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House of Commons Hansard #202 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was producers.

Topics

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Madam Speaker, it will be a pleasure to respond to the hon. member for Vaudreuil. I wish the hon. member would remember what I said. When I referred to marriage, I meant an economic marriage, and I would like to point out that today, as many as 60 per cent of businesses in Quebec and Ontario are involved in joint ventures, and that Ontario has a $3.8 billion trade surplus with Quebec.

Just a minute, Madam Speaker, just a minute, please. Will Ontario ignore us overnight? Will Ontario and the other provinces in Canada turn down economic ties overnight? Hardly likely. Globalization is the order of the day. But let us continue.

Just because we are talking about agriculture, we do not need more fences. There will be no fences tomorrow. These are the figures I wanted to mention in the House when I spoke earlier, and I repeat, this is an economic marriage regardless of the outcome for Quebec. With respect to agriculture, which was supposed to be my topic today, there are no borders, no fences. And I may add that yes, this will be a good economic marriage.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Madam Speaker, as someone from British Columbia I am sick and tired of talk about some kind of economic merger.

A lot of dairy products come from Quebec into British Columbia. Why does the member think British Columbia would accept product from a country that just separated from Canada? What motivation is there for people from British Columbia to take the product when we can produce it ourselves?

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Madam Speaker, I think our western colleague overlooked the fact that Quebec buys $800 million worth of beef.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Annually.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Annually. Eight hundred million dollars worth.

Does the West-

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

An hon. member

And Western wheat.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

We could say plenty about Western wheat, Madam Speaker.

I will say this, if the Reform Party does not want an economic marriage, it can refrain, but as a politician, I say that we are going to have a real marriage, a marriage that is economically and politically sound.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I am happy to join my colleagues in the debate on Bill C-86, an act to amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act and to add my support to this important initiative.

Dairy farmers of Canada as well as producers in my home province of Prince Edward Island are very anxious to see the bill passed prior to the end of June so that the legislative requirements laid out in the act are in place prior to August 1.

The P.E.I. milk marketing board held a number of public meetings on the proposals outlined in the act and had strong producer support. However I underline the important point that producers in my province do not want to see this as the first step in moving toward a national quota exchange. It is important to have the quota distributed throughout the country and not drawn basically into Quebec and Ontario through quota pricing practices. I underline that as a concern.

The bill provides Canada's dairy sector with the ways and means to successfully face demanding new market realities. As well the amendments are very much in line with the government's fiscal goal of getting the deficit under control.

The new milk pricing and pooling system will not require any additional resources from government reserves. It will not entail any contingent liability on the part of the federal government or involve any reallocations from within the Canadian Dairy Commission's current operating funds.

As my colleagues before me have noted, the principal amendments to the act provide the commission with the legal administrative authority to work co-operatively with provincial milk marketing authorities to calculate the average national price level for the milk classes whose returns will be pooled, to obtain the returns from sale to processors through the provinces and then to redistribute the returns to producers through provincial authorities on an equitable basis under the terms of a formal federal-provincial agreement.

The other amendments contained in Bill C-86 are even less complicated. They are necessary to add clarity to the act to ensure compatibility and consistency with provincial authorities and legislation, to enable proper and efficient banking procedures and administration of producer money, and to strengthen the enforcement provisions of the act.

Through Bill C-86 a provincial milk marketing board is specifically defined to add clarity to the act and to ensure consistency with similar provisions contained in the dairy products marketing regulations. The new industry pooling system for milk marketing returns will be carried out through arrangements agreed upon by the Canadian dairy commission and the provincial milk marketing authorities.

An amendment has also been included for clarity to ensure that there is no misinterpretation of the fact that the regulations made under the CDC act do not take precedence in terms of the authorities provided to the commission under the act.

The provisions contained in any legislated act always take precedence over any regulations made pursuant to the act. That is an important point. Other amendments provided by Bill C-86 enable the commission to recover pool administration costs from the pool, to establish a special bank account to deal solely with the producer moneys entering and leaving the pool through the provincial authorities, and to permit the CDC to establish a line of credit to ensure continuity of producer payments. These are important principles to ensure that we meet our GATT obligations and that we are not using government moneys to fulfil these procedures.

Under pooling arrangements the Canadian dairy commission will simply be administering a pool of producer moneys on behalf of producers. If necessary, any borrowing costs would be undertaken on a short term basis only to ensure timeliness of payments as moneys enter and leave the pool. Any such borrowings would be subject to prior approval by the Minister of Finance and be totally funded by producers.

Bill C-86 also enables the CDC to continue its long standing practice of returning any excess fees or levy funds rightfully owed back to producers. The amount of in quota production per producer can only be estimated at the beginning of each dairy year. The amount of actual production is not known until the end of the year.

While no penalties are charged for under producing milk, under the supply management system over quota production is exported and levies are charged on these amounts to cover export costs and other related CDC program costs. The same type of situation may well occur under the pooling system as average national prices will be calculated at the beginning of a certain period and may differ when the marketing costs are finally determined. Again, no additional government funds are involved.

The last amendment contained in Bill C-86 strengthens the enforcement provisions of the CDC act. Given the attorney general conducts all litigation for the commission and has the power to seek injunctive relief in its own name the new provision will ensure the same relief is available if litigation is commenced by or against the commission in the name of the CDC.

Again I urge my fellow members to fully support Bill C-86. Such approval will demonstrate clear recognition of the importance of Canada's dairy sector and the continuation of the supply management system and its benefits to not only producers but to all Canadians. This is a model we should be encouraging other countries to adopt and these amendment will go a long way in terms of making it compatible with GATT agreements.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Madam Speaker, my distinguished colleague and member for Malpèque is an expert in dairy production, and I have considerable respect for him.

The Federation of Dairy Producers of Canada decided to comply with the provisions of NAFTA-and NAFTA is the reason we are here debating Bill C-86 this afternoon-because the $3 levy per hectolitre of milk could have been reduced by 15 per cent a year. However, GATT determined that, as of August 1, 1995, this $3 deduction from the income of industrial milk producers would be illegal under the NAFTA agreement, because it would be considered a direct export subsidy.

This is debatable, but since it seems we do not want to overly upset the Americans, we bowed to their demands. We still do not know which takes precedence-GATT or NAFTA-so we comply with the requirements of NAFTA.

Under this agreement, we obtained an extension in order to become legal. As the member for Malpèque pointed out, the quota may be negotiated between provinces. The hon. member for Malpèque could buy part of Quebec's quota to expand his farm. Better yet, if he wants to swell his coffers, he could sell his quota to Quebecers, who could take his quota from Prince Edward Island and bring it to Quebec.

I think this is a very good point in Bill C-86, given that, in the agreement signed by the farm producers of the six provinces, if, for example, Prince Edward Island sees its milk quota vanish like snow in springtime after the 1 per cent sale, it can temporarily withdraw from the agreement it signed with the other five provinces.

What I want to find out from my colleague for Malpeque, who is very familiar with agriculture across Canada, is: what is going to happen to the three recalcitrant provinces? I will not go so far as calling them separatist, but I would like to know what we can give these three western provinces to get them to sign the agreement with the six other provinces, since they produce barely 18 per cent of Canada's milk.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

I want to make it very clear that Bill C-86 is only talking about the legislative authority to implement a national pooling system of market returns from the different classes of milk. It will not establish a national quota exchange. To be very clear, it will set up a national pooling system of market returns and would give that authority within the context of federal-provincial agreements on pooling mainly through delegated functions. I raised quota exchange because it is a concern of producers in Prince Edward Island that this legislation not been seen as the first step toward moving in that direction.

This requirement is really as a result of the GATT. In terms of the point he raised with respect to GATT and NAFTA, we in Canada know which tariff reduction regime has priority. We know it is the GATT negotiation and not NAFTA. The Americans may differ in their opinion but certainly we are firmly behind the stand that the GATT tariff reduction rules apply.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, the debate to this point has been quite insightful. It tells us a bit about Canada and some of the problems we face. It is interesting that the debate is over something as simple as milking cows. The previous Liberal speaker has been actively involved in the dairy industry. I cannot say the same although I have milked cows.

It is very interesting to see a debate in the House, an argument, a scrap might be the correct word, between the Liberals and the Bloc over milking cows. It was at the point at which they were talking about marriages and divorces over milking cows. We have to wonder, in the marriage or the divorce who is the cow and who is the bull. Maybe we have two bulls, in which case where is the milk?

If we have this kind of debate over milking cows, can we imagine a fight over the future of Canada as to whether we remain a united country? We can imagine how the scrap will intensify. We will not be talking about milking cows, we will be talking about the St. Lawrence seaway, the division of assets, federal buildings across the river in Hull, federal buildings in Montreal and all across Quebec, apportioning the federal debt. We can only imagine the difficulty.

The problem is we have two parties in the House talking about marriage and divorce. It is time to change the parameters of the debate and start talking about life and death. With the parties involved in the debate all I see is the potential of death. They will scrap until someone is killed.

We may be talking about some new life in this issue. When I think about new life I think about Reform because Reform talks about a constructive new way of looking at things. Perhaps both parties need to lay aside their instruments of war and listen to Reformers who talk about a new Canada, the birth of new ideas, a new Confederation with 10 equal provinces working together because they have responsibilities appropriated to each level of government in a manner that will allow us to work co-operatively and lay aside some of these foolish and silly debates like the debate over how we milk our cows.

I farm and I have milked cows, mostly as a young lad. I do not claim to be an expert but I recognize the importance of the industry. Therefore it is a privilege for me to speak this afternoon on Bill C-86 which provides for the replacement of levies with a pooling system of market returns from different classes of milk use, which system maintains producer equity and is consistent with Canada's international trade agreement.

I rise in the House today to talk about an issue that should have been addressed many months ago. While I congratulate the government for finally addressing the issue of supply management, I have many doubts whether the government has the resolve to develop a policy that addresses farmers' concerns for the long term.

Canada's supply management system has provided stability to the dairy industry. In the system farmers are given a reliable means of marketing their product with a consistent price. Consumers are guaranteed in receiving a product of high quality. However, this has come with a hefty price tag for consumers with goods in some cases double what the same product would cost in the United States.

As long as our dollar is relatively low, below 80 cents U.S., it does not create too much of a problem. However, when we see our dollar increase above the 80 cent mark certainly we have cross-border shopping. Any Canadian who goes across the border to shop in the United States will put in their hamper large quantities of dairy products such as cheese, milk and the like. That indicates perhaps there are some fundamental problems and pitfalls ahead with regard to not only the dairy industry but all supply managed areas we need to openly discuss in the House and in the industry.

Recent developments in world trade have signalled the inevitable end of Canada's supply managed systems as we know them. The status quo will go, just as it will go with regard to the squabble between separatists and federalists. The status quo in the supply managed system will have to pass away as well.

As of August 1, 1995 under the Uruguay round of GATT all import quotas must be converted to tariffs. While tariffs may protect supply managed commodities in the short term, it is doubtful they will be a fixture in the long term. Canada will try

to maintain the 85 per cent tariff level until the year 2001 but it is likely the United States will challenge it. Even the parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of agriculture has said publicly this is inevitable.

I quote the MP for Prince Edward-Hastings:

What will likely happen is that the Americans will ask for a NAFTA panel in the very near future. The panel of industry experts is made up of two Americans and a fifth person who is chosen by a flip of a coin'. The system is somewhat biased, depending on which countrywins the toss of the coin'. That's the way the system works.

The government is confident it can win an American challenge against tariff levels. However, what plan of action has the government developed if the Americans win the challenge? It reminds me that the Liberals said they were sure Canada would win the debate over article XI in the GATT negotiations.

Everyone knows the Liberals were wrong. We have found out the Liberals are wrong a lot of time. We are concerned that they do not always accurately communicate the conditions not only of the dairy industry, but those that many sectors of our economy may face in the future. The Liberals are not being straightforward with the results of the ongoing deficit and increasing debt.

It is about time we started to deal realistically with the issues before us and address in a very direct form the concerns of the dairy industry. For instance, a ruling in favour of the Americans would put the current system in jeopardy. We are reminded that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The Reform Party supports the tariff levels which were agreed to under GATT.

Canadian Dairy Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

May 16th, 1995 / 5:25 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

moved that Bill C-319, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (reimbursement of election expenses) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, this is a very straightforward bill. It intends to put one more very small hurdle in the path of registered political parties before they are eligible for reimbursement from the public purse. It would be a hurdle similar to the one that is in the path of individual candidates. When individual candidates run in a particular riding, the candidate is required to have 15 per cent of the total votes cast in that constituency before the candidate is eligible for reimbursement from the public purse.

Reams and volumes of books have been published over the years on election financing in Canada. The stack is quite high. It all has to do with financing elections in Canada and ensuring that financing is straightforward and transparent. It ensures that candidates who are able to run in elections come forward to represent their constituencies without having to be independently well off.

The election financing rules are intended to ensure that candidates are not bought by individuals. That is why there are limits on campaign expenditures. That is why there is full disclosure on funding of individual and national campaigns.

The bill speaks only to the national campaigns. It was motivated during the last election when I found myself, as everyone in the House did, in the situation where there was a cacophony of candidates representing quite a wide variety of platforms.

Perhaps the most outrageous was the platform of the yogic flyers. While the debates were going on I wondered what yogic flying had to do with running our country and what yogic flying could do to get our country out of debt and make our country work better. At first I am sure many people thought it was a joke. We certainly do not want to dissuade anyone from running and getting involved in politics. And perhaps yogic flyers do have the answer to Canada's problems.

I wish to inform the Chair that it is my intention to share my time with my colleague from Okanagan Centre.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Is that agreed?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, here we were in the middle of the election campaign surrounded by yogic flyers.

That would have been great, except that when the election was over I checked into it. They received a grand total of 84,000 votes in the last election, .6 per cent of the total votes cast. They also received $717,000 from the taxpayers of Canada in reimbursement for their national campaign expenditures. It worked out that the taxpayers of Canada reimbursed them $8.41 for every vote cast. They spent $37.38 for every vote they received, which is their business. It did not make sense to me that the taxpayers of Canada should be subsidizing what really is not a political party.

The intention of having the national campaign party reimbursement was to ensure that national or regional political parties had some income between elections. It was intended to

keep them going. National or regional political parties are necessary for the lifeblood of the country.

In looking at the campaign expenditures, we thought about how we would make sure the hurdle was low enough, so small that parties could get started yet high enough to be real. We came up with the figure of 2 per cent. Federal parties would have to have spent 10 per cent of their total allowable limit and also have garnered 2 per cent of the total votes cast. In the last election that would be something like 270,000 votes across the country.

Some with whom I have discussed this bill have suggested it might be appropriate to have a lower threshold. If that is the case, I would be quite happy to consider amending this bill to have a lower threshold, perhaps 1 per cent.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Why not higher?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

That would still be 130,000 votes across the country. As an hon. member opposite mentioned, why not higher? If it is the will of this House either in committee or in debate that it should be higher, that could be considered. In my view, 2 per cent was high enough that it was a hurdle but low enough that it was possible to achieve.

I wish to reiterate the intent is not to prevent new parties from getting going. The intent is in keeping with the spirit of the Electoral Reform Commission to ensure hurdles are in place to protect the public purse, to ensure that genuine political parties are able to benefit from the very wise intentions of those that preceded us in this House.

I ask hon. members opposite to give this bill their consideration and support. It may save us somewhere in the region of $1 million, which for most Canadians is quite a lot of money. For the federal budget, it is not that large an amount. However, it is not just the amount, but the principle we are talking about.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Reform

Werner Schmidt Reform Okanagan Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased and happy today to be able to support my colleague from Edmonton Southwest and his bill to amend the Canada Elections Act.

Canadians are a people with a profound respect for democracy. Look around at the make-up of the House. We know by the change that took place from the last election to this one how democracy is respected in our country.

We understand representation very well. We respect it even when we do not necessarily agree with everything our representatives say. One of the things that brings this home most clearly is the structure of our electoral system.

We conduct open, free and fair elections in Canada. We give political parties tools to raise funds and to run candidates. We place limits and restrictions on their activities during and between writs to ensure fairness, even in dealing with each other and with the public. We have disclosure rules to make the system transparent. But our system also has some flaws. The bill put forward by my hon. colleague is all about addressing one of those flaws.

Bill C-319 seeks to limit the reimbursement of election expenses to those parties that have spent more than 10 per cent of their allotted expense amount as described in section 46 of the Canada Elections Act if and only if they receive more than 2 per cent of the vote nationally. What this would do is limit expense reimbursement to only those parties that have received a significant number of votes in the election, those parties that have a reasonable level of public support among Canadian voters.

In the most recent election, Elections Canada reports that there were 19,906,796 registered voters. This means that with this bill a party would have to have received 398,136 votes nationally to be eligible for reimbursement of election expenses. I do not think it is unreasonable for Canadians to expect a party to give a reasonable showing in an election before hard earned tax dollars are handed over to help it pay its bills.

What this bill seeks to prevent is the situation that arose in the last election. During that election certain parties were either well financed or had policies that were way out of touch with reality but were still well financed. These parties managed to field a large number of candidates and spent considerable sums on their campaigns. The taxpayer reimbursed them for a sizeable chunk of those expenses, even though they received only a very tiny portion of the overall national vote.

It does not sit well with me nor with many other Canadians that we are reimbursing expenses to parties that do not get more than a handful of the overall votes. I am not advocating the restriction of the electoral system here, far from it. I am only suggesting that it is about time we started to apply some fiscal restraint to our electoral system just as we are to the rest of the functions of government.

Parties should in no way be limited from forming or running as many candidates as they can muster. Parties should be allowed to spend as they see fit within the current rules set out by Elections Canada. Parties that do not command a significant share of the vote should not expect the Canadian taxpayer to cough up money to pay their bills.

I need to correct myself. We want 2 per cent of the total votes cast which in the last election would have worked out to 270,000 votes or thereabouts. The earlier figure I used was a theoretical

number based on the actual number of people who could have cast a ballot.

The reimbursement of election expenses should be a privilege enjoyed by those parties that have demonstrated they have the support of a significant proportion of Canadians. It is that simple.

What Bill C-319 seeks to introduce is fairness and fiscal restraint in the electoral system. We all know that fiscal restraint is absolutely essential in Canada today. We want political parties to demonstrate that they are deserving of any benefits they might derive from the taxpayer. We want them to show that they have support at the ballot box before they get the support from tax dollars. It is really all about fairness.

If a party deserves to be reimbursed because it has support among the people, it will be. If, however, a party is using the electoral system in this country as a soapbox for personal or questionable exposure and the people ignore it, then it should pay its own bills.

Again, I am not suggesting that we limit participation in any way. It is just that parties that do not command a certain level of support from the voters should not expect those same voters to bail them out with tax dollars. It is about being fair, responsible and accountable to the taxpayer for the dollar spent.

I am pleased to offer my support to my colleague from Edmonton-Southwest in this Bill C-319.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I am highly interested in the bill introduced today by the member for Edmonton Southwest. I congratulate him on the fact that his bill was chosen. I hope that today, or at a later date, the House will adopt the bill at second reading so that it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs which will study it, and maybe recommend a few amendments before sending it back to the House for concurrence.

The bill purports to put a minimum in place for contributions from the federal treasury for parties participating in elections. The hon. member has proposed a political party must receive at least 2 per cent of the votes cast in order to be eligible for the 22.5 per cent reimbursement allowed under section 322 of the Canada Elections Act.

The hon. member will be aware there is a fairly significant history in relation to this issue which might be of interest to him and other hon. members wishing to participate in the debate today. The Lortie commission, the report of the royal commission on electoral reform and party financing, recommended registered parties that receive at least 1 per cent of all the ballots cast be reimbursed at a rate of 60 cents for each vote received provided that no party would be reimbursed at an amount greater than 50 per cent of its electoral expenses.

This increase proposed by the Lortie commission rewarded parties that received a large number of votes in proportion to the number of votes they received and also increased the rate for the major parties so they would get more money because there was a recognition that at the national level Canada's national parties are generally short of cash, particularly those not forming the government.

There was a recognition by the royal commission that the governing party had an easier time raising funds than parties in opposition to the government. In part to offset that the commission recommended this rather generous reimbursement procedure but based on votes so that only a party that was fairly successful in the polls would receive a substantial chunk of money.

The hon. member will know there were extensive discussions between the parties about the Lortie recommendations. In the last Parliament I had the honour to be a member of the special committee on electoral reform which dealt with the Lortie proposals in some detail and came up with a series of reports tabled in the House. One of the reports resulted in the adoption of Bill C-114, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, in the last Parliament. The other major report from the committee was never acted on by the government prior to the dissolution of Parliament and accordingly this issue, as were some others, was left untouched.

The committee, composed with representatives of the three recognized parties then in the House, the NDP, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Liberal Party-the Progressive Conservatives of course had a majority on the committee-was unable to agree on the Lortie commission proposal.

While it was something that would have been palatable with our party, the New Democratic Party in particular found it offensive because it would have received far less money than under the current legal arrangements. The Progressive Conservative Party, looking at the polls, was very nervous it might also be disastrous for it and so it was not very keen on it.

I say with some pride the Liberal Party has always done well in the polls, whether in opposition or in government. Hon. members opposite laugh but it has been a fact for really all of this century that we would have come out reasonably well on any scenario with this arrangement. Other parties were more apprehensive and based on the election results in 1993, I can understand their apprehension. We all know the New Democratic Party took a terrible whipping, although well deserved, and the Progressive Conservative Party similarly was thrashed, and very properly so.

They would have felt this rule in a very harsh way had they adopted it before the election, which this party would not and had not in any election. With all the elections it has lost in this century it still would have done all right under a rule of this kind.

I now want to turn to what the committee did. The committee came up with another way of enriching the parties a little, and that was to increase the reimbursement from 22.5 per cent to 25 per cent and simply leave the rules as they were. That was the only deal we could make which every party agreed on and it was part of a package which included other changes to the financing of political parties. Of course none of it was enacted.

I do not mind telling hon. members opposite one of the points the government was very anxious to include in the bill was a restriction on the minimum number of votes one had to receive in order to qualify. The government was very anxious to put in place a figure which I think was around 5 per cent. That would have put at risk various other parties that were more regionally based. When I say that I look at the two parties in opposition because both of those parties come from a fairly regional base. I think the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest would concede the Reform Party is not strong in Quebec or in Atlantic Canada.

We resisted that at the time because we felt if we were to have a regional basis to the parties it was unfair to stack the deck against the establishment of new parties and we were naturally somewhat concerned about that. Therefore we resisted and I think I can safely say from the point of view of hon. members opposite it is probably just as well we did.

However, that is history and certainly from a theoretical point of view there was no objection on our part to putting some minimum number of votes obtained in place. Therefore, to have this bill before us today and allow the committee to study it is very important. I support the hon. member in that objective.

However, I cannot let the opportunity pass without commenting on the 2 per cent figure. It strikes me as being rather low. In South Africa and in Germany where there is a system of proportional representation, in order to qualify to get any seats in the legislature they have to have at least 5 per cent of the votes. That is my recollection. That is to get seats, let alone reimbursement.

In our country we can win seats in Parliament in one or two places, as we had with the Reform Party which had one member in the last Parliament, the hon. member for Beaver River, who was here throughout that Parliament. With a modest number of votes in a general election a party can still have seats in the House. We have two areas in which there is reimbursement, at the national party level and at the constituency level. If one is successful at the constituency level, money is paid to the successful candidates and to the other candidates who run well.

In looking at the 2 per cent figure I cannot help but look at the results of the 34th general election, the 1988 election. Eight parties ran in that election which would not have qualified using the rule of the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest. They all had less than 1 per cent of the vote. However, the one party over 2 per cent was the Reform Party. That party received 2.09 per cent of the vote in 1988. It is an extraordinary coincidence that 2 per cent is the figure which the hon. member chose because of course it saved the Reform Party based on the 1988 results. I am sure he did not look at the results to come up with the figure, but perhaps a researcher did.

While it has initial appeal, I think a little higher figure might not be inappropriate. I would have hated to see the Reform Party cut out of the financial jackpot if we had put it too high in the last election. I cannot remember if that party broke 5 per cent. I would want to look at a higher figure in committee. I served notice to that effect and I certainly look forward to hearing the witnesses the committee is able to call on this bill, should the House in its wisdom decide to give the bill approval in principle at second reading.

There are lots of ways to skin a cat, as they say, and I think there are many ways we could seek to improve Canada's electoral law with respect to the reimbursement of political parties. I am glad to see the Reform Party by this bill is adopting the principle that the state does have an important role to play with respect to the reimbursement of political parties because that is certainly something we have regarded as fundamental for some time and on which occasionally I have heard statements. I cannot say I have read the little blue book, but I have heard statements that make me wonder if the Reform Party really is committed to this principle.

I assume this bill put forward by the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest has some approval from the powers that be in his party, including the member for Calgary Southwest who I gather has some say in these matters, that this is okay and this principle therefore is satisfactory.

I am glad to support the principle. I hope we can work out a series of rules that will be fair not just to the parties currently in the House but to other parties formed in Canada and also to the Canadian taxpayer.

The problem with the current system is it encourages parties that are registered and fielding the requisite number of candidates to spend as much money as they can. As long as they spend 10 per cent of their limit, I believe, they become entitled to a reimbursement of 22.5 per cent of their expenses no matter how

many votes they get. I agree that is wrong. There should not be an incentive to spend.

In my view, the money paid should be based on some other principle, whether it is on the number of votes received or on a minimal number of votes one must get in order to qualify for the expense. Something needs to go into the law.

I quite agree with the hon. member in bringing this forward. I would be glad to support the bill at second reading in order that the standing committee may do a detailed study on the proposal.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Gaston Leroux Bloc Richmond—Wolfe, QC

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.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ron MacDonald Liberal Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, I am glad to be here today to debate this private member's bill.

Private Members' Business gets far too short a shrift in this Parliament as it did in other Parliaments. It is a time for private members who do not get to set the legislative agenda of the government, both on the government side and indeed in the opposition, to come forward with pieces of legislation that they believe will fix things that are wrong.

Some of Private Members' Business is inherently partisan, which is fine; that is the nature of the beast in this place. Some seeks to try to get some consensus and camaraderie around the Chamber with respect to principles, goals and ideas.

I do not support the bill in its entirety but I do understand the direction the hon. member is trying to set. Having run in two elections and having run election campaigns in a number of elections prior to that, I know it is extremely difficult as a candidate or as a campaign manager when one gets individuals or indeed parties that form for a very frivolous reason the intention to go out and paint everybody else who has a legitimate political belief as somehow ripping off the system.

We have seen that all the time. The Rhinoceros Party and some other regional parties form for the sole intention of trying to make some fun out of the very serious business of politics. It is difficult as a candidate when that happens. However, one has to be extremely careful when one starts introducing pieces of legislation whose impact may be to limit entry of legitimate political thought in our system. It begs the question of what is legitimate political thought. That is really in the ear or eye of the beholder.

One of the major problems I have with the bill and one of the reasons I could not support it in its current form, although I would support it's going to committee so that we can at least have some non-partisan debate not structured by our parties with respect to this issue, deals with the percentages. The reason I had difficulty with the percentages, and the hon. member will be interested in hearing this, is not so much that I am opposed to setting a benchmark below which a party is not deemed to be worthy of support by the taxpayers of Canada. I am worried for two reasons. One is that I firmly believe we have to do everything humanly possible to ensure genuine political debate is fostered, that it does not become the purview of the rich and the famous and those who can bankroll on their own.

The second thing we have to be very careful of is the minimums when one starts establishing in law certain parameters within which political debate and thought must be con-

ducted. Otherwise one will not be able to get the type of funding necessary, which in turn will thwart the fostering of new political thought, new political ideologies.

I did some quick math. In Atlantic Canada we have 32 constituencies. One thing that strikes an individual after getting elected, be they from Alberta, Nova Scotia, northern Ontario or Quebec, is the vastness of this nation. This is a wonderful piece of God's earth. Although from time to time we just deal with our troubles, it really behoves us to think about the enormity of the resource we have.

It is a regional country, like it or not. I am a regionalist. I believe the country is made up of a number of regions. We may have provincial boundaries that fit inside those regions, but most of all it is a country of regions.

In Atlantic Canada many times we have voted differently than the rest of the country has. I remember back in 1984 when the Conservative Party first came into power there was a sweep across the country. The sweep was not nearly as complete in Atlantic Canada. In 1988, while the Tories enjoyed a second electoral victory, in Atlantic Canada the tides turned. Atlantic Canadians moved away from that governing party in a larger percentage than any other region of the country.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

An hon. member

We are awfully smart.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ron MacDonald Liberal Dartmouth, NS

We are awfully smart and perhaps that is it.

Different regions may find different political ideologies appealing for whatever reason. In Atlantic Canada we have 32 seats. We are a vital part of the nation. We have the great province of Newfoundland. We have Prince Edward Island, the birthplace of Confederation. We have the bluenosers from Nova Scotia and the herring chokers from New Brunswick. We have 32 wonderful constituencies and four tremendous provinces as part of this great country.

The Tories did not do terribly well in the last election, as we know, right across the country. In Atlantic Canada they did not do terribly well either. The message of the Reform Party was so objectionable to the people in Atlantic Canada that people who could not see their way to vote for the Liberal Party stayed with the Tory Party, knowing their vote would be lost, that the Tories would not get another term in office. They could not go with the third option, the Reform Party. They will never go with the Reform Party. That will never be an option down there.

The Tories did exceedingly well with respect to how they did in other parts of the country. They got wiped out as well there, with the exception of the member for Saint John, the former mayor, who perhaps most days wishes she had not been so lucky to win that night.

In Atlantic Canada the rough math tells me that the Tories in 32 seats polled about 290,000 votes. That is pretty close to the two per cent limit set out in the bill. I do not have them all marked, but I will run through the percentages of votes cast that Tories received in all of the ridings in Nova Scotia: 20 per cent, 8, 22, 11, 32, 36, 23, 20, 23, and 32.

I do not throw those numbers out to say the Tories are a viable alternative now or in the future. I throw them out to show they did still garner a significant vote because the Reform Party's message was not saleable in Atlantic Canada in the last election. It probably never will be.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

You wait, you'll see.