House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was police.


Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Don Valley North, ON

I just read the sign I had in my riding which said: "We are going to run the country the way we run the campaign" and the way they ran the campaign was without Quebec.

In my riding of Don Valley North people had no chance to say who is to be the official opposition. If the system is to work, Canadians from coast to coast must be given a chance to decide who is going to come here and in what capacity.

They voted massively for the Liberal Party. We formed the government and everybody is happy. The fact is 66 per cent of the population are voting yes after three years of our government policy.

Nobody in my riding, in my province and in the nine other provinces ever had a chance to vote and say who is going to be the official opposition. This has to be changed. All Canadians from sea to sea have the same rights, the same obligations toward the country and toward each other.

My motion addresses that issue. I know the Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party ganged up in the committee. They would not allow this motion to be votable.

I hope soon after this House is dissolved with our second election these people will come in with a low number. We will have a decent opposition party which is a national opposition to our government, to our party. They will change their minds and support this bill. We have to have a democracy that works, a democracy that flourishes and allows people to participate.

The way it is, the people in Don Valley North are being denied the right to say who is to be the official opposition in this Parliament.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

They can elect whoever they want. They elected you.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Don Valley North, ON

They elected me to be on the government side and they elected the hon. member to be in the opposition the rest of his life. That is the problem. We will go into the year 2,000 and again he will be in opposition. He is going to be less than what he is today.

The hon. member reminds me-

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The House will deal with one speaker at a time.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Madam Speaker, what has happened to the Reform Party? It has come here. It has complained about our policies. It has destroyed whatever we have tried to build here. It says that it has to listen to the people, and what has happened? Let us listen to the people.

There was a byelection in Hamilton. Reform got 10.1 per cent of the votes. After three years of knocking down our policies day in and day out, of ganging up with the Bloc Quebecois against us, if this is the best Reformers can do with 10.1 per cent, then the best thing that can happen to us is to keep the Reform Party and the Bloc the way they are so we can be the government into the next century.

Let us put partisan issues aside. Let us help Canada to build a stronger democracy. Let us allow people a chance to participate, including the Reform Party and even the Bloc. The numbers may be too many as far as I am concerned. Maybe five, six or ten will do the job so there will be a presence here. Basically that is what we should do.

Those who wish to take advantage of the system have to participate. Every time they spend a penny in an election taxpayers of this land finance their campaign on the first $100 or $75 of each dollar. If that is the case then we should allow each and every Canadian to participate no matter where they come from, which party they belong to and whatever their origin. We should not send them to the back of the bus when they want to participate in this system.

I would like to share my time with my hon. colleague from Hamilton-Wentworth.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, after hearing the hon. member for Don Valley North, I feel like saying, as they do in criminal proceedings: I rest my case. But I will still say what I have to say.

That a bill like this one can be introduced is not a major step forward for democracy. Let us calmly sum it up for those who would like to know what it is about. This bill would allow registration of a political party in Canada only if this party nominates candidates in at least half the ridings of seven Canadian provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.

This is not a minimum, but a mountain. Especially since the hon. member knows full well that the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, only nominates candidates in Quebec. As a result, there is no way we could comply with the provisions of this bill. As everyone knows, the Bloc Quebecois' goal is to promote Quebec sovereignty, a mandate given to us by the people of Quebec. It would be surprising, to say the least, if there were a Bloc Quebecois candidate in the riding of Beauséjour or Madawaska-Victoria. Your constituents would have trouble understanding this, Madam Speaker.

We have no extraterritorial ambitions, as the Helms-Burton law does, and although we have many friends outside Quebec, in particular in the francophone and Acadian communities, we display no imperialistic tendencies.

If this bill were passed-and I thank the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for not making this a votable motion, which more or less settles the fate of this bill-we would be condemned to remain forever in opposition and, most of all, to the status of a group of independent members. That is to say, only the election expenses of candidates who receive 15 per cent of the vote in their ridings would be reimbursed, so our party would not be

entitled to a 22.5 per cent refund of its expenses at the national level. This would be a major setback.

The Reform Party would also be in a precarious position, as it first burst onto the scene with the election of the hon. member for Beaver River to this House. All regional based parties would not have been so lucky.

We can say one of the good things about Canadian democracy is that it allows regional parties to emerge, parties like the Bloc Quebecois or any regional party that may emerge to promote the interests of one region or another of Canada.

Just the same, the chance of promoting regional interests that comes with a political system must be recognized. It existed in the days of the CCF, the New Democratic Party at the federal level, and of the Progressive Conservative Party. It has always existed.

I do not think that just because an election gave the results it gave, the 35th Parliament has wiped off the political map a former national party-we are not going to change the law to prevent them from trying their luck again. The democratic rules by which the vast majority of members of this House abide must be respected.

I think that the more we value democracy, the more important we feel it is that the rights of our minorities be respected. Because if all democracy stands for is the rights of the majority, the majority always wins in the end anyway. When a vote is taken by a show of hands, the majority wins. The guarantees given to the minority are rights that we must respect because the minority is always at a disadvantage. That is why we have charters protecting the rights of minorities, charters that we generally respect.

This is a bill calling for a form of intolerance, a bill designed to make quick political hay, that completely misses the mark. I think that the hon. member who introduced this bill will not score very many points with this bill. For these reasons, I obviously cannot support this bill. I did not have to tell you since we will not be voting on the bill. But in the unlikely event a vote were taken, I would vote no. I will also gladly refuse consent if unanimous consent is sought to put this bill to a vote.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Comox—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, believers in democracy, real democracy, who have taken the time to read through private members' Bill C-276 will have realized that there are at least two possible ways of interpreting the intent of this bill.

One of those interpretations would lead us to conclude that the member who introduced the bill is motivated by a patriotic love for Canada. Unfortunately though, it is also possible to interpret the bill as a direct attack, inadvertently I hope, on democracy itself.

Because of the seriousness of the second possible interpretation, I will deal only with that specific aspect of the bill in the hope that the member who introduced it will recognize the flaw and will agree to withdraw the bill before it goes any further.

The plain fact is that Bill C-276 has the potential to place such unreasonable restrictions on freedom of assembly and equal rights that many people would be tempted to describe it as irresponsible and repressive.

Enactment of its provisions would severely curtail the formation and growth of new parties in Canada, while the old line traditional parties with their worn out ideologies would be protected by legislation from the challenge of new and open discussion about Canada's future.

This bill reminds me, sadly I will say, of a bill that was passed unanimously by the PCs, Liberals and NDP in this House prior to the 1993 election. That bill also attempted to protect the turf of the old line parties at the expense of new parties by requiring the election of 12 members to this House in order to receive official recognition as a party.

As we all know, that arrogant attack on the principles of democracy backfired on the perpetrators in a major way. Two of the parties which supported that repressive bill, the PCs and the NDP, ended up with fewer than 12 seats in this Parliament and are no longer recognized as parties. The PCs and the NDP in effect were hoisted on their own anti-democratic petards while the group or groups they intended to suppress were supported by enough of the voters of Canada that they ended up as officially recognized parties.

It was the voters exercising their democratic rights who determined the fate of these parties, and it is with the voters that the power of democracy should stay. Neither the government nor individual members of this House should be proposing or passing repressive legislation which interferes with the ability of the people to meet, organize and run for office under a common party banner.

Those who think it is their prerogative to try to legislatively influence the outcome of elections through bills like Bill C-276 should recognize that they are playing with fire and that severe burns are most likely going to be the result. It is not the right of members of this place to try to preserve their own futures by restricting the organizational and voting rights of the people who pay their salaries.

If members have read Bill C-276 they will have noticed that in order to achieve party status the bill requires a group to nominate candidates in at least seven provinces containing at least 50 per cent of the population and 50 per cent of the electoral districts of Canada. In other words, Bill C-276 makes the arrogant assumption that there is no value to a party which has its roots in just one or two provinces and would deny the right of voters to determine for themselves whether a new party, regional or not, has candidates who are capable of representing their constituents in this House.

If this bill had been in effect in 1988, it would have prevented the Reform Party of Canada from being recognized as a party. As a direct result it would have prevented the name Reform from appearing on the ballot. Voters would have been unable to determine which independent candidates listed on the ballot were actually Reform Party of Canada candidates, leaving the traditional parties with an unfair advantage. Luckily, Bill C-276 was not in effect at the time and the Reform Party candidates captured a large enough percentage of the votes to achieve public and media recognition which in turn led to further growth and further support.

At the following election in 1993, candidates were run in almost every province and 52 Reform members were elected representing five of these provinces. At the same time, PCs dropped to just two members with no representation west of Quebec, and the NDP dropped to nine members with no representation east of Saskatchewan.

If we want to talk about regional parties, we need look no further than the NDP and the PCs who thought they were invincible, just as the Liberal side of the House thinks it is today. The fact is we are in times of great political upheaval and even the smug members on the government side of the House need to begin thinking about the future of their party. There is no guarantee that the Liberal Party of Canada, if it refuses to become more democratic, can survive the enormous changes which have to take place in this federation over the next decade or two.

The people of this country want more say in the decision making process. They want to see truly free votes taking place in this House on government bills. They want to see MPs representing the will of their constituents ahead of the party line or their own personal biases. They want governments at all levels to begin acting as servants of the taxpayers rather than benevolent dictatorships.

I will return for a moment to the example of the Reform Party of Canada. There is no doubt that Bill C-276, had it been law prior to 1990, would have severely restricted the ability of the party to grow even though the Reform Party of Canada had, and still has, policies which are national in scope. All of the policies of the party are built upon three major foundation blocks: fiscal responsibility; justice and family safety; and democratic reforms which would improve the way government functions.

These policy foundations are national in scope and always were, but Bill C-276 could easily have prevented the party from growing to the point where it has over 50 members in the House of Commons and can deliver its message to voters all across Canada. This might have suited the Liberal Party, but it would not have been democratic. Even if the Reform Party of Canada had not developed policies which are national in scope, what makes politicians in Ottawa think they have the divine right to arbitrarily decide on behalf of their voters whether or not a political party can exist based solely on whether it is regional in nature?

If we believe in democracy, it is the people of Canada who have the right to decide whether they want to vote for a regional party, a national party or simply no party at all. No member in this place should be attempting to interfere with that freedom to choose even if the outcome of a subsequent election is not to their liking.

Certainly there is the potential to end up with situations like the one we have in the House today where the official opposition is a party which makes no secret of the fact that it wants to facilitate the separation of Quebec from Canada and has no desire to become the Government of Canada.

If the member who sponsored this bill does not like having the Bloc sitting as official opposition, he should work on changing the attitudes of his colleagues on the Liberal side who collectively have the power to correct the situation without passing restrictive bills like the one before us today.

This bill throws the baby out with the bath water. Despite the claims of the government member, it is not crucial that every party in the House be a national alternative. Neither is it the business of this House to decide whether regional parties should get the same tax status rights as national parties.

If the members opposite truly believe in the equality of all citizens and are not just paying lip service to the concept, then they are obliged to retain equality of opportunity for all political parties and their supporters whether regional or not.

If the end result of this democratic freedom leads on occasion to a less stable political climate than we would like, it is too darn bad. We will all have to work a little harder as MPs when these situations occur.

The member who introduced Bill C-276 was probably well intentioned but the bill contains restrictions on political freedom which are inappropriate in this parliamentary process. It is my hope that members will join me in opposing this bill.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on Bill C-276 which calls for the government to consider allowing the registration of a political party only when the party nominates candidates in at least seven provinces that have in aggregate at least 50 per cent of the

population of all of the provinces and at least half of the electoral districts in each of those seven provinces.

The hon. member for Don Valley North raises the important issue of access to public funding by federal political parties and the registration process which primarily governs this access. Public funding of political parties has several important purposes, and I would like to mention two.

First, it is seen as a means to broaden the base of party finance. A broader financial base provides for greater financial stability which allows a political party to mount effective campaigns including access to the mass media. Second, it also helps to lessen a political party's dependence on large contributors. In this way it provides for a more level playing field for all political parties, thereby increasing electoral democracy and ensuring meaningful freedom of speech.

Although there is widespread agreement about the desirability of public funding for political parties, there has been much debate on the conditions for access to public funding. The most important of these conditions is the registration process.

The registration of political parties was introduced in 1970. Two key criteria for registration set out then and still in force today are that a political party must either have had 12 MPs when Parliament was dissolved or nominate 50 candidates by the 28th day before the election, nomination day. If either criteria is met, the political party gains access to public funding primarily in the form of income tax credits, partial reimbursement of electoral expenses and access to free broadcasting time.

The hon. member for Don Valley North in proposing stricter conditions for registration may be concerned that scarce public resources should not be spent on political parties that receive marginal or trivial voter support. Many of us in this House agree with this viewpoint. This is why we gave our support to private members' Bill C-243 by the member for Edmonton Southwest. It proposed that reimbursement of election spending for registered political parties be tied to voter support. Currently, reimbursement is tied to a proportion of the political party's electoral spending. This bill is now before the Senate.

The hon. member for Don Valley North may also be concerned about party stability in Canada and in promoting political parties that have a broad geographical base. This also is a laudable objective. However, I would not like to see this bill being interpreted as erecting barriers to new and emerging political parties, many of which may be regionally based.

In balancing the need for fiscal restraint and encouraging the promotion of national parties, we must not lose sight of the need to enhance access to the political system. There must be a balance between these often conflicting objectives.

It is worthwhile to point out that any reforms we consider should be assessed against the rights of individuals and groups to associate and speak freely. Major restrictions to these rights as represented in this bill would likely be challenged under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We must fine tune our reforms to ensure that the electoral rights of all Canadians are not restricted.

We should not forget the past work of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, the Lortie commission, and the all-party special House committee on electoral reform that studied the Lortie report in 1992 and 1993. It may be instructive to note that the Lortie report after undertaking an in depth study of the registration process concluded that the 50 candidate threshold should remain unchanged.

The commission noted that a political party, which nominates candidates in 50 constituencies would demonstrate serious intent to engage in the rigours of electoral competition at a level that indicates relatively broad appeal for its programs and ideas. Moreover, experience since 1974 shows that this level is neither unduly onerous nor lenient for registration. The report goes on to say that this threshold should continue to serve as a benchmark in determining which parties may be registered under the Canada Elections Act.

The all-party special committee agreed with the Lortie commission in this respect. However, time did not allow consideration of some of the Lortie commission's other recommendations on registration.

For example, the commission also recommended that a political party qualify for registration between elections following submission of a valid application that would include the declared support of 5,000 voters who are members in good standing of the party. This and other recommendations were to be considered at a future full scale review of the electoral legislation.

More recently, the chief electoral officer, in his annex to the 35th general election released in February 1996, stated his conclusion that the current provisions of the act should continue to remain unchanged. In his view, the 50 candidate threshold still provides a good balance allowing a good proportion of new parties to enter the system while excluding from the system parties that have declined.

The chief electoral officer based his conclusion in part on the work of F. Leslie Seidle of the Montreal Institute for Research on Public Policy. Mr. Seidle's research suggested that although there is room for further debate about the registration criteria, it is clear that the 50 candidate threshold has not been a roadblock to new parties.

He noted that although each of the last three national elections a handful of new parties have not met the registration requirements, several others did. For example, in 1993 six additional parties were registered. Two recently formed parties, the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois, now hold seats in this House. He also noted that the 50 candidate threshold served to exclude from the system parties that have declined. For example, of the six parties registered in 1974 two, the Social Credit and the Communists, are no longer registered.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate and thank the hon. member for bringing the House's attention to the important issue of registration of political parties and its effect on our electoral system. In my view, more work needs to be done. Our approach to the issue must be comprehensive to ensure that all the impacts are adequately investigated before changes can be contemplated.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a delight to be able to enter into this debate today on a subject that is very dear to my heart. It is the subject of freedom. It is the subject of democracy. It is the subject of representation of the people. It is the subject of the use of the taxpayers' money. It is a subject in which I have a great interest.

I respectfully indicate to the member who has brought this bill forward that it is a very ill-advised bill. It is ill advised primarily because there is a proposal here to manipulate the democratic process from Ottawa, from a central government. That is not a democratic process. We take away people's freedoms when there are all of these different restrictions, especially the ones which are being promoted here.

I would like to point out to the member that it is not the government that funds the parties. The reason to have the registration of individuals for the voting process is to get them on the ballot. The only reason they would want to be organized into parties would be in order for them to effectively communicate a party policy and platform.

There is nothing preventing individuals from running as independents. That freedom must be preserved. If people in a community want to elect an independent, they should be able to do so. One might say he or she has that freedom but the problem with the current registration system is that they have that freedom at their own expense while the others have it at public expense.

It is not the government, it is not Ottawa, it is not the Liberal Party nor any other party that funds the elections. It is the taxpayer. The root of the problem we are dealing with here is that there are politicians in Ottawa who presume to pluck the money out of the pocket of the taxpayer and they decide who then gets to use it.

The finest solution to this would be to eliminate the funding of elections by Elections Canada, by the people of the country, through this process. Let us stop to ask the question: Why should I as a taxpayer send a bunch of money to Ottawa, let the bureaucrats spin it around and see how much spills over back to me if I qualify according to some arbitrary rules? When it comes to electing representatives to this place, each one of us as Canadians should have the right to use our money for whatever purpose we want and not be controlled by a centralist government which may have opposite political views.

I will relate a practical incident of this. For many years I was a member of a union. I had no choice in the matter. I know I could have chosen a different profession but it just so happened that I went into the teaching profession. Both at the secondary and post-secondary levels it was a condition of my employment that I belong to that union or association.

I was very annoyed when the union to which I was forced to belong gave donations to a political party, namely the NDP. I strongly disagreed with that but I had no choice. My democratic right, my democratic freedom was beat upon by that principle. They said: "It is democratic. There was a majority vote in our union meeting to send $100,000 to the NDP". I said that did not matter, that in this instance they were engaging in an activity I did not personally agree with and which had nothing to do with representing me to my employer.

We are talking about the same thing here. We are talking about the Liberal government or a Conservative government in the past, maybe even a Reform government in the future. I do not think we want to give any of those governments the right to say: "We are going to allow the taxpayers to put their money into the pot and they will get it back if they meet certain restrictions, but if they do not they are not permitted to". That is a violation of equality. It is a violation of the principle of economic freedom.

Another thing of importance is I have had a lot of representations from my constituents and I share the concern many of them have expressed with respect to the official opposition in this House. I am sure there are a lot of people on the government side who despair of the fact that there are separatist opposition members and Reform opposition members. That is just how democracy works. That has always been my response.

I have had people say to me: "Is there not something in our Constitution that we could use to get those separatists out of here? What right do they have to be here if their goal is to tear the country apart?" I always answer that I do not like it either but the fact is that by some means they won the support of the people in their constituencies. Indeed in the last election 54 of 75 seats in Quebec were won by separatists, by members of the Bloc party and I for one will not be the one who says that those people in those constituencies do not have the right to send to this place whomever they will. That right must be preserved. We must not intrude upon that by giving funding preferentially to one group or the other,

arbitrarily decided by the government of the day. I would not want to be a part of that.

Meanwhile I believe it is a proper role of government to so arrange its affairs that people in this country will not want to leave it. I do believe this is such a wonderful country that I would never want to leave it. I would not want to do anything to cause this country to fall apart.

It often hurts me as a staunch, loyal Canadian with great loyalty to my country when members on the government side falsely accuse that Reformers are here to tear apart the country. That is not true. We are here to keep this country together, to help build it, to become strong, to keep our economic independence from other people in the world, other countries, but also to have economic independence for the citizens of this wonderful country.

It is true we disagree with the governing party of the day on how some of these things must be done. I for one believe it is very healthy for the Reform Party to be here. It is very healthy for us to have the voice that says we should not be spending endless money that our children and grandchildren will have to repay. We have a role to play in holding this government financially accountable.

I will not claim that we have had the total success we wanted to have. It is true that the current government is spending less than the previous government did, but it is still adding to the debt. I have the right on behalf of my constituents to voice that and to express it strongly here.

I also point out that by the rules proposed by this member I would not have been eligible to receive the rebate on my election expenses because, according to him, my party would not have been registered.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Don Valley North, ON

That's not true.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

I stand corrected. As an individual candidate I could if I got 15 per cent of the votes, but as a party we would not be eligible because we would not have been able to register as a party. I think that is wrong.

I won every poll in my riding. The people in my riding said: "That is the person we want to send to Ottawa". They have the right to do that. I will not put a single restriction in their way. Consequently, I must speak very strongly against this bill. It is well intentioned. I believe the member wants to do what is best for the country. It is just that he has not properly analysed the consequences of what his bill is proposing.

I would like to say very simply that good ideas always start small. We would do very well to promote the extension of little groups. If a group has a good idea it will grow. If it has bad ideas it will go into oblivion soon enough. The Conservative Party taught us that lesson.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Madam Speaker, I will begin by correcting an impression of my colleague from Elk Island.

Bill C-276 does not affect the ability or the right of a person or a group of people to run as candidates in an election. It addresses the right of a group of people to become a registered political party whereby they would be entitled to certain remunerations, certain tax breaks and equal broadcasting time during an election.

This is quite a proper thing for government to concern itself with because we are a national democracy and we define our country by how we define our members of Parliament. We choose to define our members of Parliament by political parties which receive some government funding based on the number in that party; the present law requires 50. Or, as in the case of Bill C-276, it would be required that the members of a political party that receives government funds would have to have nominees in seven out of ten provinces.

Bill C-276 is fundamentally directed against the concept of provincial parties, against parties which instead of coming to Ottawa to represent and to debate the interests of all parts of the country, come to Ottawa to debate only the interests of one part of the country, specifically a province.

We can test the wisdom of the concept behind Bill C-276 by extending the idea to its ultimate extreme. Consider a House of Commons in which there is nothing but regional and provincial parties where every group of people represents only the provinces in which the members of Parliament were elected.

Then we would have a House of 10 parties. We would not need to have a federal election at all. We could simply use the members from the 10 provinces and territories to come to this place one or two times a year to debate and pass laws. We know what would happen. It would not work because each group would represent only its provincial interests and we could be described by that famous term which is relevant even today. We would have a total balkanization of the country where only provincial interests were represented.

The bill is aimed directly at that. It is aimed even more specifically at the Bloc Quebecois.

We heard earlier the hon. member for Bellechasse admitting that the Bloc Quebecois would have a great deal of difficulty with this legislation if it were to pass because the Bloc Quebecois represents only the interests of Quebec. That is how the Bloc Quebecois defines itself.

The member for Bellechasse conveyed the impression that because the Bloc Quebecois represents only one province-and it is a province that seeks some sort of sovereignty association

relationship with the rest of the country according to its current government-he made the assumption that the Bloc Quebecois would have no relevance in running members of Parliament in other parts of the country. Here I disagree most wholeheartedly with him.

In the recent byelection in Hamilton East 13 candidates ran as well as candidates from the major parties. Absent was a candidate from the Bloc Quebecois. I asked myself what would have happened if a member of the Bloc Quebecois would have run in that byelection. How would that candidate have been greeted by the people in Hamilton East?

I occupy a riding not very far from Hamilton East. I imagine a Bloc MP running in Hamilton East and being received very well by the people. I know, Madam Speaker, you might find that statement surprising coming from someone like myself who is certainly very much a federalist.

I have considered some of the important issues I heard the Bloc Quebecois express many times on behalf of Quebec. One of them is self-determination. The people of Hamilton East would understand the concept of self-determination very readily. I could tell my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois that the people around Hamilton East have a very proud sense of their territory, a sense of the region.

Indeed, there is quite a sense of rivalry between Hamilton and Toronto. There is a great desire in the people from Hamilton, and particularly in Hamilton East, for a kind of self-defining and self-determination. If a Bloc Quebecois member ran in Hamilton East and tried to express the concept of self-determination for Quebec, he or she would be understood.

If the Bloc Quebecois ran a candidate in Hamilton East and spoke about the need to preserve language, the people in the audience in Hamilton East would understand him precisely because those in Hamilton come from many origins. In that part of the city there are predominantly people of Italian origin.

The people in Hamilton East are of many different language groups and sometimes of a different first language. It is often Italian, sometimes Greek, Portuguese, Spanish and sometimes French I might add. They have a great sense of pride in their language. They would understand a candidate who aspired to being a member of Parliament who wanted to defend a language; who felt a language and a culture was worth defending. They would understand that.

Again that certainly follows with the concept of a distinct society. I know the Bloc Quebecois has not exactly supported the Liberal initiative in that regard. Nevertheless it is a principle that underlies much of what Quebecers refer to as nationalism or at least sovereignty. I still see it as a kind of provincialism, in the sense of province, not in the sense necessarily of being narrow.

People in Hamilton East would understand it if a Bloc Quebecois candidate explained things like the difference of the civil code, the difference of the traditions in Quebec. Even better, it would give them an insight into what motivates so many people who do support the Bloc Quebecois and the Parti Quebecois. It would help enormously in their understanding. They could relate to it in a sense that in my part of Ontario there is a very strong sense of pride at being from Ontario. Indeed around Hamilton, MPs are expected to serve the interests of their province and their city.

I submit that there is not a great deal of difference between that and Bloc Quebecois members who get up and want to represent, somewhat narrowly perhaps, the interests of Quebec. There would not be much difference there.

I could go on. I have often seen the Bloc Quebec members in the House defending, very expertly, social and cultural issues. Sometimes it has been an irony to hear the Bloc Quebecois more effectively attack the government when it is talking about cutbacks to major cultural institutions like the CBC. It has often been the Bloc Quebecois that has sprung to the barricades, rather than the Reform Party.

That would be understood, certainly, in Hamilton East as well because there is a great sense of pride in cultural institutions, in song and dance, and the need to communicate among us.

I do not think, for the most part, a Bloc Quebecois candidate in Hamilton East would have much difficulty in delivering a message to which people would listen quietly and with great attention.

The only place where the Bloc Quebecois candidate would have difficulty is with the concept of sovereignty. We each define sovereignty differently in our minds. However, when the concept of sovereignty is extended to the idea of actually breaking away from the country, actually separating from Canada, I have to admit that no Bloc Quebecois candidate would get much support. On the other hand, the Bloc Quebecois candidate would do much for the good-

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

I will give the hon. member 30 seconds for his conclusion. I apologize for disturbing him.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I will come to a conclusion very rapidly.

The point I wish to make is this. The opportunity to speak across the country, even when someone represents only regional interests, is what a national party should be all about. It does not matter whether it ultimately has regional interests at heart.

I support in principle in Bill C-276 because it would force a party like the Bloc Quebecois or any other party that would want to represent only a province to get out of that province and deliver their message to the rest of the country so that the rest of the country could better understand it.

It is when we are separate, when we represent only regions, then we become strangers.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-43, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

June 18th, 1996 / 7:25 p.m.


Paul Mercier Bloc Blainville—Deux-Montagnes, QC

Madam Speaker, I wish to begin by condemning the fact the Liberal government has put this bill on the order paper at the last minute, without any advance notice. Our speeches today should therefore be considered preliminary only and not definitive. Overall, judging by our first cursory overview, we are in favour of the bill, but will certainly have certain reservations and amendments to make at committee.

I wish to address one particular point, the new section 23.1, which I shall read to you:

23.1 (1) No person shall use the whistle on any railway equipment in an area within a municipality if:

(a) the area meets the requirements prescribed for the purposes of this section; and

-this therefore involves the area of a municipality-

(b) the government of the municipality by resolution declares that it agrees that such whistles should not be used in that area and has, before passing the resolution, consulted the railway company that operates the relevant line of railway and has given public notice of its intention to pass the resolution.

The reason why I wish to address this particular point is that it deals with a problem that is a very real one in our region; cities such as Sainte-Thérèse, Rosemère or Blainville are bothered at 4 a.m. by a train coming through and waking everyone up.

This clause banning the use of the whistle under certain circumstances must be viewed with favour, in principle, provided safety is not compromised by the absence of an audible warning. Level crossing safety is ensured by the use of the whistle, then the bell and finally a flashing red light. All that would be left is the flashing lights and the bell.

In many countries, level crossings are protected by barriers, but I do not believe that is necessary here, because of their high cost. There is absolute safety with such an arrangement, but it is very costly and we are not calling for that much.

This clause on not using the whistle in an area within a municipality contains two noteworthy points: it is not general, and assumes that the municipality concerned has passed a resolution declaring that it is agrees that whistles not be used. This is a good thing, because obviously it is better that the decision-making power rests with the municipality, the government level that is closer to the population than Ottawa, when the decision is to be made as to whether or not whistles are to be used, for the sake of peace and quiet, while not compromising safety.

It is therefore a good thing that the municipality takes the decision. If it wants whistles not to be used, it passes a resolution. No resolution, no ban. That is reasonable.

Another aspect which strikes me as less reasonable is clause 23.1, which states that no person may use the whistle in an area within a municipality if the area meets the requirements prescribed for the purposes of this section. This assumes that the minister has, under this bill, the power to set regulations and impose them on the municipalities, so that their resolution approving the whistle ban may be enforced. The municipality must therefore comply with certain conditions set by the federal government.

Here we see that, once again, the federal government has not been able to resist the temptation to take advantage of any new legislation to try to interfere with areas of provincial jurisdiction, for municipalities are under provincial jurisdiction. They are creatures of the province and their powers are under trusteeship from the provincial level. Now we find the federal government, once again, trampling over the powers of the municipalities, if I understand this clause properly, stating that they, the federal government, the Minister of Transport, will set out requirements to which municipalities must comply with if their resolutions banning the use of the whistle are to be implemented.

At this point, I believe that this clause must be condemned, for it goes over the heads of the provinces and thumbs its nose at their areas of jurisdiction, one of which is the municipalities. It is, therefore, obvious that we shall have an amendment to propose concerning the second paragraph of section 23.1.

In closing, I wish to stress, as did the first speaker, that we agree withe the bill's principle.

It claims to improve railway safety, and who can fault virtue. Overall, these provisions seem to us to be good ones, but we will have a few reservations to express. These will take the form of amendments. In closing, I reiterate my protest against the cavalier fashion in which the bill was presented to us.

You will recall that today's session started in the same casual way. The Minister of Foreign Affairs also made an impromptu statement and took us unawares. Now we are closing the day on the same note, so it is bracketed at both ends by high-handed actions, and one might well wonder whether the government's plan B has now been brought to bear on the committees.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the debate on Bill C-43, on railway safety.

First, the closure of the rail maintenance shop in Charny, the Joffre shop, was recently announced. A look into the matter because of the closure reveals that, by region, track defects are between 3 and 10 times higher in Quebec then elsewhere in the country. This why rail safety is of particular concern to me.

In the case of Charny, the first thing is the loss of 93 jobs, which is very important. But the Joffre shop also used subcontractors. There were 150 firms in the Quebec City region working with the Joffre shop with a total payroll or the equivalent of the payroll of these 93 employees plus materials. In all, this decision means $5 million less in economic benefits for the Quebec City region.

What is the decision exactly? There were three shops of the same type in Canada maintaining tracks. There was one at Charny for all of eastern Canada, one in Winnipeg and the other in British Columbia. The CN decided to concentrate things in Winnipeg. Last year, we in the Bloc did not oppose the bill to privatize the CN, because it was time decisions were made as much as possible from a business standpoint.

The principle is a good one. However, in practical terms- I will start with the president, Mr. Tellier, who comes from a political background, and who, after doing some dirty work, if I may use the expression, in terms of cuts when the CN was a crown corporation, contributed to the deterioration of rail lines particularly in Quebec. There were other decisions at CN such as the decision to transfer the pay service to Winnipeg, although head office remained in Montreal. This is a bit odd.

As far as orders and so on are concerned, that section is in Toronto. In the case of other services, part of the head office was moved to eastern Canada. CN's head office is an increasingly empty shell. It is not yet empty, but increasingly so. This leads me to point out that, as far as the tracks are concerned-and I say this on my own, it is not the official stand of the Bloc-I would say there is a deliberate plan to try to deprive Quebec of its primary rail resources. The Joffre shop in Charny is one example.

Somewhat paradoxically, last year, just before the referendum, this shop, also called La Rotonde, was designated a historical site by the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

On a point of order, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Madam Speaker, on a point of order. I am trying my hardest, but the hon. member has given a five to ten minute speech and he has said nothing, not a word, about what we are debating here, the Railway Safety Act and the amendments to that bill.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

That is not a point of order.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, as I have very little time, I am not going to spend it on a member who is not paying attention. For five minutes now I have been speaking about the only railway track maintenance shop in eastern Canada, which is located in Charny, and that concerns railway safety.

If he wants statistics, I will give him some. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said that in 1994, 1,189 accidents were reported, 17 per cent more than in 1993. This is worrisome. Most accidents on main tracks took place at level crossings. In 1994, 30 per cent of the total number of accidents took place at level crossings and 13 per cent of derailments took place on main tracks.

Every year there are 300 accidents involving cars carrying dangerous materials. Three hundred accidents involving dangerous materials is hardly trivial. They say only goods are involved. In 1994, 114 people lost their lives in railway accidents. Am I being relevant, sir, am I talking about railway safety? I am giving you the statistics.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

I am sorry, but could the hon. member please address his remarks to the Chair?

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, the member has got me going. I came back from dinner and was feeling a bit sleepy. He has woken me up and he will be sorry, he will come to regret it. I apologize to you, Madam Speaker.

In 1994, 158 derailments were reported on main tracks, a 24 per cent increase. I asked for newspaper clippings so that I could look over the accident headlines. I will not be able to mention them all, but I will cover the main ones. On February 5, 1996, Le Soleil carried the following story: ``CN claims there are fewer accidents. The Transportation Safety Board says the opposite. While the Transportation Safety Board of Canada reports an increase in train accidents in Canada in the last five years, Canadian National, now a private company, has statistics to show that the carrier has apparently had fewer accidents''.

I will quote from another article from Le Soleil dated February 5, 1996: Steady increase in number of accidents over past five years''. I do not have a lot of time. Still from <em>Le Soleil</em> , this time from July 29, 1995:There is a terrible dispute over the results of

an investigation into the Transportation Safety Board and CN. They are not in agreement".

Obviously, when I asked him a question on the topic this week, the minister defended himself with statistics provided by CN. But his own railway safety bureau contradicts the people at CN. The Minister of Transport should use the data put out by his own department, but he prefers those produced by CN saying things are not so bad. They are making a business decision.

Madam Speaker, you come from New Brunswick, and I am sure your constituents in Edmunston are not happy when they think that if there is a railway problem, they will have to call Winnipeg. I know there is only one line in your riding connecting with the main track and that things will be held up until someone comes from Winnipeg to repair it. You know how far it is between Edmunston and Winnipeg. This decision is incredible.

Along with the Railway Safety Act, government is amending another act because it must do so every five years. They are trying to tell us that this is not serious, that everything is fine, and yet there are accidents.

I was saying that in Quebec there were ten times more defects than in certain regions. What I am proposing is that the Minister of Transport table a bill, that is right, but the people working in this service must be on the lookout. There must be planning in order to avoid accidents. Anyone who owns a car knows that proper maintenance is the way to avoid breakdowns. And that must be planned.

Right now, as far as the railway in Quebec is concerned, the service in question only repaired things that were not working well in order to prevent derailments. The shop in Charny lacked resources. It was so lacking in resources they had to work overtime, but that only depleted even more their resources. It was not enough. It had to subcontract half of its contracts in the Quebec region in order to try to repair the system.

But not enough is being done in the long term. Not enough is being done in terms of prevention. It is too bad that when we mention safety to people from the transport department, they talk to us about the number of accidents. It is like waiting for someone to get burned before you start worrying about fire prevention. It is the same thing.

We should be talking about the condition of the railway. We should be talking about the equipment we have, the number of people that should be assigned to correct the situation. I say that this government is slacking off on railway safety, and that a few changes to the act will not be enough to silence the member for Lévis, when they are eliminating 93 jobs in Charny.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-43 amending the Railway Safety Act.

This bill, you will recall, to provide a bit of a background, was introduced in the House of Commons on May 30 by the Minister of Transport to amend the Railway Safety Act. It aims to give the railway companies greater responsibility in the management of safety, although Transport Canada will continue to set requirements.

Bill C-43 provides as well for more feedback from the public and interested parties on matters of railway safety.

It also establishes a framework for communities wanting to stop the use of the train whistle. I would like to add to the comments made earlier by my colleague, the member for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes, who said that we agreed with most of the provisions of this bill and particularly a certain relaxation in the use of the train whistle. When I was the Bloc transport critic, I received many representations from residents of municipalities requesting the discontinuation of train whistles. These include the people of Rimouski and of the Cap-Rouge sector of the riding of Louis-Hébert.

The amendments in this bill are drawn from the recommendations made by the committee reviewing the Railway Safety Act in the report it tabled in February 1995 entitled: On Track: the Future of Railway Safety in Canada . We should note that Transport Canada accepted 60 of the 69 recommendations.

Those of my colleagues who spoke before me expressed the Bloc Quebecois' position on this bill. We must criticize the Liberal government, which arrives at the last minute and puts this bill on the Order Paper without any prior warning.

I also want to say that I am very surprised by the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, the member for Hamilton West, whom I sat with on the Standing Committee on Transport. I do not know if the parliamentary secretary's new job has-dare I say "gone to his head", I have to watch my language. The member for Hamilton West has really changed his attitude. He was much more flexible when he was with us on the transport committee. This does not bode well for the future. Perhaps he is thinking about his personal career, a spot in the next cabinet shuffle, but, in any event, that is the attitude he has adopted.

This aggressiveness by the Liberals is all the more unjustifiable in light of the fact that we did not systematically oppose all the measures proposed in this bill. We would have liked to co-operate with the government in order to improve this legislation, but the government preferred confrontation, adopting a strategy of holding a gun to our head. The official opposition is worried and hopes that the government's plan B with respect to constitutional matters, which has become the government's policy, is not making itself felt in transportation issues.

The Railway Safety Act review committee must examine the act every five years, an initiative we feel is useful for all concerned. The official opposition views the ongoing improvement of railway safety as a constant concern and priority. Nonetheless, we note that the federal transport minister has created an advisory committee on railway safety composed of members chosen by him, a representative of the railway companies, shippers, railway workers' organizations, the public and so on. Provincial transport departments or their representatives are not members of this committee. We feel that the transport department of Quebec, and of other provinces as well, should be on this committee.

One concern was raised by the Government of Quebec with respect to level crossings. It feels that the federal government has devoted a large part of its bill to the safety of level crossings and to intrusions, but it has proposed nothing to improve safety in yards, even though these accidents, as the government has already admitted, often involve dangerous goods representing a high safety risk.

Railway companies like CN and CP have the expertise, the experience and the responsibility to manage safety in their yards and sidings, but the number of accidents in these areas continues to increase. The number went from 191 accidents in 1989 to 358 in 1993 and 460 in 1994. It should be pointed out that most of these accidents involve dangerous goods. Such cases involve not just railway safety but public safety.

For your information, main track derailments have increased 15.9 per cent between 1989 and 1994, and approximately 20 per cent of derailments recorded in 1994 involved dangerous goods.

Under another part of the bill, short line railways, or SLR, will be required to call upon their own expertise to develop safety measures, including performance standards, security plans, building standards, maintenance standards and so on. This change could indeed prove to be a good thing, but somehow we doubt that SLRs are prepared to take on this responsibility. Short lines may not have the technical expertise or the human and financial resources required to fulfil this responsibility. Bill C-43 should not increase the risk of rail safety deterioration.

Finally, the last comment I would like to make is the following. The bill calls for Transport Canada to set up a co-ordinated and nationally applied mechanism for the regulation of railway safety.

Quebec, however, has its own legislation, the loi sur la sécurité du transport terrestre guidé, and its own inspection mechanisms, so why should it take part in this co-ordinated process? Quebec does not necessarily need a co-ordinated national mechanism to regulate railway safety in order to co-operate with the federal government in certain specific instances for inspections or ad hoc investigations.

In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois criticizes the Liberal government, the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport and member for Hamilton West in particular, for having rushed this bill in without any consultation, when the basic bill had little basis for contention in it, the official opposition readily lending its support.

Railway Safety ActGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question?