An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (appointment of returning officers)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Michel Guimond  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 18, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

November 18th, 2005 / 12:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 52nd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding its order of reference of Wednesday, June 22, in relation to Bill C-312, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (appointment of returning officers).

The committee has considered Bill C-312 and reports the bill with amendments.

I also have other reports from the same committee. We have been very busy. I have the honour to present the 53rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding its order of reference of Tuesday, October 18, in relation to Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

The committee has considered Bill C-63 and reports the bill with one amendment.

In addition, I have the honour to present the fifty-first report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the question of privilege relating to an inquiry conducted by the ethics commissioner.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

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

Françoise Boivin Liberal Gatineau, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

October 17th, 2005 / 1 p.m.
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Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

October 17th, 2005 / 12:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

June 22nd, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

It being 5:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-312 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

PrivilegeOral Question Period

June 20th, 2005 / 3:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, during debate on private members' business on Monday, May 9, the member for Montmorency--Charlevoix--Haute-Côte-Nord, while presenting examples during debate on his bill, Bill C-312, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, appointment of returning officers, which we will be voting on tomorrow, made reference to my riding of Ahuntsic and stated that:

In another riding, it was discovered that the returning officer was the president of the Liberal association for the riding. It is time somebody woke up. This is Earth calling.

That is inappropriate language.

The returning officer is the president of the Liberal riding association in Ahuntsic.

This matter was only brought to my attention last Monday when the member for Calgary West, while referring to the May 9 presentation by the member for Montmorency--Charlevoix--Haute-Côte-Nord, stated:

In the member's last presentation he spoke about how even current presidents of Liberal riding associations have actually been appointed to be the returning officers in their ridings. He listed specifically my riding, the riding of Ahuntsic.

While I support the aim of the member opposite's motion, I have to repeat the remarks of my colleague from Gatineau in the same debate, “We must not get too carried away on this point. People's reputations are at stake”. This is something the opposition is continually forgetting.

Second, she said that even Mr. Kingsley, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, had said, in his testimony before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, that he would, in the end, keep almost all of the incumbent returning officers if he had the authority to hire or dismiss them.

Mr. Speaker, I call on you to ask the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord and the member for Calgary West to withdraw their comments, since they are totally erroneous.

Let me be clear. The facts are the Ahuntsic returning officer did not hold the position of riding president at the time of his nomination and therefore, by consequence, definitely did not hold the position at the time of his appointment.

Again we continue to malign reputations in the House without any consideration for the truth and only for political expediency. In fact, it has become the sport of choice of both the Bloc and the Conservatives.

As such, I respectfully request that the members for Montmorency--Charlevoix--Haute-Côte-Nord and Calgary West be asked to withdraw their specific comments which are untrue.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

June 15th, 2005 / 7 p.m.
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Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, for starters I would like to thank all my colleagues who addressed the House, as well as the people watching on the parliamentary channel regarding Bill C-312, which aims to modernize, if not completely reform, the process for appointing local returning officers. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all my colleagues on both sides of the House because, as we have seen, the members of the governing party have decided to support this bill.

I would like to say that this is a great source of pride for the Bloc Québécois. In proposing this bill, I was just acting as the spokesperson for what has been a traditional Bloc demand ever since 1993.

More recently, during the last election campaign in May-June 2004, our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, promised repeatedly that as soon as Parliament resumed, the Bloc Québécois would include this review of the appointment procedure in its parliamentary priorities, the same as the employment insurance fund or other traditional Bloc demands. I think that in the vote on this bill, which we are looking forward to, I cannot allow myself to feel overjoyed. I can only go by what has been said on both sides of the House.

Members from all parties have realized that the current procedure for appointing returning officers is no longer acceptable in 2005. This is an archaic procedure whereby the governor in council—that is, the cabinet, which means the government—makes patronage appointments. If hon. members need convincing, they need only spend some time this summer looking over the resumes of the 308 current holders of the office of returning officer to be convinced. The vast majority are political, patronage appointments.

What we are proposing through this bill is to have an open and transparent procedure allowing the best candidates for the position to apply in response to a public notice published in newspapers. Nothing will be done on the sly. The candidates will be able to present their credentials to a selection committee and, later on, be appointed as returning officers.

Members understand that this bill transcends political partisanship because, in previous general elections, it has become evident that the incompetence of returning officers often interferes with the free and democratic election process in a general election.

I will just give once more the example I used during the first hour of debate. When an advance poll was held in Baie-Saint-Paul, in my riding, the returning officer ran out of ballots. Between six and ten voters were denied their democratic right to vote. I cannot tell whether or not they planned to vote for me because of the secrecy of the ballot. At any rate, the candidates running for the other parties were also penalized because of a totally unacceptable situation where voters were unable to cast their ballots. If they wanted to vote in advance, it was simply because they were not going to be available to do so on June 28.

Again, I do hope that, when the time comes to vote on this bill, hopefully before Parliament recesses for the summer, members from all sides will vote for this bill, so that it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to ensure that the procedure for appointing returning officers is truly reformed and changed, in the best interests of democracy.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

June 15th, 2005 / 6:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate at second reading of Bill C-312, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (appointment of returning officers).

I would like to applaud the initiative of my friend, the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord and Bloc Québécois whip. I would like to congratulate him on this private member's bill, which aims to put an end to partisan appointments of returning officers.

It seems to me that there are three key elements in this bill. First, it would ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada supervises the appointment of returning officers. Second, the candidates would have to demonstrate their competence, their merits and their ability to carry out this job before being appointed. Third, it would strengthen the authority of the Chief Electoral Officer in his or her relations with the returning officers.

These three elements follow up on the last report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, in which he lamented his inability to ensure quality, uniform service all across Canada because returning officers are appointed by the government.

That being said, I know that my colleague based his ideas on the foundation of the legislation in Quebec where the process is more open and transparent.

There are three steps in the selection process. The first step involves completing a registration form. Those candidates whose experience is deemed relevant are asked to take a written exam, which constitutes the second step. During the third step, the candidates who ranked first, second and third at the end of the second step are invited to take an oral exam. The oral exam unfolds in the presence of a committee made up of three members, one of whom is not a staff member of the Chief Electoral Officer. The candidate who ranks first after the three steps in the selection process is appointed returning officer.

In the weeks following his appointment, the returning officer must appoint an assistant returning officer according to the rules set by the Chief Electoral Officer. A training program intended for new returning officers is given to him so that he can acquire the knowledge and skills required to perform his duties.

Returning officers must have appropriate knowledge of the characteristics of their electoral divisions in order to provide customized management of electoral events. In particular, they must consider the following factors: the types of regions and population (rural, semi-rural, urban), the size of the electoral division, the number of municipalities, the number of candidates and political parties, the availability of premises in which to set up their main offices, revision offices and polling stations, as well as communication methods.

So, returning officers are selected according to an open and transparent process.

It is a completely different story on the federal level. When it comes to appointing federal returning officers, subsection 24(1) of the Canada Elections Act states that the governor in council shall appoint the returning officers. Elections Canada refers us to the office of the Prime Minister for more information.

So, the appointment process is unclear, which leads us to doubt the quality of the individuals appointed to fulfill this extremely important task in the democratic process. There is no open competition, no opportunity for interested candidates to demonstrate their qualifications, and the appointment is not based on criteria of qualifications or skills. It has little to do with a candidate's merit. In short, appointments are made on a purely partisan basis.

The present chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, recommends modernization of the electoral process. During one of his appearances before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, he made the following criticisms: appointees do not have enough information in advance on what is expected of them; the current arrangements do not allow him to deal effectively with failure to perform or poor performance by returning officers. While he has the power to give executory instructions to the returning officers, he cannot impose disciplinary measures on returning officers or revoke their appointments for not following his instructions. Only the governor in council can revoke and replace returning officers.

Control over appointments by the party in power gives the impression of partiality. This is why the initiative by the Bloc Québécois whip is supported by the other opposition parties, which makes us very proud. To put it succinctly, these partisan appointments must stop.

I would also draw the attention of the House to the report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 38th general election held on June 28, 2004. It says on the first page:

From this election we can already draw certain conclusions, which hold lessons important to our pursuit of improvement in the electoral process. In particular, it remains difficult to provide service of uniform quality across the country when the returning officers appointed for this purpose by the Governor in Council are not selected on the basis of merit and still less, it seems, on any test of their ability to carry out their duties. The work of the Chief Electoral Officer becomes all the more challenging when some returning officers do not feel obliged to respect his authority because they owe their appointment to another body.

This is an eloquent statement, and is sufficient in itself to encourage all members to support Bill C-312.

Since the present partisan appointment system makes federal returning officers more beholden to the political parties in power than to the chief returning officer; since in Quebec candidates for returning officer have to go through a public and open competition to obtain an appointment; since there has been legislation in place in Quebec since 1980; and since the transparency of the Quebec electoral system is recognized world wide, the Bloc Québécois renews its commitment to do away with the partisan appointment of returning officers by the Liberal federal government.

I therefore call upon all my honourable colleagues in this house to give Bill C-312 if not unanimous, at least majority support.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

June 15th, 2005 / 6:40 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord for introducing Bill C-312 on the appointment of returning officers.

Today, in 2005, in the name of democracy, it is time to take a step forward in eliminating the partisanship that comes with the government choosing returning officers. Even though we live in a democratic country, it is the government that decides on the appointment of returning officers.

There is a need for transparency and the best way to achieve that would be to support our colleague's bill. This bill talks about the appointment of the returning officer by means of an open competition for which eligibility is limited to persons who are qualified as electors and who are domiciled in the electoral district for which the appointment is being made, or domiciled in an adjacent electoral district but able to perform the functions of a returning officer as satisfactorily as if they were domiciled in the electoral district for which the appointment is being made. It is a question of qualification. Nonetheless, there is an open competition, and there is also an election involving several political parties. The political party calling the election absolutely must not use partisanship in appointing its returning officers. To be frank, we discussed this in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This is not a pleasant topic to discuss. The returning officer might not like a certain candidate, which adds to the pressure on the candidates.

All the political parties are present in this House, and at last the Liberals say they are prepared to support the bill and will try to improve it. Any bill has the potential to be improved in committee and then sent back to the House, and I strongly support that.

However, in 2005 it is unacceptable for one political party to be able to decide who the returning officers will be. This is no longer acceptable in a democracy. What we want in Canada is transparency. We want this to be a place where people can participate and feel comfortable doing so, where candidates are nominated because they are qualified, and not just because they are friends of the Liberals, or another political party in power. Such things must stop.

Now we have Bill C-312 on the appointment of returning officers, who would thus be appointed by the Chief Eelectoral Officer. It is important that there be an open process as well as a mechanism for challenging it. At the moment that is not possible. No one has the right to say a word.

Let us look at the riding boundaries in New Brunswick for instance. The former minister of labour from Moncton suggested the names of two people as members of the electoral boundaries commission. They were accepted. This did not go over well with the people affected by boundary changes, as was the case for Acadie—Bathurst. What is more, the chair of the commission was the father-in-law of the member for Beauséjour—imagine that. That is totally unacceptable.

I had no qualms about contacting the media to tell them that the chair and all the commissioners should resign because of a conflict of interest.

The same thing could happen here and does. It is totally unacceptable. We are in a democratic country and the Prime Minister, through his party's organizations, appoints persons in Elections Canada to run elections, to represent all political parties so that we may run as candidates without restriction and be treated fairly.

I want to clarify this. At home, the returning officer is someone respectable. We are lucky. I have never felt he was playing politics. I can say this publicly.

However, imagine that a person who has been appointed decides to do just that. It has happened here in certain places, in certain provinces and in certain ridings. I cannot begin to imagine how I would feel as a candidate, if I knew that the returning officer was appointed by a political party and was partisan, as was the case with the New Brunswick electoral boundaries commission. This sort of thing must stop. The government has to put systems in place to prevent partisanship. People detest it. It is like blackmail. We do not need it in Canada.

At the outset of the debate, the Liberals said they were prepared to vote against Bill C-312. I could not understand why. It was as if I were taking something away from a child. You go for it, but the child does not want to give it up. It is as if we were trying to get something from the Liberals. Why do they feel so attached to the idea of appointing returning officers? Is it because the party wants to do favours for its friends?

During the first two hours of the debate, they saw that now, in 2005, they had no arguments left. It is time for them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Canadians have lost respect for this type of argument and procedure. They have had enough partisanship.

We live in a democratic country and we want things to be done democratically. We want people with this much responsibility to be chosen for their qualifications and impartiality. We do not want them to be aligned with one side or the other.

The candidates have to feel comfortable with the process. They should be able to say they know this person well, that the person was chosen by several people during an open competition and that everyone is aware of what is happening. Everyone had the opportunity to apply to be a returning officer.

When the person is selected through an established system, people can then say they knew why it was set up. In addition, if that person does not accept their responsibilities and does not do a good job, they can be dismissed without having to ask the Prime Minister of Canada or a political party to do so, since that person does not represent a political party, but the democracy of our country. That is what is important.

That is why the New Democratic Party will be in favour of Bill C-312 from our Bloc Québécois colleague. Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, even came to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to say that it made no sense in a country like Canada for a political party to appoint these people. Elections Canada needs to have control over this, but with an open system. The Chief Electoral Officer should not have to choose the candidate himself. That is a closed system. We want a system open to all Canadians.

Such people should be chosen for their qualifications.

In short, we support the bill.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

June 15th, 2005 / 6:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy this evening to speak in this second hour of the debate to Bill C-312, introduced by the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, whom we should congratulate on this initiative.

At the present time, the appointment of returning officers is rather archaic. It goes back virtually to the beginnings of Confederation. An advantage was built in, at the beginning of election campaigns, for the outgoing government. Ultimately, the fact that the Prime Minister decides the timing of elections is the same kind of advantage. In actual practice, this has been unhealthy for democracy. Even though most of the people who fill this office want to act very properly, in actual practice, there is a basic problem with justice or the appearance of justice.

I remember the first time that I was a candidate in 1993 and was told about the returning officer at the time. People say, obviously, that this person is appointed by the government in place and is necessarily partisan. This creates an initial inequality. The situation must definitely be corrected.

Not only the Bloc Québécois says this. We are very happy today to see that the government has been persuaded by the arguments of the Bloc Québécois and especially the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord. A little while ago, a government representative told us that it would vote in favour of this bill in principle. We are very pleased. It seems that now all the members of this House will be in favour of the bill.

One of the main arguments is that the federal election process clearly lags behind what is done in most of Canada, and especially the process adopted in Quebec 15 years ago already. There is a very rigorous process for selecting returning officers. There are steps with evaluations and recommendations. Then there is a process for training these people. As a result, we have eliminated the problem encountered on the federal level that was clearly outlined in the first hours of the debate by the member who introduced this motion. There is a list of unacceptable situations and behaviours engaged in by returning officers, often unwittingly, but which indicate a lack of knowledge that must be remedied very quickly.

The purpose of the bill before us is to set up a system that will give more credibility to returning officers who will be able to act in full knowledge of their mandate, which will be given to them not by the government calling the election, but by the Chief Electoral Officer. The result will be a greater level of impartiality than we have today.

The Chief Electoral Officer has repeatedly stated that he was in a very difficult, almost unbearable, situation. He does not appoint the returning officers. When the person does not perform the task properly and decides simply to disregard the Chief Electoral Officer, the latter has no recourse. In such a situation, the Chief Electoral Officer has absolutely no power to conduct the electoral process in a satisfactory manner.

We saw this in a number of ridings. At the start of the election, there were some stumbles in the appointment process that required many adjustments and caused a great deal of frustration among the various political parties.The threat of partisanship always hung over the heads of those performing these tasks, like the sword of Damocles.

The purpose of today's bill is to resolve this problem. It would be a major improvement to Canada's current democratic system. I am sure that in the very short term, starting with the next election or the one following, if we manage to adopt this new method, there will be an improvement in the quality of work done and the quality of the relationship between the candidates and the returning officer, who will be mandated directly by the Chief Electoral Officer.

This way, the Chief Electoral Officer could be involved in all the usual stages of personnel management: overseeing the selection of returning officers; ensuring that they are competent; ensuring they get any training they lack; having their work regularly evaluated to ensure they are doing their work properly.

It would all be done in the context of a more standard and fair relationship between employer and employee. At the moment, once they are appointed, returning officers cannot be relieved of their duties, except by the governor in council. As I said earlier, the Chief Electoral Officer is thus put in an untenable situation that could lead to significant abuse.

In the opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer, “The current system of appointment creates several difficulties”. Here is what he thinks:

Appointees are often not given enough advance information about the nature of the work expected of them.

Failure to perform or poor performance by a returning officer cannot effectively be addressed under the current system.

I mentioned this a few minutes ago.

Returning officers are instrumental in delivering elections in their electoral district. In light of this important role, candidates have raised concerns in the past that the control of the governing party over the appointment process gives rise to perceptions of bias.

It is not a Bloc member saying this. These are submissions by the Chief Electoral Officer himself. He wants to see a change similar to what the Bloc member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord is proposing. We must follow up on this recommendation. We must ensure that this amendment will be in force before the next election. By doing so, Canada's electoral system will take an important step forward that will allow Canada to join a number of other provinces, namely Quebec, that have already done so.

We saw everything that came out of the sponsorship scandal, and how the 1997 and 2000 elections unfolded, particularly in Quebec. As a result, the system needs to be cleaned up even more. This bill is one of the best tools to do that.

We must ensure the impartiality and competence of returning officers, those who do the job, and of the candidates and political parties involved in the election. Our system must not only be fair, it must also appear to be sufficiently fair.

For all these reasons, we feel it is extremely important for the House to overwhelmingly support this bill. We have already been told that the government has accepted the substantive argument on the principle. We hope that all the other parties and members of the House will vote in favour of this motion.

The sponsor of the motion is open to suggestions and comments in committee in order to improve the bill. However, we must respect the principle of the bill.

Our electoral process must serve as an example instead of being an anachronism based on old biased rules that no longer have a place in our democratic system.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

June 15th, 2005 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-312, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, concerning the appointment of returning officers.

We have followed this debate since the first hour of second reading with great interest. Despite some differences, it is clear that there are fundamental points of agreement.

I would like to re-stress, though, the fact that in the context of hiring returning officers everyone must understand that an open competition within the meaning of this act is not interpreted in such a manner as to undermine the value of experience in election campaigns as well as local riding experience. As the royal commission noted, such experience is a legitimate indication of competence for the position.

Thus, it would be unfortunate if a returning officer were selected in a fashion that would give preference to hiring individuals without any political experience and with no prior participation in election campaigns. In my view, the consequences of this would be very serious.

However, we do know that initially the government had reservations regarding this bill and we now believe that it would be premature to make changes one at a time without a fuller understanding of the larger picture.

There would appear to be a firm consensus among the parties represented in this House that the appointment system can be improved by ensuring greater transparency and professionalism and by basing selection on competence.

Having heard the views expressed in the first hour of the second reading debate, we are now faced with the fact that disagreement primarily concerns the bill's specific provisions rather than its main principles.

For this reason, my fellow government members and I consider that the principle of the bill should be supported. This does not mean that there will be no objections to the bill's specific provisions. In the government's view, it would be preferable to amend the bill in committee in order to correct certain shortcomings.

In conclusion, in the short time that I have available I wish to repeat that the principles of transparency, professionalism and selection based on competence are crucial to ensuring an effective electoral administration process.

However, the adoption of a new system must undergo rigorous review to rule out any potential unwanted, unanticipated effects. For example, as I mentioned earlier, it should at least be necessary to ensure that an open competition under the Public Service Employment Act does not undermine the value, first and foremost, of prior participation in an election campaign, which is nevertheless relevant experience for a returning officer. This is but one example of the consideration that must be taken into account at the committee stage.

Moreover, the standing committee will work to amend the bill to give greater effect to its key underlying principles: transparency, professionalism and selection based on competence.

Ultimately, we want to ensure that the various aspects of our electoral process, whether it be political financing, registration of political parties or the appointment of returning officers, meet the needs of Canadians and reflect our vision of a modern democracy. That is consistent with the spirit of democratic renewal. That is why I support the bill at this second reading stage.

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

June 6th, 2005 / 3:40 p.m.
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Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, you will see as I briefly go through these comments exactly how incisive they are.

I would like to draw to your attention the two reasons why the government believes that Bill C-280 requires a royal recommendation.

My committee colleagues are currently engaged in discussing the advantages of the bill. My objective is simply to clarify the procedural and constitutional issues relating to royal recommendation.

First of all, this bill would create a new employment insurance fund and set out the amounts to be paid into it. Section 71 and subsection 72(a) of the Employment Insurance Act stipulate that the moneys paid into the EI account are part of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

All of the money currently allocated to EI is virtual. When contributions are made, they become part of general revenue, and the same amount is credited to the EI account.

No amount is actually transferred to an EI account, however, which is why this is a “virtual fund”. When there is an EI expenditure, particularly for a pilot project, it is covered by general revenue and debited from the EI fund.

There is no transfer from the EI account, because there is no money in it. The actual funds are integrated with general revenue. Over time, the EI fund eventually reports some figure which represents the current balance of transactions—annual surplus or, as used to be the case, annual deficit—but this is also a virtual amount.

Section 72 would make it possible for moneys allocated to the Consolidated Revenue Fund under EI to be paid to legal entities other than Her Majesty. I would invite you, Mr. Speaker, to consult section 23 of the Human Resources Development Act.

This represents a potentially significant change in how these amounts are managed and disbursed. Subsection 72(2) requires the amounts in the account to be deposited with a financial institution. Subsection 72(3) provides that the commission is to manage the amounts paid into this account “in the best interests of contributors and beneficiaries” as opposed to the more general public interest. Subsection 72(3) would also require the commission to deposit the amounts with private financial institutions. Section 73 would allow these amounts to be used by Her Majesty subject to a decision of the commission to extend a loan and would be subject to the payment of interest as rates established by the commission. Currently, the commission has no role in such use and the Minister of Finance decides what, if any, interest is to be paid per section 76 of the Employment Insurance Act.

Section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867, provides:

It shall not be lawful for the House of Commons to adopt or pass any Vote, Resolution, Address, or Bill for the Appropriation of any Part of the Public Revenue, or of any Tax or Impost, to any Purpose that has not been first recommended to that House by Message of the Governor General in the Session in which such Vote, Resolution, Address, or Bill is proposed.

Section 2 of the Financial Administration Act defines the word “appropriation” as meaning “any authority of Parliament to pay money out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund”.

Erskine May, at page 765 in the 22nd edition, specifies that “the following are categories of expenditure provision...which require authorization by Money resolution...” It then provides a list of items which includes at number five: “The authorization of a single payment out of the Consolidated Fund”.

The objective of Bill C-280 is clearly to ensure that the EI account is kept separate from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The payment to the new account represents “a new and distinct charge” on the public revenue that is not currently provided for under existing legislation. Clearly, the appropriation of a sum of this magnitude, which some members have estimated to be as high as $46 billion, must require a royal recommendation.

The second reason the government believes this bill should be accompanied by a royal recommendation is that the purpose of the original appropriations would be changed by this bill. The Acting Speaker indicated on May 9, 2005, that changing the purposes for which moneys are appropriated requires a royal recommendation:

In this particular case, Bill C-312 contains some provisions which caused the Chair to pause and consider its impact on the financial initiative of the Crown. As most members know, bills which involve new or additional spending for a distinct purpose must be recommended by the Crown. The royal recommendation is also required where a bill alters the appropriation of public revenue “under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out” in the bill. What this means is that a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where more money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is being significantly altered.

Amendments concerning the Canada Employment Insurance Commission's structure and responsibilities would change the purpose for which money allocated to run the commission would be used. The commission would be assigned new responsibilities for independently managing and investing as much as potentially $46 billion in funds but at least $15 billion, as well as providing independent recommendations for policy and legislative changes to the employment insurance program.

In addition, the purpose of the funds collected and granted under the existing Employment Insurance Act would be altered, since that act clearly did not provide for the investment of these assets as required by subsection 72(3)(b). These are clearly new purposes both for the money granted for the administration and operation of the commission and for the treatment of premiums currently collected under the employment insurance system.

For these reasons, Mr. Speaker, I conclude that this bill requires a royal recommendation and I hope that you will consider these most incisive points very carefully.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2005 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-312 which proposes an amendment to the Canada Elections Act to establish a new process for the appointment of returning officers.

Returning officers are currently appointed by the governor in council under section 24 of the act and those appointments are tabled before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The proposed amendment would transfer that power to the Chief Electoral Officer. I want to make it clear now that I do not support the amendment, principally for two reasons.

First, I am concerned about the erosion of power of the House of Commons itself, particularly in the electoral process and I am not convinced that increasing professionalization of our system helps the electoral process at the riding level.

Second, I want to make the point that I do not believe the case has been proven, that there are in fact sufficient reasons or causes for this very important change. It should be studied very carefully, as we usually do in this place, before we jump from one situation which at least we know to another situation which we do not know.

As members of the House understand more than anyone else, because we have all been candidates in elections, returning officers play an essential and invaluable role in our electoral system. They are on the very front lines at election time and no electoral process would be successful without the essential contributions of these people.

As set out in the act, returning officers are responsible under the general direction of the Chief Electoral Officer for the preparation and conduct of an election in his or her electoral district. Behind the scenes in every election there are literally thousands of election workers and returning officers are responsible for coordinating the activities of these workers.

There is no question that the demands on returning officers are tremendous and require a broad range of abilities, including material, human and financial resources management, contract negotiations, public and media relations and office automation, to name but a few. I would mention another, which is knowledge of the local region of the riding that is concerned, knowledge not simply of the political process in general but of the political process as it functions, let us say in a very large rural area or in a concentrated urban area.

Returning officers are not left on their own to carry out these tasks. They are not simply appointed and then left there. The Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada provides them with training and access to a wide range of materials and software. I have heard that our Chief Electoral Officer is very proud of his training programs and I have no doubt our returning officers are fully prepared to assume their responsibilities.

My colleague from the Bloc mentioned the view of this from overseas. I would argue that in the vast majority of countries in the world, it is not possible to professionalize positions of this type, particularly to professionalize them so people have these jobs for years and years and can work with volunteers and the limited resources in those countries. It is in those countries that they admire the way we train our returning officers to work with volunteers.

I will go back to my point about the need has yet to be demonstrated. In my personal experience, and it is the riding of Peterborough where I have the greatest experience, I have been active in politics provincially and federally for a good number of years so I have known a number of returning officers. They are highly qualified and do excellent work. To my knowledge, there have been very few cases over the years where these individuals have been unable to carry out their responsibilities, with the backing of Elections Canada as I described.

While I have worked with other electoral officers provincially, in my case federally, the person concerned was appointed before my time. We are talking about partisan appointments, appointed long before my time. My riding was a Conservative riding for many years before it became the Liberal riding, which it is today and which it will remain.

There are very few documented problems of inadequate performance by returning officers. I would argue that the numbers, and we have heard a few examples here, would be no less if these people were in some way professionally appointed. To have them appointed by somebody in Ottawa who is not answerable to the House of Commons and to know the situation in Peterborough, or in Saint Boniface or wherever else really strikes me as a tendency which members of the House should be working against rather than in favour of giving some authority out into the regions.

Another point that has been made, apart from the alleged concerns about general incompetence which has not been demonstrated, is that somehow these individuals are exercising partisan views simply because they are appointed by the governor in council. As I have mentioned, the appointments are tabled with procedure and House affairs. The House of Commons deals with these things rather than some individual who is appointed for life to the position of chief electoral officer.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2005 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to speak at second reading of Bill C-312, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (appointment of returning officers).

In this debate, allow me to stress how important the neutral administration of elections is to me.

For our electoral system to be perceived as truly fair and democratic, the individuals who run it must not only be honest, but also be perceived as free from partisan considerations.

In Canada, we enjoy an excellent electoral system which has proven itself over the years. Our system has been equipped with the necessary checks and balances for ensuring healthy electoral administration.

On election night, after the votes have been counted, Canadians take pride in the fact that our systems works, without having any serious doubt about the integrity of the process.

In some countries, that is not always the case. Doubt over possible political interference often mars the results and affects the legitimacy of the elected members.

It is in the context of good electoral administration that I want to address the bill under consideration. The bill amends the process for the appointment of returning officers, the local electoral administrators in every riding. The current process of appointment by the governor in council has a long history in Canada.

Although in the past being appointed returning officer was viewed as a political reward, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing noted in 1991 that this attitude had changed over the years. The Lortie commission attributed this change in political culture to a real recognition by the parties of the need to ensure the proper functioning of elections at the local level.

The governing party, and every other party, has an interest in ensuring that the people chosen to run the election at the local level are competent, honest and impartial.

Some would say that the appearance of impartiality is just as important as being impartial in order for our voters to have confidence in our electoral system. That is perfectly fair. In Canada, that confidence rests on a solid exemplary tradition.

I am not aware of any specific instance in our modern electoral history where a returning officer has shown any bias, thereby influencing the outcome of an election. This is the result of a healthy democratic culture and of all the checks and balances in the Canada Elections Act, as I said earlier.

First, there are specific statutory prohibitions on partisanship, along with penalties including imprisonment. In my opinion, this constitutes a major deterrent for all returning officers who might consider assuming their responsibilities for partisan purposes. I am convinced that Elections Canada, when it trains new returning officers, carries out its duty to advise new recruits of this violation of the Canada Elections Act.

Second, it is important to note, too, that a returning officer's office is staffed by elections officers, who are appointed by the returning officer from a list of names submitted by candidates from different political parties. For example, the revising agents are appointed from a list of names submitted by the political parties whose candidates came first and second respectively in that riding in the last election.

This requirement ensures that the activities of election officers will be subject to mutual surveillance, in what is a fundamentally adversarial process.

Third, I recently read with interest the report of the Chief Electoral Officer on the 38th general election regarding the creation of field liaison officers for that election. The Chief Electoral Officer indicated that these field liaison officers, who were appointed by his office, were responsible for, among other things, providing the returning officers with functional leadership, identifying problems at the electoral district level and helping the returning officers resolve them, apparently by providing coaching and personal assistance.

The Chief Electoral Officer also mentioned that, over the 36-day election period, field liaison officers identified a total of 164 risks and problems; all were resolved promptly by the Elections Canada executive committee. In my opinion, this innovation seems to ensure even tighter surveillance by Elections Canada of the actions of returning officers within each electoral district.

With increased surveillance, the likelihood of partisanship seems to be minimized. My comment on this recent innovation to Elections Canada leads me to my next point: my opinion on the need to change how returning officers are currently appointed.

As far as I am concerned, the system has proven itself.

The Lortie commission report made it quite clear that the appointment of returning officers by the governor in council “allows the selection of candidates having experience in the organization of federal elections at the local level who care about the democratic process”.

No doubt there are ways to improve our system, but we have to be careful not to sacrifice a level of experience essential to the proper functioning of elections, in order to improve already satisfactory impartiality.

This experience can be found not among electors having no experience in the field, but rather among people who have knocked on doors and who have a practical experience of the electoral activities at the local level.

I am sure that after participating in an election only a year ago, all of my colleagues will agree that somebody who has no other experience of the polling station than that of an elector who only has to wait in line for five minutes, take a ballot paper, go in the booth to mark it and place it in the box after, cannot understand the skills required of a returning officer.

This is the person who will be responsible for choosing and training the returning officers in the riding, rather than asking somebody who has worked as a candidate representative during the 14 hours or so that the polling station is open.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that the efficiency of our electoral administration is of the utmost importance.

It is essential that we thoroughly consider each and every change we might want to make to a system that works, in order to avoid any unexpected negative effects.

In this regard, I am afraid the suggested alternative is not really an improvement, although it might seem to be one on paper.

For this reason, I will not be supporting the bill.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2005 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to my Bill C-312 on the appointment of returning officers.

First, I should point out that, while I am the one in charge of this issue right now, a review of the appointment process for returning officers has been a concern of the members of the Bloc Québécois, particularly since 1993. I would go as far as to say that it was already a concern after the first round, from 1990 to 1993.

Particularly since 1993, we in the Bloc Québécois have had the opportunity to lament this process, an attitude shared by many of our colleagues from the Conservative Party and the NDP, in our private discussions. I also remember discussions with some colleagues from the Liberal Party at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where they agreed that the process for the appointment of returning officers was totally archaic and outdated.

Suffice to quote a recent statement of the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, I believe, who is now sitting as an independent. I do not have the clipping in front of me, but recently, about 10 days ago, he described the current process as archaic.

Canada boasts about giving lessons in democracy around the world. Chief Electoral Officer Kingsley often goes on conference tours. Members of this House travel to emerging democracies to supervise elections. We boast about being a model of democracy, we are so proud but, on the face of it, the process is flawed from the start because returning officers are not all fully and totally independent, which they should be in order to be able to play their role effectively.

That is why this bill is intended to clean up our political practices in the appointment of returning officers. Under the current system, the appointments are made by the governor in council or the government.

We can see that there are currently 308 filled returning officer positions across Canada. There are also 10 or so vacant ones, I might point out, while an election could be called within a week or two. On May 5, Chief Electoral Officer Kingsley told the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that he was very concerned about 10 such positions still being vacant at this time.

So, upon examination, we see that the appointees have one thing in common. Directly or indirectly, they have been involved with the Liberal Party of Canada. They are friends of the government, former organizers of the governing Liberal Party. We have seen this first-hand; they are former Liberal Party candidates who were defeated. They would have us believe that, through divine intervention, they have suddenly become non-partisan overnight; they have forgotten their years as Liberal Party supporters and, now, they have become the guardians of democracy and the selection process by which our future parliamentarians will be chosen.

This bill proposes an open and transparent process where positions, based on pre-established selection criteria, would be posted in newspapers. Ultimately, the most qualified people would be appointed as returning officers.

There will be opposition to this from the start. I can already hear people saying that this cannot work and that it is impossible to make it work. I would submit that this process has been used in Quebec since 1980.

Some people in the House are tired of hearing about the situation in Quebec with regard to returning officers. When Quebec does something well, the immediate reaction is to say that it is no good and that it would not work. I am sorry, but since 1980, Quebec's returning officers have been selected according to an open and transparent process, using newspaper advertisements. Anyone can apply and there is no doubt about how they are appointed.

An open and transparent process where positions would be advertised in newspapers would support the free and democratic election of the people's representatives, in other words, the members.

Under this bill introduced by the Bloc Québécois, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada could supervise the appointment of returning officers himself. However, I must clarify that we do not want the Chief Electoral Officer to make the appointments. His role would be to supervise the appointment of returning officers, who would be selected based on their competence, merit and qualifications to fulfill such duties. The bill introduced by the Bloc would give the Chief Electoral Officer powers similar to the ones his Quebec counterpart has had since 1980, as I mentioned earlier.

Quebec's electoral system is known around the world for its effectiveness and its democratic transparency. Again, a Quebec institution is showing its know-how. By passing this bill, the House of Commons would eliminate once and for all the ambiguity that undermines the authority of the Chief Electoral Officer in his relationship with returning officers. Under the current system, returning officers feel that they are accountable to the party in office, that is to those who appointed them, and not to the Chief Electoral Officer, who is the guardian of the democratic process.

I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs since 2000. My colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes was our party's chief whip at that time. On several occasions, we complained about irregularities in the electoral process, but the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley, responded that he had to work with the returning officers who were appointed because he did not have the authority to fire them since he was not the one who had appointed them. Indeed, only the person who hires them has the right to fire them. This rule does not exist anywhere else in the area of labour relations or staffing. I know since I worked in that area for 16 years before becoming a member of Parliament. However, in this case, only the person who hires has the right to fire. The Chief Electoral Officer himself would like nothing better than to have the authority to make these appointments.

I do not have much time, but I would like to mention a few examples. At the last election, out of the 75 Bloc Québécois candidates in Quebec, 54 succeeded in getting elected. We did an inventory of some of the problems experienced at the last election. We had conducted the same exercise following the 2000, the 1997 and the 1993 elections. The problems that surface at every election are the same. This means that the existing system does not work. Citizens cannot be assured that returning officers are competent.

I will just mention one small example that occurred in my riding. At the last election, in Baie-Saint-Paul, which is located in the Charlevoix region, the returning officer did not have enough ballots for the advance polls. The act was amended regarding people who vote in advance polls.

Unlike before, in order to vote in advance, it is no longer necessary for a person to mention the reason why he or she will not be able to vote on election day. That requirement no longer exists. Some people think it still does, but it is no longer necessary to say why you will not be available. You simply have to say that you want to vote in advance. Of course, you have to identify yourself and provide some ID.

In Baie-Saint-Paul, before the June 28, 2004 election, from six to ten people went to vote in advance, because they were not going to be able to vote on June 28, either because they would be out of town or for some personal reason. Would you believe that these people were not able to cast their ballots, because the returning officer did not have enough ballots? This is as bad as it gets.

We discovered that there were returning officers in many ridings who either did not know the Canada Elections Act at all, or who did not know it well. I should also mention that the training provided to poll clerks and deputy returning officers is totally inadequate. It includes reading some manuals and watching a video cassette without any explanations.

It seems that June 28 is only a few days after June 24, which is la Fête nationale du Québec. The returning officer wanted the training to be on the evenings of June 23 and 24. While I do not wish to cite specific cases, I can say that this was in your very own riding, Mr. Speaker, Hull—Aylmer. In that riding, the returning officer, a good Liberal probably, wanted to train the deputy returning officers on the evenings of June 23 and 24, that is right in the midst of the Quebec national holiday celebrations. I am sure that you will agree with me that this is totally unacceptable. In another riding, it was discovered that the returning officer was the president of the Liberal association for the riding. It is time somebody woke up. This is Earth calling. The returning officer is the president of the Liberal riding association in Ahuntsic. Then one could raise the problem election staff had in getting appointments to see the returning officer. Or his refusal to provide a copy of the other candidates' nomination papers, although it is written in black and white in the law that each candidate is entitled to see the nomination papers of the other candidates.

Poll clerks have to be of the other party, that is the party that got the second highest number of votes in the last election, but in Beauce the returning officer mentioned to the director of the Bloc Québécois organization that the substitute clerks absolutely had to be Liberals. In yet another riding, the returning officer hired a poll clerk unable to read or write.

I am getting the sign that my time is nearly up. I am almost tempted to seek unanimous consent to continue until question period, because I have a whole lot of cases I could give. Since the member for Gatineau has just arrived, I would add that the returning officer wants to give training on the evenings of June 23 and 24. This goes for Gatineau as well as Hull—Aylmer, and no doubt a good Liberal has been appointed returning officer for Gatineau.

In conclusion, given the horror stories such as those—all chapter and verse—not to mention the others I will spare you concerning polls that were inaccessible, poorly equipped, poorly adapted to the purpose, which I could talk about until tomorrow—I am sure that my colleagues will vote in favour of Bill C-312.