Bill C-3 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.
Jacques Saada Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
Message from the Senate
The Royal Assent
May 14th, 2004 / 10:05 a.m.
I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:
May 13, 2004
I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 13th day of May, 2004 at 6:56 p.m.
Secretary to the Governor General
The schedule indicates that royal assent was given to Bill C-24, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act--Chapter No. 18; Bill C-20, an act to change the names of certain electoral districts--Chapter 19; Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act--Chapter 20; Bill C-15, an act to implement treaties and administrative arrangements on the international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences--Chapter 21; Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004--Chapter 22; and Bill C-9, an act to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs (The Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa)--Chapter 23.
I also have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:
May 13, 2004
I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 13th day of May, 2004 at 9:10 p.m.
The schedule indicates the bill assented to was Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act--Chapter 24.
May 12th, 2004 / 4:50 p.m.
Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Mr. Speaker, I have the distinct pleasure today of sharing a great Canadian success story. It is a story that combines justice, innovation and worldclass technology.
It is a story that highlights unique Canadian know-how and strong Canadian leadership. It is a story that affects all Canadians and reaches well beyond our borders.
This is a story about the administration of justice and the most powerful investigative tool ever discovered. It has solved hundreds of serious crimes in just the last few years and kick-started some of the most difficult criminal cases facing Canadian police. It helps protect Canadians from violent criminals and sex offenders.
This is the story of forensic DNA evidence and the ways in which it has revolutionized criminal investigation and prosecution.
More powerful than fingerprints, DNA serves as a silent but credible witness, convicting the guilty while protecting the innocent. When properly handled and properly profiled, it offers foolproof evidence.
This is a story that illustrates the power of science. It is a story of Canadian innovation that is putting science to its best use through the national DNA data bank.
DNA is the fundamental building block of our entire genetic makeup. With the exception of identical twins, every person's DNA is unique.
Using modern technology, DNA can be extracted from a small biological sample, such as a few drops of blood, the root of one hair or by swabbing the inside of the mouth. The sample is analyzed, creating a DNA profile that can be used to identify a person. That profile, in turn, can be compared to an unknown DNA profile drawn from a different biological sample. If the profiles match, the two samples come from the same person or from identical twins.
At the forefront of forensic DNA science is the nation DNA data bank, formed as a result of legislation passed by the House six years ago. The data bank is recognized worldwide for the quality of its work and the professionalism of the scientists who work there.
Since it opened in June 2000, the data bank has helped solve almost 120 murders and over 300 sexual assault cases in communities from coast to coast to coast. It has played a pivotal role in helping police solve 250 armed robberies and almost 900 break and enters. The national DNA data bank has provided critical evidence leading to convictions in more than 1,700 serious crimes.
The power of DNA evidence is so well entrenched that we now almost take it for granted. It is remarkable to realize it was only 15 years ago that DNA typing methods were introduced into criminal investigations and trials in Canada.
The first conviction directly tied to DNA evidence came in 1989 in the case of a vicious sexual assault. The so-called McNally case transformed the administration of justice in Canada and paved the way for the introduction of the data bank just over a decade later. The evidence developed by the RCMP in a lab in the McNally case, was so compelling that it convinced the accused to change his plea to guilty.
Although the RCMP started using DNA analysis successfully in 1989, there was no coordination at the national level to help police take full advantage of steady advances in the technology.
In 1996, the Department of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice embarked on nationwide consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, including the provinces and territories, police associations, privacy advocates, legal experts and victims groups.
Confirming the Government of Canada's commitment to combat crime, and particularly violent crime, Bill C-3, the DNA Identification Act, received royal assent in December 1998, and was proclaimed in June 2000. With royal assent, the RCMP committed to build a national DNA data bank and to make it operational within 18 months. The project was completed on time and under budget.
The nationwide consultations that contributed to the creation of the data bank also stressed the need to balance a suspect's right to privacy with the need for police officers to collect evidence.
The legislation imposes strict procedures to govern the handling of DNA profiles and biological samples to ensure the privacy interests are protected. Information collected by the national DNA data bank is used for law enforcement purposes only. The bill continues all of those protections.
Some members of the House will also know that the national DNA data bank advisory committee oversees the operation and offers advice to the commissioner of the RCMP.
The data bank is one component of the national police services administered by the RCMP for the benefit of the entire Canadian law enforcement community. The data bank currently employs 26 people and operates with an annual budget of $3.1 million.
The value of DNA to police investigations is remarkable. Biological samples collected from a crime scene can link a suspect to that scene or rule out the suspect entirely. Evidence from different crime scenes can be compared to link the same perpetrator to multiple offences, whether the crimes took place locally, across the country or halfway around the world.
Canada's national DNA data bank has been recognized as one of the most advanced facilities of its kind in the world. The national DNA data bank relies heavily on robotic technology. Combined with a worldclass inventory and sample tracking system, personnel can process more samples in less time and at a significantly lower cost than other similar operations.
Moreover, the facilities in other countries require enormous cold storage containers to maintain the quality of DNA samples awaiting processing. The Canadian system uses specialized blotting paper that stabilizes the DNA and allows it to be stored at room temperature in secure cabinets.
Although there are fewer numbers of samples in the Canadian national DNA data bank compared to its counterparts internationally, our data bank has realized success much earlier than many. Compared to DNA banks, such as the Florida state wide data bank, the Canadian bank has seen more matches per sample.
The national DNA data bank consists of two primary databases. The first is a convicted offender index and includes profiles from individuals convicted of certain serious Criminal Code offences. The second is the crime scene index which houses DNA profiles generated from crime scenes.
There are currently more than 57,000 profiles entered onto the convicted offender index and more than 14,000 on the crime scene index.
An offender “hit” occurs when a biological sample from a crime scene is sent to the data bank and the resulting DNA profile matches one in the convicted offender index.
A forensic “hit” occurs when a crime scene DNA profile is sent to the crime scene index and matches a profile from at least one other crime scene.
The data bank's success is based on a simple formula. The more profiles entered into the two indices, the more hits generated to help police investigators solve serious crimes.
One such “hit” solved the vicious 1992 murder of a convenience store attendant in Sydney, Nova Scotia.
I would like to conclude my remarks by reminding the hon. members across the way, who are so enthusiastic about the bill, that the national DNA data bank serves as one of the most powerful law enforcement tools available to Canadian police and courts.
Members will recall that more than 1,700 serious crimes have been solved over the last four years as a direct result of evidence generated by data bank scientists.
Even more encouraging is the fact that, as the national DNA data bank approaches full capacity, its impact will increase even further as greater numbers of samples are processed.
Enhanced automation and robotics will help scientists process even more DNA samples in a shorter period of time. New technology will help position the data bank to better respond to various types of forensic investigation, including mass disasters.
Canada Elections Act
March 31st, 2004 / 5:20 p.m.
The Deputy Speaker
It being 5:30 p.m., pursuant to order made Tuesday, March 30, 2004, the question on the motion for the third reading stage of Bill C-3 is deemed put and carried on division.
(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)
Canada Elections Act
March 31st, 2004 / 5:15 p.m.
Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak this one last time in the House of Commons. This will probably be my last attempt at effecting change from the government.
It is appropriate that the bill that I should be speaking to is one of democratic principles. I ran in 1988 based on the need to bring democratic principles back to the Canadian electoral system. This bill is a result of the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledging that the legislation that the government had put into place was not democratic.
This bill is addressing the decision of the Supreme Court that it was undemocratic to require a party to run 50 candidates in an election. If two people wanted to represent a party to represent a cause, an idea or an issue, that should be allowed as long as there were some other things they managed to do, and that is to show that they had some following and some people agreed with their position.
The bill that has been introduced to address the Supreme Court's decision allows one individual, if that is what it is, with 250 signatures in support and with at least 4 officers representing that party, to run in an election in order to raise the issues.
This is important because in 1987 the Reform Party talked about the need to form a party in order to raise some of the issues on democratic reform, electoral reform, economic reform and judicial reform, and to be held to a certain standard. Putting those ideas out to the population would have been very restrictive. Under the new legislative guidelines that the Liberal government tried to bring in, it is questionable whether the Reform Party of Canada would ever have gotten off the ground.
As I have said, it is very apropos that in my last speech in the House of Commons I should be defending the principles of democratic reform, in that any Canadian who seeks to put ideas before the electorate of change and moving our country forward should not be stopped by legislation in the House.
If anything, we should be opening up the process and that is what Bill C-3 does. It opens up the process so that Canadians have the freedom to express their concerns through the electoral system.
I would like to take this opportunity, as it is my last time in the House, to thank the constituents of South Surrey—White Rock—Langley for their support over the last 10 and a half years. I have been honoured to represent them. I feel I have done a good job on their behalf in the House and on behalf of the Conservative Party, the Canadian Alliance, and the Reform Party before that, in moving forward legislative changes that would give Canadians a greater voice and that would give my constituents a better life in this country.
I want to take the opportunity to thank them and to acknowledge that I could not have done it without their support. I look forward to the days ahead of me where I will continue to live and work in the community.
Perhaps I will be on the other side of the fence putting pressure on the new representative to ensure that change moves forward and that we always strive for what is best for all Canadians and for our country. We should have the courage to look ahead and take the bold steps that are required if we are ever going to deal with some of the most serious problems we have in our country, whether it is on the security issues that we spoke of earlier today or on health care.
I, and a lot of Canadians, have a great fear that 20 years from now we will not have any health care system to speak of. It is essential for the people who sit in the House to have the courage to look at how we can do things differently and in a way that will secure our health care for future generations.
We must also ensure that our country is competitive and that we raise our stature in the international community. We must think big and we must be bold in the steps that we take.
I only hope and wish that the people who replace me here and who move on in the years to come have the courage to do the right thing for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to thank my constituents and to speak to this bill. I believe it is a good move by the government to recognize the democratic principles that are so important to having a free and democratic country.
Business of the House
Private Members' Business
March 30th, 2004 / 5:35 p.m.
Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC
Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties and I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:
That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of this House, that no later than 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31, 2004, the motion for third reading of Bill C-3 be deemed put and adopted on division.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
March 30th, 2004 / 5:35 p.m.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
March 30th, 2004 / 5:30 p.m.
Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place between all parties and I believe that you would find consent for the following order: That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of this House, that no later than 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31, 2004, the motion for third reading of Bill C-3 be deemed put and adopted on division.
Canada Elections Act
March 26th, 2004 / 1:15 p.m.
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
That is not only a shame, as my colleague says, it is a serious and, I would venture to say, a fatal flaw in our democratic system. If we do not fix that I am afraid our democratic system here will increasingly become eroded and members of the public will have an increasing disillusionment with the need to support, with their tax dollars and with their votes, the democratic process.
I therefore chastise the government for imposing that on its members in committee. If members had been able to debate openly and freely and to vote openly and freely, we would have had amendments that would have prevented the serious consequences that will come about as a result of the passage of Bill C-3.
I would venture to say that there must be some Liberals over there as well who must feel badly about their participation in this, as they have gone along with it. As well, now we have a so-called new Prime Minister. During his leadership campaign, the new Prime Minister often used the phrase “democratic deficit”. I do not know where he got that idea from, because all the time the party over there of which he was a part and a member of the cabinet did not really practice democracy. I suppose he detected it. He heard it from us, from this side. He probably got it from some of his own members over there. He knew that it was a hot button--it certainly is for Canadians--and he campaigned on it.
What do we see now when Bill C-3 is introduced in this Parliament? Do we see the removal of the democratic fetters that were shackled around the ankles of all the Liberals and around their hands so that they could not raise their hands to vote at a certain time but had to at a different time?
I seriously chastise this Prime Minister and the government for shutting this down.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, from time to time I have mentioned that I am an amateur mathematician. I took training at university in mathematics and physics and taught math and computing for some 31 years, so I have a bit of a mathematical thing going on here as well.
The committee has eight members from the Liberal Party. It has seven from the opposition. I am not prepared to concede that only the Liberals have a positive IQ and the rest of us have a negative one. I am not prepared to concede that only the Liberals are capable of clear thinking and the rest of us only of muddy thinking. I believe it has to be, statistically speaking, about eight to seven.
I do not know what those fractions are exactly. I could have figured it out, but in eight to seven out of fifteen times, seven times the opposition would have an idea that would be superior to the eight on the other side. We just have to wonder about it when time after time all the opposition ideas, amendments and motions are put and defeated simply because they come from this side. That is a serious flaw.
I happen also in my lifetime to have been, I like to think, a serious student of the scriptures. There is a proverb which states that in the presence of many counsellors is great wisdom. The Liberals make an error when they say, “There are all these people on the opposition side and we will not listen to them at all”. They make an error because we are part of the team that wants to build good laws for this country. They should from time to time--I would say seven out of fifteen times on average--listen to us and they should adopt those ideas.
Enough of that, because next I want to talk about one of the very serious flaws of the bill.
Perhaps before I do that, because I am a guy who likes always to accentuate the positive and diminish the negative, let me say that there is one positive thing in this bill and I sure do support it. In order not to be guilty of the same thing I am accusing the Liberals of, let me say that I wholeheartedly support the removal in this bill of the requirement in the past that if a party went down to fewer than 50 candidates in an election it was required to turn in all its assets.
Let us say that there is a new party that works hard to try to get established with some ideas that a significant number of citizens believe in. It falls short of the 50 mark. What does the government do, this high-handed government? It says that the party started out in the race with the rest of us but did not reach the first quarter mile so it will make that party go back to the start line. That is what it does.
I would like to applaud the government for having removed that. It is totally wrong for a party that has 40 candidates in an election, let us say, to have to give up all its assets. I wish to say thanks to those Liberals over there for removing that very offensive clause from the present Elections Act and for at least providing a way out of it so that this party can re-register and not have to give up everything it has worked for.
In the little time remaining, I want to point out what to me is probably the most serious flaw in this legislation. As my colleague from North Vancouver so ably pointed out earlier today, it is the flaw of having some bureaucrat or politician determine whether or not another member can enter into the race as a political party.
I am not going to repeat all of the stuff that has been said here already about how this problem could have been avoided. Certainly it could have been avoided if the members opposite had not been so bullheaded in their ideas and had listened to some rational counter arguments.
The flaw is that if we do not pass this bill, the Canada Elections Act will fall apart at the next election, whenever that will be. I sincerely hope that it will be in the fall because this needs to be fixed before we go to the next election. To fix it the way the Liberals are proposing is no fix at all. All it will do is put into cement a problem which will perpetually dog us.
The idea that one person constitutes a party is offensive, indeed. That one person could run as an independent in any riding of the country. There is no residential requirement in the Canada Elections Act. He or she could choose to run in any riding in the country and put forward ideas as an independent. There is no discrimination against a person because that individual is not permitted to run as a party. That person could still run. Having only one person opens up a very serious problem in the next election. I can see it happening in many constituencies, having one member in a party.
For example, I know of a lady who is an avid pro animal protectionist. If she catches a mouse, it has to be caught live and released even though it may find its way back to the building before she gets back. She is going to start a party called the PM party. It does not stand for prime minister or member of parliament; it stands for protection of mice. She is going to start that party and she is legally entitled to do so. There are a lot of people who will support her. She will easily get 250 members.
We are going to have in our all candidate debates every one of the individual one issue candidates, maybe 18 or 20 of them. All of them will be entitled to the benefits of the legislation under Bill C-24.
Mr. Speaker is giving me a signal and I acknowledge that it is 1:30 on Friday afternoon. I would ask that I be granted the rest of my time when this issue is debated again.
Canada Elections Act
March 26th, 2004 / 1:15 p.m.
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
Mr. Speaker, I hope you enjoy saying Elk Island because after the next election that riding is gone. I hope not to be because I am running in the new riding of Edmonton--Sherwood Park and hope to win the election there.
I have the difficult chore today of trying to persuade the members opposite, that huge crowd of Liberals sitting in their seats and listening to my every word and argument, to change their minds. However it appears to me that the best I can say is that they are dozing in their seats.
Let us look at the different aspects of the bill, the first being the process. The bill was to go to committee before second reading. The theory behind that was that the members of the committee could have some real input into the shaping of the bill.
I would venture to say that of all of the members in the House, including the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, I would place the member for North Vancouver even above him in terms of knowledge of electoral processes, general principles of democracy and how they can best be worked out.
It is incredible to me that when the committee came together, only ideas that came from the Liberal side were considered worthy of support and every idea that came from the opposition side was considered worthy of defeat.
We recognize that in a democracy the majority rules, and right now the Liberals have a majority in the House, that is at least on the roster if not presently in the House, but they do have the majority, which means that if a vote is held the majority carries the day. What I object to, though, strenuously, is the fact that in committee there is such an imposition of party discipline.
I have been here now for over 10 years. I was told by my predecessor, Mr. Brian O'Kurley, that the best work I would do would be in committee. When I was appointed to my first committee I looked forward to it. I felt that it was good because it was the place where we could have a democratic process. We could all give our points of view and try to persuade the people on the other side. I felt that being rationale people they would listen to my arguments and if my arguments were sufficiently persuasive that they would surely vote in favour of whatever I proposed.
In many committees over the last 10 years I have had to hang my head in democratic shame over what happens in this place because of the fact that the people with whom we are debating are not permitted to vote according to the persuasion of their mind or their conscience.
Canada Elections Act
March 26th, 2004 / 12:50 p.m.
Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-3 for the second time. I would like at this time to acknowledge my colleague, the member for North Vancouver, who has put a tremendous amount of effort and time into this complicated bill and has been one of those big sources of information to us in the caucus as well as being here in the House debating and laying out what exactly is wrong with the bill and how it should be addressed.
This morning when he spoke again on the bill, he again outlined our party's position. We are supporting the bill, but we know there are flaws in the bill and we are trying to highlight those flaws to make sure the message goes out about those flaws. However, because of the urgency of time, the election coming up, and the Supreme Court of Canada's decision hanging over our heads, we need to have this legislation go through.
We are supporting the bill, but as he pointed out, supporting it despite the fact that work done by him and through the committee was ignored, as was that of the other parties, which all agreed to the initial proposal of a 12 man rule. As was pointed out, the former minister who was looking after this bill was absolutely adamant about any changes to his bill. He stuck to his guns despite the fact that all information indicated that the Supreme Court of Canada would throw out this bill and ask Parliament to fix it. The minister refused all kinds of compromises on anything. As the member for North Vancouver pointed out, it was a total waste of money. The bill went to the Supreme Court and we are now back here debating the bill, with the one man rule as well as what a party should consist of.
Last time the government House leader spoke to the bill, he talked about the points. He said it strengthened democracy but he wanted to make sure there were more views and henceforth they brought in several administrative issues. But the essence of the bill still remains that it is to register political parties.
Registering political parties is a very important aspect. In a democracy, people express their points of view through a party system. That is the way they do it. Where there is no party system, then it is a different system, but nevertheless, parties are essential to democracy. Therefore, it is very important that we recognize how parties are registered and how they play an important part in one of the pillars of democracy, which is direct elections.
I agree that we do not want abuse of the political system. Otherwise we will lose the trust of Canadians. They will become detached. As it is, with the current state and the way things are going, Canadians are becoming pretty cynical about politicians anyway. I hear this all the time. People write to us and talk to us and tell us that politicians are not held in that high a degree of respect, not as they should be.
How did we politicians come to lose that high degree of respect we had in the 1950s compared to the level now in the 21st century, where we have lost so much common ground? It is because of facts like these: there are a lot of flaws in democracy, many politicians have not handled themselves well, promises were made but not kept, all these things. There is a democratic deficit, as the Prime Minister likes to say.
Over a period of time the PMO became the driving force in the Parliament of Canada. It was making the decisions and the decisions started away from the other parties in the House of Commons.
Two things have happened in our democracy for the erosion of confidence with the public. One was the prime minister getting the power and then making his members of Parliament irrelevant by asking them to vote based on party lines. We saw the last prime minister many times declare votes of confidence for the government when really they were not. It was his own political agenda that he wanted to push through, bypassing his own backbenchers who were elected by the people. His members did not want this, but they could not vote their conscience for the simple reason that the prime minister determined votes of confidence in the government.
These kinds of things have a tendency of eroding confidence and that erosion carries on. When I am campaigning in my riding, people ask questions about what I can say or do. They put high hopes in their elected officials, that we can stand in the Parliament of Canada and speak what they feel is important because they elected us.
Is that really what has happened? No. The current Prime Minister talks about the democratic deficit and how he will improve upon it. We will wait and see. Honestly, he is not connecting well with Canadians on democratic deficit. We know that. The government and the Prime Minister have miserably failed to send out the message to the people in my riding that they are dealing with the many issues of which they talk, such as the democratic deficit, bringing confidence to the government and transparency.
My other point is the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has become so bad that there is a real erosion of power of elected members. As a matter of fact I have noticed that, based on the government's track record and the prime minister's track record. They tell their deputy ministers not to listen to members of Parliament or not to listen to the members of the opposition.
I have met so many bureaucrats from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the Department of Foreign Affairs, most important from Revenue Canada and others. Their senior bureaucrats have the least amount of respect for members of Parliament, forgetting the fact that in a democracy it is the members of Parliament who are the ones who represent the people. The bureaucrat's job is to listen and implement policies that the members of Parliament make.
What do we get? I have numerous examples of bureaucracy such as Revenue Canada in Calgary. I have not had good experiences with the bureaucrats there. The immigration office in Calgary does not talk to us. When we talk to the bureaucrats there, they have a habit of saying that they will not answer our questions.
I wrote a letter to the immigration officers in Damascus. They have not bothered replying, yet their office said that they should reply to members of Parliament so members could represent their constituents. The constituents depend on us. They want answers and they look to us for answers on issues. Sure, there are laws. We are intelligent enough to figure out that the laws are there. If the laws are not complied with, we are here to change them.
What happens to members with the bureaucracy is a simple fact. I have had people walk into my offices and say that bureaucrats have told them to go talk to their member of Parliament on small issues, not them. After seven years of this experience, I am have become exceedingly sure that another problem that needs to be addressed is the huge bureaucracy and the way it ignores the wishes of the people.
If government ministers tell their deputy ministers to listen to them only, then that message goes to the other bureaucrats, and they in turn think of a local member of Parliament as a nobody. The bureaucrats we have receive instructions from ministers.
Lo and behold there has been a change of prime minister and many ex-ministers now find themselves on backbenches. They now will get the chance to experience what they have instituted.
In order for democracy to work well, a balance needs to be met. I am not saying there are no good bureaucrats. There are excellent bureaucrats as well. However, like anyone else in any profession there are bad apples who give them a bad name. We need to find a balance among Parliament which makes the laws, the judiciary and the bureaucracy to have an effective way of governing.
Let me get back to the point of political parties.
I am the senior critic for international cooperation. CIDA gives a lot of money to promote democracies around the world. On many occasions I have had the opportunity to go to these countries. I even had the opportunity to be an election observer in Chiapas. However, that was before a former minister for international cooperation sent her own buddies to be election observers, what is called blatant patronage.
Canada has tremendous experience in elections. Elections Canada is a highly respected institution which has helped upcoming democracies. Elections Canada helped in the elections in South Africa. It has a high degree of respect in that country. Other countries ask us how democracies should work and how political parties should work. We need to set examples.
It is important that we highlight the fact that in our own Parliament we can debate issues with each other. However, it is also important to admit the fact that there are flaws in our own Parliament. The House of Commons is the institution of democracy.
It is a privilege for me to stand here today, having come from Africa 25 years ago and having adopted Canada as my country. I am very proud of that fact. I am thankful to the people of Calgary East for giving me the opportunity to represent them in this great institution, the Parliament of Canada. When I go back to my constituency, people tell me they have confidence in me, and they want me to talk about issues that are of importance to them. That comes out of the great institution of democracy.
Canada has had over 100 years of democratic experience. We can go around the world and be proud of our democracy. However, we should always strive to improve our democracy. We need to improve. We do not need to erode the freedom of speech and the freedom we have in democracy. We must be absolutely vigilant to ensure that we never lose that.
The government wanted to include the 50 member rule in the legislation. It puzzles me why we would want to restrict that. I do not know why we would want to restrict freedom of speech by having the 50 member rule. Thank God for the Supreme Court's decision that numbers are not acceptable.
My party proposed the 12 member rule, and other parties agreed with that. It would have fulfilled many of the objectives in the bill. The bill indicates that there now has to be 250 members and three people sitting in office. These are administrative issues. The 12 member rule would have met all kinds of issues.
It is with great pride that I stand in the House of Commons and debate the issue of political parties, which are in essence one of the vehicles by which to express in the House the views of the people.
In conclusion, as members know, my party has just merged, and we had a great convention. There is a new party called the Conservative Party of Canada, to which people now can express their views in the forthcoming election. I agree with the Prime Minister when he said in Alberta that there were clear views and Canadians had a clear choice. Canadians will make the choice in the next general election as to who will lead because now they have a clear choice, and I am a very proud member of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Once more, I want to just mention the great job my colleague from North Vancouver has done on this bill.
Canada Elections Act
March 26th, 2004 / 12:15 p.m.
Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC
Mr. Speaker, retuning to the speech by my colleague for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, you know you can always count on me even if, despite your great care, you did not give me the floor to ask a final question during question period. Obviously I do not hold that against you. I know you follow the Standing Orders to the letter, and more power to you for that.
That said, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-3, the purpose of which is to reflect the provisions of the Figueroa ruling in the Canada Elections Act.
The Bloc Quebecois will be supporting this legislation, though I will point out immediately that we are motivated not so much by enthusiasm or support of all the provisions and implications of the bill, but rather by lack of choice. If we opposed it, and if an election were called this spring, it would mean we would end up with a legal vacuum at the end of June as far as the registration of political parties is concerned.
So this is an interim measure, as has already been clearly explained earlier today, and one that will likely be followed with another piece of legislation to definitively amend the Canada Elections Act.
My colleague from North Vancouver has made it clear that, whatever the government may say, this bill has been rushed through. Nevertheless, in committee, it was still possible to write a sunset clause into the legislation, and I think it is a fine idea.
Before getting into the heart of the matter, I would like to say a few words about the process. This process has shown that, despite repeated affirmations by the new Prime Minister and his government, whatever happens, with a Liberal government, it is same old, same old.
They promised us, with their hands on their hearts, that they would take the suggestions and proposals of members of parliament into consideration, listen to the opposition parties and to give MPs a greater role. But what really happened? As soon as the government House leader had an opportunity to introduce legislation, he sent it to committee before second reading, apparently so that we could really improve it.
But he rushed the committee's consideration of the bill, so much so that, at the first meeting, government members were ready to proceed with clause by clause study without even having heard a single witness. Does this really exemplify a political party that wants—or so it claims—to consult parliamentarians by taking pains to send this bill to committee before second reading, supposedly to be able to make amendments? The answer is no.
In fact, no substantial amendments were made to this bill. It came back in nearly identical form, despite the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer himself, who is giving a speech at the National Press Club as we speak, expressed a number of reservations with respect to the bills provisions.
We could have made the amendments necessary to satisfy the reservations of the Chief Electoral Officer, reservations we share, as it happens. Nevertheless, the government refused to consider our recommendations and our suggestions, and the bill came back as is.
The problem the Chief Electoral Officer has with this is that the bill contains provisions providing him with discretionary authority over determining whether each political party's purpose is to participate inpublic affairs and whether it is indeed pursuing the fundamental mission it has publicly assumed.
This officer of Parliament, who must be an independent and objective judge of the application of the Elections Act, would thus find himself with the right to interfere in the conduct of the internal affairs of political parties. Obviously, this raises a number of concerns on our part, as well as on the part of other parties in this House, and even government members.
We would have liked to have seen these provisions removed, as suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer. That, however, did not happen. The government wanted to proceed rapidly, for partisan and electoral purposes. The government is hoping for a spring election and it needed absolute assurance that Bill C-3 was going to be passed before the election call, in order to avoid the legal vacuum that would have resulted as soon as we got to the end of June.
This double talk from the government, and its specious attitude, as it claims, on the one hand, that it will consult Parliament more, while, on the other, it is tenaciously sticking to the old ways we had gotten used to under the previous Prime Minister, are regrettable.
This was obvious—and this is an aside prompted by the presence in this House of my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche—in the matter of the deportation of the Acadians, which I have been shepherding through this House since 1999.
That was to be expected from the previous government, with the atmosphere of confrontation that seemed to be the order of the day, although I was not in the least expecting it at first. I was, moreover, greatly surprised at the first speech given in this House on that subject by a colleague from the Liberal Party, that self-same member for Madawaska—Restigouche. The very negative attitude from the government party toward my motion was a great surprise to me.
However, although Motion No. 382 was, I admit, a bit out of date given the royal proclamation of last December, I was even more surprised to see that the government did not even bother to agree to speak to me, listen to me and discuss this with me, if only to reach an agreement so that, with the unanimous consent of the House, I could withdraw or amend the motion, and thereby favourably acknowledge the government's very honourable gesture of last December, which was the royal proclamation.
But no. They are saying, “There is no way we will agree to talk with that evil separatist!” So, the House is resigned to voting against a motion on the Acadian people in a year we should be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia.
They would rather vote against the motion by the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes than take the time to speak, even briefly, with him to reach a solution that is fair to everyone and prevent this motion on the Acadian people from being defeated in this House in the year of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia.
And they would have me believe that this government wants to enhance the role of parliamentarians, to really listen to parliamentarians and make a real effort to consider the opinion of the opposition parties. This is nonsense. There was more proof of this today with Bill C-3.
To avoid a legislative vacuum, we have to vote in favour of deficient and poorly crafted legislation. I feel like this is a case of déjà vu. It is Back to the Future .
I rose in this House during a previous review of the Canada Elections Act. I told the government House leader at the time that if the government did not change the 50-candidate requirement for political party registration in the Elections Act, that we would, in any event—in addition to having spent taxpayers' money to defend our case in court—eventually end up here in this House adopting new legislation to reflect the court rulings.
But no, defeat after defeat in the courts, the government went all the way to the Supreme Court only to be told what we already knew: that the current 50-candidate provisions in the Elections Act were unconstitutional.
Taxpayer dollars were spent when we already knew that we would eventually wind up back in this House changing these provisions of the Elections Act, but no one wanted to listen to the opposition. No one wanted to listen to us then, any more than they want to listen to us now.
This is deficient legislation, as I was saying, that we will have to support in order to avoid a legislative vacuum. Moreover, it is unfortunate that, for procedural reasons, at report stage, we were unable to address the motion by my colleague from Palliser, which seemed most desirable and legitimate.
Despite the arguments presented this morning by the government House leader, I still find that a political party, to be registered as such, must field at least two candidates. Otherwise you end up with an individual who runs for an election and agrees with himself.
A political party implies an association, a group. There cannot be a group with one individual. The provisions of the current bill state that there must be at least 250 members, and at least 3 party officers in addition to the party leader. However, this principle, the notion of association or group, also has to be reflected in the number of candidates the party fields during a general election.
I think that this point could easily have been defended before the courts. Indeed, it would have been preferable to be able to debate the amendment of the hon. member for Palliser and possibly adopt it. Unfortunately, because of technicalities and procedural details, we will not have had an opportunity to deal with this proposed amendment. The result is that the act remains unchanged, with the possibility for a party to present only one candidate.
This seems totally ridiculous, considering the very principle whereby a political party is an association of people, and that this association or group should have a number of candidates run for it in an election. In my mind, in the minds of Bloc Quebecois members—and, I would assume, in the minds of members from other parties in this House, including the New Democratic Party—it takes at least two candidates for a political formation to be recognized and registered as such.
This is another flaw in the proposed legislation. Despite the very legitimate points that I just mentioned, we will have no other option, as I said earlier, than to support this bill.
We will do so responsibly, while keeping in mind that if we did not support it, we would find ourselves in a very undesirable legal vacuum.
Again, we will support this motion, but we will not do so with great enthusiasm.
Canada Elections Act
March 26th, 2004 / 10:50 a.m.
Ted White North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, I think it was quite apparent in my speech that I feel some compassion for the Chief Electoral Officer who would be faced with the problem of trying to administer a bill that would not only put him in an almost partisan position of making judgments on people who are registering, but would also have him dealing with the very complicated administration of the bill in order to determine whether a person should be registered as a party.
Yes, the committee heard the concern that individuals could try to take advantage of the bill to get themselves into a position where they could become an entity that received political donations, with the very generous tax credits that go along with that, and that in time would be able to build quite a large organization whose purpose would be to get huge donations with nice tax rebates and everything little else. If they managed to run a few token candidates and got a percentage of the vote, then they would also get election rebates, which would help foster even more growth and fill their coffers.
Therefore, it is definitely a nightmare. It makes me think immediately of the other bill, Bill C-24, that we passed recently, under protest, which had to do with the registration of electoral district associations, the reporting of nomination contests and so on.
Just in talking with many of my colleagues around this place who have gone through nomination contests over the last couple of months, many of them are completely ignorant of the new rules and have already broken the law, inadvertently, in terms of what is required for their nominations.
I have discovered that many of my colleagues did not even know that they had to appoint an official agent, that they had to have a financial agent who opened a bank account and deposited all the money for the campaign into that account, that they could not spend without taking money out of that account to then spend it and that it had to be documented, that if any candidate took in more than $1,000 or spent more than $1,000, he or she will be required to file a report with Elections Canada.
I have come across a widespread ignorance of that provision in Bill C-24. Even though everyone on the government side stood and supported it, they obviously did not know what they were supporting. That certainly is an administrative nightmare for Elections Canada as well.
I heard an example today of a nomination contest in British Columbia where one of the candidates had a donor give money to the riding association, which then voted at its board meeting to send the money on to the candidate's financial agent. That cannot be done under Bill C-24. That is an illegal transfer of assets. The bill would require that money to be refunded.
It raises the interesting prospect that the riding association has to refund the money to the donor, but does the candidate have to refund it to the riding association? I do not know. I think once the Chief Electoral Officer or his department officials start to look at those records there will be quite a problem in sorting out that administrative mess.
In terms of the administrative problems in Bill C-3, there is much less of a problem than there is in Bill C-24. I would hate to be administering Bill C-24 right now, especially after 308 nominations for several parties. If we were to multiply that by at least three parties, we would have over 1,000 nomination contests. That will be an absolute mess.
It is supposed to be reported in 90 days. I suspect it will take 90 years to sort it out. Time will tell.
Canada Elections Act
March 26th, 2004 / 10:30 a.m.
Ted White North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, I was rather hoping there would be enough time for me to ask some further questions because the minister really did not answer my question, although he seemed quite happy to roll over and play dead for the Supreme Court of Canada, as if this place does not matter.
This is supposed to be the supreme legislative body in the whole country. We represent the people of Canada. We are supposed to be making the rules, not the Supreme Court. We had agreement from parties that they would drop the legal challenge and accept 12 as the number for a registered party. There is no excuse for it. It was pigheadedness and it wasted probably millions of taxpayer dollars fighting that in court.
The minister should be ashamed because he at the time did not support the amendment.
The minister claimed he sent the bill to committee before second reading because he wanted us to give it serious consideration and see what amendments we should make to make it workable and so on. Well, it was a complete sham.
We sent the bill to committee. The very first day that it appeared in committee it was ready for clause by clause. All the talk by the government about dealing with the democratic deficit is just nonsense. The very minister who is supposed to be in charge of dealing with the democratic deficit in this place, with his very first bill to committee, tried to rush it through so fast we could hardly see it go through the room.
We got to committee to discuss the bill. The minister appeared as a witness. One of my first questions to him was, had he made any of the parties affected by the bill aware of its existence. I do not have time to look in the exact transcript, but his answer was along the lines, of to his knowledge, no, the parties affected by the bill had not even been told of its existence. This was a bill that was to go through committee at super speed, go through the House at super speed and the people who would be affected by it did not even know it existed.
Right after the minister appeared as a witness, we on the official opposition side tried to get permission from the committee to bring forward other witnesses. The Liberals on committee tried to go straight to clause by clause with no witnesses, even though they had just heard that the parties affected by the bill did not even know it existed.
It was only after the official opposition threatened to filibuster the committee that an agreement was reached to have some witnesses, and then we only got two. They were not even going to agree to have the chief electoral officer appear. The person who had to administer the bill would not be a witness. It was only after the official opposition insisted that we got the chief electoral officer and Mr. Miguel Figueroa of the Communist Party who was the entity which got us into this pickle in the first place.
A few days later at committee we had those two witnesses before us. Of course Mr. Figueroa was completely surprised by the phone call he received him to appear before committee because, as the minister admitted, he had no idea that the bill even existed.
When I made some phone calls to some of the other parties, they did not know either. It was a huge surprise to them. Unfortunately, they were not given the courtesy of appearing before the committee, but we did hear from Mr. Figueroa and the chief electoral officer.
During the testimony given by the chief electoral officer, he mentioned a part of the bill that disturbed him a great deal. It was the part of the bill that would require him to make judgments about the appropriateness of a platform or policies advanced by political parties before he could deem it appropriate to register a particular party.
As Mr. Kingsley quite properly pointed out, it is entirely inappropriate for a non-partisan chief electoral officer to be making such judgments or to be put in the position of having to even consider making such judgments. He requested that the committee remove those sections of the bill. In fact he had even brought legal counsel with him who had taken the time to draft amendments which would achieve that goal so that we would not have to think about that and do it within the committee structure itself.
After some discussion about that possibility, Mr. Figueroa came forward to be a witness. He also expressed similar concerns about the bill and supported the amendments proposed by Mr. Kingsley.
Both the chief electoral officer and Mr. Figueroa suggested that instead of rushing the bill through committee, as we were doing, we should spend a little time to get it right. This is what is so appalling about the situation. The minister just stood not five minutes ago and said that the bill was not perfect. Yet he had told us we were taking it to committee before second reading so we could get it perfect. Once it got there, he was not interested in having us do anything with it. It is an extremely frustrating situation because we could have made the bill into good legislation that truly would have dealt with the problem and fixed it once and for all.
Frankly, the bill going through this place is no better than the pickle we were in before the bill was introduced. Yet we are between a rock and a hard place because we have to pass the bill before the end of next week. If we do not, the Canada Elections Act falls apart in June.
Because many sections of the Canada Elections Act are affected by the Supreme Court judgment in this case, the act will cease to function on what I think is June 27 of this year. We obviously have to pass this before the end of next week to keep the act intact. Otherwise we cannot go to an election, and I know the government wants to do that. What a nasty position we are in.
The government, in its haste, thought it could get this bill through the House really quickly, without amendments. It has tried to persuade us to put it through because the Canada Elections Act will fall apart. Frankly, it would have gone through the House a lot more quickly if the Liberals had been willing to listen to the amendments and suggestions that were brought to them. If they had been willing to hear a few more witnesses and if they had been truly willing to address the democratic deficit, as the minister keeps saying he wants to, we could have fixed the bill, got it perfect and it would have already been passed.
In committee I asked the chief electoral officer a question about of the Supreme Court ruling. Members will recall the Supreme Court ruled that sections of the elections act requiring the 50 candidate rule, that is a party to be registered must have 50 candidates in an election, were unconstitutional. My question to the chief electoral officer was that if an election was called in the spring, even if this bill had been passed, the Supreme Court had stayed the effect of its ruling until June 27.
Again the chief electoral officer is in another pickle because he has to work under an electoral law that has been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada, and does not become fixed until June. How will he rule on the registration of parties over the next few months? Does he rule using the defective law that has been ruled unconstitutional or does he rule based on good will, that is with the knowledge that this other bill will be coming down the pike, which will fix the problem?
How would you like to be in that position, Mr. Speaker, where you do not know whether to apply an unconstitutional law and try to enforce it or to apply a law that does not even exist yet and which you know will fix the problem? It is a horrible predicament for the chief electoral officer. Again, we could have fixed it in committee. We had the opportunity to properly amend the bill and the act, to fix it, and the minister was not interested.
The government would have us believe that this bill is simply about the definition and registration of political parties in Canada. As I have mentioned, the truth is it only exists due to a Supreme Court ruling that came about because of the meanspirited oppression of small parties by the government opposite. Bill C-3 is designed to put the government into compliance with a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. It was handed down on June 27, 2003.
It is important to note that it was a unanimous decision. There was no hesitation in terms of the Supreme Court ruling that what the government was trying to do with its 50 candidate rule was completely anti-democratic and unconstitutional.
The court ruled that the 50 candidate threshold for registration of a political party was unconstitutional and that fact had been obvious to just about everyone except the government. Maybe it really knew, but it wanted to keep that rule in place as long as it possibly could to prevent competition from smaller parties. That rule greatly affected us in the early days of the growth of the Reform Party.
As the House knows, I am one of the original members of Parliament elected under the Reform banner. In 1992 and 1993, as we were building for a possible 1993 election, we knew we would be penalized greatly. We knew we would not even to have our name on the ballot if we could not get 50 candidates to run across the country. I know the Bloc also was being targeted at the time because there was a growth of the Bloc in Quebec and it perhaps would not be able to get 50 candidates on the ballot either. That was an attempt by the established parties to prevent any threat from the growth of a smaller party that may affect them.
Luckily, we were able to build support regardless and irrespective of the 50 candidate rule and that is why we are in the House today as official opposition and perhaps now about to take the government benches in the next couple of months.
I guess the real shocker for the government was when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down sections of the Elections Act. However, instead of saying that perhaps the number 12 or some other number would be satisfactory, it said that one person constituted a party. The government was complaining when the court in Ontario ruled that two persons was a party. That was the basis, I believe, for the amendment that was being proposed today by the NDP. In Ontario the government, after having had the chance to accept the 12 candidate rule, which it rejected, had an opportunity to accept a two candidate rule from the Ontario court ruling, but no. Pigheaded as it was, on it went spending other people's money to challenge it in court until it ended up with a one candidate rule. What a ridiculous situation we find ourselves in that one person constitutes a political party. I guess they reap what they sow.
What the government is trying to do in Bill C-3, which was formerly Bill C-51 prior to prorogation, is to provide some additional conditions for registration of a party to try to get around the potential problems that can occur if just anyone walks in off the street and registers as a political party in order to get all the benefits of tax receipts for donations and rebates if they run an election, and so on.
The government has tried to increase the amount of bureaucracy that goes along with registering a party to counter this thing that only one person constitutes a party. One of the bits of bureaucracy it has put in there is the one I just mentioned a few minutes ago, which requires the Chief Electoral Officer to determine whether or not a party is a political entity based on its platform and its policies.
To try to deal with the problem that way is really inappropriate. I feel that it is a real pity that the government is proceeding with this. The Chief Electoral Officer warned that his office could be open to a legal challenge, to lawsuits, because of rulings he makes under clauses of the bill. Someone who is dissatisfied with a ruling that he has made will obviously take it to court and we may end up mired in years and years of court challenges again, all the way to the Supreme Court, based on this ridiculous clause that the Chief Electoral Officer should be partisan in some way and make judgments about political parties coming for registration.
The bill also requires that the party must have three officers, in addition to its leader, must have appointed a chief agent and an auditor, and must have a total of 250 electors who are members of the party. Those electors must sign declarations confirming their support.
The leader of the Communist Party, who started the original legal challenge, when he came before the committee as a witness, asked us if we would consider lowering that threshold of 250 members down to 125. His argument I think from memory was based on just the logistics of trying to get people across the country to sign declarations and that it would be a lot easier if it were a smaller number.
I do not have any strong feelings about that particular aspect but I did want to get it on the record because it was presented by a witness to the committee.
In addition to the various requirements for registration, part of the ruling by the Supreme Court was that the assets of a suspended party no longer needed to be liquidated and paid to the Receiver General. When we think about that, what an evil provision that was in the previous part of the Elections Act. If a party could not run 50 candidates in a general election it was required to sell all of its assets and turn them over to the Receiver General.
That was a mean-spirited type of law that was aimed clearly at the Reform Party of Canada and the Bloc Quebecois in 1992-93 to try to take away their ability to fight a subsequent election if they were not able to get 50 candidates in that 1993 election. What a mean-spirited attempt to keep control right there on the government side.
Luckily, the Supreme Court saw through that mean-spirited attempt to suppress smaller parties and eliminated that. Small parties no longer need to sell off all their assets and turn them over to the Receiver General if they cannot run 50 candidates in an election.
I should point out that we on this side of the House have consistently supported a lower registration threshold. As I mentioned, I have tried consistently, in my role as critic for these electoral issues over the last decade, to get the government to accept the number 12 as being the appropriate number but without success to date. Perhaps when we come back here after an election and I am the minister, we will actually get it done, but we will see whether that actually happens.
I would like to give a bit of history about the way the registration of political parties does work under the Canada Elections Act. The registration process was first advocated in 1966 by the commission on election expenses, known as the Barbeau committee. It concluded that political parties should be recognized as legal entities to encourage the development of the democratic system.
It is interesting that before 1966, the Communist Party, and anybody who just wanted to get a few people together and call themselves a political party, actually did not even need to register anyway. That is an interesting observation. It is only since 1966 that it has been necessary.
In 1970, rules for the registration of political parties were introduced in the Canada Elections Act and political parties that fulfilled certain administrative requirements were admitted. In 1974, the Election Expenses Act introduced spending limits for registered political parties and candidates.
That leads me into an interesting sidebar which is the spending by third parties. We are currently waiting for another ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada which I think will shake the government once again because it deals with spending by third parties. I have no doubt that members are well aware that the present leader of our party was involved in the challenge by the National Citizens' Coalition of the government's right to control the spending of third parties.
I would confidently predict that the Supreme Court will strike down that part of the Elections Act. It has been struck down at every other court level. It has been struck down three times in Alberta and twice I believe in British Columbia. It has been struck down in Ontario and it is going the way of the dodo. When that happens, what a mess it will make of the Elections Act because it will blow wide open all the controls on expenses that we as candidates have during an election campaign. I am not sure how many of my colleagues are ready for that eventuality, but we will be faced with a situation where the cap will be blown right off the top of our expenditure limitations.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak today at third reading of Bill C-3. I look forward to answering any questions that come my way.
Canada Elections Act
March 26th, 2004 / 10:20 a.m.
Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC
Mr. Speaker, let me go directly to the substance of the matter and not comment the political allegations made about my predecessors or myself.
On the substance, I believe the issue is clear. A proposal to recognize a 12 candidate party would have been rejected by the Supreme Court. The problem would not have been solved.
My problem and our problem, as a democratic society, is not the fact that Mr. Figueroa made a complaint and that the matter was brought before the Supreme Court. The question that was raised is the substantial question as to how to define a political party in Canada.
The Supreme Court said very clearly that the number of candidates cannot be an objective or a factor in defining a political party. Whether one, two or 50 candidates are proposed, it is not the number of candidates that must be the determining factor in the existence of a political party.
As for the allegation made by my colleague about an agreement with Figueroa, I am sorry, but it seems to me that an agreement between an MP and a complainant in a court case has less weight than a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Concerning the second allegation, I think a very clear distinction must be made between a political party and an independent candidate.
A political party under Bill C-3 would need to have 250 members that support registration of the party. It must have three officers in addition to the leader, in other words it cannot be a person alone. The party which is registering implies that the party accepts the burdens of reporting quarterly and annually which independent candidates do not have to face. The bill therefore makes a difference between independent candidates and a registered party. Once this is established, then in this case every individual concerned by the application of the bill will have to assume responsibility for the job they have to do.
Canada Elections Act
March 26th, 2004 / 10:10 a.m.
Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to begin debate at third reading stage on Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.
Bill C-3 responds to the Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case, just in time for us to keep our electoral system fully operational. In the Figueroa case, the court determined that the 50-candidate requirement was in violation of the charter because it is detrimental to small parties. However, the court gave Parliament one year, that is until June 27, 2004, to change the legislation. Therefore, we must act now in order to meet that deadline.
Bill C-3 replaces the existing 50-candidate requirement for political party registration with a new purpose-based definition of “political party”. It also introduces new rules concerning registration and accountability, and additional measures to protect the integrity of the political financing system.
In developing these measures, we have taken into account the fact that parties must have a considerable degree of autonomy in order to perform their essential role in Canadian society. At the same time, of course, it is important to ensure transparency and accountability. This is a delicate balance that must be achieved to allow the parties to develop without excessive regulation, while making certain that they do not the system and that they remain accountable.
Bill C-3 makes it possible to achieve this. Bill C-3 may not be perfect and is not intended to be a definitive solution, but we think it is fair and balanced, while meeting the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court.
If I may, I would like to speak briefly about the issues raised during the debate on this bill. There were questions about the fairness of the proposed measures. For example, while recognizing that a requirement to have 50 candidates was too high, some people wondered whether the new rule requiring only one candidate to be presented was sufficient. These are legitimate questions.
I will reply that the Supreme Court was very clear: imposing candidate thresholds is not an appropriate way to evaluate party legitimacy, and thresholds should not be used to exclude any voices from the political debate. The court's reasoning is convincing.
Canada is a plural society in which diverse opinions are reflected. Our system for the registration of political parties ought to be open to this reality. Therefore it follows that we must seek other ways to define which entities deserve to be recognized as political parties. That is what the bill will allow.
In this respect, the need to respond to the Supreme Court's decision in the Figueroa case has given us an opportunity, a chance to rethink the party registration system so that it will be more accessible to legitimate parties, while preventing abuses by those who are not. This approach is in line with government objectives in the framework for action on democratic reform.
The growth in the number of political parties resulting from this new requirement that only one candidate need be presented will open a broader range of perspectives. More choice for the voters should result in a situation where Canadians are more interested in the political process. This system could thus make a contribution to efforts aimed at halting the decline in voter turnout.
That is particularly true of young Canadians and groups where participation is low. The existence of more parties, and thus a wider range of viewpoints, should incite the parties to review their traditional approaches and take more interest in the people overlooked by the system.
While I strongly believe that Bill C-3 strikes an appropriate balance and is the best solution to the Figueroa ruling at the present time, it is not the end of the discussion.
The issues raised are of great importance and legitimate concerns have been expressed. This is why the government amended the bill to add a two year sunset clause. This ensures that the issues addressed by the bill will be revisited in the near future. In fact when Bill C-3 was introduced, I wrote to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs inviting it to undertake, after passage of the bill, a review of the wider implications of the Figueroa ruling and other aspects of the electoral process. The bill provides us with a bridge to that broader review.
Electoral reform is critical to the continued strengthening of our democracy. Parliamentarians are at the heart of this debate and I look forward to the committee's views. I have asked it to bring forward recommendations in the form of draft legislation within one year. This will allow further study of the issues surrounding party registration and, combined with the sunset clause, will ensure that parliamentarians can continue to examine these matters and will have the opportunity to suggest refinements and reforms. At the same time, the Supreme Court's deadline will be met.
The bill that is before us today is critical. We need to ensure that the Canada Elections Act remains operational after June 27. We also need to ensure that parties are genuine and accountable, and that our electoral system is not open to abuse. Bill C-3 achieves these goals in a fair and balanced way. It respects the fact that political parties are on the front line of our democratic system and must be allowed to develop and compete openly and operate freely. At the same time, the bill ensures that our electoral system remains fair, accountable and transparent to all, and that it is not open to abuse.
While not the final word, Bill C-3 strikes this balance in a way that satisfies our twin imperatives. It meets the June 27 deadline while guaranteeing an ongoing role for parliamentarians in examining these matters in the future.
I would like to appeal to all my colleagues to support this bill, which is extremely important to all of us and to our democracy.