An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.


Rob Nicholson  Conservative


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to provide that, subject to an earlier dissolution of Parliament, a general election must be held on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this enactment comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009.

The enactment also provides that the Chief Electoral Officer may recommend an alternate day if the day set for polling is not suitable.


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.


April 24, 2007 Passed That a Message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that this House disagrees with the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

June 6th, 2018 / 8:40 p.m.
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Brian Marlatt Communications and Policy Director, Progressive Canadian Party

Thank you to the chair and to the committee for inviting the Progressive Canadian Party to present important evidence, in our view, concerning Bill C-76, the elections modernization act.

The Progressive Canadian Party is a continuation of the tradition in Canadian politics of a Tory party willing “to embrace every person desirous of being counted as a progressive Conservative”, in the words of Sir John A. Macdonald. The PC Party was led, until his recent passing, by the Honourable Sinclair Stevens, who was a minister in the Clark and Mulroney Progressive Conservative governments, and is now led by former PC MP Joe Hueglin.

I'm speaking today as communications and policy chair on the PC Party national council, but I also contributed to the Elections Canada advisory committee of political parties in 2015; again in meetings in 2018, and in fact yesterday; and previously served, before political involvement, as an Elections Canada DRO and Elections BC voting officer and clerk. I hope this experience adds value to our testimony.

Evidence and comments today will be limited largely to implications of Bill C-76 in the context of today's fixed-date election law introduced in 2006, the Fair Elections Act, sometimes described as the voter suppression act by Progressive Canadians, introduced as Bill C-23 in the 41st Parliament, and other proposed electoral reforms that have been part of public discussion of this bill. I welcome questions from the committee in its larger context or details insofar as I may be able to contribute positively to your study of the bill.

As an aside, I will note that because Bill C-76 is important in the evolution of our democracy, vigorous debate in the Senate is likely to follow given the new partisan spirit introduced by appointments in the previous government, which have been moderated but not checked by the new independent advisory committee recommending persons for Senate nomination by the Prime Minister to the Governor General. I have further comments on that. If you wish, we can take care of that in questions.

Change in Westminster parliamentary democracy may be characterized as a balance of continuity and change, of evolutionary trial and error, and at its best when it proceeds by what Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus described as “by little and little”. Unexpected consequences can be moderated, and ill-advised choices mitigated or remedied. Bill C-76 is about evolutionary change. The need for progressive evolutionary parliamentary change is suggested by the 42nd general election.

The 42nd general election of Parliament, on October 19, 2015, well illustrates the need for many of the measures recommended in Bill C-76. The 2015 election was the first one honouring the fixed-date election law. The 41st Parliament had seen the parliamentary opposition in effect neutered by the unavailability of parliamentary responsible government by excesses of party discipline in a majority government and the fixed-date election law.

Omnibus bills and limited debate on controversial legislation, including the Fair Elections Act, became the norm rather than the exception. The last year of the 41st Parliament was reduced, arguably, to a campaign to elect the next parliament. By the end of the session, in June 2015, campaigns and campaign spending by parties and third parties were ramped up before rules applying to writ-period spending came into effect. An almost unprecedented 78-day writ period followed in which party spending limits allowed nationally, and in all 338 riding elections, doubled per candidate. Money became key. The distance between public interest and party interest widened, and concern about Bill C-23 voter suppression grew.

I refer you to “Memo on the Fixed Date Election Law, Money and the Corporate Political Party in 2015, and the implications for Smaller Political Parties, and Independents.” The written copy is appended to this document.

Many of these concerns were anticipated. The Progressive Canadian Party addressed several of these concerns and proposed remedies, which were discussed in a submission solicited by this committee, PROC, in September 2006, when the fixed-date election law was originated as Bill C-16, and in a submission to the Elections Canada Advisory Committee of Political Parties, ACPP, on election advertising, in which the implications of fixed-date elections were discussed. Both documents are available on the EC website or by request from Elections Canada.

Bill C-76 proposes a new pre-writ period in a fixed-date election, beginning June 30, at the end of the session in the year a fixed-date election is to be honoured, and a maximum limit of a 50-day campaign writ period. We cite the following remarks in the PC Party 2015 submission to Elections Canada by way of guidance on ways in which Bill C-76 may be improved:

It is widely reported that political parties or candidates are conducting political campaigns well in advance of the writ being dropped to begin the formal election period. At present, there is no limitation on the spending of political parties or candidates outside of the writ period.

In other Commonwealth countries, notably the United Kingdom, political advertising outside of the writ period is subject to legislated “long campaign” and “short campaign” limits administered by the Elections Commission.... EC advice and interpretative instruction for the 2015 election is strongly recommended.

Advertising activities by the Government of Canada and government departments have included public service announcements of programmes “subject to parliamentary approval.” Such announcements may be deemed partisan advertisements funded by public monies and taxpayer dollars by the agencies contracting to issue such public service announcements because they concern proposals, generally by the governing party of the day, which have not received parliamentary approval.

While this practice is not strictly election advertising in advance of the writ period, the effect is the same. It is recommended that these practices be qualified and that a pre-writ period in the fixed-date election years be extended to mirror long campaign practices administered by the U.K. Elections Commission. This recommendation would apply if the fixed-date election law is not repealed in the interest of protecting the principle of responsible government at the heart of Canadian Westminister Parliamentary democracy.

The Progressive Canadian Party strongly agrees with the intention and certain of the provisions in Bill C-76, which are intended to reverse the outcomes of Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, passed in the 41st Parliament, and to see these corrections as part of the continuity, change, and evolution in Parliamentary practice, by which the unintended consequences or error in previous legislation may be mitigated or remedied. In particular, we commend the restored role of Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer in providing public information during elections and measures to ensure that every qualified Canadian may take part in riding elections of a Parliament in Canada.

We recommend restoring the voter identification card issued by EC as acceptable identification of voters at the polls. We note that in other places and countries, requirements for photo ID and other limitations have had the effect of limiting voter participation and have been described as voter suppression in some sources.

The Honourable Sinclair Stevens, speaking for the PC Party national council in 2014, underscored the seriousness of these concerns, stating that:

It is the view of the Progressive Canadian Party that Bill C-23, entitled the Fair Elections Act...will betray basic principles of democracy in Canada even if substantially amended. Bill C-23 will deny the right to vote to large numbers of Canadians and as such must be challenged in the courts as ways indicated by scholars of Canadian constitutional law and political science published in the national media, Progressive Canadians believe the Fair Elections Act must be rejected as unfair, undemocratic, and deserving of constitutional challenge even in light of amendments which are being recommended by members of the House of Commons and in Senate committee. Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act is deeply flawed in fundamental ways and for its apparent intent.

The media release from which this is drawn is appended to this document.

Bill C-76 is a welcome remedy for some of the flaws of the Fair Elections Act. We welcome this remedy. Finally, on the margins of debate concerning Bill C-76 can be heard voices calling to revisit the question of electoral reform, which for them means replacing riding-elected MPs in each of Canada's 338 electoral districts according to single-member pluralities or majorities with party proportional representation according to the national or regional party popular vote.

We elect members of Parliament to the Parliament of Canada in riding elections held in each riding separately in a general election of a Parliament when Parliament is dissolved or in by-elections between general elections. We elect members of Parliament, not parties, movements or prime ministers. Party vote, or distributing seats in the House of Commons according to the proportion of votes received by party members nationally, is not relevant.

These facts about Canadian electoral practices are consistent with the constitutional architecture of Canada and with Canadian realities of space and population. Diversity of interest and of opinion, even within party groups, often varies widely in distant parts of Canada. The view in the north, the coasts, the prairies, and the industrial heartland can vary considerably in ways of party discipline, whether formal or as a part of movement politics, yet it is not reflected in party proportional representational systems.

We strongly advise that the debate on Bill C-76 not be distracted by those who purpose to achieve partisan advantage by advocating for systems of party proportionality regardless of the merit of the movement or party view they may represent. Democratic rights and objectives are not achieved, sustained, or protected by changing the system to achieve partisan advantage; they are achieved by the power of persuasion and a willingness to do the hard work of achieving democratic societal consensus.

I'd like to thank the committee for taking the time to consider our representation and my remarks. I hope they will help to guide you in meaningful debate and conclusions toward modernization of Canadian elections. There are documents appended to this, which you may find expand upon some of these issues that time here may not have provided for. I thank you again.

May 4th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
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Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

So far, a great many people have presented their views on this. I am thinking in particular of Professor Mendes, from the University of Ottawa, whom you probably know. He said that, without affecting the Governor General's power to prorogue, it would be possible to limit the ability of the Prime Minister, as senior advisor, to go to the Governor General to ask that Parliament be prorogued.

Some have compared this to Bill C-16 on fixed date elections. Basically, it is the House of Commons expressing its wish that the government not call elections for partisan reasons and that it have a fixed term of office. However, we also know that in that bill, there was a provision that did not challenge… In a way, it is wishful thinking. And Mr. Mendes explained that, even if it is wishful thinking, over time, a kind of constitutional convention is established whereby the prorogation power cannot be exercised outside of the conditions laid out in the legislation.

In fact, he made a number of suggestions, and I would like to run them by you to see what you think.

First of all, he talked about using the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to prevent the Prime Minister from asking for prorogation in the first year following a Speech from the Throne.

Also, the Prime Minister would have to advise the Senate and the House of Commons in order for there to be a debate subsequently—in other words, a prorogation could not last more than one month. He also proposed a number of other things that would result in the establishment of constitutional conventions, which would become binding over time.

Is that an avenue that could be explored or are we really looking at a constitutional amendment?

April 29th, 2010 / 12:25 p.m.
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Prof. Peter Russell

--based on the debate in not this committee but the one that dealt with Bill C-16....

All parties were in agreement that snap elections would no longer be appropriate. The Prime Minister made a fantastically good speech in Vancouver saying that the fundamental purpose was indeed to have an even playing field among the parties, whereas in a snap election, the government has the advantage of finding the opposition in disarray, or down in the polls, in calling an election even though it hasn't been defeated in the House. But when the Governor General was confronted with the request, there was no indication from the opposition, certainly from the leader of the opposition, that he was willing to form a government if Mr. Harper's request was refused. There was no serious protest from the opposition parties.

I watched this very closely, as someone who has to advise the Governor General; the Governor General really had no real option. The lesson of that is that the law isn't worth much if the fundamental political reason for it, which was to avoid opportunistic snap elections, is just discarded, not just by government leaders but by opposition leaders within almost months of the law being put to the test.

I thought it was a devastating walking away of a very sound political agreement--not just by the government; let me emphasize that.

So I'm much more comfortable with legislation that has majority or even all-party support. More than legislation, just make an agreement as the heads of state did in 1926 in London--surely you're up to that--and say, under what conditions can prorogation be advised, and under what conditions does it require something more than just the Prime Minister requesting it?

I think that should be a political agreement rather than legislation. I feel strongly about that. That's my number one choice.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

October 22nd, 2007 / 12:25 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to open the debate on today's theme from the throne speech: strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions.

We have a great, united country whose foundation is a solid federation and a living democracy. In fact, federalism and democracy have gone hand and hand throughout Canada's history.

Our country's history is one of people joining together to achieve great dreams thought impossible by the pessimists, but it is also a history of people who, through accommodation and respect, build practical, workable approaches allowing remarkable progress to unfold.

The project of Confederation was about bringing together the different regions into a strong and united country based on democratic practices and the rule of law. Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation, through strong leadership united Canadians in a federal union which would deliver a future of security and prosperity for the country as a whole. Their vision was strong and enduring, a firm foundation on which successive generations have built.

Our government is continuing this nation building project today with our commitments for strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions. Strong leadership and a better Canada: that is our objective.

I would like to spend my time today discussing the progress we have already made in this area and highlighting our plans for this new session of Parliament.

Our government made a commitment to practise open federalism, and it is taking steps to ensure that our country is prosperous and united.

Our approach is not new, but it is based on the very principles underlying Confederation.

The union was based on a simple concept: the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. The objective was not to have a weak, passive federal government, but a government that would respect the provinces' areas of jurisdiction.

Provincial governments are closer to their citizens and are well positioned to determine local needs and aspirations. In contrast, the federal government is well placed to protect the national interest in pursuit of the common good of the country as a whole. As the project of our Confederation first became committed to paper in the Quebec Resolutions of 1864, this approach was clear:

In the Federation of the British North American Provinces, the system of Government best adapted under existing circumstances to protect the diversified interest of the several Provinces, and secure efficiency, harmony and permanency in the working of the Union, would be a general Government, charged with matters of a common interest to the whole country; and Local Governments...charged with the control of local matters in their respective sections.

The steps we have taken recently and the measures we plan to take to create a federalism of openness will produce unprecedented efficiency, harmony and stability in the union, as the Fathers of Confederation envisioned many years ago.

Our federalism of openness means respecting provincial areas of jurisdiction, and that, in turn, means two things. First, a federal government that shows leadership in its areas of jurisdiction. Second, a federal government that unites the country by introducing fair, respectful intergovernmental policies.

We have shown strong leadership in areas of federal jurisdiction, such as strengthening our economy by cutting taxes and helping families, in the process paying down billions on the debt and achieving the lowest national unemployment rate since I was a child; in international trade with the resolution of the softwood lumber dispute; in defence with our leadership in international aid efforts in Afghanistan; and in public safety and security with our agenda for making communities safer by tackling crime.

In the new session this leadership will continue with measures to strengthen Canada's economic union through internal free trade among the provinces; a commitment to action in protecting Canada's sovereignty, particularly in the Arctic; continued pursuit of a safer Canada beginning with the comprehensive criminal justice reforms in our Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.

We have treated the provincial and territorial governments with respect, which has strengthened national unity. To restore the fiscal balance within the Canadian federation, we have increased the main federal transfers and introduced a new stable, reliable, fair funding formula. We have helped build a better Canada with our historic recognition that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada.

Our 2007 budget contained an unprecedented long term commitment to rebuild Canada's infrastructure, amounting to a total of $33 billion over the next seven years, the largest federal investment in Canadian infrastructure in over half a century.

During this session, we will introduce a bill to place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This bill will formalize the commitments our government made in the 2006 and 2007 budgets, because it will specify the limits on federal power.

In keeping with how we see open federalism, our bill will also allow the provinces and territories to opt out of new shared-cost programs with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs. In addition to recognizing the provinces' and territories' ability to provide programs in their specific areas of responsibility, our bill will enable Canadians, wherever they live, to receive services comparable to those available under national programs.

Our diversity as a country serves as a source both of strength and innovation. Through our actions in open federalism, including equitable and predictable funding and clarified roles and responsibilities in our federation, we are offering a principles based approach on which all orders of government can continue to work into the future.

The vision of Macdonald and Cartier of a country united from east to west, of new Canadians and old, French and English, country and city, together dreaming great dreams and building a brighter future is alive and well and has a place deep in the heart of our government in 2007.

However, our Confederation must be more than the sum of its parts. The federal government must act as a leader in keeping the country strong and united and as a model for democratic values. To perform this leadership role, the democratic underpinnings of our government must be solid in order to continue to meet the expectations of the Canadians we serve. Our initiatives in the area of democratic reform demonstrate our government's leadership in this area. Nowhere is this more evident than our efforts to modernize our central democratic institution, a federal Parliament where the representation of both popular and provincial interests are united within the federal legislative process.

Since Confederation, Canada's Parliament has served the democratic interests of Canadians well, but the government must take action to ensure that this institution, which is the cornerstone of our representative democracy, remains strong, vibrant and adapted to the needs of Canadians in the 21st century.

Our bicameral Parliament includes two houses, the lower house here which is comprised of elected representatives of the citizens of this great country originally founded on the fundamental principle of representation by population, and the upper house which was designed to represent the regions of the country to act as a chamber of sober second thought.

However, in the contemporary era, the Senate has been unable to credibly fulfill its role as an effective representative of the regions in the federal legislative process due to fundamental concerns with legitimacy and effectiveness of that appointed and unaccountable chamber. As for the other chamber, this one, the distribution of seats in the House of Commons has shifted too far away from the principle of representation by population, resulting in the unfair under-representation of the fast growing provinces.

Our government has already taken measures to address this situation as we promised during the last election with BillC-56 introduced in the last session to enhance the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons and give fast growing provinces the representation that their population merits, and by Bills S-4 and C-43 introduced in the last session to begin the long overdue project of Senate reform.

I would like to spend a few moments discussing Senate reform. It is a priority of our government that is urgently needed to modernize our federal Parliament. We put forward an agenda for the Senate reforms that is practical and achievable. As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will continue to pursue this agenda with the reintroduction of two important bills.

The Senate tenure bill proposed a uniform fixed term for senators of eight years. Rather than leave the length of tenure as long as 45 years, as it is currently, our bill proposed that senators be appointed to a fixed term of eight years. This is a change that would bring renewal and relevance to the Senate. This change would improve the effectiveness of the Senate. It would ensure that senators' terms were long enough for them to gain the expertise and independence necessary to act as a chamber of sober second thought, but at the same time it would ensure that the terms would not be so long as to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the Senate as a modern institution in what we seek to declare to be a democratic country.

Unfortunately, the current unelected unaccountable Liberal senators spent over a year delaying this legislation before they finally took a decision to not take a decision. This action alone, or inaction more accurately, demonstrates clearly that the Senate must change. Its current form does not function well on this issue, or at all.

As I stated, our government intends to reintroduce the Senate term limits bill this session. I hope that the summer recess gave opposition senators some time for that sober second thought in relation to their position of inaction on this bill where they have refused to exercise their constitutional obligation to vote on the bill.

Our second Senate reform, Bill C-43, offered a means for democratizing the Senate by providing Canadians an opportunity to choose and advise who they want representing them in the Senate. It would provide for the first time an opportunity for voters across this country to have a democratic say in who sits in their Senate. This should hardly be a difficult principle to embrace in a 21st century western democracy. It would provide greater legitimacy and credibility to the work of the Senate as a democratic institution.

I was extremely pleased to attend the swearing in of Senator Bert Brown last week. He of course was popularly elected by the people of his province. I hope that we can look forward to the day when the Senate appointment consultations bill becomes law and all senators arrive in Ottawa with a democratic mandate.

As the Prime Minister has indicated, when the Senate consultations bill is reintroduced, we will be sending it to committee before second reading so that collaboration can begin on this important step toward a democratic Senate.

There are some who have suggested that governing parties of the past could maintain the status quo in the Senate out of self-interest, that we could benefit from the patronage appointments to be made and stack the chamber with partisans who would serve for decades. Our government believes that the Senate should be a democratically elected body that represents Canadians. So far, we have taken concrete steps toward that vision and they are steps that are achievable in the short term. What is more, surveys show that our agenda for term limits in a democratized Senate is strongly supported by Canadians. Surely in a democracy this above all should be a key indicator of what constitutes a good democratic reform.

The Senate must change. If it cannot be changed, it should be abolished. In its current illegitimate form the Senate does nothing to enhance our democracy, even as we aim at the same time to promote democratic values abroad.

I would now like to address a second element of the democratic reform program that we will continue to implement during this new session of Parliament: strengthening the electoral system.

A strong democracy requires both modern democratic institutions and an electoral process with integrity that inspires confidence among voters.

We have already introduced a number of measures that were passed in the last session to improve elections, which were broadly supported.

For example, Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act—the first legislative measure we introduced—fulfilled our campaign commitment to clean up political funding. We levelled the playing field by banning donations from companies and unions, as well as large and secret donations, so that ordinary Canadians can contribute to the political process knowing that their donations will really count.

Bill C-4 was the first bill passed in the last session. We acted quickly to ensure that the party registration rules would not sunset and that those registration rules would remain in effect at all times.

With Bill C-16, setting dates for elections, we have established a four year electoral cycle, preventing snap elections from being called solely for the partisan advantage of the governing party.

As a result, after this House provides a mandate to govern when it approves the throne speech on Wednesday, we can look forward to the next election, now set in law to take place October 19, 2009.

In Bill C-31, we implemented wide-ranging recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee for improving the electoral process, including important measures for reducing the opportunity for voter fraud, such as a voter identification procedure for federal elections.

In addition to these bills, which are now law, we introduced additional election reforms that did not have an opportunity to pass before we prorogued.

Building on our political financing reforms in the Federal Accountability Act, Bill C-54, our new bill to clean up campaign financing, proposed bringing accountability to political loans by eliminating loans as a means for circumventing contribution limits and establishing a transparent reporting regime for campaign finance.

Building on a number of measures for improving voter accessibility, Bill C-55, our expanded voting opportunities bill, proposed additional advanced polling days to enhance opportunities and encourage higher voter turnout.

During the second session of Parliament, our government will continue to strengthen the electoral process.

As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will introduce measures that will enable us to confirm the identity of voters by requiring them to uncover their faces before voting. Like our other reforms, this concrete measure will improve the electoral process for all Canadians.

Public concerns raised about this issue during the September 17 byelections made it clear that we must act.

During meetings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in September, all parties approved the decision to prioritize resolving this issue.

Our government will act quickly to resolve this issue, and I hope that I can count on the support of all members of Parliament to give Canadians the strong, fair electoral process they expect.

There is so much that makes Canada great. We are mindful of the valuable legacy bestowed upon us by the visionary leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation when they rendered the blueprint for what has proven to be the best country in the world. But it is our strong foundations that enable us to continue building a better Canada that is a leader in the world.

Those foundations are our federal state and our democratic spirit, but we also know, as did those Fathers of Confederation, that as the world modernizes, so must Canada. That is in fact the spirit of Confederation. It is that spirit that leads us to seek ways to strengthen our democracy and improve accountability to Canadians. We must be a democracy worthy of that name in a 21st century world.

Our government has already put forward a full agenda to fortify and modernize our federation and democracy, and we will continue to do so this session. We invite all parties in the House to join us as we build a stronger Canada with a brighter future for the generations that will follow.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 18th, 2007 / 1:45 p.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, I stand to speak in support of not only Bill C-31 but the majority of the amendments that we have seen coming back from the Senate.

First, I would say that while Bill C-31 is important, it is only one in a suite of democratic reform initiatives that the government has brought in. We have seen, for an example, very important democratic reform initiatives such as fixed election dates which is Bill C-16. It passed and has come into force. It states that the third Monday of October 2009 will be the date for the next general election unless of course by some strange occurrence the combined opposition determines that it wants to have an election before that date.

That was the first initiative that we brought in to try to ensure Canadians that there would be some consistency and regularity in the timing of federal elections. Far too often we saw political parties in power manipulate the voting system to their advantage. In other words, we saw parties in previous years take a look at the polling numbers and if they determined that it would be to their advantage to have an election earlier rather than later, because the polls happened to be advantageous for them, they would call an election at that time.

Subsequently, we saw both federally and provincially from time to time governments of the day go well beyond a traditional four year voting window because the polls were not quite a favourable for them during that four year cycle. What we are doing with Bill C-16 is ensuring that all Canadians will have some certainty as to the timing of federal elections and I think that is a good thing for democracy. I think it is a good thing for Canadian voters.

Also, however, we saw several other initiatives with respect to democratic reform. We saw bills come forward dealing with expanded voting opportunities in an attempt to get more and more voters to turn out at the polls. As I said in that debate, we have seen over the course of the last two decades or so a decline in voter turnout year after year, or at least election after election.

I think that is a reflection of many factors, the overall probably being the cynicism that most Canadian voters have with the political process per se. What we are trying to do, by presenting a bill that will give increased and expanded voting opportunities for all Canada, is attempt to raise the level of voter turnout because.

I think that we all agree, regardless of our political affiliations, that it is incumbent upon all Canadians to express either their opinions come election day or at least exercise their franchise because if we ever got to the point where we had less than 50% of the people in the country who were eligible to vote electing a government of the day, that would be truly a sad day for the democratic process.

We have also seen other examples of our democratic reform initiatives. Just today in committee we dealt with Bill C-54 on political loans and how we can ensure that all loans given to candidates over the course of an election are done in such a manner that we can ensure accountability and transparency. I think that is a very important initiative, again, one of a suite of initiatives we brought in.

There will be further democratic reform initiatives as we go forward in the course of the government's life cycle. Today I want to speak specifically to Bill C-31, the voter integrity bill. I think there is no greater fraud that could be perpetrated on Canadians than that of an individual voting in a federal or provincial election who pretends to be someone that he or she is not. In other words, I think there could be no greater fraud than someone trying to influence the election results by fraudulent manners. That is what the bill deals with.

In committee, we dealt with many of the things that we felt needed to be corrected to ensure that there was greater accountability, transparency and greater integrity in the voting system. Primarily we talked about things around identification where all voters now, once the bill becomes a law of the land, will be required to show sufficient identification at the polling station to ensure that they are who they purport to be because we have heard on many occasions many examples of individuals fraudulently voting in individual elections.

Anything that we can do, as a House and as individual members of Parliament, to stop that abuse of the voting system is extremely well intentioned and I think will be well received by the voting public. We dealt with that and many other issues of which my hon. colleagues who proceeded me in this debate spoke about.

Primarily, we came up with what we thought was a bill that would accurately reflect the intention of the committee. The committee worked long and hard on the bill and at the end of day when we reported back to this House, we felt that we had a bill which would capture all of the suggestions and recommendations of committee members who dealt with the bill over a period of several months.

However, as is normally the case, and it seems at least these days it is normally the case, when our bill went from our place to the Senate there were additional discussions and additional amendments. While some of the amendments from the Senate are ones that we have some question about, I am pleased to report that the vast majority of the amendments that were made in the Senate will be agreed to, at least by this government.

We are doing so in a manner which we believe we can get the bill passed into law before we rise for the summer because in a minority situation, the length of a minority government is tenuous at best. If we happen to have an election within the next six months or so, we want to ensure that we have a bill that deals with these very important issues, so that we can ensure that voter integrity is at the utmost, that we dispel and dispense with any kind of attempted fraud in the next election that will be held, whenever that may be.

I want to speak for a few moments on the amendments brought back from our colleagues in the Senate. There were about 12 amendments in total but they fit into about five broad categories. The first one deals with what is generally known as bingo cards. Most of us in this House and any politician who has ever run for elected office is familiar with the concept of bingo cards. For those Canadians who may be somewhat confused about what a bingo card has to do with an election, let me explain.

Every political party, certainly every candidate, wants to track their supporters and whether or not they are supporters that they have identified during the preceding number of months leading up to the election and actually come out to the polls and vote. From time to time there are very close election races throughout Canada. When I was first elected in 2004, I was elected by a whopping majority of 122 votes.

One of the elements that really helped my election in that very stressful time was the fact that we had a very good voter identification program within my riding association and within my campaign team. On election day we had a very good “get out the vote” team which tracked people who came into the polling station, find out which of my supporters had not yet made it to the polls, and we brought those people for the most part to come in to vote. Close to 80% of my identified vote actually cast ballots in that election of 2004.

The use of bingo cards is a mechanism by which we can track the voter turnout. As the name suggests and anyone who has every gone to a bingo hall and played a game knows there are cards with numbers from 1 through 400. When scrutineers go into an election or polling station they are able to mark off on the bingo card the number of the voter assigned to them on the electoral list to ensure that everyone in our campaign team, or get out the vote team, understands who has, and more importantly, who has not voted.

From time to time during the day our scrutineers would go in and pick up these bingo cards from the inside scrutineers, take them back to GOTV headquarters, and phone voters who had not yet made it out to the polls in an attempt to make sure that all of our supporters understood the importance of their vote in that election.

What we are saying in this provision, at least what Bill C-31 purports, is that the bingo card concept be formalized and that Elections Canada be tasked with the responsibility of developing a standardized bingo card that would be available for all political parties and all candidates, so they could use the same get out the vote techniques that most candidates and most political parties have been doing informally over the course of the last number of years.

We see this being an asset to the political process because it helps engage all or potential voters by getting them out to vote. Yes, some of them might need a slight kick in the rear end from some of the GOTV members, but if we can at least increase the voter turnout we will have done a great service for the democratic process. So the amendments that the Senate brought back in with respect to bingo cards are ones that we agree with.

What are those amendments? Primarily, they say that in the original report coming from this place bingo cards should be available and updated every 30 minutes, so that candidates and political parties would be able to go into polling stations every 30 minutes to pick up the bingo cards and take it back to their GOTV headquarters and start their phone backs.

What the Senate has amended is that during advance polls these bingo cards need only be picked up once a day. That makes perfect sense to me. The time a candidate wants to know is on election day what the voter turnout is like. So that every 30 minutes during an advance poll is almost a bit of overkill. It is certainly not required. Therefore, I think it was a very useful, a very serviceable amendment to suggest that bingo cards during those four or five days that advance polls are open need only be picked up once a day and we agree with that.

That segues nicely into the second major classification of amendments and that deals with coming into force provisions. Primarily, we only have one problem with any of the coming into force provisions as amended by our colleagues in the Senate. That again deals with bingo cards.

What it suggests is that electoral offices be given 10 months to develop these bingo cards themselves and come up with a standardized format that would then be available for use by all parties and all candidates.

We feel that 10 months is too long. We believe that this bingo card format can be structured, developed and printed within a six month period. Therefore, we will be putting our new amendment that we will send back to our colleagues in the Senate, and we hope that they support it, suggesting that the only amendment we wish to make on its amended bill is that the coming into force provision for bingo cards would be six rather than 10 months.

I think that is a very legitimate and reasonable amendment for us to be making. We say that because again in a minority government one never knows how long such a government will last. In other words, if this bill is given royal assent before we rise for the summer, that means if we have an election before December bingo cards would not be available, but if any election is held from 2008 on we will have bingo cards available for all candidates. We think that is reasonable.

Again, the only change to the amendments that the Liberal dominated Senate has made is that we will have a six month window rather than a 10 month window for the bingo cards.

The third provision that is captured by amendments in the Senate deals with casual election workers. Again, as we know in a minority government situation we need a lot of casual workers who work from election to election to election on standby because there can be an election held at any time.

Currently, the Public Service Employment Act contemplates that casual workers and the broad category of casual government workers could only be classified as such if they work 90 days or less in any calendar year.

We felt that was too tight of a time line because if there happened to be two elections in one year, clearly 90 days would not be enough time for a casual worker to do both elections. Thereby, they would fall outside of that 90 day classification.

What the Senate committee had discussed and amended was that the provision now read that 165 days be the length of time that casual workers would be classified still as a casual worker within the Public Service Employment Act. We think that is reasonable and we are certainly willing to agree to that amendment and recommend that the amendment be passed in this House.

The fourth provision is one that I know will take a fair amount of time. I see that the time—

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

May 31st, 2007 / 4:10 p.m.
See context


Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to commend my colleague on his speech. Since he is from Montreal, his situation is different than mine. My constituency is on the north shore in the Montreal area.

I have five municipalities to cover, including a regional capital, and the realities are truly different from one municipality to another. It is much easier to cover a regional capital than the small surrounding municipalities, because sometimes there are great distances to travel from one end of the municipality to the other. We therefore need more polling stations for people to get to.

The problem we often encounter is the absence of public transit, which is not an issue in Montreal. In our regions—except for the regional capital of Saint-Jérôme—there is no public transit to allow young people to travel to vote, if they want. It is extremely difficult to get a high voter turnout depending on where the polling station is located. This entire matter should be reviewed.

Reference was made to low voter turnout among our youth. Should we not consider having polling stations in CEGEPs, and allowing voting on more than one day? Should we not consider having polling stations in universities, where students could register? Students often come from other cities. If the fixed election date is in the fall, they are in school then. They do not necessarily go back home over the weekend, because they have homework to do. Also, if they got to register right at the university, that might act as an incentive to vote. The very low voter turnout among high school, college and university students is definitely a concern.

I have nothing against two additional voting days, but I do not think that will boost voter turnout. We know that, at the federal level, from the moment that a candidate's nomination paper has been filed with and approved by the Chief Electoral Officer, one may already vote at any time at the office of the Chief Electoral Officer. The name of the candidate may even be written by hand, if the ballots are not ready. It has been done, and it has been a common occurrence where I come from.

However, there is a single office of the Chief Electoral Officer and it is normally located downtown in the regional capital. People from outside that area are not likely to be able to easily get there to vote.

We also know that one can vote by mail. There are various ways one can vote. Many mechanisms are already in place at the federal level to allow people to vote.

Someone mentioned ID card and the voter cards earlier. There have been discussions for quite some time about the idea of a voter card for everyone. Voters would only have to show that card, instead of having to produce two pieces of identification.

I will give an example. I have an 18-year-old son who voted for the first time in my last election. However, he still does not have all the cards that we have, as adults. He still does not have a driver's licence, he has only his health insurance card. I had to identify him because I was asked to. He was asked for two cards at the polling station.

So this is a problem for young people. It is also a problem for some people who live below the poverty line and who may not have all these cards and all these tools to be able to go and vote. They will not take the trouble to go, either, because they will tell themselves that they would not be able to vote in any event.

When the bill is sent to committee, we may have to consider this possibility and examine it properly to be sure that we include it in Bill C-55 and improve the bill.

This bill is of some value, but it is very slight. It talks about adding only two days. There is not a lot in Bill C-55 that would prompt us to vote for it with any great enthusiasm because it is changing a lot of things.

On the contrary, it is not changing much. We said that we would vote for this bill at second reading to be able to study it further and in greater depth in committee. I hope that some ideas will come out of that committee for improving the bill.

There is also the whole question of the lack of interest in politics, as several of my colleagues have said. When it comes to federal politics, fewer people are voting. People have lost interest. Since 1993, I have taken part in five election campaigns. I have to say that I have been disappointed several times. There was even one time when the turnout fell to 52%, and that was disturbing because the percentage of people voting should be higher than 52%. This means that there is a lack of interest in politics, in representation in Parliament and in political parties. There is also a lack of interest in ideologies. This is disturbing. We have to find a way of restoring our fellow citizens' interest in voting.

The last campaign we had lasted almost 59 days. In the middle of that campaign we had Christmas and New Year. That made no sense. In my riding, during the holiday period, people had things planned for Christmas and New Year's Day. They had family and other people coming to visit. Of course people talk politics over Christmas, whether as a family or in other groups, but I have to say, sincerely, that the volunteers and people working on the ground needed a bit of time off to be able to celebrate with their families.

In my riding, we decided to take a break for those two periods. It made no sense to force volunteers to work on Christmas Day or New Year's Day. They are volunteers, they give their time, energy and enthusiasm to our election campaigns. We have to take all that into account too.

I am very happy with Bill C-16, which will give us fixed election dates so long as the government is not defeated because it is a minority government. Fixed election dates are a necessary and much less partisan approach. People might listen a bit more to what we have to say. People might have more confidence in us if the government cannot take advantage of being ahead in the polls to call an election and hand out goodies. We know how that works. As I said, I have been through five election campaigns.

I think that there will be some basic changes in this bill. I can well understand what my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel goes through. He has a huge riding. Mine is a little smaller, but I still have to deal with five large municipalities. If we want to make services available and heighten people’s awareness, we have to provide them with more places to go and vote. I know that my colleague has to deal, just as I do, with a lack of public transit. People must have a car. But not everybody has one. Poor people do not have the means. Not all young people have access to one. For my part, I went to get my son so that he could go to an advance poll in the last election in Quebec. If I had not done that, he probably would not have gone to vote. It is very important, therefore, to raise the awareness of our youth and do so while they are still very young and in secondary school. They should be told what politics is all about. I am not saying they should be able to vote at a younger age, but they should be informed in school.

I have toured around some schools. I have been invited to speak about politics and tell young people what a day in Parliament is like and what an MP is. They do not really have any idea. It should be part of what we do and our responsibilities as MPs to go and talk to young people in secondary school—I do not mean grade 7 but students who are 14 or 15 years old—so that they can ask questions, get informed and understand. They should also be invited to come here and see what happens. A lot of schools send students. They visit Parliament and see question period. That is not always so great, however, because they see us get very excited. It is not necessarily a good example, but I believe that we can connect with our young people.

I was also invited to visit a political science class in a CEGEP to answer questions from the students and to tell them about the work of an MP, in their riding and also in Ottawa. So, it is important to discuss these matters and to find a way to connect with them.

There are also people who cannot get out and who must vote at home because they have a serious disability. My returning officer personally went to a house to allow someone to vote in her own home. That was a fine deed. People may vote as they please, but everyone has an absolute right to vote and I believe we have to maintain that.

However, I do not believe that simply adding two days, as the bill proposes, will be enough. A great many other changes are needed. There are things missing from this bill. We must also avoid scandals and observe the electoral laws. Spending limits must be enforced and there must not be any slush funds. That is extremely important. Our transparency must be crystal clear. That is, perhaps, what will lead people to take a greater interest in politics. They will then say that their politicians are much more honest than they thought. They will look at us in a new way. I believe that is how we should engage in politics. I have always practised politics in an honest manner and I believe it pays dividends.

There is a great deal of work to be done with the media in terms of awareness. Returning officers already do that work. However, on the media side—television, radio, etc.—even more information is needed, perhaps targeted at young people and specific age groups, with very precise messages to seize their attention and give them a desire to vote. In addition, there is all the work that we do. When people hear about things like the sponsorship scandal, that does not help us, and it leaves people disgusted with politics and politicians. We all felt that in the last election campaign. That kind of thing should never happen again. I hope it will not happen again and that, in future, the rules will be tightened up to avoid things like Option Canada and the endless list of scandals.

Scandal after scandal, people are disillusioned and fed up with politics. They say that politics are not necessary and, in any case, politicians are all the same. It is a bit disappointing to hear people say that. There is not much use trying to explain because that is often the answer we get. I think that politics have to be made more accessible insofar as what we do is concerned. We are making progress. We are doing it by means of the householders we send out to inform our people four times a year. What we do here has to be made known, though, in a much more general way so that people really understand. If I am talking with someone about Bill C-55, he has to be able to understand exactly what that is.

Not everyone is highly politicized, of course, but I think that we can connect with people more and get through to them.

I am looking forward to this bill going back to committee because I think it can be improved. All the parties in the House surely have important suggestions to make. We can make them in a harmonious atmosphere because they are intended to make it easier for our fellow citizens to go and vote.

What I have seen in some places did not make sense. Polling stations were chosen in inaccessible places, sometimes even churches or little chapels when it was bitterly cold outside. People could not even get inside to wait. They had to stay outside in the middle of the winter in a snowstorm or in temperatures of 30o C below zero. That is unacceptable. We need to review all that. We have to make sure places are found. I know that people cannot vote in schools in federal elections, but in Quebec they do. It is much easier that way. As a result, locations have to be found all over the place and sometimes they are very inaccessible. This is something that we really should review for Canadians. One result of all this is that people get angry. They go back home and say they will not vote because it does not make sense to be forced to wait outside for half an hour when it is 30o C below zero.

Then there is the whole issue of homeless people, to which my colleague referred earlier. It is important that these people also be allowed to vote. A voter's card would be the best means to allow them to vote in an election. We must reach out to these people, and we must also find an effective way to do so. They must have a say in the election of their government, which is going to develop policies that may save them, or help them move away from homelessness. There are associations that look after these people, but we must do more to encourage them to vote.

In conclusion, I personally think that Bill C-55 does not do much. I hope the government will be open to constructive amendments that will truly increase the chances of seeing these people vote in large numbers. We must fare better than we currently do in this regard. Indeed, it is rather disappointing to see that only 52% of the population voted. Even when we win, it is disappointing to see that people are turning away from politics.

So, as I said, I hope we can improve this bill by using everyone's input, and by using our experience both in Parliament and in the community, because we also work in the community.

I am currently working as the assistant to our new election campaign director. We talk to people and we hear what they think. They have good ideas. We must follow up on these ideas with concrete measures. Of course, we should not expect miracles. We will not achieve a 100% voter turnout. However, the more the voter turnout increases, the better we can do our work as representatives of the public, as elected people, as members of all the various parties and, in my case, as member of the Bloc Québécois.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

May 30th, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate today on the expanded voting opportunities bill.

The right to vote is our most precious and fundamental right. Each year about 150,000 people become new Canadian citizens. Most have come to our nation in search of freedom and they find that when they achieve Canadian citizenship, the right to vote, among the many rights and privileges they are conferred, is the most treasured privilege and duty that they do acquire.

Public participation in the political process, by exercising one's right to vote, is the cornerstone of our democracy. Voting validates the position of a responsible and accountable government. Of all forms of civic engagement, voting is perhaps the simplest and most important. By deciding to vote, Canadians have a say in what happens to their country.

By the very act of voting, they are playing an active role in the future of their country and their community, first by reflecting on the decision they must make and then by the decision itself. It is precisely for this undertaking that many people become citizens.

A deeper community and civic commitment is built on this foundation. It may lead to the creation of a minor hockey league for children, the organization of a tree-planting project or the cleaning of a ravine.

Unfortunately, voter participation in elections has been in decline over the years. In 1958, 79.4% of Canadians voted in that year's general election. However, that fell to 69% of eligible voters by 1993 and by 2004 only 60.5% of eligible voters cast a ballot.

Unfortunately, young people voted at even lower rates than previous generations. In fact, in the 2000 election, only about 25% of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 bothered to vote.

It is undeniable that fewer people are going to the polls in Canada, yet we know that the one true method for citizens to hold their governments to account is through the ballot box. When voter turnout declines, it means that fewer people are holding their governments to account. The result is that our democratic system suffers.

We on this side of the House want to change the current situation. We want to see more people engaged in the political process and we want more people to vote.

A study led by Elections Canada indicates that many Canadians have trouble finding the time to go vote. Generally speaking, between work, studies and family, they do not have enough time to make it to the polls. I know that, on voting day, many people get up in the morning with the intention of voting, but because they have to work extra hours or because their kids have a minor hockey game that night, they do not find the time to exercise their right to vote.

At the same time, Canadians indicated that they appreciate the convenience of advance voting, and more and more voters are taking advantage of the opportunity to vote at advance polling stations. Indeed, voter turnout at advance polling stations nearly doubled between the 1997 election and the 2006 election.

Furthermore, the European example has shown that opening polling stations on Sundays leads to greater voter turnout. For instance, in the French presidential election held Sunday, May 6, voter turnout was 85%.

Therefore on May 9, 2007, we introduced the bill that we are debating today, Bill C-55, to increase voter turnout by giving Canadians more opportunities to vote.

The bill, which is part of our agenda to strengthen accountability and democracy in Canada, adds two advanced polling dates. One is on Sunday, the eighth day before election day, and the other is on Sunday, the day before election day.

The Sunday before election day will be a special advance poll. All polling stations used for the general voting day will be open on the last advanced polling day, not just a limited number of stations used for any other advanced polling days.

That means that Canadians will now have the choice of voting on election day, which is a Monday, or on Sunday, the day before election day or earlier at four other advanced polls.

This will mean all Canadians will have an opportunity to vote at an advanced poll right in their own neighbourhood on a Sunday which for many is a day without work or school commitments. This will make it easier for Canadians to vote.

With this increased convenience, we hope that families will bring their children with them when they go to vote, helping them to appreciate from an early age the civic duty and opportunity to cast a vote and to understand what it means to be a citizen in a free and democratic country.

These are lessons that if well taught last a lifetime, build stronger communities and make a brighter future for Canada. We know that engaging more Canadians in the electoral process through increasing voter turnout is good for our democracy and good for our country.

It is not just the government who is saying this. The expanded voting opportunities bill has also received the endorsement of academics and interested groups across Canada. For example, a group called Apathy is Boring, which aims at increasing youth voter participation, welcomes the bill. It said:

Apathy is Boring applauds the Expanded Voting Opportunities Bill, which makes a small but critical change to polling days. Accessibility is key to voter participation, and this bill will help ensure accessibility especially among young people.

Keith Archer, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said, “My view is that this legislation is a thoughtful and constructive response to the decline in voter participation in Canadian federal elections, and is aligned with the evident growth in the desire of Canadians to avail themselves of the opportunity to vote in advanced polls...the government is to be applauded for introducing this legislation”.

Leslie Seidle, a senior research associate at the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said, “It ought to encourage more people to go to the polls by offering them additional time on what is a non-working day for most.

These comments show that the expanded voting opportunities bill is a modern, realistic and effective way to increase voter turnout in Canada. However, the bill is just one piece of our agenda to strengthen accountability and democracy in Canada.

Since coming into power, this government has made many efforts to develop concrete measures for democratic reform. One of these legislative measures, tabled in Parliament by this government, was Bill C-4 which led to a review of the rules governing the registration of a political party. And just before Christmas, we passed the Federal Accountability Act, which provides for new strict rules governing campaign financing. Loans by unions and businesses will be prohibited as will be anonymous contributions and trust funds, and the maximum annual donation to a political party is now $1,100.

These two legislative initiatives will help restore the confidence of citizens in the democratic process.

Next we introduced Bill C-16 to establish fixed dates for elections. The bill sets the third Monday in October, four calendar years after each election, as the date of the next general election. Under the legislation, which is now law, the date of the next general election will be October 19, 2009.

Fixed date elections take the guesswork out of the electoral process and level the playing field for the Chief Electoral Officer, for political parties and, most importantly, for voters. They also encourage participation in the democratic process by allowing Canadians to plan to participate in their nation's electoral process.

I am very proud to announce that Bill C-16 has received royal assent despite all the efforts of the unelected Liberal senators to block implementation of the democratic reform proposed by our government.

Next we introduced Bill C-43, the Senate Appointment Consultations Act. With this bill we have acted to strengthen accountability with legislation that gives Canadians a say in who they want representing them in the Senate.

The proposed Senate appointment consultations act recognizes that it is the citizens of the country, not big money or backroom boys, who are best qualified to choose who should speak for them in the Senate. The Senate appointment consultations bill is currently being debated at second reading and we are anxious to see passage of this groundbreaking legislation.

That brings me to Bill S-4, the legislation that proposes to limit Senate terms to eight years instead of the current 45 years.

Today just happens to be the first birthday of the bill to limit the terms of senators. It has been delayed and obstructed by the Liberal Senate for a full year now. Remarkably, even though the Leader of the Opposition says he supports term limits for senators, Bill S-4 has been ensnared in procedural limbo since May 30, 2006, thanks to Liberal senators bent on obstructing and delaying any meaningful democratic reform.

We hope the Liberal senators will give the House of Commons a chance to actually deal with this bill one day.

As you can see, these legislative measures, including Bill C-31, which provides for the improvement of the integrity of the electoral process, as well as all the other bills tabled last week, are modern, realistic and effective and will strengthen our democracy and restore the confidence of Canadians in our democratic institutions.

The bill on expanded voting opportunities provides Canadian workers with more opportunities to vote so that they can make their government accountable. This is an effective means of ensuring an increase in voter turnout and strengthening democracy in Canada.

Unless we check declining voter turnout, we run the risk of having an increasing number of Canadians becoming disengaged from their government.

The way public affairs are conducted could become less democratic and less responsible.

For democracy to work, it must be the property of all, not just a place for narrow interests to pursue their own agenda. That is why it is important for more Canadians to participate in the democratic process. Voter participation is fundamental to the health of our democratic institutions.

Canada's new government is doing all it can to encourage citizens to participate in the democratic process.

This modern, realistic and effective legislative measure represents a new stage in the ambitious action plan that our government has developed to improve democratic institutions and to strengthen the vitality of democracy in Canada.

For all these reasons, I urge all members of the House to support the expanded voting opportunities bill.

May 30th, 2007 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Niagara Falls Ontario


Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. As you indicated, I'm here with Greg Yost from the criminal law policy section and Corporal Evan Graham from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I just want to make sure you know that he's not here for my protection; he's here for your edification. I want to make that clear at the outset.

I'm pleased to appear before you again as you begin consideration of Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

I note that the bill received the support of all parties in the House, but that a number of members have expressed various concerns and look forward to the standing committee's hearings during which experts should be able to respond to their questions.

I want to reiterate that the government is open to consideration of any amendments that are consistent with the scope and principle of this bill and that you consider would strengthen the bill.

As you know, the bill deals with three components: drug impaired driving, defences to a charge of driving with blood alcohol content exceeding 80 milligrams, and amendments that respond to various problems in the Criminal Code's impaired driving provisions.

With respect to drug impaired driving, I should indicate that the provisions of Bill C-32 are almost identical to Bill C-16 as it was amended by the standing committee in the last Parliament. It will provide the legislative framework for the drug recognition expert or the DRE program.

Canada is actually behind some countries, including the United States, in this particular field. Since 1984, for instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States has supported a drug recognition expert training program, which was initially developed by the Los Angeles, California, police department. DRE training has been validated through both laboratory and field studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University.

In 1987, the highway safety committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police was requested by the NHTSA to participate in the development of a national expansion of drug recognition experts, as well as to oversee certifying of the DREs. It took until 1992 for all the work to be done on the first set of IACP standards to be adopted. Those standards have been revised over the years based on the advice of medical and other experts.

In Canada, DRE-certified officers only use DRE where a suspect voluntarily participates in the testing. Once our legislation authorizing police to make DRE demands is in place, we expect Canada to continue to look to the IACP process to ensure we are always using the most up-to-date, scientifically validated practices and procedures.

Of course my officials and I are not the experts on the pharmacology of various drugs, their effects on the ability of a person to drive, or how long the drug lingers in the body, but we will endeavour to respond to any questions that members have. I'm pleased to have a couple of experts with me.

I would point out that we have been guided by the advice of the drugs and driving committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. In 1999, when it was examining the impaired driving provisions, it suggested that there was a need to have legislative demands to perform sobriety tests and DRE evaluations.

Some members of this committee are likely familiar with the DRE program from previous hearings. Therefore, I will outline just the main steps.

First, the officer must suspect the presence of a drug in the body before demanding sobriety tests. That suspicion could be based on a number of factors, including the smell of marijuana or physical symptoms such as eyes that do not react normally to light. This is similar to the suspicion of alcohol in the body based on the smell of alcohol or watery eyes, which is the requirement for a demand for a breath test on a screening device at roadside.

Second, it is only if the driver has failed the roadside sobriety test that the officer can demand further tests at the police station. That the driver is unable to walk a straight line or stand on one foot and hold the other six inches off the ground--the usual tests--the officer now has reasonable grounds to believe that the impairment may be caused by a drug or a combination of drugs and alcohol. This is similar to the officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is impaired by alcohol can take the person to the station for a breath test, the result of which can be used in court.

I believe that members will agree that a person who can't perform the simple roadside sobriety tests should not be driving. If the impairment is caused by alcohol or a drug, the person's impairment is a criminal act. The person has voluntarily consumed a substance that reduces his or her ability to drive.

If the impairment is caused by a medical condition, the person will be sent for medical attention. It is then a matter for provincial driver licensing authorities.

The DRE-trained officer will examine the person and have the person perform certain prescribed tests, including, for example, eye examinations in different lighting, muscle tone, blood pressure, and pulse. Before the DRE expert can demand that a bodily substance be analyzed for the presence of a drug, the expert will have formed the opinion that the person's ability is impaired by a family of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.

Third, the analysis of a bodily sample will either confirm or refute the presence of the drug that the DRE has identified as causing the impairment. This is a check on the officer's identification of the involvement of a specific drug family.

Ultimately the court will have before it evidence of erratic driving or behaviour, failure to complete simple physical coordination tests, a DRE report on the physical symptoms observed that lead to the conclusion the impairment is caused by a family of drugs, and proof by analysis that the person had the drugs in his or her body. It's my understanding that the courts in Canada have found that sufficient evidence to found a conviction in cases where the DRE has proceeded with the voluntary participation of a driver. What Bill C-32 will do is compel the person to participate in the physical coordination tests and in the DRE process.

I now turn to the current use of evidence to the contrary in the courts. I note that during the debate at second reading, reforms we are proposing received strong support. In particular, Mr. Comartin, who has studied this issue quite extensively and has seen the consequences of impaired driving, has said a number of times that the way the two-beer defence has been used is almost a “scandal”.

I agree with him. A two-beer defence is a scandal. It may have had merit in an era when breath test instruments used a needle that had to be read by a technician and the results written down. But with modern electronic instruments that have built-in operability checks and that print out the results, these reasons to accept a two-beer defence no longer apply. The two-beer defence makes all the care that goes into testing and approving instruments, and training operators to use them, close to a waste of time.

One question that was raised was whether it was appropriate for the Criminal Code to restrict the kind of evidence that can be brought forward. I can tell you that Parliament has done so in the past--for example, in the rape shield provisions that restrict the cross-examination of a victim of sexual assault regarding past sexual conduct. It is altogether appropriate, therefore, for Parliament to limit the evidence to the contrary to evidence that has scientific merit. The accused will still be able to bring evidence of consumption, but unless there is evidence either that the approved instrument was malfunctioning or was not operating properly, the evidence of consumption will only be relevant if it is compatible both with the BAC recorded on the instrument and also with the person being under 80 milligrams at the time of driving--for example, because the person had a drink after the driving and before the testing.

I would like to refer to a few other particularly notable reforms proposed by Bill C-32. The bill proposes to increase the current penalties in several ways. I think the higher minimum of $1,000 for a first offence, up from the current $600, reflects the seriousness of the crime. We also propose to come down harder on the repeat impaired driver by increasing the mandatory terms of imprisonment, including raising from 90 to 120 days the minimum for a third-time offender.

We do not believe it is appropriate--and I trust the committee will agree--for a person who has two previous convictions to be able to seek to serve the sentence on an intermittent basis, as they now do. Moreover, we are proposing that the maximum term of imprisonment, if the prosecution proceeds summarily, be increased from six to 18 months.

Our provincial colleagues tell us that there are currently many cases where they will ask for more than six months of imprisonment. They have to proceed by indictment, a more serious and more expensive procedure, even though they know they will not be seeking more than 18 months. Eighteen months' maximum on a summary conviction is the same as that provided for a number of offences, including uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm, assault causing bodily harm, sexual assault, and forcible confinement. So the government believes that the threat of harm caused by the impaired driver merits the same maximum punishment on summary convictions as those offences.

In addition, the bill proposes creating new offences of being over 80 milligrams or refusing to provide a breath sample and causing bodily harm or death. These new offences reflect the general approach of the Criminal Code to treat impaired...or being over 80 milligrams and refusal in the same manner.

Currently the Criminal Code only has the offence of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. In an accident situation, there may be no direct evidence of the person's driving. The symptoms ordinarily used to indicate impairment, such as being unsteady on one's feet, may be attributed to the effects of the accident. There is, therefore, an incentive for the person involved in an accident not to provide a breath sample, and because the certificate establishing BAC can be crucial evidence to establish that the person's ability to drive was in fact impaired....

I believe Bill C-32 is a balanced legislation that will greatly assist the police, prosecutors, and the courts in dealing with impaired drivers. I urge the committee to deal with it expeditiously.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my remarks. I'd be pleased to answer any questions that the committee may have.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 17th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.
See context


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I would not do that.

Tomorrow is an allotted day.

Next week is constituent consultation week, when the House will be adjourned to allow members to return to their ridings and meet with constituents to share with them the activities of Parliament since the last constituency break.

For the interest of members, I will quickly review our plan for the context of our overall legislative agenda.

As he requested, this is currently strengthening the economy week, where a number of financial bills moved forward. The budget bill was sent to committee and, hopefully, it will be reported back tomorrow, or soon, so we can deal with it at third reading when the House returns after the break.

Bill C-40, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act, was read a third time and sent to the Senate. Bill C-53, an act to implement the convention on the settlement of investment disputes, Bill C-33, the sales tax bill and Bill C-47, the Olympics symbol bill were all sent to committee and we all would like to see those back in the House for report stage and third reading.

In an earlier week, Bill C-36, the bill that makes changes to the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act, was made into law after receiving royal assent.

Strengthening accountability through democratic reform week was a success with the consideration of Bill C-43, Senate consultation. We had three new democratic reform bills introduced that week: Bill C-55, to expand voting opportunities; Bill C-56, an act to amend the Constitution Act, democratic representation; and Bill C-54, a bill that would bring accountability with respect to loans. We hope to continue debate on that particular bill later today.

Bill C-16, fixed dates for elections, was given royal assent and is now law, which I think is the cause of the commotion now in all the committees where Liberals are using procedural tactics. Now they feel they can do it with a free hand.

Two other democratic reform bills are in the Senate, Bill C-31, voter integrity, and Bill S-4, Senate tenure. I really would like to have the term limits bill from the Senate for an upcoming democratic reform week if the opposition House leader can persuade his colleagues in the Senate to finally deal with that bill after 352 days. We may get 352 seconds in a filibuster, but they have had 352 days so far. They have been stalling for a year.

During the consultation week, I will be interested in hearing what our constituents think of the plight of Bill S-4 and the irony of those unaccountable senators delaying it.

We dedicated a good deal of our time focusing on making our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime. Now that we have had the help of the NDP, we restored the meaningful aspects that the Liberals gutted in committee to Bill C-10, the bill to introduce mandatory penalties for violent and gun crimes. We are continuing to debate that bill today at third reading.

Bill C-48, the bill dealing with the United Nations convention on corruption, was adopted at all stages.

Bill C-26, the bill to amend the Criminal Code with respect to interest rates, was given royal assent.

Bill C-22, the age of protection, was given final reading and sent to the Senate, although it did spend close to, if not in excess of, 200 days in committee where the Liberals were obstructing and delaying its passage.

We made progress on Bill C-27, the dangerous offenders legislation. We would like to see that back in the House.

Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment) and a host of other justice bills are working their way through the system.

Members can advise their constituents that when we return, we will be reviving two themes, back by popular demand. Beginning May 28, we will begin again with strengthening accountability through democratic reform with: Bill C-54, political loans; Bill C-55, additional opportunities for voting; and Bill C-56, democratic representation.

Up next is a second go-round on strengthening the economy week with Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill, which will be called as soon as it is reported back from committee.

In the near future, we will have the improvement of aboriginal people quality of life week with Bill C-44. This bill will grant first nations residing on Indian reserves access to the Canadian charter of human rights. They have been denied this right for 30 years. Unfortunately, Bill C-44 is being delayed by the opposition. This is another bill being delayed by the opposition in committee.

After Bill C-44, I intend to debate Bill C-51. The agreement establishes the use and ownership of land and resources and will foster economic development. This bill illustrates Canada's commitment to the North and to settling land claims.

I wish all members a productive constituent consultation week and look forward to more progress on the government's legislative agenda when the House returns on May 28.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2007 / 10:15 a.m.
See context


Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-54, which focuses on creating further restrictions on the use of loans for political entities.

I understand the bill, if passed, will amend the pre-existing rules of the Canada Elections Act. This is legislation that touches on the national discussion of democratic reform, a discussion that has always been of great interest for all members of this House and, indeed, for many constituents across my riding of Churchill.

As some members in the House may know, the Churchill riding is a very northern riding in Manitoba and it covers more than half of the province of Manitoba. It reflects rural Canada and aboriginal Canadians, including first nations and the Métis nation.

Canadians expect their members of Parliament to be continuously working to find ways to enhance our nation's democracy. As parliamentarians, we must work together to foster a nation that values both civic responsibility and empowerment. These virtues are the centre of any debate on democratic reform.

Bill C-54 purports to establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors.

Strangely enough, the government's proposed provisions already exist in the current law.

The legislation is also designed to tighten rules of treatment of unpaid loans to ensure candidates cannot walk away from unpaid loans. This does not represent a substantive change to the law as, once again, there are already provisions in place to ensure that loans cannot be written off without consequence. Political riding associations would ultimately be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.

This would allow only financial institutions and other political entities to make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals, and only at commercial rates of interest, although the current law already requires all loans to be made at commercial rates of interest. Under the proposed legislation, unions and corporations would now be unable to make loans and financial institutions could not lend money at rates of interest other than the market norm.

While it seems that the government intended to increase transparency with this bill, the shortcomings of the bill, as it is currently laid out, are such that it would do nothing to increase accountability. Instead, Bill C-54 would build new roadblocks that would restrict the access Canadians have to the democratic process.

If passed as is, the legislation would give financial institutions the full say on who gets to run for political office in Canada rather than Canadians.

In line with the Conservatives' trends of discriminatory policies, the bill would negatively impact many Canadians, especially people in my riding, including first nations, minority candidates and, I believe, women for nomination. Canada is at the point in our history where the government should be continuing the Liberal legacies of encouraging greater participation in the democratic process. The government must celebrate our diversity through political empowerment rather than design laws that would hinder one's ability to run for public office.

The proposed changes would make it very difficult for Canadians, especially those of limited means and those with limited contact to potential wealthy contributors to even seek nomination in Canada because of the challenge of securing loans from banking institutions. I am curious as to whether the members opposite were intentionally doing this or perhaps it is an aspect of the bill that they merely overlooked. Either case, I think it is a question worthy of further exploration.

I also want to add that under Liberal leadership in this country, the government passed legislation that limited the roles of corporations and unions in electoral financing and introduced the most dramatic lowering of contribution limits in Canadian history.

The key difference between limiting the role of corporate and union contributions in political campaigns and limiting loans in the manner that the government has introduced is a matter of equity. I feel that their proposed approach would be regressive. Given this opportunity to advance this debate, we should seize the opportunity to democratize our institutions where available.

For some, the window of opportunity to influence policy may only come once every four year. Since the passing of Bill C-16, the next scheduled time Canadians will have the ability to voice their opinion for policy change will be in October 2009. This is not to say that the federal election will occur on that date but rather that it is theoretically conceivable.

Our democracy is an institution of the people and in order for such an institution to be truly meaningful it must be truly accessible, regardless of gender, race and social status. With this in mind, we need legislation that will address these demands for all Canadians.

I look forward to hearing other members' perspectives on this debate and observing how it unfolds in the near future.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 10th, 2007 / 3 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, as you are aware, this week is strengthening accountability through democratic reform week. It has been a busy week for the democratic reform family of bills.

We sent out invitations for the first birthday of Bill S-4, the Senate tenure bill, which Liberal senators have been delaying for almost a year now.

While we are disappointed with the behaviour of Bill S-4's caregivers, we did have some good news this week with the successful delivery of two new members of the family: Bill C-54, a bill to bring accountability with respect to loans; and Bill C-55, a bill to expand voting opportunities.

There is more good news. We are expecting.

Tomorrow, I will be introducing an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, on democratic representation, which is on today's notice paper.

Bill C-16, fixed dates for elections, was finally allowed by the clingy Liberal-dominated Senate to leave the nest when it was given royal assent last week.

With respect to the schedule of debate, we will continue today with the opposition motion.

Friday, we conclude strengthening accountability through democratic reform week with debate on the loans bill, possibly the Senate consultation bill and, hopefully, Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill.

Next week will be strengthening the economy week, when we will focus on helping individuals, families and businesses get ahead.

Beginning Monday, and continuing through the week, the House will consider: Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill; Bill C-33 to improve our income tax system; Bill C-40, to improve the sales tax system; Bill C-53, relating to investment disputes; and Bill C-47, the Olympics bill, which help us have a successful Olympics. Hopefully, we can get to Bill C-41, the Competition Act.

If time permits, we will also call for third and final reading Bill C-10, the minimum mandatory sentencing bill.

Thursday, May 17 shall be an allotted day.

Wednesday, May 16, shall be the day appointed, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), for the purpose of consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under Canadian Heritage of the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.

Thursday, May 17, shall be the day appointed for the purpose of consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under National Defence of the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.

Finally, there is an agreement with respect to the debate tomorrow on the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion.

I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, the debate pursuant to Standing Order 66 scheduled for tomorrow be deemed to have taken place and all questions necessary to dispose of the motion to concur in the 13th Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts be deemed put and a recorded division be deemed requested and deferred to Wednesday, May 16, 2007, at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2007 / 4:55 p.m.
See context


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I should begin my comments on Bill C-54 by recognizing and paying tribute to the former leader of the New Democratic Party who most recently sat in the riding of Ottawa Centre, because it was he who blew the whistle on the fact that the political donation regime in this country left a loophole that was so outrageous it was bound to be exploited and abused.

Mr. Broadbent had the sense to recognize that even though the amounts of money that can be donated to a political campaign or to a political party had been reduced, by allowing these huge loans, which never really have to be paid back, it was obvious that somebody with a lack of ethical standards would take advantage of that loophole and would begin to act as if there were no financial limitations. I recognize Mr. Broadbent for raising this issue for us in his ethics package.

I am gratified that today we are dealing with a bill in the House of Commons that will close this last remaining loophole, one of the most serious loopholes in our election financing laws, because we start with the basic premise that nobody should be able to buy an election in this country, or a politician, for that matter. When we are dealing with such massive amounts of money, the point that was made by the House leader of the government was that a politician or a political party is going to owe somebody a great deal. They are going to owe somebody an obligation, a debt, and it is not healthy for the interests of democracy to have some corporate sponsor pulling the strings of politicians through this enormous debt of gratitude that is owed. That is the fundamental principle here. That is the direction in which we believed we needed to go.

These loans were a loophole that simply had to be plugged. The most egregious example, I suppose, and what really caught the public's imagination, was during the Liberal leadership campaign. Even though businesses and unions were not allowed to donate a single dollar, they could loan tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and individuals could loan far in excess of what they were allowed to donate.

Then, through the very loosey-goosey standards and rules that exist in terms of the repayment of those loans, if the loan was not paid back within 18 months it was deemed to be a donation, albeit an illegal donation. We allowed this contradiction to exist in our election finance regime. Some would say it was by design that the rules put in place by the previous government to put limits on election financing left this convenient loophole there, with it knowing full well their people would stumble upon it, seize on it and use it.

The other example that turned people's heads and simply sounded the alarm that this had to be addressed was the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. Even though a business is not allowed to donate anything and a union is not allowed to donate anything, his business loaned the Mississauga--Streetsville riding association $176,000 in one loan, I believe it was, and another $60,000 in another loan.

How can that be? It is a contradiction that we have allowed to evolve, because if that loan is not paid back within the 18 months, it is deemed to be a donation, and then we will have allowed a business to make a donation, which it is not allowed to at all, and a donation in the amount of a quarter of a million dollars, which is clearly in excess of anything contemplated when we set the donation limits for individuals at $1,100 per year.

This had to be done. I do take some recognition of the fact that we played a role in bringing this about. It was the NDP that moved this as an amendment during the Federal Accountability Act debates, but I also caution that we perhaps have not gone as far as we could. There are two things in the bill that worry me somewhat.

Even though we cannot pass legislation retroactively to give us some satisfaction on the debacle of the Liberal leadership loans or the loan of the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, we can have legislation that is retrospective in nature. We can look at ways to address these loans that drew the public's attention to this issue to make sure there is some compliance with at least the existing regime.

The second thing that we find fault with regarding this legislation is we cannot understand for the life of us why the date of implementation will be six months after the bill receives royal assent. My colleague, the government House leader, suggested that perhaps there is a way we could speak to the Chief Electoral Officer and garner support for the idea of a more rapid implementation date. I would urge the government to do so, because as the bill is currently drafted, it is possible we could have another federal election under the current set of rules which allow these political loans.

Now that it is common knowledge that there is no law against lending someone $100,000, even though the donation limit is only $1,100, a lot more people will be doing it if it is allowed. It would be morally and ethically wrong to allow another federal election to take place under the current set of rules. Therefore, I would urge members when the bill gets to committee, to look favourably on the idea of an amendment, which we would be happy to put forward, that the date of implementation should be when the bill receives royal assent.

This is much in the same spirit that we looked at the Federal Accountability Act. We did not see any reason to delay the implementation of the election financing rules associated with the accountability act, even though the Liberal Party urged us strenuously to delay and delay and delay because the Liberals wanted to get their leadership convention out of the way. That is certainly one of the things we would like to see.

I heard my colleague from the Liberal Party try to make arguments against this bill. Even though I do not take this remark seriously, I do give him credit for at least having the courage to try to be creative to find some reason why this bill is a bad idea.

I do have to counter one of the arguments he made which was completely spurious. He suggested that by banning these loans or putting severe limits on these loans, it would actually act as a barrier to those who do not have access to friends with money from entering into politics. It is like arguing night is day, because that is absolutely 180 degrees the polar opposite of what any cursory reading of the bill would tell us. In actual fact, the idea is to take big money out of politics and to take away the unfair competitive advantage that people who are well connected currently enjoy. The idea is to level the playing field.

That was the purpose of Bill C-24, which the Liberals introduced when they first put limits on donations. The idea was to get big money out of politics so that nobody could buy influence. That was certainly the argument put forward under Bill C-2 when we further reduced the donation limits to $1,100.

It is courageous to argue that this is actually the inverse. It takes a lot of guts to stand there and try to make that argument, but we cannot let that go unchallenged. If anything, this is an enabling measure that does level the playing field so that all of us, if we need to borrow money to get our campaign started, have to go to a recognized lending institution. No single person would be able to underwrite or co-sign a loan to an extent greater than the person would be allowed to donate in that year. It is eminently sensible because if there is a default on that loan and the loan becomes deemed to be a donation later on, then the donation would not be in excess of what the person would have been allowed to donate. It seems common sense to me.

A further innovation and protection here is that we do not want the precedent set by Paul Hellyer and the Canadian Action Party to set the tone. In that case, he simply wrote off the $800,000 debt to the Canadian Action Party. We do not want to see John Rae writing off the debt to Bob Rae. We do not want to see Mr. Mamdouh Stephanos writing off the $200,000 debt which was loaned to the leader of the official opposition. That would be fundamentally wrong because then those guys would have made a $200,000 loan which became a donation which they then forgave. Talk about buying influence in a campaign. What about the $100,000 that Marc de la Bruyere loaned to the leader of the official opposition?

We have every reason to believe that the leader of the official opposition will probably pay back those debts because he will have the ability to fundraise within the $1,000 limit and because he is in a fishbowl and everybody is watching what he is going to do with his campaign debts.

What about the losers in that race? For instance, I used the example of John Rae, a senior executive with Power Corporation, being able to simply write off and forgive the $840,000 that he loaned to his brother, Bob, to run in that campaign. That would be a travesty. That would be an absolute abuse of the election financing laws as we know them today.

With this bill, it is deemed that if the loan is not paid back in an acceptable period of time, or the time frame negotiated between the lender, a bank, and the borrower, or 18 months, whichever comes first, it would be the riding association and the political party of the riding association that would have to assume that debt. That would make sense. In fact it would help from an equity point of view for the person borrowing the money, because the person is actually borrowing the money with the guarantor of the political party that the person belongs to. The financial institution would have some comfort. The person would not have to find a financial backer to co-sign that loan; in fact, the person would not be allowed to.

If, as I have done, one needed to borrow $20,000 to get the campaign started, one would need to find 20 guarantors at $1,000 each. No one person could co-sign the loan. That is the way it should be. If the person cannot find 20 people to sponsor his or her entry into politics, perhaps that person should rethink whether he or she should be going into politics or not because the person is not going to get very far anyway.

I think this is eminently fair. It has covered the three conditions that the NDP raised during the debate on the Federal Accountability Act. I completely reject the Liberals' argument that there could be perverse consequences which would limit entry into politics.

Again my colleague from Vancouver Quadra very cleverly planted the idea that perhaps Equal Voice would be disappointed with this initiative, as if this would somehow be a barrier for more women to enter politics. I would argue that the absolute inverse would be true, because this will level the playing field so that well-connected people with corporate sponsorship, like we saw in the Liberal leadership race, will not have a competitive advantage over a woman without those connections. Again it levels the playing field. We have not had any indication how Equal Voice would react to this bill, but from what I know of the people in that organization, I think they would support this idea.

I wish we would not reform the election financing regime in such a piecemeal fashion. There are a number of other things that the NDP has been calling for. One I will speak to briefly is that now that Bill C-16 has passed very quietly and without fanfare over in the other place, it is now law and we have fixed election dates, I believe we should have year-round spending limits. Now that we know elections will be held every four years on a fixed date in the month of October, there should be some regulation on the amount parties can spend on advertising not just during the writ period but outside the writ period as well. That is a necessary natural consequence of having fixed election dates. I would look forward to some movement from the government in that regard.

I also wish we had done something about the age of political donors. I am very critical of the idea that we can actually launder money through our children's bank accounts in a way to exceed the donation limits allowed by law. That seems to be acceptable in that when it happened in the Liberal leadership race and we filed complaints with the elections commissioner, nothing came of it.

I guess if an 11 year old wants to donate $5,000 to a political candidate, nobody thinks twice. When it is twins and they both decide to donate $5,400 each to the same candidate, nobody thinks twice. Throughout the whole country Canadians shook their heads when they saw that. I would like to see us have the courage to move forward and say that this is simply wrong.

It is wrong to launder money through anybody's bank account if the purpose is to defraud the system and exceed the donation limits allowed by law, whether it is one's mother-in-law or brother. A person is not allowed to donate the maximum himself or herself and then sneak a cheque under the table to his or her buddy and say, “Send this along to the Liberal Party for me too”. It is against the law to conspire to defraud the system. We are silent on that and even when we file complaints on that, the elections commissioner seems to be silent on it.

The NDP tried to move an amendment to Bill C-2 which said that underage people could donate money, but if they did, it would be deducted from the total amount their legal guardian was allowed to donate. In other words, if a 14 year old felt strongly enough about politics and wanted to donate $100 of the money he or she earned at the burger joint, more power to him or her, but that meant the child's parents or legal guardians would donate $100 less that year. If people get a tax advantage from being children's legal guardians, they have to be legal guardians in this era of politics unless and until the children reach legal age as well. That would have been a courageous move and would have cleaned up one of those embarrassing situations that we allow in our system currently.

Let me speak briefly about the outstanding issue that we are all worried about, which is the issue of the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, who is not a Liberal any more, but when the loans took place he was. Now he is a Tory.

I do not know how we are going to address this, but we should remind everybody, and maybe through this speech we will serve notice, that no one's sweetheart can bail out somebody like that. If someone borrows $50,000, as many of the people did in the Liberal leadership campaign, and it is not paid back quickly, the candidate cannot pay it off because he or she would be exceeding the limit. The candidate cannot have a guardian angel donor show up out of nowhere and bail him or her out. The money has to be paid back within the donation limits.

The money was raised within the donation limits of the act, which is $1,100 per year. I do not see how some of these candidates are going to do so. The burden of proof is on them to pay it back in compliance with the law. Some of these failed leadership candidates are now raising money for the next federal election and they are still asking people for money to pay off the debt they incurred.

As I say, it is not that tough for the winner to pay off the debt. It is a lot tougher for the losers, the ones who did not win. It has to be the $1,000 limit. We are watching. These people are in a fishbowl and we will be filing complaints. If they do not pay it back at all and it is deemed to be a donation, then what? I will tell the House what.

Under the current election laws, and this should be fixed too, they can take out another loan to pay off the first loan and buy themselves another 18 months. Then the debt gets lost in the sands of time and we will have been complicit with somebody conspiring to defraud the election system. Those are the people on this list that I have right here.

Some of the people in the Liberal leadership campaign might find themselves in that situation. It would be wrong, but they may be leaning that way and our Elections Act is not tough enough to stop that from happening. I was disappointed, in fact I was shocked to learn that would be allowed, that they could take out a second loan to pay off the first loan and buy themselves another 18 months. Who is going to be around to police whether the second loan gets paid off three or five years down the road? This is really not satisfactory.

If we are serious about levelling the playing field, about taking big money out of politics and about making sure that nobody can buy an election in this country, we have to go all the way. We should put together an election financing regime that we can all be proud of. We could be an international centre of excellence. That would make me proud.

I take some pride, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, that it was the former leader of our party, the hon. Ed Broadbent, who brought this issue to light and said, more or less, that no further federal elections should take place until we clean up the election financing regime in this country. The NDP tried to do it during the debate on the Federal Accountability Act. It seemed to take a little longer than we thought to resonate with the ruling party, but it seemed to have at least accepted the need for this now.

We are critical that there will be a six month wait after the bill receives royal assent. We expect this to get a rough ride from the Liberal Party. I am not trying to state the obvious, but if one cannot raise or borrow money, one is not going to be in any hurry to pass this bill.

We hope the Liberals do not stall it unnecessarily, but I think the government should act quickly to take that six month proviso out of the way, implement it as soon as we can, and get it through the House, so that the next federal election can be run with equal opportunity for everybody and that no unfair competitive advantage go to those who might enjoy a corporate sponsor or guardian angel donor.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
See context


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Liberal opposition and address Bill C-54. I must say at the outset that the government House leader was not able or willing to answer my earlier question about the disclosure of the Prime Minister's leadership funders in 2002.

He did not address that topic, but I think this House needs to know that, particularly in relation to the comments that the government House leader made about the open disclosure of all loans, of all lenders and all amounts by the Liberal leadership contenders last year. Clearly they were acting beyond what the Canada Elections Act required, in good faith and with full disclosure. Everybody knows both what is going on there and the rules that apply to it.

As for the Prime Minister bringing forth this legislation, I think the government House leader suggests that he is somehow on the road to Damascus, leading this House in some epiphany in terms of loans and the way they are treated. Perhaps he was waylaid, misled or turned around and is actually on the road to perdition, because this bill of course has a perverse consequence. It is a non-accountability act. Again, it is Orwellian in many of the impacts that it will have. I will take some time to explain exactly why this will make democracy weaker in many ways in our country if it goes ahead as it is written, without amendment.

The Liberal Party is certainly very much in favour of transparency and accountability and will be looking toward a bill that properly and effectively tightens up the application and the use of loans in political financing in this country wherever it might be necessary. However, we certainly will also want to ensure that as the bill goes forward the proper amendments are made so that it does not, whether consciously or unconsciously, create a barrier to entry to the political process for those who do not have access to funds or friends who have access to funds, or to financial institutions that reflect their willingness to give loans because they realize that these people already have money, or they have people who will sign for them and back them up with money. We have to be very careful that this is not a barrier.

Let me go back to January 2004, when the former Liberal government brought in the most dramatic changes to electoral financing in this country's history with Bill C-24, and indeed perhaps the most dramatic change than had happened in any democratic jurisdiction in the world, which of course reduced the union and corporation donation limits per year to a mere $1,000. That is almost meaningless when we are talking about a nation this size. To suggest that a $1,000 donation by a corporation could buy favour across this country in an electoral process is beyond imagination. In any case, we effectively took that out and left the donations at a $5,000 level for individual members of the public, who are of course the basic building block and the basic unit of democracy. That is where it should be. That was an extremely important step. It was a dramatic step in the political history of this country.

Bill C-24 also did some other things. It introduced an aspect of proportional representation. I know that many members in the House in all parties are interested in seeing us proceed with consultations and consideration of that. However, when the private money was taken out to such a dramatic degree, Bill C-24 provided for public funding of electoral processes by providing $1.75 for every vote that any party received in the general election nationwide.

That allowed for a proportionality that corrected some of the difficulties with the first past the post process, where often the number of seats in this House achieved by parties bears very little relation to the proportion of the vote they get. As an example, the Green Party got 600,000 votes in the last election. Under that provision, it received over $1 million, which allows its members to express the views of the people who voted for them through the financing of their political activity, although not yet representation, across the country. That is a first tentative but important step. It was part of that groundbreaking electoral financing legislation.

Let me correct a perception that the government House leader gave, which was incorrect. He suggested there were no rules now covering loans and the disclosure of loans. In fact, the current statutory provisions require the disclosure of all loans. They require the disclosure of the lenders and the guarantors of those loans.

Another misconception is that there are no consequences if these loans can be written off. In fact, there are consequences. Those loans must be repaid within an 18 month period or they fall under the political contribution rules, which are very strict.

It is not a way to have money given. It is money loaned for a period during an electoral process, either a leadership process, as was involved last year with the Liberal leadership, or perhaps a nomination process where someone does not have access to party funds or riding association funds. If people were unable to take a loan, that might well be a barrier to entry into the political process for people who were not of independent means. There are consequences. Those must be converted and that is an important aspect to it.

Who owns the Prime Minister? The government House leader raised the issue of the Liberal leadership candidates and the influence of big money, but we still have not had an answer about who financed the leadership bid of the Prime Minister in 2002.

Why do we want to know that? We want to know that for the very reason the government suggests we need the bill. We already have provisions in the Canada Elections Act that cover both disclosure of loans and repayment of loans and consequence if we do not. In any event, why do we want to know? It is an immensely important question. Is it U.S. gun lobby? Is it big oil? Who made those contributions to the Prime Minister's leadership race in 2002? We will come back to that until we get a proper answer, until the Canadian people get a proper answer. These are important issues.

Let me talk about the name of the act, the accountability with respect to loans act. It could be called the new Conservative bank of Canada act. It is big money that would get more influence because of the way the act is written currently. We will seek amendments to ensure it does not simply limit the influence that can be exerted to those with money or have access to big money. Let me tell members why.

Financial institutions are the only ones that can make big loans to individuals. If people are maybe from a disadvantaged group or an under-represented group who have not been in politics before, who seek a nomination in a riding, those people do not have independent wealth, they do not have a riding association yet to loan them funds, as is allowable under this bill, and they do not have, perhaps, credit worthiness to go to a bank. What does that person do? The individual is left out. They simply cannot, effectively. With the limits under this, there is a barrier to entry into the nomination process.

If we look at the Liberal leadership process that went for nine months of fulsome discussion and debate across the country, presenting 11 candidates for scrutiny by the public in a highly open and democratic process, those were expensive. We cannot do that in a country the size of Canada without having some funds to expend for it.

Those should be under rules, and there are rules. There may be some tightening up that the bill can do, and that is fine. However, to say that people taking out loans so they can exercise their right to take part in the democratic electoral process for leadership, for nomination, is going down the wrong road.

In fact, the bill, as written, does not, as Bill C-24 previously did, take out corporate money and put in public money that was properly and evenly distributed according to the proportion of the vote achieved by each party that ran candidates. This cuts out the public and brings in the big money.

Who can get a loan from a bank, from a financial institution? It is someone with a lot of money or property to put up as collateral, or someone to co-sign or support the loan. Those are people of influence and money. This is letting the money in. It is not keeping the money out. That is what we will have to see. I look forward to working with members of the Bloc, the NDP and the government to see if we can get some amendments so we do not create a barrier to entry for people who have no means and are not yet part of the political process. That transparency is immensely important.

We have an organization called Equal Voice. All members of the House will be well aware of and knowledgeable about it. The organization seeks to encourage women to enter the political process so we can rise above the deplorable disproportion of men to women in the House of Commons, with 20% representation by women.

The leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has pledged that in the next election one-third of the Liberal candidates will be women. We are well on the way in the nomination process to achieving that. This is a demonstrative move to try to get a proper proportion of gender equity into the House.

If this goes to committee, I am sure Equal Voice, representing all parties and all people across the political spectrum, will be very interested to come to talk the committee and to give evidence, as will many other groups who represent disadvantaged or under-represented sectors of this society. They will want to come and give their evidence on it. I hope we will take instruction from them as to how, perhaps unintentionally, the unavoidable consequence of this will be, to exert more power, not less, in those who have access to large amounts of funds.

This new Conservative bank of Canada act is interesting. It may tighten up the rules a little. It is not so that the Canada Elections Act now does not require loans to be repaid or be converted into contributions under the very restrictive rules. It is not so that contributors, lenders or co-signers do not have to be disclosed for political loans. They do have to be.

I am as anxious as anyone else in the House to see that this process is not abused, and if we can tighten it up, all the better. However, we have to ensure there are no unintended consequences of creating barriers to disadvantaged and under-represented groups.

The government House leader took some time to describe a number of what were called democratic reform bills, or statutes, in the House as brought forward by the Conservative government, and it is worth talking about a few of those.

One is Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act. Members of the House and the committee of the House spent a great deal of time on this as did members of the Senate. In fact, unencumbered by a set deadline that was forced on the House committee in the House, the Senate put forward dozens of amendments through its careful review of that act, even under the constant shrill criticism of the government that it was slowing things down.

Regarding slowing things down, royal assent was given to the Federal Accountability Act on December 15, 2006. Here we are, almost five months later, and one of the central parts of that act was the appointments commission. Amendments by the NDP sharpened that up. We had two choices. The Liberal opposition put forward amendments. The NDP put forward amendments. All of them would have been effective, and will be effective, as it was finally passed, but all these months later, all of these appointments later, dozens of them, and we still do not have the appointments commission. This was one of the key things that was said by the government to be so important about the Federal Accountability Act. We do not even have a commission.

We continue without the proper controls. We had suggested that the Public Service Commission take over this role, that there be amendments to its mandate to apply the same rules, competitive process and objective criteria used in the public service for any order in council appointments, but we still do not have that.

I would be very interested to hear from the government when it is going to proceed with that important part of Bill C-2. There were so many complaints about it being delayed when in fact there were a very large number of responsible, thoughtful and careful amendments suggested by the Senate, and actually passed into law.

Bill C-16 deals with fixed dates. We supported that on this side of the House. There was no delay. There was careful consideration in the Senate. There was a thoughtful amendment put forward. It was brought back to the House with that amendment. We on this side offered the government, before the Easter recess, to pass the bill through all processes in the House, back to the Senate, hopefully, for royal assent in the day before we broke. That was rejected. We would have needed unanimous consent, but we did not get it from the government.

Bill C-43 was mentioned by the government House leader. It is not a Senate elections act; it is a consultation act, with provincial elections. It is being put forward as a great democratic reform. I think all members of the House believe, as do probably all members of the other place, that the Senate needs reform in becoming a fully democratic legislative chamber, and we should all work toward that. This is going at it piecemeal. We get criticisms of trying to block the incremental reform of the Senate, but the fact is it all fits together and it must be dealt with at once.

There are three critical aspects of the Senate that have to be considered together.

One aspect is the selection process, which could include elections or involve terms. The term limit is suggested in Bill S-4.

Another aspect is the mandate. In the future how does the mandate relate to the mandate of the House of Commons? Will it be a mirror legislative body with the same electoral validity that will then lead to gridlock. We have to do to deal with that area of comprehensive reform is to have some kind of dispute resolution mechanism whenever the legislative powers mirror each other in the House and the other place.

Then we have the distribution. We cannot do anything else with the Senate until we work out the distribution. It is amazing that the Prime Minister, and all members of the government, would consider doing something to give a greater validity, greater power to the Senate without fixing the very unfair, inequitable distribution of seats to western Canada, particularly to British Columbia and Alberta.

For all of us from British Columbia and Alberta, it is extraordinary that we might think of increasing the power of that body without fixing the horrible lack of fair distribution to western Canada.

Bert Brown has been mentioned in the House by the Prime Minister as being the senator in waiting, to be appointed sometime this summer. He has played a very important role in the political life of Canada. He did not play that role by plowing one E into his barley field or a wheat field. He plowed three E's into it. To try to deal with just one E at once in a piecemeal incremental way, as the Prime Minister says, is not in the favour of Alberta, from where that fine gentleman comes. Nor is it responsible reform in the comprehensive way to properly bring the Senate into the modern age of a democratic legislative chamber. We have to work together to do that.

We often hear about the ghosts of Meech Lake and the ghosts of Charlottetown. We also hear that we cannot go near the Constitution because, my goodness, we might all get distracted and not be able to do anything else in this country and we will never get anywhere. Thank goodness the Fathers of Confederation were not so shy about dealing with the Constitution. We should take on that responsibility ourselves.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved that Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I open the debate today on the accountability with respect to loans bill.

This legislation builds on our groundbreaking Federal Accountability Act in ushering in a modern era of clean politics, an era when it will no longer be acceptable for any political entity, including candidates and leadership contestants, to mortgage themselves to powerful, wealthy individuals. This bill is modern, accountable and realistic and it would strengthen our democracy.

Canada's new government fought the last election campaign on a commitment to eliminate the influence of big money in the political process and, since our very first days in office, we have been delivering on that commitment with an active agenda of meaningful democratic reform.

The Federal Accountability Act brought in tough new campaign finance rules. In it, corporate and union contributions were banned. Anonymous contributions and trust funds were banned. A strict limit on annual donations to a political party of $1,100 was established to put an end to the influence of big money.

With these reforms we have closed the door on those who tried to exert influence by signing large cheques.

It has been said, “Think what you do when you run into debt; you give another power over your liberty”. Unfortunately, last year it became apparent that the Liberal leadership candidates were all too willing to relinquish their liberty by mortgaging themselves to a handful of wealthy individuals.

When Liberal leadership candidates started financing their campaigns with big loans from a few wealthy individuals, Canadians saw that big money had found a back door. It had found a way around the Federal Accountability Act. Big money saw political loans as an opportunity to buy back the influence that the Conservative campaign finance reform had blocked. And they took that opportunity, big money did.

The leader of the official opposition mortgaged himself for almost half a million dollars to rich and powerful people like Rod Bryden and Stephen Bronfman.

Bob Rae accepted a whopping $720,000 from his brother, an executive vice-president and member of the board of directors of Power Corporation. The member for Kings—Hants borrowed big cash to the tune of $200,000 and the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore borrowed almost $.5 million as well, all of it either from wealthy individuals or guaranteed by a handful of powerful interests.

In total, Liberal leadership candidates are on the record as owing over $3 million, almost all of it to wealthy individuals. To put that figure in context, that debt is six times the total amount raised by the entire Liberal Party in the first three months of 2007.

Big money found an easy way to get around the Federal Accountability Act by giving huge sums of money to their favourite candidates and simply calling them loans. I do not think that arrangement sits well with Canadians. It is inconsistent with the spirit of the new Federal Accountability Act that sought to eliminate the undue influence of big money on politics.

Canadian democracy does not breathe easy when the country's leaders owe millions of dollars to a handful of rich and powerful people.

The accountability with respect to loans bill would ensure that politicians are accountable to the people who elect them, not the rich and powerful people who want to bankroll them. Today we are acting decisively to put an end to that kind of old style, backroom politics. With this legislation, our government will kick down the doors of political back rooms and turn the lights on.

The bill would regulate all loans made to political parties, candidates and associations in Canada. The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political entities. It would require mandatory disclosure of terms and of the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors.

Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals would not be able to exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Federal Accountability Act, which is set at $1,100 for this year, 2007. Only financial institutions and other political entities would be able to make loans beyond that $1,100 limit and then only at commercial rates of interest, the same rates all other Canadians would get from their banks or credit unions.

Under the accountability with respect to loans bill, unions and corporations would be unable to make loans, just as they are now unable to make contributions. This brings our campaign finance rules for loans in line with the rules for political contributions.

Finally, the rules for the treatment of unpaid loans would be tightened by this legislation to ensure candidates could not walk away from unpaid loans. Riding associations would be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.

In short, the accountability with respect to loans bill is modern, realistic and effective. It would strengthen our democracy and public confidence in the integrity of our political system.

The accountability with respect to loans bill builds on the agenda of democratic reform our government has undertaken since being elected. Canada's new government has taken action to modernize Canada's political system by introducing realistic legislation that strengthens accountability, strengthens our democracy and makes the entire political process more accountable.

First we introduced Bill C-4, which implemented a review of the requirements for the registration of political parties.

As I mentioned, the Federal Accountability Act, which included provisions to reduce the influence of big money on politics, was passed before Christmas. Bill C-16, another bill, strengthens our democracy by improving responsibility, transparency and equity. It establishes fixed election dates every four years on the third Monday in October.

Fixed dates take the guesswork out of the electoral process and level the playing field for the chief electoral officer, for political parties and, more important, for voters. It also encourages participation in the democratic process by allowing Canadians to plan to participate in their nation's electoral process.

I am very pleased to report that Bill C-16 finally received royal assent despite becoming the target of unelected Liberal senators to obstruct and delay every aspect of the government's democratic reform agenda, as has been their habit.

As members will recall, Bill C-16 was passed in the House of Commons without amendments. It underwent exhaustive debate in the House of Commons as well as in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

After being passed in the House of Commons with support on both sides of the House, the fixed dates for elections bill was sent to the Senate where it was examined in detail by the Senate's committee on legal and constitutional affairs.

After a lengthy period of scrutiny and detailed process, that Liberal dominated committee supported the passage of the bill without any amendments.

While neither the House nor the Senate committees found it necessary to amend the term limits bill, at the 11th hour, the very last minute, an amendment was passed by the Liberal Senate, a frivolous amendment that watered down the legislation, which was never subject to any level of scrutiny, and compelled it to come back to the House of Commons, effectively delaying and obstructing the bill further.

Finally the delays and obstructions in the Senate stopped and we will now have fixed date elections.

Our government has also moved to modernize the unelected Senate and to make senators more accountable to the people they serve. We have acted to strengthen accountability in the Senate with legislation that finally seeks to give Canadians a say in who they want representing them in the Senate. The involvement of citizens is fundamental to any democratic institution. Unfortunately, until recently Canadians have had little involvement in the selection of their senators.

The Senate election bill recognizes that it is the citizens of the country, not big money or backroom boys, who are best qualified to advise the Prime Minister on who should speak for them in Ottawa.

We, on this side of the House, are anxious to see the passage of this groundbreaking legislation and that brings us to Bill S-4. The tomfoolery that Bill C-16 was subjected to in the Senate pales in comparison to what has happened to Bill S-4, the legislation that seeks to limit Senate terms to eight years.

Bill S-4 was introduced in the Senate on May 30, 2006, almost a year ago.

Remarkably, even though the Leader of the Opposition says that he supports term limits for senators, Bill S-4 remains mired in procedural limbo thanks to Liberal senators bent on obstructing and delaying any meaningful democratic reform.

Bill S-4 is a simple bill and just 66 words long. According to my calculations, the senators, who are not elected, have spent more than five days on each word in this bill.

As I have already done several times, I am asking members of the official opposition to urge their colleagues in the upper chamber to respond to the wishes of Canadians and pass Bill S-4. I know the Liberal leader has tried to do that. I know the Liberal senators tend to defy him and just simply will not listen to him. I wish he could muster some authority, some strength regardless of his overall weakness, at least the strength to lead his own caucus on this one issue and get them to pass it.

Our government rejects the tactics employed by some senators to delay an agenda on democratic reform that is endorsed by the Canadian people and we are taking action to respond to the wishes of Canadians to make their national institutions stronger, more modern, more accountable and more democratic.

The accountability with respect loans bill is the latest of these reforms and I look forward to introducing more legislation that will strengthen accountability in the days ahead. The accountability with respect to the loans bill delivers on the commitment of Canada's new government to rid our nation's political system of the undue influence of big money. It shows Canadians that their vote is mightier than the big bank accounts of a powerful wealthy few.

With the passage of this bill, Canada's new government will create an airtight system of political financing, a system that will eliminate, once and for all, the influence of the rich and powerful, of big money, on our political process. It will create a system that Canadians can trust.

The accountability with respect to loans bill would ensure that the 2006 Liberal leadership race was the last time the influence of big money and powerful friends played a role in the selection of a leader of a political party in Canada. Most important, the bill is modern, accountable, realistic and will strengthen our democracy and public confidence in the integrity of our political system.

For all these reasons, I am making an urgent appeal to all the members in this House to support the bill on accountability with respect to loans and guarantees.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

May 7th, 2007 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, it is a very great pleasure for me to stand in this place today to speak in favour of Bill C-43 on Senate consultations.

Let me say at the outset that this is only one bill in a suite of legislation that the government has been bringing forward on democratic reform.

We have seen Bill C-16, which is a bill to set fixed dates for elections. It received royal assent just recently and will come into effect. It states, of course, that outside of a non-confidence vote, which may bring the government down at any time, the next election will be held on the third Monday in October 2009. It is a very important piece of democratic reform that is overwhelmingly supported by Canadians.

We also have Bill C-31, which is currently in the Senate. It is moving its way along through committee. It deals with voter integrity and trying to eliminate voter fraud. I am quite confident that this bill will receive royal assent before the House rises for the summer.

However, we also have another bill in the Senate, Bill S-4. We have spoken many times on many occasions in this place about Bill S-4, but I have to say that frankly I cannot fathom why this bill has taken as long as it has in the Senate. For the benefit of those Canadians who may be listening, Bill S-4 is a 66-word bill that has been before the Liberal-dominated and unelected Senate for close to one year now. In fact, May 30 will see the one year anniversary of the bill being before the Senate.

This is a 66-word bill that has been there for close to 12 months. By my rough math, that is a little over five words per month that these primarily Liberal senators have been examining in regard to the bill. All this says to me is that either the bill contains some really big words or there is a second agenda at hand, and that agenda is that the Liberal senators do not want to see Senate reform. They do not want to see Bill S-4 pass.

I have examined the bill and I can assure members that the words are not so big such that it would take five words per month to examine the bill, so I have to go to my second assumption, that is, the Liberal senators truly do not want to see any real and effective Senate reform. Why else would they keep a bill that is so short, so succinct, so precise and so to the point locked up in the Senate for close to a year?

If nothing else, that bill in itself speaks to why we need Senate reform. It speaks to why we need a bill like Bill C-43, which allows the process to be taken away from the prime minister of the day in regard to the appointment of his hacks and flacks to the Senate and allows individual Canadians to express an opinion on who they would like to see represent their region or province in the Senate.

I can think of no greater example than the travesty of Bill S-4 for supporting this bill, yet I hear nothing but opposition from members of the official opposition party, members of the New Democratic Party and members of the Bloc Québécois, who are saying they will not support Bill C-43, consultations that in effect would allow a prime minister to listen to Canadians before he or she makes an appointment to the Senate.

If we truly believe in accountability then we must support Bill C-43, yet I hear nothing but opposition from members opposite, and again, that confuses me. On the one hand I hear members opposite talk about the need for Senate reform, for accountability and for regional representation, yet I hear nothing but opposition to a very good piece of legislation that we have put before the House for discussion and debate.

Bill C-43 deals with a very important conception of ours, which is that all members, whether in this place or the other place, should be accountable. There is only one way to deal with true accountability. That is to allow the individual citizens of this great country of ours to have a say in who represents them so that in fact the representatives then would be accountable to the citizens rather than those who appointed them.

That is the essence of Bill C-43. It is to allow consultations to take place at a provincial or a territorial level. Those consultations, in which the will of the people would be expressed, then would allow the prime minister of the day to appoint the individual to the Senate. In other words, it does not in any way take away from the constitutionality that has been in question from time to time during this debate. In fact, it accommodates the Constitution.

I take some difference of opinion with my hon. colleague the deputy House leader who said that the bill would allow us to skirt the Constitution. I do not like that choice of language. I choose to say that the bill would allow us to accommodate the provisions contained within the current Constitution, and those provisions say that only the Governor General can appoint members to the Senate. The current convention is that the Governor General, before making that appointment, would take advice from the prime minister of the day, and only the prime minister. That would still be in effect. Therefore, the constitutionality argument is really mute.

The prime minister would still appoint senators to the upper house, but only after the prime minister listened to the expressed will, through a consultation process, of the citizens in various provinces, territories and regions. What could be fairer and more transparent than that? What could be more accountable than that?

We on this side of the House say that we have to get away from the process that has occurred for the last 100 years where, for strictly partisan reasons, members of the upper house have been appointed. In all fairness, we have seen time and time again appointments made on a partisan level regardless of political affiliation and regardless of which party happens to be in government of the day.

We have seen time after time Liberal prime ministers appoint Liberal senators for no other reason than the fact that the person has been a good, loyal political partisan soldier to the Liberal Party. We have also seen that happen when Conservative governments have been in power. Conservative governments have appointed Conservative senators because of their loyalty and partisanship to the government of the day. My point is that should not be allowed to happen because there really is no accountability to the people. There is only accountability to the party of the day, or the prime minister who made the appointment.

We need to get away from that method of appointing senators. We have to allow Canadian citizens a voice in who they wish to see represent them in the Senate.

The bill deals with that in a very precise, succinct and fair manner. Consultations would be taken during federal elections at the provincial level. Should the citizens of a particular province decide they wished to see a certain individual represent them in the Senate, that would allow the prime minister to advise the Governor General of his will to appoint that person.

We do not have a constitutional argument here. We have a fairness argument, and it absolutely works.

Many times we have seen appointments made to the Senate which, under normal circumstances by anyone's standards, would not be considered to be fair and would not be considered to be representative of the people of that province. I want to draw to the House's attention only a couple of those examples.

In my opinion one of the most egregious uses of this appointment process happened with a current senator by the name of Art Eggleton, a former mayor of Toronto, a former Liberal member of Parliament and a former Liberal cabinet minister. Most Canadians will recall the disgrace in which Mr. Eggleton was dismissed from cabinet. He was found guilty of awarding untendered contracts to one of his former girlfriends. What was his reward? His reward was an appointment to the Senate. That, under normal circumstances, would never happen.

I am sure if we took a look at some of the other names of current senators in the upper chamber, we would find that the reason those people were appointed was because of the loyalty they exhibited to the party. They were appointed not because they were deserving of representing the people, but only because they curried favour with the prime minister of the day or the government of the day.