An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (length of election period)

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.


Alistair MacGregor  NDP

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


Outside the Order of Precedence (a private member's bill that hasn't yet won the draw that determines which private member's bills can be debated), as of May 31, 2016
(This bill did not become law.)


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

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to specify the maximum duration of an election period.
It also provides for the postponement of polling day in cases where it would otherwise be held between December 20 and January 2.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

October 30th, 2018 / 4:40 p.m.
See context


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my great friend and colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith.

I am looking at the clock right now and I see that we have little more than half an hour left in this debate. It is a sad state of affairs for a bill that really covers such an important law in which every Canadian has so much vested, not the least of whom are members of the House, that we have to debate it under the yoke of time allocation.

The rush is all the making of the Liberals. We have heard repeatedly about Bill C-33, the first attempt by the Liberals at amending our election laws. That bill was introduced on November 24, 2016, and it is about as far as it got. It stayed at first reading. The member for Perth—Wellington called it a very unloved bill because it seemed to have been forgotten by the Liberal government.

Bill C-33 languished for many months and then finally on April 30 of this year, Bill C-76 was brought in, which swallowed up Bill C-33 but added a whole bunch more.

Then the sense of urgency came. The Liberals suddenly became aware of the timelines they had to deal with this. The Liberal government has a clear majority. It has commanding control over the agenda of the House. The Liberals came to power with an ambitious election agenda, and they are making us pay for their laggardness.

The bill came back to the House for report stage last week. On Thursday, October 25, the government moved time allocation. We really only had a few days to debate the bill, which started on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, the Dutch prime minister was here, so it was not a full day. We debated the bill on Friday afternoon. On Monday, the government decided to debate Bill C-84 and Bill C-85. We had the votes at report stage last night, Here we are on Tuesday, the final day to debate the bill at third reading.

It makes a mockery out of the Prime Minister's promise to treat this institution with respect when he rams the bill through, especially when the amendments that were looked at in committee and at report stage were backed up by such solid evidence. The Liberals have demonstrated time and again that it is their way or the highway.

We have to place all of this within the context of the biggest promise the Liberals made with respect to electoral reform, and that was that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post. Why does this matter? When the hon. clerks at the table read out the tally of the votes, we do not approve a motion with 39% support, yet that is precisely what happens in this place. The Liberals do have a majority government, but it was elected by 39% of the people.

If we truly believe that every vote should count equally, then the House of Commons should reflect how people voted. I certainly wish the Liberals had followed through on their promise, that they had listened to the evidence that was gathered by the special committee on electoral reform and at least had progressed.

If the Liberals want to see how it is really done, they need to look no further than the province of British Columbia, where a B.C. NDP government, led by my friend Premier John Horgan, who is also a constituent, is following through with a promise.

Right now B.C. is having a referendum on electoral reform. I was happy to cast my ballot last weekend in support of proportional representation. This is a great opportunity for the province of B.C. to lead the way on electoral reform. It is a great way to show Canadians that on this issue, if they want progress, if they want a government that keeps its promise, they will vote NDP. John Horgan and the NDP are showing that.

I want to move on because I do not want to be entirely negative. There are some important things in the bill that we support. Many of the changes in Bill C-76 are just simple reversals of the Conservative bill from 2014.

For example, Bill C-76 would reinstate vouching for identity. It would restore the voter ID card. It would remove restrictions on how the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada could communicate with voters. These are all good things and we support them.

On a personal note, the government has incorporated the idea behind my private member's bill, Bill C-279, which I introduced in 2016. That bill sought to limit the length of elections. I think all members, and indeed Canadians, would be very happy if we did not have to go through a 78-day marathon campaign anymore. Seriously, there needs to be a limit on the length of elections, especially with the changes the Conservatives brought in under its government. It greatly expanded how much political parties could spend every day we went past 36 days. I do not think anyone could argue in favour of Canadians needing 78 days to make their decision. Therefore, I am glad to see there is a hard limit of 50 days on the length of elections.

I am also happy to see that Elections Canada would now be able to access information from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. One of the great things I do as a member of Parliament, pretty much every month, is I get a list of new citizens who recently acquired their citizenship. I get to write certificates, congratulating them on acquiring their citizenship and welcoming them as future electors of Canada. If Elections Canada is able to update its registry in co-operation with another government department, all the better. I think every party in this place wants to see more people participate.

The early registration of teenagers, age 14 to 17, is a great step forward. One of the other things I really enjoy doing as a member of Parliament is visiting all the high schools in my riding. When we make efforts to speak to students, especially grade 11 and 12 students, they are actually a very thoughtful and engaged group. They care very much about their future. They care about climate change, about very progressive ideals. I have really valued my exchanges with them. With early registration as voters, it gives them another impetus to get the buy-in to the system so when they turn 18, they can actually go and cast their ballot.

I was fortunate enough to turn 18 in 1997, an election year, and I got to cast my ballot. I can remember doing that with a lot of pride.

Removing the ban on public education by the Chief Electoral Officer is also a great thing, as well as extending the hours of advanced polls. These are all positive measures in my view.

That is not to say that there are not problems. One of the biggest gaps, and it has been clearly identified by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who has been doing yeoman's work on this bill on behalf of the NDP, is the privacy rules covering political parties. Every political party in this place gathers a lot of information on Canadians. We know generally how many people live in a household, what their ages are, their genders and, in some cases, what their professions are.

We live in a time now where information warfare is a fact. Hacking is a fact. We need look no further than the examples of the Brexit vote and the recent election in the United States. It would be absolutely foolish of us to pretend it will not to affect Canada. Unfortunately, despite all the evidence that was heard at the procedure and House affairs committee, not only from the Privacy Commissioner but a whole host of experts, the Liberals cynically ignored this important provision. They decided not to strengthen privacy laws covering political parties. Also, nothing was really done with respect to election ads on social media and the Internet.

One of the big things is this. I remember the Liberals amended their own bill at committee to remove the requirement of political parties to keep receipts for their spending. This is the Liberals at committee amending their own bill to take that out. Last night, through report stage amendments, we tried to insert that back in, through vote no. 12. It was voted against. The Chief Electoral Officer has been calling for this since the 38th Parliament. For a party that likes to sing praises of the Chief Electoral Officer, to repeatedly ignore his recommendations and his calls to action on so many occasions makes a mockery of the Liberal statements in this place.

We also tried to move the voting day to Sunday, which I think would have encouraged more participation. On a Monday, I know everyone is entitled to get those hours off, but it sometimes does not always work out.

We tried to be constructive with the bill. Despite the many flaws that exist, we will vote to send it to the other place. However, I will be reminding Canadians of the opportunities that were lost, the opportunities that we attempted to address and the Liberals' flagrant attempts to ignore all of those constructive proposals.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 22nd, 2018 / 3:30 p.m.
See context


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today on the debate on Bill C-76. I know we have had a lot of conversations in this House of Commons about the Liberals and their plans for debating this bill or the ideas behind the bill.

As this House knows, Bill C-33 was languishing at first reading for 18 months. We then finally had the government bring in Bill C-76 on April 30. That was precisely during the month when the acting Chief Electoral Officer had informed the government and all members of Parliament that he wanted to see the changes on behalf of Elections Canada put in place in April 2018 so that Elections Canada would have the opportunity to implement the changes in time for the 2019 election. Here we are. It is now well past the halfway mark in May, and we are debating the bill at second reading.

I am by no means making an argument that the House should not have its look at this legislation. My main criticism is that the government has been sitting on this file for so long and has really left it to the eleventh hour to bring in major reform of our electoral system. The Liberals have made arguments that this issue has been looked at by the procedure and House affairs committee and that these concepts have been debated. I acknowledge that this is the case, but debating issues and policies at the procedure and House affairs committee is very different from actually looking at a piece of legislation, especially one that is as large as this particular bill. To dump this bill into the House of Commons on April 30, to have its first-day debate on May 10, then May 11, and then today, and then to suddenly expect the House of Commons to do its due diligence, when the government was aware all along of the constraints it was facing, really does a grave injustice to the people of Canada and to the members of this House who are here representing the people of Canada.

The other thing that we in the NDP are fairly critical of is the fact that there were some missed opportunities in this piece of legislation. For example, we all know that this Prime Minister, both in the 2015 election campaign and in this House, repeated the promise that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post. That is a missed opportunity.

We had a special committee on electoral reform. I had the honour of sitting on that committee when it was going through the Atlantic provinces, and I remember hearing from Atlantic Canadians, both experts in the field and normal, everyday Canadians, who took time out of their day to appear before our committee in Halifax, in St. John's, in Fredericton, and in Charlottetown, to give us their views on what electoral reform should be. I thought the report by that special committee, which was formed by this House upon the recommendation of my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, was quite comprehensive and reflected a majority of the views of Canadians.

The way we reached a consensus was that all the parties on the opposition benches tried to work out our differences. I know that my Conservative colleagues have had a few problems with some of our ideas on electoral reform, but we in the NDP, the Green Party, and the Bloc Québécois decided that to arrive at a compromise so that we could have a committee report backed by the majority of the members on that committee, we would agree to hold a referendum to give Canadians the ability to decide whether they wanted to go past first past the post into a new system that would perhaps be something closer to proportional representation. It is just a fact of life here in Parliament that the governing party usually gets in with 39% of the vote. The ironic thing is that 60% to 61% of Canadians actually vote for members of the opposition parties, yet our voices continually lose out when it comes to votes in this place.

On the subject of missed opportunities, my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway mentioned this. There was an opportunity to go back and extend the media blackout so that the citizens of British Columbia who had yet to cast their votes would not be unduly influenced by a broadcaster announcing the results before the polls closed. We talk about fairness in this place. Where is the fairness for British Columbia when people are lining up at 6:30 or are just about to leave the house to go vote, and CBC comes online and says that the election has already been won and that we are going to get a Liberal majority? That is not fair to the people of British Columbia.

I acknowledge that we cannot do anything about social media. We cannot do anything about people on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram announcing the results, but we can at least make an effort so that our major broadcasters are not dumping this on the news and providing those kinds of updates. That was a missed opportunity.

I also think that in some ways, we could have provided an opportunity for a per-vote subsidy. In the NDP, we have always talked about this. The argument made is that we should not have public financing of our political system. Guess what, folks. When people make donations, especially generous donations, they are eligible for tax credits, which they can then apply, so we are actually giving people a reward from our public funds. Political parties are eligible for reimbursement of a certain percentage of their eligible election expenses. Our tax dollars are already being used, but they reward people with the means to make donations.

Before I continue, I want to notify the House that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

Continuing in that vein, a lot of my constituents struggle to pay the bills. Usually these families are living day to day and paycheque to paycheque, and they do not have the means to invest $100 in a political party. They certainly do not have the means to invest $1,500.

Through this system, political parties have to chase the money to stay competitive. I would like to see a system in which votes are put more on an equal plane and political parties are, in fact, rewarded for going after and getting the vote out rather than for going out and seeking the highest donor to fund their election expenses.

There are some good things. I will use the last bit of my speech to talk about the limit that would be placed on election length in this particular bill. I very much appreciate that the government has adopted my idea, because I introduced Bill C-279 in 2016, which sought to place a cap on the length of elections of a maximum of 46 days. I got this idea from the 2015 election, when we all had to go through the marathon 78-day campaign. I had a lot of constituents asking me why we needed an election that was 78 days and saying that they could easily make their decision in 36 days or 40 days. Obviously, the intent was to lengthen the election to such a point that money became an incredibly huge factor.

When we look at our neighbours to the south, the influence of money in politics is an insidious thing and can be a slippery slope. I am very glad the government has taken my private member's bill and sucked it up into Bill C-76 to make it part of this legislation. I am very glad to see that.

I am also glad to see that we will be registering future electors from age 14 to 17 and that we will allow child care expenses to be reimbursed. I would like to see more single parents have the opportunity to run as candidates. If we are truly going to be a representative House, we have to start reaching out to members of our society who do not often get that opportunity. We had an opportunity with the member for Burnaby South's bill, which would have rewarded political parties for trying to establish equity.

I see that my time is almost up. I will conclude by just acknowledging that the NDP will be giving its support in principle to this bill at second reading. We, of course, know that there will be a lot of hard work ahead in committee.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 22nd, 2018 / 10:35 a.m.
See context


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I share my colleague's concerns about the way Bill C-76 has been introduced, particularly at this moment in the parliamentary calendar. We also had Bill C-33 languish at first reading for 18 months. For a government that is all about electoral reform and attaches such importance to it, I would have thought that we would not be debating such an important bill on the back nine of the golf course. I certainly hope that the government honours its promise to allow this place to fully debate this bill.

One part of the bill that I do like is that it would adopt what my private member's bill, Bill C-279, sought to do, which is to put a hard limit on the length of elections. Many of us felt that was a reasonable amendment to put into the Canada Elections Act, because it would prevent future governments from going through another 78-day marathon campaign. I would appreciate hearing my colleague's thoughts on that particular aspect of the bill.

Bill C-243--Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 23rd, 2016 / 3:20 p.m.
See context


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to contribute arguments as to why my private member's bill, Bill C-243, would not infringe upon the financial initiative of the crown and therefore would not require a royal recommendation.

I appreciate the time of this House to present these arguments. As you know, Mr. Speaker, this is the only opportunity I have to do it, and I have to do it orally to get it on the record, so I apologize in advance for the time it will take to do that.

I want to begin by outlining exactly what my bill would do.

The first part would provide for the development of a national maternity assistance program, and the second part would amend section 22 of the Employment Insurance Act to expand the window of time in which existing maternity benefits could be taken if a woman worked in a hazardous job that posed a risk to her maternal health. Specifically, it would allow women to begin taking their 15 weeks of maternity benefits 15 weeks prior to the due date, rather than just eight weeks prior, as the current rules allow.

The argument I am putting forward today will focus on addressing the amendments to the Employment Insurance Act under part 2 of the bill. I will show that Bill C-243 would not increase or change the total benefits an individual is entitled to and therefore would not constitute a new and distinct expenditure.

My argument has two parts, and I will be citing both academic literature, in particular by Lukyniuk and Keyes in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, as well as relevant parliamentary precedent.

First, I will briefly show that Bill C-243 would not increase or change the total benefits an individual is entitled to and therefore would not constitute a new and distinct expenditure.

Second, I will show that these changes would not substantively alter the objects or purposes of maternity benefits. In other words, I will be arguing that it would not create or envision a new function.

The first thing to note is that there is a general authorization for EI expenditures that is sufficiently broad to encompass the provisions of the bill. To illustrate this, consider the comment on royal recommendations from Keyes, 1999, on page 19: amending bill that merely re-enacts or consolidates existing expenditure provisions does not require the recommendation.

The provisions contained in Bill C-243 would simply reallocate or shift existing maternity benefits, which are already authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. As such, the changes would fall within the purview of a royal recommendation, which provides for the general authorization of EI expenditures.

Allow me to further explain, with reference to specific examples, why this modest shifting of benefits would not introduce new and distinct expenditures. There are four elements that must be considered to substantiate this claim.

The first obvious point is that the bill would not increase the amount of benefits paid to an individual. Since the amount an individual is entitled to per week would not change, there is no concern that it would affect estimates or payments from the consolidated revenue fund.

This differentiates Bill C-243 from other private members' bills that were deemed to require a royal recommendation, such as past bills C-278 and C-279.

Second, Bill C-243 would not increase the benefit period or the number of weeks an individual is entitled to claim. Eligible recipients would still only be entitled to 15 weeks of maternity benefits. The only difference would relate to the window of time in which these benefits could be taken. I want to be very clear that this would be the only change.

In this way, Bill C-243 could be differentiated from several other bills, such as Bill C-278, which sought to increase EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks.

Third, Bill C-243 would not change the eligibility requirements such that more individuals would become eligible for EI.

Whereas bills C-279, C-265, and C-280 would have changed the qualification requirements, and thus expanded how many people could access benefits, Bill C-243 would not do this.

For example, in the case of Bill C-279, the Speaker explained that:

...more individuals would be eligible to receive EI benefits and those currently eligible would receive increased benefits.

Fourth, since Bill C-243 would simply shift existing entitlements, the only costs associated with this legislation would be administrative, and it has been well established in previous rulings that these administrative costs would not require spending for a new function. Instead, they would be operational costs that are part of the department's ongoing mandate. As such, they have constantly been ruled as not requiring a new royal recommendation.

To summarize my argument that spending under this bill is not new and distinct, I want to quote Keyes, 1997, who argued on page 20 that royal recommendation is not for “Provisions authorizing charges that are already or were previously authorized by Parliament, for example, a bill consolidating or revising existing legislation or authorizing spending for a particular group of people already covered under general legislation”.

In fact, that is exactly what this bill does. It authorizes spending for a particular group of people, women working in hazardous jobs, who are already covered under general legislation, in this case, the Employment Insurance Act. While Bill C-243 does shift the window of time for when an individual can receive maternity benefits, it must be understood that these are benefits that many women are already entitled to. They are not new and distinct.

I will now concentrate on the second reason why my bill might require royal recommendation, which is whether or not it fundamentally changes the objects or purposes of the spending. In other words, does the bill envision a new function for maternity benefits? The central question on which you will have to rule, Mr. Speaker, is whether El maternity benefits are currently intended to protect the health of the mother and her unborn child. If this function exists under the current spending regime, my bill would not require royal recommendation, as it simply shifts existing benefits in a manner consistent with the existing purpose.

I will present several arguments to show that maternal health is one of the functions, if not the primary function, of maternity benefits. I will begin by noting that while we are tasked with determining the purpose of El maternity benefits, the actual enabling legislation, the Employment Insurance Act, says nothing explicitly on this issue. As such, to make this determination we will be required to make reasonable inferences based on other factors, including the eligibility criteria, their practical usage, and indeed a common sense understanding.

Let us consider the purpose and eligibility criteria of maternity benefits, according to the departmental website. It states, “A maximum of 15 weeks of El maternity benefits is available. The 15 weeks can start as early as eight weeks before the expected date of birth, and can end as late as 17 weeks after the actual date of birth.”

My central argument is that protecting maternal health is a function of maternity benefits under the existing legislation and usage. That is why my bill, which touches directly on this function through existing entitlements, cannot be considered to be creating a new function. The function already exists.

The fact that applicants are already permitted to take benefits during their pregnancy, up to eight weeks prior to their due date, is strong evidence that maternal health and maintaining a safe pregnancy are existing purposes of maternity benefits. The legislation may not explicitly recognize this, or any purposes of maternity benefits, but I believe the interpretation and the spirit of the law confirm this understanding.

Legal analysis of the existing provisions is valuable, but should be complemented by a practical understanding of the benefits. In other words, it is not just my opinion that maternity benefits can be interpreted as having a maternal health function, but this is exactly how the benefits are being used.

Melodie Ballard, a constituent from my riding, is one of the many Canadians who chose to access their maternity benefits early because their job posed a risk to their health and that of their unborn child. This is not only allowed under the current rules, but in fact, it is one of the main reasons why benefits can be taken eight weeks before the birth. All Bill C-243 does is emphasize one of the existing purposes and practical usages of maternity benefits. That is it.

To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that this is the only function of maternity benefits, or the only reason that the legislation permits pre-confinement access. Indeed, maternity benefits can be taken after the birth, and in that sense they are also intended to provide a recovery period for the mother after childbirth. The key point is that maternity benefits should not be so narrowly interpreted as to exclude the function of maternal health, given the structure of the benefits and how they are practically used.

I will now present statements as to why my argument that employment insurance, and in particular maternity benefits, do serve the purpose of supporting a healthy pregnancy. To begin, consider this statement from the director general of El who, when she appeared before the HUMA committee on May 8, 2014 said, “Maternity benefits provide income support for a 15-week period surrounding childbirth to allow recovery from physical or emotional effects of the pregnancy and childbirth.”

It is clear from this statement that maternity benefits are used to support maternal health during pregnancy. Perhaps more specifically, Mr. Speaker, you will have to answer whether maternity benefits serve the purpose of protecting the mother when her job poses a risk to her health, or to that of her unborn child.

In other words, do El maternity benefits serve a similar purpose to the preventative withdrawal program that exists in Quebec? This is a topic that has actually been discussed during debates in this House, in particular on past private members' bills, Bill C-380 and Bill C-307.

I would refer to a contribution from the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame on May 3, 2012, “provinces outside of Quebec have been relying for numerous years on the Employment Insurance Act for compensation for pregnant and nursing women in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal from work.”

That sort of statement makes my argument quite succinctly and coherently.

A similar explanation for how employment insurance benefits are used for the purpose of protecting the mother and unborn child were put forward in this House on October 17, 2005, by the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour and Housing at the time, “women under federal jurisdiction, if they must take leave, have access to employment insurance”.

The understanding that maternity benefits are an income support during a period of preventative withdrawal was corroborated by multiple members during debate proceedings on both Bill C-307 and Bill C-380.

In addition to members of Parliament, this understanding of El has been affirmed by departmental officials as well. When asked during the HUMA committee on October 22, 2003, about whether Canada had a system of preventative withdrawal, the Director of Labour Standards and Workplace Equity responded:

Where the job has been determined to be dangerous, the employer has an obligation to attempt to reassign her to work that is not unsafe for either the unborn child or the nursing child. If it's not possible or not reasonably practicable for the employer to reassign that individual, then she is entitled to leave without pay. What would happen under those circumstances is that she would take advantage of the employment insurance program...

It is clear that the employment insurance system, in particular the eight weeks of pre-birth maternity benefits, are an integral part to supporting women who choose to leave their job due to hazardous conditions.

Even though some statements do not mention maternity benefits explicitly, it is clear that this is the main form of El that would apply in these cases.

The final point I will make is to clarify that this bill does not affect any other type of El benefits, in particular parental or sickness benefits. Parental benefits would still only be able to be taken after confinement, which is in keeping with their purpose.

One might also think that protection of the expectant mother better falls under the category of sickness benefits. In fact, this is a very common misconception of sickness benefits. The reality is that sickness benefits can only be accessed if the individual is sick, not if there is a risk to their maternal health. Unlike maternity benefits, they cannot be taken for the purpose of protecting the health of the mother and the unborn child from the risks of a hazardous work environment.

Let me be clear, eight of the 15 weeks of maternity benefits can and are frequently being used for that purpose. As this function and purpose is well-established, my bill cannot be said to be creating a new function.

To conclude, the intent of my bill is simply to emphasize an existing function of maternity benefits, maternal health, for those who need it most, women working in hazardous jobs.

There is a royal recommendation that exists for spending on maternity benefits. There is no doubt that this bill would affect the manner in which that spending is done.

The central question is, does my bill shift spending in a manner that departs from the original purpose of maternity benefits? Put another way, does protection of the women's maternal health fall outside of the purpose of maternity benefits? I submit to you that it does not.

In closing, I will draw your attention to Keyes 1997 who argued on page 20 that royal recommendation is not required for cases where the bill authorizes spending for similar functions where “Provisions imposing additional functions on publicly funded bodies if the functions are of the same nature as their existing functions or are conferred for similar purposes.”

Democratic ReformAdjournment Proceedings

October 25th, 2016 / 6:35 p.m.
See context


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, this evening I am looking for something simple from the parliamentary secretary. I would like a clear yes or no on whether the government will support my bill, Bill C-279, to limit the length of federal elections.

I would like to lay out the reasons for the government to support the bill.

The parliamentary secretary has stated his desire to work with me on undoing many of the changes that happened in the unfair elections act and, specifically, look at the length of elections. Members can look at his question period response to see that.

For each day that a campaign lasts longer than 37 days, a political party can spend more money. This means that a party's national campaign can spend $675,000 a day for every day an election goes beyond 37 days. Political parties can cynically lengthen campaign periods to outspend their opponents. I would argue that this is exactly what happened in the 2015 election.

This spending hurts smaller parties, as they do not have the funds to spend that kind of money. In making an election fairer, we cannot help just the richest political parties gain an advantage.

It is not just political parties' spending of the money that is the issue, but the fact that the general taxpayer has to foot an inflated bill. The 2015 campaign cost the public $443 million, $150 million more than the previous 2011 campaign.

No Canadian wants to be bombarded with radio and television ads all day long during a marathon campaign, especially over the 78-day marathon we just had last year. In fact, when I was going door to door on the campaign trail, I certainly heard time and time again that people were sick and tired of such a long election and could not comprehend why there was no limit to it.

It is not just me making these arguments. This idea is also supported by our Chief Electoral Officer, someone whom I think everyone in the House holds in very high regard.

In his recent report to Parliament entitled, “An electoral framework for the 21st Century”, he laid out recommendations to make our electoral system fairer. He stated that by not having a cap on the length of an election, the level playing field between parties can be compromised. He has recommended that there be a maximum of between 45 to 50 days. My bill would fit perfectly within that range, with a 46-day cap.

With those reasons in mind, I come back to the first part of my question. I simply ask the parliamentary secretary for a clear answer on this. Will the government support my bill to limit the length of federal elections, yes or no?

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

October 18th, 2016 / 11:15 a.m.
See context


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, here is a boy, and here is a girl. Easy, right? Not so fast. Let us just say that it is a bit more complicated than that. Sex assignment is not always clear-cut. Genetically, a person with two X chromosomes is a woman, and a person with an X chromosome and a Y chromosome is a man. However, some people have just a single X chromosome, and others have three. Others have two or three X chromosomes and one Y chromosome, while still others might have two Y chromosomes and one X chromosome. Clearly, this is anything but simple.

The bill before us today, Bill C-16, makes no mention of genetics. However, it does address an equally complex subject, that of gender identity and gender expression.

As far back as the 1950s, we began to understand that a person cannot be defined merely by his or her physical sexual characteristics and to distinguish between “sex” and “gender”. In 1994, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the following in a briefing:

The word gender has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.

I think it bears repeating, so once again, the word “gender” has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics as opposed to physical characteristics, distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.

Justice Scalia clearly states that “sex” and “gender” are two different things.

Transgendered individuals are people whose sexual identity does not correspond to the physical sexual characteristics with which they were born. They literally do not feel comfortable in their own skin, in the body nature gave them. They feel feminine, but have a male body, or they feel masculine, but have a female body.

With that in mind, it is easy to imagine the discrimination, prejudice, harassment, and violence these individuals are often subjected to. A shy teen, a small man, and a kid with above-average intelligence are often harassed. Now imagine someone who is transgendered.

Statistics are an excellent way to illustrate the discrimination transgendered people are subjected to. In Ontario, for example, 71% of transgendered individuals earn less than $30,000 a year. My colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke provided some statistics earlier on poverty rates among transgendered people, and those figures were far more grim than what I just mentioned.

According to Egale Canada, 90% of of transgendered students reported being bullied on a daily or weekly basis. That is a lot. In addition, a few months ago, a medical clinic in Montreal that performs gender-affirming surgery was targeted by arson.

The prejudice and violence are very real. That is why, over the past several years, the NDP has been introducing bills in the House of Commons of Canada to stand up for the rights of transgendered Canadians and protect them from discrimination.

The main purpose of these bills was to add protections to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code based on gender identity and gender expression. That is what Bill Siksay, the former NDP member for Burnaby—Douglas in British Columbia, did in 2005. Because he thought this cause was so important, he introduced the bill twice in the House of Commons, in 2006-07 and 2008-09.

This issue is so important to the NDP that my colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, who sits beside me, took up the torch and almost succeeded in having the bill passed in Parliament. The Green Party, the Bloc Québécois, and many Liberal and Conservative members voted in favour of it.

However, the unelected and unaccountable Senate decided to let the bill die on the Order Paper, even though it had been passed by members who were duly elected by Canadians.

As a result, after over 10 years of debate, these people, who are too often the victims of harassment and violence, still do not have any protection. The NDP is therefore pleased to see the government introduce Bill C-16. We have been asking for this for a long time. However, I am worried that this is just smoke and mirrors.

Since I am an optimist, I want to believe that the government really intends to protect this vulnerable segment of the population. After all, the last time, all of the Liberal members who were present for the vote voted in favour of Bill C-279, which was introduced by my colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.

However, this time, the context is different. Today, the Liberals form the government and hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons. They can therefore ensure that Bill C-16 is passed at second and third reading. I challenge them to do so.

The House has passed this bill twice already and the government can ensure that it passes quickly through all stages of the legislative process. Then there would be one remaining important stage, which, in my political party, we would be happy to do without. However, since the Senate still exists, we will have to work with it. I challenge the Liberals to talk to their Senate colleagues, those the Prime Minister kicked out of the Liberal caucus, but who still feel like Liberals, and to convince them that the changes that Bill C-16 makes to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code are just and important to transgendered people.

As far as my Conservative colleagues are concerned, during the March 2013 vote, 18 of them, including some cabinet ministers, supported a similar bill introduced by my NDP colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. Other members among their ranks, including their leader, recently said that they would support Bill C-16. I hope that many others will join them to ensure that this bill is finally passed.

I would hope that, as with the Liberals, these Conservative members who see the merits of this cause will work to ensure that their Senate colleagues do not allow this bill to die on the benches of the other place yet again. I think it would be a national disgrace if this bill is not passed.

Bill C-16 would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in section 2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It would also amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as distinguishing characteristics protected under section 318, and as an aggravating circumstance to be taken into consideration under section 718.2, hate crimes, at the time of sentencing.

Since 1970, 948 transgendered people have been murdered around the world. This number is probably much higher, but most countries, including Canada, do not note the status of transgender in files involving violence.

Nevertheless, the evidence is clear: transgender people are victims of discrimination, prejudice, harassment, and violence. Therefore, it would be disgraceful to let down transgender Canadians once again. Trans and non-binary gender Canadians have been waiting for far too long to have legal rights in Canada.

Let us work together for this humanitarian cause and ensure that Bill C-16 passes quickly in the House of Commons and in committee, and just as quickly in the Senate, so that it becomes a law that Canadians can be proud of.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2016 / 3:45 p.m.
See context


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a very real honour to rise today to speak to the motion.

Just on a personal note, democratic reform has always been a very high topic for me. It was a big one for a lot of my constituents during the election as well. I also want to pay some very good attention, and give credit where it is due, to my friend from Skeena—Bulkley Valley. I think it is absolutely incredible that we are creating a committee with 12 members where the government, which has a majority in the House, will not have a majority on the committee. That is a big step forward.

The NDP has a long tradition of fighting for fairness. When we look at the way our Parliament is elected under first past the post, we can look across to the government side and they have all of those seats, plus what we like to call the rump over there. That majority is based on false premises, because 39.5% of Canadians voted Liberal in the last election. However, by giving them the majority of the seats, we basically have an elected dictatorship.

I admit that the Liberal Party, while in government, has been working with the opposition on some issues. On others, it has moved forward with time allocation. I guess the main point I want to get across is that at the end of the day, if the Liberal government really wants to get its way, it can do so. It has the votes in the House to make its voice heard, to get its agenda through, and it has demonstrated that a few times. Based on the fact that only 39.5% of Canadians voted for that, I think that is where questions of legitimacy come up.

I think that because we are dealing with such an important measure, it is important that all parties in the House have a voice. The previous idea that was floated by the Liberal government, to create a standing committee that mirrors the existing ones, where the governing party gets six members, the Conservatives get three, the NDP get one, and the Bloc and the Greens get to attend but have observer status only, does a disservice to Canadians who voted for those other political parties. It also does not give respect to the proportions in which Canadians voted for those other parties.

I would like to give an example. Andrew Coyne, the journalist, has been writing some great articles lately on democratic reform. In one of his articles he pointed out that it took roughly 38,000 votes to elect each Liberal member of Parliament. By contrast, it took 57,000 votes to elect each Conservative; 79,000 votes for each New Democrat; and 82,000 for each member of the Bloc Québécois. For my friend from Saanich—Gulf Islands, it took 603,000 people to vote her in. That is not a fair system.

In order to respect the people who made those choices, they really do need to have a say at the table. This is only the first step. I do not want to presuppose what the committee is going to do. At this stage, it is almost like having a bill at second reading.

We want to support the committee's work in principle, but I really think it is important that, before we pass judgment on the committee, we give it a chance to form, a chance to meet with witnesses, a chance to speak to experts, and to deliberate, as we were sent here to do, and to do so in good faith, based on a rough proportion of the votes that each one of those parties received. We owe it to ourselves to let that committee do its work before we pass judgment and presuppose exactly what it is going to do.

I have been incredibly proud to be a member of the New Democratic Party, because we have always had a long stance on supporting proportional representation. I have heard some members speak in this chamber about how they do not want to prejudge what Canadians want, they do not want to come with a preformed opinion, and that is fine. I respect that.

I have always felt that having the number of MPs in the House closely mirror the national averages is only fair. It really goes to the heart of the matter of having equal votes for every Canadian, and having one Canadian and one vote.

I will also take some time here to talk about some legislation that I had the honour of introducing on Tuesday. Bill C-279 is a part of this continuing conversation that we as parliamentarians must have on democratic reform. While we talk about how we elect our members, I think we also need to talk about some of the situations that exist around how we elect people, some of the money that is being spent, and how long our elections are.

For example, in the previous Parliament, the Conservatives passed what was known as the Fair Elections Act. One part of that change was that the spending limits of each party translated to roughly $675,000 each day when a party's national campaign went over 37 days. As a result, we have this difference. In 2011, political parties could spend $21 million, while during the 2015 78-day marathon, parties could bring their limit up to $55 million.

I think we are slowly heading down a road where money starts playing a larger role, which distorts the view that many Canadians hold when we are giving such importance to wealthy donors and so on. Also, Canadians do not need to have 78 days to make a decision.

My bill proposes to put a maximum limit of 46 days on an electoral period, while keeping the minimum at 36 days. I hope that, as we discuss this issue of democratic reform, I can invite all members of the House to have a constructive conversation on how long our elections are.

The other thing I think all members will want to take stock of is the cost to taxpayers, because the previous election cost us $473 million to run, which was a $150 million more than the previous election. Therefore, democratic reform cannot simply stop at how we elect our members; we also have to look at the influence of money in our politics.

Before I continue, Mr. Speaker, I forgot to inform you that I would be splitting my time with my great friend the hon. member for Victoria. It was a rookie mistake.

However, I will say that this is a big deal today. My friends in the government, the Liberal caucus, deserve congratulations and credit where credit is due. It was a big step. I was watching the minister on CPAC this morning, and when I heard her say that the government would support this motion, I was genuinely impressed, and I congratulate the Liberals for doing that. It is my hope that by the government giving up its majority on this, and by all other opposition parties suddenly having that legitimacy, we can find a way to work together.

My colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley proposed this new method back in February, and we are now in June. Therefore, I think the minister was quite correct in saying that the government was getting worried that we were just getting bogged down in process, which is true. We need to move beyond process and get to some more substantive debate. We need to hear from experts. We need to hear from witnesses. We need to give the committee all of the tools it needs to consult with Canadians. I will leave it up to the committee to decide what course of action is right, but in the end, I strongly feel that we need to give that committee the time to do so.

I will conclude by saying that one of the phrases that inspired me to run as a New Democrat came from our late leader, the Hon. Jack Layton. I think it was shortly after we formed the official opposition in the previous Parliament that he said it is not enough just to be opposing, but one has to propose solutions.

My friend from Skeena—Bulkley Valley is enduring the spirit of that phrase in the truest way today, because since February he has come up with a practical solution. Instead of just shooting down what the government has been offering, he has said that there is a different way, that this is our constructive alternative, and today the government accepted it.

Canada Elections ActRoutine Proceedings

May 31st, 2016 / 10:05 a.m.
See context


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (length of election period).

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce a bill that will amend the Canada Elections Act to limit the length of our elections.

As we examine changes to our electoral process, it is not enough to change the way we elect our representatives, we must also ensure there is fairness in the system and that all parties compete on a level playing field.

Money distorts the ability for all people to have an equal voice in an election. My bill seeks to remedy this by placing a reasonable limit on election campaigns. The current minimum length for a campaign is 36 days, and there is no explicit maximum length, which was a loophole exploited by the previous Conservative government when it allowed spending limits to increase each day that a campaign exceeded 37 days.

Canadians do not need or want long elections to make their choice, which is something I heard constantly over the previous 78-day marathon campaign. It was a campaign that cost $443 million.

I invite all members to join with me and support this bill.

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