House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 12 petitions.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-54, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.

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

Environment and Sustainable Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in relation to Bill C-377, an Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibility in preventing dangerous climate change.

Second, I have the pleasure to present the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The report provides reasons for the committee not having completed its study of Bill C-377, an Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibility in preventing dangerous climate change.

Mr. Speaker, the committee adopted clauses 3 to 9 with amendments, postponed clause 1, the preamble and the short title pursuant to Standing Order 75(1), and stood clause 2. The committee was unable to vote on clauses 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 due to a prolonged debate of over 20 hours on clause 10, which led the committee to an impasse.

As members will recall, the committee presented a report on April 14, 2008, arising from the debate on the bill, regarding inherent difficulties in the rules and procedures of the House. As a result of the impasse, the committee adopted a motion to the effect that the title, the preamble, clauses 1, 2, 10, as amended, 11, 12, 13 and 14 of Bill C-377, an Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibility in preventing dangerous climate change be deemed adopted, that the bill as amended be deemed adopted, and that the chair report the bill as amended to the House.

I wish to note that as an indicator of the impasse, the report contains in annex four supplementary opinions.

I wish to thank all members of the committee for their willingness to find a compromise, allowing the committee to proceed in its important work.

Drinking Water Quality Act
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-538, An Act to bring the Food and Drug Regulations in line with the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

Mr. Speaker, this is an act to bring the food and drug regulations in line with the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality. It states that bottled water must conform to the same strict standards as municipal tap water. Accordingly, bottled water should be regulated by the same guidelines as municipal water in the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality.

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

Canada Transportation Act
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-539, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (vibration and noise).

Mr. Speaker, I am introducing this bill to amend the Canada Transportation Act with respect to railway noise. Last session, the House of Commons came to an agreement in committee on a text that would strengthen the Transportation Act. Unfortunately, the Senate did not agree with us and amendments were necessary in order to pass the bill before the end of the session. This bill would return the text to the form unanimously agreed upon by the committee.

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

Income Trusts
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present another income trust broken promise petition at the request of the member for Kelowna—Lake Country. The petitioners would like to remind the Prime Minister that he promised never to tax income trusts, but he broke that promise by imposing a 31.5% punitive tax which permanently wiped out over $25 billion of the hard-earned retirement savings of over two million Canadians, particularly seniors.

The petitioners therefore call upon the Conservative minority government, first, to admit that the decision to tax income trusts was based on flawed methodology and incorrect assumptions, as was demonstrated at the finance committee; second, to apologize to those who were unfairly harmed by this broken promise; and finally, to repeal the 31.5% tax on income trusts.

Unborn Victims of Crime
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, a year ago, Aysun Sesen of Toronto was murdered and her unborn child also lost its life. That family was deeply hurt because the police could lay no charges in the death of the unborn child. The petitions that I am presenting today reflect that. These are mostly from Toronto, from her area, and they are from people who are asking Parliament to please enact legislation that would provide for a second offence when a pregnant woman is murdered and her child also dies or is injured.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

April 29th, 2008 / 10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

moved:

That the House express its full and complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, to participate in the discussion about this very important motion.

This motion is grounded first and foremost in democracy. Although this may seem quite ironic, the purpose of this motion is for the House of Commons to spend today reiterating its confidence in an independent, impartial organization whose neutrality is above reproach. That may indeed seem ironic.

Why will we be talking about a motion that asks the House to express its full confidence in Elections Canada and the elections commissioner? Because the party currently leading a minority government, the Conservative Party, has given us reason to believe that it does not have faith in Elections Canada.

We know that free and fair elections are the basis for any democracy. In some countries, the people do not have opportunities to choose their elected officials democratically. Here in Quebec and Canada, we do have that opportunity. Regardless of the party elected or the member or candidate in whom the people place their trust, that person is elected democratically. Nobody in this House was elected by citizens who went to the polls at gunpoint. We are legitimate.

All the same, the democratic process that takes place during our elections has to be overseen by an organization. We cannot let the government or the party in power, regardless of who they are, decide how things are going to happen. We are responsible for keeping a close eye on the electoral process.

We know that the right to vote is not enough on its own. We need rules in order to hold free, democratic elections. For example—and this is with reference to the case currently before the courts—we need rules that govern contributions to political parties and that make it possible to prevent the electoral process from becoming hijacked by the money game. That means that parties have to play by rules enforced by an independent organization.

Here is another example that is more directly linked to the motion today. The rules that set limits on election spending are intended to make sure that the candidate with the best chances of being elected is the one who is most in tune with the wishes of the public, not the one who spends the most money to flood the country with partisan advertisements. In the Bloc Québécois, we feel that, in a democratic society, elections must not be bought.

I went onto the Elections Canada website, which lists the organization's values: a knowledgeable and professional workforce, transparency, responsiveness to the needs of Canadians involved in the electoral process, cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act, earning the public's trust, and finally, stewardship and accountability in how the democratic process is managed.

The position of Chief Electoral Officer was created in 1920. Marc Mayrand, the current Chief Electoral Officer, is the sixth person to hold the position. I sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am vice-chair, and, when Mr. Mayrand was appointed, even the Conservatives recognized his skills and professionalism. Now that Elections Canada, as an impartial referee, makes a decision that does not suit the Conservatives, all of a sudden, they start to discredit the individual and the institution.

Elections Canada has shown us time and time again that the concern for transparency is clear in everything they do. If the Conservatives had acted in a transparent way and had cooperated with Elections Canada in what is now called the "in and out affair", when the Conservatives shuffled money back and forth during the January 2006 election campaign, the police raid that we witnessed some ten days ago would not have been necessary.

Is it customary, is it normal that Elections Canada had to get a warrant from a neutral judge and use the services of a neutral police force like the RCMP? Is it normal for a police force to have to search the headquarters of a political party, the Conservative Party in this case? Does this happen all the time, or is this an exceptional case? This shows that Elections Canada was completely fed up with the Conservatives' unwillingness to cooperate regarding this scheme, which supposedly allowed the Conservatives to exceed the $18 million national spending limit by transferring $1.2 million in advertising expenses to local ridings.

The Prime Minister tells us that everything was legitimate, that everything was done according to the rules. If everything was done properly, why did the Conservatives refuse to cooperate with Elections Canada? Why did they not sit down with them and explain what they did and how they applied the rules? No, they preferred to use a strategy that was against the law, with the result that it is being challenged by Elections Canada, thus explaining the police raid.

The Conservatives made some grand promises of transparency. I am sure we all remember the 2006 election. People really doubted Liberal management and attacked their credibility. People took a hard look at the sponsorship scandal and said the Liberals ran their campaign with dirty money. The Conservatives, however, were going to be squeaky clean, irreproachable and transparent. I am sure everyone remembers the Conservative ads during the election campaign in 2006, not all that long ago. They said these ads were paid for with clean money. But would Elections Canada be challenging this if everything had been done legitimately?

A lot of Conservatives, including, yesterday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, have defended themselves by saying that all the parties do it. So I would like you to explain for me, Mr. Speaker, why there are only 67 election reports by candidates, some of whom were elected as members and some of whom have apparently been appointed as ministers. Why are 67 Conservative election reports being challenged by Elections Canada?

I would point out that the election expense reports filed by the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP after the 2006 elections have resulted in refunds. We got our refunds. That is too handy a defence. Saying that everybody does it so we do it too is just blowing smoke. I am sorry, but there is a dispute with Elections Canada, an independent, neutral and transparent body that oversees the democratic process and deserves to have our confidence. I am persuaded that in the vote tonight all parties will reiterate their confidence in Elections Canada.

Quebeckers and Canadians do not want to have an electoral system here like we can see in other countries. By their attitude, the Conservatives flaunt the election laws that are not to their liking. When Elections Canada’s decision does not suit the government, they attack Elections Canada. They complain about inappropriate treatment. I am sorry, but it is nothing of the kind.

Another thing we find on the Elections Canada site relates to cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act. If we want elections to be conducted as a democratic process, it is important that all candidates and all parties, without exception, have equal opportunities. There can be no elasticity: the fact that someone does not like the sovereignists in the Bloc wanting to break up Canada and establish their own country does not mean they can be treated differently. No! Behaving like the Conservatives are asking would mean having an asymmetrical democracy. The rules of the game have to be clear and they have to be the same for everyone.

The Conservatives can feign indignance about this all they like, but the public’s confidence has been seriously undermined. Speaking ill of an impartial body like Elections Canada is not how to do things in a democracy and makes the public skeptical about politicians, but particularly about the attitude of this Conservative Party. It is too handy to claim unfair treatment. The sole purpose of that attitude, intentionally criticizing and attacking credibility, is to conceal fraudulent activities.

I could tell you about the seven months of repeated filibusters we had at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Conservative candidates went on and on about genuinely examining this issue. Well before the Elections Canada prosecution and the police raid, the Liberal whip had introduced a motion at the Committee on Procedure to bring this whole in-and-out scheme by the Conservative Party in the last campaign into the open. The Committee on Procedure has been paralyzed since September 10 and has really been unable to do its work.

Obviously, the Conservatives are trying to sweep the dust under the rug. Understandably, they are uncomfortable with what they did. Not only did the Conservatives knowingly set up a fraudulent scheme to claim rebates to which they were not entitled, but now, instead of apologizing, they attack the credibility of Elections Canada for blatantly partisan purposes.

Yesterday, during question period, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board told us: “Conservative candidates spent Conservative money on Conservative advertising”. He forgot to say that inflating the election spending limit for local candidates shortchanged citizens because the Conservatives received a 60% rebate when their expenses return was approved.

As a defence they say that Conservative advertising was paid for with Conservative money. We say that it was used to inflate the spending limit, hence the notion of dirty money in this case, because taxpayers, who are fed up with paying taxes, were shortchanged by 60% with these artificially inflated expenses.

In conclusion, I want the Conservatives to know that we have seen where they are going with this scheme. Instead of cooperating with Elections Canada, they have opted for confrontation. This stance forced Elections Canada to use an extraordinary remedy to have access to incriminating documents, which explains the police raid at the headquarters of the Conservative Party of Canada.

The Bloc Québécois reiterates it full and complete confidence in Elections Canada as an impartial, independent and transparent referee necessary to ensure democratic elections.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member. Many questions come to mind but I will focus on one question. Does he believe that Elections Canada or the courts in our land are infallible? Can they make no mistakes at all?

I refer to the fact that in our court system pretty well everything the court rules on can be challenged on appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. We know there have been a number of instances where Elections Canada made a ruling that was, subsequently in court, shown to be incorrect and it had to backtrack because it is not infallible, as none of us are.

Does the member think there should be removed from our legislation the ability to challenge in a court the rulings of Elections Canada as with many other committees and boards in the country?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's question directly in English, not because our interpreters are not competent, but because I have noticed that my knowledge of the other language has improved. Clearly, my colleague cannot make the same claim.

He is asking me whether an organization is infallible. We must accept the basic premise that our society is subject to the rule of law. The organization interpreted a rule of law in the same way for everyone. But his party does not accept Elections Canada's interpretation. That has nothing to do with whether or not the organization is infallible. We are asking the Conservatives to cooperate with Elections Canada when the time comes. Perhaps they will manage to convince Elections Canada and it will eventually recognize that its interpretation was incorrect.

I could use the mirroring technique and turn the question back to my colleague. Is the Conservative Party infallible? Is the Conservatives' interpretation the only correct one? Absolutely not. That is why a neutral, independent, non-partisan organization conducts the election in 308 ridings across Canada. That is what it means to recognize the rule of law.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my Bloc Québécois colleague a question.

The Conservative Party is trying to find out whether Elections Canada may have made a mistake. I believe my colleague gave a good answer to the question.

If the Conservative Party is really sincere about its question, why are the Conservatives forced to use altered or even forged information in making accusations against the three opposition parties in this House?

Yesterday, I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. In committee, the Conservatives repeatedly levelled the same accusations against us, saying that all the parties—the three opposition parties and they themselves—committed the same sin. However, we know full well that the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Liberal Party of Canada did not use this method during the most recent election.

What does my colleague think? If Elections Canada made a mistake, why does he think the Conservative government has to use altered information to make its case?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it boils down to the weakness of the Conservatives' arguments. That is the typical reaction of someone who has no good arguments, someone who is not on solid ground. My training as a lawyer and my experience in court have taught me that. When the lawyers opposite me knew they did not have a case, they found ways of fiddling with the truth by attempting to interpret the rules of law to suit his case. Fortunately, the situation was remedied when the judges handed down their verdicts.

This is the approach used by those who have a guilty conscience. Instead, the Conservatives should face reality and admit that they used the in and out scheme to the tune of $1.2 million in the 2006 election campaign and exceeded the $18 million spending limit.

We have a series of e-mails in which the ad-buying agency, on the verge of exceeding the $18 million limit, wondered what to do. At that point, the Conservatives dreamed up the strategy of invoicing the ridings for $1.2 million for local advertising when, in fact, the content was the same as that in national advertising and there was nothing local about it.