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.