House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Canadian Foreign Policy
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

September 18th, 2006 / 3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has received notice of a request for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie.

I now invite the hon. member to present his reasons to the House.

Canadian Foreign Policy
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister of Canada is to deliver his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, which is this Thursday.

Observers expect him to provide details on his vision for Canada's role on the world stage in this speech. We noticed this summer that the Conservative government's position on foreign policy significantly departs from Canada's traditional position of mediation and balance. It is quite far from the deep-rooted values of Quebeckers and Canadians, who I believe are peace-loving people.

I also think it is essential for Canadian foreign policy to be subject to debate in the House of Commons before the Prime Minister shares it with the rest of the world. This is even more important considering that the current Prime Minister constantly criticized his predecessor for announcing Canada's major policies on various matters outside the House in order to avoid debate before the members elected by the public. That is why, pursuant to Standing Order 52(2), I am requesting that an emergency debate on Canada's foreign policy be held today.

This debate is an emergency given the very limited number of days left before the Prime Minister's speech, which is scheduled, as I was saying, for September 21, 2006.

Thank you for hearing this request. I hope we can have this debate.

Canadian Foreign Policy
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to thank the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie for having set out so clearly his request for an emergency debate, and I emphasize the words “emergency debate”. I can well understand that the honourable member, and other members of course, would like to discuss or debate the issue of foreign policy. There are undoubtedly a large number of members who would like to take part in such a debate.

That being said, I have some difficulty with the request in that I am not convinced such a debate is urgent, as required by the Standing Orders, because of a speech to be given by the Prime Minister at the United Nations.

It may still be possible for the parties to come to an agreement about such a debate on this or on other matters. Discussions can take place and the House can decide as it sees fit.

However, for my part, I must respect the provisions of the Standing Orders. For this reason, I am turning down this request for an emergency debate at this time.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the House broke for question period, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform had the floor for questions and comments. There are four minutes remaining in the period of questions or comments in relation to his speech.

I therefore call for questions and comments. The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to very briefly pose the question to the member prior to question period. I now have the direct information that is in today's National Post in regard to the comments of the member with regard to the general cynicism of Canadians with regard to the calling of elections.

Would the parliamentary secretary comment on the veracity of the story in today's National Post under the headline “Tories looking to pick a fight Expect a spring election, Cabinet insiders say”?

The article specifically says:

The election campaign for spring 2007 begins in earnest today. The working assumption among senior ministers in the [Prime Minister's] Cabinet is that the country will go to the polls after a Conservative budget; the legislative schedule that will be rolled out from today is designed to cram as much as possible into the shop window between now and then.

It also refers to the Conservatives “will attempt to engineer their own defeat in order to achieve the Prime Minister's stated ambition”.

This appears to be very clear. Has the member seen the story? Would he care to comment on what this does with respect to the sincerity of the government with regard to the bill which is presently before the House?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, all I can say to my hon. colleague from Mississauga South is he has clearly been watching too many Oliver Stone movies. He sees a conspiracy behind every initiative of the government.

Let me assure the member opposite that the government plans on governing and governing well. Quite frankly, as I answered about two hours ago after my initial comments, I believe that Canadians not only appreciate the initiatives of the government, but will reward the initiatives of the government.

The longer we govern, the more public support we will have. I see no need to comment on a story that, although the member opposite says is real, is only a rumoured deal that some National Post reporter perhaps came up with.

I am firmly convinced that the longer Canadians see us in action, the more they will reward us. If that member and members of the combined opposition care to take us down, that is when we will have an election, not before. It will be the decision of the members in opposition, certainly not the decision of this government.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the hon. member to comment on the views of some constitutional law experts who have said that the government's Bill C-16 would in fact change the powers of the Governor General. In order to do that, fixed election dates--

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Which experts? Why don't you cite them?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, is it possible for me to speak in the House without interruption?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

There's irony for you, Marlene. You're always interrupting people.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole

Order, please. The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine makes a valid point, that she should be able to finish her question in such a manner that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons can hear the question so he can give a good answer.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to have the Standing Orders of this House applied in a reasonable and objective manner.

My question is as follows: does the government member have an opinion on the views expressed by constitutional law experts that true fixed election dates, without any flexibility, would require a constitutional amendment?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would again comment on the fact that my hon. colleague opposite does not quote any constitutional law experts. She is just saying “some” experts.

I can assure members that there is no constitutional imperative that would require any change to the current conventions of the House. In fact, the current conventions would be either further entrenched by this bill, as opposed to the conviction held by the hon. member from Wascana. In his opinion we should be removing provisions of the act that allow the prime minister to go to the Governor General and ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. If that happened, in my opinion the end result would be the courts would then have to determine what would be and what would not be a confidence vote.

Right now Bill C-16 entrenches the conventions that we have held for over 100 years in this Parliament. We do not need a constitutional law expert to verify that.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act. I will go through the act by summarizing the legislation provisions. I will then describe to the House what problems the bill resolves and I will end by pointing out some of the benefits it will give to the Canadian democratic system.

I have seven points in summarizing what the law does. First, it ensures that elections will take place every four years on the third Monday in October.

Second, it ensures that the first of those Mondays will be October 19, 2009.

Third, it ensures that the date is chosen so as not to conflict with any religious or national holidays.

Fourth, it ensures that in the event of an unforeseen conflict with a religious or national holiday and perhaps with a provincial or municipal election the date can be adjusted.

Fifth, to prevent the abuse of this ability to adjust the date, it ensures that the date can only be moved to the Tuesday after the Monday or to the Monday that follows the third Monday. In other words, the fourth Monday in October.

Sixth, the law is carefully crafted to ensure that no limit is placed on Parliament's ability to indicate loss of confidence in the government or of the Governor's General's prerogative to dissolve Parliament. In this light, I will stop for a moment to address the question raised by the hon. member opposite just a moment ago. Section 56.1 of the act will now read or will be added to the current legislation:

Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.

Were that not there, then the law would in fact be unconstitutional. It goes on to state:

Subject to subsection (1), each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day....

That is how we deal with that very important constitutional provision.

Seventh, in the event of an early election that occurs on a day other than the third Monday in October--presumably this would be an election in a minority government where the government was defeated by the opposition--the calendar for future elections would automatically reset to the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following the year in which the election caused by that vote of non-confidence takes place.

I want to talk about what this resolves. It removes the power of the prime minister, nominally the Governor General but always the Governor General acting on the advice of the prime minister, to call an election when it is good for the government, when it suits the government and when it is damaging to the chances of the opposition, the main opposition party or some other opposition party, to contest that election. It would remove an inherent unfairness in the system. I have only been elected to this place three times, in 2000, 2004 and earlier this year, but in my short parliamentary career I have found the system to have been abused egregiously by the former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, in calling the election of 2000 and again in 2004.

In 2000, he called an election shortly after a new opposition leader had been elected. He called it at a time when nominations had not been completed in most of the country for the then opposition party, the Canadian Alliance. In doing that he unfairly advantaged the governing Liberals and hurt the opposition party, the Canadian Alliance. I saw this in action in 103 ridings in the province of Ontario, as there then were. Nominations that had been completed for the Canadian Alliance at the time that he called the snap election with no advance warning were called when 5 of those 103 ridings had completed their nomination process. In the other 98 ridings no nomination had been finished, including in my riding.

What happened at the conclusion of that election? The Liberals won 100 seats, the New Democrats won one seat and the Canadian Alliance won two seats. Due to the vagaries of our electoral system, that in no way reflected the actual vote total but it did give the results that Jean Chrétien wanted. It gave him another majority government that he did not deserve and would not have had, I would argue, had he had to follow a reasonable timetable that did not give him this unwarranted discretion.

Out of the 98 candidates who had not been nominated until the election was called, only one, myself, actually managed to win the election. Even that, frankly, was due to a three way vote split. Of the five candidates nominated, my colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke was elected, about a 20% success rate. That gives us an idea of what he was doing and the abuse of the system that he perpetrated. This could not happen under the law as written now.

Which government will be the first to face this restriction on its power? The current government will not have the kind of power to abuse our democratic system the way that Jean Chrétien and other prime ministers before him have abused it.

In 2004, something similar happened. The election was called before the main opposition party, the new Conservative Party of Canada, had a chance to hold its first policy convention. The Conservative Party had no way of planning its first policy convention and produce a platform prior to that election being called. What was the then prime minister doing during that election, hon. member for LaSalle—Émard? He was ranting about how we had no policies and inventing the most egregious and outlandish policies to fill the vacuum created by the fact that he was able to call an early election. That is the kind of thing that will not happen under the current legislative proposal.

I want to talk about the benefits. To some degree we can discern the benefits of the new legislation from the problems that I have raised but I wanted to break it down into four headings. The first of these benefits would be that all parties could now prepare for elections. They could plan their leadership races secure in the knowledge that a snap election would not be called at a time when they were in the process of electing a leader. That is a significant advantage. They could also plan their policy conventions as my party was unable to do in 2004.

It is an advantage for people who are considering becoming candidates. There is much talk in this place, especially when we think we would like to vote ourselves a pay raise, about the importance of getting the best candidates to come in here and contest elections. That is fine for those who are independently wealthy and those who have jobs, particularly lawyers, that permit them to have a great deal of flexibility, but if they come from a job where they cannot take off time to seek a nomination in quite the same way or to be a nominee for some unspecified period of time, the uncertainty associated with not knowing when an election will be called means that it is necessary to put their life on hold in a way that precludes many quality candidates from actually seeking nominations.

I can think of a couple of examples prior to the 2004 election which were cited in The Hill Times. All members have access to back issues if they care to look up the stories of how individuals had to withdraw from nominations. I know of a policeman in the Toronto area who wanted to run for my party but he had to withdraw because it was impossible to coordinate his job demands and the demands of an uncertain electoral timetable. Riding associations could now plan their nomination meetings to occur at a time relatively close to an election rather than trying to preclude the unforeseen future election that might come at some point.

Elections Canada could improve how it conducts elections. It would reduce costs and improve efficiency if it were certain that elections were going to occur on a predictable four year timetable. For example, the problems of finding and renting space on an uncertain schedule is very difficult, particularly in areas where there are low vacancies in rental properties.

In 2000, it was so hard to find rental space in my riding, the old riding of Lanark--Carleton, that the Elections Canada office wound up being placed literally across the street from the riding boundary. It was the least central location imaginable in the riding but it was the only way Elections Canada on short notice could secure rental space in that riding.

It was very difficult to deal with the boundaries redistribution issue when there was great uncertainty prior to the 2004 election as to whether the then prime minister would call the election when the old boundaries were in place or the new boundaries. This created immense chaos in my riding and many others across the country because there was a great lack of information about where the boundaries would be and therefore the administration was to pursue.

My last point is that voter participation would greatly increase.