Mr. Speaker, I am waiting for a copy of today's Order Paper; it will take just a few seconds. I trust you will not take this time off my speaking time. In fact, the pages were so fast it would not even be worth the bother.
First of all, the debate must go far beyond taking the amendments one at a time. I will be able to do that when I speak on third reading. The official opposition's extreme reticence about the bill before us today at report stage is, of course, partly because the finished product is imperfect and needs reworking. As some poet said-was it Boileau, my hon. colleague from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve?-"Hone your work carefully; spare no effort and remember that that which can be said in fewer words is often better".
This bill was not honed carefully. It bears all the marks of having been thrown together any which way. In the parliamentary committee, we saw the divergence between the points of view of the government which tabled the bill and those of Elections Canada. In fact, it is a hybrid, like the offspring of a porcupine and a snake we used to joke about as school kids, saying that the result would be about three feet of barbed wire. That is what the bill is like.
Regardless of what has been said, the opposition was not involved in drafting this bill. The very nature of the bill, modifying the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act, ought to have
automatically meant that the opposition parties, all of the opposition parties represented in this House, would be closely involved in drafting the bill along with Elections Canada, so that the resulting bill would be non-partisan.
It is quite possible that in the end we may not reach a unanimous decision since we are here to discuss ideas, and to discuss them on the basis of very clear premises. However, that has not been the case.
The first false premise was that this bill would supposedly establish a permanent voters' list for the next election. That is absolutely untrue. That is merely the impression that was given, and that some people repeated.
As far as the next election is concerned, the bill will only allow for an enumeration outside the electoral period, which means the election campaign will be abbreviated, but there will be no permanent list of electors. There will be an enumeration and a revision of the list of electors, but for all practical purposes, the current Canada Elections Act will apply to the rest of the election. I will explain the difference in greater detail at third reading. So basically, the process is flawed.
I trust that in a case like this, if both opposition parties vote against the bill at all stages, the government will not take a bill on electoral matters that was adopted only by the government majority in this House and submit it to the Senate for approval and Royal Assent. This would create a dangerous precedent that is intolerable in a free and democratic society, where a debate on such matters should be as open as possible. I will get back to this.
We are told that passing Bill C-63 will save money. We will not save any money by passing Bill C-63, since the amount of money required to conduct an enumeration before the electoral period, a special enumeration held over a period of three weeks, will considerably exceed any savings resulting from the fact that the election campaign will be shorter by exactly 11 days.
Basically, our position is this: let us have one more election according to the old rules we all know. Reform members, Liberals and Bloc members are all familiar with this act. We went through one election with this legislation, the Reform Party as well, and the Liberals have had several. We are on familiar ground here.
Electoral legislation is like the Criminal Code and the Civil Code in Quebec. These are the pillars that carry the whole system, and we cannot change them on a whim, just because someone has a bright idea and feels it should be implemented right away. This bill was introduced in early October, and a month later, the same bill, after being fast-tracked through committee, is back in the House at the report stage.
In these matters, speed is not the best policy. It is much better to take your time. We did not have enough time, but we are nevertheless proposing amendments that could help improve the bill.
It is like an automobile muffler: for a certain time, you can always weld it so that it will not be too noisy, but sooner or later, it will fall off. What is proposed here is like welding a rusted muffler, which is what this bill is. Is it or is it not going to hold? At least if those amendments are passed, we will get rid of the noise for another two weeks and be able to travel from Ottawa to Cornwall once or twice, at most. Incidently, I lost my own muffler on my way to that same town two weeks ago, and I had another problem with that.
We will nevertheless try to make one last repair to this bill but basically I would like it to be put aside and I wish that those who will have the opportunity to examine it a second time will also take into account the haste with which it was considered the first time round.
There is also the undeniable fact that this government is in the last year of its normal mandate. Now traditionally, during the last year of a mandate, basic rules are not changed, in particular as regards the Elections Act.
It is somewhat like the hockey finals. I will give an example using two American teams to avoid controversy in this Chamber. The New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins have made it to the finals. The Bruins are leading three games to nothing. The Rangers have money as we know. They are in New York. They have Madison Square Gardens, which they fill each time. The Fox network televises their games. They have a lot of money. They survey the members of the board of governors and manage to get the board of governors of the National Hockey League to say: "It is no longer four out of seven; it is now five out of nine. We have another chance to catch up". The rules are changed at the end of the game.
The game is already underway. The government is already on the campaign trail. The Prime Minister rated his accomplishments at 78 per cent. He is clearly heading into an election trying to sell his 78 per cent rating. We will slip a decimal between the two figures during the election campaign, in fact, well before.
The game is underway; the finals have begun. Let us play the game with the old rules and not change anything. As the official opposition-and the Reform Party will speak for itself, it does not seem to have been consulted any more than we were-had no hand in writing Bill C-63 and did not give its approval, it is hard to agree, to hand over a blank cheque.
The smallest provision will blow up in our face at some point. They will say: "You voted for that; you have to live with the law as it was passed. You supported it". I by far prefer the process followed-and I will come back to it later-in the formulation of Bill C-69 on electoral boundaries in the first session of the 35th Parliament, where the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs took a year to prepare the bill.
The official opposition and Reformers did not support the bill, but at least we knew it word by word, comma by comma. The punctuation was checked over and over to make sure it changed nothing. Representatives of Elections Canada attended the meetings. The discussions were very broad.
This is not the case here. The government and Elections Canada are obviously very much at odds. We clearly have before us a partisan bill on electoral matters, where even Elections Canada officials disagree with several of the provisions of the Elections Act.
Because I have taken a few minutes to situate the debate my colleague for Laval Centre and chief whip of the Bloc Quebecois will speak shortly on motions of Group No. 2, which aims to include age as one of the essential factors in an electoral list.
To the extent that we want a permanent register of electors, not for the upcoming election but for the one after that, the date of birth must be included. Bill C-63 proposes that it be optional. However, the more complete the information, the more valid the register is. The information the state has on its own citizens comes from registers going back to their birth, as the provinces require that births be registered.
In French law, this obligation has existed for over 400 years. These rights were recognized very early. The government must know who makes up the nation and which citizens enjoy certain rights. It cannot be optional. Some members spoke about this earlier. My colleague from Laval Centre will, of course, address this issue in more detail.
If Motions Nos. 1, 3, 9, 15 and 18 are adopted, I would agree to support the motion proposed by my colleague from Calgary West to omit gender. If the date of birth is included, the information regarding gender is no longer necessary.
The age and the date of birth would allow us to distinguish between people with neutral first names such as Claude, Carol or Maxime. Those are the comments I wanted to make.