House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.


Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Agreed and so ordered by unanimous consent.

(Motion agreed to.)

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.


Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON


That Bill C-63 be amended by replacing the long title on page 1 with the following:

"An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the Parliament of Canada Act and the Referendum Act";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 18 on page 1 with the following:

"surname, given names, civic address";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 14 on page 2 with the following:

"given names, civic address and mailing";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 16, be amended by replacing lines 11 and 12 on page 7 with the following:

"information referred to in paragraph (2)( d )'';

That Bill C-63, in Clause 18, be amended by replacing lines 34 and 35 on page 8 with the following:

"name, given names, sex and date of birth, and indicating";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 22, be amended by replacing line 27 on page 11 with the following:

"surname, given names, civic address";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 22, be amended by a ) replacing line 9 on page 13 with the following:

"list contains the surname, given names, sex, date of birth" b ) replacing line 17 on page 13 with the following: b ) his or her surname, given names, sex, date of birth'' c ) replacing lines 22 to 29 on page 13 with the following:

"may invite the person to give any other information that the Chief Electoral Officer considers necessary to implement any agreements entered into under section 71.024, but the person is not required to do so.";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 35, be amended by replacing lines 32 to 41on page 22 with the following:

"(4) Each returning officer shall deliver to the appropriate deputy returning officers the portions of the lists mentioned in subsections (1) and (2) that they need to conduct the vote in their respective polling divisions, with an indication of the sex of each elector named therein.

(5) Each returning officer shall deliver to each candidate two copies of the lists mentioned in subsections (1) and (2), one being in printed form and one in electronic form.

(6) Where a request is received from a";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 71, be amended by a ) replacing line 20 on page 35 with the following:

"71.(1) Section 22 of Schedule II to the Act is" b ) replacing line 22 on page 35 with the following:

"amended by adding the following after paragraph ( d ): d .1) the applicant's date of birth;

(2) Section 22 of Schedule II to the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):" c ) replacing lines 25 to 32 on page 35 with the following:

"may invite the elector to give any other information that the Chief Electoral Officer considers necessary for implementing agreements made under section 71.024 of the Act, but the elector is not required to give it.";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 74, be amended by a ) replacing line 6 on page 36 with the following:

"74.(1) Subsection 37(1) of Schedule II to the Act is" b ) replacing line 8 on page 36 with the following:

"paragraph ( b ): b .1) the elector's date of birth;

(2) Section 37 of Schedule II to the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):" c ) replacing lines 11 to 18 on page 36 with the following:

"Officer may invite the elector to give any other information that the Chief Electoral Officer considers necessary for implementing agreements made under section 71.024 of the Act, but the elector is not required to give it.";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 77, be amended by replacing lines 42 and 43 on page 36 with the following:

"tor's surname, given names, sex and date of birth, and the";

That Bill C-63, in Clause 78, be amended by replacing lines 8 and 9 on page 37 with the following: b ) the date of birth;'';

That Bill C-63 be amended by adding after line 4 on page 40 the following:

"87.1 Subsection 31(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act is replaced by the following:

  1. (1) Where a vacancy occurs in the House of Commons, a writ shall be issued between the 11th day and the 180th day after the receipt by the Chief Electoral Officer of the warrant for the issue of a writ for the election of a member of the House.";

That Bill C-63 be amended by adding after line 36 on page 42 the following:

"93.1 Within 30 days after the day on which the notice mentioned in subsection 71.003 of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by subsection 21(1) of this Act, is published in the Canada Gazette, the Chief Electoral Officer shall, on request by a registered party, provide the registered party with an electronic copy of the list of electors.".

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Windsor West Ontario


Herb Gray LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to support third reading of this bill.

In the light of the discussion which has just taken place, I would like to put on the record some information about the amendments which have just been agreed to. May I suggest that, if it is the will of the House, this could well be material which could be printed as an appendix to Hansard or as an appendix to the record of today's proceedings.

In any event, I would like to provide the following information about the amendments which we have just been discussing.

The first item I would like to address is the matter of obtaining date of birth information about electors. An elector will be asked to provide his or her date of birth by enumerators during the last enumeration. This information will be particularly helpful in identifying and matching electors where addresses change. However, the date of birth information would only appear on the register, that is to say the permanent voters list maintained by the chief electoral officer and not on the list prepared from the register. This means that political parties and candidates will not receive date of birth information.

Then there is the amendment about using gender information about voters. Elections Canada will continue to gather this information during the last enumeration, which I will be discussing, and during both the annual updating process and during the revision period of an election. This information will contribute to the accuracy of voter identification.

Gender information, however, will not be shared with parties or candidates. It will be information retained internally by Elections Canada to be shared with poll clerks for elections and with provincial elections officials if their legislation requires this information.

Then there is an amendment about sharing the preliminary voters lists with parties. The bill provides that parties would receive an updated voters list each October 15. However, we have agreed to an amendment which means that registered parties will receive a preliminary voters list after the last door to door enumeration, which I will be discussing in my speech. The list will be made available within 30 days after the chief electoral officer gives notice in the Canada Gazette that the information is complete. This is a transitional measure.

Of course, if an election is called sooner, the list will be available five days after the writ is issued.

Finally, there is an amendment we have agreed to about byelections. This amendment will mean that byelections can be held no sooner than 47 days after the writ for the byelection has been issued so that the minimum period for an election campaign under the present law will continue to be 47 days for byelections. This will give opposition parties more time to prepare to take part in the byelections and is in response to a concern in that regard which we have all agreed to deal with through this amendment.

Now, as I have just said, I am pleased to rise in support of the third reading of Bill C-63. I would first thank the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for their diligence and the relevance of their observations, because the amendments they proposed are very valuable, and I would like to discuss them.

I also want to thank other members who have not taken part in the work of the committee, particularly members of the New Democratic Party, for their consideration of amendments which I have mentioned and other amendments which were incorporated into the bill and voted on during report stage.

At its heart this bill modernizes key elements of our electoral system. We need a contemporary, cost efficient system that allows for intergovernmental co-operation and builds on the latest technologies. We need a system that is cost effective and yet at the same time helps ensure that the high voter turnout which has been typical of our federal elections continues to be the case. I think this is something important for the health of our democratic system of government.

I submit that the bill, particularly with the amendments which have been proposed during the committee process and those which we have agreed to today, will help us ensure the achievement of these objectives.

The bill has four key elements. It provides for the shortening of the general electoral period from a minimum of 47 days to a minimum of 36 days, beginning with the next general election.

Second, it provides for one last door to door enumeration to take place prior to the next election to provide both the preliminary voters list within five days of the call of the next election and also to provide the basis for a permanent electoral list based on a permanent register of electors.

Third, the bill provides for the creation of a permanent register of electors intended to be used for the general election and all general elections after the next one.

Finally, the bill proposes changes in voting hours which, through a procedure committee amendment, would establish a voting day schedule that responds to concerns on the part of many western Canadians.

I would like to emphasize the considerable and necessary work that preceded the introduction of this bill. Over the course of several years, beginning with the work of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, otherwise known as the Lortie commission, and the work of the Standing Committee on Electoral Reform, many elements of this bill were explored.

The Lortie commission conducted an extensive study of the voter registration system that benefited from much and varied input. This work was complemented by that of Elections Canada over several years, sometimes in conjunction with provincial counterparts and sometimes in conjunction with the procedure and House affairs committee or its predecessor. This has all been necessary work in the ongoing process of modernizing our electoral system and had to be completed before this bill could be introduced because it provided the foundation, the basis for this bill. The chief electoral officer and his staff had worked on the register project for some two years before this bill was introduced and during this two year period briefed the procedure and House affairs committee on several occasions.

As I have noted there would be one final nationwide enumeration conducted prior to the next election using traditional door to door procedures. The timing of this enumeration means Canada could move to a shorter minimum campaign period, one of 36 days, in time for the next election.

The 1991 royal commission, the Lortie commission, expressed the view that Canadians would favour a shortened electoral period. In the words of the commissioners, lengthy elections produced the most evident criticism among the intervenors. The merits of the shortened campaign I think we should know gained much editorial support in the days following the introduction of this bill.

The chief electoral officer has stated it would be feasible to launch this last enumeration by April 1, 1997 and complete it within 21 to 25 days. After its completion, the final enumeration would be used to produce the preliminary list of electors for the next general election. Candidates would receive the preliminary list within five days of the issuance of the writs.

As I have said, through an amendment, neither the campaign period lists nor the annual list for parties would identify the gender of voters. This information would be kept internal to Elections Canada and federal poll officials and provided, if required, to provincial elections officials.

It is the quick availability of this preliminary list and future lists that makes it feasible to reduce the electoral period from a minimum of 47 days to a minimum of 36 days. I stress that even so, parties and candidates would have a week longer to campaign using the preliminary lists than is the case now with the minimum 47 day campaign.

Through a committee amendment accepted by the House there will be more certainty as to when Canada moves to this shorter campaign calendar. The amendment provides that the chief electoral officer could not conduct the one last enumeration I have mentioned until April 1, 1997. This enumeration would take a total of 21 to 25 days. Once it is completed, the Prime Minister could take steps leading to the issuance of a writ for a general election based on the 36 day campaign. Of course an election could be called earlier but it would be under the current 47 day minimum calendar.

A shortened campaign also means a change to the time frame within which parties must advise broadcasters of the hours and schedule for the advertising time they wish to purchase. Another committee amendment adopted by the House during report stage ensures parties will have a rolling window of up to 10 days after the writs are issued to file their advertising plans even though the minimum election period is reduced to 36 days. This change will be of obvious benefit both to political parties and to broadcasters.

When we enter the next election period there will be another significant change because of an amendment made in committee which was adopted by this House during report stage. The schedule of voting hours will be revised to respond to the concerns of

western Canadians about when the results of voting in the east are available in the west.

The polls will close at different times across the country after a longer period for voting. The local times to close the polls would be 8.30 p.m. in Newfoundland and in the remaining Atlantic provinces; 9.30 p.m. in Quebec and Ontario; 8.30 p.m. in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; 7.30 p.m. in Alberta and the Northwest Territories; and 7 p.m. in British Columbia and the Yukon. The voting day in each time zone would run for 12 hours. Canadians would have to be given three consecutive hours of time off from work to vote instead of four as it is at present.

This amendment strikes a sensible and a practical balance on voting hours in a country that spans six time zones. The new hours minimize the inconvenience to voters and polling staff and reduce the prospect that British Columbians would still be voting when preliminary results from the east suggest the outcome of the general election.

I wish to note that the permanent register of electors will begin to be built through the enumeration, the one last enumeration, conducted before the next election. Enumerators will ask electors to provide their full name, gender, address and to confirm they are 18 years of age or older and are Canadian citizens.

As I mentioned in my speech on second reading, after this enumeration, Elections Canada would continue its work with the provinces and territories to secure data to be used to build up the register and of course for the annual update. Elections Canada, and again I outlined this in an earlier stage of debate, would continue to work with Revenue Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This work would likely be completed by the late summer or early fall of 1997 which would allow the first annual distribution of the lists based on the permanent register of electors by October 15.

What are some other positive aspects of this bill? The permanent register of electors would be maintained and kept election ready by Elections Canada. It would keep the list current by drawing on certain federal and provincial data sources which as I have said I outlined in earlier stages of debate.

Once the writs are issued for an election there will also be a more streamlined revision process during the electoral period to ensure that all Canadians have the opportunity to have their names on the voting lists and to be able to vote. Of course I am obviously talking about eligible Canadians. Enhanced revision would include targeted door to door enumeration in areas of known high mobility, the use of mail out, mail back revision cards, enhanced public information campaigns and conveniently located voter registration booths.

The register project also supports the goal of improved federal-provincial co-operation and the reduction of overlap and duplication.

As a result of an amendment made in committee again adopted in this House during report stage, the chief electoral officer will be able to use provincial lists both to build and maintain the federal register. Certain conditions would apply to the use of such lists to ensure the accuracy and quality of the federal register. The amendment allows the use of provincial lists for this purpose if the provincial lists are recent, completed within 12 months of the date of the last door to door federal enumeration called to build the register, and the provincial lists meet the requirements of the federal chief electoral officer for federal enumerations.

This amendment likely means that the list of electors in Prince Edward Island and Alberta could be used next spring to build the federal register since I understand that in the view of the chief electoral officer they would likely meet these requirements. It would therefore not be necessary to have a federal door to door enumeration in these two provinces.

I should note that public opinion research demonstrates that Canadians support the concept of a register and lists built upon it. They are particularly attracted to the register's convenience, cost savings and prospects for better federal-provincial co-operation in electoral administration.

At this point I want to make some considerations about the register quite clear.

The existence of a register of electors would not prevent a citizen from exercising his or her constitutionally protected right to vote.

The bill respects electors' privacy and takes steps to ensure the confidentiality of their personal information by insisting on the active consent of a citizen for information about that person to be provided from federal taxation and citizenship sources. As well and as a result of an amendment made in committee, again adopted during report stage here in the House, the bill now obliges the chief electoral officer to change any voter information upon proper request from the voter.

In addition the bill now states that information shared with a province can only be used by it for electoral purposes. This limitation would be stipulated in any information sharing agreement with a province. The proposed bill which we are now debating also makes it clear who would be entitled to receive copies of the list based on the permanent register of electors and that the list would have to be confined to electoral purposes as defined in the bill.

I also want to say that another amendment which we have adopted and which was first made in committee would mean parties receive the updated register, or to put it another way, the

lists based on the register by October 15 of each year rather than November 15 as originally foreseen.

Elections Canada can update the register using the critical and most current voter information provided by Revenue Canada and other data suppliers before sharing lists based on the register with parties. For its part Revenue Canada will provide information based on the most recent income tax forms.

The House will recall that I said at an earlier stage of debate that there would have to be a positive indication, that is a marking in a box on the income tax form, by electors that they are willing to have certain information from their income tax files shared with Elections Canada.

I have also pointed out that there would be no interconnection of computers between Elections Canada and Revenue Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Instead, the data would have to be hand carried in the form of disks or tapes over to Elections Canada, a further protection with respect to the privacy of the voter.

It is worth noting again that there has been considerable support for this bill by editorial writers. Generally editorialists in a number of cities across the country welcome the key elements of the bill, as well as the safeguards for the protection of personal information and cost savings inherent in the proposed changes.

By way of conclusion, I would like to point out that Bill C-63 will result in a number of major changes to our electoral system. It will enable us to modernize the system, improve intergovernmental co-operation, reduce the risk of overlap, realize considerable savings and further protect voters' rights.

Let me say a word about the savings to taxpayers. This bill if adopted would mean that there would be savings to taxpayers of some $30 million for each election once the lists based on a permanent register of electors were in use. Some $8 million of savings are included in this $30 million which are brought about by the shorter election period. Just having the shorter election period itself would save taxpayers some $8 million for each election.

I conclude by asking for the approval of this bill in this House by way of third reading. It comes to us after considerable debate in committee with amendments which the government has been happy to recommend to the House for approval, as well as amendments that were made just at the last minute. I again thank all members of the House for their indulgence in allowing these changes to be made, which reflect further proposals which I think make this a better bill.

This is a good bill in the interests of all Canadians and I again ask for its support on third reading.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, for the last time, we will debate at third reading Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the Parliament of Canada Act and the Referendum Act.

It is with great disappointment that the official opposition found itself caught in this spiral that kept winding faster and faster as time went by.

My remarks will bear the stamp of civility while at the same time revealing a deep flaw, a major deficiency in the system for drafting and adopting electoral legislation.

Before starting my speech, I want to thank the chief government whip, the hon. member for Stormont-Dundas, for his excellent work on this issue although he was pitched into his new position as the chief government whip at the last minute to participate in a debate whose direction I feel eluded him. So, none of what I am about to say is directed at him personally.

However, I have been on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs since the very beginning of this Parliament, in January 1994. At the time, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was chaired by our colleague, the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, who is now the Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole.

Over the weeks, months and years that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs worked together, a relationship of trust was built that spread to every member of the committee. On many occasions, both the government and the opposition went the extra mile to achieve a consensus. Very seldom, since the beginning of the 35th Parliament, have we in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs needed to take a vote. Generally, we would come to an agreement or, where unanimity was not possible, we would deal with matters at hand in such depth that the stakes were clear. No one came out feeling someone had-pardon the expression-pulled a fast one on them; all the ins and outs of the matter were on the table, and the way proceedings at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs were rushed during the first session of the 35th Parliament was not justified.

To show you how much things have changed, let me explain to you how things were done. You probably remember, because it was debated at such length in this House, Bill C-69 to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. How was this bill developed in a non-partisan manner? And look how long it took.

First, on March 17, 1994, the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons tabled in this House an order of reference that was debated. The order of reference read as follows:

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to prepare and bring in a bill, in accordance with Standing Order 68(5), respecting the system of readjusting the boundaries of electoral districts for the House of Commons by Electoral Boundaries Commissions, and, in preparing the said bill, the committee be instructed to consider, among other related matters, the general operation over the past thirty years of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, including:

(a) a formula to cap or reduce the number of seats in the House of Commons;

(b) a review of the adequacy of the present method of selection of members of Electoral Boundary Commissions;

(c) a review of the rules governing and the powers and methods of proceeding of Electoral Boundary Commissions, including whether those Commissions ought to commence their work from the basis of making necessary alterations to the boundaries of existing electoral districts wherever possible;

(d) a review of the time and nature of the involvement of the public and the House of Commons in the work of Electoral Boundary Commissions;

That the committee have the power to travel within Canada and to hear witnesses by teleconference; and

That the committee report no later than December 16, 1994.

The order of reference proposed by the government House leader was adopted on Tuesday, April 19, 1994. This is an important date to remember. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs subsequently held meetings on the following dates in 1994: June 7, 9, 14 and 21; July 5, 6 and 7; September 27 and 29; October 4, 20 and 25; and November 1, 3, 15, 17 and 22. Following this, the committee tabled in the House Bill C-69, which was read for the first time on February 16, 1995. Second reading took place on February 25, 1995, while third reading was on April 25, 1996. The Senate passed the bill on June 8, 1995.

Taking into account only the process that took place in this House, a notice was given by the government House leader on March 17, 1994, and the bill finally passed third reading on April 25, 1995, more than 13 months after the House was notified.

The official opposition expected the same process. It expected the government to have the House pass an order of reference instructing the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to hold hearings and to prepare a bill on the establishment of a permanent register of electors for all of Canada.

We did some preliminary work anticipating that such an order would come. We listened to the people from Elections Canada, who came to tell us about certain theories, certain possibilities with respect to drawing up a permanent list and changing polling station hours in western Canada and the rest of the country.

The last hearing we had, in fact, was on April 30, when Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, came to make his last presentation and told us that he had to have legislation in place before the summer recess, before the end of June, so that it could be in effect for the next election. Thereafter, the official opposition was given no information whatsoever on developments.

What happened, while we were waiting in vain for an order of reference from the government? We honestly believed that the government had simply abandoned the idea of drawing up a permanent list of voters in the short term. The next thing we learned came not from the chairman of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, not through a government order in the House, but in the form of a telephone call I received in the afternoon of October 3 from Geneviève Rossier, a Radio-Canada journalist, asking me what I thought of the bill that was going to be tabled. Between April 30 and October 3, my information came from Radio-Canada. It is just a little frustrating for a parliamentarian to learn from Radio-Canada and CBC as well that a bill concerning the establishment of a voters list is going to be tabled.

Radio-Canada's 11 o'clock evening news confirmed that Mrs. Rossier had been right on the mark, because her interview with Mr. Kingsley and with the Leader of the Government in the House made it clear that a bill was in the offing.

Subsequently, the bill was tabled here in the House, for referral to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs before second reading. In fact, it was to be rushed through this committee with undue haste, so much so that it was actually difficult to follow the debate.

I submit that in a non-partisan matter that should have led to wide-ranging consultations across Canada on establishing a permanent list of electors, a fundamental amendment to the Canada Elections Act, we should have sought the broadest possible consensus.

As this debate draws to a close, I repeat that if today's vote were to show that the government does not have substantial support among the opposition parties, this bill should simply be withdrawn. It would not make sense and in fact it would be risky to go into an election when a bill to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act is passed by the only party that has a majority. I say this because the Canada Elections Act does not exist for the benefit of one party or all parties, although they are affected by this

legislation. This legislation is above all important to the voters we represent.

The partisan approach to the consideration of this bill in committee, and all the murky circumstances around its tabling-I will get back to that in a minute-argue against the government going ahead if it does not enjoy substantial support from the opposition parties. The government and those who will be asked to take a second look at this bill will have to consider the following question: How was it passed?

Of course, there are a number of factors that could explain, not excuse, the present situation. The first session of the 35th Parliament was prorogued. A new session started last March. All parliamentary secretaries were replaced, including the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House. Here was a man of consensus, a team worker who had managed to make the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs a non-partisan committee. His successor had to take over the committee in circumstances he was probably not able to control entirely and with an agenda that was not his own. I am not pointing the finger at him, but when all of the parliamentary secretaries are changed from one day to the next, there are major side effects.

The most important one is that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs ended up with a chair who had no prior knowledge of the operations of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. He will learn in time, of course, but at a point when legislation involving the election process was being worked on by the members of that committee, there seems to have been no continuity in the chairmanship.

This is a direct link. If I remember correctly-and I stand to be called to order if my information is not correct-procedure and House affairs is the only committee headed by a parliamentary secretary. He is linked directly to the minister responsible for election legislation. The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader is linked directly with his minister, who ought normally to know where the government is headed in terms of the Elections Act.

Another unfortunate event beyond our control, and one which may well explain part of the situation, is the illness of the hon. Leader of the Government in this House. Obviously, when a man of this calibre, with all of his wealth of knowledge of this institution, has to take time off to recuperate and get back on his feet, the cabinet is missing a key element. We have all noted the effects the absence of the hon. member for Windsor West has had on the government. Far be it from me to criticize his behaviour in any way, but it is a factor to be considered. I quickly and carefully looked at the events that could have affected the consideration of this bill and how it was dealt with.

The consensus I spoke of earlier was at the time-and I refer to last spring-that we would have an order of reference to enable the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to draft a bill.

This would involve the committee's hearing witnesses; asking them questions; hearing people in videoconferences; doing simulations involving, for example, the opening of polls; meeting people from British Columbia to ask them what this means to them; having the broadest possible discussions so as to have the information needed, perhaps not for a consensus, but to know what is in the bill so that each member of the committee can say why a given comma is where it is.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs prepared 23 drafts of Bill C-69. Twenty-three drafts were produced; the three parties were present. The Liberal Party, the Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party were there for each of the 23 drafts. The changes made in the formulation of Bill C-69 were at the request of one or the other of the parties. Some even felt that we had taken too long. There is no such thing as too much time when one wants to do a good job. We produced an excellent bill that was both well drafted and easy to understand.

The official opposition voted against the bill, but knowing what was in it. We voted against it for one main reason: it did not retain as a criterion a 25 per cent minimum representation for Quebec. In fact, Bill C-69 should be reintroduced to be passed again so that it could apply to a subsequent Parliament. As for the rest, we know the bill inside out since all the parties have worked on it for more than a year.

For reasons best known to themselves, Reformers also voted against the bill. It was easy for them to speak to the bill since they were already familiar with its content.

Today, it is quite another story. Not only did the committee not develop the bill, not only was it obviously instructed to go full steam ahead, but we now find ourselves at the last minute with amendments to be tabled.

Perhaps some of this can be explained by the fact that Elections Canada resigned-this is an interesting slip of the tongue. It did not resign, its offices were moved from Telesat Court to Slater Street. Also, from time to time, they are seen in the Liberal Party's lobby, which we find disturbing.

Elections Canada's attitude on this issue is bizarre. I mentioned earlier that Mr. Kingsley had appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on April 30. In his testimony, he said that, if we wanted to establish a permanent

voters list, we should do so before the summer recess, which was not done.

The question I asked myself then and still ask myself now is: Did Elections Canada lose faith in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and stop dealing with this committee, which is responsible for electoral issues, preferring to go directly to the government, or did the reverse happen? Is it the government that lost faith in the committee, because it was not proceeding quickly enough and thus decided to rely on Elections Canada? We still do not know.

Given the nature of the situation, there is an element of doubt. Some trust will have to be re-established, because it was destroyed. Members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs have a right to wonder whether Elections Canada played a double role.

Since we did not get answers, because the answers provided by Elections Canada officials who testified before the committee were vague in many respects, we have reasons to believe that the situation was foggy, to say the least, as regards relations between Elections Canada and the government's legislative body, that is to say, us, and its executive branch, which is the cabinet. Indeed, all these questions remain.

I do hope, and I am optimistic given the quality of the people working for Elections Canada, that these bridges can be rebuilt. However, I ask Elections Canada officials to be very cautious when they have to deal with both the legislative and the executive powers. The principle that no one can serve two masters at the same time is even more important in the case of legislation such as the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act.

These were our observations on the form. Let us now look at the content as such. First, we are told, as regards the establishment of a permanent voters list, that the bill is essential because it will allow us to create such a list. I believe all the members of this House who spoke on the issue support the principle of a permanent voters list and a shorter election campaign that would last 36 days instead of 47.

I encountered very little opposition to the principle from any party, but then there is a second question: When will the permanent list of voters be ready? The list the government is talking about will not be ready for the next election, and will not be used to elect the 301 members of the 36th Parliament. Barring an early election, in the case of a minority government, that list will be ready for the election of the 37th Parliament, a good 6 or 7 years from now. This is the bill we are debating under emergency procedures, and with time allocation yesterday, without in-depth debate by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and also without in-depth debate during consideration at report stage yesterday, and at second reading, not that there actually was one, and today, again under time allocation, at third reading.

Why rush through legislation that will be used only 6 or 7 years from now? That is the real question. The question is not whether or not we want a permanent list. Of course we do. But not at any cost, and certainly not in such a headlong rush.

They could very well have waited and gone with the principle that the next election campaign would operate under the existing legislation, but that the enumeration for the next election would be the last door-to-door enumeration, that the data gathered for the election of the next Parliament would form the basis of a permanent list of voters, that would then be used in 6 or 7 years' time to elect the 37th Parliament. That was the only amendment we really needed: authorize Canada's chief electoral officer to use the next enumeration done during an election campaign, and after the writs are issued, authorize him to use this list as the basis for drawing up his permanent list of voters.

Instead, we have a bill with a multitude of provisions: it tries to cover everything and falls miserably short. Consequently, we find ourselves faced with a bill most members of this House are not very familiar with, since we have not had the time to go into what it is really all about, all of its objectives, or how it intends to attain them, but I will address a few points. In principle, yes, a permanent electors list, because the tools are there, the computer possibilities are there, the data banks are there to establish one.

We are no longer in the horse and buggy age, we are in the age of the Internet, with easily accessible data banks on voters. Let a permanent list be drawn up, then, but not in the way Bill C-63 proposes.

Second, we have raised the question of the terminology used in Bill C-63, the fact that Bill C-63 and the Elections Act in general speak of " résidence ordinaire '' or ``main residence'', as the qualification for voting in a given riding.

This concept of "main residence" is a concept of common law. It is not a concept in Quebec civil law. I respect this notion in common law. Its application to the provinces operating under common law is most understandable, but as far as Quebec is concerned, where we have had a codification of our French legal customs since 1866, the concept of "main residence" is not an acceptable one. In Quebec, the concept of "domicile" is what must be used.

Am I surprised by this? Yes and no. Let us recall that on November 29, 1995, the Right Hon. Prime Minister tabled a resolution before this House concerning recognition of Quebec as a distinct society.

What does that motion say?


Whereas the people of Quebec have expressed the desire for recognition of Quebec's distinct society;

(1) the House recognize that Quebec is a distinct society within Canada;

(2) the House recognize that Quebec's distinct society includes its French-speaking majority, unique culture and civil law tradition;

(3) the House undertake to be guided by this reality;

(4) the House encourage all components of the legislative and executive branches of government to take note of this recognition and be guided in their conduct accordingly.

And the motion was passed by the Liberal majority in this House.

There is an order from the House encouraging "all components of the legislative and executive branches of government to take note of this recognition" of the distinct society. It is also an order to law editors to take note that there is a society based on the French civil code in Canada and that society is in Quebec. When our law editors write a text in which they use the terms "main residence" or "résidence ordinaire", they are in fact infringing on an order of the House instructing them to take note of the fact that Quebec is a distinct society.

During the debate on November 29, 1995, we said that the government was just paying lip service to this concept when it said it would recognize the distinct society. Today we have proof positive. Even the law clerks in the Privy Council and at the Department of Justice failed to take into consideration the concept of "domicile" which is used in Quebec in accordance with the civil code and goes back to 1866, Quebec having legislative authority in this area pursuant to sub-section 92(13) of the British North America Act, 1867 . This power is not recent. It has been around since well before November 29, 1995. In fact, it goes back to well before 1876, because it was in the custom of Paris which we codified in 1866.

That being said, we had no illusions on November 29, when the government rushed in with a motion recognizing Quebec as a distinct society. The hon. member for Calgary West raised a few questions yesterday about this distinct society. Perhaps I could take a few minutes to explain what distinct society means, because everyone talks about distinct society but is not necessarily referring to the same thing.

There is the distinct society of November 29, 1995, which means nothing at all. There is the distinct society of Charlottetown, which is equally meaningless. And there was the distinct society of Meech Lake, remember, the one that was supposed to mean something but was never ratified because two legislatures, Manitoba and Newfoundland, refused to give their consent.

What was the meaning of distinct society in the Meech Lake accord? It meant that Canada's Constitution would have a section with priority over sections 91 and 92, essentially, the two sections dealing with the distribution of powers between the provinces and the federal government.

In other words, one section would be above these two and would indicate to the courts that they were to interpret sections 91 and 92 of the Canadian Constitution in light of the fact that Quebec must, in order to meet its objectives, have more powers than the other provinces.

That is the distinct society in the Meech Lake accord. It was not the November 29 one, nor the Charlottetown one, it was the Meech Lake one. I am sure the hon. member for Calgary West, even though he did not share the intentions we had at the time for the distinct society, understood very well, since he and his colleagues explained the meaning of distinct society at the time quite well to their electors in western Canada: a section establishing a special status and entirely distinct and different powers for Quebec.

Even that was denied. Two legislatures abstained from ratifying it. Even the 1987 Meech Lake accord was rejected. That was a pity.

On the other hand, it made it possible to get at the heart of the issue. Like the present bill, the Meech Lake accord was concluded behind closed doors. People were not consulted in their communities pretty much throughout the country. It was an agreement between 11 first ministers who tried to have their legislatures ratify, without public consultation, without a referendum, the new system of law wanted for Canada.

Since then, it has somehow become customary, in constitutional affairs, to consider referenda as the norm in Canada. We experienced it in Charlottetown, we experienced it in Quebec last October 30, and we will experience it again one day on the same issue, in circumstances which, this time, should be more favourable.

This bill goes further than the Meech Lake accord, because it is important to recall what happened in Meech Lake. The Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, is the result of the failure of the Meech Lake accord. If the Meech Lake accord had been ratified by Manitoba and by the Newfoundland Legislative Assembly, we would not be here today. We are the result of the failure of the Meech Lake accord.

The leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Mr. Bouchard, left the government following the failure of the Meech Lake accord, because the hon. member for Sherbrooke, who still sits in this House, wanted to water it down. It was at that moment. We came very close to an agreement which, it seems, would have been enough for a majority of Quebecers at the time. This would not have been the case for several members of the Bloc who, because of their sovereignist convictions, felt that the accord did not go far enough, but a magic bond was formed at that time.

When the Meech Lake accord failed, Quebecers of all political stripes-members of the Liberal Party, the Parti Quebecois and other, less representative political movements-rallied behind the notion of distinct society in the Meech Lake accord, a notion that no one defends any more.

The bill mentions the use of some lists of electors. So, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada will be allowed to hold an enumeration. This will probably take place next April if the bill is passed by the House and the Senate. For approximately three weeks, the Chief Electoral Officer may send people door to door to do an enumeration. In some provinces, he may also make arrangements with provincial electoral officers. This will certainly be the case in Alberta and Prince Edward Island, where programs and lists have been established with the help of Elections Canada as part of a joint project with the provinces.

As for British Columbia and Quebec, since we represent the people of Quebec, Quebec's lists will neither be used nor usable. One of the amendments put forward in committee, without specifically naming any province, excludes the use of Quebec's permanent list for the purposes of Bill C-63. This list will be available as of next May 1, that is, in the days following the end of the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate. Why? Because a little technical, harmless-looking amendment says that a provincial list may be used provided the door-to-door enumeration was conducted in the previous 12 months. In Quebec, however, the enumeration used to establish a permanent list was done in September 1995, whereas the list itself will be ready and completely up-to-date May 1. Since these two events are more than 12 months apart, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada cannot use the list of electors.

And yet the list will be established using taxpayers' money, those same taxpayers who paid for the establishment of the permanent list in Quebec and for the expertise of those who established it, and they will have to watch as enumerators do it all over again, when we could have had just one list using the same data base. We have only to redistribute voters according to the proper ridings. This is feasible; Quebec does it for municipal elections where districts are different. We have only to exchange information and communicate, and we will be able to use Quebec's list.

Savings would exceed $15 to $20 million; we are not talking about $10,000. Or even the cost to reprint an amended bill. Savings would be significant. At a time when everybody is asked to tighten their belt, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada is not allowed to use Quebec's electoral list, or British Columbia's for that matter.

My colleagues will raise other points. For my part, I am going to deal with the issue of polling hours. Bill C-63 contains clauses

providing for the staggering of polling hours across Canada. As a result, polling stations in the east will stay open later. For instance, in Ottawa, polling stations will stay open until 9.30 p.m., whereas in British Columbia they will stay open until 7 p.m.

There has been no trial run. What appears in Bill C-63 has not even been submitted by Elections Canada to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs as a working assumption. They pulled this out of a hat and this is the rabbit we got. The trick was that we did not know.

Yesterday, during debate, I listened to my colleagues from central Canada who, much more than I, will be affected by the change, and the closing of polls at nine thirty did not seem to represent a major change for them; for British Columbia however, closing the polls at seven means a very major change. Yesterday, the members for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley and Saanich-Gulf Islands mentioned all the drawbacks this measure could cause.

The member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley said that many constituents from the town of Surrey and the vicinity, who work in Vancouver and finish working at five or five thirty, will not make it back to their riding in time to vote if the polls close at seven. That is a serious problem.

I think we should put aside the section on the polling hours and, since there is no need to hurry, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs should study Bill C-307 presented by the member for Vancouver East and hear witnesses, like the people from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Atlantic region, to find out what they think.

How will that measure be applied in real life? Will we have to allow advance voting for 10,000 people in each riding? This is of serious concern to us. We ask the government to reconsider that provision and to allow Bill C-307 to be studied further since we have sufficient time to deal with this before the start of the next election campaign.

The last point also concerns the polling hours. Not only are we reducing the number of hours for the polls, we are also reducing from 4 to 3 the minimum number of hours that employers will have to give their employees for the vote.

If we remove the busiest hours, what we could call the golden hours of polling, we will have problems, because most people do not vote in the morning, at lunch time or early in the afternoon, but right after work. Yet, what we are saying to the people in Surrey, Langley, Vancouver, Squamish, and even in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta is: "You will have to vote much earlier, or else you will not have time to go to the polling station". What is the voter

going to do? What are members of electoral organizations going to do? They will have to work like mad to let people vote in advanced polls, they will be pulling their hair out on election day, because they will not have enough time.

What I am saying is that we did not think long enough about the opening hours of polling stations and I believe we would be better off keeping the present system for one more election rather than rushing into something that will make people who are unable to take time off work feel disenfranchised. We are trying to deal with a problem, but coming up with a cure which is worse than the disease.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 1996 / 11:40 a.m.


Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today at third reading of Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the Referendum Act and the Parliament of Canada Act.

In speaking on behalf of the Reform Party, I intend to oppose this bill that imposes changes to the federal elections act without the consent of the opposition parties. These changes are not necessary and they are also dangerous to the operation of Canadian democracy.

I also want to note that, in the case of Quebec, it has been decided not to use the data in Quebec's permanent list of electors to establish the computerized federal register. Instead, a last door to door enumeration will take place next spring in Quebec and elsewhere, according to a decision resulting from unfortunate and costly choices made by the government in this bill.

In laying out the Reform position I would like to note that three major parts, three major changes or major initiatives are undertaken in this legislation. First is the establishment of a permanent register of electors. Second is the establishment of a 36-day calendar rather than the present 47-day calendar for the the holding of federal election campaigns. Both of these changes are to be implemented at the time of the next election by way of a pre-election enumeration. Finally, a clause in this bill staggers voting hours across the country.

All three of these changes have been supported in principle by the Reform Party, the Bloc Quebecois and other political parties. The problem is the method of implementation chosen which particularly in the case of the permanent voters' list and the 36-day campaign will prove to be premature and costly in the way they are being implemented. In the case of staggered voting hours, that is being done in a way that requires much broader consultation and consensus to be acceptable to western Canadians.

I should note, in making this observation, that broadly speaking we would support these initiatives if we could come to some kind of agreement. I note there are a number of issues not covered in this legislation.

The Reform Party has favoured for a number of years initiatives which would result in fixed election dates in the country within the context of a parliamentary system, allowing for the provision of a normal time period for the holding of an election which could be violated in exceptional circumstances but not normally. We have supported initiatives that would remove federal political parties from the various subsidies and tax concessions that they now receive. This would get federal political parties out of the tax trough.

These changes are not incorporated in the bill. Neither are similar concerns which have been raised by the Bloc Quebecois and go in a completely different direction. For years the Bloc Quebecois has favoured the public subsidization of political parties and would like to see various provisions of Quebec electoral law implemented at the federal level. These would control the spending and money raising of political parties. As well, the Bloc Quebecois favours restrictions on third party advertising, or the gag law, which the Reform Party opposes and which has been struck down in court.

As well, both the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois differ with the government on fundamental issues of representation. For example, the Bloc Quebecois favours a 25 per cent minimum provision of Commons seats for Quebec. In our case, we support Senate reform, a triple E Senate in particular, and regional representation.

None of those things are found in the bill. Obviously there is no consensus on them. I mention them because they are important items and we would like the government and the procedure and House affairs committee to study them. I also mention them to make it clear that, in spite of our very different approaches and opinions on these very contentious issues, they are not the reason we lack unanimous agreement for the bill.

It would be irresponsible for the Reform Party or the Bloc to hold up positive changes to federal election law because some other things are not in the bill. They did not have all party support. We certainly have not done that and we do not intend to do it.

That is not why we object to this legislation. We object to this legislation because of its substantive contents. In our view the principles in the bill are not being properly or well implemented. Just as important, the process followed in developing the bill has been terribly flawed.

The hon. member for Bellechasse laid out those concerns in great detail and at length, and I support almost all of what he said in that regard. My colleague from the New Democratic Party, the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona, noted that while we did reach all party agreement on some amendments, it should be noted that these

amendments were introduced not only after report stage, but after the application of time allocation on debate, both at report stage and at third reading.

This bill was presented only a month ago. This is the third day it has been debated in the House. Yet after the first day of full debate after its return from committee, the government implemented time allocation. In my view, the procedure of using time allocation for electoral law, doing it quickly and without the consent of the other political parties, is the kind of dangerous application of electoral practices that we are more likely to find in third world countries.

As I have repeatedly said throughout this discussion, that process was completely unnecessary. Every indication that we have had during the debate, in the committee hearings and in the House, has been that with further discussion we would reach an all party consensus on virtually all of the items in the legislation, yet we have ended up rushing the process. Some positive amendments have been made in the process, but they were made in a very scattered and irregular manner.

The hon. member for Bellechasse also mentioned the fact that before the bill was tabled we found out about it through the media. That was also an irregularity which, in our view, should not have occurred. I will have time to speak to that at greater length later in my speech.

The chief electoral officer consulted the committee on preliminary legislation in April of this year. The government waited from April until October before acting. When it finally acted it presented a bill that was different in some critical ways from the principles which had all party agreement in April. That was completely unnecessary and completely irregular.

I observed something different than the hon. member for Bellechasse. He observed that the government did not follow such a practice in the case of the previous electoral legislation, Bill C-69. I do not entirely agree with him on that count. The government has demonstrated a tendency to act unilaterally on election law before.

Let me disagree with him in this regard. It is true that in the case of Bill C-69, unlike this legislation, we did study that legislation for a substantial period of time. We looked at it intensively and we came to all party agreement on most of the particulars of the legislation.

However, the principal purpose and concern of that bill was the scrapping of the electoral boundaries process so that it would not be in place for the 1997 election. That was our very fundamental objection to that legislation. We would have been perfectly prepared to approve it if it would have gone through after the current redistribution had been completed. We all know that ultimately the bill never passed and the redistribution has been completed. That was the reason we opposed the legislation. It was a part of the bill and virtually all of the opposition parties in both Houses of Parliament opposed it for that reason.

It is important that when the bill ultimately failed, the government never passed the things on which we all agreed. That says a lot. We developed a new process that would have been an improvement. Ninety-five per cent of the bill ultimately could have been passed in the House and in the Senate. Yet once the government failed to get the one thing it did not have all party agreement on it chose not to proceed with the bill at all. This says a lot about its practices on previous election legislation.

I have so far not said what the hon. member for Bellechasse has said. In spite of what has occurred in the past six months-especially this past month-we have worked well with individual members of the government. I acknowledge the work of the chief government whip, the member for Stormont-Dundas, and the hon. member for Fundy-Royal, the chairman of the committee, and other members of the government staff who have worked to try to facilitate discussion and agreement on individual items. We acknowledge the importance of this work.

Nevertheless we have been operating within a terribly constricted timetable, a process that has not allowed us to come to a consensus. It was unnecessary because all of this could have been done months ago.

What remains in this legislation after amendment are two basic substantive problems which I will address. The two major problems with this legislation as it is now being passed are, first, the specific proposal to stagger voting hours for the next federal election, and second, the proposal to implement the new register and shortened electoral period through a spring enumeration which will be very costly.

First, the staggered voting hours were not part of this bill when it went to committee before second reading. That is important to mention. Not only has this bill been rushed, but the provision which the Reform Party now objects to most strenuously was not even included in this bill when it was tabled.

That provision came from private member's Bill C-307, tabled by the hon. member for Vancouver East, which was passed by this House some days after Bill C-63 was sent to the procedure and House affairs committee.

Bill C-307, which dealt with staggered voting hours, was passed by the House by unanimous agreement only on the grounds that the issues in it would be studied and we would arrive at a consensus on the specific proposal to be implemented. It is important to note that

the proposal in Bill C-307 and the proposal in Bill C-63 are not the same proposal.

Two basic reasons were given for wanting to alter periods of voting across the country. First was the problem of western alienation. Westerners see the government being chosen before the polls have actually closed in their ridings. Second was the fact that western Canadians through modern communications techniques, particularly the Internet, may increasingly know about the results before they vote.

On the first question it is important to remind the House that the Reform Party rejects staggered voting hours as a serious solution to the problem of western alienation. It is true, Mr. Speaker, and you know this, that westerners say that the government is elected before our votes are even counted.

However, only an extremely naive person or an easterner would say that changing the order of counting the votes is a solution to this problem. Westerners are smart enough to realize that even if we counted the votes in the completely opposite order, governments could still be chosen without any support whatsoever from western Canada.

That is very fundamental. It will probably happen again in the next election. It will happen not because of the order the votes are counted, it will happen because of the functioning of the parliamentary system. Until the government is prepared to study that issue seriously, we will not arrive at a solution to western alienation or the alienation that exists in other parts of the country.

This is not a solution to that problem. Reform has never suggested it is so we reject it out of hand. However, Reform did accept looking at the problem that people may increasingly know the results in other parts of the country before they vote. This may be dangerous in some way to democracy and alter behaviour or affect the results.

The Reform Party said it was willing to study that issue. It is important to realize, and anybody who looks at the transcripts of the committee will see that no convincing evidence was provided to the committee that this is creating a serious problem in the functioning of our democracy.

Specifically, I asked the various witnesses whether there was any documented evidence or any serious academic study on whether knowing the results in other parts of the country had either of two effects: caused people not to vote or it caused them to vote differently than they would vote otherwise. There is precious little evidence that either of these things are true.

The only evidence that was presented in committee was a remark by the chief electoral officer that some studies in the United States indicate that western Americans, knowing the results already from the east, might not turn out at the voting stations in the western United States, which may diminish voting by about 3 per cent.

Three per cent is not large but it is important to realize that the United States has no legal blackout. Information on electoral results flows freely across the country. That environment is very different from ours where we still have a blackout on mainstream media and have very effective control over the flow of information. I believe the impact would be even less. In the United States, without those things, the impact is only 3 per cent. Here it must be substantially less.

As I say, there is no indication today that this is causing a serious problem in terms of how people vote or whether they vote but it could in the future. This tells us that we should be very cautious before playing around with the rules of the game to fix this problem.

The discussion in committee focused on four different elements of a solution. Only one of them was on staggering hours. Another was delaying the vote count in areas of eastern Canada. Another was eliminating the blackout provision in the Atlantic provinces because obviously Atlantic Canada cannot elect the national government, and possibly allowing the count to proceed in eastern Canada at least a half hour before the close of the polls in the west because of the delay in results coming out even once the counting started. Those were the four elements that the committee studied as a way of finding solutions to the problem.

It is important to note that I felt, and possibly other members of the committee would agree, the committee discussion indicated that some combination of these solutions would be the way to proceed. In fact on three of those items, staggering the hours, delaying the count and eliminating the Atlantic Canada blackout, there seemed to be a fair degree of consensus that these were possibilities. On the fourth issue, allowing the count to actually proceed a half hour earlier in Ontario and Quebec, it should be noted that the member for Vancouver East herself, the sponsor of the bill, rejected that as a possible solution.

The solution proposed by the government without the support of the opposition parties is of a completely different nature than the solution which was discussed during the hearings. The government refused to put in delays to the count, did not eliminate the blackout and in fact did provide for the count to begin a half hour earlier in central Canada.

As well the government provided two other elements that had not previously been raised in our discussions. One was the closure of the polls at 7.30 in the province of Alberta, which is now in this bill. The element that we had the most concern about, the early closure of the polls in British Columbia, is now augmented by the

early closure of the polls in Alberta as well, an option which was never discussed in committee.

Also, it is an anomaly that the closure of the polls and the counting under the government proposal will now proceed even earlier in Atlantic Canada than it would have before. The polls will now close up to two and a half hours earlier in Newfoundland than they will in Quebec and Ontario. This was not part of any solution the committee looked at.

Let me put all of this detail in perspective. The bottom line is that the solution to this problem will be based entirely on staggering the hours. The staggering of the hours will occur in such a way that the polls will close at seven o'clock in British Columbia and at 7.30 in Alberta.

According to the government, the solution to the problem of westerners being alienated and also the vote of westerners somehow being affected or devalued because results are being counted already in the east is to cut out prime voting hours in British Columbia and Alberta. In other words, the west will pay for the solution to the problems of the electoral system. This is not a solution for western Canadians; this is trying to solve the west as a problem rather than the problem itself.

This should not proceed without all-party agreement, not just because we lack consensus but because the vast majority of the members of this House representing British Columbia and Alberta will be the very people opposing this legislation. That should raise suspicions in everyone's mind.

People will be very upset when they realize the implications of this. I will say to them, a little bit tongue and cheek, to make sure the government pays for this decision at the polls, if they can get there, and that is an important if.

Let me move on to our second major concern with this bill. The implementation of the permanent register and the shorter electoral period is to occur through a pre-election enumeration to be held in the spring.

In April when the chief electoral officer came to the committee, he outlined two different scenarios under which we could achieve a 36 day period and a permanent register. One was to simply proceed with the next election in the way we have always proceeded: use the 47 day calendar, have the enumeration and then have the enumeration serve as the basis for the permanent register. That would obviously be the simplest solution in technical terms. Another was to have a pre-election enumeration. However, he said at the time that a pre-election enumeration would require a lead time of one year. He said that in order to implement it for a fall 1997 election, the legislative changes had to be in place by the summer of 1996.

That is easy to work out. We are obviously now implementing these changes six months later than was proposed, to be implemented four months earlier than was proposed. How is it that we can we proceed in that manner? We can proceed by dramatically increasing the costs of the process. In our view, this defeats the entire purpose of the legislation. The entire purpose has been to reduce electoral costs.

The assumption has been that a permanent electoral list and the revision of the list through access to various data sources at the federal and provincial levels will prove to be less costly in the long run than a door to door enumeration. This is not only because a permanent register is less costly, not only because we do not have to create a list every single time, but also because the list can be shared by all levels of government: federal, provincial, regional, municipal, and school boards.

However, what we have done here is to ensure that we create the list in a way that is unnecessarily expensive. Let me be very specific about that. Not only are we doing it outside the electoral period which makes it more expensive, but because we are doing it on an accelerated timetable, we minimize our ability to use lists that have already been created in other parts of the country.

In committee we did make a positive change. We got a change through that would require the chief electoral officer to use lists where an enumeration has been conducted within the past year. That would mean that in the case of Alberta which has 26 federal ridings and Prince Edward Island which has four federal ridings we will not need to do an enumeration.

The chief electoral officer feels that those lists can still be implemented in time for the spring and it will save us money. That is 30 ridings out of 301, or only about 10 per cent. Our hope had been that by further delaying the implementation, we would be able to capture enumerations and permanent voters lists created in other parts of the country.

British Columbia has a permanent voters register and we are told that Quebec's register will be ready by May 1. These are the second and third largest provinces in the country. Were we to capture these two provinces in our efforts, as well as a few others such as the Yukon, we would have been able to forgo a door to door enumeration in one-half of the country. It is important to note that this is the major additional cost we are applying to the next election.

The chief electoral officer believes that by proceeding in this manner we will be able to save $30 million in future elections, not in the one coming up, but in future elections. It is important to note that those savings are as yet unrealized. They are in the future and there could be complications. Frankly I would take those as

maximum figures. Let us assume we have a maximum savings of $30 million. We have already seen in British Columbia that its permanent list has proven to be somewhat more expensive than was thought.

What is certain is that because of the process followed by this government, the next election will cost $41 million more. That cost will occur primarily because we are doing a door to door enumeration virtually across the country, except for Alberta and Prince Edward Island, outside of the campaign period. That is a cost of nearly $80 million.

Making every effort to ensure that we could get Quebec, British Columbia and others into this process before the next federal election or before a door to door enumeration is critical to being able to realize real cost savings immediately. However the government has chosen not to do that.

We tabled an amendment yesterday that would have put back the clock not 12 months as the government had originally indicated, but only four months. We put in an amendment to move the clock back just four months and the government rejected it. The government has tabled a positive amendment that will give us some certainty as to when this can be implemented and that in effect is not until the end of April.

By rejecting an amendment to implement this in the fall and by insisting through time allocation and a rush study of this bill that this be implemented by May 1, we have the unprecedented case of a government showing its electoral timetable to the public. For that I am grateful. It will make it much easier for our party to plan the next election. It is very clear to everybody now that the government has created a situation where, barring some kind of PR catastrophe, it will call an election in early May and will have it in mid-June. That is getting to be a fairly obvious option given what the government has done with this bill.

As I say, the government could have delayed it. In the process of delaying it, the government could have made the entire process less expensive. It is important to add that the government could have shortened the electoral period anyway for the next election even without proceeding in this manner.

The Lortie commission said on page 123 of volume two its report, and this is important: "Shorter federal election campaigns do not necessarily depend on introducing a register of voters. A shorter election campaign is feasible even if the current enumeration process is retained. That said, it is improbable that the campaign could be shortened much beyond 40 days". According to the Lortie commission, we could have shortened the electoral period for the next campaign from 47 to 40 days without doing a pre-election enumeration and without imposing the additional costs on taxpayers that are going to be imposed.

The government is proceeding with this for reasons that are obvious only to itself and which are expensive to the taxpayers and ultimately it perceives as in its own interest. Otherwise the government would have reached an agreement with the opposition parties on how to proceed. That said, I will add that in this specific instance exactly how it is implementing this, the government did make some concessions to the opposition parties that are worth noting.

First, the government did provide through amendment at committee a specific timetable as to when the bill can be implemented. It did say that the enumeration process and most of the sections of the bill would become effective April 1 for a 30 day enumeration campaign, making an election call possible under the new calendar effectively at the end of April. The government did do that. It put time lines on various sections of the bill.

The government and all parties also agreed to a motion this morning. It additionally would provide the opposition parties with a one-time provision of the electoral list as soon as that enumeration is completed and it is feasible to transmit the results of the permanent register to the party.

Those two changes do provide some degree of certainty. We said that this is an important issue, that we already know we are going to be surprised with the date so do not surprise us as well with how the timetable is going to be implemented. The government did do that. That does not change our fundamental objection that this should be done in a way that minimizes costs and sticks to a timetable closer to the original consultations it had with the opposition parties in April. However, as I say, it chose for its own reasons to proceed in a different manner.

Those are our two major objections. There were a number of other areas to which we objected in this legislation. However, in the course of studying the bill, both in committee and in the House, some improvements have been made. Let me complete my remarks by going through some of the other provisions of the legislation which are deficient or which have been improved. As I say, these provisions are less important but not by any means unimportant items.

With respect to byelections, one of the specific concerns which the Reform Party has had with this bill has been the provision to call snap byelections. I have said this repeatedly, but already in this Parliament the government has appointed people to patronage positions or to the Senate in order to open up a safe riding for a snap byelection. In the dead of winter, just after Christmas of last year, that occurred. Our concern was that by shortening the electoral period from 47 days to 36 days this process would be further abused.

We called for the creation of a 30 day cooling off period. In other words, the government could not call a byelection for at least 30 days after a vacancy in the House of Commons occurred. The government has provided today, through an amendment, an 11 day cooling off period, which at least provides us with the status quo. It provides us with, in effect, a minimum 47 day election campaign because there will have to be 11 days before the election is called and then 36 days for the campaign itself. That is an important amendment which was brought in by the government this morning. Perhaps it is not as long a period as we wanted, but we are grateful that we could come to an all party agreement on it.

However, it did not address a second concern which we raised, which could have been addressed at the same time, the problem of byelections simply not being held at all. Under the Parliament of Canada Act the government must call an election with 180 days of the occurrence of a vacancy. It is important to note that the election does not have to be held in any particular time period. It has been common in recent years for governments to put off late term byelections. We know that when we get near the end of a term seats open up for all kinds of reasons, retiring MPs are appointed or seek other work or whatever. We know that seats become vacant. What has happened in the recent past is that governments have decided to leave the seats vacant almost indefinitely, putting the date of a byelection well past the next general election. That could have been addressed in this legislation, but the government chose not to.

I only have a short time left, so I am going to go quickly through some of the other things I wanted to draw to the attention of the House.

The government did remove the automatic publication of gender on voters lists. That is something which we had asked for. That was done today. The government has added the date of birth as a mandatory requirement, collected for the register, as the Bloc Quebecois demanded. That was an item which we also supported. However, the government did not agree to delete the automatic provision of the electoral list to political parties annually, as provided for in this act. That is important. We objected to that and we believe the government should have removed the provision.

I would point out what the privacy commissioner said. We agree with him wholeheartedly: "Annual disclosures of the list appears excessive in light of the list's express purpose of conducting elections or referenda. Given that no jurisdiction conducts annual elections, this frequent a disclosure seems more suited to repeated canvassing by political parties, not to the election itself". As I say, that is a deficiency of the legislation which we had hoped to correct.

There are other points I could go on about, a number of more minor matters where there has been some improvement; for

example, the elimination of revising officers, the decision to shorten time off work that employers must provide from four hours to three hours. There has been a number of other improvements we can point to but in the big picture this legislation remains flawed.

It is flawed because we have followed a process that was rushed, undemocratic and unnecessary. With further discussion we would have reached a bill that not only was agreed to by all parties but that was much better for the people of Canada.

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Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Are there no questions and comments?

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The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is this a point of order?

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Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, Madam Speaker. Are there no questions and comments?

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The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Not for the first three speakers on this motion. We are now going into debate, to be followed from now on with questions.

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Anna Terrana Liberal Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act. I will share my time with my colleague for Vancouver Quadra.

I am glad to see that several amendments are being considered to make elections less expensive and fairer to all. Elections can be very tiring and any improvement is welcome.

However, although a permanent voters list can be more practical and a less expensive way of having voters on file, I am concerned about the difficulty in keeping it up to date. In some areas of Vancouver East people are very transient and that may cause a problem.

Still, the permanent list is certainly more practical and it eliminates the need to hold enumerations for each election, while allowing for a reduction of the electoral period from the current 47 days to a minimum of 36 days. Besides saving $30 million, the government will also give candidates less time to campaign. I think this change will be appreciated both by the candidate and the voter. These advantages are by far superior to the disadvantages and, as we know, nothing is perfect.

However, the part of the bill that is the most interesting to me is clause 44.1 dealing with the closing of polling stations.

I presented a private member's bill in June, Bill C-307. It asked for the closing of all polling stations at the same time. I would like to thank the government and all my colleagues for supporting the concept in principle and making it more workable across the country. It is true that in this big country of ours there is little flexibility due to the many time zones we have to live with. We cannot disrupt the lives of people in one part of the country to make it easier in another part of the country. The only other possibility would be to make all of Canada one time zone, but I do not believe this would receive much support.

These changes are extremely important for B.C. As I have indicated in my debate, in spite of comments made by some colleagues of mine to the effect that it is just a question of perception, this is not a question of perception. It is a question of reality and of feeling unimportant in one of the most important democratic exercises of any country, the election of a new government.

We know that numbers are in the east for the time being and that the decision will still be made in the east of the country, but at least we in the west will not know of such a result before we finish voting so the next election will be able to count.

Let me assure all my colleagues who talk about perception that in B.C. I receive many positive comments with regard to these changes. There is also a lot of support on the part of the media.

As indicated in committee, I do support the need not to change voting hours too drastically in the Atlantic provinces. I believe it is acceptable because the seats in that area number 32 as opposed to 34 in B.C., which will not completely disrupt the final results.

What is crucial is not to know the results in Ontario and Quebec before we close the polls in British Columbia. The difference in closing times of half an hour became an acceptable compromise. In fact, it will at least take half an hour to start counting the ballots and at that time polls in B.C. will be closed.

We noticed the same problem during the recent U.S. elections. One of my colleagues has said that there is a blackout in Canada but there is no blackout in the United States. I do not know how we can believe in blackouts nowadays with the technology we have in place.

As for the hours of voting time B.C. will lose in the evening, it is amply made up by two additional hours in the morning, which will give many a chance to vote before going to work.

I would like to conclude by thanking all of those who understood the need to change the closing time of polling stations and for accepting my further request to extend the hours to 12 from 11, because this will make the situation more equal for all Canadians and will help promote unity in the country.

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Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I wish to address an issue in my hon colleague's comments which is very credible. She said that one of the most important democratic exercises of our country is our elections. My comment rises out of a concern of a constituent, Reverend Rude, who was serving outside Canada with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in El Salvador. We are looking here at expanding the democratic rights of all Canadians in terms of their eligibility to vote.

In section 51 of schedule II, section 1(c), if we could amend that aspect of the bill to include missionaries as a designation, it would give them the opportunity to vote. Right now they are not permitted to vote if they live outside Canada for more than five years. I am not sure if the hon. member has a comment she might wish to make on that oversight on the part of the government. It really does disenfranchise thousands of missionaries who serve Canadians and others abroad so well.

I would like the hon. member to comment on that and whether she would be willing to promote and amend section (c) to also include missionaries overseas.

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Anna Terrana Liberal Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague.

This is definitely not included in the bill. I would like to see it included. I have also tabled another amendment to the electoral act having to do with people in hospitals. That is another issue that is not included in the bill. I do not know how much time we have to change these things. I do not think it is possible right not but we surely should work on it.

My private member's Bill C-308 pertains to making sure that people in hospitals get to vote. At that time we can probably address missionaries.

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Vancouver Quadra B.C.


Ted McWhinney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in support of this bill, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act. I hope I will be allowed to put into perspective the addresses from two colleagues from the other side whom I respect very much for their work on constitutional matters, the hon. member for Bellechasse and the hon. member for Calgary West.

I am a little surprised to hear suggestions that this bill has been rushed through or that not adequate time has been allowed for consideration.

I am reminded of the experience of Lord Eldon who was lord chancellor for 21 years, broken by several periods only when his party was in opposition. He began sitting on a case at the beginning of his tenure and it was still there 21 years later.

I sat on the committee on procedure and House affairs and I remember considering this bill. Then I was moved on to another office and I ceased to be a member of that committee. I returned as a guest two weeks ago when the bill of the hon. member for Vancouver East was being considered.

What we see here is not undue and indecent haste but what Mr. Justice Frankfurter of the United States Supreme Court has called moving with all deliberate speed. This is a relatively modest measure which covers the two issues.

On the establishment of a permanent register, I would have thought there was no room for doubt or argument. Anybody who has experienced permanent registers in other democratic countries comparable to our own will know that it operates easily and effectively. Changes can be made easily enough. It is a much better system than the ad hoc arrangement we go through every time we have an election.

The second issue covered is the shortening of the election campaign period. The minimum period which has been shortened from 47 days to 36 days is surely a self-evident proposition. I say this simply because we do not have, in contrast to other constitutions, much in the way of a statement in our Constitution of the necessary and vital elements in the constitutional processes, that is, on the system of elections and the system of political parties.

As a result of the civil war amendments, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were adopted into the United States constitution. This has given rise not only to federal legislation in the implementation of those constitutional amendments, but also to a a massive system of court based jurisprudence, a development on a step by step basis of principles of law fleshing out the large motor principles of the constitution.

It is a fact that the paradigm of modern constitutions, Germany, has been borrowed by the new Russian constitution, the new Republic of South Africa constitution and indeed has been borrowed around the world. The original West German constitution of 1949 has detailed provisions on the constitutional processes, electoral processes, parties and again a very substantial system of court jurisprudence.

By way of comparison, our Constitution only has the section on democratic rights in section three of the charter of rights. I suppose we could also include the preamble to the original Constitution Act, 1867, a designation too particularistic today, a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom but which was used by the Supreme Court of Canada in one of its most imaginative judgments, the Alberta press case, to develop a constitutional system of civil liberties before we had a charter of rights or even the statutory bill of rights which was Mr. Diefenbaker's later bill.

I am suggesting that this is a measure which perhaps has taken more time than it has needed, I would have said an undue amount of time for the matters covered. However it is an important first step and we welcome it on that basis. It is inevitable that the courts will build on this. They have already begun to so do on a somewhat piecemeal basis in two decisions, one in which I participated as an expert adviser to the court and another more recent case before the Supreme Court of Alberta, which have entered into general jurisprudence in so far as neither the first one nor the second one were appealed by the Attorney General of Canada.

I anticipate that we will develop as vital to the political processes what U.S. Chief Justice Stone called the constituent processes, the starting point of any constitutional system of government. We will develop more legislation in this field. We will have more work before more committees. As Jeremy Bentham has reminded us, we will develop to a very considerable extent the concept of judge and company, of legislators and courts working together to develop in the interstices of specific cases and with regard to specific problems as they arise, new and growing principles of constitutional law on elections.

It is on that basis we should approach the deliberation of this particular amendment. I welcome in that sense the constructive contribution made by my colleague the member for Vancouver East, who against all odds moved to redress what is a matter of considerable grievance to citizens in western Canada and one knows also to those in the western United States.

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Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to my colleague, the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, who said he did not think this bill was being rushed through. I for one think it is. I think we do not have enough time to consider it fully. We are under great pressure to pass this bill forthwith or almost. That is undemocratic, especially when the opposition cannot express its views on legislation as important as this one.

I travelled in Latin America and I regularly meet people from foreign countries. They are very interested in the Canadian electoral system. They want their countries to have more democratic, more transparent election legislation.

While Canada has a democratic system, we could go one step further by having in our legislation provisions similar to those found in Quebec's legislation for example. In Quebec, only individual voters are allowed to finance electoral campaigns, not corporations and big companies as is currently the case in Canada.

There is another problem I would like to put to the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra. Returning officers are appointed by the government. These people play a key role in an election. In Quebec, they are appointed by the Quebec director general of elections. Why not have a similar provision saying that, in Canada, returning officers shall be appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada in an objective and impartial fashion, on the basis of a competition, instead of on a patronage basis as is currently the case?

In almost every riding in Quebec, friends of the old Conservative regime were replaced with Liberals or friends of the Liberal Party. That is undemocratic, and something should be done about it. Returning officers should be appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the basis of an open competition. That is my question to the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra.

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Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Bourassa for his comments, which were, as usual, well-documented, This man truly understands the constitutional process. I respect his knowledge.

When I expressed surprise that this bill had been rushed through, I was referring to the proceedings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Lengthy, in-depth studies were done in this committee, of which I was a member for two years. For these reasons, I will limit my comments to the committee.

Concerning the appointment of officials to supervise the voting, some changes could surely be made. As I made recommendations myself, I will point out that I was asked for very specific information about experience, expertise, technical training, etc. I am satisfied with the process as it stands, but I will take the hon. member's proposals under consideration.

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Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

Madam Speaker, I also wish to address Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

Like the hon. member for Bellechasse, I too am surprised by the government's haste in pushing through this reform, and also by the fact that it overlooked many aspects which should have been reviewed to improve the democratic process, as the hon. member for Bourassa pointed out earlier. The government should also have made sure that, short of obtaining the unanimous consent of the House, it at least allowed members to take part in a full debate on the issue. Instead, we had barely started discussing the reform when the government decided to invoke time allocation. Such an attitude is indicative of the government's utter lack of respect, something that is the Liberal Party's trademark. Historically, if there is any group that has shown no respect for the House throughout Canada, it is this party.

In the last one hundred years or so, the Liberals have, thanks to all sorts of schemes, managed to be in office for close to 75 years. This is to say they will do anything, showing no respect for the House, to hang on to power.

As the hon. member for Bellechasse mentioned this morning, they had no respect for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The committee, which is generally free of any partisan attitudes, which reaches a consensus 99 per cent of the time, and which could have played a central role in this review designed to improve the elections act was utterly ignored, along with its Liberal, Reform and Bloc members. Yet the committee had reached consensus on several issues in anticipation of a possible reform. But no, the Liberals, as always, had no respect for the committee and utterly ignored it.

They show no respect either for their own platform, as there was a clear commitment in the red book for an in depth reform of the Elections Act with a view, for example, to restricting big corporations' influence, as was mentioned by my colleague from Bourassa.

They had told us that we would think it over together, that members would have their say about it. Why did we not have a special debate on this, as we had one a year ago on the issue of our armed forces' role in peacekeeping missions? Democracy itself is at stake here, but we did not even have a special debate on this, to hear the views of all the members. No, they utterly ignored the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

They disregarded their own platform. This has always been typical of the Liberal Party: say one thing during the campaign, and another once in power. They have always broken their commitments; that does not surprise me.

But they did not show any respect here for their own statements in the House, especially their famous statement on distinct society. They said, with every intention of following through, that they would have a resolution passed recognizing distinct society without, however, entrenching it in the Constitution. One year later-I think it was passed on November 29 of last year-if that resolution had any meaning for the Liberals, they would have taken time to reflect on this reform of the Elections Act and find out that in Quebec our legal institutions operate under French law whereas in the rest of Canada they operate under common law.

Now, the way "domicile" and "residence" are defined is completely different. They could have included both definitions. That is what we suggested, but it was rejected, because the statement on distinct society was only smoke and mirrors. So they have no respect for their own resolution.

It has no respect for the other parties' arguments. I am not necessarily thinking here of arguments of the Bloc, but of those of the Reform Party concerning byelections. That party suggested that, instead of the 36 days provided for general elections, we should keep the 47 day period for byelections to prevent the

occasional dirty trick, like the one pulled by the Deputy Prime Minister. With a short period of 36 days, opposition parties are at a clear disadvantage. This also shows no respect for the opposition parties.

The Liberal Party also has no respect for Quebec, for the way things are done in Quebec, since this province already has a permanent list. Quebec offered to let the federal government use its list, on a shared cost basis. The chief electoral officer in Quebec figures this could save between $15 and $20 million. But no, this is coming from Quebec, and the Liberal Party of Canada will have none of it. The Liberals want to have their own enumeration. They will duplicate the process Quebec has just been through, because it is going to have its permanent list by May 1. Quebec has suggested both levels of government use the same list, share the costs, and thus make huge savings of some $15 to $20 million. This offer was rejected.

The Liberal Party has no respect for everything that is being done in the provinces, especially in Quebec. Nor does it have any respect for the democratic electoral process, as evidenced by the patronage appointments of Liberal hacks. Ninety-five per cent of new returning officers are Liberal organizers who have been asked to prepare the federal elections based on the needs of the Liberal Party. That is the way the party has always done things.

So, it has absolutely no respect for its own platform, no respect for parliamentary tradition, no respect for the provinces, no respect when it comes to appointing returning officers, no respect for the proposals brought forward by other parties and no respect for its own statements.

At this point I would ask the unanimous consent of the House to keep talking indefinitely. Do I have unanimous consent, Madam Speaker?

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Some hon. members


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Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

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The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The hon. member has asked for the unanimous consent of the House to keep talking indefinitely. Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House?

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Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

I am sorry, but the hon. member does not have unanimous consent.

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Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

Madam Speaker, you should have asked the clerks. I think you reiterated the question to allow the government

party to voice its opposition. I am surprised to see how this assembly is suddenly interested in my speech.

What is most surprising in this reform is to see-

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Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON


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Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

I want to greet the chief whip who is coming into the House. I think he was quite right to get out his whip. His troops had deserted him, I believe. As he could not find them, he is here alone. But I can understand them.

I can understand their wanting to hide and to refrain from speaking on such a meaningless bill, a bill which does not in any way conform to their own platform or serve democracy in Canada and Quebec.

No doubt what annoys my Liberal colleagues the most is to see that there is nothing in this bill to reform of political party financing so as to achieve a greater transparency and improve democracy.

Speaking of political party financing, in the last election, all political parties promised to review this issue because it was determined that there is still too much hidden influence on the government's legislative agenda because of party financing. All parties agreed on that. The Liberal Party said so during the election but, typically, its members now say otherwise. That is just like the Liberal Party.

Just one party not only said that it would talk about party financing after the election but actually acted accordingly before the election by financing its activities in a manner different from what the other parties in this House did, refusing all contributions from people who do not have the right to vote, as has been the case in Quebec since 1977.

What can we say about the financing of political parties in this House? Well, there has been an improvement in the last 15 years. Previously, 80 per cent of corporations and big unions controlled political parties through party financing.

Thanks to the tax credit introduced about fifteen years ago, we have seen a constant increase in the public's involvement in party financing. In fact, we can now say that only 40 per cent of the major parties' revenues come from corporations. However, even with only 40 per cent, there is always a possibility of conflict of interest because any corporation donating $50,000 to a political party will probably engage in lobbying during the following parliamentary session.

Let us look only at the charges made against senators and members of the House of Commons in the last 10 years, particularly the behaviour of certain ministers in this House since the 1993 election. For example, less than two months after being elected, the Minister of Canadian Heritage invited 20 people to a $2,000

private cocktail, for a total of $40,000. A few months later, she awarded discretionary contracts out of the budget of the Canadian heritage department, using our tax money, to these people who had contributed $2,000 to her election campaign. Now this was a matter serious enough to ask for her immediate resignation. What did the Prime Minister do? He applauded the Minister, unlike the previous Prime Minister who, at least, had the decency to ask for their resignation in such cases.

Then, the former Minister of National Defence awarded a $75,000 phoney discretionary research contract to the treasurer of his riding's Liberal organization. Why did this minister award such a contract if not to recover some of that money for his own election? One has to wonder.

Let us talk about other ministers, including the Prime Minister, who travels all over Canada, and about receptions at $350 or $500 a plate-