Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak on Bill C-424, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (contestation of election and punishment).
Since the last election on May 2, 2011, a lot of information has come to light about some of the actions that took place during that election. It shows the serious need for this bill.
This bill's proposed purpose, as explained in the summary, is to amend the Canada Elections Act to increase the fines for certain offences under the act. It also permits the Chief Electoral Officer to contest the election of a candidate. In other words, it gives the Chief Electoral Officer standing to take action where he or she sees fit.
Why is there a need for such a bill? Let us look at some of the examples. Daily in the House we see the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs failing to answer questions on events that happened in his riding. He sits on his hands. He claims he is going to outline those concerns and address them next Tuesday in his riding. We will have to wait and see. That is one example.
Another example is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the member for Peterborough, who finds his spending actions in turmoil.
The third point I would make is that the former parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, the member for Nepean—Carleton, stands in his place daily to defend the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. Every time that member stands up, I am reminded of the in-and-out scandal of the previous election. That member never talks about the results of the in-and-out scandal and what happened, including the fact that the Conservative Party was fined $50,000 and had to pay back $260,000 for overspending.
The fourth example I would use is that quite a number of the results in a number of Conservative ridings are being challenged before the courts by the Council of Canadians. Actually, there are too many for me to name in my remarks; I would end up not being able to talk about the bill. There are quite a number of challenges now before the courts.
As these examples show, there is a need for some mechanism, a known mechanism, to clearly show candidates running in an election—and that is every candidate, because I do not just want to pick on the Conservatives here—that funny business during an election will not be tolerated, and that there are serious fines in place if such behaviour is proven.
What this bill really does is to put a mechanism in place to give some legislative teeth for action to be taken if there is a problem on the part of a candidate during an election. That would clearly be known prior to elections, and so it certainly should hold candidates more to account.
I will now turn to what those actions are in Bill C-424.
Although I think it is far superior to the American system where so much money was spent in the election, even in our system money still makes a difference. A prime example of that, for the Conservatives who are here in the House, is that the reason for the overspending by the Conservatives by way of the in and out scandal was to use more national advertising to attack and undermine the leadership of the other parties, mainly the leadership of our party. That is why the in and out scandal was invented. It was so they could overspend. While our system is superior, money still does talk.
When we think there is a problem at the national level, certainly the national parties have more means with which to challenge it. However, when there is overspending in a riding or skulduggery happens during an election at the riding level, many candidates do not have the means to challenge that overspending. They just do not have the money to do it.
I will use a recent example just to pinpoint how serious this is.
We are all aware that there was a challenge to the results and the activities in the riding of Etobicoke Centre. Those election results were upheld by the Supreme Court. However, I am not talking about the complaint as such, but the amount of money it took to challenge that in the Supreme Court. The individual who challenged, in that case, had the means with which to do so, but it was in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Therefore, it is easy to see that a number of candidates running would not have the financial means to challenge election results before the courts.
As was said by our leader in his remarks earlier, the cost should not limit the rights of citizens to ensure that the democratic process was conducted fairly. By adding the Chief Electoral Officer to the list of people who can contest an election, we are making it possible for Canadians who cannot afford this process to have another outlet for due process. It is a simple change to the act that says, in instances where election fraud is suspected, the Chief Electoral Officer can pursue it through the courts. The onus should not be on everyday Canadians to come up with vast amounts of money to protect democracy.
In this country, we want to see ordinary Canadians running for office to represent constituents in this place. It should not only be money and those who are backed with money that talk. We put limits on riding spending. We put limits on candidate spending. However, if there is election fraud, or a strong suspicion of election fraud, those citizens need the right and ability to challenge those decisions without facing bankruptcy for having challenged them.
By providing the Chief Electoral Officer with the standing to contest an election, we are putting in place a further safeguard to our democracy. That is what is important. We need to safeguard our democracy. The bill is quite simple in terms of its wording and the changes to be made, but it is quite dramatic in terms of the impact it could have on ordinary Canadians who stand for election. If there is election fraud, they would be able to challenge it.
My last point is that the penalties are there to be seen and could be imposed on those who would get involved in election fraud. I ask the House to support the bill. It is needed for our democracy.