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.