Chief Electoral Officer has spoken out about this on numerous occasions. These returning officers are appointed for 10-year periods, and often have no qualifications other than having been either active in the Liberal Party or former Liberal candidates. This creates problems as far as qualifications and partisanship are concerned, and casts a shadow over any electoral system worthy of the name.

A spade must still be called a spade. An electoral system with such a clause is a tainted system. It causes problems. I am not the one who says this. The Chief Electoral Officer's report after the last election was quite clear in this regard.

Allow me to quote him. On page 1 of his report, the Chief Electoral Officer said:

I know that about 10 cases of insubordination, three problems involving conflict of interest, about 14 problems of incompetence, some 10 cases involving a lack of computer skills, which is a different area. The document—I imagine he is referring to a document that he submitted—includes the names of the returning officers and the ridings.

I will let other speak about their political perception when they are candidates for a party other than the government party, which appointed the returning officers

Canada Elections Act
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1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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1 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Beauport, QC

I would appreciate it if certain people could speak less loudly in this House so that I can concentrate.

In regard to partisanship, what was found was quite serious. In his fine speech on Bill C-312, the Bloc Québécois whip also mentioned cases in which Liberals were actually hired to work together with the returning officer, who was himself appointed by the Liberals. There are systemic problems of incompetence and sheer partisanship. That is unacceptable. The member I mentioned has made quite an impressive list of them.

One of the matters that the Chief Electoral Officer has mentioned is the fact that it is virtually impossible for him to fire incompetent returning officers who can defy him and be insubordinate. He noted some cases of this. I see the interest that the hon. member for Gatineau shows in this subject. I am convinced that her returning officer was appointed by her party: this should therefore be very interesting to her.

These basic problems must be corrected. In regard to the party of the hon. member for Gatineau and others—there are not many other representatives of her party in the House at the moment—it is important to note that there are still aberrations, including the resolution of the Liberal Party youth trying to discriminate in political financing in order to try to hurt a recognized political party and make it so that a Quebec voter is not worth as much as a voter elsewhere.

I am referring to what youth in the Liberal Party wanted. Unfortunately, that resolution was passed. I think it is extremely disturbing, from a democratic point of view, that a governing party would try to harm its opponents by disregarding the principles of natural justice.

We could hardly imagine that the Supreme Court would not consider as discriminatory a clause saying that a political party with a certain number of voters would have less funding than another political party with the same number of voters, because it was in one province or another, or had not fielded candidates in all the ridings.

If the Supreme Court has ruled that 50 candidates constitutes a discriminatory minimum number, we can imagine that such an approach would constitute huge discrimination. This clearly shows that a political party is capable of putting into legislation a requirement for the appointment of 308 returning officers who are partisan because they are appointed by the governor in council, when things are done differently, not only in Quebec, but also in four other provinces, if I am not mistaken, where the position of returning officer is advertised in the newspaper and selection is based on competence and on a guarantee of independent opinion and voting.

We are willing to cooperate with the government by passing Bill C-63 to provide for a two-year extension, but we hope that some very fundamental issues will be given serious consideration. Bill C-312 is at the committee stage. It was well received and was approved in principle by the House. Now we must go beyond the principle and pass, without delay, a bill that would correct a democratic abomination, that of appointing partisan returning officers. Many people do not know that those who are appointed returning officers have ties to the party. Most of them are former candidates or supporters. There are cases of incompetence, and the Chief Electoral Officer himself cannot do anything about it. He cannot fire a returning officer who is incompetent. That decision has to be made by the governor in council, which is not very practical during an election campaign, when things are not going too well. In fact, it is impossible.

So that situation needs to be addressed. We need to resist the partisan and almost fanatical temptation to consider that, in terms of election financing, a voter from one party is worth less that a voter from another party and hope to get away with it. I think that the extremely partisan resolution that was adopted at the last convention of the youth wing of the Liberal Party of Canada will have to be set aside for moral and ethical reasons.

In this case, we will cooperate because it is in everyone's best interests. However, to avoid subjecting the House to ridicule, we would not accept another two-year extension after the first one. We are expecting the government to propose a solid reform based on principles. I know this government has a problem with principles, but we will be glad to help if need be.

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, the member for Beauport—Limoilou enjoyed targeting me in his speech, which I found interesting in the beginning. I appreciate the fact that the Bloc Québécois will not oppose the bill introduced in this House. Naturally, since all good things have an end, the member's speech quickly went awry. As a member, at least until very recently, of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I would like to set the record straight on a number of things he said, including in connection with Bill C-312. Fortunately, he qualified his remarks along the way. Regardless of what he thinks, the hon. members here support the bill now before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I have myself had the opportunity to state my views on this matter.

The debate is not necessarily on Bill C-312, but the member was very happy to focus on this bill and on the process for appointing returning officers. When addressing the appointment process, one has to consider the current incumbent. When I became the new member of Parliament for Gatineau, there was already a returning officer in place long before I came around. However officers are appointed, I can say that what matters to me is how competent they are. I think that everyone here feels the same way.

In an election campaign, election day is the most important aspect of our electoral process. On the day when voting takes place, efforts have to be made to ensure that the people can come and vote, and that they can do so freely. Efforts are also made to ensure that the whole procedure involved is carried out properly.

In my opinion, what matters is not the process for appointment, but rather to ensure that the individual in the position is competent. The member may laugh, but what matters is transparency. That is why I support Bill C-312 introduced by the whip of the Bloc Québécois. We have no lessons to learn in that respect.

However, the reputation of returning officers is at stake. This is the concept on which I fought in this file, to ensure that people do not make generalizations such as those that we heard from my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou. Some facts must be corrected.

The chief electoral officer, Mr. Kingsley, appeared before the committee. When he answered specific questions, among others, how many cases of incompetence he was aware of, he told us about three individuals. This is three individuals out of 308. Our returning officers across Canada take all the flack. Given my experience in labour law, in labour relations, I do not particularly like the competence of people to be questioned for any principle.

That being said, I will ask my colleague a question. First, I would be curious to know if he has doubts about the competence of the returning officer in the riding of Beauport—Limoilou. Second, concerning the youth resolution, the Prime Minister has been very clear in this regard. In the Liberal Party, we do not muzzle people. On the Conservative side, they do not like to have a youth wing. On the Liberal side, we are not afraid of the ideas of our youth. They help us move forward. We do not always agree with what they propose, but they certainly have the right to express their opinions. This will be the subject of a debate and we will see, at the convention, what we will do in this regard. I find it undemocratic to say that we must muzzle our youth.

Just out of curiosity, does my colleague think that the returning officer in the riding of Beauport—Limoilou is incompetent? If he knows about specific cases of incompetence, he could mention them. This might help the chief electoral officer.

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October 17th, 2005 / 1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Beauport, QC

Madam Speaker, I will not get personal and say whether or not I like this returning officer or that one. We are talking about a system, not one or two individual cases. I was quoting what the chief electoral officer himself wrote in his report, and those are the facts.

It is not in 90% of the cases that there are problems, but in 5% to 10% of the cases. However, 10% means 30 or so cases out of 308. It is an area where perfection is desirable. The chief electoral officer did not talk about widespread incompetence. However, there could be no incompetence at all. When such a problem surfaced, we could deal with it because we need to have a system that is 100% reliable.

The issue has nothing to do with whether or not I think that this person or that person is competent. Under the current system, some returning officers themselves are uncomfortable with these appointments. The system needs to be changed.

I am pleased to see that the Liberals are finally supporting this idea, after having gone through many elections with a system that gave them an unfair advantage. That has to be avoided.

I mentioned some cases. She can refer to Hansard . Mr. Guimond was very specific about aberrations, incompetence and democratic dysfunction in relation to this system.

Is it 100%? No, we did not say that. In my opinion, this system deserves better. The key person in any riding—i.e., the returning officer—must be beyond reproach and able to fulfill his duties competently and with professionalism, and that person should be appointed according to proper process. If that individual makes a mistake and does not do a good job, the Chief Electoral Officer must be able to act, correct, train and take the necessary disciplinary measures. This is basic, in my opinion. It is extremely important.

Young people can debate this all they want. However—and I hope the member for Gatineau will do so—we must distance ourselves from positions—no matter whether they are taken by young people or seniors—that are essentially anti-democratic. This must be condemned.

When a mistake is made, even within our own party, if we have principles and integrity, we speak out against it and we do not do that; we allow room for debate. However, this debate is unfortunately being distorted by what these young people are proposing. Ms. Boivin should distance herself from this if she is as democratic as she claims to be.

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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise to support the measure before us. The only point I will make and extend to other concerns in my brief comments is that in the view of the NDP, there is an urgent need to get on with a review by the proposed committee.

To understate it considerably, the government has not demonstrated any real capacity to move with speed when it comes to democratic reform. I want to use my time to deal with that issue and to put it in the context of the government's earlier commitments to deal expeditiously with parliamentary reform, and specifically electoral reform.

Earlier this year, at a cost to the taxpayers of thousands of dollars a committee of the House sent members from all parties to New Zealand, Australia, Germany, England and Scotland. The committee produced a report in June. After consultation with the deputy House leader, who was then the minister in charge of democratic reform, a series of concrete measures were proposed. There was broad consensus from all parties on most of the items. Then there was a question of implementation dates. There was consultation with the minister responsible. It was agreed and the committee acted with the dates in the report after consultation with the minister. It proposed a set of dates for action and then the committee adopted the report. What has happened since?

I first want to say very precisely what the committee report was intended to do. It was to get the federal government to catch up with five of the provinces that have already embarked on serious reform of the electoral process in Canada. Those five provinces represent well in excess of 50% of the population of Canada and they have already done this. It was hoped that the process would be started in this Parliament and at least partially completed in the event that an election took place early in the new year. That is why the dates were discussed with such care with the minister involved and by members of all parties on the committee.

We wanted to have a process that would ultimately lead to where the other provinces are going. That is a representation system that more or less corresponds to what 90% of the democracies across the world have, either a mixed form of representation with individual constituencies and a major element of proportional representation like there is in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and many other countries, or a pure form.

We are among the few countries in the world left with an electoral system that originated in a pre-democratic era that had nothing whatsoever to do with democracy. We have carried over into the age of universal suffrage, a system in Canada that under-represents women and ethnic minorities and produces caucuses on both sides of the House of Commons that do not resemble the kinds of votes in different parts of the country. This negatively affects national unity.

We have serious problems, as the Pépin-Robarts commission pointed out about a quarter of a century ago. I do not need to remind many members of the House that Mr. Pépin was a distinguished former Liberal cabinet minister, and John Robarts, of course, was a distinguished former Conservative premier in the province of Ontario. We are playing catch up. That commission's recommendations came a quarter of a century ago.

The minister promised to get on with a process that would start by October 1 this year. It was doable. If it had gone to tender early in July, a company that was competent to undertake the citizen engagement process that the committee wanted could have been picked. It could have started, I repeat, on October 1 if that had been done.

The work could have proceeded with a parallel committee of members of the House looking at proposals that many provinces have already looked at by doing consultations across the country. It could have had a joint session partway through the process and then a citizens engagement. This is a crucial point. All members of the House had agreed on a citizens engagement process to find out what Canadian citizens, regardless of their political preferences on a partisan basis, wanted in a political system.

It was concluded that this engagement with citizens to find out what values they wanted in their electoral system could have been finished by January 30. That date was not a coincidence. It was well known to all members of the committee and the minister responsible that it could be before an election, or it could be right in the middle of a general election. The point was it would be a citizens engagement process. It would become a public document. In either case, in the middle of an election campaign or if it came up before one, we could have had a debate on those principles in the election. My party fully wants to have and intends to have that debate. It would put all parties on the spot to indicate whether or not they were going to go along with what the people of Canada want.

That was deep-sixed, to put it directly. I do not know what the minister's personal final position was on this, but there is no doubt what it was last June. He was in support of the committee process. We have now got a report from the Government of Canada which vitiates and totally kills the possibility of having electoral reform in this Parliament. This is a disgrace. It is a betrayal of a promise that was made in the throne speech. It is a betrayal of the committee's work last June. It totally undermines the credibility of the government when it comes to talking about making democratic reform a priority.

We are going to keep talking about this issue. I repeat that over half of the population of Canada lives in provinces that are already embarked on serious electoral reform to get a more representative system and to get one that corresponds to most of the world's democracies. We are going to keep talking about this issue. One day we will finally get it through the House of Commons.

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's comments were not mostly about the bill at hand. They were mostly about electoral reform.

He is quite right to be frustrated and a good deal more over the way the government is not dealing with electoral reform. He is quite right in his assessment that we can kiss any prospect of electoral reform or any serious discussion of it in this Parliament goodbye as a result of the way the government has gone about frittering away the available time.

He is right also about the general lack of interest. I do not know whether it is insincerity or just a lack of interest in democracy on the part of the Liberals. Whatever it is, we can certainly see nothing happening.

Given these facts, I have to admit that I am a bit surprised that the member indicated that his party will be supporting the bill. I ask why it would be doing this for this reason.

There is a required legislative review of Bill C-3 that is currently in place. There is enough time over the next eight months to engage in this review and to hear the witnesses necessary to learn how other jurisdictions have dealt with this problem. We could have the chief electoral officers of other jurisdictions come before us. This is actually longer than the six month grace period that the Supreme Court originally gave for legislation to be drafted when it passed its Figueroa decision in November 2003. There is plenty of time to deal with this.

Moreover, if an election occurs, the sunset clause says that a further 90 days will be added. There is no prospect of an election occurring during which there would be an absence of law. We would either have Bill C-3 in place, the current provisions, or the new improved provisions that could be put forward if the proper review and sunset clause and therefore new legislation were to come forward as opposed to merely saying, as the Liberals are saying in Bill C-63, “Let us just not have the sunset clause and leave the review in place. We will get around to having a review whenever. Trust us, we will take care of this. Just remove anything that would make us comply with our word”.

Given the Liberals' history with that committee, the member and myself, why on earth would we trust them again? I am wondering if I misunderstood the hon. member when he indicated that his party would be supporting this bill, given the abominable record of the government in so many parallel cases.