Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to represent the official opposition in this debate on Bill C-319. Before I start, I would like to salute and thank the members who are constantly striving, through their work and reflection, to improve the elections act and the way our tax money is managed, with a view to reaching a very significant goal, namely the representation of the people.
On behalf of the official opposition, I would like to give a point of view based solely on democratic principles in action. The purpose of this bill is to allow only those registered parties that have received 2 per cent of the total number of votes cast in a national election to receive a 22.5 per cent reimbursement of their election expenses.
We believe that this new provision of the Canada Elections Act will result in making it more difficult-and I especially stress more difficult-the emergence and survival of a variety of political formations which often reflect political diversity and a rich and vibrant democratic life.
I do understand the underlying principle of the bill, which is to avoid reimbursing part of the election expenses of groups or factions formed to campaign in favour of a political idea shared by a tiny minority. I believe that this bill is aimed at the Natural Law Party, for example. We have no intention of launching into an endless debate, even if I am opposed to the principle of the bill. Again, I understand the bill's objectives. It could, however, set a dangerous trend for democracy in Quebec and Canada.
Since a political party is already required to nominate at least 50 candidates to be registered, which I feel is enough to confirm how serious a political formation is, why should it also be required to receive at least 2 per cent of the total number of votes cast in an election to be eligible for a 22.5 per cent reimbursement of its expenses? Preventing the wasteful use of public funds to promote silly ideas during an election campaign is one reason, but it is not enough to convince me that this bill is justified.
In my opinion, this bill is strangely reminiscent of Bill C-229 tabled by the Reform Party, which would require a political party to nominate candidates in at least seven provinces in order to be registered. I think that both these bills are similar to the extent that they both seek to limit the expression of democracy in Canada.
Make no mistake. This is a discussion about principles, a discussion that could lead us in this House to debate the relevance of the multiparty system at the so-called "national" level.
Bill C-229, which required a political party to nominate candidates in at least seven provinces that have, in the aggregate, at least 50 per cent of the population of all the provinces, was nothing short of undemocratic. We regarded it as an insult to democracy, because it denied Quebec's right, as a distinct society, to have its own representatives in the federal legislature.
In Canada, the multiparty system is also a matter of regional representation, and that is what the bill denied. In the past, several political parties have been active on the Canadian scene while based only in one province. As early as 1920, members from other parties started to be elected to the House of Commons in relatively large numbers and with enough support and credibility to influence the democratic system. In the 1930s, the Social Credit and the Commonwealth Cooperative Federation, for example, represented very special interests, and their demands and aspirations were in no way national in nature; these were movements created by Western farmers to protest the excessive taxation powers of a highly centralizing federal government.
So, why limit access for the political representation of minority views and amend the Canada Elections Act if not to prevent Quebec in particular from voicing its rejection of the old national parties, the people commonly referred to as the Grits and the Tories?
Let us be clear. The introduction of such restrictions on the exercise of a democratic right in the Canada Elections Act would mean the end of the multiparty concept in the Canadian electoral system. We feel that the provision requiring that a party gets 2 per cent of the votes to have part of its expenses repaid is a restrictive measure.
Such bills promote the emergence of a one-way political life, of a biparty system essentially dominated by two parties taking turns to defend the same interests and the same vision of a very centralized Canada.
The biparty system does not reflect the geographical reality of Canada. Our country is part of a continent. Each region of that continent is a country in itself, with its language, its character and its cultures. In that context, we feel that the Canadian culture is a myth.
The two party system can no longer reflect reality across the continent; the rout of the Conservative Party of Canada in the last general election is proof of that, even though the hon. member for Sherbrooke is trying like the very devil to resurrect his party.
Mr. Ostrogorsky, one of the fathers of modern political analysis, condemned-and this democratic approach is important-what he called the "perverse effects of a mechanical democracy". He was referring to the two party or one party political regimes under which the democratic life looks somewhat mechanical and loses all its meaning. "The ongoing nature of parties is the basis for the development of the machine and disturbs the workings of democracy", he wrote. Therefore, the appropriate solution to the problem of parties appears obvious. He felt that we have to get rid of the use of rigid and permanent parties, whose only goal is to gain central power. Where I come from, we say that it does not make the slightest difference whether the Tories or the Grits are in power.
We should go back to the true nature of political parties, that of groups of citizens formed to promote certain policies. The author describes political parties as forums where all those who are trying to solve a given problem or reach a given goal have a role to play and an opinion to voice on each and every issue. They are a kind of comprehensive and regional association.
He writes: "In countries with a bipartisan system like the United States, Great Britain-and Canada, I should add-political debate all but disappears. When the discussion revolves around the vision of the Tories or the Grits, we end up nowhere. Real debates on social issues take place outside the political parties".
So, he makes the basic and implicit assumption that there is no universality in the differences of opinion within our society and that our conflicts and differences cannot be resolved by a single entity.
The last general election proved that the two major parties, the Conservative and the Liberal parties, the Tories and the Grits, are no longer alone in the Canadian political arena, which is being redesigned according to regional considerations that have nothing to do with the concept of a Canadian nation. To us, any measure aimed at limiting the expression of political differences at the continental level is inconceivable.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, is against this bill and wants to point out during this debate that we are now faced with a new democratic approach which recognizes the fact that, since the last election, there is no longer a truly national party in Canada. We have well-represented regions, which clearly indicates the goals we have to reach.