An Act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act

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

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act by replacing its sunset provision with a requirement for a mandatory review, within two years, by a committee of the Senate and a committee of the House of Commons.

Elsewhere

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

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

October 22nd, 2007 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

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

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

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

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

April 20th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

moved that Bill C-43, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open the debate on Bill C-43, the Senate Appointment Consultations Act, which is important legislation to make Canada's democratic institutions better. It also represents another step in the positive reform of the Senate undertaken by this government.

This bill follows through on the promise made to the people of Canada in the Speech from the Throne to “explore means to ensure that the Senate better reflects both the democratic values of Canadians and the needs of Canada's regions”. More importantly, this bill strengthens the pillars of our proud Canadian democracy. Bill C-43 not only strengthens but also revitalizes and modernizes some of our traditional Canadian values. What I am talking about, of course, is what Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker called the “legacy of freedom” cherished by all Canadians.

In 1960, Prime Minister Diefenbaker's definition of Canadian values included the right to “be free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, and free to choose those who shall govern my country”.

The right to choose who will govern our country or the right to vote is perhaps our most precious and fundamental right, something that has been in our thoughts this week as we mark the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We on this side of the House are proud and honoured to be part of a Conservative parliamentary tradition of expanding rights to Canadians, including particularly the right to vote.

It was Sir Robert Borden's wartime government that first extended the right to vote to women who had close relatives in the armed forces through the Military Voters Act of 1917.

At the dawn of 1919 all women were enfranchised with the enactment of the Act to Confer Electoral Franchise Upon Women, again by Borden's Conservative government.

Likewise, in 1960 Prime Minister Diefenbaker put an end to what he rightly considered an unfair law that forced native people to choose between their right to vote and their treaty rights. Giving aboriginal people the right that was granted to them at Confederation was an ideal to which Prime Minister Diefenbaker had long been dedicated. He noted this in his memoirs:

I felt it was so unjust that they didn't have the vote.I brought it about as soon as I could after becoming prime minister.

Diefenbaker's government granted status Indians the right to vote, without having to give up their treaty rights on March 10, 1960, thus eliminating once and for all voting rights restrictions based on race or religion in Canada.

Our government is following the course charted by our predecessors in Parliament and strengthening the voice of the Canadian people in the Senate, one of our most valuable institutions. We had told Canadians that our government would be mobilizing and democratizing the Senate so that they could have a say in the appointment of their senators. It is time that all Canadians be allowed to exercise the most fundamental right in any democracy, namely the right to vote, in the selection of those who will represent them as senators.

As soon as it took office, our government undertook, as promised, a process to strengthen democracy.

The first legislation passed in this Parliament was the government Bill C-4 that created a review of party registration rules, and just before Christmas, we finally secured passage of the Federal Accountability Act. From a democratic reform perspective, the act reduced the influence of big money in election campaigns and imposed new donation limits and disclosure requirements on those who seek public office.

We have, again with the support of our colleagues in the opposition, passed legislation in the Commons to establish fixed dates for general elections, that is, every four years in October.

Just like the bill we are discussing today, Bill C-16 represents a meaningful improvement to the democratic landscape without requiring a constitutional amendment. Ironically, the Liberal Senate has blocked it from becoming law by amending it at the last minute. We will be asking the Senate to remove that inappropriate amendment so that fixed dates for elections can become law.

Bill C-31 will enhance the integrity of the electoral process. It is currently awaiting approval in the Senate and we would like to see it passed as soon as possible, so that it can be put in place for the next general election.

As we know, citizen involvement is fundamental to any democratic institution. Unfortunately, Canadians have had no involvement in the selection of their senators.

There is one exception. In 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed Stan Waters to the Senate after he was selected in a Senate election sponsored by the province of Alberta.

This week, the Prime Minister told us another exception is coming, with his intent to appoint Bert Brown to the Senate, also chosen by Albertans in a vote to represent them.

These are the harbingers of change and the democratization that will be made a permanent fixture in our Canadian democracy, allowing Canadians a say in who will represent them in the Senate, strengthening our Canadian democracy.

Bill C-43 moves to make this happen by immediately involving Canadians in the process.

This bill will enable the government to consult Canadians about the people who will be representing them in the Senate. It is also an important step in the evolution and modernization of a great Canadian institution.

Furthermore, this bill recognizes that citizens—not political friends or big donors—are in the best position to advise the Prime Minister about the people who should speak on their behalf in their institutions. We know that Canadians think it is time to act on this idea.

Bill C-43 will do more than enable Canadians to have their say about the representatives who will be making decisions on their behalf here in Ottawa. It also guarantees that those representatives will be accountable for the decisions they make.

Consulting the Canadian public on Senate appointments will help to boost the Senate's legitimacy in the eyes of Canadians by transforming it into a more modern, more democratic, and more accountable institution that reflects the core values of Canadians.

Senate reform has been something of a national preoccupation for more than a century now, consuming a great deal of time, energy, effort and attention, almost since Confederation in fact.

Well-meaning and reasonable proposals to improve the Senate have sadly become bound up in the broader national pursuit of omnibus constitutional reform, and those efforts to modernize the Senate came to naught.

Ultimately, of course, we know that fundamental reform of the Senate will require complex, lengthy and multilateral constitutional change. There does not exist, sadly, at present, the national consensus or will required to engage in the inevitably long and potentially contentious rounds of negotiations that would be involved.

Some people say that it would be best to do nothing. They just want to shrug their shoulders and say they cannot do what must be done. That is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition did this week. Others prefer to close their eyes and wait until some other time when all of the issues concerning the Senate can be resolved at once.

That is not what the government thinks, nor is it what Canadians think. We believe that Canadians expect more from their national institutions and their government. In fact, that is what they have told us. They know that some Senate reforms are within our grasp, and they want us to act.

There are, of course, other elements of a reformed Senate that will have to wait for another day, most notably redressing the inequalities of provincial representation. However, our step-wise approach will lay the groundwork for a strong foundation for any future change.

I am pleased to note that during the consultations of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform last fall, leading constitutional scholars agreed with the government's interpretation that the approach taken in Bill C-43 is legally valid without a constitutional amendment.

Speaking of that Senate special committee, I would like to use the example of another piece of legislation, Bill S-4, as clear evidence that Canadians need and deserve an upper chamber that is more democratic and more accountable to them.

Bill S-4 is legislation that proposes to limit Senate terms to eight years. Bill S-4 was introduced in the Liberal dominated Senate for consideration on May 30, 2006.

Last spring the upper chamber struck a Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform to examine the subject matter of Bill S-4. The committee held exhaustive hearings with witnesses, including the Prime Minister, ministers from several provinces and constitutional experts. In October of last year it reported its findings, which supported the government's approach.

Let me emphasize the point that the special Senate committee with its Liberal Party majority, in its report, endorsed the government's incremental approach to Senate reform. It went so far as to pronounce itself hopeful that the government would continue the momentum of reform it began with Bill S-4.

Paradoxically, however, Liberal members of the Senate brought the momentum of reform, so admired by the committee, to a screeching tortuous halt. Bill S-4 is now the subject of a second round of hearings by a Senate standing committee, a committee that is essentially duplicating the efforts of the special committee.

Despite the endorsement of the special Senate committee, Bill S-4 languishes in the upper chamber still, an astounding 325 days after its introduction.

This is all the more remarkable when one considers that the Liberal Party leader says he supports term limits for senators. He even bravely declared months ago that he would get the Liberal senators to finally deal with the bill. According to the Canadian Press, Dion's decision “Breaks an impasse in the Senate”. Despite his bold declarations, he could not get it done. More Liberal senators continue to obstruct and delay the Senate term limits bill.

A national institution that is truly accountable to the people would not engage in this political muscle flexing for almost a full year so far. An institution that is truly responsive to the people it purports to serve would not employ these recalcitrant procedural manoeuvres for the sole purpose of frustrating the government's agenda, an agenda endorsed by Canadians.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again implore members of the official opposition to urge their colleagues in the Senate to stop playing games, stop resisting constructive change, and get on with the job that Canadians expect and want them to do.

The government rejects the tactics employed by some senators and is taking action to respond to the wishes of Canadians on the subject of Senate reform.

In conclusion, Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act, will strengthen and revitalize the very values that define us as Canadians, values such as democracy and accountability in government.

Indeed, it extends to Canadians the most fundamental right of all, the right to vote, by advancing the principle that Canadians should have a say in who speaks for them in the Senate.

The government believes Canadians should have that right. Bill C-43 not only allows Canadians to indicate who they would like to represent them, it ensures that the people they select are required to account for their actions. In fact, the bill proposes rigorous standards of accountability for nominees, similar to the ones Parliament has put in place for the Commons through the Federal Accountability Act's amendments to the Canada Elections Act.

Bill C-43 is a realistic and achievable Senate modernization measure. It will not have to go through official constitutional amendment procedures. This is not a bill to amend the Constitution, and there is nothing in it that requires a constitutional revision. That is the government's position.

Rather, this is an important step that is part of a gradual approach. The ultimate goal is to bring the Senate into line with the democratic values of Canadians. We need to strengthen democracy. The act to provide for consultations concerning Senate appointments lays the foundation for future changes that will transform Canada's Senate from a 19th century institution into one fit for the 21st century.

(Bill C–4. On the Order: Government Orders:)

April 24, 2006--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs of Bill C-4, An Act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act--the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform.

Canada Elections ActRoutine Proceedings

April 24th, 2006 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-4, An Act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

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